Previously , I have put forth the assertion that pacifism is NOT biblical, but of course, this confuses many. I think that the root of the confusion comes with confusing two different areas of life:
- The two kingdoms: this world v. God’s coming kingdom
- The two levels of personal interaction: individual v. societal rules for interaction
- The two foci for attack: attacking people (and their character) v. attacking ideas
A. THIS WORLD V. THE COMING KINGDOM
Jesus was primarily concerned with the coming Kingdom and not this world, but that does not mean that being a Christian means being only concerned about the life to come, while being unconcerned about justice in this life. By such logic, Christians should be pacifists, and uninvolved with this world.
While that may sound correct and pious on the surface, I think it is a mistake for many reasons:
1. THE PRACTICAL ARGUMENT – This isolationist position is one that Christians have adopted in the past, and in doing so, have ceased being salt and light in society.
By refusing to develop, obey, and teach a biblical world view of subjects other than personal piety (like in art, science, political thought, relationships, education, business, finance), they have ceded these very important civil institutions and disciplines to secularists, socialists, and other unsavory -ists, who have made a mess of it in many cases.
For instance, if you look at art, some of the most impressive artwork comes out of the period when Christianity and public Christian thought was the social norm – Rubens, Rembrandt, Michaelangelo. When a Christian view of life recedes, we end up with chaos and death, as revealed in the later painters like Picasso and abstract artists. The late great Francis Schaeffer discussed much of this in his writings.
2. THE PAULINE ARGUMENT – Paul suggests that we take EVERY thought to a biblical world view, which includes ideas of justice and just war.
Again, the biblical perspective on war has two facets:
- The Kingdom of God and faith can not be spread by force of arms, nor even defended by such.
- The Earthly kingdoms should be ruled by biblical wisdom, which includes a right view of
- the nature of man (fallen, made in God’s image, redeemable and reformable, but not perfectable),
- justice and mercy
- the use of force in punishment and enforcement
B. INDIVIDUAL V. SOCIETAL LEVEL RULES OF INTERACTION
1. THE PACIFIST ARGUMENT – mistakenly applying the rules for individual conduct to public policy and justice.
Part of biblical thinking is a biblical view of justice, and of the use of punishment and force (as I’ve said, Christian Pacifism is not biblical.
Individuals have the moral right and responsibilities to
- protect the weak
- defend themselves
Governments have the moral right and responsibilities to
- protect the weak
- defend the country or allies from aggressors
2. THE OLD TESTAMENT ARGUMENT – Jesus did not obviate the OT, but affirmed it
Don’t forget that in many ways, Jesus affirmed the old testament moral law, which included principles for just war and legal punishments for wrongdoing. Arguably, many of those laws were for the state of Israel, and may not apply to us, but it is worth examining.
So a Christian can, in good conscience, be a peace officer or a soldier if the war he is in is just (sometimes hard to tell).
C. ATTACKING PEOPLE V. IDEAS
1. THE PAULINE ARGUMENT – Paul uses the imagery of war to describe the Christian life.
Paul the apostle used the metaphor of war to describe the Christian life in many places (Ephesians 6, 1 Corinthians 9,1 Corinthians 14, 2 Timothy 2). Of course, he goes on to clarify that we are not warring with people, but with ideas, as well as spiritual forces (2 Corinthians 10:2-4).
But when we are active in the public battle for ideas, we need to be careful not to be attacking people. And even when we are careful, many people will think that we are being warlike and aggressive against people, and therefore acting “unchristianly.” But this is a mistake, one that you can see echoed in my infamous post What is Hate?
Once we cease being overly simplistic in our application of scripture, and discriminate between the various arenas of life, and how the scriptures apply to them, we will stop being confused by such phrases as “Christian soldier.” This term can legitimately and biblically be used for:
- a Christian in law enforcement or the military
- a Christian engaged in the spiritual life and public battle of ideas
What it can not be used for, biblically, is someone who implies that force of arms will advance God’s kingdom, or by compulsion, can be used to force others to be Christian in personal faith.
While having a combative nature may not be Christian in many ways, and may serve as a cover for many Christians to excuse their personal hatred, unresolved hurts, and anger, it does not mean that we can not be aggressive in the battle of ideas, and be zealous for God – let’s not forget that Jesus himself was angry on many occasions – he is recorded as having glared angrily, expressed exasperation with his disciples, and even consciously made a weapon (a whip) and forcibly overturned the tables of merchants, driving them away while threatening them with the whip.
Jesus was not a pacifist or wimp. We shouldn’t be either.