Should Christians be pacifists?

Should Christians be pacifists or does God sometimes call us to engage in war?  This is an ancient and hoary debate, among Christians, that has been with the church since pacifism became more acceptable.  Can you imagine a debate about pacifism when the Muslim horses were overrunning Christian lands, which lead up to the crusades?

Now, with ISIS and other Islamic enemies rampaging against Christian communities in the middle east, this old debate has become more important than ever.  I am hearing leading Christian voices calling on all nations to bring just war against radical Islam/ISIS. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but what should we do when the demons use mankind to wage war against mankind?

This debate hits home for me, because I have family who serve in the military.  Even in the scriptures, the stories I love to read are in Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, 1st and 2nd Samuel, The Chronicles, The Kings, but in them are contained much warfare, bloodshed, and conquest.  On top of that and somewhat on the other side of it, is the fact that I personally partially adopted the philosophy of pacifism and anti-nationalism as a young teen.  It seemed to me, at the time, that no flag or country should have my allegiance, because the commandment is to have “No other god (majesties) before me.”  So, I concluded that pledging allegiance to the flag of the USA was tantamount to idolatry. Also, if the nation did not deserve my allegiance than I had no moral obligation to defend her, hence the pacifism.  Upon later review of my inner heart, I realized that is was not loyalty to God which motivated me, but rather rebellion against social norms.  Oy!  Such is the case with most teenage angst, I guess.

I am a biblical literalist.  Which means I take a high view of scripture, and when it speaks literally about God, miracles, creation, etc I think that what it says is true.  When it speaks poetically about God, miracles, creation etc, I also think it is true.  Albeit, in a different way.  I read poetry as poetry; metaphor as metaphor, narrative as narrative, and doctrine as binding; but it is all God’s Word.  When I have evidence to believe the bible is clearly teaching something, I absorb its meaning, live by it, and change my opinions to agree with its precepts.

That does not mean that I am always right.  And, it does not mean that I always think my interpretation is the authoritative , only, and normative view to be held by all Christians. When I come upon a compelling reason to change my mind, I try to prayerfully do so.  That said, I believe that most of the things I believe are right, only, and normative for all Christians (especially when it comes to foundational doctrines like the Person of Christ), but by no means all.  

This is why we have Scripture and the Tradition.  The Tradition is a pastoral tradition (one might almost say rabbinic tradition) of what Christians have taught and believed is the actual meaning of the Scripture.  There is much debate on almost every doctrine, but there are clear boundaries about what is “in” (acceptable belief) and what is “out” (belief which we collectively deem as error or harmful).  This is called ORTHODOXY!  It is my solid and firm hope that Orthodoxy (correct beliefs and legitimate praise) will always produce Orthopraxy (right actions/spiritual disciplines).

Within the boundaries of Orthodoxy some Christians have determined that, based on Jesus’ Teaching, all Christians must abstain from violent resistance-pacifism.  This tenet, they would argue, is based on the clear teaching and non-violent example of Jesus and his Apostles, which we can see demonstrated for us in the New Testament.  Violence is the domain of Satan’s followers, not Jesus’.  And, even though we see plenty of examples of God’s violence against infidels, and Jesus’ driving off and even whipping those making the temple into a den of thieves, the overall message of the Lord is to “love the Lord your God, love your neighbor as yourself, and love your enemies”.  So, Christians are supposed to eschew violence.

When a debate is cloudy, or I don’t know which side I come down on, for me, it is helpful to survey the teachings of the early church fathers.  Since they are the oldest sources, this makes them the closest contemporary commentators to early christian thought and practice.  For me, their council holds great weight, because the farther you move away from the event (or in this case date of authorship) the more diluted people’s memories and interpretations become.  This is another reason why I place such a premium on the Tradition, including the early church fathers and church historians from the first 4 centuries AD.

C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay entilted, “Why I am not a pacifist”. Among the strong points he makes, the one which informs my own thought is this: (summation by Zach Kincaid on “First, war is very disagreeable in everyone’s point of view. The pacifist contends that war always does more harm than good, that every war leads to another war, and that pacifism itself will lead to an absence of war, and more, a cure for suffering.” Therefore pacifism is the greatest good. War would not be a greater good, even if it preserved the innocent life, toppled a godless or totalitarian regime, or freed a race of men from slavery. It can only be a greater good, if it does more good than harm. The basic gist of the essay is that pacifists cannot show that pacifism is the greatest good, they simply take it for granted. Since it cannot be shown, and since strong and weighty arguments can be made against that (not to mention the commentary of the early church fathers, and lack of outright prohibition from our Lord), Christians should not feel compelled to be pacifists.

Here is what the Tradition shows us:


+In every generation since the first church (AD 35) Christians have answered the call to fight for their countries, and were involved in every aspect of social life (business, arts, government, and yes even the military).

+Cornelius, an early convert to the Way, was a Centurion in the Roman Military, and yet, the Apostles did not ask him to give up his rank, legion, or sword.

+Paul proclaims that governments use the sword as God’s messengers of justice against the wicked.

+None of the early fathers spoke against being in the military or just war, when you read their comments in context.

+It boils down to what does scripture really say (Old Testament and New), not what do we want to construe it to say.

I think that it may be possible that some Christians may be called to personal pacifism, which is to say they have a God given moral obligation to refuse to defend themselves no matter what.  But, I cannot say that I believe God has commanded or given a moral obligation to any Christian to stand by and abide violence inflicted on others.  When it is self defense that is rejected, I think that can be acceptable. When it is the refusal to defend others, that is cowardice.
As Christians we find our identity in the person and character of God. God is a provider. God is a protector. Sometimes that means God is violent.  Violence is a part of who He is.  Let that sink in a moment.  It cannot be denied.  God is good, and, also, God is violent.  Especially, when the violence he enacts, will minimize evil to its smallest possible quantity.  And, especially when he seeks to preserve peace, his covenant people, and the collective good of humanity.
Whereas, I want to give sincere Christians the right to remain pacifists, if their consciences bear them clean witness. I do not see how any Christ avowing, Holy Spirit filled believer, can be a passive bystander, while wickedness is being perpetrated. If, a christian sees someone break into his neighbors house, he has a God given duty to act. If, he sees a man mercilessly beating a woman or child, he must get involved. If he can prevent evil, even if that means getting his hands dirty or shedding some blood, he has an obligation to do so. Even if the only violence he allows himself is to pray to God, every Christian is mandated to overcome evil with good.

*facts have been borrowed from excerpts of a the book “When IS It Right To Fight?” by Robert Morey.  Please read a more complete presentation of the facts at this link->

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Control is an illusion

We’ve all met that alpha person who seems like they have the world by the scruff of the neck. They seem calm, collected, confident, and powerful. I have no doubt that there actually are people like this, but I think they are the anomaly, not the norm. Most of the alphas we interact with are not really the well adjusted masters of reality they appear to be. They don’t have anymore control over the world, or its phenomena than anybody else. The fact is they are probably little more than control freaks.

Human control is an illusion. And yet, so many of us stake our identities, fortunes, and futures on things which only God has in his hands. The scope of human vision is too near sighted, its reach is too short, its abilities too finite, and its understanding too incomplete. We are not the masters of our destiny, nor are we the captains of our own souls. We strive and fail, our hopes disappointed, and our destinies imperiled, simply because we have bought the lie that we can be in control of all outcomes.

Even in religion we hear this lie reinforced. There are teachings which say if we pray so many times, or in such and such a way, God will do what we want.  Or, if we send out positive vibes, then the universe will grant us a better life.  Or, if you fulfill these religious duties (fasting, pilgrimage, alms, animal sacrifice, incense burning, repeating mantras) your sins will disappear.  Some pastors, who claim to be Christians, have told their congregations that having a “great attitude” and obeying God, will leave them more financially secure, socially stable, and free from pain.  Let me be clear, there is no fence that humans can build, which can hedge us from pain.  Not even Jesus managed to live a life free of pain.  Jesus chose not to escape all pain, because that is not what humanity’s fate holds.

Humanity invented the idea of control, because we feel insecure.  Somewhere deep inside, in a place we aren’t willing to investigate (lest we inadvertently come face to face with the truth we’ve been trying to avoid) we know that we are small, weak, and needy. We hate to think of ourselves as pitiful, so we’ve concocted the myth of control.  But, we truly are pitiful.  We truly are at the mercy of God.  This is why men build cities, and women wear make-up.  The city and the make-up are both vain attempts to insulate ourselves from the ever encroaching onslaught of entropy.  They act as a covering for our protection, and a refuge from  the deep knowledge of true spiritual poverty.  They give us the victorious impression that we have something of superlative worth to offer the world.

The myth of control is a useful fiction, because without it men would go Godly or else go totally animalistic.  He would either lose his soul, or willing surrender it to God.  It aligns with the Myth of Progress.  Our evolutionary scientists and Darwinian sociologist have sold us on the idea that Progress is an intrinsic component of the mechanisms of the Universe.  The line goes like this, “As surely as the Universe keeps perfect time, the animals will continue to become more adapted and more intelligent.  Humanity too, once constrained to lead a dreary tribal existence, is now Civilized (they usually say this word without attempting to hide the conceit) and technologically advanced.”  Contrary to what the Progress proponents would have us believe, the real scientists every day affirm the intrinsic chaos in the universe.  They call it entropy.

That’s why Atheism is has never been about correctly describing the Universe as it is, or ascribing oneself to the “right, true belief, which accords with actuality”.  It is about control.  Since man’s attempts to tame God with religion and pageantry did not succeed, we decided to evolve.  That evolution has lead us to Atheism.  Now we can control God by saying that he does not exist.  But, aah, did the universe become any less chaotic?  Did it become any safer?  Only in one way.  The Atheists have removed the supposed chaos of an Almighty God who might require everything of them.  And, this is their great victory.  Only it is the victory of the blind man over the prowling lion. Sometimes you can choose not to see the dangerous thing which promises to swallow you whole.  For what ever reason denial makes us feel more secure.

I said before that their is no fence which can defend a person from pain.  I said before that Athiesism is an attempt to fool ourselves into feeling secure.  I said before that control is an illusion.  Not one of them amounts to true security.  The man who is truly secure, is he who surrenders his future to the Almighty.  Placing your faith in Jesus Christ does not render you immune from life’s woes, it makes you secure in God’s presence.  No longer must humanity walk alone through the tragedies and victories of daily life, because Jesus has promised his disciples never to leave or forsake them. The control freak may achieve mastery over outward circumstance, having insulated himself from the harm of chaos (even that is unlikely), but he is still a slave to his own anxieties.  The man who surrenders all to God, and accepts whatever blessing or trial may come, has been set free of worry.

Every man must take great precautions to prevent the harmful effects of his own foolish actions, lest he show himself to be doubly a fool.  He must work hard, earn money, and store up for a rainy day.  He must be diligent to show himself as one approved, a workmen worthy of his calling.  He must make a series of wise, biblically informed decisions, which will safeguard him from the deprivation which comes with laziness and fecklessness.  But this isn’t control, its responsibility.

God has granted men the honor of causation.  He allows that some things be in our hands.  Since man is made in the image of God, it is only right that God would entrust us with certain responsibilities.  Among these are working to provide for ourselves and each other, procreating, and managing God’s resources within and upon the earth.  Responsibility is one of the blessings God has given us.  It is one of the ways He honors us.  That is why I am so alarmed by our culture’s collective shirking of responsibility.

Control is an illusion, but responsibility is a mandate!

  • There’s no such thing as humans being in control
  • He who is always endeavoring to control everything is the most insecure person
  • We have invented this “useful fiction” to feel security
  • Man has always attempted to bring order from out of chaos
  • The Myth of Progress -C.S. Lewis
  • Atheism is about being in control
  • The truly secure man is the one who puts his faith in Jesus Christ
  • Even though control is an illusion, responsibility is very real