A challenge to Christian pacifists

I have been contacted by many Christian pacifists since I first wrote Christianity and Pacifism after the events of September 11, 2001. Some claim that I am going to hell, some beg me to learn how to love my enemies and others voice their concern in a reasonable manner. All of them, I presume, have good intentions, even if some are a little misguided.

The Bible calls us to “Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) According to a Jewish translation, Leviticus 19:16 reads, “You shall not stand by [the shedding of] your fellow’s blood. I am the Lord.” We can’t sit idly by while people suffer. Prayer is essential, but we must also take action.

Absolute pacifism is an easy solution. Believe me, I wish things could be simple like that. I like black and white. Yet, if God is a pacifist, we have a problem: God commanded the Israelites to go to war, but Jesus said we should “turn the other cheek.” Apparently we have a contradiction. So far, I have received the following solutions from pacifists (I’m not making these up):

1. The God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament

2. God experimented with the Israelites and came to the conclusion that pacifism is best (in other words, God himself has matured into a more loving being)

3. The Israelites were not ready for the deep commitment required by pacifism, so God incorporated war when dealing with them even though he actually despised it

My challenge to Christian pacifists is this: Explain why one of the above solutions is not heresy or provide a fourth one that resolves the contradiction without the use of heretical ideas.

Incidentally, my interpretation does not involve any contradictions. The Bible says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore” (Hebrews 13:8). If this is true, then there cannot be any contradictions between the Old and New testaments. The non-pacifist understands that the Old Testament was written mainly for governments, while the New Testament was written for individuals. Where they overlap, they express the same ideas.

For example, Leviticus 19:18 says that individuals are to love their neighbors as themselves. In Deuteronomy 32:35 God says, “Vengeance is mine.” Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” Yet, none of these commandments prevented God from telling the Israelites in Numbers 35:31, “Moreover you shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of death, but he shall surely be put to death.” In the New Testament, when talking about the government, Paul says, “For [the governing authority] is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Romans 13:4) The difference, as seen in both the Old and New testaments, is that the government is required to punish evildoers, while the individual is commanded not to seek revenge. There is no contradiction.

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11 Responses to “A challenge to Christian pacifists”

  1. CommonMan says:

    God is unchanging, and He has not changed. But your interpretation of scripture is contrary to what Jesus said of ALL scripture. He said, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39) In short, all the OT scriptures you quoted are about the relationship between man and Christ, NOT between men.

    God did use the Israelites to bring in the Messianic age. It says so in scripture: speaking of the Law (of which you quote), “who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount.” (Hebrews 8:5). The OT Israel provided for us a pattern or picture of the relationship between man and Christ, NOT man and man.

    Pacifism, in and of itself can become its own God, but pacifism as an expression of love is exactly what Christ commanded of us all.

    Our warfare is spiritual, not physical.

  2. casey says:

    The OT scriptures I quoted (which teach that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, not seek revenge and not murder) are about the relationship between man and Christ? That doesn’t make any sense. You’re going to have to be more specific.

    Perhaps I’m too dense, but you’re also going to have to explain how God commanding the Israelites to go to war is a “pattern or picture of the relationship between man and Christ.”

  3. The main misunderstanding, in my opinion, is that the King James Version of the Bible mistranslated the Hebrew word for “murder” in the Ten Commandments as the word “kill,” making many believe that it is killing that is the sin and not murder. Murder is the unjustified taking of a human life while killing is more broad and, as Casey has posted above, can be acceptable by governments in the course of national security, war, or punishment. The God of the Old Testament is the same as the New and He regularly commanded the nation of Israel to go to war and even completely wipe out opposing civilizations.

    Misguided church tradition has embraced pacifism as a core value, and although this can be an admirable quality at times, it is not a Biblical mandate for nations.

  4. kagamushu says:

    Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore? Absolutely! However there are several practices that God allowed in the Old Testament that Jesus later condemned. Here’s one obvious example:

    Mark 10
    2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
    3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied.
    4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
    5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied.

    Jesus then goes on to say that divorce is unacceptable except for adultery.
    Did you get that? “YOUR HEARTS WERE HARD”. God allowed divorce to be written in the law yet Jesus states “But it was not this way from the beginning” (mat 19:8).
    Another example is polygamy. Most of the O.T. dudes had multiple wives, David had at least 18, Salomon 700! And since the O.T. says nothing against polygamy, you must be a polygamist right?
    Another example : John 8:2-11 or “the abolition of the death penalty” although something tells me you would disagree.
    Some of the O.T.wars fall under the same category; ie: God, by choosing to work with and through an imperfect people allowed certain practices that Jesus would later address. Why? Because their “HEARTS WERE HARD”. The wars that don’t fit this category (those that God actually commanded) are His own holy wars. I have no problem with these since God as creator can judge anyone anytime, who am i to stand in His way. (By the way the Israelites were usually punished by God if they ever took back spoils from the war, in other words these were not conventional wars of conquest but God using the Israelites to judge other nations).You cannot justify modern warfare by this standard. Anyways I could go on but there is plenty already written on the subject. You should take the time to read some. A great start is the book by Jean Lasserre “War and the Gospel”
    “Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me. I will pay them back, declares the Lord.” (written by Paul to the persecuted church in Rome under the rule of Nero “i like to feed christians to the lions” Claudius Caesar.)

  5. casey says:

    Jesus didn’t change the teaching on divorce, kagamushu, he explained it. The allowance for divorce was never intended to make it cheap. It is God’s mercy for the one who was sinned against, not for the one who committed the sexual immorality. If the people’s hearts were not hardened (i.e. they were not sinful), divorce would be unnecessary, but do you not agree that it would be cruel to force someone to remain married to someone who is unfaithful? How can you say that Jesus was changing an Old Testament law? Divorce was allowed in the Old Testament, and it is allowed in the New Testament.

    You haven’t spent much time in the Old Testament, have you? Otherwise you would not be able to make a statement like “The O.T. says nothing against polygamy.” May I direct your attention to Deuteronomy 17:17? Kings were not permitted to be polygamous, but they were anyway. And look what the results were! One of David’s sons tried to kill him and another raped his own sister. The argument from silence, by the way, is a logical fallacy. Not everything that is recorded in the Bible is approved by the Bible.

    You apparently subscribe to heresy #3 above, so sorry, but you have not met the challenge.

  6. Yana says:

    I wish you had responded to the last poster’s comments about wars. You dismissed some simpler concepts but ignored the huge challenge that his post presented…that GOD started just wars – not man. And man is not allowed to inhabit lands or destroy people or things or take the spoils unless specifically commanded to do so by God. We do not judge man (and you must in order to start a war against other men) – God does. Death through killing is the ultimate judgement – and if God doesn’t personally command me to go and kill someone (or through a prophet who shares the miraculous hand of God as all of his legitimate prophets have had), then I simply won’t believe another man’s orders to go and kill or my own opinions or impulses for that matter. I hope and pray that if someone were to physically attack me, that I would have the faith to turn the other cheek – the sin will be theirs, not mine.

  7. casey says:

    You’re missing the point entirely, Yana. If God commanded the Israelites to go to war, then he is not a pacifist by any stretch of the word. The fact that he instructed the Israelites to go to war proves that some wars are justified from a biblical standpoint. The wars fought by the Israelites were not morally justified because God commanded them but because God had morally just reasons for commanding them.

    Also take a look at Abraham. When he learned that Lot had been taken captive (Genesis 14), he immediately went to war. He was not commanded to do so by God. Still, God saw fit to give him victory.

  8. Micael says:

    How do you then explain that everyone in the early pre-constantine church were pacifists and that it was forbidden for a Christian to kill, even in war, according to the early church fathers?

    I’ve written a text that quotes 11 pacifistic early church fathers and that also deals with Rom 13 and the wars in the OT: http://www.christarchy.com/profiles/blogs/early-christian-pacifism-and

    To summarize: The sword mentioned in Rom 13 wasn’t used in war and the time of going to war is over just as the New Testament says that we shouldn’t sacrifice animals or surcumcise ourself either.

    • casey says:

      Hi Micael,

      You’ve ignored the challenge, so I assume that you cannot answer it. You like the idea of pacifism and you think the early church supported it, but you can’t provide a sound theological argument for it. Let me say again, black and white is good. I wish it were that simple.

      Without venturing too far off topic, let me point out that “the early church fathers said such and such” is not a sound theological argument. They were fallible just as we are. The following site provides a list of quotes from non-pacifist early church fathers before the Christian emperors as well as a list of quotes from pacifist heretics before the Christian emperors:

      And finally, my argument is not that Rom 13 is talking about war but that it is talking about capital punishment, i.e. state-inflicted violence. A sword is used for killing. It has no other purpose. There is no such thing as a pacifist sword.

  9. micael says:

    I didn’t ignore your challange, I linked to a page where I discuss both the wars in the OT and Rom 13 and finds an answer to them. And if Paul had meant capital punishment, he would used another word (cross perhaps). The macharia was used for other purposes than killing. It was a policing tool, the sword soldiers had when they controlled the masses. Macharia symbolises the police work of the soldiers, which was obvious for the first readers of Romans. But I beg you, read my text on this at http://www.christarchy.com/profiles/blogs/early-christian-pacifism-and

    • casey says:

      Micael, your English is very good, and I commend you for your hard work, but you either have not read what I wrote or you did not understand it. I’m not interested in going off into a discussion about which position has more support among the early church fathers or about the meaning of the word “sword” (makhaira) in Romans 13–as intriguing as it is that you believe injuries from a sword are generally non-lethal. I’m sorry, but if you continue to go off on tangents your comments will be deleted. Please go back and read the original post again.