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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Did Jesus Preach Pacifism?

There is a segment of Christianity -- has been all along -- that believe that Jesus was a pacifist.
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? "If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matt 5:38-47)
"See, Stan?" they tell me, "If you're going to be a biblicist like you say you are, you cannot advocate violence for any reason at all."

I'm trying to follow this thinking ... you know, the way they usually do -- by how it feels. If this is true, then it would have been wrong to oppose Hitler in World War II. We were certainly wrong in seeking to bring Bin Laden to justice. We should have invited him in to blow up a few more buildings, right? Now, I don't know a single person who would answer yes to that, but why? If Jesus is teaching that kind of pacifism here, why not? And clearly a Christian could not only not be in the military, but not in the police force either. If you're going to be consistent. If someone comes into your home and threatens you and your family, the only right thing to do is to let them do what they wish. Isn't it? "No, it's okay to subdue them." But ... isn't that not turning the other cheek, not giving to him who asks, not loving your enemy? Most would admit it isn't, but they do it by slipping off their prior position.

So is this what Jesus is teaching? My position has always been, "I want to do whatever it is Jesus wants me to do." If that means absolute pacifism, so be it. Is that what He taught?

You'll notice at the outset that nowhere does He say that. What does He say? He commands "love". Now, we're mired in this mushy version these days, but it's not the biblical version (1 Cor 13:4-8). In the biblical version love is a selfless desire for the best for the other. Now, let's think for a moment about that intruder. If we were to love that intruder (not "feel warm affection", but "seek the best"), would it be best for him (or her) to let them do it? Would it be best for our neighbors to let this proceed (and, likely, spread)?

Okay, up until this point I've been merely pointing to the difficulties. But there is a major problem if Jesus preached pacifism. It contradicts Scripture. We know, for instance, that Jesus said, "If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews." (John 18:36) If Jesus was a pacifist, He would be claiming, "My servants would be violating My commands so I would not be handed over to the Jews." In Romans Paul affirms the use of the sword as a good thing. "If you do what is evil, be afraid; for [government authority] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." (Rom 13:4) If Jesus preached pacifism and Paul claimed that bearing the sword was "a minister of God", Paul would be wrong. The worst, however, is found in Revelation. Here we have the return of the King, Jesus. "From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty." (Rev 19:15) Doesn't sound very ... pacific, does it? "Revelation is metaphor," they assure me. If it is, it is a violent one. Nor was He a pacifist when He walked into the Temple -- twice -- with whip in hand defending His Father's house of worship. "He didn't hit anyone!" Maybe (you can't prove it by the text), but it was not non-violent.

It looks like we have a standoff. Jesus preached pure pacifism ... and doesn't practice it. Jesus abhorred violence and Jesus said of John the Baptist, "I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (Luke 7:28) But when soldiers asked John what they should do, he didn't tell them to get out of the military (Luke 3:14). And, of course, the end is a known entity; Jesus comes in power and slays the wicked. Don't forget all the places in the Old Testament where God commanded war. I'm pretty sure you don't want to stand on a position that has Jesus calling His Father evil ... when He claimed He only did what He saw His Father doing (John 8:38). I don't think we can rationally, interpreting Scripture with Scripture, conclude that Jesus taught pacifism.

What did He teach? Don't be the usual fighter. Don't stand on your rights. Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount with hyperbole. That is, He exaggerated to make a point. (Note, for instance, that the verse after the passage I listed above is, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt 5:48) If you are going to be consistent, you will need to stand on perfection as the only valid standard.) Should we turn the other cheek? Absolutely! Just not exclusively. Should we step aside for others? Without a doubt! Just not exclusively. Must we love our enemies? No question at all!! But that doesn't mean mushy, warm feelings and sometimes doing good to them involves discipline and even suppression.

Or, you might just conclude that Jesus was indeed preaching absolute pacifism and anyone who disagrees is disagreeing with Jesus and the Bible. Of course, now you'll have to figure out what to do with all that other Scripture that disagrees.


Josh said...

A few points. Pacifists were opposed to Hitler, and desired Bin Laden brought to justice.

Explain how you can "love" someone (selflessly desire the best for them) and kill them.

Your use of John 18:36 is laughable. He is preaching to Pilate that his followers are non-violent, because their kingdom is NOT of this world. They have listened to his teaching, and are acting according to his will.

The Romans passage you cite isn't even talking about Christians. It is talking about world governments.

And once again, aggressive behavior (ie Temple clearing) and violence toward an image bearer of God (ie Human) are completely different.

One question about the Revelation passage. How does Jesus kill all those people? Does it give an account of His followers joining the fight?

I think your whole argument is summarized when you state "I don't think we can rationally..." Faith in Christ does not need to be rational by the world's standards. You know the standard cycle of retributive violence that has plagued our globe since Cain killed Able. Jesus has come to free us from the cycle.

Stan said...

Point 1: Yes, they did. On what basis? Hitler and Bin Laden were "brought to justice" by violent means. I wasn't saying they weren't in favor of stopping Hitler and Bin Laden. I was saying that a consistent pacifist would be. (It was not possible to terminate the escapades of either of them without violence.)

Point 2: Why? You're saying that Jesus preached pacifism. I'm not saying that, instead, He preached going out and killing whomever you please. On the other hand, correlate "Kill no one" with "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." (Gen 9:6)

Point 3: Jesus said, "If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting." You say, "Jesus preached pacifism." This does not say, "If My kingdom were of this world, they wouldn't be fighting." That is, if violence is always wrong, then His servants would never fight.

Point 4: Yes, it was talking about government. Are you saying that it is moral for governments to do what God flatly forbids?

I'll stop there. Too tedious. When you say that faith in Christ need not be rational, we're done. I'm arguing based on biblical reasons -- rationale. If we don't have that, we have nothing to talk about. (Understanding that "rational" means "adhering to reason".) Thus, you're perfectly happy to condemn God's actions in the Old and New Testaments (see, for instance, Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5) on the basis that "Jesus has come to free us from violence." Perfectly acceptable ... as long as we aren't limited to being rational.

Josh said...

God's intention was never for a world government to be the Kingdom of God. This is where we are missing on most of these points. I believe that God uses world governments to bring about his will, but they are by no means Christian. As Christians we are to be aliens in foreign nations, we are not called to dual citizenship. We are to live out the Kingdom of God in whatever "kingdom" we find ourselves. Worldly kingdoms will war against worldly kingdoms, and some may seem justified, but our calling is to live to promote God's will on earth as it is in Heaven. I can't imagine people killing each other in Heaven.

German pastor and author Dietrich Bonhoeffer tried to assassinate Hitler, and failed. The bomb blew up, and Hitler miraculously survived. According to Hitlers secretary, it was after this failed assassination attempt, that Hitler was convinced of his "divine" calling and re-emphasized his push to exterminate the Jews. Violence often has unforeseen consequences.

Stan said...

I'm not understanding your position, Josh. God uses world governments to bring about His will ... got it. (Except for the problem of Libertarian Free Will, but that's not the point here. Moving along.) Paul commends their use of the sword in enforcing the law. But you're saying that God's use of government and Paul's commendation does not constitute a valid use of ... non-peaceful methods of dealing with people. Nor does God's use of violence in dealing with sinners constitute a valid use of violence in dealing with sinners. Because the only way (remember, that's my objection to your position ... that the only righteous method of dealing with people is in a non-violent way) is pacifism. God doesn't do it. He doesn't expect or required it of government. But that's your position anyway.

Josh said...

God can use government however he wants, and it will be good. It just seems that He doesn't want Christians to tie their horse to these governmental entities. He calls the members of His Kingdom to act according to love, even to the point of loving enemies as brothers. I think the atrocities done by Hitler, and Bin Laden, and ISIS are horrible. I trust that God will bring about their justice, either in this age or the one come. I am called to pray that they each get to know Jesus and experience the transformation power of the Gospel. Hopefully this helps to clarify my position.

David said...

If God uses the government to do violence that He condemns, how is that a rational God? "It is sin to harm anyone ever... But you go ahead and harm people by my order."

Josh said...

I am trying to make this as clear as possible.

God teaches Christians to love their enemies and has demonstrated his "preference", as Stan would say, for non-violence.

God uses governments (ie Babylon to bring judgement on Israel, Persia and specifically Cyrus to allow Jews to rebuild Jerusalem in Ezra and Nehemiah) to exercise judgement, bring about justice, etc.

Christians are not to consider themselves citizens of governments (ie USA), but citizens of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore it is fine for God to use a government to judge Israel in the OT using the Babylonian empire, but I wouldn't say that the Babylonian's were the Kingdom of God, even though they brought about God's will in this specific way.

I guess I have no problem with God strategically using the good and evil of governments to further his will, even if he forbids Christians from doing the actions these governments take part in.

David said...

What is your take then on God commanding the execution of entire peoples by the Israelites if violence is sin? Why would He tell His people to sin and then turn around and tell us nonviolence is the only way?

Again, we aren't saying that violence is the first answer, but nowhere does it say to let someone murder you or your loved ones. I'm pretty sure that goes beyond these snow of turning the other cheek. Don't confuse looking like Christ with being walked on. Jesus violently stood up for God's house, so there is evidence that there is a time for violence. (Whether or not he actually struck someone is irrelevant since the act of using a whip and overturning tables is in no context peaceful, and arguing from silence is rarely a good place to stand)

Finally, how schizophrenic is God that He would on one hand command violence and on the other condemn it?

Josh said...

You mean schizophrenic like telling people they had to follow a rigid set of laws, then saying Jesus fulfilled the law. Or telling them Gentiles were not part of the promise, then Jesus changing that up. Or maybe the whole circumcision thing. Jesus brought a different know, the Kingdom of God.

Stan said...

Josh, I was letting this go, but this last comment confused me. When Scripture says Jesus fulfilled the Law, what do you think it means? I've always understood it to mean that He kept it all perfectly. You understand it to mean? And if you could, please point to some text that says, "Gentiles are not part of the promise" (No, I don't need those exact words.) Historically, there were always Gentile converts and biblically Paul claims that his ministry to the Gentiles was part of the original prophecies. I'm not getting your point. Except, apparently, to argue that God is NOT immutable and does change His mind, making corrections to earlier, apparently faulty plans. What He once considered wrong He now considers right. I think that's your position.

David said...

The Law has not been dissolved, adherence to it is still required, but since we can't keep it and Christ did, His keeping of the Law is attributed to us in redemption. Gentiles weren't excluded from the promise, but like Christianity, it is foolishness to those not in it. As was pointed out in another post, circumcision was not removed, it is a sign of an old covenant, and we are not beholden to that covenant. We now have baptism. However, changing from circumcision to baptism can hardly be equated to a changed view of violence. Commanding to be circumcised and then not isn't telling people to sin.