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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Peace, Not Peace

There is an element of Christendom that calls for Pacifism for Christians. This element believes that any form of violence is sin. They make this argument almost exclusively based on the belief that Jesus was a pacifist and taught it. You know, "Turn the other cheek" and things like that. Instead, they believe, He came to bring peace and we ought to do the same. However, most Christians disagree.

Let's begin with a basic requirement. What does the Bible teach? Let's take our position from God's Word rather than make God's Word take our position. Let's go with what we see in Scripture rather than any other primary source. If you are opposed to Pacifism and see in Scripture that it teaches it, you ought to change your opposition. And the reverse is equally true. So I am not interested in what you (or I) think or feel (at least not in this article). Sure, "Oh, yeah, well what would you do if your family was being attacked?" may sound compelling, but "What would you do?" might just be wrong. What does the Bible teach?

The Bible undeniably does not teach Pacifism in the entirety of the text. As an example, God is quoted as saying, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." (Gen 9:6) Pacifists will argue that this is no longer in effect or that Jesus altered it in some sense, but it is abundantly clear that this text clearly has God in favor of the death penalty in cases of murder. Paul reiterates this in his commending of civil authorities to Christians when he writes, "for [civil authorities are] a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it 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) Paul does not suggest that they should not bear the sword, but that they do so for a good reason. In Numbers 32 Moses told the people that in order to obey God and take Canaan, they would need to "arm yourselves before the LORD for the war" followed by instructions to drive out the people that occupied the land (Num 32:20-22). He concluded, "But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out." (Num 32:23) Get that? It was a sin to fail to go to war in that context. An interesting text says that God left enemies of Israel in Canaan "in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly." (Judges 3:1-2) God planned to test Israel and teach war. All this is well and good, but the statement in Scripture that is hardest to set aside for Pacifism is the claim that "The LORD is a warrior" (Exo 15:3). David wrote, "Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle." (Psa 24:8) If God does not change (1 Sam 15:29; Mal 3:6), then He is still a warrior, mighty in battle.

But ... didn't Jesus teach peace? We need to examine that because if the Pacifist view is right, we're going to have a problem. Mind you, having a problem may not be a bad thing. But if Jesus preached Pacifism, He did so in opposition to the clear presentation of the Old Testament regarding the commands and nature of His Father. "That's okay," some will tell you, "Jesus modified the Old Testament." So, as I said, having a problem may not be a bad thing if you're fine with God the Son modifying God the Father. But surely it would be better if we could find correlation rather than contradiction between the two. Did Jesus teach peace? Is Pacifism the only biblical position?

Certainly there are enough texts to give you reasons to think so.
"I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also." (Matt 5:39)

"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." (Matt 5:43-44)

"All those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." (Matt 26:52)

"Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead." (1 Peter 3:9)

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom 12:21)
At Jesus's birth the angels specifically declared, "On earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:14) Jesus told His disciples, "Be at peace with one another" (Mark 9:50) In the upper room at the end of His life He told them, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." (John 14:27) Later Paul commanded, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." (Rom 12:18) It all seems pretty clear. Why even ask any further? And well we shouldn't if it weren't for one little fact. Concluding here creates an undeniable contradiction between God the Father and God the Son. And that creates a contradiction in Christ Himself, as He said He was about speaking His Father's words and doing His Father's works. So ... was He? Or was He revising God? Clearly we need to come to a correlation rather than a contradiction.

I think the problem arises with an incomplete comprehension of peace. While we're happily bounding along on all the "peace" passages and concluding that Jesus preached peace, we've managed to completely ignore the fact that Jesus said He didn't. "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household." (Matt 10:34-36) Well, now, that's a problem, isn't it? "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." So what's that all about? I think it's that failure to grasp peace. You see, there is more than one kind of peace. There is tranquility and there is the cessation of hostilities. Jesus definitely came to bring a cessation of hostilities between a righteously angry God and His sinful creation. But that doesn't translate into a cessation of hostilities between people, as Jesus so specifically states. The peace that Jesus brings is peace with God, not peace with everyone else.

It was Jesus who "made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables" (John 2:15). It was Jesus who said He came not to bring peace, but a sword. It was Jesus who said He was about His Father's business. If we are going to align the Son with the Father, the absolutism of Pacifism won't work. Of course, neither will vengeance (Rom 12:19), hate (Matt 5:44), or so many other of the motivations people have for violence. As such, we ought to be known as the least belligerent people on the planet (Rom 12:18). It's just that absolute Pacifism makes the Father into a sinner, the Son into a self-contradiction, and the rest of Scripture on the subject a confused jumble. Correlating Scripture with Scripture, God with God, Christ with Christ, and Father with Son are all essential. Let's not take a contradictory position and claim it is a better version of Jesus.


Bob said...

when i look at the statements of Jesus where he talks about turning the other cheek, i have to ask, who are these people? who can live up to these guild lines? again I see Jesus talking more about what he is like, and what He did, over and against what we are like. Jesus turned the other cheek when he was slapped, Jesus loved his enemy's, Jesus fed the ungodly. it was Jesus that gave up his life. we on the other hand tend to seek retribution for all slights and offences. as for pacifism, its just an idea that has no practical value. who is going to stand by an watch the rape of the innocent, for the sake of being nonviolent. a bad idea always breaks down under the weight of reality. better to admit that we are killers by nature in need of salvation, then to pretend that we can follow Jesus example, with out his help. i pray for HIS peace.

Stan said...

You know, I was thinking the other day that Jesus exemplified "turn the other cheek", say, at His own trial, but He surely did not do so when He went into the Temple and chased out the moneychangers. It would appear that "turn the other cheek" is not (in Jesus's eyes) a blanket rule that covers all situations. It's also interesting that the account we have of Jesus violating the "precious pacifism" rule was done on behalf of another, not Himself. He was concerned about His Father's house. Apparently defending the sanctity of another (at least God) is worthy of non-pacifism.

Josh said...

We as Christians pray "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven." Will there be retribution, war, or killing in heaven? In the OT it was about the Israelite nation. God gave commands to the nation. If they obeyed they were not sinning, if they disobeyed they were sinning. Now it is about God's all encompassing Kingdom. There is no longer a nation of the world assigned to God, therefore warring in the name of Christ makes no sense. Are worldly nations still used to exact God's justice? Yes. (Rom 13:4) Is that any business of the Kingdom of God? No. We are to live according to the new testament teachings you have conveniently provided for us in the post. If we obey these teachings we are not sinning, if we disobey these teachings we are sinning (just like the OT). We are to live, as much as possible, on earth as it is in heaven.

PS Pacifism isn't standing by. Pacifism isn't Passivism. Pacifism isn't doing nothing in the face of evil. If you continue to make these claims to build your case against it, you are being ignorant and dishonest and arguing against a straw man.

Bob said...

Does not righteousness demand a violent response to sin? answer: yes
but only by the one that is righteous (God) . let him that is without sin cast the first stone. we get confused when we read about Grace, and conclude that Grace is the normative response to sin. it is not, rather is it the exception. lets not forget the fact that there is still a host of wrath pending upon the unbelievers. should we as believers be Gracious and kind? absolutely, should we be pacifist because God is a pacifist? absolutely not. because God is not a pacifist. He is Righteous.

Stan said...

Josh, I'm not at all sure what you're asking/suggesting. Will there be war in heaven? No, there will be perfection. No sin. No assault. No theft. None of that.

The dictionary defines pacifism as "opposition to war or violence as a means of settling disputes," "opposition to war or violence of any kind." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says pacifism is "a more general commitment to nonviolence [rather than] a narrower anti-war position. Pacifism is further defined through its dialectical relation to the idea of justified violence." Thus, the standard definition of pacifism is a commitment to nonviolence ... which is what I've been referring to. Which part of that am I confused on? Which part of that do you disagree with? In what sense was God nonviolent when He commanded Israel to kill (e.g., Num 31:17-18; 1 Sam 15:2-3)? Which part of "nonviolence" was it when Jesus took the whip to the moneychangers? Which part of "nonviolence" is it when Jesus strikes down nations (Rev 19:11-21)? That is, in answer to your question, will there be violence in heaven? No, it won't be necessary. But is it ever God's will that there be violence? Absolutely (as evidenced by the fact that God even commanded it).

Stan said...

Josh, God ordained violence against His Son (Acts 4:26-28). I cannot fathom how any Christian can take an absolute pacifist position with Scripture in view.

Bob said...

warring in the Name of Christ makes no sense.
i am not so sure.. we do not fight against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities in high places. and yet these powers manifest themselves by the use of people against the cause of Christ. interesting dichotomy... we are told that we have three enemy's the devil, the world and the flesh. is it any wonder that we survive at all. we are God's children in a war zone. the weapon of choice may be different than what the world uses, but don't kid yourself we are given these weapons to 'fight' and make 'War' for the Cause of Christ. and that makes perfect sense.
there will be no peace for the children of God in this world apart from that which Christ provides. until "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Josh said...

My point is non-violence does not equal non-resistance. That comment was directed more at bob than you anyways. I didn't say God is non-violent as there are obvious times in scripture where he commands violence. I still contend Jesus demonstrated non-violence with His life and death, and He is our example.

The passage in Revelation is completely symbolic. Jesus is covered in blood before he enters battle. It is His sacrificed blood. The sword he "slays" the nations with comes out of his mouth. This is symbolic of His words and teaching, not actual slaying.

Does the Bible ever teach Christians to be violent? Is it ever God's will that Christian's act violently?

Stan said...

I've never suggested (or thought) that "pacifism" is "passivism". But you're not talking to me at that point.

Truth is, Josh, we've done this dance many times before. I suppose I am completely baffled by the Jesus you follow. He claimed He was about what He saw His Father doing. You admit that the Father was violent at times. But you conclude that the Son is not like His Father. You argue that non-violence is the only moral position, which makes the Father immoral. Scripture speaks of God as one; you have a bifurcated version where Jesus is a "God 2.0", so to speak. I don't get it.

(I am also baffled by your "completely symbolic" version of Jesus who will judge without actually doing any violence. I'm thinking that throwing people in a lake of fire will be fairly violent. But, as I said, I don't understand your Jesus.)

Josh said...

So Jesus will literally slay the nations with a sword protruding from his mouth? That is baffling.

Bob said...

My point is non-violence does not equal non-resistance.
interesting word play. a distinction with out any real difference. we wage war in our bodies and we wage war against the devil and his minions. or maybe we just resist him without violence. we are to mortify the flesh, by killing it daily. every struggle will have some form of violence attached or it would not be a struggle. please stop the word game.
the spirit and the flesh are at war with each other, should we say that they are just resisting each other but no violence is manifest? sinful man is at war with God. should we say that man just resist God, but without doing violence to his character?

Stan said...

Jesus will literally judge the nations which will include violence. Baffling to you; clear to me. Do I really need to affirm a literal "sword protruding from His mouth" to affirm His judgment? You said, "completely symbolic". I see "symbolic". You see an image of "teaching" as if this image calls up a teacher (non-violent) and I see judgment of the nations (violent).

Bottom line, I can't separate God the Father and God the Son where God the Son makes God the Father a sinner. Can't do it. Jesus performed a violent act Himself (John 2:15) and commended violence in His teaching (e.g., Matt 22:7,13). His clear preference was for peaceful action and ours should be as well, but an absolute pacifism eliminates the biblical Jesus.

Josh said...

Do you believe that Jesus struck people with the whip in John 2:15?

What does the sword coming out of Jesus mouth "symbolically" mean to you?

bob I am really having a hard time following your points. I agree that we wage war against the principalities and powers, but it seems pretty clear our battle isn't against flesh and blood. So I guess our "violence" comes in the form of prayer, speaking truth, loving people, spreading the gospel, living obediently...etc. It is not expressed in actual violence against actual people.

Stan said...

I have no reason to believe He did not. The text says simply that He used a whip and "drove them all out, with their sheep and the oxen ..." He used the whip to accomplish this. That is not classified as non-violent.

I believe I said what I saw in the symbolism of the sword in the mouth -- violent judgment. Further, Revelation 20:7ff talks about the final conflict between Satan and his followers and Christ. These are "consumed with fire". Not non-violent.

How do you manage the whole "The Father was violent but His Son is opposed to violence" thing?

David said...

Josh, would the appearance of violence be alright then? That seems to be the argument made by those that reference the clearing of the temple. "He didn't actually hit anybody" seems pretty weak since true violence and apparent violence both seem to contradict nonviolence.

Josh said...

'Drove them out' does not say struck. You are reading your bias into the text. You want it to be violent, so it is to you. Was Jesus angry? Sure. Did he hurt anyone? The text is silent.

What about the sword coming out of his mouth means violent judgement? I am not arguing that the language of Revelation doesn't appear to be violent. It does. It is symbolically violent.

It seems pretty weak to make a broad theological point about the relationship of Christians and violence, based on:

-Jesus drove them out with a whip.
-A sword coming out of Jesus mouth, slaying the nations.
-The fact that Jesus used violence to make a point in a parable.

Isn't it ironic that the Jews of Jesus time believed the messiah to be a violent conquering King and they read that into every prophesy about Him. I guess history repeats itself.

How do I manage Jesus' teachings on non-violence and the violent God of the OT?
1. This is the way it is presented in the Bible.
2. Not all of God's commands to the nation of Israel apply to Christians.
3. The status of man to God changed dramatically at the cross. Gentiles are now included in the promise. The covenant is now meant to bless all nations. This fundamentally changes the way we view other nations and different people groups. It fundamentally changes the way we view God's people.

Josh said...

David, Jesus had righteous anger. Anger does not equal violence. Violence is the use of physical force with the intent to injure. 'Proof' that Jesus injured anyone is absent from the Bible. On the other hand there seems to be quite a few passages where he healed people ;-)

Craig said...

Where I see a bigger problem with this demand that Jesus was a strict pacifist is when these folks try to extrapolate that alleged principle of pacifism out beyond personal behavior. If people choose to live a life without violence, I have no problem with that choice on a personal level. However, when those people say that I should live that way or that pacifism should be practiced on a federal government level it becomes a problem. Not the least of which is that these people are also the ones who cry "You can't legislate morality" or accuse Christians of wanting a theocracy. If you are advocating US foreign policy be based on one or two lines from Jesus, then you have become what you complain about. Clearly a national policy of strict pacifism is unrealistic and stupid. I've heard (and agree with) the premise that a pacifist would be disqualified from serving as POTUS since the oath of office requires them to defend the U.S. against all enemies. The other problem with pacifism on a national scale is that it has never worked. I've asked for instances where significant social change has been effected through strictly pacifist strategy, and have never gotten an answer. What country hes ever defended itself from it's enemies through pacifism?

As usual, well done.

"How do you manage the whole "The Father was violent but His Son is opposed to violence" thing?"

Or how do you manage to separate Jesus from the Father (I and the Father are one) and suggest that when God spoke in the OT that it was not (the pre-incarnate)jesus speaking?

Stan said...

Josh, the weak argument is "Yeah, sure, the Father was violent, but His Son knew better and corrected His error."

"Not all of God's commands to the nation of Israel apply to Christians."

The claim is that violence is sin. The only possible conclusion is that God commanded sin. Does He command us to do violence? Not that I know of (although Jesus told His disciples to arm themselves and commended His followers for being willing to fight).

"Isn't it ironic that the Jews of Jesus time believed the messiah to be a violent conquering King and they read that into every prophesy about Him"

The reason they read a violent conquering King into Messianic prophecy was it was/is there. The problem is that the conquering King part is yet to come. But I suppose He'll have to do it without violence. You'll have to explain to the Jews why every reference to the violent conquering King was wrong.

But, of course, we've been here before, too. It started way back with "Omniscient ... but doesn't know the future" and went on to "Sovereign ... but doesn't actually control" and beyond. Now we've bifurcated God the Father from God the Son and changed God who Scripture says does not change. Probably ought to stop here.

I do not argue that we are commanded to fight. I do, in fact, argue that we should "be known as the least belligerent people on the planet (Rom 12:18)." It is simply the absolutism of your pacifism that I can't swallow. It makes the Father a sinner. It requires that Jesus, at the very least, deceived those poor moneychangers by chasing them out with a whip He never intended to use. Perhaps Craig touched on another big problem -- I have yet to meet a Pacifist who is a pacifist. They will all claim pacifism and then rise, even to violence, when provoked. Now, mind you, not being convinced that all violence is sin, that doesn't bother me, but it sure makes their beliefs look bad. You can tell what people truly believe by what they do.

Craig said...

I had a pastor once who claimed to be a pacifist, but he was honest enough to admit that if anyone laid a hand on his two beautiful daughters that he'd renounce pacifism in a heart beat. My personal opinion is that no one is an absolute pacifist, that we all have a point at which we would resort to violence. It's just a question of what that point is.

David said...

Josh, that skirts my question. From all appearances, Jesus went into that temple with the intent to use force. Whether or not His intent was force, it would have appeared that way to the moneychangers, otherwise they wouldn't have fled. You claim we can't prove that Jesus hit anyone in those exchanges, but it is equally true that you can't prove that He didn't. What we can all agree on is that, to the moneychangers, He looked like He was ready to use that whip on them. At the very least He used the appearance of violence (and quite possibly did is violence) to drive out the people. We are instructed also to avoid even the appearance of evil. Thus, by the Word, Jesus sinned by driving out the moneychangers with a whip. His anger doesn't enter into the equation because it's there sinfulness of His action that is in question here, not His motivation.

No true reader of Scripture would advocate violence as the end all be all action. But no honest reading of Scripture can come to the conclusion that all violence is sinful. God commanded it in the Old Testament. Jesus used it in the New (or at the very least the appearance). And to say that Jesus changed the status of Man at the cross seems untrue. Man is still sinful, still sin-sick. Still, the only ones that are a part of the Covenant are those that are of the line of Abraham, either by birth or adoption by God. Everyone else is still outside of that promise. True, the net is cast wider, but it will still miss most of the fish. And last time I checked, hell isn't going to be peaceful. If a God who commands violence to a sin commands people to do violence and condemns people to eternal violence is out there, He is irrational and twisted.

Josh said...

The claim is not violence is a sin. The claim is that disobedience to God is a sin. The claim is that Jesus (and Paul) taught and commanded non-violence to Christians. Is it not possible that one thing is not a sin at one time in history, but is now a sin at this time in history? Eating shellfish for example (but in reverse).

As usual it seems that our practical stances are very closely aligned, and we are debating more semantics. I think the command for Christians is non-violence with no exceptions. You think the command for Christians is non-violence, with very few exceptions (at least that I what I gathered from your response).

It is not the outward appearance that defines sin. It is the inward intention. Just because the men thought he was going to be violent, doesn't make it sin. Jesus uses this argument repeatedly in scripture. The pharisees looked like they did everything right, but in their hearts their intentions were sin.

The status of man to God did change at the cross. The ripping of the curtain represents a change. Anyone with faith can enter the presence of God, as opposed to just the High Priest.

Stan said...

The claim is that the Son of God has different (higher) standards than His Father. I believe that God (Father or Son) does not change (because, after all, that's what the Bible says). Thus, the principle behind eating shellfish has not changed. You believe God does and has changed from Father to Son. We disagree. You see it as no contradiction; I see it as no Trinity.

Josh said...

I don't believe that God has changed from Father to Son, I believe our perception of God has changed from Father to Son. Jesus has more fully demonstrated to us what God is like. God was actually always like this, but a fallen humanity has misguided perceptions. We see glimpses of God's heart in the Old Testament:

But this word of the Lord came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. (1 Chronicles 22:8)

They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety. (Hosea 2:18)

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore. (Micah 4:3)

Here is an interesting question to ponder. If God has not changed, has He always taken the sin of His people upon himself? Jesus obviously does this on the cross, but did God do this in the OT? Do we misinterpret God's actions in the OT, just because we see Him becoming as ugly as the people he is redeeming? This would be like the people watching Jesus dying on the cross, and assuming he is the guilty one. Obviously this was false, but that would be the misguided perception. Something to ponder.

David said...

So, if intention is all that matters, then why are we told to avoid even the appearance of sin? Would you recommend that a pastor go to a brothel to evangelize? Even though his intent is good, wouldn't it be wrong to look like he's sinning?

Stan said...

"Jesus has more fully demonstrated to us what God is like. God was actually always like this, but a fallen humanity has misguided perceptions."

I don't suppose I'll ever make sense out of this, so I won't try. You admit that God exhibited violence in the Old Testament, but now claim that He hasn't changed, but was simply misunderstood, and the true image of God is one of complete non-violence. If that makes sense to you ("God was violent, but He wasn't actually violent"), then more power to you. It won't make sense to me.

David said...

I would say yes, God has always taken the saved's sin upon Himself. God is outside of time, so the price paid was, is, and will be. The Israelites were not saved by their adherence to the Law, they were saved the same way we are, faith in the Messiah. They had faith in the Messiah to come, we have faith in the Messiah that came. Salvation has always been through the blood of the Lamb.

"just because we see Him becoming as ugly as the people he is redeeming"
This sounds like you believe that the actions of the Israelites were not truly instructions from God but their excuse for their sin. Obviously, God isn't as "ugly" as we are out they were. So the best explanation for the God we see in the Old Testament compared to the one in the New is that the Old was made up as a reason for the Israelites actions. God didn't actually command them to massacre entire villages down to the livestock, but like the Crusades, men were using God as an excuse for their actions. That's what I understand when I read that someone believes God was different in the Old Testament and the New.