Pacifism: The Early Church

pacifismThe conventional pacifist argument is made by David Hoekema, executive director of the American Philosophical Association —

The early Christian community understood Jesus’ commands to prohibit the bearing of arms. Christians refused to join the military, even though the Roman army of the period was as much a police force as a conquering army. Those who converted to Christianity while in military service were instructed to refrain from killing, to pray for forgiveness for past acts of violence, and to seek release from their military obligations. A striking example of the pervasiveness of pacifism in the early church is the fact that Tertullian and Origen—church fathers who stood at opposite poles regarding the relation of faith to philosophical reasoning—each wrote a tract supporting Christians’ refusal to join the military.

A profound change in the Christian attitude toward war occurred at the time of the emperor Constantine, whose conversion to Christianity helped bring the Christian community from the fringes to the center of Western society. From the time of Constantine to the present, pacifism has been a minority view in the Christian church. The just-war tradition, rooted in the ethical theories of Plato and Cicero and formulated within the Christian tradition by Augustine, Aquinas and the Protestant Reformers, defends military force as a last resort against grave injustice. According to this view, when the innocent are threatened by an unjust aggressor and all other remedies have failed, Jesus’ demand for sacrificial love may require us to use lethal force.

In short, the early church was uniformly pacifistic until Constantine blended church and state to the point that the church came to approve war, although only in limited circumstances.

Don Murphy lays out the evidence

Yale church historian Roland Bainton writes, ‘From the end of the New Testament period to the decade 170-180 there is no evidence whatever of Christians in the army. All of the East and West repudiated participation in warfare for Christians.’ Guy F. Hershberger adds, ‘It is quite clear that prior to about AD 174 it is impossible to speak of Christian soldiers.’ None of the Christian leaders in the pre-Constantinian era (313 AD) approved of a military career for disciples of Jesus Christ.

Many early writers spoke of this pacifism. Such as Tertullian who wrote, ‘the divine banner and the human banner do not go together, nor the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil. Only without the sword can the Christian wage war: for the Lord has abolished the sword.’ (On the Chaplet 11-12) Origen wrote, ‘You can not demand military service of Christians any more than you can of priests. We do not go forth as soldiers.’ (Against Celsus VIII.7.3 about 240 AD)

Justin wrote ‘We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder, and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for ploughshares, our spears for farm tools. Now we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness to men, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us by the Father himself through the Crucified One.’ (Dialogue with Trypho 110.3.4 about 160 AD)

Athenagoras wrote (about 180 AD), ‘How can we possibly kill anyone, we who call those women murderers who take drugs to induce an abortion, we who say they will have to give an account before God one day! We are convinced that with God nothing goes unexamined, and that the body, after serving the irrational urges and lusts of the soul, will have its share in punishment. We have, therefore, every reason to detest even the slightest sin.’ (A Plea Regarding Christians 32-35).

Hippolytus (218 A.D) states that soldiers who become Christians are not allowed to kill and must refuse to obey orders to kill. He also says that judges who want to become followers of the Christ must resign or be rejected by the church. (‘The Apostolic Tradition’ 16).

This pacifism did not survive the Constantine change. By the year 314 A.D., the church was excommunicating military deserters without any consideration of the motives for desertion.

On the other hand, there’s evidence to the contrary. Bill Muehlenberg argues that the apparent early pacifism can be explained by other factors.

One. A major reason why we find pacifism so pronounced back then is simply one of Christian convictions. The early believers felt that they were being Christ-like in pursuing nonviolence, and they would have held up the example of Christ in this regard. Just as Christ eschewed violence, so did they.

Now for our pacifist friends, this is the reason, and basically the end of the story. Jesus is our model; he committed no violence, and that should be our standard. However the considerations which follow need to be factored into all of this. …

Two. It needs to be remembered that Jews back then were exempt from military service in the Roman forces. In fact, they were for the most part forbidden from serving in the imperial army. Since most Christians were converts from Judaism in the early decades of the church, they would continue to have benefited from these exemptions/prohibitions. So to a large extent military involvement simply was not an option for them.

Three. Christians were mostly a persecuted minority sect in those early centuries. They were struggling to simply stay alive. And they were on a mission to spread the gospel far and wide. Thus the question of joining the military was not much of an option for them, just as the question of joining in politics, or getting involved in various social and public affairs really was not much of a choice for them back then.

Moreover, if the Roman army was a chief means by which the government persecuted Christians, it would have been unthinkable for Christians to join in with them. And it would have been difficult to participate in public life of any kind when so often the early believers were hiding to stay alive, dwelling in the catacombs, etc.

Four. Military life was rife with idolatry and pagan practices back then. Roman army religion was a thorough part of the military experience, complete with idolatrous ceremonies and festivals. Chief among the idolatrous practices was emperor worship. All soldiers had to swear an oath to the emperor. This obligatory oath demanded unquestioning loyalty to the emperor as the highest authority. …

Thus part of the reason why there was a marked increase in Christian participation in the military after Constantine was simply because he changed or removed those idolatrous circumstances. Indeed, by AD314 at the Synod of Arles, Christians were given freedom to serve in the army.

Five. The expansion of Christianity mainly occurred among civilians in the urban centres. Christianity had most adherents in the cities and in the interior of the Roman Empire. Christians were fewest at the frontiers, where the legions were most in number. Thus there was less likelihood of Christians being involved in the military, simply because of these geographical factors..

Six. There is no record of any conciliar decree against military service for the entire pre-Constantinian era. While Bainton may be correct to say no early church writer approved of military involvement, very few appear to have condemned it either. Indeed, a number of theologians and church historians have argued that pacifists have overstated their case here, and there is a fair amount of evidence showing Christian military involvement during this period, especially in the second half of the period under question..

Seven. The early church of course looked for Christ’s imminent return. Certainly in the earliest years there was a strong expectation of an imminent Parousia. Over time of course this expectation diminished, as the realization sunk in that the second coming of Christ may not be taking place as soon as was expected. But believing that activity of any kind on planet earth was short lived would have kept many Christians from entering into “worldly” occupations, at least in the early decades of the young church.

Now, I disagree with Seven. There’s simply no evidence of the early church rethinking their theology because Jesus didn’t return as early as expected. To me, the most important factor would be Six — that the early Christians were not in fact uniformly pacifistic. Is that true?

Andrew Holt has gathered considerable evidence that the early church was not entirely pacifistic —

While Christians may have generally been opposed to war, this is far different than saying they opposed all war under all circumstances. In fact a considerable number of Christians served in the Roman Army before the reign of Constantine and few, if any, of the major early Christian theologians who wrote about the issue were uniform in their opinions. Indeed, some theologians, such as Tertullian, seem to have held multiple positions at different stages of their life. Yet at one time or another each seems to have seen a usefulness for the military or war. Note for example how in the following passage, Tertullian, whose works are often cited to argue early Christians were pacifists, prays for the Roman Empire to have “brave armies.”

Looking up to Him, we Christians with hands extended, because they are harmless, with head bare because we are not ashamed, without a prayer leader because we pray from the heart, constantly beseech Him on behalf of all Emperors. We ask for them long life, undisturbed power, security at home, brave armies, a faithful senate, [etc…]

Tertullian. “Apology.” Trans. Rudolph Arbesmann, Emily Joseph Daly, and Edwin A. Quain. Tertullian: Apologetical Works and Minucuis Felix: Octavius. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1950, 86.

Perhaps this was because Tertullian understood Christians were serving in those armies. He even boasts of their presence as a rebuke to this who would charge Christians with disloyalty to the state.

We are sailors along with yourselves; we serve in the army; we engage in farming and trading; in addition, we share with you our arts; we place the products of our labor at your service. How we can appear worthless for your business, when we live with you and depend on you, I do not know.

Tertullian. “Apology.” Trans. Rudolph Arbesmann, Emily Joseph Daly, and Edwin A. Quain. Tertullian: Apologetical Works and Minucuis Felix: Octavius. New York: Fathers of the Church, 1950, 106-107.

Tertullian, continuing in this strain of thought, also noted how Christians had reportedly served in the Roman army as early as the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (c.170-180). A unit of Christian soldiers who fought for Aurelius were famously credited with bring rains to a thirsty army at a desperate point in a battle with barbarians through their prayers.

We, on the contrary, bring before you an emperor who was their protector. You will see this by examining the letters of Marcus Aurelius, that most serious of emperors. For, in his letters, he bears witness that the Germanic drought was removed by the rains obtained through the prayers of the Christians, who happened to be fighting under him.

Tertullian Apology – Ante Nicene Fathers, 3.22.

Like Tertullian, there is much in Origen’s writings that argues against his supposed “pacifism.” Origen notes that should Christians ever engage in just wars, they should imitate the bees.

But we ought to admire the divine nature, which extended even to irrational animals the capacity, as it were, of imitating rational beings, perhaps with a view of putting rational beings to shame; so that by looking upon ants, for instance, they might become more industrious and more thrifty in the management of their goods; while, by considering the bees, they might place themselves in subjection to their Ruler, and take their respective parts in those constitutional duties which are of use in ensuring the safety of cities. Perhaps also the so-called wars among the bees convey instruction as to the manner in which wars, if ever there arise a necessity for them, should be waged in a just and orderly way among men.

Origen. Origen Contra Celsus – CHAP. LXXXI- LXXXII

Origen also points to the militarism of the Hebrews when he suggests that if Christians ever came to control a country and its government, which did not happen until the reign of Constantine (long after Origen’s death), then Christians also would have an obligation to protect their lands and people.

But in the case of the ancient Jews, who had a land and a form of government of their own, to take from them the right of making war upon their enemies, of fighting for their country, of putting to death or otherwise punishing adulterers, murderers, or others who were guilty of similar crimes, would be to subject them to sudden and utter destruction whenever the enemy fell upon them; for their very laws would in that case restrain them, and prevent them from resisting the enemy.

Origen Origen Contra Celsus Book 7: XXVI

Nor did Origen oppose war in principle as he and other Christians desired and prayed for victory for the Roman army and the destruction of its enemies.

In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army–an army of piety–by offering our prayers to God.

Origen Origen Contra Celsus Book 8: LXXIII

Finally, an important distinction needs to be made between the sin of murder (always condemned by early Christians) and killing (executions and warfare) which God often called for according to the Hebrew scriptures. Basil noted this distinction among the early fathers when in 374 he wrote, “Our fathers did not think killing in war was murder.”

Clearly, it can’t be contended that the pre-Constantinian church was uniformly pacifistic. It seems that Origen did not so much disfavor war as disfavor Christians participating in war.


91 Responses

  1. Very interesting. I wasn’t familiar with much of this material.

    The more I read of early Christian writings, the more I wonder if they were uniform in much of anything! (Unlike Christians today, of course)

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. i think studying extra-biblica, early-church material is always informative and important. But at the end of the day, the Bible itself is the final court of appeals on any issue.

    Tim, i think, has an important point. Lack of uniformity doesn’t mean all opinions are wrong. The presence of gnostics or arians in the early church doesn’t mean the church was mistaken altogether about the humanity or divinity of Christ.

    i am curious about the case of Jews being disallowed to serve in the Roman military. Why were they disallowed? And i don’t see the connection between Jews being disallowed from service and Christians (Jewish ones) opposing military service.


  3. Does anybody think that the Churches of Christ of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were pacifist precisely because the first century church seemed to be? Put differently, I’m wondering how “Restorationism” played into our historical pacifism?

  4. Weldon,
    My personal opinion is that the 19th and early 20th centuries Churches of Christ were not made pacifistic by the Restoration movement as much as they were by the Civil War.

    Early colonial Americans had what were called “fighting parson”. These were preachers of village churches that lead malitias that were mostly made up of their own congregational members. And most of these preachers were famed as being the fiercest of the fighters “shouting scriptures, urging courage, and calling down curses on the enemy, all while plunging boldly into a waiting foe.” (The Faith of the American Soldier”, Stephen Mansfield p. 84)

    Also the earliest known “fighting parson” (as well as being the first military chaplain in American history) was Reverend Samuel Stone of the Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut. Rev. Stone accompanied malitias in the Perquot War of 1637 (“Origins of the Chaplaincy,” A brief History of the United States Chaplaain Corps, compiled by William J. Hourihan)

    This is my own reasoning behind a Civil war emphasis for pacifism. During the Civil War, brother was called to fight brother in a war that the just cause was questionable at best for Christians. Now history books state the war was faught over slavery (a cause that could give justification for brother to fight brother) but the real cause of the war was more along the lines of a second revolution. The north was taxing the south at a very high rate for their comodaties that were being sent to distribution centers and textiles in the north. Long story short the south (like the colonist) had had enough of the high taxes and “taxation without rep.” and stood their ground. When Lincoln sent troops to Florida this triggered the south’s attack on Fort Sumter and thus the start of the war.

    For many Christians, I feel, it would have been hard for them to justify killing over taxation. Especially killing countymen and family. Thus a call to pacifism would excuse them from the fight. And their faith/religion would not be questioned in a fairly new country that placed such a premium on religous freedom.

    I have no documented proof to concretely support the conclusions that I have come to, but what I have read seems to support pacifism in the churches became more of an issue because of the Civil War instead of the Stone-Campbell hand shake.

    If I am missing some Restoration facts please feel free to clue me in. I am not as strong on that subject.

    Steve Valentine

  5. The earliest believers might have learned their passivity from Jesus but not from the OT and the history of God and Israel.

  6. I haven’t heard anything that suggests Restorationists were pacifists because of the early church fathers. I think it had more to do with their views toward other Christians. Fighting in the wars of their time meant fighting against others who espoused a belief in Christ. Many were unwilling to do that.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  7. Of course, pacifism and passivity are NOT the same thing. Believe it or not, pacifism can be learned from the Old Testament. It has a lot to do with understanding the nature of the kingdom of God and how the physical kingdom that was gained with swords and chariots relates to the spiritual kingdom obtained with spiritual weapons. Since we are neither conquering the Promised Land nor protecting it with our armies, the Old Testament examples in no way justify modern warfare.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  8. All the pacifists sleep well at night as they know they are being protected by brave souls giving their very lives to keep the people safe from harm and to keep freedoms such as the freedoms to go to church and worship and read the Bible. The pacifists can have such freedoms, but God forbid they be the one’s to defend them.

    God bless those brave souls

  9. Someone who signs as “Anonymous” talks about bravery? Kind of ironic.

    There is no greater bravery than turning the other cheek. Now who was it that told us to do that?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  10. Paul’s support of personal pacifism in Romans 12 is actually a quote from Proverbs. Further, Jesus’ sermon on the mount is arguably not a speech countermanding OT teaching, but rather a speech aimed at correcting the erroneous Pharisaical exposition of the OT. Thus, Jesus shows that passages concerning civil/legal policy did not allow for personal vengeance. It seems then a limited pacifism can be understood even from the OT.

    The argument which states that pacifists are dependent upon non-pacifists to protect their lives fails to acknowledge (1) Jesus’ command not to fear anyone who can merely kill the body, and (2) the hope of resurrection: God has already rescued me from death. Might pacifism get me killed?–let them kill me; God will just raise me up again anyway. The first century church thrived even through martyrdom due in part to their hope in resurrection. The despot’s only real power is death. But resurrection takes that power away. Perpetrators of violence have no ultimate power over us.

    Derek Webb has a very interesting song about Christian pacificism that i recommend anyone give a listen to:


  11. During the civil war the pacifisis would turn the other cheek to what they knew was happening and continue letting black people be hung to trees and tortured and killed. And pacifists want to scream not to take up arms and war is wrong and continue to let terrorists come and attack us. Turning the other cheek is exacly what the US did continuing to let thousands of Jewish men, woman, and children to be killed by the Nazi armies.

    Yes we should turn the other cheek when someone may slap you, try to offend you, or try to discredit you, but not when injustice is happening. Where does it say to turn the other cheek when people are being slaughtered?

    Mathew 5:39-42 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.”

    Matthew 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

  12. Thank you Weldon, real good post.

    Tim Archer, The Jews were looked on suspiciously as they still think they are Gods chosen people and that makes them united, joined together and separate from any Country. Their blood is more important than which country they are living in. Same with the Gypsys.
    No recorded history has more blood spilt than our Gods. Jesus was the pillar of fire that went before. He was all a part of the old testament, and right in there with all that happened to slay unmercifully the other civilizations completely, women and children too. I can’t imagine being ordered to kill everything, especially children, women and doing it. God likes shed blood to make His point! Even the USMC does all we can to avoid civilians deaths. How Gods soldiers back then obeyed that command is a true testament of how they loved our God. or feared Him?
    I really can’t comprehend purposely, (by hand even worse), killing a child, anyones small innocent child. What nights these men must have spent sleepless when they got older!!!!

    Remember the “I hear lowing of cattle ” story. Even the animals paid a destroy ALL price.

    God, meaning the whole Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are not pacifist!

    To say so is a real stretch of imagination.

    I’ll never understand why we in the church of Christ do not recognize veterans on Veterans Day? Gods modern protectors!
    Semper Fi

  13. John,

    The problem is, if you look at the Old Testament, the killing was a part of establishing God’s people in the Promised Land and protecting that Promised Land when attacked. That’s it. No preemptive strikes. No invasions of other countries. It was focused on the Kingdom.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  14. Adding to Tim’s point,

    Israel was a theocracy, a tangible, measurable nation–with a designated land and law. Of course then, Jews could not be categorically pacifists; they had an *earthly* kingdom.

    Christians are not a nation in this sense at all, nor is there any indication from the NT that the church should seek to become one. Christ’s kingdom is *not* of this world.


  15. The Hebrew Scriptures is not just about God giving the Jewish people the promised land of Israel, but was about defeating people who bowed their heads to Baal who would sacrifice humans lives such as placing children on glowing red hot idols burning them to death. Those who bowed their heads to false gods would not listen to God and would stop at nothing continuing to slaughter people. God’s people are also to stand up and help defend those who are weak and oppressed, not to stand idly by as they continue to be slaughtered.

  16. Anonymous,

    Has any pacifist claimed that we ought to “stand idly by”?

    Does pacifism necessarily imply “standing idly by” or failing to defend the weak/downtrodden?

    Is violent resistance the only possible way to defend the cause of the widow/orphan/oppressed/foreigner?

    Where does the NT teach Christians to perpetrate violence against idolaters?


  17. Tim

    I understand, to the Isrealites it was obtaining their promised land.

    To the inhabitants and civilizations that had established themselves and considered that land to be theirs, it was an invasion, land grab, and a slaughter.

    God didn’t want any left as any civilization that witnessed that being done to their children would rise up again against the Isrealites. Who wouldn’t? Some things are basic, inborn in humans, and the killing of small children is one of them. I feel for the men ordered to do so against their natural instincts.
    Don’t you know that carnage was talked about among the other nations. Be much better to move over or join them than to fight.

    That’s the same thinking in Isreal today. Reclaiming their promised land.

  18. Paul uses sounds to come to battle as an example. I don’t see a pacifist using battle sounds as an example.

    1 Corinthians 14:8 “For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle?”

    Hebrews 11:32-34 “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

    Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

    We should always try to have peace, the Bible says as much as possible we should live peaceably with all men. That doesn’t say it will always be possible, there are times that we will have to battle and it should only be after we have tried all other options first.

  19. Anonymous,

    Jesus used an example of a dishonest manager (Luke 16:1ff) and an example of an unjust judge (Luke 18:1ff). Using an illustration does not imply that you endorse or condone all parties or behavior involved in that illustration.

    No, it’s not always possible to live at peace with all men, because “the other guy” might still insist on perpetuating conflict with us. But in that very passage you’re quoting, Paul forbids us from violent resistance (Rom 12:17-21).


  20. Several comments have been made about the Nazi’s, the Civil war, etc. and then the rational for using violence to end the moral atrocities that were transpiring. It should be noted that the moral justification is often only employed to gain popular support or encourage participation, when the real reason behind the given conflict is often financially based and actually encouraged. For example, slavery often gets the credit for the Civil War justification. Wrong. Lincoln only appealed to slavery to arouse passion when he realized what appeared to be inevitable loss for the North. He was himself a white supremacist (I’ll provide the proof if requested). The same is true of WWI and WWII respectively. Just trace the financial and scientific backing for Hitler’s program.

  21. To say those wars really didn’t have anything to do with the slaghtering of black people and the Jewish people is an inaccurate fact of history.

    We should leave vengence to God that is we shouldn’t go looking for a fight, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t defend ourselves and others. Romans 12:18 doesn’t say it will always be possible to have peace, there are times that we will have to battle and it should only be after we have tried all other options first.

  22. To me this is the question at the heart of the issue: What are Christians to do and not do when non-repentant/unbelieving man takes over an institution established by God?

    All modern wars, when boiled down, are started for one simple reason – selfishness. One entity demands their way that is contrary to another’s, and this to the point of action even violent action. Regardless of public opinion or media reports, wars are fuaght for this reason. Some are lead up to by violent actions toward innocent people, regardless innocent, and most times defenseless, people are those that lose the most. So what are we, as Christians, to do about the innocent, oppressed, and defenseless?

    Steve Valentine

  23. The Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament teaching against the use of violence for personal vengeance nowhere in the context of the passages says anything about the subject of war, Christians in the military, or whether the state has the right to maintain an army or a police force. General statements such as “do not render evil for evil, cursing for cursing,” etc., should not be illegitimately applied to national defense.

    The physical presence of such Christian tombstones is undeniable evidence that Christians were involved in the army before Constantine. Sir William Ramsey, in his book Luke the Physician, comments on an inscription for a Christian soldier from Lycaonia. He argues that in a.d. 303, “it is certain that the armies of the eastern empire were largely composed of Christians.”

    Under the influence of Saint Gregory, Armenia became the first Christian nation in a.d. 303. When Maxminus tried to force the Armenians to renounce Christianity in a.d. 312, the Armenians took up arms and defended their faith and freedom. They defeated the Roman army.

    Throughout history, the Christian Church has never been pacifist. They have always defended their faith with the utmost courage and steadfastness.

    Since the early churches never condemned Christians for being in the military, and they never rebuked the state for maintaining an army or a police force, the early church never condemned the use of force per se. It is no wonder that we cannot find a single instance in the early church where a Christian was refused membership or communion because he was a soldier. Nowhere do we find the teaching that Christians should desert their post.

  24. Anonymous,

    (1) Many pacifists believe it is entirely legitimate for states to maintain militaries and police forces. That is rarely at issue in this debate. What is at issue is whether a Christian is permitted to serve in those capacities.

    (2) Even if the early church was historically violent, this doesn’t necessarily imply they were God-pleasing in being so.

    (3) i’m not sure why any general “do not repay evil for evil” passages would need to say something about war. If i’m a Christian at all, then i’m a Christian in all circumstances, am i not? And the ethics bound on me by Christ are bound on me in all circumstances. Or do i get to pick and choose in what circumstances i’m obligated to do what Christ teaches?


  25. I am walking down the street. I see a great big man who is beating a helpless little girl to death. I come up and I plead with him to stop. If he won’t stop, what does love mean? Love means I stop him in any way I can including, quite frankly, hitting him.

    What about the little girl? If I deserted the little girl to the bully, I have deserted the true meaning of Christian love and responsibility to my neighbor.

    Now extend this illustration to violence at a national level.

  26. The problem with the little girl-bully example is that international conflicts are never that simple. When you go after the bully, you often trample not only the little girl, but five of her friends.

    Every leader invokes their god as blessing their activity. Every nation claims that the other guy is the bully. If everyone thinks that we can always believe what our government tells us, why are we having such a fuss about health care? We don’t want them taking care of our health, but we want to trust them to tell us who to kill and when? Does that even begin to make sense?

    When the Nigerian government tells its citizens that the United States is the bully, are you going to encourage the tens of thousands of Christians in that country to take up arms against the U.S.? When Castro tells his people to take back the land that the bully from the North has usurped, will you encourage our brothers there to attack Guantanamo Bay? Most of the world thinks the U.S. is the bully; should we be encouraging everyone to fight us?

    The illustration of the little girl and the bully can’t be extended beyond what it is.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  27. Are you saying that all who have fought battles were ignorant of who they were fighting??

    And you can argue all you want that the example given is not an issue, there are evil dictators and leaders who enjoy beating to death those who are weak, it is a very real issue indeed.

  28. Btw, the last paragraph in your comment shows just how twisted some people think.

  29. Anonymous,

    There were examples of “bullying” in Jesus’ day. Roman soldiers forced themselves on people. Tax Collectors demanded more than was owed. Arguably, the Pharisees oppressed various lower classes and outcasts. But which of these bullies did Jesus’ resist *violently*? Rather, it is precisely in view of these people and scenarios that Jesus said “go the extra mile” and “give to he that asks of you.”

    And the greatest oppressors of all: sin, death, and the devil–these were tyrants bullying the entire human race. Did Jesus resist them? Absolutely. But how did He resist them? He did not “beat” them back. Rather, He took the “beating” in our stead. Christ’s kingdom is not built by force, but by sacrificial love.

    i’m not at all saying that the scenarios you raise don’t seem obvious or stir up the intuitions. Of course they do. i admit it, i’d be lying if i didn’t say i’d feel like hitting that bully you describe. But at the end of the day, it’s not about our intuitions, but about Christ’s teaching and example. Based on *that,* what right do we have to engage in violence?


  30. So you are not for national security and protecting the weak. I am all for helping defend those who cannot defend themselves. I do not believe love is to sit idly while people are being slaughtered. People say I want defense and security and protecton for the the defenseless as long as me, my family, and friends aren’t part of it. And asking them to please stop is not what will make those people stop.

    What do you suggest?

  31. Anonymous,

    I assume then that you would support a foreign regime coming in and miltarily removing our governing structure (along with the collateral damage that occurs) because our leaders allow the brutal, unjust murder of unborn babies on a daily basis (and in fact actually support and encourage it).

  32. Jesus did advocate peace. Jesus also recognized that in this fallen world war is a reality. Jesus was a peacemaker not a pacifist. There is a profound difference.

    If Jesus was a pacifist the following passages would not have been. The following passage are totally inexplicable for a pacifist.

    John 2:15 “When He had made a whip of cords, He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers’ money and overturned the tables.”

    Matthew 10:34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

    Luke 22:36 “Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”

  33. Anonymous:
    All of us here want to be more like Jesus. These are not easy questions with easy answers, or else these discussions would not exist. It seems you are passionate about this subject. Good! And also, show as much gentleness as you do passion.

    It is well within the bounds of history for soldiers to not have the truth about who they are fighting. This is sometimes considered the best way to get them to fight. Tell them the evil [blank] is about to destroy their [homes, wives, children, whatever], and – because of human nature – they will fight harder.

    Case in point: when 9/11 happened, the president told us it was all about Iraq. Iraq was either a bully, supporting bullies, or gearing up to be the next bully. Then, Bush in 2006 (and later, Cheney in 2009) said Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. But a Zogby poll in February 2008 should that 85% of our troops believe that the primary reason we are in Iraq is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks.” Some of those men are Christians who think they are fighting for all the right reasons – in defense of our country, protecting all of our families from a bully.

    Some say, “But Sadam was bad, so it’s good he got ousted!” Yet, if the only problem we have with a country is that we disagree with the way it is being led, we can’t just walk in and tell them what to do. Especially with violence. If that is our reasoning, then we need to invade China first, for its horrible human rights violations. After we invade ourselves for our own.

    If Christians are moved by the Spirit about a given group of weak and undefended people, then they should move while there is faith. Like Jonathan stated in 1 Samuel 14, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.” So how to help is not a question of using an army, but being in the will of God, as Jonathan was in defending his people.

    John 2:15 – yes, there are times when we need to overturn the godlessness in our churches. “If my people who are called by my name…” (2 Chron 7)

    Matthew 10:34 – a figurative sword. Jesus never actually carried or used a sword.

    Luke 22:36 – there were 11 disciples he told this to. when they presented him two swords, he said it was enough. Obviously, he was not commanding every man to get an actual sword, or they would’ve needed more than two.

    Interestingly, you left out Matthew 26:52 – ” ‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.’ ” When there was actual violence afoot, Jesus would have nothing to do with it.

  34. Anonymous,

    Pacifism doesn’t mean a person doesn’t value defending the weak. Pacifism rejects *violent* defense of the weak.

    Pacifism doesn’t obligate someone to “sit idly by while people are being slaughtered.” Pacifism obligates one not to fight violence *with more violence.*

    Have you read about many non-violent revolutions in history? None of them equated to “sitting idly by” or failing to “defend the weak.” Yet by and large, *non-violent* revolutions are among the most effective means of social change in history.

    Regarding enjoying the benefits of national security–Christ taught me not to fear those who can merely kill the body (Matt 10:28). That’s what i’m bound to obey *regardless* of whether or not any country decides to protect me with force.

    Regarding your bully/little girl example: if it’s obvious to you that it’s right for you to intervene in that situation with violence if necessary, then why doesn’t God immediately intervene violently in that situation? Why doesn’t God strike the bully dead in defense of the helpless little girl? Why does He “sit idly by”?


  35. What reason did Jesus tell them to buy swords, just to have them?

    I never said all wars are just wars. Sometimes war can bring peace. And as I said earlier we shouldn’t go looking for a fight, but there are times we have to and should. God is not dumb, He knows in this fallen world war is a reality.

  36. Guy,
    I get your point and I’m not against you; but I believe God has been very active up to this point both in the life of that little girl and the life of the bully. Only problem is, the bully won’t let Him be active in his heart. Oh and if I read the end of the story right, God’s going to be very active in the second coming. LORD come quickly!

    Take Brad’s advice and season your comments with plenty of gentleness. Thanks for staying with the discussion.

    Zogby didn’t ask me what I thought – but then again very few people ever do 🙂 My job over there put me face to face (daily) with the average Mahmoud in Iraq, thus giving me a totally different take on the post 9/11 reasoning for war. I was told and shown things that very few people (especially stateside) know about the way Saddam and his regime treated people and what went on. Now I’m not stating that I know everything and what I was told was second hand, but there was alot more to it than “the bad guy’s coming to rape and pilage.”

    Steve Valentine

  37. Thanks Steve. It did get hard when trying to comment with more than one person. And I was trying to use gentleness as I commented, I’m not out trying to offend anyone.

  38. Anonymous,

    I’m interested in your gentle remark about my twisted thinking. I’m afraid most of us don’t want to think of Christianity outside our borders. Do you advocate the same for Christians in other countries? If the U.S. goes to war with Nigeria, will you be as vocal in encouraging our Nigerian brothers to take up arms against your friends?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  39. Really did like your “gentle” comments also Tim. I can have have an opinion too.

  40. Though I don’t usually answer ridiculous questions I will answer yours – No I would not. Do you know if every Christian in Nigeria dislikes us? Do you think our country should have a national defense, if so why?

  41. Mr. Anonymous, you are entitled to your opinions and also free to insult me as much as you like. I’ll try not to do the same.

    The point of the question about NIgeria is not about like or dislike. It’s about serving in the military. Are we going to say, “Christians in the U.S. should serve in the military and fight wherever they are told to fight” and not grant that same right to Christians of other countries?

    We have to think as citizens of a bigger kingdom than the U.S., one that knows no borders. What’s true for Christians in one country has to be true for those in others.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  42. A Nigerian Christian may not think they should fight the US and if they decided to go to war with the US the Nigerian Christian may decide to leave their country and join an army to help the US. There are many things that could arise in that situation.

    Now please answer my questions. Do you think our country should have a national defense bearing arms, if so why? What do you think we shoud do when attacked? What do you think we should do when our neighboring countries are being wiped out? If the only choice you had was to use violence to stop an attacker who is hurting your wife or child would you?

  43. Why should the NIgerians refuse to fight against the U.S.? Would U.S. citizens refuse to fight a country that had Christians in the armed forces? Do you encourage U.S. soldiers to make a battle by battle decision as to whether or not to participate? If so, I applaud your consistency.

    When it looked like a U.S.-invasion of Nicaragua was imminent, back in the 80s, a group of Christians from there sent word to brothers in the States, reassuring them that under no circumstances would they take up arms against fellow Christians. I’d like to say that they received the same assurances, but…

    As for your questions, I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Our nation has a standing army, fighting with the weapons God provides.

    I have thought long and hard about personal self-defense. I’ve been on the wrong end of a gun twice. I experienced a home invasion and watched a man hold a gun to the head of my 18-month-old daughter. I’ve lived it. And I believe in the use of force to deter violence, force by the police and by private citizens. I believe in it as a last resort.

    Nick Gill has described what that looks like. Read his post here:

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  44. I never said Christians in other countries don’t have the right to be in the military or chose to fight where the country sends them. I am saying they sometimes may choose to switch sides. I never said war should be something we want, but should be a last resort.

    You really did not answer the questions, but avoided them. Please answer them one at a time if that will help and I will make them more specific.

    Do you think our country should have a national defense bearing arms, if so why?

    What do you think our country shoud do when attacked?

    What do you think ou country should do when our neighboring countries are being wiped out?

    And as for your answer to my last question, you said you would use force to deter violence, my question actually was – If the ONLY CHOICE YOU had was to use violence to stop an attacker who is hurting your wife or child WOULD YOU?
    Please answer the question as stated.

  45. I answered the first one directly and will do so again: I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Our nation has a standing army, fighting with the weapons God provides.

    What should a country do when attacked? You’re talking kingdoms of this world, I guess. They should probably defend themselves. On an individual basis, I believe in the use of force to deter violence, force by the police and by private citizens. I believe in it as a last resort.

    What should a country do when neighboring countries are being wiped out? Again, who am I to tell countries what they should do? I can speak to that biblically: God’s people were never called upon to defend a neighboring country, neither against Assyria, nor Egypt, nor Babylon, nor Greece, nor Rome.

    I’ll try and answer the last one more to your satisfaction. What would I do? I don’t know. If those men that came to my house hadn’t had guns and I thought I could bash their brains in, would I have done so? Probably. Even though I don’t think it’s right. You’re asking would, not should, right? I felt an animal instinct, that fear that drives men to fight. I would have hurt them, tortured them, punished them for touching my baby. I prayed for days afterward that I wouldn’t recognize them on the street, for I knew that I would attack them.

    I would probably respond in a carnal way.

    I’ve probably taken over this comment section more than I should, so I’ll leave this for now. Hopefully I’ve learned and grown from this exchange.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  46. Tim and Anon,
    May I offer something for both of you to ponder?

    At the risk of proof texting, I can’t help but notice the account of Samson as found in Judges 14.10-20. Now Samson is not the ideal model of morality and good judgment; and of course he was the instrument by which God chose to “bring light” (relieve oppression) to the Israelites – we have discussed some of how God uses even evil govt. to do His will. Yet 10-20 gives us a very perplexing situation to hash out. In verses 11-14 Samson has issued a bet, he and the Philistines are gambling; they have agreed to a wager of value. One of such great value, cheating enters the hearts of the Philistines (granted this is not a far stretch for this group), none the less it gives weight to the narrative. Now here’s the rub, when in verse 18 Samson loses the bet verse 19 tells us that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson with power. Sam then goes down and kills thirty men in order to pay his obligation to this bet. This story gives us the impression that violence is not off limits to the Spirit who is the same yesterday, today and forever, even when it comes to paying off gambling debt. Now I know there was more to this than just gambling; it was also a mighty display of the power of God to work through and in man to do the will of God. When did the same Spirit that killed 30 men for clothes change to being the docile Spirit that is indwelling the men of God today? What makes the difference between us and Samson? I ask this for us all to ponder, myself included. [Please feel free to correct me if I am too far off here]

    Now advance to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ main focus was to connect man’s outward actions to the condition of his heart. We were told of old “do not murder” but Jesus places qualifying conditions on this act that starts in the heart in how we conceive our fellow man. Jesus tells us that even if we are angry (some manuscripts add without cause) we are subject to judgment. Why, because of the condition of our heart. Jonah was made miserable because of the condition of his heart toward the Ninevites. We will do very good to deeply examine the condition of our hearts before screaming the battle cry, or we may be made very miserable. It is easy to sit half way around the world, hear reports on CNN (or FOX) and say turn that desert into a glass parking lot. It is totally different to examine the heart before we take action. In the case of the bully, are we striking him with violence because we truly love the little child and that is the ONLY way we will get him stopped? Or is it, deep down, payback for all those years a bully pushed us around on the playground? Search deeply our hearts then take action.

    Nick’s post was profound. Options are our best tool when facing a bully or a burglar or our enemy.

    Steve Valentine

  47. Steve,

    OK, I spoke too soon about shutting up. Let me just comment a moment on Samson. The Spirit is the same, yet our situations are not the same. What was a physical promised land is now a spiritual one; the earthly kingdom is now the kingdom of heaven. Samson led the people against usurpers of the land of promise. By observing the physical way the physical kingdom was defended, we learn to defend the spiritual kingdom we live in. The United States is not the Promised Land. We are citizens of a heavenly country. (Hebrews 11)

    Note that God didn’t send the Israelites to attack Nineveh. Assyria was to be punished, but not by the Israelite army. The army’s role was to conquer and defend the Promised Land. Look at the book of Revelation. What does God tell his people to do in the face of Rome’s tyranny? Be faithful. Conquer… with your blood. Not through fighting but through martyrdom.

    The Spirit is not docile. Revelation is a violent book, yet it’s not a call for us to be violent. It’s a call for us to trust in the power of God.

    Sorry. This time I’ll really keep quiet.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  48. Tim,
    UMMM, I’m telling mommy you used the “s” word 🙂

    No one wants you to remain quiet here, certainly not me. Thank you for what you have added and made all of us think about.

  49. Steve:

    I’m thankful you are one of the faces for us overseas. From what you’ve said throughout my time here at Jay’s place, I know that you are a bright light for Jesus no matter what – or where – your job might be.

    Of all the cases requiring proof on the earth, proving Saddam’s guilt for crimes against his people would probably be considered one of the simplest. Even if only 1% of the atrocities I’ve heard of are true, that is enough to convict him.

    And still, are we allowed to walk into any country we want to and change its system of government because we don’t like it? Would we allow any country to do they same to us? Some communists think that capitalism is an abusive system. Is it “right”, based on their moral compass, to overthrow the US government? Of course not! And we would defend ourselves against anyone who would try, saying, “It may be corrupt, but it’s for us to fix, not you.”

    If we are declaring to the world that we are the moral compass, the world is in trouble. Our problems are different, but still stemming from the same evil that comprised Saddam’s regime. Our compass is off, too. So off, in fact, that we see ourselves more highly than we ought: as policemen of the world.

    Defense, yes. Changing governments and endless occupations, no. And then, defense by violence only as a last resort. No “preventative” violence, lest we continue to lose credibility, as one bully taking out another.

    As we both freely state, the only moral compass for this world is God and His kingdom coming.

    While it’s good that your perspective on the war does not reflect the poll, what of the Christians in the 85% who would not fight if they knew that it had nothing to do with defense? They need to be informed, and allowed to disavow themselves from the undeclared war, if they so choose – the topic at hand.

  50. WE live in this world and must do what is needed here. Then in the hereafter we live in a totally different world.

    When we fought the Germans in WW 2, many times across the battle field you could here the singing of the same gospel songs we sung all our lives.
    Next day, we killed or wounded all we could, so did they. One might of had the great tenor voice we admired and enjoyed so the night before. Its much easier if we dehumanize the enemy, that’s why we put nonhuman nicknames on them.
    WE must live here and do what this world requires before we go to the next. Jesus could of called down 10 thousand angels to protect Him if he had wanted. Do you think they would of come with olive branches or swords? So, Heaven has swords too. Why? We’ll find out one day.
    Its hard sometimes, but we may meet those we killed in Heaven and talk about how he almost got me instead. May laugh about it. We both acted honorably.

    Our actions only last a blink of the eye. Its still hard to comprehend our loving God judging what we do in this short time to cause any to suffer in fire for eternity.
    Now, that;s an unbelievably horrible punishment, makes our killing in war seem pretty small doesn’t it?

    We simply kill our earthly enemy, God does the separating!

  51. One of the questions I asked Tim: What do you think our country shoud do when attacked?

    Tim’s response: What should a country do when attacked? You’re talking kingdoms of this world, I guess. They should probably defend themselves.


    Tim, you are not a citizen of the US, you don’t acknowledge on anything or on the census that you are a citizen of the US?

  52. Of course heaven has swords, God is the rightful executor of who should live or die. Why didn’t Jesus defeat His enemies using those heavenly swords? i don’t recall that He ever killed any of His earthly enemies. i do recall that He commanded us to love our enemies. How can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love?


  53. Christians are first and foremost subjects of the kingdom of heaven. That loyalty alone determines what i should think and how i should behave. Am i citizen of an earthly nation? Yes, but only secondarily in comparison, and only insomuch as the expectations of that nation coincide with or are compatible with the expectations of my King.


  54. Seems some “pacifists” would use whatever force necessary to stop a person from hurting someone very close and dear to them defending them, but when it comes to loving their neighbor in a same situation seems that love doesn’t apply to them.

  55. Anonymous,

    It’s also true that some Christians behave and think in some very un-Christian ways, but that doesn’t disprove Christianity; only that people can act inconsistently with their commitments.


  56. Those who have gone to battle knowing they will be killed to save many lives, is that unloving?

  57. (1) The goal of war participation is not to be killed, but not to be killed; how is that accomplished? By killing others before they kill you.

    (2) Even if my killing Person A in order to protect Person B is somehow loving toward Person B, it is not loving toward *Person A.* So again, how can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love?


  58. Do an indebth study on history of battles. There are men who have gone into battles knowing they will not survive.

  59. And did those men who went into battle knowing they wouldn’t survive each intend to kill at least one member of the enemy army?

  60. Why don’t you answer my question?

    Those who have gone to battle knowing they will be killed to save many lives, is that unloving?

  61. Anon,

    i answered it here:

    “(2) Even if my killing Person A in order to protect Person B is somehow loving toward Person B, it is not loving toward *Person A.* So again, how can i kill the ones i’m supposed to love?”

    “Love” is a term denoting a certain relation *between persons.* There’s not just loving or unloving simplicitir, rather there is only loving *to whom* or unloving *to whom*? So regarding your hypothetical person who dies in battle to save many lives: to whom is he being either loving or unloving?

    Well, who are the players in the game? Suppose there is just me, my enemy, and the innocent person i’m trying to protect. It seems intuitive that i acted lovingly toward the innocent person (although i’m not even sure that’s true, but i’ll grant it at this point in the discussion). But did i act lovingly toward my enemy? No. Yet Jesus commands me to love my enemy. Thus, if i kill my enemy, i’ve failed to love my enemy, and thus, i’ve failed to obey Jesus.


  62. So your answer is no. You guys are worse than trying to talk to a kid who is trying to hide something.

  63. First, was that insult really necessary? What did you hope to accomplish by demeaning “you guys” as evasive children? Was that supposed to encourage or edify me or others?

    Second, my answer wasn’t “no,” because your question was ambigous. It could’ve been interpretted in at least two ways. i didn’t want to be unclear in my response and thereby confuse you or anyone reading. Thus, i had to disambiguate it and then give an answer to each interpretation.

    Third, not everyone can be forthright and clear regarding this issue because it’s a tough issue with a lot of hairy issues that don’t seem all around clear to everyone given both scripture and intuition. So finding a lot of direct “yes” or “no” answers is really ambitious on anyone’s part.


  64. Jay,
    I do believe the early Pre-COnstantinian church was pacifist-at least till about 200 AD, then only a handful of church members were in the Army of Rome. Even then, the church would not baotize them until they accepted the fact that killing was out-they could no longer bear the sword.
    But let’s get to the EARLY part of this era prior to Constantine. Don Murphy, an aquaintance of mine, does give the quote by Bainton-an eminent church historian- that no followers of Jesus were found among the armies of Rome prior to 180 AD (+/-). That means for about 150 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, no one who followed Him would take human life. They were 100% prolife: no abortions, no war, and no executions by Christians. That is a commentary. Also there is the commentary of Roman soldiers who became Christians and they immediately left the Army of Rome or were executed for not bearing the sword. Lactanius, I believe, is one prominent soldier who gave up the sword. There were many others. Afetr 200 AD, there were a few soldiers in the army-but the numbers were not many, and the church did not allow them to kil.

  65. God has always wanted protection for those who are weak and oppressed. David was a man after God’s own heart. God has guided many of His people to battle, God does not do that which is evil.

    “William Shakespeare in Henry V describes the bond that we all share. At the battle of Agincourt in 1415 AD, the English were outnumbered 5 to 1 and faced a formidable French foe that blocked their return route to England. The English were certain that no one would make it out alive. Henry V turned to his men to tell them about the uncommon bond that is shared in combat. He states
    From this day to the ending of the world. But we in it shall be remembered; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me today shall be my brother.

    “To the men of Deuce Four we now honor our 14th warrior and sapper to die defending the freedom of an oppressed people that truly do not understand the sacrifices that we make.”

    “Never was so much owed by so many to so few

    You see there are 26 million people in Iraq whose freedom we are fighting for, against terrorists and insurgents that want a return to power and oppression, or worse, a state of fundamentalist tyranny. Some of whom we fight are international terrorists who hate the fact that in our way of life we can choose who will govern us, the method in which we worship, and the myriad other freedoms we have. We are fighting so that these fanatical terrorists do not enter the sacred ground of our country and we have to fight them in our own backyard. We fight for 296 million US citizens in America. We fight for the man on your left and right so that he can return home to his family and loved ones –we fight for each other. LT Aaron Sessan, SPC Tyler Creamean and SGT Ben Morton fought for all of us. Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

    “On this day, we ask almighty God to grant us patience and steadfast resolve in all that is to come. We ask the Master Physician to reach down and use his healing hand to heal our wounded brothers. May God Bless Deuce Four, 1st Brigade, and may God Bless America.”

    Were these men along with many others who gave their very lives to protect the weak and oppressed unloving?

  66. It is ironic that many nations have used the excuse of protecting the weak to wage aggressive wars. This is especially true of the US.
    In our culture, we have been conditioned, by schools, churches, movies, and TV to use violence as a first resort. A non-violent response is often not even on the ethical horizon. It is a case of too much John Wayne and not enough Jesus.
    By the way, David was forbidden to build the Temple because he was a man of war. David not only fought wars, commited murder (remember Uriah?), David loved War.

  67. Gary,

    Interesting point! i never thought of God’s distinguishing David as a man of war thus unfit to built the temple in connection with the general topic of pacifism before. You definitely made me go “hmmm.” Thanks.


  68. Anon,

    (1) There’s a distinction between what’s right for God to do and what’s right for me to do. It’s true, there are a variety of areas where i’m obligated to imitate God. But there are also areas where i’m particularly forbidden to imitate God. God judges men’s hearts and declares who is wicked and who isn’t. Does that mean it’s okay for me to do the same? No. In fact, i’m expressly forbidden from doing the same. Of course God is not committing evil when He takes life; it is His rightful place to be the executor of life and death. The question is, is it my place to imitate Him? Or is this a particular area where i’m forbidden from imitating Him? Christian Pacifism doesn’t necessarily claim that God is evil/bad/wrong in killing, but that this is a particular area in which Christians are disallowed from imitating God.

    (2) i don’t think anyone (certainly not me) intends to say that soldiers can’t be *motivated* selflessly or lovingly in doing what they do. Of course many if not most of them *mean well* and are *aiming* at being loving. The issue for Christian pacifists is whether the act of killing *itself* could ever be morally permissible or loving (regardless of the motivation or goal of the act).


  69. Gary,
    But also notice David was not condemned by God either. Huge difference don’t you think?

  70. Also into the mix: Solomon, David’s son, builder of the temple, wrote that there is a time for everything, including war and peace.

    Paul would say, if at all possible, be at peace with all men.

    So peace is preferred, but not the only possibility in a given situation.

  71. Brad,
    Solomon did build the Temple, and did write Ecclesiastes, and Solomon was being descriptive about human life. not prescriptive on the justice of war. Paul does say we are to live in peace, if at all possible in Romans 12. When that is not possible, then the Christian is to accept suffering and not retaliate-that is in the rest of the teaching of Romans 12.
    David was a warrior, liar, murderer, and adulterer. It is in spite of all of this that he was loved by God. David loved God in spite of all of his flaws. In fact David said he wanted peace many times, but others wanted war.
    David always had to bear the consequences of his sins. For his adultery with Bathsheba, it was the death of a son. For his being a man of violence, it was not building the Temple. In many ways, David is a negative example for Christians, In some ways he is, like dancing before the ark, and eating the shewbread.
    Also David did not live under the New Covenant, but one which alowed and regulated war. But even in the Old Covenant, war was not the only answer. The Hebrew prophets spoke a lot against war, and there were times when the prophets told the kings and the people that going to war was against God.
    I do not take my ethics from the Old Covenant, but from the New Covenant. In the New Covenat, Jesus calls us to a life of peace/Shalom-which is a wjole new paradigm of living. This new paradigm is based on agape love, and how can a person kill another human being, and agape-love them at the same time?

  72. A great book on peace, which is very well written, is by John D. Roth. It is called CHOOSING AGAINST WAR-A CHRISTIAN VIEW.
    Roth has a PhD from the University of Chicago, and his book follows along the lines of Yoder and covers a little more territory than THE POLITICS OF JESUS. I have read THE POLITICS OF JESUS 2 or 3 times, and it is a great book, which lays out the case for the non-violence of Jesus, the Gospel, and the New Testament,.
    in the past 42 years, since I have been a Christian pacifist, I have read a lot of books about peace, most of them rooted in Jesus and the Scripture. Even some of the not so good ones have something to say, at least in the way of testimony. I have read books by non-christian conscientious objectors as well, and they have something to say. I think this just means that there is an internal universal witness of the human spirit given by God that war and killing are sins. When my wife and I went to England,Ireland and Wales, about 11 years ago, we stopped in Shrewsbury Cathedral (of Cadfael fame!), and there was a monument in the church yard to a WIfred Owen. He was a soldier-poet of WW1. He wrote against war and killing and military patriotism, as did his friend Siegred Sassoon, another hero-antiwar soldier poet. SOme of the greatest voices of peace against war have come from the ranks of those who have been to war, like Tolstoy. One of the greatest pieces of literature I have ever read has been THE WAR PRAYER by Mark Twain. Read it please.

  73. David is a great example for Christians, none of us are perfect as he wasn’t, God gave David mercy when he sinned for David knew the heart of God. Michal despised David in her heart for dancing, where does it say God despised him for dancing?

    Paul clearly says that it is not always possible to have peace with all men, peace is preferred, but not the only possibility in given situations. I don’t believe love is to sit idly by when people are being slaughtered.

    The Hebrews writer says those who battled in wars were brave who worked righteousness.

    Hebrews 11:32-34 “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

    I can say many times I have seen more soldiers show true love for people moreso than “pacifists”.

  74. Regardless of whether or not the OT wars were for keeping God’s promise to Abraham; look at David’s alternate choice in the case of Uriah. It has been stated that David could not build the Temple because he had blood on his hands; and that is true fact. But that did not make David blood thirsty and vile. Here was David’s alternative, “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.” (1 Sam 11.1) David could have been free and clear of the murder charges if he had done what? If David had been where, he would not have had to murder? That’s right, if he had gone to war. If David had been on the battle field doing what he was so good at; doing what God “trained his hands” to do, Uriah would have lived. Israel’s army would not have been accomplices to murder and WAR would have kept his hands clean.

    With love,
    Steve Valentine

  75. i’m not sure Gary meant that God picking David over Solomon as temple-builder proves that war was wrong for David. This is certainly no “proof text” for pacifism at all. David was an agent of the state–an agent of God’s state in particular (theocratic Israel) and many wars in which David participated were at the command of God.

    Rather, does this choice reveal something about God’s preferences/values? God wanted David to do the work of civil service. But He did not want David (a man of bloodshed) to be associated with constructing His house of worship. He preferred a man of peace to be associated with that project. Is *that* fact revelatory in some way regarding this issue? — i think that’s all Gary was after in the original mention of David/Solomon.


  76. The original context Gary used David in was framed by this statement, “David not only fought wars, commited murder (remember Uriah?), David loved War.”

    I dought very seriously that David loved war.

    No God fearing man that I have ever met and who has taken part in a war has ever “loved war”. And that’s the issue. Too many times, I feel, pacifists believe that just because someone takes part in war that must mean they enjoy, even “love” it. But that is the farthest from the truth. Jay’s new post (a culture life part 1) is begining to scratch the surface of why godly men take part in such things as war. War does not automatically equal hate to all parties involved.

    With love,
    Steve Valentine

  77. Ah, you’re right. i went back and read Gary’s first comment. That is what he said. i overlooked that part. i just took out of the comment what i posted earlier about possible revealed preferences on God’s part.

    i’m not at all claiming that all people in the OT were wrong for participating in war. i believe that in order to be a faithful Jew in the OT (assuming you were in a certain age range), you would’ve had to participate in war (with the exception of the Levites, if i remember correctly). Therefore, Jewish pacifists would’ve been *dis*obedient to God. i believe, though, that this is a particular point of discontinuity between the OT and NT.

    i’m certainly not claiming that all people who participate in war love it. And like i said before, i believe people who participate in it can be nobly-motivated. But there are distinctions to be made. Characters, motives, actions, and outcomes are all ingredients in the same recipe, but can be evaluated separately. Paul certainly pulled these things apart in certain passages (ex., 1Cor 13; Phil 1; et al).

    So even if a person is nobly motivated, and even if the outcomes seem morally desirable, does that necessarily mean the act itself was good? If you’re a utilitarian like J.S. Mills, then it’s more than enough to justify the act. If you’re a situation ethicist like J. Fletcher, then it’s most likely enough to make the act good.

    But what if you’re just a Christian? Just a person bound by the teachings and example of Christ? –not looking for what my gut tells me is permissible or praiseworthy, not looking to what most people think is permissible or praiseworthy, not looking to what appears the most sensible way to me to accomplish something praiseworthy. As a disciple, those are not my criteria. My criteria about what makes an act either permissible, obligatory, and/or praiseworthy is simply the teachings and example of Christ. So while i may have good and praiseworthy intentions, and while it seems to accomplish a morally desirable end, where does Christ teach (either personally or through His apostles) that it’s ever morally permissible or obligatory for a Christian to kill?


  78. Paul certainly doesn’t throw the Hebrew Scriptures out as irrelevant to Christians.

    2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

    The Hebrew writer certainly saw it relevant to tell Christians that men who battled in wars were brave who worked righteousness.

    Hebrews 11:32-34 “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

  79. Anon,

    Assuming that you mean to respond to me, i never said the Christian needs to “throw the Hebrew Scriptures out as irrelevant to Christians.” Every part of scripture is relevant in principle.

    However, the OT commanded the Jews to sacrifice animals. Should Christians, therefore sacrifice animals? The OT gives regulations to Jews for a civil justice system. Does that mean Christians could have their own civil justice system and structure it according to these OT laws? The OT commands that Jews weren’t allowed to work on Saturday. Does that mean Christians shouldn’t work on Saturday?

    There are obviously points of discontinuity between the OT and NT. And i’m claiming that killing/pacifism is one of them.


  80. Guy,
    To me what is above nobility, morality, situational ethics, and definitely self justification is the condition of the heart.

    Jesus most famous (if not only real in the sense that we know it) sermon was the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon He moved everything from nobility, morality and situational to the seat of the heart; the condition in which the heart approaches all situation.

    For now I am waiting to see where Jay goes next with his Culture Life posts to really comment further, because I know it in my heart I just can’t put it in good enough words just yet.

    Thank you for you comments, they have given me room to think and substance.

    In love,
    Steve Valentine

  81. Guy,
    Additionally, the condition of the heart is the frame work in which God judged David. We are told that David was a “man after God’s own heart”. thus meaning that even though David was no doubt covered in blood, the condition in which David’s heart was in when and after that blood covering is all God saw in the end.

    I failed to mention this point earlier, and that was a detriment to my statements because this one point, IMO, goes to the seat of the issue.

    In love,
    Steve Valentine

  82. I was looking for that when I posted my comment, it’s not uncommon for people to try to use that as proof against an issue at hand. No we are not to sacrifice animals they were only shadows of what was to come, Jesus the true sacrifice has come and broken down walls that separated men and God.

    Now back to the issue at hand.

    Certainly Paul wasn’t wrong to say, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

    The Hebrews writer certainly saw it relevant to tell Christians that men who battled in wars were brave who worked righteousness

    Hebrews 11:32-34 “And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

  83. Steve,

    Surely i’m misunderstanding you: If our heart is right, then it is unimportant what we actually choose to do?


  84. Anon,

    Of course any NT writer can say that OT people who battled did the right thing. *i’m* telling you i think they did the right thing because i believe killing/war was morally permissible/obligatory *given the particular conditions of the OT.* My position is not incompatible with the words in Hebrews.

    i am claiming that killing/pacifism is like unto animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice was a practice unique to Judaism which is not a component of Christianity. You acknowledge that Jesus’ personal sacrifice renders animal sacrifice no longer appropriate. i am making a similar claim: Christ has set up a kingdom that is not earthly in nature: it has no physical, segregated borders or civil law/justice system. He has not set up the church has an earthly government. Therefore it’s not appropriate to defend it violently , just as He said (John 18:36). Thus, whereas the fact that OT established an earthly kingdom with a civil legal system and a particular earthly territory rendered war participation and violence (in some cases) permissible and obligatory, the *absense* of equivalent parameters in the NT renders such activities inappropriate.


  85. Was Jesus not with God when these men battled in war were they not looking to the same kindom of God as we do, they were as much a part of God’s heavenly kingdom as we are.

  86. You say war is evil and unloving thus God guided men to that which is evil and unloving.

  87. Of course Jesus didn’t want them to fight against those who were going to kill Him, Jesus came to die on the cross and no one was to stop that from happening.

    Jesus was with God and with those men who battled in war, and God does not do that which is evil.

  88. Guy,
    I guess you are, but it could be from lack of clear writing on my part and not expressing the whole picture. Following is as condensed as I can get it and as clear as I can put it at this time.

    If a heart has undergone the transformation that we see take place throughout tne NT (i.e. Rom. 12 etc.) then when the heart is right matters would be weighed in that light. In Jay’s case of the sniper, many have expressed thier different views of what they would do. I will assume all those opinions have come from the opinion holders heart on the matter as they seek to please thier Lord and Savior. Can all those views be 100% correct at the same time? Not in my opinion. Would all those right heart opinions that are wrong find mercy and grace from our Father? Absolutely. This is what I get when I read accounts of the OT men and women that just totaly got it wrong in thier actions but God poured out His grace and mercy over them, as seen in thier reverant and upright stance they are held in the NT. If I were the sniper and I aproached the situation with a heart dedicated to God and desiring to please Him in obedience and chose not to shoot or chose to shoot the gunman, I know in my heart that God would have grace and mercy on me with either decision I make.

    With that I will leave it for now, maybe someone with better writing skills can express better than I.

    In love,
    Steve Valentine

  89. Anon,

    i’m not sure what more i can say to be clearer. You wrote:

    “You say war is evil and unloving thus God guided men to that which is evil and unloving.”

    No, i am NOT saying that war is evil and unloving PERIOD in ANY and ALL senses of those terms. i’ve stated several times some of the particular way and particular circumstances under which i believe those terms apply. Thus i am in no way saying that God ever commanded something evil.

    “Was Jesus not with God when these men battled in war were they not looking to the same kindom of God as we do, they were as much a part of God’s heavenly kingdom as we are.”

    Yes, i believe Jesus was “with God” back then, because i believe Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. i’ve never claimed that Jesus somehow disagrees with the Father. All i’ve said is that when the covenants changed, certain moral parameters changed. Could those Jews in the OT be members of the same kingdom as Christians? Yes. Is that kingdom identical to the earthly nation-state of Israel? No. That’s a *huge* difference.

    You wrote:
    “Of course Jesus didn’t want them to fight against those who were going to kill Him, Jesus came to die on the cross and no one was to stop that from happening.”

    Of course that’s what He came for. But He didn’t say His servants did fight because that would counter His goal of dying. He said His servants didn’t fight because His kingdom was not of this world. That is an important difference in rationale.


  90. Steve,

    i think i understand you now. Even if God deems an action wrong, it may well be that God doesn’t condemn the agent who commits the act on account of his heart–disposition. Is that right?

    (Assuming i got it right) i couldn’t agree more! Boy, that better be right or we’re all toast–especially me.

    i haven’t meant to hinge anything i’ve said on particular people going to hell over behaving non-pacifistically. But i’ve tried to keep the focus on whether or not killing/violence is ever right period–regardless of what bearing (if any) it has on where a particular individual spends eternity.

    Like i said, i’ve never meant to imply anyone who disagrees with me necessarily has bad motives or intentions. All of us can have good intentions but still be unsure precisely what God wants us to *do.*

    i appreciate your thoughts and participation in this discussion,


  91. Jesus also said “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, SO THAT I SHOULD NOT BE DELIVERED TO THE JEWS.”

    Jesus didn’t want them to fight against those who were going to kill Him, Jesus came to die on the cross and NO ONE was to stop that from happening.

    You said that war is not evil and unloving but then you contradict yourself saying it is immoral. God does not do that which is immoral.

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