Pacifism: A Reply to Guy

pacifismEven though he and I disagree on several things, I have to say that Guy has posted very thoughtful, very godly comments throughout these posts. I prepared a lengthy reply to a recent comment of his, and decided it would be better to post it here.

Guy wrote —

If i witnessed such an event first-person (say the Babylonian captivity), wouldn’t it appear to me that government was wicked and i needed to rise up and stop it somehow?   Yet unbeknownst to me, God had sent that wicked-appearing government to achieve some end of His.

Maybe. But in the case of the Babylonians and Assyrians, God sent his prophets to plainly tell his people what to do and what would happen if they didn’t comply. God’s people weren’t left to speculate.

Just so, Jesus gave very specific instructions for how to respond to the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans.

There are plenty of other examples where God said regarding an invading army: don’t worry; I’ll handle it.

But there are also examples of God telling his people to raise an army and handle it by force of arms. And there are all kinds of examples in between.

Of course, the United States is not the new Israel. Therefore, I don’t see God’s commands to obliterate the Amalekites as authority for governmental violence nor do I see God’s commands to let God handle it as prohibitions when applied to other governments. Israel is a special case — and if the analogies apply at all, they apply to the Kingdom, not the U.S. Therefore, I’m not inclined to build my case from the violence perpetrated by Israel at God’s command.

The first role of government is to protect its people from evil insiders and outsiders. If government does not do this, it has failed of its essential purpose — and that requires that it use the power of the sword.

We are repeatedly told that God created government for our benefit, and if government was not created to punish evil and reward good, what did God make it for?

The question, to me, therefore is not whether the government can use violence to defend its citizens, but whether Christians may participate in government’s so doing. As the government, when it rewards good and punishes evil, is acting for God, I see no sin in so doing — and I see a lot of problems with turning government over to nonbelievers.

i just don’t see where Christians took it upon themselves to target the structures and functions of government as part of their work. i don’t see where they saw “loving your neighbor” as implying this as part of their job.

The essence of “love your neighbor” is the Golden Rule — do unto others. It’s not merely refusing to murder, it’s taking action.

(1 John 3:16-18) This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

Sometimes love compels action.

We see in the OT prophets seeking to change the governmental structures over and over.

(Isa 10:1-2) Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, 2 to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.

Isaiah is criticizing the government for the laws it made. We should encourage the government to do its proper, God-given role and discourage the government from acting otherwise.

But i do fear that if we become lobbyists, we likely set ourselves up to ask the government to do our (the church’s) job for us.

Agreed. It’s a grave danger. But what of a law that oppresses the poor. Why not cry out against it as Isaiah did?

It’s essential that we stop confusing the USA with the Kingdom. It’s not the government’s job to seek and save the lost. And we shouldn’t expect the government to help us teach the gospel. That’s just not the job God gave it.

But it is the job of the church, I think, to declare unjust laws as unjust. I think that’s part of our job as God’s people. After all, if we don’t declare the will of God to the  government, who will?

For example, many governments in the world traffic in orphans by charging exhorbitant fees for adoption. I think we should ask the U.S. government and the U.N. to act on behalf of children (and God) by encouraging a worldwide treaty banning large fees for adoption and encouraging adoption across national borders when a nation can’t care for its own children.

Only the governments of these nations can change those laws, and they won’t be changed unless a modern-day Isaiah stands up and declares wickedness wicked.

You see, I think the modern church has erred in seeing the government as an enforcer of morals while ignoring our duty to stand over against the government when it acts to oppress the poor and defenseless. Rather, we’ve confused patriotism and nationalism with Christianity and so have become blind to governmental wrongs. Indeed, worse yet, we’ve bought the politicians’ lies when they tell us to vote for our own self-interest, as though we should selfless in church and selfish in the voting booth. It’s not so.


31 Responses

  1. “I think the modern church has erred in seeing the government as an enforcer of morals while ignoring our duty to stand over against the government when it acts to oppress the poor and defenseless. Rather, we’ve confused patriotism and nationalism with Christianity and so have become blind to governmental wrongs. Indeed, worse yet, we’ve bought the politicians’ lies when they tell us to vote for our own self-interest, as though we should selfless in church and selfish in the voting booth. It’s not so.”

    That paragraph was so right, I just had to see it posted again.

  2. Brad,
    I second your second!

    I’m thinking out loud and admit that it takes a lot of speculation so bear with me and straighten me out if need be.

    Acts (1.1) and Luke (1.3) were written to Theophilus, he is refered to as “most excellent” (a title only given to Felix and Festus by Luke (Acts 24 & 26). This title is most commonly used for Roman officials, thus through deductive reasoning I come to the conclusion Theophilus was a Roman official; some believe that he was related to a Caesar others believe he was just a prominent man. Regardless, I feel it no hard strech to deduce that Theophilus had something to do with the Roman govt. and yet Luke never tries to get Theophilus to leave his position, but instead lays out the Gosple and the early church accounts in a way that would be easiest for a govt. official to understand and be influenced by. Where does this weigh in on the issue of Christians influencing govt.? Or does it even matter?

    Steve Valentine

  3. Jay, I think you and interested readers might benefit from reading a new book by Richard Hughes, entitled “Christian America and the Kingdom of God.” It is a sequel to his book, published in 2003, I think, called “Myths America Lives By.” I think Richard speaks very thoughtfully to the central ideas expressed in your paragraph that Brad quoted again, just above.

    For those who don’t know, Richard taught and worked at ACU for several years; then was a professor at Pepperdine; and now is a professor of religion at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. He also wrote “Reviving the Ancient Faith: a history of Churches of Christ in America,” published in 1996. Much of the material in that book was revised and new biographical information added, in 2001, and published as “The Churches of Christ.”

    As teasers, there is a good interview of Richard on NPR’s Radio Times show – available in .mp3 on the WHYY radio website. You can try this link,

    If that link does not work, you can search the WHYY Radio times archives for Richard Hughes, or for the date of October 13, 2009, when the interview aired.

    There is also a written interview pertaining to the new book that can be found at:

    It’s interesting how these “coincidences” happen, isn’t it?

  4. Jay,

    Thanks for giving my thoughts such special attention. I must say that you and several commentators have really challenged me and given me much to think about. I think this has been a very fruitful discussion all around. I appreciate so much the prevalent tone at your blog among those who disagree. It seems like a place that really is ripe for “iron sharpening iron.” I do have a lengthy response, but don’t be fooled—I’ve still got several things from this discussion churning in my head and making me wrestle with myself over these issues. I do want to make a caveat about the following response: As you’ve pointed out, there are actually a variety of positions which fall under the heading “pacifism.” I appear to use a lot of terms and commitments below interchangeably, but I just want to say I didn’t do that to try to be unappreciative of the many particular differences between various pacifists. And lastly, i apologize for the length. i am notoriously long-winded, but also wanted to give a full-reponse.

    (1) “Acting for God.” People have “acted for God” throughout history while sinning in so doing. Why? God can even use sin to accomplish His purposes. Actions can be instrumentally good even though they fail to be intrinsically good. God used the military might of Assyria and Babylon to punish Israel for her incessant unfaithfulness. However, God also condemned the military cruelty of both those nations. The very acts God used to achieve His holy purposes, He also condemned. Or consider Pharaoh. God used Pharaoh to accomplish His purposes. Pharaoh was “acting for God.” But that doesn’t imply that the particular behavior and thoughts of Pharaoh were good in themselves. That’s not to say that everything any government ever does is intrinsically wrong. What that means is that someone can be “acting for God” insomuch as he is achieving God’s purposes even while the act he commits is incompatible with God’s prescriptive will. Thus, it’s not necessarily the case that because God is using a particular government’s action at a particular time, then a Christian will not be sinning by participating in that action.

    (2) Prophets Preventing Speculation. I admit your response is entirely appropriate and sufficient. But I fault my own counter-example. I’ve tried to revise it a couple times, but I think it’s more productive to just get straight to this: I don’t see how we (Christians) have an analogue to OT prophets telling us if and when a present-day government’s deeds (whether good or bad) are being used by God to achieve His purposes. It’s true that Christians had Jesus giving them instructions regarding Rome’s looming invasion; but despite Roman military violence against some innocent people, Jesus’ instructions don’t explicitly include violent-counter-attack on the part of disciples. And depending on your view of Revelation, Christians also had commentary about the Roman Empire. As you say, some prophet’s instructions were “don’t worry, God will handle it.” But it appears to me that in the NT, this is the *only* instruction we’re ever given and disciples are never particularly called upon to engage corrupt powers with physical combat. [I do appreciate your comments about the US, and the tendency of the modern church to equate patriotism–particularly, US patriotism–with godliness. If you listen to much Christian talk radio, you get the impression that the US is God’s chosen Christian nation, and any international affront to the US is near blasphemy; and it’s our responsibility to support the defense and claim on our ‘Christian’ homeland. I find this not even remotely defensible biblically, and more importantly, a clever and dangerous distraction from true kingdom work.]

    [I was going to be more specific in responding to particular points you made, but I’ll just aim for general but germane points from here. I take it that my next three points get to the heart of where we likely disagree.]

    (3) OT vs. NT. I was going to be very big-picture about this, but I’ll get straight to this: God’s immediate goals in the OT differ from His current immediate goals. Israel was meant by God to be a tangible, civil, political structure with divinely-defined territorial borders, a divinely established national law and legal system, and a divinely appointed power structure (monarchy being an anomalous development). It was Israel’s job to be the salt of the earth and light to the world. And it was Israel’s job to provide the kind of immediate environment for the incarnation of Christ.

    (3a) Because of this, it was absolutely appropriate for OT prophets to portray the correction of political and structural injustice as the responsibility of God’s (then) people. Further, it was appropriate (and in many cases obligatory) for Israel to engage in warfare. These activities were appropriate just because of the nature of Israel’s divine organization.

    (3b) The church does not share that same nature of organization. We are not a political, civil structure with a civil legal system or physically-defined borders. This is a significant difference. This difference means that certain activities appropriate for Israel are not appropriate for the church. The work of the church is not to Christianize a *nation,* because the church is not a nation nor meant to become one (in the same sense as Israel). The work of the church is not warfare, because the church is not a nation. (Note too, there is a difference between being a Christian nation, and every member of a nation being Christian.) Yes, God called for Israelites to organize into armies and confront with physical violence those parties opposed to God, His laws, and His purposes. But He has not called upon the church to do this, nor has He arranged the church in such a way that this could even be appropriate.

    (4) Christians vs. Non-Christians. There are obligations placed upon a Christian which are not placed upon a non-Christian. Is a non-Christian sinning by not taking the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week? There have certainly been those in the CoC who have argued such. Thomas Warren took it as obvious that God can only have one law for all people and to which all men everywhere are amenable, otherwise God is unfair. Based on this, he (and Terry Hightower, using that very premise in a debate about war-participation) believed if military combat was either permissible or obligatory for the non-Christian, it is therefore permissible or obligatory for the Christian. I think it is arguably the case that God has not always had precisely the same set of particular obligations for all people in all places at any given time. Acts 17:30-31 certainly suggest such. And I still think it seems quite plausible that while lost people sin and are in sin, they are not *particularly sinning* by not taking the Lord’s Supper. That is a ritual-observation given to Christians, but not to everyone.

    (4a) Because of that distinction, it’s possible that there are things that are permissible (perhaps obligatory?—I’d have to think about that one) for non-Christians which are particularly forbidden for Christians. Perhaps violence (even when instrumentally good) is among them. There’s at least nothing inconsistent about that position.

    (4b) Again, God appears to have had different roles for different people. Pharaoh did play a role in God’s redemptive purposes, and Pharaoh accomplished something God wanted to accomplish. Clearly Pharaoh was a tool of God. Thus, God has a place and a use even for evil despots in the world. Does that mean that a Christian is thus morally permitted by God to fulfill the role of the evil despot? Surely not. So also, it’s not implausible that while violence can be used by God to achieve certain of His purposes, Christians are nevertheless morally forbidden from participating in it.

    (5) NT Practice. Does love compel action? Absolutely. But what kind of action do we see Jesus, the apostles, and the NT church compelled by love to take? Does the NT portray the care/defense of widows, orphans, and aliens as a goal of discipleship? Yes. But how do the people of the NT model how to achieve that goal? Not by military campaigns, nor by the use of force, nor by lobbying for downtrodden-friendly legal structures. It’s one thing to decry laws or structures as unjust. It’s another to say the church’s job is to be structural-amendment-lobbyists. The practice of NT disciples was first-person acts of compassion, congregational acts of compassion, and second-hand material support of first-person/congregational acts of compassion (Acts 6; 1Cor 16; 1Tim 5; James 1:27).

    I realize you’ve said before that the church is governed by her purposes, and because of this we aren’t obliged to a particular pattern of behavior. I don’t take myself to believe in old-school patternism, but I don’t think the practice of the NT church is irrelevant to how I choose to accomplish those purposes. If I choose to diverge in my behavior from theirs, I take it I better have a good reason for doing so. Perhaps my chosen behavior accomplishes all the same purposes equally well. Perhaps my chosen behavior accomplishes all the same purposes even better due to prevalent cultural or circumstantial differences. Perhaps my chosen pattern of behavior is permissible because the original instructions rested on assumed cultural norms (‘keep your kisses holy’). But maybe the NT church behaved the way it did because that behavior is the most God-pleasing way to achieve that purpose(s) regardless of cultural or temporal circumstance. While I don’t see that we need to imitate NT church practice identically, I think it’s arguably the case that there ought to be a precedent of imitation unless there’s good reason to diverge.

    But regardless of that particular hermeneutical difference—if you look to the NT church as a moral exemplar at all, then it’s quite valid to ask, ‘how did they live out the particular command(s) I’m concerned about?’ Surely the use of force as an instrumental good is an option that is not culturally confined (except in rather extreme cases). Could they not then have violently opposed their Jewish oppressors? Could they not then have violently opposed their Roman oppressors? Could they not have used force to come to the defense of those of their own number being slaughtered? I don’t see why they couldn’t have used the very same reasoning used among modern non-pacifists to justify the Christian use of force. Yet they were historically known for the very opposite.

    Shouldn’t this at the very least give me pause? When all my gut intuitions tell me that it’s perfectly okay to defend myself, especially in lethal circumstances, why didn’t Stephen physically fight the crowd stoning him? Why didn’t Paul throw rocks back at the crowd? Why didn’t their companions brawl it out with the murderous mob in order to save Paul’s/Stephen’s life? Why did Christians just accept (even gladly!) martyrdom rather than organize militias against local Roman authorities in order to prevent executions? Disciples tried to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem for fear of his life, but why didn’t they defend him via physical combat once he got there? Given that there are so many examples across early Christianity which go against every common-sense intuition I have about the matter, isn’t that enough to tell me that it’s not obvious in the eyes of God/Christ that my common-sense intuitions are correct? I take it that just because the church engaged in a practice that is so contrary to my intuitions, then it must be a very important practice that reveals a mistake about *me* rather than about them or their particular cultural circumstance.


  5. “We are repeatedly told that God created government for our benefit, and if government was not created to punish evil and reward good, what did God make it for?”

    I’m intrigued by this statement. How many passages do you consider to be stating this fact?

    It’s my belief that man created government, not God.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  6. DW,

    You may be exactly right, but there’s so much uncertainty regarding the identity of Theophilus that I’d be very reluctant to draw a firm conclusion based on his identity.

  7. Tim,

    The primary proof texts, quoted a couple of posts ago, are —

    (Rom 13:1) Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

    (Col 1:16) For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

    We see in the OT several cases of God establishing various governments for the Israelites — giving the Torah, appointing judges and kings.

    And there’s —

    (Dan 2:21) He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.

    (Dan 4:17) “‘The decision is announced by messengers, the holy ones declare the verdict, so that the living may know that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men.’

    (Prov 8:15-16) By me kings reign and rulers make laws that are just; 16 by me princes govern, and all nobles who rule on earth.

    (John 19:11) Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

  8. There was a draft status for which one could apply when I was approaching the age to be drafted and when Vietnam’s terrors raged on halfway around the world: “conscientious objector.”

    I will have to give the government of that age some credit for recognizing something that I’m not sure Christians can agree is true: participating in war is a matter of conscience.

    I could not have done it. I’d still be worthless at it, even if I could participate in good conscience.

    At the same time, I am very glad and forever grateful there are people – especially good, Christian people – who are willing and able to serve without violating their own consciences.

    Jesus never told the centurion whose servant He healed to quit His job and go preach. Nor did He tell Peter to keep whacking away at peoples’ ears in the garden.

    He left it a matter of conscience, so that those who could not serve might continue to be protected by those who could.

    I don’t have to be right about what I believe regarding pacifism. It’s a question of conscience, a disputable matter that we seem to enjoy disputing quite a lot.

    And in the end, Romans 14 wins.

  9. Guy,

    I few quick thoughts and then I have to go veg out for a while.

    First point

    Consider —

    (Eph 3:10-11) His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Granted the modifier “heavenly realms,” but the point remains: the church has as one of its purposes making known the wisdom of God.

    And consider —

    (1 Cor 6:2-3) Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

    A major theme of Eph 1 – 3 is that the church sits on Jesus’ throne with him, ruling the powers and authorities. It’s a difficult concept but plainly laid out —

    (Eph 1:20-23) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

    (Eph 2:6-7) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

    We sit on the throne with Jesus over the powers and authorities.

    Perhaps it’s easier to see it this way. We — the church — are the body of Christ. We are the Second Incarnation, filled with the Spirit and annointed to continue the mission of Jesus on this earth. That includes proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, doing works of compassion, and declaring the will of God.

    It’s big, hairy, audacious stuff that we rarely talk about because we come from a tradition that see church as being about ritual and attendance or about recruiting people to come to the worship service. We’re just now learning what it means to have God’s Spirit in us — to be the temple of God and body of Jesus here on earth.

    It’s about being a transformative influence on all we touch. That’s the meaning of “salt of the earth.” It makes everything it touches tastier — better.

    Second point

    Romans 12 – 13 bans Christians from executing God’s wrath in this life, but tells us the government is given exactly that task. Paul’s explanation of God’s establishing government comes from the OT verses I cited to Tim a few minutes ago.

    Either this means that Christians cannot be a part of government, so that Rom 12 is obeyed, or that God’s people may only execute God’s wrath as part of government. I think the second possibility is right because that’s how it was in the OT — when the very same principles were true. Paul wasn’t changing God’s relationship to government — he was declaring what it has been in ages past as revealed in the OT. Therefore, as Terry pointed out, for the same reason that Joseph could bring glory to God by rescuing nations from drought through his governmental service, so may we.

    We just have to be very careful to know what God wants from us. And God does not want us to use the power of the state to compel non-Christians to act like Christians, except to the extent necessary to protect innocents from evil doers.

  10. Jay,

    The verses you quote are interesting. I don’t see, though, a repetition of “God created government” nor “for our benefit.” I don’t really agree with your interpretation of these proof texts, but we can leave that for now.

    The Torah established no “government” as we know it today. The judges were military leaders, leading the defense of the promised land. The people tried to get Gideon to rule over them, and he stated a great truth: ““I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”” (Judges 8:23)

    The monarchy was a rejection of God’s rule. It came into being because of sinful rebellion of the people, not the plan that God had laid out for them.

    Government grew out of the establishment of cities, which Genesis shows us was not done by the people of the covenant but those who lived outside of it.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  11. There were times when Jesus and the apostles in some circumstances did not turn the other cheek.

    The 18th chapter of John’s gospel records Jesus’ arrest and trial before both the Jewish and Roman courts. In verse 22 of that chapter, Jesus is struck with the palm of the hand by one of the officers of the Jewish religious court for answering the high priest in what the officer thought was a disrespectful manner. In verse 23 Jesus responded, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike Me?”

    There is no voluntarily offering His other cheek. On the contrary, He asks why He deserved such treatment.

    In the book of Acts, Chapter 16, we find that the apostle Paul took a similar stand. After being beaten and cast into prison unjustly, the Philippian magistrates decided that they would release Paul and his companions and forget the matter. To this Paul responded as follows in verse 37.

    “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.”

    Clearly, Paul accepted no such injustice. The actions of Jesus and his apostle Paul indicate that there are times when the believer can and should resist evil and not offer the other cheek.

    Paul, writing in the first epistle to Timothy 5:8 “If any one does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

    Provision means more than just food, shelter, and clothing. It also includes safety, security, and protection from harm.

    Jesus certainly didn’t speak as though He is opposed to wars. Luke 14:31-32, “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.”

  12. I have learned a lot over the past several days.
    And there are a lot of good points . . . on all sides.
    I keep saying to myself . . . I should have said that.

    But hey . . . aren’t we all over 40?
    No one is going to draft us.
    No one wants us pointing a gun.
    They would look at us and say hit the road.
    They don’t want us.
    Aint it great.

  13. Well they might want Desert Wonderer. He looks like he knows how to aim.

  14. “Provision means more than just food, shelter, and clothing. It also includes safety, security, and protection from harm. ” – Anonymous

    Reference? I notice that not even Paul enjoyed security, safety and protection from harm. Believers can be arrested, thrown to the lions, or cut in two, etc.

    As far as I can tell, my participation in government – whether office holder or citizen – is for preventing scenarios like these. But once a nation decides to address believers with violence, we are to overcome evil with good.

    How can I accomplish for my family what God may not plan for them? Would I not be in God’s way, like Peter trying to protect Jesus from violence, and being rebuked (twice!: Mark 8:33; Matthew 26:47-56)? Conversely, if it’s not time for suffering, God hedges against it (Job; Luke 4; John 7, 8, & 10)

    As a husband and father of 4, I naturally try to protect my family. But I’m also trying to seek God so that I don’t get in His way, like Peter did. Otherwise, why would James tell us to rejoice in our suffering? It’s all about being in tune with God and His kingdom.

    And this applies to whatever extreme you might want to throw back at me, like, “What if someone breaks in…”, or “What if someone comes in your church…”. The sheep hear His voice and do what He says, *especially* when the wolf shows up.

    Like Keith said, it is ultimately a matter of conscience. A servant answers to His master, and the master does not tell every servant what He is planning for every other servant. There is a time for everything under the sun, including war and peace. There is also a standard reaction to general violence in the kingdom of God, as shown in the scriptures, namely non-violence. It’s up to each man to ask the Author for the interpretation and wisdom so that, at the right time, the servant can participate in the Master’s will.

  15. Paul said he was guilty of Stephens death even though he wasn’t who stoned him.
    Acts 22:20 “when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death” to stand by Stephen’s blood made him guilty of his death.

    If standing by someone’s death is consenting to their death it also is true to call the police to stop a gunman and they kill the gunman you too are consenting to the gunman’s death, and is also true of all the people who stood by knowing Jews were being slaughtered by the Nazi’s.

    I never said there aren’t circumstances when God’s Spirit may lead us to die a martyrs death. There also are circumstances God’s Spirit may lead us to fight righteously.

    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.”

    Luke 14:31-32 “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace.”

  16. Forgive me for diverging a moment, Jay.

    Tim, I’m not disagreeing about the principle that Gideon laid out in Judges 8:23 – it’s as right as Gideon could have gotten.

    Just an interesting side note, though. The funny thing about that situation is that they still seemed to treat Gideon and his family like a king even if they didn’t call him that. Gideon also proceeded to name the son he had with his concubine Abimelech, which means ‘My father is king.’ Interesting name choice for someone who made the statement he did. 🙂

    I have to agree with Stan. I have been enlightened greatly by this discussion, and look forward to it continuing. Still don’t know what this means for me yet, but I’m searching.

  17. Thanks Brad. I’d never noticed that.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  18. “I never said there aren’t circumstances when God’s Spirit may lead us to die a martyrs death. There also are circumstances God’s Spirit may lead us to fight righteously.” – Anonymous

    Then we’re saying the same thing. There is a time for everything, and there’s no blanket answer for every scenario, except to be in the will of God.

    Jesus practiced non-violence, and we should pay attention to that example, and why He, John the Baptist, Stephen, Peter, Paul, and many many others died without fighting back, and why repaying evil with good is the dominant NT story, not to mention a direct command of Jesus himself.

    Fighting a war for a government is tough call, because many times the truth of the reason for the war is not obvious (i.e., governments lie to get support for wars that are not about defending the weak and the helpless). Therefore, the christian, again, must rely on the call of God rather than the reasoning of men. It is characteristic of God to position His people in key places, in and out of governments and armies.

    As for the reference to Nazis (which borders on Goodwin’s law): had the Christians not elected him, then the holocaust would not have happened.

    Paul did not just see Stephen’s death and not do anything. Had Paul not been the coat-bearer, he would’ve been throwing stones himself. He was not a fearful observer who wasn’t sure what too do. He was completely in agreement of the stoning before it ever started. That’s a matter of the heart, not a ruling about actions. Your example warps scripture to say something you want/need it to say.

    A ruling for or against pacifism is not needed, but better teaching on hearing God’s still small voice in all occasions. There is no need to defend either position when in agreement with God.

    As the quoted Hebrews passages says, all of that earthly kingdom conquering was by faith. They had direct commands from God to go fight. The Christian soldier has no less a requirement.

    I offer my answers to the three scenarios that are not the same, though often treated as such:

    1. War
    God might call a Christian to war, but he still must be called, so as not to be fooled into “voting for Hitler”, so to speak. (Governments in time of war are not trustworthy, since the decision about “right” and “wrong” was made before the war started. All they have left is to convince others they are fighting a just war, if they have to do so at all.)

    2. Defending a fellow citizen, your family, or yourself from fellow citizens or family
    Yes. Do so whenever possible. even here, one does not have to be violent to accomplish this. But I agree with you that passing by on the other side is not an option.

    3. Defending a fellow citizen, your family, or yourself from an oppressive government
    Through diplomatic means (see Daniel). If the government does not obey its own rules when it comes to laws and rules of order, or its laws are based on the whim of a King, you are well beyond the point where violence will work. The government will have no problem removing opposition from the playing field, especially violent opposition.

    The bottom line is that peace and non-violence is the lifestyle of a Christian, but this does not exclude the possibility of serving God in violent ways. But those violent moments need special instructions from God, not man’s reasoning about “just wars”.

  19. Jay,

    i’m not entirely sure what you mean to imply by your first point. i may be oversimplifying, but i’d say it’s just because it is our job to model the kingdom on earth, to show God’s wisdom, that’s why we cannot fight the way the world fights or according to worldly wisdom of handling conflicts. God’s amazing wisdom is that evil can be beaten through sacrificial love. It’s worldly and all too easy in a sense to think that when someone’s got big guns, we solve the problem with bigger guns.

    One of my favorite songs at the moment has a line, “It is harder to stay, harder to wait, to out-love, to out-suffer them.” That sounds like Jesus’ battle plan to me. And i want, despite my sinful, wandering heart, to make it my battle plan too. God’s amazing wisdom is to love our enemies–to love them even when they hurt us, hate us, despise us, persecute us, and torture us. If i’m obeying my Lord, being the manifestation of God’s wisdom on earth, imitating the life of my Savior, then i won’t return to them anything like what they have given to me. Thus, if they pull the trigger at me, i won’t pull the trigger back. If they throw a punch at me, i won’t throw one back. i will bless those who curse me. i will pray for those who persecute me.

    i’m not perfect. And i’m by no means claiming that i would do everything right in every situation. As i’ve said, i feel many of the self-defense intuitions that many people here have tried to pump with various hypotheticals. But what i can do is be bold enough to try. To be daring and courageous enough not to retaliate. To be fearless enough to just trust that no matter what, God makes everything right in the end. To have the testicular fortitude (no offense intended) to believe that love, kindness, compassion, peace, and forgiveness are *stronger* weapons than violence, anger, war, and hatred.

    It’s true, i haven’t had to face virtually any violent situations in my personal life. But i am divorced from a person who for years wouldn’t stay out of other men’s beds. And there was one adulterer in particular that hurt me more than the rest. i wanted revenge. i wanted to see him suffer. i wanted there to be justice in the world. After all i’d suffered and forgiven and sacrificed of my own heart for her, i was angry and jealous that he got her attention and i didn’t. But one day i tried something different. i prayed for him. Not for justice or anything impreccatory. i was bold enough to say, “Holy Father, please bless ____. Please bless his family. Please fill his life with love and blessings.” It broke me in a way nothing else had.

    If i can use this general approach in such a personal situation, then why not anytime? Why not to a mugger or a carjacker? Why not a foreign soldier pointing bombs and bullets at me? i believe we can overcome violence and oppression without resorting to violence and oppression. Love and forgiveness takes evil out of circulation.

    Regarding your second point: but there are principle differences between then and now. (1) God had, in fact, aligned Himself with a certain government then. He has not done so now. (2) All of God’s people then were agents of the state to greater and lesser degrees, because they were a state period. God’s people now are not a state. Those are tremendous differences relevant to this very point and to the dichotomy you point out.


  20. How do you know Paul’s heart was that they kill Stephen? Paul never said that he would have stoned Stephen, seems you want it to say something it doesn’t.

    The scenario with Hitler isn’t a what if, it was a fact that Hitler and the Nazi’s were slaughtering Jews and people stood by until God stepped in giving us a great big sign , Pearl Harbor, that we had better quit standing by and do something about it.

  21. “How do you know Paul’s heart was that they kill Stephen? Paul never said that he would have stoned Stephen, seems you want it to say something it doesn’t. ” – Anonymous

    Your quickness to quip back at me underlies the problem of your arguments: lack of knowledge, and a need to win an argument:

    19″ ‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’ ”

    Paul’s own heart is revealed by Paul himself. That’s the only way I could know. Study first, comment second would be a good rule.

    And since I’m confident now that you don’t really want to discuss, but win, there is no reason to answer you further, as it is a chasing after the wind.

    Feel free to continue to prove the point with a quick and offended reply.

  22. Your quickness to quip back at me underlies the problem of your arguments: lack of knowledge, and a need to win an argument:-Brad

    First do you know my heart? Do you know those who are close to me that are in such circumstances making such decisions. I would kindly ask you not to be so quick to judge my heart and my intentions. No I am not commenting as a need to win an argument, I don’t think this is an argument all will agree 100% on, but to express what I believe as everyone else here is doing.

    Second I read what Paul said and it does not say he stoned them which was a way people were put to death, but that he imprisoned and beat them, many people were whipped but not killed.

  23. You know, as much as I get fed up with some of the things someone will say on this blog, I turn around and find that the next think that person says challenges me . . . or helps me. I end up valuing their input.

    I think it is fair to say that when one of us remarks in a way that could be taken as an attempt to win an argument . . . and they seem just down right mean for a moment . . .that one should assume that the language used is a reflection of that person’s strong feelings.

    Just point the truth out . . . there is no need to step on someone’s face if you think you have them on the ground.

  24. Jay,
    You are absolutly right about Theophilus. I came to the same conclusion shortly after posting. (have been out of town since.

    Thank you,
    Steve Valentine

  25. Stan,
    I really do not understand your 27OCT09 11:35 & 11:37 comments.

    If you must know, yes I am well versed in multiple firearms marksmanship, but will not boast. I do not take the talets (some may dissagree with this qualifying statement) or the resposibility that comes with them lightly. With a clear conscience I bear these abilities heavy.

    Steve Valentine

  26. Guy,
    You are in my prayers. I can not imagine the pain that was brought into your life by those acts. I pray healing and peace have come to you since.

    On praying for your enemies, I have two comments and one question.

    First, my sister faced much the same as you with an unfaithful spouse. Being that this happened to my younger sister, I felt a great since of big brother protection well up in me. To be honest some of my first thoughts were anything but Christ like; I really wanted to put my “talents” to use. But then I realized he was a man that was in great need of prayer, so after time I began to pray for him. One of the hardest things to do was pray for an un-believer that had brought so much pain and suffering to my own flesh and blood. But just as you experienced it brought release and reliefe. Praying for our enemies, I believe, was meant for our benefit just as much as it was for our enemies.

    On the other side of that same coin. I was brought up to pray for my enemies yet failed to practice it for real until I was deployed to Iraq. I began early on to pray for those that wished to do me harm, specifically those that would be shooting at me. I would like to say that I prayed for them every day, but the best I can do is that I prayed for them at least before each mission I went on. My team’s mission was not to engage the enemy, but to provide security, our orders were to fire only once fired upon. In my prayers, I would pray that hearts would be softened, eyes would be opened and weapons would fall to the ground. I was honest and sincere each time I prayed this, and it was always before praying for my own safety. Yet, for the life of me, I can not remember a single day over there that I was not shot at in some shape, form or fashion.

    My question is this – what do we do when those prayers are not answered?

    Steve Valentine

  27. “But it is the job of the church, I think, to declare unjust laws as unjust. ”

    I agree, but what laws are just and what laws are unjust?

    (1) Giving government funds to the poor is just because it feeds, clothes, and houses them. Or is it unjust because it creates a legacy of dependency on others that lasts for generations? Sincere Christians can point to examples on both sides of the question.

    (2) Government not giving education vouchers and providing school choice. It is just as it concentrates on supporting the public schools. It is unjust as it prevents the poor from sending their children to better schools. Sincere Christians can point to examples on both sides of the question.

    So, how do Christians decide which laws are just and which laws are unjust?

  28. Dwayne,

    My answer: The solution is for the church to stop worrying about changing laws, and start practicing and providing the justice ourselves. Offer tutoring programs to the community and make benevolence-ministries a bigger part of daily work. Aim for the congregation’s community not to be dependent upon whether laws or just or not.


  29. Steve,

    “weapons would fall to the ground” — another beautiful line that struck my eye with a tear.

    i agree forgiveness is as much for my benefit as for the offender’s. i believe it’s first and foremost for the benefit of the kingdom though.

    Regarding your last question, i haven’t forgotten you asked basically the same thing on my blog. i’ll try and post something relatively soon.



  30. Dwayne,

    There are laws that are obviously just, laws that are obviously unjust, and whole lot in between. I think the church should be cautious in its critiques, as we look divided when some in the church support a law and others oppose it — both in the name of Jesus.

    The Jim Crow laws of last century were uncertainly unjust and should have been condemned by the church — and it’s shameful that nearly all Christian churches stood by silently — or even supported — such laws.

    Today, laws that favor the rich at the expense of the poor should be condemned. Alabama actually imposes higher property taxes on the poor than on many of the most wealthy among us. That’s wrong.

    And sometimes the church should speak out against the motivations behind certain arguments. For example, there’s much to be said on all sides of the illegal immigration debate, but any argument that’s based on the premise that we need only consider what’s good for Americans is un-Christian to the core.

    And so, at the least, the church can help direct the discussion of such issues toward legitimate considerations and away from arguments built on racism, oppression of the poor, and such.

  31. In the Eastern way of thinking, the coat-bearer at the stoning would have been the one in authority. RVL talks about this.

    Also, Paul was the Roman citizen present — so his actions lent even more public approval to the situation than would have been presented had he been merely a Jewish man.

    Finally, many of the arguments on this string have been parsed in terms of “what’s the loving response to something that is happening to me?” when many of the actual issues are about “what’s the loving response when my enemy is kicking the stuffing out of a weaker third party?”

    Sitting on my couch wringing my hands or watching football just doesn’t seem like the loving response to genocide in Rwanda.

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