If Jesus Isn’t a Pacifist Then Why do so Many Christians Think He Is? (Part 1)

Jesus-100%We have just completed a journey that began on December 5, 2015, with a post titled Can Christians Support a War on Islamic Terrorism.  In that post I said:

If you are worshiping in a Mainline Protestant denomination, the loudest and most aggressive responding voices will likely be pushing a peculiar form of pacifism  that simultaneously excuses / justifies violence by Islamic terrorists (among others) while demanding that our society do nothing to defend itself.  Many Christians will be cowed into silence by these arguments because of the oft repeated falsehood that Jesus Christ is a pacifist.  This argument has power only because of a successful campaign that has turned “Jesus Christ” into nothing other than an avatar for radical progressive beliefs.

In order to get to this point I embarked on a series of posts kicked-off by Who is Jesus Christ and How do We Know?  followed by six posts titled How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ Is?.  Only then could I begin discussing the issue of Christ’s supposed pacifism in six posts titled Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know?.  Thus, it has taken at least 14 substantial posts and thousands of words to generate a credible response to the core question.

I’m confident that the question of Jesus Christ’s supposed pacifism has been credibly and conclusively answered — He is not a pacifist.  That being my conclusion, I’m now forced to address the obvious question:

If Jesus Isn’t a Pacifist Then Why do so Many Christians Think He Is? 

The above description of what it has taken to get to this point constitutes a first level answer.  That being that it takes hard work, sustained Biblical focus, theological knowledge and critical thinking to answer for yourself even the apparently simplest questions about Jesus Christ.  The fact is that very few Christians have the time, energy, inclination or background to embark on such a journey.  I am not here being critical.  Rather, I am stating a fact that leads to important consequences.

The key consequence is that most Christians, by necessity, place their trust in Christian institutions and leaders who (they believe) know and teach the best available truth about their faith.  They also utilize the information and resources that are easily available to think about important issues associated with the Christian faith.  However, if the institutions, leaders and other available sources are driven by agendas other than Christianity as revealed in the Bible, then this trust can be used as a weapon of deception and falsehood.

This is not to say that any Christian who believes that Christ is a pacifist is engaging in deception and falsehood.  That is, many Christians believe this with clear consciences, having placed their trust in sources of information that appear to clearly and compellingly teach this “truth.”

So, in this and following post I will take up the title’s question, starting with the following discussion.

The Problem of Unexamined Assumptions

One of the greatest temptations when studying the Bible is to focus primarily on those passages that tend to confirm our own preconceived view of who God is, what is His nature and what He requires of us.  The flip side is to pass over quickly, or completely ignore, those passages that tend to challenge our preconceived views.

This begs the question from where these preconceived views originate.  A common answer is Biblical illiteracy.  Polls showing that Biblical literacy is shockingly low, and declining even among committed Christians are well known.  We are aware that only a minority of Christians commit to regular Bible study, as individuals or in groups.  Our busy, distracted lives are too easily diverted to prioritize other goods.   The result is too often the “blind leading the blind” in terms of Biblical discussion.  We simply assume that the Bible actually teaches those things that are commonly attributed to it by our peers, pastors and advisors.

But there is something else at work.  Even for those Christians who have made the commitment to regular Bible study there exist significant “blind spots.”  That is, in spite of their complete reading of entire Books, and the entire Bible itself, they are shocked and dismayed when confronted by specific Biblical teachings.

The cognitive dissonance exhibited in these situations is often painful to observe.  On the one hand, the individual knows what they are convinced that the Bible teaches.  On the other hand, they are confronted with clear, concrete Bible passages that conflict with their understanding.  In too many cases the resolution is not to admit that their understanding might be incomplete or actually incorrect.  Rather, they, in effect, simply ignore the offending material.

Regardless of the sources or reasons, it is clear that many Bible believing Christians approach Scripture with preconceived ideas imprinted upon their minds.  These imprints are firmly established and powerfully persistent.  Bible study itself becomes not an open-minded inquiry into God’s teaching, but rather a cafeteria line of ideas to be accepted or rejected depending on their adherence to what is already “known” to be true, or, to what should be true.

There is also a not-so-subtle social pressure to fall into line with the socially dominant position, which will be discussed in the next post.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 6)

Jesus-Pacifist-98%In this closing post I’ll explore the issue through the lens of Christ’s Apostles.

Luke 3:14

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The person being asked is John the Baptist. The situation is John’s baptizing the multitudes for the forgiveness of sins. Note that when soldiers ask John what they must now do, he completely ignores their roles as war-fighters. This is a passing strange omission for the anointed Prophet who is preparing the way for Christ’s mission, particularly so if pacifism were to be a central principle of that mission.

Acts 10:1 – 11:18 (Peter and Cornelius)

The Scripture passage is too long to include.  But, please, pick up a Bible and read the entire story!

Cornelius was “a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment” who had become a “devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” who became the first high profile Gentile convert to Christianity. The Apostle Peter was called to this act by God’s direct intervention through visions that brought them together.

What’s interesting is that the issues in play have to do exclusively with ritual defilement of a Jew by association with Gentiles, including dietary restrictions. At no point is Cornelius’ occupation as a war-fighter mentioned.

We should have discovered a pattern by now. Soldiers were (and are) welcome in the Church without having to give up their profession. This is not to say that their Christian faith won’t have a powerful impact on their conduct. But, with all of these opportunities to send the message that their position as war-fighters was incompatible with the Christian faith passed up by John the Baptist, the Apostle Peter and Christ Himself it is extremely difficult to believe that this was their intention.

The above comments are not intended to be a general endorsement of warfare or of the men and women who engage in war. Rather, it is a straightforward acknowledgement of what Scripture appears to be teaching.

Romans 12:18

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

The questions raised by this verse are:

  1. What if you have gone as far as is absolutely possible to live in peace with a person or group and they respond with continued hostility or violent attack?
  2. What if a situation arises in which you have no opportunity to seek peacefulness, such as a sudden, violent assault?

If peacefulness is not absolute, then these questions and others become active for the Christian. Had pacifism been the intent I would have expected something more along the lines of “Always, without exception, live at peace with everyone.”

Romans 13:4

For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Is this not an open, clear endorsement of a government’s responsibility to protect its citizens from internal crime and external enemies who seek to do harm?

1 Peter 2:1

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

It’s interesting that in the numerous lists of vices, war is not mentioned.  This would be strange were the Christian faith pacifist.

Conclusion

The pacifist position cannot survive a complete, careful Scriptural study. I understand that pacifism has a long and substantial place in Christian thought. Just because we can’t travel all the way with our Christian pacifists doesn’t mean that we should ignore their counsel. Quite the opposite, their deeply held belief in peace compels the rest of us to more carefully test our own conclusions with regard to the use of force. However, in the extremity of danger, neither can their position force us to stand idly by while terrible evil is done (or about to be done). Perhaps we can end this phase of the discussion (for now) with these words from Proverbs.

Proverbs 24:5,6; 11,12

A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.

Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.  If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 5)

Jesus-Pacifist-80%I now continue my consideration of the Gospel record with the goal of determining if the call to peacefulness by Christ is universal in scope and absolute in practice.

Matthew 10:34-36

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ” ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother in law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”

The language is striking. Jesus specifically rejects the notion that His goal is peace in all situations and at any cost. Of course, the opposition between even family members could be only spiritual in nature.

However, in actual experience hostility broke out into overt violence against Christians. The early Church responded with what can only be described as non-violence. However, given the general climate of hostility, sometimes leading the Roman Government to persecution (including martyrdom) , non-violent response was the only policy by which the Church might survive. That is, to raise in armed opposition would only confirm the case against them (that they were traitors) and provide the pretext for total extermination.

In any case, for Christ to define the consequences of his work as the opposite of peace is incompatible with a mind set that places peace at the pinnacle of value.

Luke 22:35-38

Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”  “Nothing,” they answered.  He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”  The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”  “That is enough,” he replied.

This striking but often ignored passage requires careful consideration. Jesus clearly wasn’t planning any resistance on either His or the Disciple’s part to the Passion. Christ is apparently referring to some time in the future when Christians will defend themselves with the sword. Given my belief in Christ’s divinity, it appears likely that He was speaking to Christians hundreds of years in the future.

It is also striking that Christ’s disciples were armed. It raises the question of why an absolute pacifist would allow his most intimate followers to carry weapons of violence and then openly discuss their acquisition and value.  The question answers itself.

John 19:8-11

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”  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.”

Note that Christ in this exchange says that it is God who gives power and authority to rulers. Clearly they are expected to discharge their duties in fear and trembling before the LORD. However, it must be admitted that those duties include the threat (and use if necessary) of force to maintain the peace and protect from internal crime or external invasion.

Mark 15:39

And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

The climactic statement of Mark’s Gospel is uttered by – a Roman centurion!

Recall that I have conceded the imperative of peacefulness in Christ’s teaching. The question under consideration has been the extent in terms of scope and practice. That is, does peacefulness extend to the absolute totality of pacifism?

Such a conclusion requires that an extremely high standard of pacifist consistency and intent in Christ’s teaching be met. Although any single item discussed in this and the last post might be explained away, the cumulative message is difficult to ignore. That message is that although Christians are to seek peacefulness first and foremost, there are extreme situations in which other responses, including organized violence, are necessary and authorized.

In the next post I will consider additional situations and teaching in the New Testament.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 4)

Jesus-Pacifist-60I have previously stated that “There is no doubt Jesus taught that the nonviolent resolution of conflict is the best possible policy – for individuals as well as for governments.” To conclude otherwise would be to reject the clear, forceful teaching of my Lord and Savior. But the issue under consideration forces the following questions of extent and intention.

  1. When Jesus taught the primacy of peacefulness did He intend it to cover every situation in which Christians could find themselves?
  2. Is peacefulness a goal towards which we should strive or an absolute rule to which we must adhere?

I use the term “peacefulness” in order to differentiate Christ’s teachings from “pacifism” until a conclusion can be drawn.

The most direct means of addressing the above two questions is to explore Christ’s words. I have already conceded that there are many instances of Christ teaching the primacy of peacefulness. Thus, the real issue is the extent to which this principle is to be applied. Therefore, my focus will be on those passages that deal, either directly or indirectly with the issue of force (with violence as an understood included extreme).

Matthew 12:29

“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.”

Consider the implication behind this saying. A “strong man” must be tied up prior to theft because otherwise he would use that strength to defend his property. Jesus appears to take as a given the right of self-defense. As with other similar cases, a possible alternative interpretation is that Jesus is simply using a well-understood practical situation to make a spiritual point (i.e., without necessarily endorsing the underlying situation).  However, it must also be admitted that Jesus could have chosen many other situations to illuminate His point that did not include the concept of self-defense.  The fact that He didn’t purposefully avoid using a situation that includes self-defense suggests indifference to a pacifist point of view.

Matthew 8:5-13

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said,” my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”  Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Jesus responds to the centurion’s faith without making so much as a comment on his occupation. And that occupation was a commander of approximately 100 men in the Roman Army. In all likelihood this man had seen action in numerous wars. Were Jesus intent on turning humankind away from any form of violence, it would be passing strange that Jesus did not add instruction about future conduct to praise in the centurion’s faith.

Luke 7:1-10

When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant.

When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.  He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The story in Luke adds information about the centurion’s relationship with the local Jewish community. Clearly, this man possessed virtues in addition to core faith in Christ. However, due to his position and responsibilities, had Rome decreed that he go to war against the very nation with whom he had made such deep connections, he would have in all likelihood obeyed.  And yet, Jesus Christ chose to give this man one of the highest statements of praise found in the Gospels.  Can anyone honestly imagine someone driven by pacifist ideology doing this?

Luke 14:25-35

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The point of these examples is focused on the issue of counting the cost of following Christ. What’s striking is the use of war as the basis for one of them. If war is to be always shunned by Christians, why choose this as opposed to the thousands of other possibilities? Try to imagine a pacifist using war as a metaphor in making a spiritual point.

I will continue considering this issue within the context of the Gospel record in the next post.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 3)

Christ-Pacifist-40%For some the conclusion reached in my last blog – that Jesus Christ is not a pacifist – may have appeared premature. After all, why should we moderns be bound by the doctrinal position of the English and Scottish divines of the 1640’s (Westminster Shorter Catechism)? The linch pin for this conclusion was the unity and equal authority of the New and Old Testaments. (I’m assuming that Christian pacifists will not object to Christ’s deity and unity in the Trinity.)

Surely, some might argue, the New Testament with its apparent emphasis on peace supplants and overrules the Old Testament with its apparent emphasis on judgement. I will answer this point with the demonstrable fact that Jesus Himself considered the Old Testament to be God’s Word, and, lived under its authority. As is so often the case (likely always if I looked harder) another person has already made the case far better than could I. Here’s an extended excerpt from “The Authority of Scripture” by William Webster.

Christianity is founded upon the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His attitude to the Scriptures is supremely important. Since he is God, then all that he teaches must be true and authoritative.

Jesus clearly taught that Scripture is inspired by God. He regarded it as truth—infallible, inerrant, historically reliable, authoritative for living, and an all sufficient rule of faith. He could say, for example, when speaking with the Pharisees or Sadducees, ‘Have you not read what God said?’ and then quote from Scripture (Matt. 22:31-32). In Matthew 4:4-10, Jesus repeatedly answers Satan by using the Old Testament as the Word of God, saying, ‘It is written.’ He maintained that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law until all was accomplished (Matt. 5:17) and that the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35).

In the prayer to his Father on the night before he was crucified, Jesus declared that ‘Thy word is truth’ (John 17:17). He affirmed the historicity of Adam (Matt. 19:4), Cain and Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah (Luke 17:26), Jonah (Matt. 12:40), the creation account (Mark 10:6-9), and the reality of heaven and hell (Mark 9:44-46).

Jesus also used the Word of God as an ultimate standard of authority when he came into conflict with other people. He rebuked men with Scripture; correcting their false concepts, teaching and misinterpretations of Scripture by using scriptural proofs. Matthew 22:23-33, for example, describes how Jesus told the Sadducees that they were greatly mistaken in their denial of the resurrection because they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Then he quoted a passage from the book of Genesis as an authoritative declaration from God to correct them. It is highly significant that Christ never appealed to tradition as a standard of authority; instead he used Scripture to correct the errors of tradition.

As Jesus is Lord over the Church, the Church must not only accept his teaching on the Scriptures; it must also adopt the same attitude towards them that he did. His entire life was submitted to the authority of Scripture. In quoting passages from the Old Testament during his conflict with Satan in the wilderness, Christ was applying them to his own life and thereby demonstrating that he was under the authority of Scripture. His victory was accomplished through obedience to the Scriptures, as he used them as the ultimate authority for every area of his life.

At another time, speaking of his relationship with his Father, Jesus said, ‘I know him and keep his word’ (John 8:55). From beginning to end, Christ’s life and ministry were governed by the authority of Scripture. As well as testifying to the truth of the Scriptures by submitting himself to their authority, Christ also declared their inspiration as he fulfilled in his life, death and resurrection the Messianic prophecies they contained. Over and over again he said, ‘This is being done in order that that which is written might be fulfilled.’

As a quick aside, it’s difficult to imagine a more complete and compelling refutation of the Confession of 1967’s view of Scripture.  If you dare, consider the moral and theological corruption necessary to move from Christ’s to the Confession of 1967’s view.

Finally, I submit that Jesus Himself responded to a situation with violence (John 2:13-17).

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” [Psalm 69:9]

The “whip of cords” was used to compel otherwise settled men out before him. That is, violence was used as a means of resolving a particularly unjust and unacceptable situation. I would agree that this incident pales when compared to the Old Testament incidents of violence. However, this is a matter of degree as opposed to kind.

However, were this incident the only evidence that Jesus Christ isn’t a pacifist, then a legitimate criticism could be that we are placing much weight on a very slender reed.  The following posts will demonstrate that there is much more Biblical evidence that counters a supposed pacifist ideology in Christ.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 2)

Jesus-Pacifist-20%

I ended the first blog on this topic with three statements regarding evaluation of the conclusion that Jesus is a pacifist, those being:

  • The entire Bible, which includes the Old Testament as a co-eaual part, describes Gods nature and action in our world.
  • Even (incorrectly) limiting ourselves to the New Testament, Jesus Christ did and said many other things that relate to the question at hand, and, that call into question the conclusion that He is a pacifist.
  • There are well established orthodox Reformed theological conclusions regarding God’s nature that also call such a conclusion into question.

These statements demand a broader, deeper examination of the Biblical record in our consideration of Christian Pacifism. In addition, their logical consequences must be explored carefully within the context of God’s character as revealed in Scripture.

When we explore the Old Testament we don’t find a God for Whom “any form of violence is incompatible.” In fact, we find God both doling out violence directly and commanding His people to do violence. A few selected examples should make the point.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. (Exodus 14:26-28, NIV)

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land. You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king, except that you may carry off their plunder and livestock for yourselves. Set an ambush behind the city.” (Joshua 8:1,2, NIV)

Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me. (Psalm 144:1,2, NIV)

But the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will sound the battle cry against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it will become a mound of ruins, and its surrounding villages will be set on fire. Then Israel will drive out those who drove her out,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 49:2, NIV)

This is the point at which settled theological consequences come into play. For if the above statements are indeed true, then the exact same God as revealed in the Gospels has used violence in His dealings with humans.  In particular:

God is a spirit, whose being, wisdom power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. (Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Many Biblical passages confirm this theological conclusion, including but certainly not limited to:

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  (James 1:17, ESV)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  (Hebrews 13:8 ESV)

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6)

Thus, to posit a pacifist Jesus Christ creates unreconcilable conflict with both the doctrines of God’s identity / nature and the Holy Scriptures.  At this point some might conclude that my work is done, and the issue is settled.  It should be with regard to the nature of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

However, there is still the possibility that although God is not a pacifist He in Christ has decreed that we follow this path. I believe such a position is not necessarily in conflict with fundamental Christian doctrine. Therefore, this will be the hypothesis examined going forward.

Is Jesus Christ a Pacifist and How Can We Know? (Part 1)

Application of General Rules to a Specific Case
PacifistJesus

The only sensible place to start is with a definition of “Christian pacifism.” Although not from a traditionally published source, this Wikipedia definition has the ring of sufficiency and accuracy.

“Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Christian pacifists state that Jesus himself was a pacifist who taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise.”

There is no doubt Jesus taught that the nonviolent resolution of conflict is the best possible policy – for individuals as well as for governments.  Christ’s statements on these matters are clear. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” these Christian principles were laid out in uncompromising language.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12, RSV)

Further in, the point becomes more personal and focused:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he 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 salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48, RSV)

There is also the undeniable fact that Christ responded to the violent assaults of Good Friday with absolutely no resistance. And, that the ultimate power of the Cross is based on Christ’s choice to sacrifice Himself for the sake of others rather than to defend His own rights.

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook him and fled. (Matthew 26:52-56, RSV)

Were we to draw conclusions based only on these passages (and there are numerous others that add support) the result would be unavoidable – Jesus Christ is a pacifist.  This is the conclusion that our PCUSA elite (and those who follow them as well as many other Christians) have made.  In fact, the Biblical evidence in support of Jesus Christ’s presumed pacifism is far stronger than that for His support of same-gender marriage (this is a very low standard, for, as demonstrated in this blog, the actual Scriptural support for same-gender marriage is virtually zero).

However, there is additional Biblical evidence that must be evaluated prior to drawing such a premature conclusion, including:

  • The entire Bible, which includes the Old Testament as a co-eaual part, describes Gods nature and action in our world.
  • Even (incorrectly) limiting ourselves to the New Testament, Jesus Christ did and said many other things that relate to the question at hand, and, that call into question the conclusion that He is a pacifist.
  • There are well established orthodox Reformed theological conclusions regarding God’s nature that also call such a conclusion into question.

In short, we must apply the general rules of Biblical interpretation to this specific case.  The following posts will do just that.

How Can We Know Who Jesus Christ is? (Part 6)

The Confession of 1967 (2 of 2)

WHOHowJCThe Confession of 1967 was, by the admission of its primary authors, intended to directly contradict the Westminster Confession on numerous central doctrinal points.  The consequences for a denomination that purports to be “confessional” have been nothing short of disastrous.  Before proceeding further, allow me to quote from the authors themselves regarding their purpose (see here and here for expanded information).

This section is an intended revision of the Westminster doctrine, which rested primarily on a view of inspiration and equated the Biblical canon directly with the Word of God. By contrast, the preeminent and primary meaning of the word of God in the Confession of 1967 is the Word of God incarnate. The function of the Bible is to be the instrument of the revelation of the Word in the living church. It is not a witness among others but the witness without parallel, the norm of all other witness. At the same time questions of antiquated cosmology, diverse cultural influences, and the like, may be dealt with by careful scholarship uninhibited by the doctrine of inerrancy which placed the older Reformed theology at odds with advances in historical and scientific studies. (“The Proposal to Revise the Confessional Position of The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” p. 29)

The clearly described intent of these authors is transformed into the following two sentences in the Confession of 1967 (emphasis added).

The one sufficient revelation of God is Jesus Christ, the Word of God incarnate, to whom the Holy Spirit bears unique and authoritative witness through the Holy Scriptures, which are received and obeyed as the word of God written.

The Scriptures, given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are nevertheless the words of men, conditioned by the language, thought forms, and literary fashions of the places and times at which they were written.

As is so often the case, the radical break with previous doctrinal understanding is obscured behind subtle, confusing language that appears to be perfectly acceptable on the surface, but actually smuggles in a monumental theological change of perspective.  In this case, the crucial point of departure is clearly identified as follows.

According to the Confession, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, in distinction from Scripture; Scripture, the words of men, merely bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Word of God.

As I have discussed in detail, the practical consequence of this distinction is to completely decouple the person and purpose of Jesus Christ from the Words of Scripture.  That is, in practice, the Confession of 1967 frees pastors, elders and deacons to substitute who they believe Jesus Christ should be, based upon their own beliefs, for who the Scriptures actually describe Him to be.  They are so freed because in their ordination vow:

c. Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?

they are in effect committing to a nullity.  That is, since “the confessions of our church” simultaneously teach two diametrically opposed views of Scripture, they essentially cancel each other out, leaving nothing but a gaping doctrinal void.

The Confession of 1967 is a foundational component of the PCUSA’s demise.  It is the source from which the evasions, deceptions and outright heresies perpetrated by our ruling elite are justified.  For, as the most recent full “confession of faith,” the Confession of 1967 has negated huge areas of Reformed doctrine.  These areas have been replaced by whatever our PCUSA elite decide should be true on any particular issue at any particular time.

The Confession of 1967’s teaching on Scripture, and, on many other doctrinal issues as well, is diametrically opposed to the doctrines of our historic (i.e., pre-1967) confessions.  As an elder, I will not accept that I have vowed to follow Jesus Christ based on the leadership of a nullity.  Rather I will choose which of the two diametrically opposed confessional standards that I will follow.  I choose the historic confessions.

This post completes discussion of our confessional basis for general Biblical interpretation.  I will now apply these concepts to the specific question: Is Jesus Christ a pacifist and how can we know?