In this closing post I’ll explore the issue through the lens of Christ’s Apostles.
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.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
The questions raised by this verse are:
- 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?
- 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.”
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.
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?