Closing Thoughts (2)
The story of Cornelius’ salvation by Christ is of signal import because of its being the first Gentile conversion that was affirmed by the Church. However, within the examination of Christian pacifism its meaning becomes all the more profound. For, when God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, chose whom that first Gentile convert would be, it was a Roman soldier, a centurion.
Perhaps some could be persuaded to “pass by” this telling detail, were it an isolated case. But, it most certainly is not. In fact, this event is actually the third part of a Scriptural trilogy that leaves no reasonable doubt as to God’s teaching.
In “Part 1” we find John the Baptist proclaiming Christ’s coming and therefore calling all to repentance through baptism. And, who should respond to his message but a group of soldiers.
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.”
Note that when the 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.
In “Part 2,” Jesus Christ has arrived and is actively preaching the Gospel. He is sought out by none other than a Roman centurion who’s servant is gravely ill. As a consequence of this encounter Christ lifts up this man’s demonstration of faith, placing it far above that which He has seen in the nation of Israel.
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.
I simply point out that Jesus responds to the centurion’s faith without making so much as the smallest comment on his occupation. 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 His praise of the centurion’s faith.
Now in “Part 3,” the trilogies’ capstone, we find that God has also chosen a Roman centurion to be the vessel through whom His Church will welcome the Gentiles into Christianity! And, within this world-shattering event, is this man’s occupation as a Roman soldier raised as a barrier to entry? Not in the slightest!
No, the barrier to be overcome is that of the ceremonial Jewish law that demands separation from the Gentiles. This issue, which applies to fellowship with any Gentile, be they soldier or not, is the only one raised and addressed!
We should have discovered an absolutely clear 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, Christ Himself and now the Apostle Peter, it is virtually impossible to conclude that this was their intention.
And finally note that this unmistakable trilogy is in addition to all the other clear Biblical evidence against pacifism. Thus, I must conclude that the pacifist position cannot survive a complete, careful Scriptural study.
I understand that pacifism has a long and substantial place in Christian thought. However, clearly this is a consequence of powerful personal feelings being overlaid on Scripture’s teaching to create a false belief. I am not here denouncing Christian pacifists. For, who among us fallen, frail humans is uniformly immune from failure of this nature? Certainly not me. However, we should hope that all Christians, if provided compelling evidence of erroneous belief through Scripture’s teaching would submit to Scripture.
Just because we can’t travel all the way with 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 erroneous position force us to stand idly by while terrible evil is done (or is about to be done). Perhaps we can end this phase of the discussion with these words from Proverbs.
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?
Proverbs 24:5,6; 11,12