King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (31)

Ancient-BattleDavid’s Song of Praise (4)

2 Samuel 22:38-46

We now arrive at the place in King David’s prayer that so discomforts our Christian pacifist friends.  Here, King David, looking back upon his life, speaks of God’s sovereign acts by which David was able to defeat his enemies in mortal combat.

38 “I pursued my enemies and crushed them;
    I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
39 I crushed them completely, and they could not rise;
    they fell beneath my feet.
40 You armed me with strength for battle;
    you humbled my adversaries before me.

Yes, David is attributing the crushing destruction of his enemies to God’s providential acts of direct support.

41 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
    and I destroyed my foes.
42 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
    to the Lord, but he did not answer.
43 I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth;
    I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets.

David continues his vivid, unblinking description of the death and destruction meted out to his enemies.  They not only were killed, but their bodies were obliterated, becoming nothing more than dust of the earth.

44 “You have delivered me from the attacks of the peoples;
    you have preserved me as the head of nations.
People I did not know now serve me,
45     foreigners cower before me;
    as soon as they hear of me, they obey me.
46 They all lose heart;
    they come trembling from their strongholds.

There is no avoiding the explicit nature of David’s statements concerning God’s direct action in these matters of warfare.

I have on many occasions observed the rejection of passages such as this by progressive Christian pacifists.  The simple fact is that they will not countenance the possibility that the God revealed in the Bible would be allowed to violate their personal moral code.  No, they too often would rather disregard any offending passage than submit to the authority of God’s Word concerning God’s own nature.

In many cases they seek to dissociate David of the Old Testament from Jesus of the New Testament.  But, as I have pointed out in the first of these current posts:

In the first verse of the first Book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the name of David occurs at the twelfth word.

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:(Matthew 1:1, NIV)

Thus, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is tied in the most intimate manner with King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart.

I now ask: Is there anywhere in the New Testament where David’s conduct with respect to warfare is criticized, let alone disavowed?  None come to mind.  However, it is not only in the Gospel of Matthew where King David is directly tied to Christ’s Kingdom.  For, in the greatest theological Epistle, the Apostle Paul does precisely the same thing.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 1:1-4)

Note well that in reference to Jesus Christ “his earthly life was a descendant of David.”  

What, you might rightly wonder, is my motive for making the point with such force.  Is it because I am a warmonger?  Do I own stock in the arms industry?  Am I filled with hate for other nationalities, religions, races, cultures, etc.?  Or, as some of my pacifist friends have not so subtlety asserted, am I a defective Christian?

I don’t believe that it is any of these motives.  I would love to live out my life in peace, and to know that every other person will be able to do so as well.

I certainly understand that actions taken by the United States will all too often cause friction and conflict as they intersect with other cultures and countries.  Yes, and the reason for this will too often be in significant measure our own fault.  But this admission in no way absolves the others of moral responsibility for their actions.

 

PeacInOurTime

Pacifism enabling Nazi Germany in September 1938.  One year later Europe was engulfed in total war.

This is the point of departure between myself and progressive pacifists.  For they, in order to justify demands for passivity on our part, insist that the the only group with moral agency in these conflicts is us.  Thus, those who attack us with terrorism and threaten us with destruction bear no responsibility for their evil.  No, they are just blameless puppets who are responding to the evil that we do.  It is thus they who dehumanize the other, turning them into subhuman creatures whose character does not rise to the level at which moral responsibility can be expected.

Approaching_Omaha

Omaha Beach, June 6 1944.  Non-pacifists begin to free Europe from enslavement and genocide.

The reason that there is a Western Civilization at all is because Christians of earlier ages didn’t falsely turn God’s Word into an excuse for cowardice and defeatism.  This statement pertains to a time as recent as decades ago and extends back through centuries.  If Western Civilization is destroyed and replaced by Political Islam or resurgent Communism, the resulting death and destruction across the planet will be far worse than if we had stood and fought.

But what’s all that compared to maintaining a faux sense of personal moral purity?  On the answer to that question hangs the fate of uncounted millions, both within and outside of Western Civilization.

Vienna_Battle_1683.jpg

The Ottoman Army surrounds Vienna in 1683.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (27)

week3-large-2David’s Song of Praise (1)

2 Samuel 22:1-16

David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel is also included (with minor differences) in God’s Word as Psalm 18.  I will therefore lean on John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 18 as we work our way through this magnificent prayer.

David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

Note first that this prayer was composed late in David’s life, after he had experienced danger and want due to everything from persecution by King Saul, to foreign wars, to treason by his own son, among much more.  Let Calvin provide the background.

David had discomfited many foreign enemies, and had also suppressed the rebellion of his own son Absalom. But, persuaded that it was a singular manifestation of the grace of God towards him, and eminently worthy of being remembered, that he had for so many years escaped from innumerable deaths, or rather that as many days as he had lived under the reign of Saul, God had wrought, as it were, so many miracles for his deliverance, he firstly mentions and celebrates in particular his deliverance from the hands of this relentless enemy. By calling himself the servant of God, he doubtless intended to bear testimony to his call to be king, as if he had said, I have not rashly, and by my own authority, usurped the kingdom, but have only acted in obedience to the oracle of heaven. And, indeed, amidst the many storms which he had to encounter, it was a support highly necessary to be well assured in his own mind of having undertaken nothing but by the appointment of God; or rather, this was to him a peaceful haven, and a secure retreat in the midst of so many broils and strange calamities.

John Calvin Commentary on Psalm 18

So now King David begins his prayer of praise and thanksgiving.

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
    from violent people you save me.

 

When God ordained that young David would become King of Israel the powers that be did not quietly submit.  Rather, they struck out with cunning and cruelty, making every possible attempt to void God’s purpose by killing David.

What surprises is, after reading the story in 1 and 2 Samuel, we see that it apparently was David’s own guile and prowess by which these enemies were defeated.  And yet, here we find David in prayer, giving all of the glory to God.  How can this be so?

When we examine the facts, though, we see that throughout David’s entire life on the run the opposition usually had an overwhelming power advantage.  An unredeemed man who had overcome in these circumstances would find the temptation of pride irresistible.  However, David, redeemed and justified by God, responds in the opposite way.  Thus, this prayer of thanksgiving and praise was spoken not because David was a better person, but because God chose to work through this particular person.  Perhaps the Apostle Paul can help us to understand.

For I am the least of the apostles and am unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:9,10)

David now proceeds to describe in vivid detail the depth of danger and the height of grace which he had experienced.

“I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and have been saved from my enemies.
The waves of death swirled about me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

We simply cannot imagine the terrors that David had experienced.

“In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came to his ears.
The earth trembled and quaked,
    the foundations of the heavens shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    consuming fire came from his mouth,
    burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him—
    the dark rain clouds of the sky.
13 Out of the brightness of his presence
    bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The Lord thundered from heaven;
    the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemy,
    with great bolts of lightning he routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
    and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at the rebuke of the Lord,
    at the blast of breath from his nostrils.

What troubles so many current Western Christians in the above passage is the violence of God’s response.  God is filled with anger at those who oppose His decree.  He thus induces terror in those who oppose Him.  This response is the opposite of the kumbaya expectation of those who have fallen prey to the “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” theological error.  Therefore, too many current Christians choose to spiritualize or even outright ignore passages such as this.

I don’t stress this point to provide blanket justification for any act of war/violence by a Christian majority group/country.  Rather, my purpose is to correct those among us who have turned Christianity into a suicide pact when confronted by aggressive evil.  This idea is spread by the falsehood that pacifism is central to God’s character.  I have addressed this issue in detail, starting here.

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (12)

5-saul-attacking-david-guercino

King Saul Attacking David – Guercino (1646)

King Saul and David (1 Samuel 18)

Passifistic Perfectionism Collides with the Scriptural Text

In this chapter the existential threat posed by David to Saul’s kingship becomes absolutely clear.  King Saul now finds himself within yet another impossible situation.  For David, against all reasonable expectations, has become the conquering hero who not only defeated the giant Goliath, but who also led the subsequent defeat of the Philistine army.  King Saul has been reduced to the position of a hapless bystander, thus profoundly undercutting his prestige and authority.  Yet Saul doesn’t dare act to remove David for that same reason.  The nation’s response to this situation encapsulates the entire situation with in two pithy lines (verse 7b).

“Saul has slain his thousands,
    and David his tens of thousands.”

Has ever a reigning king been so utterly humiliated?  I expect that scholars can propose other examples, though the ensuing debate would be fascinating.

As a consequence of the nation’s love for David, King Saul was forced to bestow honor and power upon him.  David was given a high rank in Israel’s army, leading his troops to victory after victory.  King Saul’s own son, Jonathan, “made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself” (verse 3), in effect, renouncing his (i.e., Jonathan’s) claim to the throne.

All of this eventually led King Saul to near insanity, where he twice attempted to kill David (who remained always in Saul’s court) with a spear.  He was left with the devastating realization that “the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul” (verse 12).  What follows throughout the book of 1 Samuel is an incoherent bimodal strategy of control through appeasement and murderous assault.

King Saul begins with appeasement by offering his daughter Merab as a wife to David.  Were David to accept he would be absorbed into Saul’s family.  However, David declines the offer, thus once again thwarting the king’s plans.

However, some time later it is learned that Saul’s daughter Michal has fallen in love with David.  Saul once again offers a daughter to David, and once again he is rebuffed.  However, this time Saul is determined to prevail.  David’s excuse is that  “I’m only a poor man and little known” (verse 23).  So, King Saul moves to remove this stated excuse.

25 Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The king wants no other price for the bride than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on his enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.

Once again Saul believes that David’s implicit challenge to his throne will be dealt with through his cleaver scheme.  Unfortunately for the king:

David-to-Saul27 David took his men with him and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the king so that David might become the king’s son-in-law. Then Saul gave him his daughter Michal in marriage.

28 When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, 29 Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days.

The departure for commentary relating to our contemporary situation will be from verse twenty-seven.  For in this incident the presumed perfectionist pacifism of our age collides head-on with the supposed ignorance and savagery of the past.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (10)

David-slays-GoliathDavid and Goliath (1 Samuel 17)

A Pebble that Rocked the World

So all of the pieces are now in place for this fraught confrontation.  The Philistine’s have attempted to force Israel into a lose-lose situation.  King Saul has countered by sending not Israel’s champion, but a mere boy, thus confounding the original scenario.  And young David now stands before the giant Goliath with only his sling and five smooth stones.

Up to this point the only reference to God had been made by David: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (verse 26b).  No one else has shown the slightest awareness of a power beyond that which faced them in the frame of the giant.  But David had clearly been thinking primarily about the living God.  It is in this moment of truth that David confidently makes his position clear.

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

It is here that the Christian Pacifist eagerly exclaims “See!  This Bible passage denies the efficacy of weapons, teaching instead that it is only God who must fight our battles!”  This is said in spite of the absolutely undeniable facts that:

  1. David will strike down Goliath in a violent assault and then use a sword to decapitate him
  2. The “carcasses of the Philistine army” upon which the birds and animals will feast will be created by the swords and spears of the Israeli army as they slaughter the fleeing Philistines.

Let’s continue in the Biblical text to see if these two statements are indeed true.

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.  50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.  51 David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword.

david--goliath-granger-decapitate

David and Goliath – Granger

The Biblical text has unmistakably confirmed the first point above.  David defeated Goliath by striking him at a distance using a sling and stone.  He then uses the giant’s own sword to perform the coup de grâce by decapitating the stunned man.  Yes, God was certainly acting in this moment (as He does in all moments).  However, His purposes are here achieved through worldly flesh and blood wielding weapons that stun and kill.  It is not a spiritual head that David displays to the shocked Philistine army, but rather the bleeding head of what a few moments before was their supposed invincible champion.  It was before that terror that they turned and ran.

When the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran. 52 Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. 53 When the Israelites returned from chasing the Philistines, they plundered their camp.  54 David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.

Point number two is now confirmed.  For, it is the Israeli army, wielding their swords and spears against the fleeing Philistine army that produces the slaughter.

How then are we to interpret David’s statement that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”  The unavoidable conclusion is that it is not only by “sword or spear that the Lord saves.”  That is, if we place all of our confidence in the physical weapons of war we cannot possibly prevail.  Rather, we must provide for our own defense in this physical world while also clinging fast to God’s Word, seeking to be led in those terrible decisions by His Spirit.

This point is eloquently made in a rather surprising place, a recent article titled “Monster Movies Teach Us Key Truths About The Human Condition.”

Life is a choice of monsters: war and its attendant horrors, or conquest, devastation, and greater suffering at some later time; private property, with its temptations to fraud and greed, or crushing, unsustainable bureaucracy and universal poverty; morality with its taboos and potential for prudery, or a chaotic sewer where no one takes responsibility for his actions. Perfection will never be achieved because mankind simply lacks the power to change either his own nature or the nature of the world around him.

Make no mistake, we and our leaders face terrible, fraught choices today.  We will have to decide on incomplete information and act when the full scope / depth of the consequences cannot be foreseen.  So, we are all unmistakably bound to an ancient man from the Old Testament in our responsibility and frailty.  Thus must we, with David, use all of our God-given capabilities while trusting in God’s promises and clinging to God’s grace.

I realize that the above are “fighting words” (so to speak) to pacifists.  They may counter by claiming that the bloody God of the Old Testament has been superseded by the loving God of the New Testament.  I have already carefully considered this line of reasoning (as well as numerous others, in six blog posts) and found it to be unsustainable.

So, yes, as Christians, God is with us.  But in the vast majority of cases He expects us to actively do our part as opposed to engaging in passivity.  The above Scriptural passage and many others make this point abundantly clear.  Therefore, there were, are and will be situations in which, while we trust in the Lord, yet we must also take the battle to the enemy ourselves.

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (1)

Michaelangelo-David

Michelangelo’s David

Opening Thoughts

In the first verse of the first Book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, the name of David occurs at the twelfth word[1].

This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: (Matthew 1:1, NIV)

Thus, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is tied in the most intimate manner with King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart.  And yet, when 21st century Christians seek to interpret the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, this unmistakable bond with an ancient king from the Old Testament is all too often ignored.

David-W&P

We live in an age dominated by pacifistic, narcissistic and perfectionistic modes of thought.  Thus the most natural interpretation of our Savior’s character is “gentle Jesus, meek and mild.”  While I will not here contend that this sweet Wesleyan phrase is an inaccurate description of Christ’s nature, I will strenuously argue that it is a dangerous falsehood to consider it to be anything even approaching a complete one.  For, if we follow the thread from Matthew 1:1 back to the story of David in 1 and 2 Samuel, we are confronted by a person who somehow combined the brutality of a warrior with the sensitivity of a poet, and thus is described in Scripture (Acts 13:22, 23, NIV):

After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.[2]

And, this Covenant made by God with David is said in the Gospel of Luke to have been completed in Jesus Christ.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32,33, NIV)

And thus the circle is closed between King David, a warrior and poet after God’s own heart and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


[1] I have previously considered the second patriarch in this verse, Abraham, in God’s Acts of Providence.

[2] Here in Acts the Apostle Paul, in Pisidian Antioch, is summarizing 2 Samuel 7:12-16.

Christians Could Support a War Against Islamic Terrorism

Answering the Question

isis-egypt_nfblThe pacifism of the PCUSA (and other) elites is indeed peculiar in that it simultaneously excuses / justifies violence by Islamic terrorists (among others) while demanding that our society do nothing to defend itself.  It’s not so much that they oppose all violence as they oppose any violence in defense of Western Civilization.  They operate from an ideology that blames Western Civilization for every defect in the entire world and that thus absolves anyone or anything else of moral agency and responsibility.

211_964x643That is, since we (Western Civilization) are responsible (so they imagine) for all that’s gone wrong, we have no moral justification to oppose anything.  The non-Western perpetrators of vile evil, on the other hand, are only responding to the evil that has been done to them by the West.  Therefore, even their extreme acts of violent evil are excused.  Thus, their position amounts to standing idly by while vile evil is done in order to preserve their false pretense of moral superiority.

Protest-for-Christians-in-IraqWhile I’m certain that most Christian pacifists are motivated by an honorable, valid revulsion from violence and its larger consequences, there are sometimes less worthy motivations at work as well.  For example, some pacifists appear willing to allow thousands of people to be murdered rather than soil their own presumed moral perfection.  That is, the very lives of the victims of evil are deemed to be of less value than their own feelings of moral superiority.  Other pacifists appear to implicitly accept the safety provided by armed police and the military while railing indignant over every act of protection that involves violence.  That is, they happily benefit from armed protection as long as no actual act can be explicitly tied to them.  As my previous posts have demonstrated, this is not the exercise of sound Christian morality.

Orwell-People-sleep-peaceablySo, my answer to the question “Can Christians support a war against Islamic terrorism?” is yes, under the right set of circumstances a Christian can.  However, to say that a given position is possible does not mean that it is a necessity.  Determining if we have reached the point of necessity is beyond the scope of this discussion.

Although there is much more that could be said, the time has come to move on.

If Jesus Isn’t a Pacifist Then Why do so Many Christians Think He Is? (Part 2)

Jesus-100%In the previous post I referred to the “not-so-subtle pressure to fall into line with the socially dominant position” with regard to the persistence of incorrect Christian belief.  In this particular case, too many proponents of Christian pacifism resort to overt social pressure to promote their opinions.

If You Don’t Move Towards Pacifism then You Must be a Defective Christian

The following excerpt from the official PCUSA web site is a classic example of utilizing social pressure to intimidate Christians into silence or acceptance of the pacifist perspective.

The Rev. Mark Davidson, pastor of the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, N.C., and chair of ACSWP’s Peace Discernment Team, reviewed the team’s draft report, “Risking Peace in a Broken and Fearful World.”

The report has grown out of a churchwide peace discernment process launched by the 2010 General Assembly on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the seminal document “Peacemaking: the Believers’ Calling.” The Assembly expressed its hope that the process would “seek clarity on God’s call to the church concerning violence and to develop policy directions on terrorism and war.”

Davidson said the 49 congregations and 19 presbyteries to date have submitted responses to the team’s study materials.

“Risking Peace” is built on five “declarations”:

  • “Celebrate our identity as a church committed to peacemaking”
  • “Claim the nonviolent witness of Jesus Christ and the early church as a neglected resource that can breathe new life into the ministry and public witness of the PC(USA)”
  • “Confess our complicity in an unjust and violent world”
  • “Commit to reducing violence and injustice of all kinds by learning and practicing the things that make for peace”
  • “Challenge the idolatrous reliance on military supremacy as the chief attribute of U.S. identity in the world.”

“We didn’t come to these randomly,” Davidson told the committee. “They rose to the surface again and again in our deliberations and the church’s process.”

Noting that some Presbyterians have wondered whether the PC(USA) should join the ranks of the “peace churches” ― such as the Quakers and Mennonites, who are openly pacifist ― the Rev. Ray Roberts, an ACSWP member from Westfield, N.J., said, “Peacemaking is not in conflict with ‘just war’ principles. We are not pacifists, but we are peacemakers.”

ACSWP Coordinator Christian Iosso noted that Just War Theory ― a set of principles by which war can be considered morally acceptable ― “is not mentioned in ‘Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling.’ We still don’t want to set up an either/or choice between pacifism and just war.”

The five declarations in “Risking Peace,” he added, “seek only to get Presbyterians thinking about peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution.”

If we strip away all the flowery feints and confusing jargon, the crude social pressure message of this text is:

“If you are ignorant of Christ’s and the early church’s witness to nonviolence, unrepentant for injustice and violence, refuse to take responsibility for reducing violence and insist on practicing idolatry, then, by all means, continue to oppose our pacifist beliefs!”

But, of course, no exercise in social control through intimidation by our PCUSA elite betters would be complete without the closing list of disclaimers that “prove” how open minded and loving they really are.  That is, after having framed the issue in terms that denigrate and shame any opposition, they, with saintly lovingkindness say that their intention is “seek only to get Presbyterians thinking about peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution.”

In order to convey the deception, cruelty and deceit inherent in this utterly common PCUSA elite mode of argument, I offer up the following statements that utilizes the same strategy but in the opposite direction.

“Risking Peace through Strength” is built on five “declarations”:

  • “Celebrate our identity as a church committed to peace through strength”
  • “Claim the comprehensive witness of Jesus Christ as contained in the Holy Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) and the historic church as a neglected resource that can breathe new life into the ministry and public witness of the PC(USA)”
  • “Confess our complicity in appeasement of injustice and violence throughout the world”
  • “Commit to reducing violence and injustice of all kinds by learning and practicing the things that make for peace through strength”
  • “Challenge the idolatrous reliance on fellow traveling with genocidal Socialist and Islamist regimes as the chief attribute of PC(USA) peacemaking.”

It is noted that Pacifist Theory ― a set of principles by which war can never be considered morally acceptable ― is not mentioned in the “Risking Peace through Strength” declarations, as we don’t want to set up an either/or choice between pacifism and just war.  The five declarations in “Risking Peace through Strength,” seek only to get Presbyterians thinking about peacemaking, nonviolence and conflict resolution.

You have no right to be outraged by this set of “declarations” if you are not by the original set from the PCUSA official site.

Finally, it must be pointed out that these “party line” positions disseminated by the PCUSA elite are often enthusiastically used as weapons of social pressure by others throughout the denomination.  How many members who disagree have the confidence to openly stand up against these “party lines” when the starting point is an assumption of defective Christianity for so doing?

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.