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.

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 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.