Blessed are the Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Many separatist and marginal Christian traditions throughout church history have been referred to as ‘peace churches’. The Quakers, Mennonites, Anabaptists and others all have been associated with nonviolent resistance and conscientious objection in their histories. In my view, they connect to a strong movement of the Early Church, a strong vein of pacifism. Now, I’m not going to advocate that the Church Father’s were right about everything, but it is worth noting that pacifism has been a very real expectation of the Church historic.

One could argue that at one point in church history, pacifism was the mainstream view. It only changed when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, crudely replacing Paganism.

It is certainly an error to point to Church history as a guide for our theology and practice: If we did so, we would still conquer and enslave people-groups or ride across europe to kill those of different beliefs. Still, tradition teaches us many things to refine and reform our practice today.

The Church Fathers and many traditions down the ages have interpreted the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament to mean that a Christian should not use violent means to protect himself or his property.

For example:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:38-42)

Jesus modeled this himself by enduring bitter mockery (Matthew 27:27-31) and subjecting himself to crucifixion. The world demanded his life and he willingly gave it.

In this he brought peace. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the Son of God.

I can’t help but think this kind of non-resistance is inherently holy because it model’s Jesus. In God’s mind the suffering and death of Jesus was not, in fact, non-resistance. It was the means by which God was going to accomplish his redemptive purpose on the earth.

Now, this redemptive purpose is far greater than the end of hostilities between people-groups, which is the aim of Pacifism. Pacifism, in Jesus life it seems, demonstrates his commitment to his mission and his kingdom.

Is the same true for us? Is it ever ok to take up arms and fight the powers of this world, as a church or as a nation-state?

What do you think?

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13 Comments

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  1. I’ve been thinking about this all day. I can’t escape the fact that Jesus didn’t use violence. But I’m having such a hard time thinking that it’s wrong to use force to oppose evil.

    You said “In God’s mind the suffering and death of Jesus was not, in fact, non-resistance. It was the means by which God was going to accomplish his redemptive purpose on the earth.” While Jesus is our picture of God on earth, he was here for a specific purpose, which was best done without violence. What about the just God in the Old Testament, who hates when people take advantage of the weak?

    Sorry to be cliche, but what if no Christians would fight the Nazis?

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    • It is a cliché, but I’ll forgive it.

      What if no Christians fought the nazis. Well, what if no Christians fought the Sudan Genocide?

      Evil despots the world over apparently do just fine – how can Christians feel any moral superiority about fighting the nazis without fighting every tyrant since then? Is it because their victims aren’t white? Or aren’t rich and western?

      I am aware that the world would be a vey different place if the Nazis had won. Would it be any more evil? Who knows. How much raw sewage can you dilute into drinking water before you wouldn’t want to drink it?

      Old Testament perspectives on war centre on God’s people being a nation-state, thus being part of the nation-state system which involves war and violence. The kingdom Jesus announced was not a nation-state.

      Do we presume a nation to be ‘Christian’ if the majority of people call themselves Christian? Do we then say it’s ok for that nation to go to war as a Christian nation? After all, it’s for a nobel cause!

      If Hitler had won, I am certain that God would remain just as glorious and just as supremely just and merciful as if Hitler had not won. God’s purpose is not defeated by the actions of any person or group.

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  2. Tough one isn’t it.

    I think its comforting to know that God is with us in each and every decision – if we let Him in that is. So in a sense, the theoretical discussion is more difficult than having to choose one way or another if and when the situation arises.

    We can look at enduring results from those who did give themselves in echoes of Christ’s sacrifice….Martin Luther King, Stephen in Acts, early Christians in Roman arenas, maybe even Thomas a Beckett. The nearer we get to Christ’s ideals, the greater the effect maybe?

    Then again….I have met a few of those who fought the Nazi machine in WW2. Good Christians, in my view. As a young man, I was astonished to find a camp week Bible expert to be an ex-Major in the 7th Army (Desert Rats) who was absolutely sure he did the right thing by fighting, killing many and even his own troops by consequence of his orders.

    So as an old man, I’d find it hard to sit by and watch a regime I thought of as evil take over the world. But then I’d also find it hard to actually fight. Maybe Martin Luther King had it more or less right for the 20th century?

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    • If the 20th century demonstrated anything, it was that humanity could unleash unspeakable evil against itself.

      Is fighting the answer to this evil?

      I don’t know. Jesus didn’t seem to think so, though.

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  3. That’s one of the things which sometimes, as an outsider, baffles me about Christianity; in that it seems to be advocating non-resistance to (for lack of other terms) evil. I, too, wonder how the essential non-resistance to injustice and persecution fits in with some believers’ actions, such as Bonhoeffer’s (to continue with the Nazi theme raised by Jessica W), which I certainly view as justified… though perhaps not on biblical grounds(?)

    (BTW, Funny thing about Thomas a Beckett: old family legend is that an ancestor of ours was among the four who did him in… spooky.)

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    • I think at the very least we can say violence is a concession. Because we are sinful, fallen humans violent means to a peaceful end becomes an undesirable reality. I wouldn’t call it justified, but a symptom of the broken systems which make up the world.

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    • I used Martin Luther King as an example of resisting evil……but not in a violent way. My conundrum is what happens if the evil is advocating violence – good Christians in occupied countries went to Nazi concentration camps – its hard to live in a state which is anti-Christian. Although the church survived behind the Iron Curtain not too long ago

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  4. Doesn’t John 18 v 26 solve the question? Jesus clearly stated that if his kingdom was of this world then he would have allowed his followers to fight for it. Fighting against evil is never wrong. We as followers of God are called to hate evil – that is the fear of the Lord.

    As Mike said (I think) the only difference is are we in touch with God – the israelites only won battles when God told them to fight – when they fought without God they lost – when they fought with God they won – spectatularly. No Christian should ever take up arms unless God has told them to defeat the enemy.

    Now the question is how many Christians actually know what it is to hear directly from God.

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    • Are you sure you mean John 18:26?

      One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”

      If you were referring to Jesus’ instruction for his followers to put away their swords in John 18:11, this speaks of the mission of Jesus (and thus the church) to be subjected to suffering at the hands of this world in order to demonstrate and fulfil the redemptive purpose of God. Jesus, in telling Peter to sheath his sword tells the church everywhere to not ‘fight’ for Christ’s sake, but to share the cup of Christ in his suffering.

      Yet hearing from God can contradict this command? Are we to assume that God will edict a superseding command, beyond that of Jesus himself in scripture?

      Hearing directly from God must be rooted in the Scripture. If a Christian claims to have any further revelation, that is not a revelation from God.

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  5. Sorry yes it was a type but I meant John 18:36 – and I don’t think I would draw quite as much unsaid conclusion from Jesus’s words as they seem straightforward and I don’t think fighting if God told us to would be contradicting the comment in 18 v 36. 18 v 11 was a specific command for a specific reason at a specific time and I am not sure I would draw a one size fits all command from this.

    By rooted in scripture are you actually saying no-one hears God’s voice today with specific commands?

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    • I think the Scripture is pretty specific in how one’s life ought to be lived, though I do affirm the guiding of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, that God actually has something to say about every decision made and every direction walked in. This role of the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in the Church of Acts and so is an example for us on how we can be guided by the Spirit in our mission.

      I don’t know how many people hear a voice or would claim to regularly. I would only claim one or two occasions when I believe I heard God’s voice, but I can also see many ways God’s Spirit has guided me though I may not have ‘heard a voice’.

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  6. I believe the essence of the question before us is: ‘can God command one to go to war/kill through his (or His, if you prefer…) voice, in the present?’

    Clearly some have thought so.

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  7. Hey looks like we agree on something hallelujah!!

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