The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Domestic Violence (11 of 12)

PART 11 OF 12

Domestic Violence


But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5.39)

This week, we discuss a topic related to Jesus’ peace teachings for which we have received many requests to address. The topic is domestic violence.

I have witnessed significant abuse to both women and children because of a complete misunderstanding of Jesus’ meaning in the passage above. Now, I want to say from the very beginning of this week that I have not been trained in counseling. I do not have a PhD in psychology or psychiatry. Therefore, I will not approach this topic academically. I believe that my qualifications for speaking on this topic go much deeper than mere academic training. (Moreover, those very qualifications may have caused me to drag my feet on this topic. For me, the topic is very personal.)

As many of you know, I grew up in a broken home. I share a little of my story in the first chapter of my book, Finding the Father. However, the part that I have yet to share publicly is the story of the next man that my mother married after my father. He is not the man to whom she is married now. Her current husband is the most humble, self-sacrificing, gentle man I have ever met. However, her marriage after her divorce from my father was a quite a different story.

I have memories—some of which are fuzzy and I have purposely pushed them away—of a time when my mother and I went to live with my grandmother across town because of a beating that my mother received from my stepfather. My grandmother was a quiet, other-centered follower of Jesus. She was a praying woman whom I pictured as never able to hurt anyone. I was quite shocked on the night that this story took place. I remember my stepfather attempting to break down my grandmother’s back door to storm in and get to my mother. I remember being very scared. I was hiding just around the corner, able to see only a little—but I saw enough. I too often experienced my stepfather’s temper, and I knew that if he got through that door, something terrifying would happen. Then, I remember my little grandmother appearing out of her bedroom and striding toward the door. She unlatched the chain and then the dead bolt. She swung open the door and put a bullet in the wall next to the door. (I didn’t even know my grandmother owned a gun!) I heard her say in a tone of voice I had never heard from her, “You touch my daughter tonight and the next bullet will be in you. You just think long and hard about what you do next. Jesus loves you, son, but you’re real close to meeting him personally.”

I remember that my stepfather backed up and left. I never looked at my grandmother the same after that day.

I remember being eight years old and seeing my stepfather’s temper again. My mother’s back was turned to him. She could not see what was coming but I did. I remember jumping over the kitchen counter to intercept his blow in mid-air. The blow intended for her fell on me. He then turned his rage on me and left bruises on my back that took more than a month to heal.

I remember spending a year on the road, living out of the trunk of our car and in and out of one women’s shelter after another. I was often afraid. I also went to six different public schools that year. Sometimes we stayed in women’s shelters, some nights we slept at the home of friends, and other nights we just slept in the car. When my stepfather found us—and he always did—we moved on.

Finally, my mother left when I was twelve. I remember my stepfather leaving for work and then, ten minutes after he was gone, the movers showed up. Previously, my mother was left with nothing, and she was not going to find herself in that situation again. The movers packed up all of her belongings and we left. We moved back to West Virginia to live with my grandmother, but this time things were different. My mother was finally done with him and she never returned to him.

I have personally seen well-intending pastors and friends use the previously described passage to justify women staying in dangerous domestic situations. I have seen this passage used in ways that make the woman living with a violent husband feel like a doormat. I have seen this verse abused in ways that only enables violent husbands to inflict years of emotional and physical damage on the women and children in their lives. I want to say, first and foremost, right now, if you are in danger and are being victimized at home, get out! Take yourself and your children to safety.

What does the passage really mean? I want to be clear. Nowhere in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 does He belittle the worth of a person who is being abused at home, and His words never encourage her to just “take it.” In fact, Jesus is teaching quite the opposite. Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, when understood correctly and applied to domestic violence situations, are about responding to violence—even domestic violence—in ways that do not belittle the value of either party involved; instead, the parties should respond in ways that respect and restore the value of both individuals. Typically, we see within domestic violence situations only one party who needs to be rescued, and although Jesus’ teachings do not deny that, Matthew 5 calls on us to see not just one party in need of being rescued, but two.

Again, let me share with you what I shared in part 3 of this series, but with special application to domestic violence:

We must be clear. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is showing that the goals of His Kingdom cannot be accomplished by violence. Rejection of violence, however, ought not be interpreted as passivity. Far from counseling a woman who is being abused by her husband to simply become passive, Jesus’ statements about turning the other cheek, giving the cloak, and going the second mile actually teach an assertive and confrontational nonviolence that provides her abuser with an opportunity for transformation. With suggestions such as these, the oppressed woman has the potential to seize the initiative, and if taken literally, sometimes even shame her offender (not in the heat of the moment though mind you), and strip her abuser of the power to dehumanize her. Let me show you how.

Jesus said, “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” The only natural way for a blow to land on the right cheek is with the back of the hand. Such a blow would be a show of insult by a superior to an inferior. Jesus was using this example in a culture that did not accept one to strike an equal in such a humiliating way. Doing so carried an exorbitant fine. Picture the scene in your head. In that culture, because the left hand was only used for unclean tasks (have you been to a developing country?), hitting a person’s right cheek with the left hand did not occur. One never touched another with the left hand. However, with respect to striking another using the right hand, several options existed. Using a closed right fist indicated that the person being struck was viewed as an equal and the blow landed on his or her left cheek. Again, the blow was from a closed right fist onto the left cheek, acknowledging that the striker viewed the person being struck as an equal. Thus, a supposed superior—master over slave, husband over wife, parent over a child, Roman over Jew, man over woman—specifically did not want to strike an inferior with a fist. To be struck on the right cheek, to which Jesus referred, required the striker to strike not with a closed fist but with an open, backhanded slap. The backhanded blow to the right cheek was done specifically to humiliate, and a blow in retaliation invited retribution. However, notice that Jesus did not say to just roll over and take it. Jesus told us to respond by turning and, in rebellion, offering your oppressor the proper cheek, or the left cheek, as proof of the supposed inferior’s refusal to be humiliated. With the left cheek bared, the striker was left with two options: a left-handed blow and thus be regarded as unclean, or a blow with the right fist to imply that the person being struck was an equal. Because neither option was acceptable to the supposed superior, he lost the power to dehumanize the other. Therefore, Jesus not only taught the theory of non-violence, but He also gave us real examples of how to apply the theory in a way that does not dehumanize the victim. Notice that the response is still a nonviolent one and restores the dignity of the one being struck. This simple example does not even begin to look at how He then modeled this theory throughout His entire life and, ultimately, His death.

Let’s look at Jesus’ next example. A court of law constituted the setting for Jesus’ injunction regarding giving the cloak or undergarment along with the outer coat. The law allowed a creditor to take the coat (or outer garment) from a poor person who had no means to pay a debt as a promise of future payment (Exod. 22:25-27; Deut. 24:10-13, 17). Only the poorest person had just an article of clothing to surrender as security. Because the coat was likely the debtor’s sole remaining article of clothing, the wealthy creditor had to return it each evening for the owner to sleep in. Further, in that society, the shame of nakedness fell more on those viewing it and causing it than on the naked person. (Remember Noah’s son, Ham?) Recall that most people had only two articles of clothing and they did not wear underwear in those days. Thus, stripping off the undergarment in the public setting of the court, along with the required outer garment, effectively turned the tables on the wealthy creditor. Such action put the poor person in charge of the moment and exposed the exploitative system, shaming the wealthy and powerful person who took the last object of value from a very poor person. Yes, Jesus is actually endorsing public nudity! Such an act was a radical but non-violent protest! Whether we like it or not, Jesus recommended streaking with a cause as a viable option rather than returning violence with more violence.

Let’s look at Jesus’ third example. Going the second mile had great power to embarrass the soldier who compelled the first mile. Roman law allowed soldiers to command at will the forced labor of carrying burdens for one mile, but limited to one mile. The limitation provided some protection for the occupied people. However, if one followed Jesus’ words and cheerfully carried a burden beyond the required first mile, the soldier was put in the awkward position of not complying with the limit posed by his superior. As a result, the soldier ended up in the embarrassing position of begging the civilian to put down the burden lest the soldier be disciplined. Imagine a follower of Jesus saying, “No, no, I’ll cover for you. If you get in trouble, I’ll vouch for you that I volunteered!” Then, imagine the discussion that took place between the soldier (remember that the soldier was a Roman soldier deeply despised by the Jewish people; get your head around what Jesus is actually teaching here) and the follower of Jesus for that entire second mile.

In these cases, Jesus’ instructions are NOT commands of passive nonresistance. The phrase “resist not an evildoer” may be problematic if Jesus did not then demonstrate in these stories exactly what He meant. The actual Greek word for “resist” is anthistemi, which indicates resistance by returning violence for violence, overcoming evil with evil instead of overcoming evil with good. Anthistemi indicates violent resistance. However, Jesus was teaching that, in rejecting violent responses, we should not resist evil in any way! He was not telling His followers to simply do nothing! Absolutely NOT! Jesus was teaching nonviolent methods that enabled the oppressed to take the initiative, to affirm their humanity, and to expose and neutralize exploitative circumstances. Jesus demonstrated non-violent methods for people at the bottom of society or under the thumb of imperial power—and, I would add, even precious people abused by their spouses—to learn to recover their humanity while simultaneously reaching out to redeem and even restore those who, although “oppressors,” are also victims of the systemic evil and violence of our culture.

Let me be clear. If your spouse is abusing you, get yourself and your children to safety. I cannot say this strongly enough. You MUST get others involved! You cannot do this alone. Let me also add that you should not respond to your abuser with violence. Violence will only escalate. A violent response to your abuser will only fuel his or her anger and make matters worse. However, remember that Jesus did not teach that you should just “take it.” Although you should not respond with more violence, their abuse of you demands a response. Love demands that you respond and dictates the manner of your response. Jesus demonstrated in principle the ways to force the abuser to recognize your worth and value. His illustrations cause the abuser to face the ways they dehumanize you, even through means that may cause them shame and embarrassment. However, please remember that Jesus died for you. You must submit to the value that Jesus places on you, regardless of your spouse’s treatment of you. I know that you love him, and I know that this part is very difficult, but Jesus also died for them. If your motive is to help your spouse, you must set in motion realities that will enable them to see their own victimhood in their temper, their own addiction to violence, and their own enslavement through their acts of belittling and dehumanizing women and children through their treatment.

Again, you cannot do this by yourself. You need help from others. At the very minimum, get a counselor involved. Stop protecting and enabling your abuser and begin today to move in a direction that will make him accountable and, hopefully, even rescued and redeemed from his own behavior. (At the same time, you must be careful not to take on guilt if he fails to respond. You are not to blame.) Remember, two people need to be rescued. (If children are involved, then even more people need rescuing. Please see the note at the end of this eSight.*) As a victim of domestic violence, I can say from first-hand experience that the one who is the conduit of the abuse needs to be rescued just as much as the ones who are being abused. However, you must respond in a way that truly rescues and does not allow further abuse. You are right to remember that your spouse is not the enemy; instead, the enemy is simply using him to hurt you (Ephesians 6.12). If you truly love the spouse who is hurting you, you must respond in a way that makes him accountable. I have witnessed too many women who continued to put themselves and their children in harm’s way because they “cared” about protecting their husbands. If Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 mean anything in the context of domestic violence, he is calling you to: 1) protect yourself and your children, and get to safety; 2) do not respond with violence, but do not allow yourself to be dehumanized, and 3) set in motion realities that will cause your spouse to wake up, become accountable, and embrace change, even if doing so shames and embarrasses him. If doing so requires beginning with separation from your spouse, then so be it. Your spouse must come to terms with the reality that he is destroying his family. When you stick around, it only hides the situation and allows your spouse to pretend that things are what they are not.

I have seen abusive spouses change with Jesus’ help as a result of the steps they take. I have also seen spouses who were unwilling to change. (Again, see the note at the end of this eSight.) Regardless of the outcome, Jesus never taught that women and children should passively allow themselves to be dehumanized by domestic violence and abuse. I know that doing so takes courage. I know that change is scary. Do not do this alone. Involve others you trust. You are of infinite worth to Jesus. He gave everything for you. I know that you love your spouse, but you are also Jesus’ most prized and precious daughter. Wherever these words find you today, embrace how much you are truly worth. Get help without denying the worth of the one who is hurting you and with God’s strength given to you through Jesus Christ. Break the cycle, for you, for him, and for your children.

Wishing each of you who are reading this the restorative and nonviolent peace and love of the Kingdom.

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.


*Without negating the sanctity of marriage, for children to live in a peaceful home with one loving parent is better than living in an abusive home with two parents. An abusive parent is a horrible burden for a child to bear. Moreover, for the parent being abused to give tacit permission for such abuse to continue by not doing whatever is possible to prevent it—even at the cost of separation—sends a message to the child that abuse must be normal and, very likely, that child will grow up to abuse your grandchildren or allow himself or herself to be abused. I know that change takes courage. I know that you love the spouse hurting you, but you must also teach your children that abuse is clearly not acceptable, even—and especially—at the hands of a parent. You can stand for the sanctity of your marriage and your vows without allowing physical or verbal abuse to hurt yourself or your children. You can communicate to your spouse that you love him and want your family together, but because the abuse is damaging the family, you and your children need to live separately from him. You must set and keep boundaries. If your spouse insists on defending rather than turning from his abusive behavior, then he is the one who is breaking up the marriage, not you. Don’t take on that guilt. God also has experience with domestic violence. Sometimes when we set healthy boundaries and then reach out to an abusive spouse, even with the best intentions of reconciliation, we get the same response that God did when He reached out to Pharaoh. Sometimes, the act of calling attention to the situation causes the abusive spouse’s heart to harden. However, again, whether his response is to dig in his heels and become more entrenched or to embrace, restore, redeem, and reconcile, you are not called to be “passive.” Christian Pacifism is about pacifying, not being passive! To pacify means to bring peace, restoration, and redemption. When domestic violence exists, peace is not present.


The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: The Church Fathers (10 of 12)

Part 10 of 12

The Church Fathers


“When Christ disarmed Peter, He disarmed every soldier.” – Tertullian, Apology

I must apologize this week. I’m going to be sharing an appendix to Part 9 of last week. I freely admit that there is not much devotional value to this week’s eSight. This is a history lesson for sure. But we must address some very passionate objections to what was shared last week. Let me explain.

Beginning in the 70’s and 80’s here in America, we see a concerted effort to counter the pacifist narrative of the early Christians. Some have taken the material produced from this group and endeavored to paint a radically different picture of the early Church than what I presented last week. This is more than debate, more than argument. Taking the peace teachings of Jesus seriously is what is at stake. And I know if there is one out there raising these objections, there are also many out there too who have these questions. So I feel, that although this week is going to be heavily weighted on the “information” side rather than the “devotional” side, sometimes, it is necessary. If you’re like me, your heart has trouble getting behind something your head has questions about. So this week, I admit, I’m focused on our heads, but please know it’s with a sincere desire to liberate our hearts so that they can run free in the peace teachings of Jesus. Let’s begin.

There are really only two main prongs to this approach that work well as sound bites, but fall apart, for me personally, when actually tracked down and honestly researched.

First is the sound bite: As early as the late second century we begin to see evidence that there were “Christians” who were serving in the Roman military.

Second are a few select statements by Tertullian (160-220) and Origen (184-254, estimated), distantly removed from their immediate context.

I really want to do my best to present the side of those who believe Christians can or should participate, in certain circumstances, in some sort of redemptive violence (bloodshed) with these two prongs, first, and then take you back to the actual evidence and have you see how quickly the arguments begin to break down.

Again, before the 70’s and 80’s there was broad agreement that existed among scholars across the spectrum on this issue regarding the historical thought and practice of early Christians in respect to military service. Beginning in 1980 we see a number of earlier works on Christians in the military either being republished or translated into English for the very first time. Foremost among these are:

1981: Harnack’s Militia Christi (first published in German in 1905, did someone say German?)

1982: C. John Cadoux’s The Early Christian Attitude to War (first issued in 1919)

1980: Jean-Michel Hornus’s It is Not Lawful for Me to Fight (first published in French in 1960)

New volumes on this topic began to be published as well. New authors, such as Helgeland-Daly-Burns (1985) and Johnson (1987), began offering revisionist readings of the sources and critiques of the older scholarly literature. These authors represent a new fundamental réévaluation of early Christian attitudes towards military service. Both of these author’s work and their extreme biases deserve serious consideration, when one considers the Christian militaristic fruit these works have produced in American over the last three decades. I’m not going to be addressing their critiques of the “older scholarly literature” here. What I am most concerned with is their revisionist readings of source material from which we discern what the early Christian attitude toward military service honestly was.

Up until this time, again, there was broad agreement among scholars regarding the historical thought and practice of the early Christians in regards to military service. Both those who believed that Christians can participate, given certain circumstances, in redemptive violence as well as those who held the pacifist position agreed on three basic conclusions when the early source material was evaluated:

1) That the early Christians who addressed the matter directly during the first three centuries, most notably Tertullian and Origen, condemned warfare and military service on the basis of an aversion to bloodshed, being essentially pacifistic.
2) That at least from the end of the second century, some Christians participated in the military and that the number continued to grow throughout the third century.
3) That by the end of the fourth century, a “just war ethic” had developed, largely due to the work of theologians such as Ambrose and Augustine, which met the new need for a Christian accommodation to a changed political and social situation.

They differed widely, of course, in their ethical and theological applications of these three points. But these were the three points both pacifist scholars and scholars that saw just causes for, under certain circumstances, participating in redemptive violence, agreed on.

This point must be remembered.

Let’s look first again, at the two arguments used by those who subscribe to the redemptive violence position. The first is that the early church could not be pacifists because there were Christians who served in the military.

Again, beginning in the late second century we do have well documented accounts of how Christians were beginning to be found in Rome’s military. We have two examples that I am aware of. One is from Tertullian’s own account of a specific occurrence of Christians (in the military) praying for rain (which we will actually look at in a moment) and the other is the legend of the Theban Legion, who according to the story, was decimated and then slaughtered without exception for not being willing to kill other Christians. The occurrence of this story is generally accepted while the details of this story are strongly debated among scholars. It has proven difficult to discern how much of this story is based in history and how much is legend. At the bare minimum, it’s debatable.

But what are we to make of this? How can we say the early church were pacifists when we find these two examples? Sounds pretty convincing doesn’t it? We’ll get to this in a moment, I promise.

Second, I want to share with you the few statements, removed from their context, that are used to prove that there was dissention over pacifism in the early church. Again, as a sound bite, at first glance, it looks pretty convincing:

“Looking up to Him, we Christians with hands extended, because they are harmless, with head bare because we are not ashamed, without a prayer leader because we pray from the heart, constantly beseech Him on behalf of all Emperors. We ask for them long life, undisturbed power, security at home, brave armies, a faithful senate . . .” Tertullian, Apology (emphasis supplied.)

“We are sailors along with yourselves; we serve in the army; we engage in farming and trading; in addition, we share with you our arts; we place the products of our labor at your service. How we can appear worthless for your business, when we live with you and depend on you, I do not know.” Tertullian, Apology (emphasis supplied.)

“We, on the contrary, bring before you an emperor who was their protector. You will see this by examining the letters of Marcus Aurelius, that most serious of emperors. For, in his letters, he bears witness that the Germanic drought was removed by the rains obtained through the prayers of the Christians, who happened to be fighting under him.” Tertullian, Apology (emphasis supplied.)

When you take these statements out of their context and place them in the context of our current Christian militarism here in America today, it looks pretty convincing; the early church weren’t pacifists. But wait, we’re not done. We’ve seen Tertullian. We have to look at the statements the redemptive violence argument uses also from Origen.

“But we ought to admire the divine nature, which extended even to irrational animals the capacity, as it were, of imitating rational beings, perhaps with a view of putting rational beings to shame; so that by looking upon ants, for instance, they might become more industrious and more thrifty in the management of their goods; while, by considering the bees, they might place themselves in subjection to their Ruler, and take their respective parts in those constitutional duties which are of use in ensuring the safety of cities. Perhaps also the so-called wars among the bees convey instruction as to the manner in which wars, if ever there arise a necessity for them, should be waged in a just and orderly way among men.” Origen, Against Celsus (emphasis supplied.)

“But in the case of the ancient Jews, who had a land and a form of government of their own, to take from them the right of making war upon their enemies, of fighting for their country, of putting to death or otherwise punishing adulterers, murderers, or others who were guilty of similar crimes, would be to subject them to sudden and utter destruction whenever the enemy fell upon them . . .” Origen, Against Celsus (emphasis supplied.)

That’s it. That’s all. But even with this, it can seem pretty convincing. Now let’s look at the actually facts surrounding this information.

Here is what Tertullian actually wrote regarding that first statement.
Remember, Tertullian’s Apology was a defense of Christianity directed at the Emperor. Follow carefully.

“Thither we lift our eyes, with hands outstretched, because free from sin; with head uncovered, for we have nothing whereof to be ashamed; finally, without a monitor, because it is from the heart we supplicate. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection to the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest, whatever, as man or Cæsar, an emperor would wish. These things I cannot ask from any but the God from whom I know I shall obtain them, both because He alone bestows them and because I have claims upon Him for their gift, as being a servant of His, rendering homage to Him alone, persecuted for His doctrine, offering to Him, at His own requirement, that costly and noble sacrifice of prayer dispatched from the chaste body, an unstained soul, a sanctified spirit, not the few grains of incense a farthing buys — tears of an Arabian tree,— not a few drops of wine,— not the blood of some worthless ox to which death is a relief, and, in addition to other offensive things, a polluted conscience, so that one wonders, when your victims are examined by these vile priests, why the examination is not rather of the sacrificers than the sacrifices. With our hands thus stretched out and up to God, rend us with your iron claws, hang us up on crosses, wrap us in flames, take our heads from us with the sword, let loose the wild beasts on us, – the very attitude of a Christian praying is one of preparation for all punishment. Let this, good rulers be your work: wring from us the soul, beseeching God on the emperor’s behalf. Upon the truth of God, and devotion to His name, put the brand of crime.” – Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 30 (Emphasis supplied.)

Did you catch it? Tertullian’s claim that Christian’s were praying for Caesar to have “brave armies” was not an endorsement of redemptive violence. Quite the contrary, Tertullian is saying, even while you hang us upon crosses, wrap us in flames, and behead us, we will still be praying for you, the Emperor, and for blessings upon Rome. This isn’t an endorsement of redemptive violence, it’s an example of Christian Pacifism if there ever was one.

Please take note of exactly what Tertullian says next in context:

‎”But we merely, you say, flatter the emperor, and feign these prayers of ours to escape persecution. Thank you for your mistake, for you give us the opportunity of proving our allegations. Do you, then, who think that we care nothing for the welfare of Cæsar, look into God’s revelations, examine our sacred books, which we do not keep in hiding, and which many accidents put into the hands of those who are not of us. Learn from them that a large benevolence is enjoined upon us, even so far as to supplicate God for our enemies and to beseech blessings on our persecutors. Matthew 5.44 Who, then are greater enemies and persecutors of Christians, than the very parties with treason against whom we are charged? Nay, even in terms, and most clearly, the scripture says, “pray for kings, and rulers, and powers, that all may be peace with you.” 1 Timothy 2.2 for when there is disturbance in the Empire, if the commotion is felt by it’s other members, surely we too, though we are not thought to be given to disorder, are to be found in some place or other which the calamity affects.” Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 31 (Emphasis supplied.)

Powerful! Powerful! THIS is Tertullian’s voice. Here we do not find a voice dissenting against some sect of pacifism within Christianity with an argument of justified violence instead. What we find is that Tertullian is here leveling the early Church’s actual Pacifism as one of his greatest apologetics of how Christianity is not against Rome. Beautiful!

Now this next one is long, and I apologize, but I share it so you can truly get a flavor for where Tertullian really was in his headspace on this, and I have to include the whole thing so you can see it’s not taken out of context. This is from a different volume of work by Tertullian, The Chaplet or De Corona. Some have argued that in this work Tertullian argues against Christians in military service simply because of the “religious” allegiance to Caesar that would be involved. And although Tertullian uses that argument as well, it is not used exclusively, but in addition to Tertullian’s use of Christian Pacifism as a reason Christians should not enter the military.

“To begin with the real ground of the military crown [pagan religious implications], I think we must first inquire whether warfare is proper at all for Christians. What sense is there in discussing the merely accidental, when that on which it rests is to be condemned? Do we believe it lawful for a human oath to be superadded to one divine, for a man to come under promise to another master after Christ, and to abjure father, mother, and all nearest kinsfolk, whom even the law has commanded us to honour and love next to God Himself, to whom the Gospel, too, holding them only of less account than Christ, has in like manner rendered honour? Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs? Shall he, forsooth, either keep watch-service for others more than for Christ, or shall he do it on the Lord’s day, when he does not even do it for Christ Himself? And shall he keep guard before the temples, which he has renounced? And shall he take a meal where the apostle has forbidden him? [Yes, this is a religions argument, but please note it is in addition to the pacifist arguments he used previously, not instead of.] And shall he diligently protect by night those whom in the day-time he has put to flight by his exorcisms, leaning and resting on the spear the while with which Christ’s side was pierced? Shall he carry a flag, too, hostile to Christ? And shall he ask a watchword from the emperor who has already received one from God? Shall he be disturbed in death by the trumpet of the trumpeter, who expects to be aroused by the angel’s trump? And shall the Christian be burned according to camp rule, when he was not permitted to burn incense to an idol, when to him Christ remitted the punishment of fire? Then how many other offences there are involved in the performances of camp offices, which we must hold to involve a transgression of God’s law, you may see by a slight survey. The very carrying of the name over from the camp of light to the camp of darkness is a violation of it. Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, [Those who embrace Christ while already serving in the military!] their case is different, as in the instance of those whom John used to receive for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions, I mean the centurion whom Christ approves, and the centurion whom Peter instructs; yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer, and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of it, which has been the course with many [He said many, not all, we’ll mention more about this in a moment]; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service; or, last of all, for God the fate must be endured which a citizen-faith has been no less ready to accept. Neither does military service hold out escape from punishment of sins, or exemption from martyrdom. Nowhere does the Christian change his character. There is one gospel, and the same Jesus, who will one day deny every one who denies, and acknowledge every one who acknowledges God,—who will save, too, the life which has been lost for His sake; but, on the other hand, destroy that which for gain has been saved to His dishonour. With Him the faithful citizen is a soldier, just as the faithful soldier is a citizen. A state of faith admits no plea of necessity; they are under no necessity to sin, whose one necessity is, that they do not sin. For if one is pressed to the offering of sacrifice and the sheer denial of Christ by the necessity of torture or of punishment, yet discipline does not connive even at that necessity; because there is a higher necessity to dread denying and to undergo martyrdom, than to escape from suffering, and to render the homage required. In fact, an excuse of this sort overturns the entire essence of our sacrament, removing even the obstacle to voluntary sins; for it will be possible also to maintain that inclination is a necessity, as involving in it, forsooth, a sort of compulsion. I have, in fact, disposed of this very allegation of necessity with reference to the pleas by which crowns [taking place in the pagan religious ceremonies connected with being a soldier] connected with official position are vindicated, in support of which it is in common use, since for this very reason offices must be either refused, that we may not fall into acts of sin, or martyrdoms endured that we may get quit of offices. Touching this primary aspect of the question, as to the unlawfulness even of a military life itself, I shall not add more, that the secondary question may be restored to its place. Indeed, if, putting my strength to the question, I banish from us the military life, I should now to no purpose issue a challenge on the matter of the military crown. [the aspect of being a Roman soldier that demands loyalty to pagan religious elements as well].” – Tertullian, The Chaplet, or De Corona, chapter 11

Wow, powerful again! But I want you to note that Tertullian does mention Christians in the military service of Rome who came to Christ while already in the military. This posed a special problem for the early church. This was not something looked on as something acceptable because they weren’t pacifists, but as a problem because they were!

What is a Soldier to do who comes to Christ while already serving in Rome’s Military?

Tertullian offers one solution above, “martyrdom endured that we may get quit of offices.” Tertullian was offering one solution of even being willing to embrace death so as not to continue serving in Rome’s militia. So far, I stand by my statement that within Christianity for the first three hundred years, there is not one dissenting voice among the Church leaders. They could disagree on anything and everything, but on this, they were unified with one voice. The accounts we find of Christians in the military during this time are simple examples of the Church wrestling with how to apply Jesus’ peace teachings rather than just abandon them. An example of this is found within some churches today that hold the position that if someone is drafted into military service, they should take the classification of non-combatants. The early church had to face this same dilemma. Beginning in the later part of the second century, we find indentured slaves who were Soldiers, who were required to be in the military in the place of an owner or an owner’s son, who came to Jesus while in the military. What are they to do? That is the dilemma. I’m submitting THAT is why we find Christians in Rome’s military. Not because they subscribed to redemptive violence, but because their pacifism was winning over the world, even Roman Soldiers. We’ll see this is quite evident in our next passage from Tertullian. I know this is long, but bear with me. It’s worth the time in the end. This is the statement many who subscribe to participating in “redemptive violence” use to prove Christians were in the military. Let’s look at the context. This, again, is from Tertullian’s Apology, His defense of Christianity to the Emperor.

“To say a word about the origin of laws of the kind to which we now refer, there was an old decree that no god should be consecrated by the emperor till first approved by the Senate. Marcus Æmilius had experience of this in reference to his god Alburnus. And this, too, makes for our case, that among you divinity is allotted at the judgment of human beings. Unless gods give satisfaction to men, there will be no deification for them: the god will have to propitiate the man. Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favour of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Cæsar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all accusers of the Christians. Consult your histories; you will there find that Nero was the first who assailed with the imperial sword the Christian sect, making progress then especially at Rome. But we glory in having our condemnation hallowed by the hostility of such a wretch. For any one who knows him, can understand that not except as being of singular excellence did anything bring on it Nero’s condemnation. Domitian, too, a man of Nero’s type in cruelty, tried his hand at persecution; but as he had something of the human in him, he soon put an end to what he had begun, even restoring again those whom he had banished. Such as these have always been our persecutors,—men unjust, impious, base, of whom even you yourselves have no good to say, the sufferers under whose sentences you have been wont to restore. But among so many princes from that time to the present day, with anything of divine and human wisdom in them, point out a single persecutor of the Christian name. So far from that, we, on the contrary, bring before you one who was their protector, as you will see by examining the letters of Marcus Aurelius, that most grave of emperors, in which he bears his testimony that that Germanic drought was removed by the rains obtained through the prayers of the Christians who chanced to be fighting under him [Tertullian uses the word here “chanced”. Again, beginning in the late second century, between 161-180, we find indentured Soldiers who were in Rome’s military because it was required of them by law and while in the military they became Christians. What’s also notable, is that these Christians were now praying once again for their enemies (Rome) so that they might have water to end their drought. This is in perfect harmony with Paul’s words in Romans 12, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12.20) Also, please see Marcus Aurelius’ own report of this event, at the end of this eSight. This is the actual report from the Emperor himself of the occurrence Tertullian is here mentioning. It is clear from Aurelius’ own words that these soldiers were something similar to what we, today, would call “consciencious objectors” or “non-combatants.”*] And as he did not by public law remove from Christians their legal disabilities, [possibly a status similar to our today’s “conscientious objector”] yet in another way he put them openly aside [exempt], even adding a sentence of condemnation, and that of greater severity, against their accusers. What sort of laws are these which the impious alone execute against us—and the unjust, the vile, the bloody, the senseless, the insane? which Trajan to some extent made naught by forbidding Christians to be sought after; which neither a Hadrian, though fond of searching into all things strange and new, nor a Vespasian, though the subjugator of the Jews, nor a Pius, nor a Verus, ever enforced? It should surely be judged more natural for bad men to be eradicated by good princes as being their natural enemies, than by those of a spirit kindred with their own.” Tertullian, Apology, Ch 5 (Emphasis supplied.)

I’ll end our section on Tertullian with Tertullian’s most famous passage from his work Apology.

“In that last section, decision may seem to have been given likewise concerning military service, which is between dignity and power. But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar. And yet Moses carried a rod, and Aaron wore a buckle, and John (Baptist) is girt with leather and Joshua the son of Nun leads a line of march; and the People warred: if it pleases you to sport with the subject. [these same arguments, by the way, are being used today.] But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier. No dress is lawful among us, if assigned to any unlawful action.” Tertullian, Apology, Chapter 19 (Emphasis supplied.)

Powerful, powerful, powerful. I’m blown away. Now wait, don’t get carried away. Could there have been some Christians, who rebelled against the church’s teaching, and joined the military of their own volition? I’m sure that’s possible. (I don’t know how probable though.) But stop and consider alone the oath to Caesar a Roman soldier would have to make to even join the military. Upon enlisting, a Soldier would have to swear allegiance to their Lord and Savior, Caesar, emperor of Rome. This alone, calls into question how truly representative that person is of the church at that time. Again, so far as the evidence we do have, we have no evidence of Christians voluntarily joining Rome’s militia. Again, we find, among the leaders of the Christian church during this time, not one dissenting voice.

Now let us turn our attention to Origen’s statements, previously used by those who subscribe to participating in redemptive violence, but include context. These are taken form Origen’s Against Celsus. Celsus was actually leveling arguments against Christians because they were refusing to serve in the military. Here is Origen’s response. Again, for honesty and transparencies sake, I want to include a good portion of the context, but that makes this passage really long. Please bear with me.

“Our noble opponent, however, not observing how many philosophers there are who admit the existence of Providence, and who hold that Providence created all things for the sake of rational beings, overturns as far as he can those doctrines which are of use in showing the harmony that prevails in these matters between Christianity and philosophy; nor does he see how great is the injury done to religion from accepting the statement that before God there is no difference between a man and an ant or a bee, [this is the contextual argument of this section] but proceeds to add, that “if men appear to be superior to irrational animals on this account, that they have built cities, and make use of a political constitution, and forms of government, and sovereignties, this is to say nothing to the purpose, for ants and bees do the same. Bees, indeed, have a sovereign, who has followers and attendants; and there occur among them wars and victories, and slaughterings of the vanquished, and cities and suburbs, and a succession of labours, and judgments passed upon the idle and the wicked; for the drones are driven away and punished.” Now here he did not observe the difference that exists between what is done after reason and consideration, and what is the result of an irrational nature, and is purely mechanical. For the origin of these things is not explained by the existence of any rational principle in those who make them, because they do not possess any such principle; but the most ancient Being, who is also the Son of God, and the King of all things that exist, has created an irrational nature, which, as being irrational, acts as a help to those who are deemed worthy of reason. Cities, accordingly, were established among men, with many arts and well-arranged laws; while constitutions, and governments, and sovereignties among men are either such as are properly so termed, and which exemplify certain virtuous tendencies and workings, or they are those which are improperly so called, and which were devised, so far as could be done, in imitation of the former: for it was by contemplating these that the most successful legislators established the best constitutions, and governments, and sovereignties. None of these things, however, can be found among irrational animals, although Celsus may transfer rational names, and arrangements which belong to rational beings, as cities and constitutions, and rulers and sovereignties, even to ants and bees; in respect to which matters, however, ants and bees merit no approval, because they do not act from reflection. But we ought to admire the divine nature, which extended even to irrational animals the capacity, as it were, of imitating rational beings, perhaps with a view of putting rational beings to shame; so that by looking upon ants, for instance, they might become more industrious and more thrifty in the management of their goods; while, by considering the bees, they might place themselves in subjection to their Ruler, and take their respective parts in those constitutional duties which are of use in ensuring the safety of cities.” – Origen, Against Celsus (Who was criticizing Christians for not participating in military service) Chapter 81

Next Origen writes:

‎”Perhaps also the so-called wars among the bees convey instruction as to the manner in which wars, if ever there arise a necessity for them, should be waged in a just and orderly way among men. But the bees have no cities or suburbs; while their hives and hexagonal cells, and succession of labours, are for the sake of men, who require honey for many purposes, both for cure of disordered bodies, and as a pure article of food. Nor ought we to compare the proceedings taken by the bees against the drones with the judgments and punishments inflicted on the idle and wicked in cities. But, as I formerly said, we ought on the one hand in these things to admire the divine nature, and on the other to express our admiration of man, who is capable of considering and admiring all things (as co-operating with Providence), and who executes not merely the works which are determined by the providence of God, but also those which are the consequences of his own foresight.” – Origen, Against Celsus (Who was criticizing Christians for not participating in military service) Chapter 82

In this statement Origen is arguing for differences between man and beast. One of the differences he suggests is the nature of war between bees and humans. If anything, this statement is a plea to become more humane in how war is carried out. This is, apologetically, the most we can make of this statement. Nowhere is Origen even concerned with the pacifism vs. redemptive violence debate. On the contrary, he is speaking to someone who is criticizing Christians for not participating in war. Origen is defending, at most, looking at bees to understand, “perhaps” how wars, if they are deemed necessary by the Roman empire, should even be carried out. I want to remind us this week of what I said in part nine. (I believe I actually said this twice.) Jesus’ peace teachings, and therefore Christian Pacifism is not a condemnation of war for wars sake alone. It is not a call to Governments to become more peaceful. It is a call to those who are claiming to follow Jesus to become more peaceful. The early church was not concerned with attacking “war” per say, on the basis of war alone. No, they were concerned with those who were bearing Christ’s name ever participating in war. This distinction is missed by so many, so often, who subscribe to Christians participating in some sort of redemptive violence, that one wonders if some are doing it on purpose. This was Paul’s counsel in Romans 13. Civil powers are to wield, at times, the sword. But Paul is very clear in Romans 12 and 13 both, that although we are not to condemn a civil authority for wielding the sword, neither are we to enlist and participate with that authority in wielding the sword. It is a position of neither condemnation nor participation. This is not to say that the sword cannot be used in ways that are unjust. And in those cases, that specific wielding of the sword could be condemned, but wielding the sword, just on the basis of sword wielding alone, was neither condemned, nor participated in by the early church. This is what made the early church pacifists; their refusal to participate in war. To make Origen’s words above mean that Origen believed in and taught that it is acceptable for Christians to participate in redemptive violence is a “taking a statement out of context” to a degree that challenges the integrity of any who would use it in this manner. This becomes overwhelmingly evident when one looks at exactly what Origen has written just a few chapters earlier:

“In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.” To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.” – Origen, Against Celsus, chapter 73 (Emphasis Added.)

Wow!!!! Again, these words are so powerful. Neither condemnation for wielding the sword, nor participation in wielding the sword. They would pray, but they would not fight. This is Christian Pacifism as defined by Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, and the Early Church Fathers. Again, Jesus’ peace teachings are not aimed at telling a kingdom of this world how to govern its affairs, but rather how those who bear Christ’s name are to live. We, just like the early church, abstain from killing simply because it was commanded by our Lord Jesus.

Before the above passage, Origen wrote the following in Chapter 26. This is the most powerfully written passage on why Christians refused to wield the sword against Rome’s enemies.

“However, if we must refer briefly to the difference between the constitution which was given to the Jews of old by Moses, and that which the Christians, under the direction of Christ’s teaching, wish now to establish, we would observe that it must be impossible for the legislation of Moses, taken literally, to harmonize with the calling of the Gentiles, and with their subjection to the Roman government; and on the other hand, it would be impossible for the Jews to preserve their civil economy unchanged, supposing that they should embrace the Gospel. For Christians could not slay their enemies, or condemn to be burned or stoned, as Moses commands, those who had broken the law, and were therefore condemned as deserving of these punishments; since the Jews themselves, however desirous of carrying out their law, are not able to inflict these punishments. But in the case of the ancient Jews, who had a land and a form of government of their own, to take from them the right of making war upon their enemies, of fighting for their country, of putting to death or otherwise punishing adulterers, murderers, or others who were guilty of similar crimes, would be to subject them to sudden and utter destruction whenever the enemy fell upon them; for their very laws would in that case restrain them, and prevent them from resisting the enemy. And that same providence which of old gave the law, and has now given the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not wishing the Jewish state to continue longer, has destroyed their city and their temple: it has abolished the worship which was offered to God in that temple by the sacrifice of victims, and other ceremonies which He had prescribed. And as it has destroyed these things, not wishing that they should longer continue, in like manner it has extended day by day the Christian religion, so that it is now preached everywhere with boldness, and that in spite of the numerous obstacles which oppose the spread of Christ’s teaching in the world. But since it was the purpose of God that the nations should receive the benefits of Christ’s teaching, all the devices of men against Christians have been brought to nought; for the more that kings, and rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more have they increased in number and grown in strength.” Origen, Against Celsus, chapter 26 (Emphasis supplied.)

Origen was clear. Yes, in the Old Testament, violence was not only permitted, but commanded. But now, something different has come. God, in the person of Jesus, has come. The law was given through Moses, but Grace and Truth has come from Jesus. God did speak through the prophets in different ways in the past, but now He has spoken to us through His Son who is the exact revelation of what God is really like. John said, after seeing Jesus, truly no one had ever even seen God until Jesus. Strip away all the concessions and accommodations of the Old Testament, and you get a God who looks like Jesus. (John 1, Hebrews 1, and part 7 of this series)

Again, even if all of this weren’t true, even if the early church were not pacifists, my arguments for embracing Christian Pacifism are not based on their history. It’s based on the actual teachings of Jesus Himself. It just so happens that the early Church, for the first three hundred years, without one dissenting voice got it! Can you take certain records and statements out of context and bend them to say otherwise? Sure. Always. I’m submitting this week, that for 1700 years, on the whole, the world has not seen Jesus as a result of our embracing and participation in, as Christians, some form or another of redemptive violence. Before Jesus can return to this world, we must allow Him to return to those who bear His name.

“Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Revelation 3.20

I know this was long. I’ll shut up now.

Much to ponder.

Go build the Kingdom.

I love you guys,
See you next week.

* Epistle of Marcus Aurelius to the senate, in which he testifies that the Christians were the cause of his victory.

“Having then examined my own position, and my host, with respect to the vast mass of barbarians and of the enemy, I quickly betook myself to prayer to the gods of my country. But being disregarded by them, I summoned those who among us go by the name of Christians. And having made inquiry, I discovered a great number and vast host of them, and raged against them, which was by no means becoming; for afterwards I learned their power. Wherefore they began the battle, not by preparing weapons, nor arms, nor bugles; for such preparation is hateful to them, on account of the God they bear about in their conscience. Therefore it is probable that those whom we suppose to be atheists, have God as their ruling power entrenched in their conscience. For having cast themselves on the ground, they prayed not only for me, but also for the whole army as it stood, that they might be delivered from the present thirst and famine. For during five days we had got no water, because there was none; for we were in the heart of Germany, and in the enemy’s territory. And simultaneously with their casting themselves on the ground, and praying to God (a God of whom I am ignorant), water poured from heaven, upon us most refreshingly cool, but upon the enemies of Rome a withering hail. And immediately we recognised the presence of God following on the prayer —a God unconquerable and indestructible. Founding upon this, then, let us pardon such as are Christians, lest they pray for and obtain such a weapon against ourselves. And I counsel that no such person be accused on the ground of his being a Christian. But if any one be found laying to the charge of a Christian that he is a Christian, I desire that it be made manifest that he who is accused as a Christian, and acknowledges that he is one, is accused of nothing else than only this, that he is a Christian; but that he who arraigns him be burned alive. And I further desire, that he who is entrusted with the government of the province shall not compel the Christian, who confesses and certifies such a matter, to retract; neither shall he commit him. And I desire that these things be confirmed by a decree of the Senate. And I command this my edict to be published in the Forum of Trajan, in order that it may be read. The prefect Vitrasius Pollio will see that it be transmitted to all the provinces round about, and that no one who wishes to make muse of or to possess it be hindered from obtaining a copy from the document I now publish.” (Emphasis supplied.)

The Active Nonviolence of Jesus: Nonviolence and Hitler (9 of 12)

PART 9 OF 12

Nonviolence and Hitler


He that leads others into captivity shall go into captivity himself: he that kills with the sword, will be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. (Revelation 13.10)

We are nearing the end of our series on the active non-violence of Jesus. We have gotten such good feedback from so many of you for whom this series has been a beautiful journey. For some of you, it’s been a journey of discovery, and for each of you, I’m stoked about how this series has blessed you. I want to remind us at the very beginning of this week of the danger of binary thinking on this issue. Again, binary thinking only sees two options. Too often when others encounter the peace teachings of Jesus, the response is, “So you are just going to sit back and do nothing?” As if there are only two options: Violence or Do Nothing. This binary thinking does not take into account the myriad of other creative, non-violent ways in which followers of Jesus’ teachings are called to set world change in motion. This is also a great place to mention again that Christian pacifism can be very different from other forms of pacifism. Those who follow Jesus’ teachings and example are always willing to lay down their own lives for world change, but are simply not willing to take life for world change. But doing nothing is never an option. This will be important to remember as we discuss our topic this week.

I had planned this week on discussing two questions that come up whenever the peace teachings of Jesus are beginning to be taken seriously. But I’ve decided each one deserves its own week for the sake of space and time, so we’ll take them one at a time.

This week, we are going to be addressing the question, “Well, Jesus’ peace teachings are well and good, but sometimes we have to be pragmatic! I mean, what about World War II with the Allied forces against Hitler and the Nazis?”

So much has been and could be said about Hitler and the Allied forces, but this week, there are three very important elements to Jesus’ peace teachings that we must not forget. Let’s start with the easiest one first.

1)Jesus’ teachings are not necessarily universal principles about how governments should handle their affairs, but simply how HIS followers are called to live.

As I have said before in this series, Jesus never concerned himself with how Caesar ran Rome. Jesus was not interested in reforming political policy. His reforms went much deeper, striking at the root of that which governments only seek to control the fruit of. Therefore, Jesus’ peace teachings were not focused on how any kingdom of this world should behave. Jesus’ peace teachings were not and are not a call to governments to become more peaceful. On the contrary, Jesus’ peace teachings were directed at those desiring to be followers of Jesus Himself and how those who bear His name could live radically peaceful, but subversive lives bringing and end to all kingdoms of this world and the establishment of a Kingdom which would never end. This series has simply been a call to Christians to repentance, to turn around and change the direction we are moving. The Christian religion has too often been fixated on others outside its borders and their need for repentance, while simultaneously being very opposed to looking at any need within its own borders for repentance. This series is a call to those who bear Jesus’ name (“CHRIST”ian), asking those who claim to follow Jesus to begin taking more seriously what their Jesus actually taught. For the first three hundred years, those who claimed to follow this Jesus were therefore pacifists. Beginning in the fourth century, the Christian religion began adopting exceptions to Jesus’ teachings and then to embrace those exceptions to the degree that today Jesus’ teachings in regard to how His followers should behave are seen as something that in a fallen world can never really be lived out. All the exceptions have become the norm, and Jesus’ teachings have become the exception. Today we have a stark difference between what the Christian religion teaches on this subject and what Jesus Himself actually taught. Today, because of whatever justification it embraces for abandoning Jesus’ peace teaching, the Christian religion is virtually saying, “I am a Christian, however in this regard, the actual teachings of Jesus do not work, and we need to discard Jesus’ teachings in this matter. Given certain situations, the teachings of Jesus fail us.” This is the Justified Violence or Justified War theory in essence. Today, Christians end up submitting Jesus, actually marginalizing Jesus, to follow in His place a very different, pragmatic, goal-oriented point of view. Again, I want to be clear: Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence are not given in an effort to tell governments to become more peaceful. Jesus’ teachings are about us, as Christ’s followers, and whether we will partner with that government in the use of violence. Today, 87% of the members of the religious right in America are not only open to and supportive of, but are actually participating with America in going into other countries and killing others, claiming that America is “going to war in Jesus’ name.” This is nothing short of heresy. (The only difference is, pacifists won’t kill others for spreading heresy. But they will call it by its name.) Again, this is not an issue of whether America, or any nation, for that matter, should go to war. Rather, it IS an issue when the leader of any government claims to be a brother (or sister) in Christ and then claims to be taking that specific nation into war in “Jesus’ name” (as a President of the United States did recently).

(As an aside, this is another reason why there is truly no such thing as a “Christian” government or nation. “Christian” originally meant “one who follows the teachings of Jesus.” Any government or nation that takes seriously Jesus’ teachings, even peace teachings alone, would eventually cease to exist.)

2)Second, I want to share with you a statement I shared months ago on Facebook and Twitter. It is the words of John Stoner from his 1984’s modest proposal for peace.

“Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other.”

Stuart Murray recounts his own experience with how others have responded to this statement:

“Responses to this proposal have been interesting, as I have tested it out in many contexts. Quite often it takes a while for people to appreciate its disturbing significance and the way its implications ripple out. Most agree that they should not kill other members of their own congregation. They then extend this to other congregations in their own denomination and beyond it. But what about Christians from other nations in war zones or Christian combatants in opposing armies? And how do we know who are the Christian soldiers or civilians in war zones? And why should we give preferential treatment to Christians? Gradually the challenge of this ‘modest proposal’ dawns on us.” (Stuart Murray. The Naked Anabaptist )

The point is this: The most Christianized nation in the world during the time when Hitler rose to power was not America. It was Germany, the birthplace of the reformation. Hitler even viewed himself as a faithful “Christian.”

“My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter . . . . Jesus was greater, not as a sufferer, but as a fighter! In boundless love, as a Christian, and as a man, I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders . . . . As a Christian, I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for Truth and Justice . . . . And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly, it is the distress that daily grows.” (Adolf Hitler, speech from April 12, 1922, published in My New Order.)

Far from Jesus’ peace teaching permitting Hitler to take over the world, if the Protestant and Catholic Germans had placed following Jesus above their patriotism and identity as Germans and had taken Jesus peace teachings seriously, Hitler would have never had an army to begin with. Christians who follow Jesus’ peace teachings would not have allowed Hitler to take over the world; they would have, on the contrary, kept Hitler and the Nazi party from even getting off the ground in Germany. But what about secondarily, once someone like a Hitler does get off the ground? Then what? This leads me to number three.

3)I want us to consider Dietrich Bonheoffer’s (a pacifist who did take Jesus’ peace teachings seriously and was a German, living in Germany during the time of Hitler) own story.

You see, binary thinking (two options: Use violence or do nothing) is built on assumptions that may not be necessarily correct. Binary thinking assumes that with violence you will win and your enemy will lose, and that without violence your enemy will win and you will lose. But this is not even remotely a statistical truth. Bonheoffer, seeing the atrocities committed by the Nazi’s and Hitler, embraced using violence to try and stop Hitler. He did not abandon his pacifism. He never said what he was doing was right. I can at least respect him for this. He said that his using violence was evil (he actually called it a sin), but he compared it to Abraham killing Isaac while later the Ten Commandments clearly would say, “Thou shalt not kill.” Bonheoffer said it was wrong, but it was the lesser of two wrongs, and he felt God was calling him to go against the teachings of Jesus in much the way Abraham was called to go against what would later be written in the Ten Commandments. (Interesting logic, to say the least.)

But here is how the story turned out. In an interview with Hitler’s secretary, she states that Hitler was at a breaking point. He was seriously questioning his own extermination program of the Jews. He was considering closing the extermination camps and focusing his energies on winning the war. Then one day, there was a briefcase placed in Hitler’s office (the bomb the team Bonheoffer was a part of had an insider in place). Hitler hit the briefcase with his knee when taking his seat behind his desk, and the briefcase was moved only five feet away. When the bomb went off, everyone in the room was fatally wounded except Hitler, who was sitting behind the desk and therefore protected. Hitler walked away while everyone else in the room died. Hitler then interpreted this as a “Divine Sign” that he was on the right track and that God had miraculously protected his life for the purpose he was pursuing. He took up his extermination of the Jews with renewed vigor, and Bonheoffer was later arrested with others and eventually executed for his crimes against Hitler.

Now let’s be clear. This story doesn’t prove that nonviolence always works and violence always fails. Sometimes it’s quite the opposite. What this story proves is that binary thinking is based on assumptions that are not true. Violence doesn’t always work. Many times (more times than not), it backfires. Violence can, and often does, make things worse than they would have been had a nonviolent solution been sought. But pass or fail, we do not live the life of nonviolence because it always works. Remember, followers of Jesus live a life of nonviolence simply because, whether it works or fails, it’s the way Jesus Himself taught and demonstrated with His own life that his followers are to live. To the objection that those who embrace nonviolence will die, Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword” too! Yes, you may die by not carrying a sword, but you’ll die by carrying one as well. The point it: You can die either way. The question is how you chose to die: 1) following Jesus or 2) following something or someone else. It was how the early church died, “dying well” that made the movement of Christianity unstoppable until the fourth century.

I want to also stop at this point this week and ask the question again with which we started this series. Can a pacifist honor someone who believes in justified war? You bet ya! Honor and acceptance does not mean agreement. I can honor those who were willing to risk their life for a cause they believed in on that basis alone, whether or not I agree that we should ever take life for a cause we believe in. The fact that someone would embrace a cause so passionately as to give his or her own life for it, if he or she is doing this conscientiously to the best of his or her understanding of what the scriptures teach, is honorable. The disagreement is not about whether we should ever be willing to die for a cause. The issue under discussion is whether we should ever be willing to kill for a cause.

It really depends on what your picture of God is. If God looks like Jesus, then you have a God who not only teaches, but commands and even demonstrates by example, a life of nonviolence and pacifism. If God doesn’t look like Jesus, but something else, then if by whatever standard you define your God you believe in a violent God, it produces a loophole that we will always exploit to find a way to ignore the teachings of Jesus and embrace and use violence ourselves.

The question really isn’t about violence or non-violence at all. The question is, was Jesus really God?

If not, then we must look elsewhere for our definition of what God is. If Jesus was right, and I believe He was, when he said, “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father” (John 14.9), then that changes everything. And really, that was the whole intention of the coming of God to us in the human form of Jesus to begin with. The revelation of God in Jesus was for the purpose of changing everything!

Much to ponder, for sure. At the very minimum, even non-Christians agree that Jesus taught the way of nonviolence. The questions that remain are 1) how to apply Jesus’ teaching of nonviolence to our lives as followers of Jesus, and 2) how does this radically redefine who and what God really is?

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. – John 1.18

It is also well to remember that when Jesus gave these teachings, Caesar was a kind of Hitler. (Nero Caesar definitely was.) Neither Jesus nor the early church chose the way of violence to bring about Caesar’s overthrow. They exemplified and taught the way of peace and nonviolence as the way to bring about a better Kingdom, an eternal, nonviolent one. Peace by peaceful means.

In 1941, after a period of neutrality, Bulgaria allied itself with Nazi Germany. This was a decision partly motivated by the Bulgarian government’s wish to regain neighboring territories that it had lost in previous wars. Early in 1943, the government in Sofia signed a secret agreement with the Nazis to deport 20,000 Jews. The deportations started with Jews in the annexed territories.

Between March 4 and March 11 of that year, soldiers rounded up thousands of Jews and prepared boxcars to take them to the Treblinka extermination camp in occupied Poland, where approximately 850,000 people almost all Jews perished in World War II.

On March 10, boxcars were loaded with 8,500 Jews, including 1,500 from the city of Plovdiv. The bishop of Plovdiv, Metropolitan Kirill (later Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church), along with 300 church members, showed up at the station where the Jews were awaiting transport. The story is told by Tony Campolo in the documentary Prince of Peace, God of War (a low budget, but excellent nonetheless for it, documentary featuring many voices on both sides of this issue including someone I respect deeply for his influence in my life on this topic, Pastor Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House.) Here is Tony’s retelling of the story:

“When they came with SS troopers to round up the Jews in Sofia, they got the Jews down at the train station, had them in a barbed wire enclosure. It was a rainy, misty night. Out the darkness, at 11:00 p.m., came Metropolitan Kirill, the leader of the orthodox church in Bulgaria. This seven foot four figure, with his long flowing white beard hanging over his black robes immerges out of the fog, then behind him came about three hundred of the members of his congregation. They say his gait was so quick, so fast, the other men had to run just to keep up with him. He came to the entrance of the barbed wire enclosure. The SS guards pointed their machine guns at him, and said, “You can’t go in there Father.” He laughed at them and brushed their machine guns aside and marched in among the Jews. They gathered around him seeing what the Christian leader of Bulgaria would have to say, in their moment of distress, in their moment of need. They were crying, some of them were hysterical. They knew they were heading for Auschwitz, unless something miraculous happened. And something miraculous did.

Metropolitan Kirill raised his arms and quoted one verse of scripture, and changed the destiny of a nation. Quoting from the book of Ruth, he said to the Jews, hysterical, knowing they were about to be carted off to their death:

“Whithersoever thou goest I will go. You’re people will be my people. Your God will be my God.”

The Jews cheered. The Christians who were outside the barbed wire enclosure cheered. The noise was so great the people came out of their houses and started coming down in increasing numbers to the train station. The hundreds grew to thousands. The SS soldiers knew there was no way they were going to get away with rounding up these Jews and carrying them off to Auschwitz. The train left without the Jews. And never returned again. Not a single Bulgarian Jew ever died in the concentration camps because the church of Jesus Christ boldly stood up, and said, “We’re not going to KILL the enemy. We are going to identify with those suffering, and we will suffer with them.”

This is Jesus’ way!”

This story affects me at such a deeply profound level. At the beginning of World War II, the Jewish population of Bulgaria was 48,000. At the end it was 50,000, making Bulgaria the only country under Nazi rule to end the war with more Jews than at the beginning.

Metropolitan Kirill died in 1971. In 2003, the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem recognized him as Righteous Among the Nations.

I want to close this week acknowledging that I am fully aware that there are some out there who are really upset at me and Renewed Heart Ministries for endeavoring to take seriously Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence and embracing it in this way. I’ve heard your feed back. Some of you are so upset you don’t know how to respond. You are just really upset. I want to encourage you not to walk away, but please, let’s keep talking. I’m not trying to make following Jesus hard. No, no. I simply want to be honest about the teachings of Jesus that already are hard. The question is, will we allow ourselves to be challenged, as followers of Jesus, to creatively come up with ways in which we will be able to change the world through such a radical, life-changing, other-centered, self-sacrificial, passionate-for-peace approach to life? To do this in a way so that we become like our first forefathers? Not the American’s forefathers—I’m talking about our forefathers, the first century Christian forefathers, whose blood became the seed. And we see that that has the power to change the world. Constantine was a great counter-maneuver of the demonic powers. The only way to defeat Christianity in the fourth century, was not to crush it out, but to confuse everybody by causing Christians to lay down the cross as a way of life, and to pick the sword back up instead. Living nonviolently is radical, I know. But we must begin to wrestle with how we can turn the world upside down again as our true forefathers did.

This week, I want to encourage us to submit to Jesus not just as our Savior, but also as our Lord. The history of Christianity does not prove that the teachings of Jesus have been “tried and found wanting, but rather that the teachings of Jesus have been found hard and left untried.” (G.K. Chesterton)

This week, keep living in God’s extravagant love for you as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and may we all embrace a way life characterized by loving as Christ does, even loving our enemies. And thereby, we will build the Kingdom.

If you, through this series, have come to embrace the peace teachings of Jesus, either for the first time or anew, I want to say this to you. There are churches out there that are following the peace teachings of Jesus (may have Anabaptist roots in principle if not literally). They are not following the “just war” theory that so many Christians embrace today. I want to encourage you to find one of these churches and begin talking with them wherever you are. (If you can’t find one, shoot me an e-mail and I’ll help you find one.) Many of them have years of experience with applying Jesus’ peace teachings in practical ways in real life, and they will be an invaluable resource to you as you seek to become a follower of Jesus more deeply.

Much love to each of you this week.

I really do love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.