[At the arrest of Jesus] The commander of heaven’s armies had forbid his disciples the use of the sword at the very moment when it was needed to protect him from capture. Victory would be achieved by dying rather than by killing.
In the Kingdom of Christ, the rules of engagement for spiritual warfare demand that we confront the enemy and be willing to die – to accept violence, but not to commit violence. When we seek to use civil authorities to enforce morality and justice for which the world is not ready, we deny the power of the gospel to bring needed change, and the strongholds of the human mind remain under enemy control.
In the New Testament, social change came first inside the church. In modern times, this is how apartheid was defeated in South Africa without civil war, to the amazement of the world around. It is true that apartheid was strong inside the institutional church, but strong voices of opposition within the church were also raised, and the impetus for social change come initially from the seeds of the gospel inside the church, nonetheless. In South Africa there were martyrs, but the martyrs won. That should not surprise us who claim to follow Jesus! It is the New Testament pattern.
Over the past 2,000 years we have seen that the systems of monarchy, patriarchy, and slavery have proved incapable of justice and unworthy of trust. If the Gospel is what has brought this about, which is the burden of this book, then it should be expected that one day the Gospel will also succeed in destabilizing the institutions of warfare, proving them nonviable, and unworthy of the faith we have placed in them.
The Jesus who made no compromise with evil is the Jesus we offer to the nations, and to offer a lesser Jesus is to sell Jesus short.
If we trust the institutional violence of a national defense system, a system that first Moses and then Jesus rejected, then we deny the incarnation its power on earth, making Jesus Lord of heaven but not of earth, and reveal whom we actually trust.
Christendom had reproduced a version of the Old Testament religion whereby the ritual sacrifice was repeated again and again in the mass, and the king enforced God’s laws, punishing idolaters with the sword. The reformation abolished the sacrifice of the mass, but failed to address the underlying violence of the system.
[Anabaptist Reformers] sought to make the cross of Christ their way of life on earth rather than merely an icon of future life in heaven.
Whenever the world divides into armed camps the church on both sides of conflict must come together, not split apart. If followers of Jesus allow themselves to be divided over the things that divide the world, then the unity of the one God will not be seen. To hide behind the deception of ‘just war’ obscures the reality of who we are in Christ.
Following Jesus inevitably leads to conflict with the rulers of this world, and may lead to charges of treason. No war was ever more just than the Jewish war against Rome; but instead of going to war, Jesus found a way to bring Jew and Roman together for those who practiced forgiveness. Even though conflict is painful, such is our calling in Christ, and Paul is the greatest apostolic example. He accepted the abuse and rejection of his own people in order to bring the good news to the Greeks and the Romans, the Jew’s enemies, both culturally and militarily. For Paul, his precious Jewish culture and religious values were given up as rubbish in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:8). Nothing could have been more unpatriotic.
I suggest that an appropriate metaphor for the true church of our Lord would be that of a ping-pong game being played in the middle of a football field while the football game is going on. Again and again the ping-pong table is demolished and the players carried off the field with serious injuries, but again and again the ping-pong table reappears and the ping-pong game continues, to the consternation of the football teams and crowd. The followers of Jesus are playing a different game with different rules on the world’s field. Heaven’s citizens act as though the game has already changed and play by new rules. Their persistence and endurance will triumph. Jesus said, ‘The one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13 and Mark 13:13).
The reason for being a pacifist is that the practice of warfare defiles the soul. It violates the new nature Christ has given us.If my readers will agree that both slavery and war fall short of the righteousness God requires (i.e. they are sinful), then we should also agree that military systems and preparations for warfare are equally as abhorrent as slavery. We noted earlier that once Charles Finney had recognized slavery to be sin, he opposed it. Once we recognize warfare to be sin, we must oppose it also.
When should one be a pacifist and refuse military service? The answer is that we must oppose military service as soon as we recognize it to fall short of God’s glory. One must be a pacifist when the conviction of the Holy Spirit within the soul allows no other option; and as the Spirit of God continues to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), we should expect that a growing mass of believers in the world will be called to bear witness against this evil system in which the nations have placed their trust, and because of that witness, accept the possibility of martyrdom. This way the deception of the snake will be exposed and his power destroyed.
Revelation 20:3 describes the future. ‘And [they] cast him [the dragon, the old serpent] into the bottomless pit and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled.’ To believe in the necessity of armaments and war preparations is to believe the dragon’s deception. In war Revelation 20:7, as soon as the dragon is released from confinement, he gathers the nations once again for war. Here the writer of Revelation draws a strong connection between warfare and Satan’s deception of the nations. This is in stark contrast to the triumph of the Lamb who conducts warfare by the sword of his mouth and the word of his servants’ testimony.
The Just War Theory of Christians theologians offers nothing substantive that Islam (and also Judaism) does not offer. If the birth announcement in Luke is true – that Jesus’ arrival signaled peace on earth – then this issue belongs to the gospel, it is imperative upon the followers of Jesus to demonstrate the truth of it visibly in a way that Islam and Judaism do not. After all, Muhammad showed commendable graciousness to his defeated enemies in Mecca; and his ethics of warfare compare favorably with the ethics of Augustine or any other Christian theologian. The reality is that when our Christian faith is not centrally informed by the power of the cross in praxis, we deny Jesus just as surely as do the non-Christian religions.
All accommodating structures exist in the world as a demonstration of unbelief, and all rely upon violence. When we understand the historic process by which God has been weaning his people from faith in the violence of the accommodating structures of patriarchy, monarchy, and slavery, then we should be able also to see by faith where God is leading us in terms of our relationship to all institutions of violence, including the military. We must demonstrate within the social order the truth of Jesus as Messiah who brings peace on earth. This peace, incarnate in the fabric of fellowship of our faith around the world, bridging the boundaries of ethnic, racial, and nationalistic violence, is what will convince the world of who Jesus is. This is why we need to take pacifism seriously today.
Whenever Christians make either family, national identity, or even a religious institution their primary point of orientation, they deny their Lord and confuse the world about who they are. When this is understood, military service for the sake of preserving national boundaries and maintaining national identity becomes difficult to defend. Peace must be a missiological concern.
The battles between Christians and Muslims have really been battles over the control of earthly resources. When Christians put on the military uniform to fight for the power of an earthly government, the gospel message is sadly obfuscated in the eyes of the world. When the church becomes a cheerleader for some military effort, it denies its Lord. When Jesus called his disciples to put up the sword and follow him unarmed to death, he established Moses’ vision for a nation of priests rather than warriors. This is the legacy we must be prepared to follow to make our message believable.
I suggest that when Christians no longer kill each other on the basis of national identity, that then the invisible Kingdom of our Lord will become visible to those outside, because they will see another government in control of our loyalties.