Pacifism: In Answer to Tim’s and Guy’s Questions

pacifismAs usual, Tim has posed a number of thoughtful, challenging questions. I post my answers here because he’s pushed me to address some questions I was planning on getting to in future posts. I add my answer to Guy’s post on lobbying the government at the end because of the importance of the topic.

[PS -- I've been very impressed with quality and spirit of nearly all the comments. This has been a much better discussion than I'd ever imagined. I'm being pushed to figure out stuff every day.]

Tim wrote,

I still believe that the defensive wars of the times of the judges had to do with the Promised Land.

The examples from the Old Testament were intended to be illustrative of what God created government — all government — to do. If government doesn’t defend us from invaders and protect us from criminals, it’s not performing its God-ordained task (Rom 13:1-7).

I can’t imagine that God meant for his children to allow non-Christians to risk their lives to defend Christians. It would seem very unfair for the Christians to let others do their dirty work for them.

(Rom 13:4)  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

And in a democracy where there’s a Christian majority, I can’t see the Christians voting to disband the military entirely, leaving the rest to die as martyrs along with the Christians. But then, how could the Christians vote to have a military if they consider the military wicked. Even if the Christians see the military as permissible, but not for Christians, how could a majority ask the unbelieving minority to die for the protection of the Christians?

You see, I can’t help but think that much (not all) of pacifistic thought presumes that Christians will always be in the minority, which is just not true unless you proceed on the highly sectarian assumption that most believers aren’t really Christians.

Therefore, because the government is permitted by God to use the sword for proper purposes, I think God permits Christians, in government, to do what governments were made to do.

This is not the same as saying that Christians should rise up in rebellion against the government, which is plainly prohibited in Rom 13:2. Rather, it’s to say that we honor God by working within the structures he created so that they better do what God meant for them to do.

The human monarchy never worked.

No government has ever worked perfectly. But then, no congregation of the church has ever worked perfectly. But some monarchies have worked extremely well, as have some churches. God plainly blessed David’s and Solomon’s kingships until they were caught up in sin.

When our loyalty to an earthly kingdom can cause us to do harm to a brother in Christ, we need to question that loyalty.

Agreed. In fact, we need to not do that. Our loyalty is to the kingdom of heaven. When that loyalty comes into conflict with our loyalty to a human institution — a nation, a government, an employer, even a congregation — we have to be loyal first and only to the kingdom of God.

[Abraham] didn’t try to solve every injustice in the world. He considered Lot to be his responsibility.

If you’re arguing that the church shouldn’t oppose injustice, I disagree very strongly. If you’re arguing that the church should only take on what it can handle — with God’s help — I agree that we have to pick our battles.

(Gen 14:16) He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people.

Abraham did much more than rescue Lot. He rescued all who’d been captured and all the goods that had been stolen. He helped strangers as well as family, which to me is very godly indeed. Helping only family would be completely contrary to the nature of God and who he wants us to be.

Why is the lesson of Revelation one of enduring persecution rather than one of rising up and conquering the persecutors?

I think the answer is in Romans 12 – 13.

(Rom 12:19-21) Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “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.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

(Rom 13:1-4) Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

Christians are banned from taking vengeance but must allow God to punish wrongdoers. However, the government is God’s agent for doing just that.

Therefore, while it’s wrong for an individual Christian to take vengeance, it’s not only right, but in fulfillment of God’s purpose for government for the government to punish the wrongdoer — with the sword.

Either we are to leave doing God’s will for government to unbelievers, who don’t know God’s will, or else we are to participate in government so that government comes closer to being what God meant for it to be.

I’ve seen both kinds of government. I fail to see any advantage in a Godless government in which Christians refuse to participate. Why would God tell us that the government is his agent and yet we, the body of Christ on earth, refuse to be involved in the doing of God’s will?

As noted before, the argument can be made from —

(Heb 11:13) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

The writer is speaking of the great heroes of the Bible, and they evidently succeeded in living as “aliens and strangers on earth.” And yet David, for example, was a king, and Joseph was second in Egypt only to Pharaoh. Serving in government does not contradict living as an alien and stranger — so long as you serve God where you are.

As Terry pointed out, Mordecai (Est 10:3) and Daniel are examples of other men of God who served in governments other than Israel’s. They are praised for being men of God in pagan governments — and they did great good for God’s people.

Finally, recall that Joseph, as an officer of the Egyptian government, required the Egyptian people to pay 1/7th of their farming produce to the government as a reserve for the coming years of famine. Had he taken their food as a private citizen, he’d be a thief. As a government official, acting responsibly for the people, he’s a hero.

God gives people who serve in the government privileges that he doesn’t allow the very same people when acting as private citizens.

Guy wrote,

My answer: The solution is for the church to stop worrying about changing laws, and start practicing and providing the justice ourselves.  Offer tutoring programs to the community and make benevolence-ministries a bigger part of daily work.  Aim for the congregation’s community not to be dependent upon whether laws or just or not.

Guy,

Guy,

I could not disagree more. It’s a false dichotomy. We should do both because love compels us to do both.

I’m a great fan of William Wilberforce, who crusaded for years against the slave trade — and finally persuaded England not only to stop trading in slaves but also to use its naval might to keep anyone else from shipping slaves over sea.

He was a member of Parliament, and the Royal Navy used cannons to end the slave trade. I think what he did was utterly holy.

[The movie "Amazing Grace" tells the story and should be viewed in every church.]

On the other hand, if what you mean is that the church should not ask the government to do its good works for it, I entirely agree. We need to stop expecting the schools to raise our children for us or to teach our children to pray for us. That’s our job. And we should not fool ourselves into thinking that voting for good things replaces doing good things.

While government aid to the needy, for example, is a good thing when done wisely, if the church abandons the poor, figuring the government is handling their needs,  their spiritual needs will not be met. Indeed, there is no better way to assure that someone remains financially poor than to make him spiritually poor. I believe the church largely abandoned the poor during the last century, resulting in many of the severe problems we have today.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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4 Responses to Pacifism: In Answer to Tim’s and Guy’s Questions

  1. Tim Archer says:

    Jay,

    Thanks so much for addressing my questions. I'm sure that you're shocked that I have more to say. :-)

    (1) On the first point, I still disagree. The Old Testament is not there to teach us about governments. It's about God's covenant and promises with Israel. No government today is in a covenant relationship with God. We Christians, God's kingdom, are in a covenant with him. We learn about how to manage our kingdom, not how to manage Portugal or Mexico.

    (2) About the monarchies, I still argue that they didn't work (I guess "never" is a bit strong). Look at the 70,000 that died when David took the census, the terrible suffering that came from the civil wars under his reign. Look at Solomon's idolatry and where it led the nation. Did good things come out of those times? Yes, in spite of the kings themselves.

    (3) No, my reference to Abraham was not about denouncing and opposing injustice. The context was about Abraham intervening militarily. That was done as part of his family relationship. Abraham could have been the policeman of the Middle East, using his status with God to roam the area eradicating all wrong. He didn't. He raised an army once, when his own family was attacked. Along the way he helped the others that had been taken, but we don't see him setting off to fight a battle that doesn't include his family. Why is that important? It reinforces what we see in the rest of the Old Testament: God's people were not "justice warriors" that roamed from nation to nation imposing their version of peace. Warfare in the Old Testament does not justify what is done today.

    (4) You didn't particularly address the Revelation question, in my opinion. In the only examples we have of Christians in the New Testament dealing with unjust, oppressive governments, those Christians follow Jesus' example rather than using worldly methods. Jesus conquered by dying on the Cross and calls on his followers to have the courage to overcome evil the same way. The book of Revelation is the perfect time for God to lay out a blueprint for social change, political involvement, military action. And he does lay out a blueprint, just not one that most American Christians want to follow.

    Might I add that Romans 13 deserves a lot of study. If we try to apply that to all governments at all times throughout history, we will have to decide that Paul was wrong or the martyrs (and Jesus and several apostles) were wrongdoers.

    Thanks for letting me have my say!

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Adam says:

    Just to overly simplify this discussion, maybe we spend all this time looking at the judges, the kings, the writings of Paul and John, just so we can avoid the very difficult, very uncomfortable words and examples of Jesus.

    While we are guilty, while we are the oppressor, the attacker, the taker, Jesus steps into the gulf to receive the death blow that we ourselves deliver (to ourselves) as the ultimate example of how to treat one's enemy.

    We aren't called to solve the injustices in the world, or even in our own lives. We are called to suffer with the victims. We are called to take the death blow on their behalf. The judges and kings, the writing of Paul and John, have to be understood from Jesus' example, not the other way around.

    Peace and Love, yall!

    Adam

  3. Guy says:

    Jay,

    You wrote:
    “I can’t imagine that God meant for his children to allow non-Christians to risk their lives to defend Christians. It would seem very unfair for the Christians to let others do their dirty work for them.”

    I don’t expect the military to defend me. I expect God to raise me from the dead because He promised to. Whether He decides to spare/defend my life and through whatever means is up to Him. But I don’t believe I’m entitled to it.

    You wrote:
    “Either we are to leave doing God’s will for government to unbelievers, who don’t know God’s will, or else we are to participate in government so that government comes closer to being what God meant for it to be.”

    Is it the case that God can only achieve His purposes through believers? Where did God say that the government must be made up of believers in order for Him to use that government as an agent of His wrath to punish evildoers? It seems God demonstrated numerous times throughout history that He can use pagan governments to get what He wants out of governments.

    You wrote:
    “I’ve seen both kinds of government. I fail to see any advantage in a Godless government in which Christians refuse to participate. Why would God tell us that the government is his agent and yet we, the body of Christ on earth, refuse to be involved in the doing of God’s will?”

    Pharaoh was God’s agent being used to accomplish God’s will. But arguably any righteous person would not have been permitted to do what Pharaoh was doing. Just because someone is being used by God doesn’t mean they are performing actions which are morally permissible (or morally permissible for everyone).

    Regarding our disagreements about lobbying: Not sure I have much more to add except to once again point to the example of the early church. They most certainly took on their work themselves. I don’t see where they attempted to include government in that work.

    –Guy

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Adam,

    I was wondering when someone would notice that I've skipped the Sermon on the Mount — which is where these discussions usually begin. It's for a reason.

    The SOTM is so pithy we all tend to read our biases into the words spoken (consider the verses regarding divorce, for example). Therefore, I think you have to sort through the narrative of scripture to see where the SOTM fits.

    After all, Jesus said,

    (Mat 5:17) "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."

    So, anyway, if the Lord gives me the ability and energy, I'll be getting there.

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