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Should all Christians be Pacifists?

First, let’s define that term.

If by ‘pacifism’ we mean that war sucks and that we should seek peaceful means to settle disputes between nations and individuals - then yes, all Christian should be pacifists. We should recognise that all human beings are created in God’s image and deserving of dignity and respect and recognise it is a tragedy when anyone is killed.

But there is another definition of ‘pacifism’ that is more technical and full of civil implications. This definition says that all fighting by civil powers - in any circumstance - is morally wrong. There are some who want to make a Christian version of this by saying that the Bible forbids all war and that Christians should never enter military service or use violent force. This 'Christian Pacifism' insists that every time a government raises and deploys an army, it is a national sin regardless of circumstances and that Christians should either resist or opt out.

What does the Bible say?

Moses did not teach Christian Pacifism. He gave us the 10 Commandments which forbid murder. Moses also instructed us to love our neighbours as ourselves. But Moses also raised up Israeli armies to fight battles. In Scripture, God seems to draw a huge distinction between an individual who murders out of hate or greed and one who serves in the military to protect the nation. 

We see no evidence that God suddenly changed his mind with the arrival Jesus.

When soldiers came to be baptised by John in the Jordan River, they asked for instructions on how to repent and live godly. John didn’t tell them to quit the military. He simply said, “Be content with your pay”.

It was to a military centurion – a man who led other men into battle - that Jesus praised as having greater faith than anyone else in Israel – with no critique of his job. Also, in the book of Acts we see Jesus’ apostles teaching Roman soldiers. (ch10, 16). The apostles never instruct them to quit the military or to stop using force as part of their job. One cannot support political Pacifism from passages in the Bible that deal with real-life soldiers.

It is for this reason that the three major branches of Christianity - Catholic, Orthodox and most Protestant traditions - respect the right of a society to call men to fight for their nation in wartime.

About the only thing to which Christian Pacifists can point to for support is one comment made by Jesus: “Resist not an evil doer, but if he strikes you on one cheek then give to him the other also.”  

When we hear a pacifistic interpretation given to this verse, a few questions may pop into our minds:

Did Jesus really have civil, military service in mind when he said this? Or, was he addressing interpersonal relationships ruined by attitudes of hate and revenge?
Also, if you take that sort of expansive application, I assume you have done so for all the other similar statements that Jesus makes. I assume you have also sold everything you own and have given it to the poor and that you also travel about in one pair of clothing preaching the gospel of the Kingdom. Do you?

Given the rest of Scripture, we must find it very doubtful that Jesus’ original hearers thought of complete civil Pacifism when they first heard those words. We cannot believe that Jesus - in this one statement - contradicts the legitimacy of civil-military service that the rest of Bible supports. 

Some might argue that Jesus didn’t fight as a soldier. Quite. He came to die in our place. Jesus let himself be crucified to pay for our sin. But does this mean that civil nations are not to have armies? The Church is not to act like a civil government - but neither is a civil government to act like the Church. God gives a role to civil powers that is different from the role that He gives to the Church. About these civil powers the Apostle Paul writes,

Rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.
They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
-Rom 13

In addition to these points from the Bible, let's simply ask our Pacifist friends some reasonable questions? Do you really believe the world is worse off because:

·         The Romans fought against the invasion of Europe by the wizard-king, Hannibal and his armies from Africa?
·         300 Greek soldiers fought to resist the Persian armies of Xerxes?
·         When Islamic Caliphs had led their armies to forcibly convert all of the Middle-East and North Africa, Europeans rallied together to stop them from completely taking over Europe?
·         The British fought to resist invasion from Napoleon and later the Kaiser and – still later – Hitler?

Do you really think that if men had ignored their nations’ call to arms and let the foreign invaders have their way, that the world would be a better place today?

Though Christians should always seek peaceful solutions to both national and personal conflicts, neither Scripture nor reason can lead one to complete, civil pacifism.


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