Should all Christians be Pacifists?
Let’s define this term ‘pacifism’. If we mean it in the casual and informal sense―that violence sucks and that we should seek peaceful means to settle disputes between nations and individuals―then yes, let us all be pacifists. We should recognise that all human beings are not accidents of the universe but rather creatures created in God’s image and therefore deserving of dignity and respect.
But there is another definition of ‘pacifism’ that is more formal. This definition says that all use of force by civil powers, soldiers, policemen, or private individuals is morally wrong in any and every circumstance. Some Christians, with an understandable distaste for violence, attempt to find support in the Bible generally, or in the teachings of Jesus specifically, to support this type of formal pacifism in an attempt to create a ‘Christian Pacifism’.
What should we think of such attempts? Are they persuasive?
What does the Bible say?
Moses did not teach Christian Pacifism. He gave us the 10 Commandments which forbid murder. Moses 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 security forces to protect the vulnerable.
We see no evidence that God suddenly changed his mind with the arrival of Jesus.
When the security forces of the day came to be baptised by John in the Jordan River, they asked for instructions on how to repent and live godly. John did not tell them to quit their jobs. He simply said, “Be content with your pay”.
It was to a military centurion 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 active Roman soldiers with no sense of inconsistency.
Traditionally, the three main branches of Christianity―Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox―recognised that, in this life, there are appropriate times when force is necessary. Unsurprisingly, there have been some dissenting voices along the way. The Anabaptists are perhaps the most well-known group, at least among Protestants, that subscribes to Christian Pacifism.
Turning the Cheek
For Anabaptists, and other groups like them, Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ is interpreted to be a prohibition on all uses of force―a prohibition that supersedes all the other places in the Bible where the use of force appears to be sanctioned. But 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?
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 necessarily mean that civil nations are not to have police forces or armies?
Some might also argue that the war industry has become corrupt and that there have been too many pointless wars where many innocents have died. There are also countless examples of police brutality and corruption. Perhaps all that is true. But does this necessarily mean should dispose of them? Because families and governments can also become dysfunctional and abusive do we also get rid of all families and governments?
They might further argue that in heaven there is no fighting. Yes, what a great hope! But we are not in heaven yet. In the world to come, we won't need police who use force because there won't be burglars, gangs, or rapists. But, in this life, where criminality and sin remain, we still have need of men and women who are ready to use force to protect those weaker and more vulnerable than them.
And that's why on the 11th November I'll be giving thanks to God for our soldiers and the freedom and security they have won for us. I hope you will join me.
For more, please check out our book Elijah Men Eat Meat: Readings to slaughter your inner Ahab and pursue Revival and Reform