Debate Part 2: Why I am Not A Pacifist

This is part two of in house Christian debate on the role of pacifism and military force. (see Debate Part One: Why I Am A Pacifist (By Simon Cross below this post)

Are the minority groups of Northern Iraq morally wrong for trying to fight back against IS?   Is it "sinful" of them to fight to protect their families and commuities from genocide?

I’m meeting an increasing number of young Christians who would say yes.  They self-identify as "Christian Pacifists".  This may be because the last decade saw an unpopular war which many people believe did more harm than good and are now projecting those feelings onto all wars.  It also may be because some Christians do not have a clear understanding of what is actually meant by Pacifism and are unacquainted with the historic arguments for and against. 

What some people mean when they claim to be a "Pacifist" is that they feel war is undesirable.  Quite.  We are all (or should all be) Pacifists if this is the definition.  But this is not the classical definition.  By Pacifist I mean a man who will disobey a call to arms when his country calls on him to fight, even if that be a defensive position.  The idea accompanying this passivity is that any other possible outcome in the course of history is preferable to actually fighting.

I want to deal with the underlying belief first.  Is it really obvious that as bad as war is that the world is always worse because of it?  Is fighting (back) always the worst thing that could happen?  Is the USA really worse off  today because the North declared war on the South to free the slaves and preserve the Union?  Is the world worse off today because Rome fought to defend the Empire against against Hannibal and the forces of Carthage?  Is Europe worse off today because in 1914 it didn't passively surrender to Germany and allow itself to be Germanised?  Now I am sceptical of an affirmative answer, but either way we are merely speculating.  It is certainly not an obvious "yes" that the world is worse off because those nations chose the route of resistance warfare rather than passively submitting to the agressor.  History cannot prove that passivity in the face of aggression is always the best recourse.  

If the question of whether the world will ultimately be better off in the long run if a nation chooses to fight to defend itself against an aggressor is ultimately speculative, then shouldn’t we answer the call to arms of the society which has raised us?  The society which allowed us to be safely born, which sent us to school, which has allowed us to vote and which (thanks to it’s lenient laws) even allows us to be Pacifist?  No, civil authority isn’t our ultimate authority, but it is an authority.  No, we don’t owe our society our soul, but surely we owe it something.  The New Testament affirms this respect in numerous places:

“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)

It may be said that war causes so much more death.  Well… it may sound coldly philosophical, but the blunt truth is that the death rate remains the same in both wartime and peacetime: one per person.  Death is the great tragedy of our fallen humanity, war only makes what is already there more visible.  Nor are the deaths more aweful as sickness and disease usually causes more drawn out deaths than a bullet or bomb.  

If neither historical speculation nor philosophy can firmly lead us to the Pacifist conclusion and if it is both moral and scriptural to honour the call of our governing authorities than what reason could we have for disobeying?  “The command of God!” shouts the Christian Pacifist.  

So...does the Bible actually teach that a Christian should never fight in battle?

I think not.  One cannot come to this conclusion by reading Moses.  The same man who gave us the 10 Commandments which forbade us to commit murder and who originally instructed us to "love our neighbours" also raised up armies to fight battles.  In the Old Testament God seems to draw a huge distinction between an individual killing another individual for hate or greed on one hand and serving in the military to protect the nation on the other.  I also see no evidence that God suddenly changed his mind in the New Testament.  When soldiers came to be baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan and asked for instructions on how to repent John told them “Be content with your pay”.  He didn’t say, “Stop serving as soldiers!”  Also, it was a military centurion whom Jesus praised as having greater faith than anyone in Israel.  Also in the book of Acts we see the Apostles discipling Roman soldiers. (ch10, 16).  Never are they instructed to quit the military.  It is hard to support total Pacifism from Biblical passages that actually deal with real soldiers.  

It is for this reason that three major branches of Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox and most Protestant traditions) respect the right of society to call men to fight for the nation in wartime.  Some early church fathers debated certain aspects of military service because emperor worship was widely practiced in the army, but church father Augustine went to lengths to defend the validity of military service.  Both the weight of Scripture and the vast majority of historical church leaders are not pacifist.  From Augustine to St.Patrick to Arminius/Calvin to Billy Graham and CS Lewis, we do not find Pacifist teaching.  Granted, Christian tradition is not "proof", and the weight one gives to tradition as a reason may depend one the wieght one gives to the importance of church history in general. 

About the only thing to which Christian Pacifists can point to 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 I hear a Pacifist interpretation given to this verse a couple questions pop into mind.  First of all, “Did Jesus really have military service in mind when he said this, or was he addressing interpersonal relationships and attitudes of hate and revenge?”  and also “If you take that sort of expansive application and literal interpretation I assume you have done so for all the other similar statements 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.”  If the Pacifist has also literally applied Jesus’ other hyperbolic statements in this way, then he would at least deserve a hearing.  So far I haven’t met any.  I do not believe Jesus in this one statement contradicts the validity the rest of the Bible gives to military service.  His early hearers almost certainly did not think he meant this.  

It may be argued that Jesus didn’t fight as a soldier.  Quite.  He came to die in our place.  That Jesus let himself be crucified to pay for our sins is not an obvious inference that civil nations are not to have armies.  We are not talking about raising up “Christian armies” as a couple of Popes tried with disastrous results in the middle ages.   The church is not to act like the civil government, but neither is the civil government to act like the church.  Government can use force (police, jails, armies, etc) the church for its mission should not.  Different purposes, different means.  We are citizens of both so while we do not fight to advance the gospel in physical armies, we should fight as citizens if called upon by our civil authorities to do so.  

Conclusion: If you are in military service you should not fear that you are necessarily in sin.  "Christian" Pacifism may condemn you, but the Bible does not.  Jesus and the apostles gave respect to solidiers who served righteously and so should the church today.  If

-Joshua Jones

Other side of the debate by activist Simon Cross:


  1. This is an excellent treatment of this subject. Very well done. However, I have come to believe over many years that Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not drop bombs on them, assassinate them, torture them or lock them up in illegal prisons indefinitely.

  2. Well written Joshua. While there is sin on earth, it is difficult to sustain pacifism as a viable option. I believe the 'turn the other cheek' verse mostly apply to persecution for the name of Christ and was not intended to be applied in the context of unlawful aggression. However war can also unproductive. To add to the previous comment, the best option can be to give our enemies jobs and a way to live in decency rather than misery.

  3. When Jesus says, "love your enemies" (in Greek, the love being "agapate" or the plural imperative for unconditional love) and to pray, bless and do good to those who hate and persecute us...which enemies is he referring to if not those the nation states calls our enemies?

    1. I feel that there was a number of logical fallacies used in both the representation of pacifists position and argument in favor of state war&violence. The presentation of what pacifists believe was the setting up of a straw man which you then attacked. The usage of Paul's words in Romans is a false dilemma fallacy or a false dichotomy. One can submit to the ruling civil authorities and still not participate in war (there is no mandatory military service in America). The point about christian leaders and institutions not holding to the theological position of christian pacifist is an appeal to authority logical fallacy--the same argument has and is used to justify slavery, domestic abuse, and the persecution of the Jews.

      I would like to hear a justification of war that does misscharacterize what Pacifists believe, nor turns to Paul--who's words in Romans regarding submission to the state, are not relevant--nor argues from the position of majority opinion.

      I would like to hear a justification of war that shows that killing someone and advocating for another person's death, is holy and pleasing to God (in accordance with how we should live as seen in Romans 12:1). That participating in a war and fighting others IS loving them (as if they were our own family, Romans 12:10), IS blessing them (Romans 12:14), IS considering them as an equal (Romans 12:16) and shows them respect and isn't paying back evil for evil (Romans 12:17). I would like to be shown how fighting, shooting, killing or injuring another person ISN'T wronging someone but is instead loving (Romans 13:10).

      More easily I would just like someone, maybe you Josh, maybe someone else, how every time Jesus, or an apostle or Paul, says to love, honor and respect a stranger, immigrant, enemy or neighbor--I'm supposed to believe that that means everyone except for an enemy soldier.

      Alternatively I would be satisfied with being persuaded that Paul's invitation to submit means proactively protecting a nation state--and that his invitation should take precedence over the fulfillment of all of God's law and covenant Old and New which is to love all, to love everyone, unconditionally, as Christ loved--through humble service, mercy, healing and blessing.

  4. Yeah, I was going to say what Kris said, I think you misrepresent the argument a bit.


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