Peace-Loving Believers in an Age of Violence, Part 1

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Scripture disallows seeking peace at any price. Some apologists argue that even believers must draw the line somewhere to stand up to the forces of evil. Wherever one stands, Christians need to be pro-active. As Friesen, Langan, and Stassen observe in their introduction to Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, “terrorism requires more than an ethic that says terrorism is unjust, it requires an ethic that points to practices that prevent it.”[1] Some events create a time for war rather than a time for peace — when it would be un-Christian to not act unspeakably toward someone, perhaps a terrorist or terrorist organization.

In the OT God clearly reveals His abhorrence of violence and His judicial sentence against those who practice violence. A familiar name in the news is the same as the Hebrew word for violence: hamas. Yahweh hates those who love violence (Psalm 11:5). Violence is counter to justice (Proverbs 21:7, using rasha‘). The prophets command the people of God to shun violence (Jeremiah 22:3) and the Servant of Yahweh performs no act of violence (Isaiah 53:9). Violence in both non-military and military conflicts produces a natural tension with the normally peaceful nature of Christian living. Scripture teaches that non-violence is part of Christian character and behavior:[2]

  1. Non-violence is preferable to violence (cf. Romans 12:17–21).
  2. Non-violence is more consistent with Christian morals (cf. Matthew 5:9, 38–48;[3] 1 Timothy 3:3).

Some theologians are adamant about the Christian being solely and completely committed to non-violence in any arena of life, in any circumstances whatsoever: “Christians are called to be a peaceable, nonviolent people who cannot therefore participate in the (necessarily) forceful means by which the state seeks to enact justice, within or beyond its borders.”[4] In spite of such teaching, the Bible does not instruct believers to seek peace at any price (cf. John 2:13–17;[5] Acts 23:1–10; 1 Corinthians 4:19–21; Galatians 2:5–14; Ephesians 5:11; 2 John 9–11; 3 John 9–10). Granted, the situations about which the preceding references speak are non-military in nature. However, believers must make a choice when standing up to the forces of evil. Some occasions will not allow the believer to choose peace. It can be unchristian to compromise or to fail to act unpeaceably toward someone bent on doing harm to others. Christians may choose to shun confrontation by appealing to Christian love, compassion, and mercy. Such a path of inaction can result in disobedience to Scripture — as in the matter of refusing to exercise church discipline against a sinning brother or sister in Christ (cp. 1 Corinthians 5:1–5).

According to Francis Schaeffer, “to refuse to do what I can for those under the power of oppressors is nothing less than a failure of Christian love. It is to refuse to love my neighbor as myself.”[6] This train of thought explains why he was not a pacifist. As he explained, “Pacifism in this poor world in which we live — this lost world — means that we desert the people who need our greatest help.”[7] Schaeffer uses the illustration of the obligation of Christian love to stop (by any means necessary) a big man from beating a tiny tot to death, if one were to come upon such atrocious conduct.[8] It boggles the mind to apply this principle on an international scale with something like the 800,000 who died in Rwanda or more recently the tens of thousands in Syria, while nations like the United States decided not to intervene. Indeed, a strong argument can be made for concluding that it is never right to choose peace at any price, whether in spiritual warfare, church discipline, or military warfare.

Footnotes

[1] Duane K. Friesen, John Langan, and Glen Stassen, “Introduction: Just Peacemaking as the New Ethic for Peace and War,” in Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, 2nd ed., ed. by Glen Stassen (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1998), 1.

[2] See Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996), 317–46 in a chapter entitled “Violence in Defense of Justice.”

[3] Turning the other cheek deals more with insult than with a physical threat. Jesus “was not telling us how to respond to someone trying to hurt or kill us, so He was not saying that it is wrong to defend yourself. Nevertheless, war is never ideal” — Brian Morley, God in the Shadows: Evil in God’s World (Geanies House, UK: Christian Focus, 2006), 222. Hays, while admitting that turning the other cheek “certainly refers to self-defense,” adds, “— we might say even to self-defense. But the larger paradigm of Jesus’ own conduct in Matthew’s Gospel indicates a deliberate renunciation of violence as an instrument of God’s will” (The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 323). Stassen and Gushee translate Matt 5:39 as “do not retaliate or resist violently or revengefully, by evil means” — Glen H. Stassen and David P. Gushee, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 138. Yet, Stassen and Gushee recognize that Jesus Himself did resist evil (ibid., 137–38).

[4] David G. Horrell, “The Peaceable, Tolerant Community and the Legitimate Role of the State: Ethics and Ethical Dilemmas in Romans 12:1–15:13,” Review and Expositor 100, no. 1 (Winter 2003): 88.

[5] Interestingly, Hays (The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 334–35) comments that Jesus’ violent reaction to the money changers in the Temple “is an act of violence in approximately the same way that antinuclear protesters commit an act of violence when they break into a navy base and pour blood on nuclear submarines. No one is hurt or killed in Jesus’ Temple demonstration.” It appears that Hays condones such protests that commit trespass and damage public property — not a very pacifistic action.

[6] Francis A. Schaeffer, “The Secular Humanist World View Versus the Christian Word View and Biblical Perspectives on Military Preparedness,” in Francis Schaeffer, Vladimmir Bukovsky, and James Hitchcock, Who Is for Peace? (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983), 23.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 23–24.

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