Essay of the Day
The Origins Of Christian Pacifism by Gabe Suarez
he Origins Of Christian Pacifism by Gabe Suarez
Gabe Suarez is a long time friend and nationally known trainer on self defense. Gabe is a very gifted instructor with a history of having actual done what he teaches. What some people do not realize is that Gabe is also a very devout Christian. I have attended several of his classes and had the pleasure of listening to his presentation of “The Origins Of Christian Pacifism” several years ago and was extremely impressed. Gabe has given permission to us to reprint his original article here for your review. Gabe can be reached through his website, http://www.suarezinternational.com .
The Origins Of Christian Pacifism
An article researching the origin of pacifism and why it is not biblical
As we whistle through the first decade of the New millennium, we find ourselves embroiled in conflict with a new enemy. The previous century saw conflicts between city-states, between small states, large nations and even between regions. We saw a “cold war” between political ideologies. This new war is much more than that and before the final shot is fired, we will see its zones of conflict will span and traverse all boundaries whether political, social, or of faiths. Truly it is a struggle of faiths. Colored as it may be by politician and media pundit alike, it is clear that this is a struggle between Islam (the religion of peace…their peace), and the Christian nations of the west with its focal point being the tiny nation of Israel.
So it is with this backdrop that I want to examine the Christian Doctrine of Pacifism. I and many of my colleagues do not believe such a doctrine is biblically correct. My objective then is to find whence it came into acceptance, who brought it, and possibly determine why. Knowing this we can make rational decisions about whether such a perspective truly is of God…or not.
I want to point out that I am a born again Christian. Yet, although I prefer and love peace, I am no pacifist. When I became a Christian, I was prepared to sell all my guns and knives and adopt whatever life the Lord put in front of me. But the spirit did not lead me to cast away my sword, only to put it in its correct place…specifically as a tool of justice. I have killed men in combat and do not regret it. Moreover, if God puts me in the place of battle facing evil men, I will do so again without hesitation. I firmly believe that Jesus does not teach pacifism, but rather He teaches us to seek peace. True Pacifism (peace at any price) and Seeking Peace (but not at any price) are separated by a wide gulf.
As much as depends on us, we are to try to live in peace with all men. But often, such things do not depend on us. We are entrusted with the world by God. Although we are to have a light touch on the things of this world while earnestly seeking Him, we are not called to ignore the world with an excessively lofty spiritual view of things. Rather good stewardship demands that we act well with those things (people) entrusted to us…just like the parable of the talents.
We are to provide for those entrusted to us (family, church, etc.). To deny this cross is to deny the faith and be worse than an unbeliever. Provision includes food, shelter, spiritual guidance AND safety. Some may say that that is why they pay taxes…so the government will protect them. Sorry, hat won’t do it completely. Just as we would not expect the United States Government (and would in fact resist it if it tried) to provide us with food, housing, and religious teaching, neither can we abrogate the right and duty to provide for our own protection, and that of our families. To cause others to deny their cross this way (via incorrect teachings) is even worse, and the future of such are filled with waiting millstones.
We are all magistrates of God’s word and kingdom. Just as we would not allow unresisted teachings of blasphemy and immorality to our churches and children, so must we resist (in love) unsound teachings. And similarly must we resist violent crimes, and terrorism as much as we are physically (and spiritually) able. Where the spoken word of prayer may be enough in one case, the threat of violent physical action via the readiness of the sword (or in our day the availability of the loaded pistol) will suffice.
We can make a good case, based on scripture, that peace at any price (Pacifism) is not sound doctrine. We did that very thing in the essay titled The Folly Of Christian Pacifism.
When did the move towards Pacifism Start?
In this essay, I will seek to find the first instances of pacifism in the writings of early church leaders. We will examine the social issues of he day as well as the dynamics of the Christian in society to see why such a stance may have been taken.
First I want to be clear about the definitions. A pacifist is a person who refuses to act in violence in any way, or at any time. Such a person will die before resorting to violent means to save himself or others. In contrast, one can love peace and seek it, but not at any price. A man can desire peace with a gun in his hand.
One thing I immediately noticed was the arguments for pacifism revolved around the propriety of Christian service in the Roman military. Nothing was written until much later about the physical resistance of brigands by individual citizens. Since almost every sin was elaborated on in the early writings, it is curious that individual self-defense was not….perhaps in their minds one had nothing to do with the other.
The First century world of the Christian church was ruled by the iron fist of Rome. Although the Gospel was being spread daily, paganism and idolatry were still very prevalent. In the roman army, they were the order of the day.
Whether Christian or pagan, inductees into the Roman Army were required to swear the oath of the Roman military. The roman soldier had to pledge allegiance in a sacred oath, known as the Sacramentum. This pledge included the idea that a position in the Roman military was of sacred importance. The oath was recited on enlistment, on the third of January, and on the anniversary of the current emperor’s reign. One of the main points of the oath is to whom the soldier pledged his loyalty: in the Republic, the commander of the unit received the pledge; while in the Empire, the emperor received the pledge. This change was enacted under Augustus, who believed the oath could be used by generals to place the power of the emperor over the soldiers.
The Roman Oath – Here is one version of it:
“I swear by Jupiter Optimus Maximus and by any other god I may hold in my heart to be holy, and by the majesty of the Imperator and by the Senate of Rome, which next to our gods should be loved and worshipped by the human race. I, swear to perform with enthusiasm whatever the Imperator and my Legion commander should command, follow all laws set forth by the Senate of Rome, never to desert, and not to shrink from death on behalf of the Roman State.”
I can see several points that any Christian, specially a 1st Century one, would find objectionable. Add to this the fact that Caesar used the army to persecute and kill Christians, often sacrificing them to their gods, and you get a picture where it becomes untenable for a true Christian to be involved with them. Compare this to a modern illustration: A Christian being conscripted into the German SS during WW2, knowing they must deny God and serve Hitler, as well as knowing they will be ordered to commit atrocities. What kind of Christian would go along with that? A similar set of circumstances was taking place for the early Christians.
One of the early apologists was Justin of Caesarea, often referred to as Justin Martyr. He wrote in 140 A.D. – 160 A.D. His assertion was that the prophesies in Isaiah 2:4 with regards to the New Kingdom, were already here.
Isa 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah was prophesying about the New Kingdom, not the kingdom still on earth. As we know, to this day, nations are still killing each other and the Lord has not yet come to institute His reign. Much less in Justin’s day. Great Christian apologist or not, he a man, and was wrong with his interpretation and timing.
Apologists who followed Justin Martyr, such as Irenaeus, Clement, Origin, and others prior to the Council of Nicea also referred to the Isaiah argument as their biblical justification against military service in the Roman army for Christians.
Tertullian was another apologist who wrote between 160 – 220 A.D. in North Africa. He noted, “There is no agreement between the Divine (sacrament) and the human sacrament (Roman Oath)”.
Furthermore, Tertullian writes, “Shall it be held awful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord preaches that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?”
Tertullian makes quite a leap here. First of all, Christ did not eschew the sword. Rather he taught the sword in its proper place, and that those whose only resource was violence would inevitably perish by it. In Luke 22:36-38 Christ admonishes us to be prepared to provide for our own security vis a vis the sword.
Luk 22:36 Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.
Luk 22:37 For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end.
Luk 22:38 And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough.
We can argue about the meaning of this Scripture, but the fact remains that Christ told His men to arm themselves. When they returned to him with two swords, he did not correct them as He did at other times when they mistook His teachings, but rather told them that two was enough.
The sword was meant for physical protection against evil men in a fallen world. It was not to be relied upon exclusively, but rather kept in its proper place and for its proper use.
Joh 18:10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
Joh 18:11 Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
Luk 22:50 And one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear.
Luk 22:51 And Jesus answered and said, Suffer ye thus far. And he touched his ear, and healed him.
Moreover, Christ did tell Peter the swordsman that those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.
Mat 26:51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear.
Mat 26:52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Mat 26:53 Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?
Mat 26:54 But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
Consider the context. Christ was being arrested and surrounded. It was His mission to give himself up and be sacrificed. If His men stood and fought at that moment they would have been killed. Those who took up the sword at that particular time would have certainly been killed by the swords of the enemy. Christ would not tell His men to arm themselves and later contradict His teachings.
Tertulian’s reference to suing refers to Matthew 5:25.
Mat 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Mat 5:23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Mat 5:24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Mat 5:25 Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
Mat 5:26 Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Specifically this refers to suing a brother, or being in agreement with a brother (a fellow believer). Many of the courtesies described in Scripture refer to daily dealings between fellow believers. Thus we should seek remedies without resorting to suing and fighting between members of the Church.
In reading the context of Tertullian I see that he was trying to convince Christians to not serve in the military and was seeking scriptures to support that stance. In other words, if suing a brother was not becoming, howthen could one persecute and murder a brother, even if ordered to do so by a military commander.
Cyprian, a disciple of Tertullian wrote, “ It is hypocrisy to proclaim a hero and valiant, the person who will destroy and devastate the life and property of innocent people in organized warfare when if the same occurs in peacetime, it is considered a crime”. The key words are “innocent people”, as distinguished from evil aggressors. One can hardly disagree with such a point.
The last Pre-Constantine apologist was Lactantius. He wrote a mammoth treatise named the Divine Institutes on or about 300 A.D. This is what he said, “ For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by public laws, but He warns us against the commission of thosethings which are esteemed lawful among men”.
Although, like the others, Lactantius was no doubt well-meaning, his grasp of the scriptures was incomplete.
God does not forbid killing (in fact He often requires it), but rather He forbids murder. The gulf between the two is wide and deep. And although defining and describing what each one is would be easy, it would take space which this essay does not have in surplus. In short killing is an act that can be justified or condemned based in the intent of the actor. Killing may be justified, murder is never justified.
Exo 20:13 You shall not murder.
Without the biblical prohibition against killing, Lactantius’ argument falls apart.
So we can summarize that Pre-Constantine apologists had objections to Christians serving in the Roman Army in particular, and because of that objected to all martial pursuits. They based their objections because of the demands of the Roman military oath that went in conflict with God’s law, and because of the military activity in the persecution of Christians in particular. Moreover, they based their “swords into plowshares” argument on the belief that the New Kingdom spoken about by Isaiah was here and now, and not in the future. Likewise a confused understanding of the difference between killing and murder supported a pacifistic view.
Many years later, in 312 A.D., Constantine stood near a bridge in Italy preparing to battle Licinius for the city of Rome. There he had a vision. In the vision he saw the shape of a cross with the words, “Conquer By This”.
Constantine fashioned a cross of two spears and marched it at the front of his army, routing the enemy and capturing Rome.
In 313 A.D. Constantine granted freedom of religion to all and ended the persecution of Christians. It is argued by some that Constantine was never a Christian and that he was a pagan to his dying day.
Nevertheless, the effects he had on the church were profound.
Since Christians would not be required to swear by an oath not acceptable to them, and since sacrifice and persecution of Christians was no longer required, Christians now saw themselves free to serve in the army of Rome, and he distinction between secular and spiritual virtually disappeared.
In 314 A.D. at a council in Arles, church leaders announced, “They who throw away their weapons in time of peace shall be excommunicated”. Excommunication was by far a fate worse than death to early Christians and usually reserved for the worst of the worst. Thus to cast away one’s weapons in time of peace was held right up there with witchcraft, sodomy, heresy, and all the other 4th Century major crimes.
Athanasius and Ambrose, two Post-Nicene church leaders promoted the necessity of Christians to support the secular government via military service, and pronounced it as service to God.
Athanasius is one of the writers of catholic doctrine. On or about 350 A.D., he wrote, “Murder is not permitted, but to kill one’s adversary in war is both lawful and praiseworthy”. Well! Ambrose was more specific. He did not distinguish between a soldier in war or a citizen in peace. In 375 A.D. he wrote, “And that courage which either protects the homeland against barbarians in war, or defends the weak at home, or saves one’s comrades from brigands, is full of righteousness”. Well! Well! Ambrose is noteworthy in that he is the first of the early writer I am aware of that lists soldier defending nation, policeman defending the weak, and armed citizen defending against brigands in the same context of courage and righteousness.
Augustine was there in 409 A.D. when the Goths sacked Rome. He came to see the church as having the responsibility to provide for the welfare of the nation…specifically in the context of security.
1Ti 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
It was he who formulated the concept of the just war. A just war would be approved by God if the following conditions were met:
1). War is declared by the sovereign of state.
2). War is to be declared only after all peaceful means of accomplishing resolution have been exhausted.
Inner love must be the motivation.
3). The objective must be the punishment or prevention of evil, injustice, or atrocity.
4). It must be directed to enemy forces, not to innocents.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) a definer of Catholic theology confirmed Augustine’s Just War Concept, as did Martin Luther, and John Calvin.
I believe that some early apologists advocated pacifism because of the odious requirements of Roman military service. And that once those specific requirements were no longer an issue, military service was not only acceptable, but desirable. Further, that the use of arms in personal defense was common in those days and differentiated from military service as always acceptable even when military service might not be.
Today, there are some who still believe that to be a Christian is to be a pacifist. I will humbly submit that such a doctrine is not only ungodly, but may be immoral in many cases. Some who advocate pacifism have, like the servant in the parable, buried their talent in the dirt rather than put it to good use. What takes place here on earth is not of no consequence. We are entrusted with this and must show we have used our “talents” well.
Pacifism is immoral in the sense that the pacifist enjoys the security provided by the warrior without paying for it either physically or spiritually. He won’t die to protect his children, but expects you to do so in his stead. I submit that the argument over pacifism in the early church was predicated on excesses of the roman military service, and that once such requirements ended, the pacifistic doctrine changed. I submit that there is no scripture in OT or NT that advocates a “peace at any price” teaching, and that such a doctrine is not only selfish to the utmost, but as mentioned in Timothy – denies the faith.
As I concluded this study, I still believe fully that the Gospel has never taught us to be pacifists, but rather that we are to, as much as we are able, to seek peace. But the context is clear. Not at any price. This is reality, and to ignore is both naive and irresponsible, and smacks of an excessively lofty and spiritual view of things.
There is a point where we must pick up the sword, or at least support those that do, so that we can continue to live in peace. Clearly, to have peace, one must often be willing to fight, to kill, and to die for it. To have peace, we must often enforce such a peace with the readiness to do sudden battle anywhere, anytime, and with disregard for our own safety. Whether in an airplane facing terrorists or in a dark parking lot facing muggers, it is the holy duty (and the cross put in front of us) of any able-bodied Christian man of God to stand strong with courage and righteousness and execute wrath on those who would do us evil.
Suarez International USA
Training – http://www.suarezinternational.com
Oct 13, 2012