Friday, November 21, 2008


A blogger, rogueminister, that I read infrequently put up some quotes yesterday from early Christians about their perspective on war. Here are a few...

Justin Martyr, approx. 138 A.D.

“The devil is the author of all war.” “We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.”

Tertullian, 155-230 A.D.

“But now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts—for there is no agreement between the divine sacrament and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters—God and Caesar…But how will a Christian engage in war—indeed, how will a Christian even engage in military service during peacetime—without the sword, which the Lord has taken away? For although soldiers had approached John to receive instructions and a centurion believed, this does not change the fact that afterward, the Lord, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”

“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.”

Theophilus of Antioch, approx. 412 A.D.

Say to those that hate and curse you, you are our brothers!

Lee Camp (and others, I'm sure) has made the point in his book Mere Discipleship that when Constantine became a Christian, Christianity did not change him, he changed Christianity. So instead of a critic of the state and its wielding of power for its own purposes, it became a tool of the state to get people to fall into line. It became an opiate of the people.

What is a Christian to do about war? Do these perspectives from early Christians still hold value today? As good citizens of the country in which they live, are Christians permitted to take part in state-mandated wars? Or are we still bound by Jesus' call to love our enemies and pray for those that curse us? Does Jesus' command to Peter to put away his sword apply to us as well?


stephen said...

Absolutely it's still relevant! War is a violation of 'thou shalt not kill' on a societal scale. The murder of another human being framed by the illusory bounds of 'international borders' and political differences or 'preventative strikes' against theoretical threats is still murder. Nothing less.

Blessed are the peacemakers doesn't merely apply to individuals, but to collectives as well.

How do we promote peace? Well, that's a topic for tomes. ;-)

Brandon Scott said...

I am in agreement. However, this is a VERY difficult topic. I am surprised you haven't been "bombed" yet by the ever loving anonymous blog commentors.

Somehow...was Constantine did to Chrisianity was so paradigm shifting...perspectives would never be the same. Now, unbelievably, not only is it just ok (in the eyes of many in the religious right) to engage in's sinful not to. It's really incredible when you think about it. Most people can't even really have this discussion because to them it means being un-American which somehow equals un-christian. Obviously, not everyone shares that opinion, but it seems staggering to me how MANY do.

David Lipscomb would certainly have a thing or two to say. Too bad people can't blog from the dead. :)

mundiejc said...

I think the bible is absolutely clear that Christians should not participate in war, or even in other parts of the state (police protection, maybe judicial positions, etc).

Our ethic as a Kingdom people is incompatible with the ethics of the empire. We love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us... governments threaten their enemies and bomb those who persecute them. Our Lord was powerful through serving, through humbling himself and becoming obedient to death on a cross. Governments use violence to protect their power.

What Brandon said about people viewing you as unamerican if you express these thoughts is all too true, and very sad. We have become so brainwashed as a society to accept the American civil religion (not christianity) which says that God gave us everything we have now, that we are a city on a hill, that we are a christian nation, that our wars are fought only for good purposes, and on and on. Its a tool that those in power use to keep their power... give "freedom" to religion, except the freedom to stand up to the evils of the government (might lose your tax free status).

The Way of our Savior is love... love for God and love for our neighbors, which includes our enemies. Romans 12 is very clear on how we are to behave as Christians, and its not a passage you can easily get around if you want to use the Bible to support the position that Christians have a duty to serve the state in warfare.

Brandon Scott said...

Amen, Justin. I can't believe I am saying this, but I completely agree with you! ;)

mundiejc said...

You start agreeing with me too much and you'll end up living in the 'hood and not voting, so be careful ;)

mundiejc said...

BTW, for others reading, I don't want this to come across as me looking down at people who do participate in things I mentioned above. There are many things I don't believe are right, but I see no good in condemning those that are currently in those positions. Certainly there are people who have good hearts who are in the armed forces, in our courts, on the police force, etc. I believe they are taking too much of an active participation in a system that is dying, and is unredeemable, but it is ultimately their decision when and if they leave, and I would love to guide someone to that path, but do not wish to judge them anymore than I judge myself for the ways that I participate daily in unjust practices... when I buy products unknowingly that contribute to the destruction of the earth, or are made by those who live in dire poverty, etc. We are all collectively to blame for this system... and so we must remove ourselves from things we can, but insert ourselves as a third option... a witness simultaneously to the nations, as well as against them. We live as though the Kingdom has come in full, with Jesus our Lord, King, President, etc. We call out for justice for those who are hurting, and we no longer seek after the wealth power and prestige that the world seeks.

All this stuff is wrapped up together, war, injustice, poverty, and our Kingdom responses to those things. This is not the way it was meant to be, the creation groans waiting to be redeemed. The beginning of the redemption was the resurrection of Jesus Christ... and that frames how we live our lives, the hope that we have that one day things will be made right.

Brandon Scott said...

Justin- it really didn't come across as condescending until your last post, ironically.

Keith Brenton said...

War is bad. I won't steal any more of your pixels to repeat here what I said there, Phil.

mundiejc said...

gah. i am so fail at the internet.

Chris said...

Random observations:

Eight centurions are mentioned in the NT, all in a favorable light. Not once is it ever suggested they give up service in the Roman army.

Christ did not command Peter to throw his sword away but to put it "into its place", indicating it had a place.

Christ used physical force to run the money changers out of the temple.

Two different Hebrew words are used to denote murder (ratsach) and "put to death" (harag) It is the former in the sixth commandment.

Brian said...

Good point Chris. Very often the Commandment is quoted as "you shall not kill" whereas it should be "you shall not murder"

Thomas McKenzie said...

"War is evil. Its causes are evil. Its consequences are evil. To call war anything less than evil would be self deception. And, not all evil can be avoided."

--Dr. Arthur Holmes

In a broken and sinful world, sometimes our choices are not between good and evil. Sometimes they are between evil and more evil.

This is unpleasant, awful, and heart breaking. But sometimes the innocent must be protected by armed force.

As a Christian, I would have happily liberated a concentration camp. I would gladly have defended those being slaughtered in Rwanda. I would call the police to come and help if someone were attacking my home and family. I would even kill a man who was about to kill a child. And I would do this not because killing is good, but because sometimes it is less evil than the alternative.

Tony Arnold said...

War is lose, lose. Period. Sometimes you find yourself in one whether you wanted it or not--WWII for instance.

Others could be easily avoided such as the Iraq war.

There is no point in arguing over whether it is right to fight a war after the fact.

We should be focused on avoiding lose, lose situations.

I will say this to those who instigate lose, lose situations. Woe be unto you!

Example: Someone breaks into your home and threatens the life of you and your family. I am not going to condemn either reactions: 1) not fight back and an innocent dies; or 2) the homeowner kills the intruder.

It was a lose, lose to start with, but woe be unto the intruder.

In the case of war, I am not going to judge or argue about the right response by a Christian in military service or called to military service. But woe unto the people and governments who instigated the war. They placed everyone else in a no-win situation.

mundiejc said...

What about redemption and reconciliation? What about creativity? Are we so stuck in this awful paradigm that the only ways we can think of to stop certain situations are through violence? We must repent from that madness that says the only way that we can stop someone from killing a child is by violence. That the only way we can stop other injustice is through violence? Not to mention, in doing so, we leave no room for the miraculous intervention of God.

And the most basic point of all this is, if we truly believe in the resurrection, why do we fear death? Why is preserving our lives more important than seeking reconciliation?

Jim Voorhies said...

It is a hard thing to decide what is unalterably right in this matter. As long as there are people who believe they can solve issues through violence, violence will continue to solve things in its own way.

Can belivers ever be anything other than the universal victim if they turn the other cheek? And yet God had an army under Joshua.

As Thomas said, some times the choices are between evil and more evil.

Anonymous said...

As Christians we are called to radically flip the paradigm upside down. Jesus did and I believe he calls us to do the same. We trust that this world is not all there is, so we can live without fear of those that can hurt our bodies and sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, without using violence.

Thomas, less evil is still evil. Scripture tells us clearly that we are not to repay evil with evil but with good.

I love what Bonhoeffer had to say about trying to kill Hitler. He knew it was sinful and therefore wrong but he felt as if he had run out of creative alternatives. So he said that he didnt ask for God's blessing on his actions, rather he asked for God's mercy and forgiveness for his sinful lack of imagination.

So God help us to work together in the Spirit to always find creative alternatives to violence, to bear witness to Jesus and his Kingdom.

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