Monday, January 09, 2012

Revisiting Christians and the sword

A couple of years ago in January of 2010 I did a series on Christians and the sword, a look at the Scriptural basis for non-resistance versus a limited use of the sword for self-defense and/or service in a military. I still find it ironic and more than a little troubling that of all the things I have written, many intentionally controversial, perhaps no other topic has received such a heated response as the suggestion that Christians shouldn't kill others in the defense of self or property or at the demand of the nation they live in.

My position coming into this series was quite different from my past positions and if anything I have grown even more firm in my stance on this contentious issue. Throughout Christian history there is a definite and often tragic linkage between Christians and the state. To an extent we see that still today, especially in the West where the church and the state are in an uneasy state of co-dependence that sees many Christians willing and often eager to use violence to defend life or property or in the service of their nation to defend a certain "way of life" that is deemed more precious than the life of another.

I would welcome your interaction. Am I overstating the case? Oversimplifying it? As you read and interact, please keep in mind that what I am concerned with primarily is the Scriptural position, not hypothetical "yeah but..." statements. To clarify further, I would classify my position as non-resistance, contrasted with those who see our mission as including societal peacemaking changes through demonstrations or political action. Here is the series...

The state, the sword and Christians

Can Christians take up the sword? - Intro

Can Christians take up the sword? - The pro-sword view

Can Christians take up the sword? - The anti-sword view

Can Christians take up the sword? - Conclusion


Arlan said...

I agree with your conclusion and had written quite a long commentary on it. It was so long Blogger refused to publish it and it is gone now.

I will content myself with two questions:

1) If we ought to follow the Sermon on the Mount, what of Jesus' command in the same context to pluck out your eye if it leads you to sin?

2) Are proponents of Just War using too much Old Testament or too little?

Arthur Sido said...

Hi Arlan

Sorry about the comment, there is a character limit for blogger so longer comments have to be broken up into multiple entries. If you still have your commentary please put it out there.

1) I don't base my non-resistance stance exclusively on the Sermon on the Mount as you can see. I also don't think that the point Jesus is making is about self-mutilation as much as it is about the extent of sexual sin, just as His point in the "turn the other cheek" is not literally dealing with cheek slapping but about not resisting the evil doer and not seeking retribution.

2) I would say they are using it as much as they have to because you can't make a case for Just War from the Old Testament! I do think that arguments in favor of Just War rely almost exclusively on the Old Testament and fail to grasp the differences between the Old Covenant and the New, between a people with a specific national and geographic identity versus a people that transcend national and racial identification.

Arlan said...

To answer my own questions (it only seems fair):

1) I don't think any of the commands in the Semon can be followed. I think that is the point of them. It's a refresher course on the Law. You think you can be holy? Do this. Oh wait, you can't.

Every command Jesus gives can be summed up (like the OT Law) in "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength," and this is the commandment we fail to do more often than any other--if indeed we EVER achieve it.

But although these proscriptives, like the law, cannot be fully obeyed, they do point TOWARD the perfect fulfillment of them in Christ, as we do also when we desire to fulfill them.

Arlan said...

2) Agreed - the Law cannot establish Just War. The concept of equal justice requires that David be put to death for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, which included murder as well as adultery. The fact that David suffered for his sin in his life does NOT satisfy the requirements of the OT Law.

No formula of Just War that I have ever seen can justify the killing of men, women, and children in the conquest of Canaan. Nor does Just War teach us to meet our foes with harps and flutes as Jehosephat did. But Just War might very well permit and even require Jewish people to rise up against Godless Roman rule(taxation without representation, interference with an actually divinely given government, etc). Within the lifetime of the Apostles this was attempted--but we have NO record of the apostles supporting it.

When it comes to the centurion, or the rest of history, I have no doubt that Christians have been soldiers and continued in their service. We tend to get very worked up about the right treatment of human life (abortion, capital punishment, war, etc), but it actually isn't that big of an issue in Christian teaching.

That is, we are told how WE ought to behave: Masters, be kind to your servants. But we are not taught what we have a right to expect from others: obey your masters, even the cruel and harsh.

Whether you were killed or you killed someone, death does not defeat the life of God. You will never find him saying, "I was going to save that one, but she was killed before I could." Our respect for human life has to do with humans being God's property/servants and even more with illustrating the extreme grace of Christ, but it is not ACCOMPLISHING grace, peace, or justice. God works these things, and we tell of what he does.

Arlan said...

The Sermon on the Mount fulfills the Law in that while the Law required impossible righteousness, the Sermon sets the bar even hire. Condemnation is fulfilled.

Proponents of the law fail to realize the teaching that EVERY Israelite was guilty of breaking the Law. If we tried to institute even the Big Ten we would have to have a Levitical bloodletting where every man stuck a spear through is brother because of the rampant adultery in our day. So we skip over that law and talk about murder; but Jesus fulfilled the law by defining murder as bitter and hateful thoughts. Who can stand?

The law did NOT bring justice. Justice required the death of David, as he himself judged before he realized. The Law did not accomplish that all the guilty were equally punished for equal sin, but only that some were. Generations of Israelites sinned just as much as the Canaanites before their equal judgement came.

Through the death of some people (and many animals), the Law established that all deserved death. But the law did accomplish justice in effecting equal punishment for equal sin.

Arlan said...

Likewise, when we understand what Christ showed us, we see that he does not punish with death those deserving it--not any of those deserving it (which all do). He did not punish murderers, theives, or adulterers. Nor is their record of the apostles, our only other scripturally-designated role models, ever arranging for the death of anyone.

The closest you can find is the death of Annanias and Sapphira. But Peter did not use any force against them, nor did he even ask for their judgement; he described what was about to happen that God had already decreed, like Daniel to Belteshazar. They died by the hand of God, not the apostles.

So as the Law showed and witnessed that all deserved death, so the Gospel declares and DEMONSTRATES that all are given the offer of life. But in both cases we illustrate the truth, we do not fulfill it.

Those under the law who were guilty but were not stoned still died later. Those in the gospel whom Jesus healed still died later. Of those who were stoned or struck with the sword or consumed by fire in the Old Testament, there may have been people as much God's children as you or I; God does not forsake his children when they die. Indeed he promised a faithful king an early death. And those who died in the New Testament were not denied life in Christ.

Since Christ is our life, the physical death does not ultimately matter, whether carried out in justice or as injustice. God may at one time command to kill and at another time command to spare; his justice has not changed becuase he always, irreversibly holds the True Life in his hands. Judgment and grace in the physical life have been appointed to testify of the heavenly things which God only has ordained.

Arlan said...

So, while I agree that the Gospel is preached through non-resistance, it is not FULFILLED in non-resistance. (I don't suggest that you, Arthur, said it was; but some have mistaken it this way.) For all that you CANNOT find Jesus or his apostles killing anyone nor requesting or arranging the death of anyone, you also cannot find any of the epistles prohibting killing. Murder, yes, but murder was also prohibted under the Law that required the extermination of infant Canaanites.

Non-resistance better expresses trust in Christ to provide life (AND judgment); but it is unique the Message we have been given. It is not an eternal command such as do not murder or do not commit adultery. Like the eating of meat or the observing of days, it is a thing which can be understood in a Gospel context, but not something that must be insisted upon by the eternal character of God.