A Simple Case for Christian Nonviolence

[1] Jesus’ Direct Teaching

“Nonviolent resistance” might be a more accurate term for Jesus’ teachings: he commands a “third way” between doing nothing and responding to violence with violence, namely, returning evil with good; resisting with love.

  • Jesus clearly expects his followers to live nonviolently – rebuking them on many occasions where they stray from this expectation:
    Luke 9:51-56
    Luke 22:47-51

[2] Jesus’ Explicit Example

  • As the Incarnate God, Jesus’ nonviolent historical life is both: 

[3] Overall Narrative of the Bible – From Old Testament to the Kingdom of God

Despite the (divine and human) violence in the Old Testament, there is a promise of and clear trajectory towards a nonviolent community

  • Israel’s battles weren’t won with military prowess, but by simply obeying & trusting God
    Joshua 6:1-7
    Psalm 20:6-9
  • OT has clear promises of the Kingdom of God’s arrival calling God’s people to nonviolence
    Isaiah 2:1-5
    Micah 4:1-5

[4] The Early Church Thought It Was Obvious

  • The early church (from the time of Christ to the time of Constantine in the 4th century) was fully nonviolent. Here is a small sampling of quotes:

Justin Martyr (100-165 AD)
“We who were filled with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons—our swords into ploughshares, and our spears into implements of tillage—and we cultivate piety, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father Himself through Him who was crucified.”

Tertullian (160-225 AD)
“Shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?”
“If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the admonition of the Lord is at hand: To him,‟ He 
says, ‘who strikes you on the face, turn the other cheek also.’ Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience.“
“Christ, in disarming Peter, unbelted every soldier…”
“And shall he apply the chain and the prison and the torture and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?”
“Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims 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? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?”

Hippolytus (170-236 AD)

“The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God.”

Origen of Alexandria (185-254 AD)

“We have come in accordance with the counsel of Jesus to cut down our arrogant swords of argument into plowshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take swords against a nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our Lord.”

Marcellus (298 AD)

“I threw down my arms for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it by earthly injuries.” “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.”

Martin of Tours (316-397)

“I am a soldier of  Christ. To fight is not permissible for me.”

6 thoughts on “A Simple Case for Christian Nonviolence

  1. As much as I would love to agree with you Mike, I just cant. Israel was explicitly told to destroy the Canaanites and plunder their property, and this is where I take my command. I protect my property, at all costs. No one has the right to take what is not yours. The Canaanites took what was not theirs and they paid the ultimate price. God commanded this. God’s command still stands and I obey it, I protect what is mine. If violence is the means by which I am to protect my property you had better believe that violence is what you’ll get. On a personal level, I believe that there are certain situations in which it is permissible to use violence. This list includes but is not limited to:

    1. Self-Defense (of any sort)
    2. Just War (the kind God commanded)

    As Mark Driscoll says, Jesus was not a hippie, as youre making him out to be, instead he was a warrior who is coming again with a bloody knife to institute the kingdom of God. I wish I could say that I agreed or respected your opinion, but I dont. When Jesus returns “Hippie Jesus” wont be there. We will witness the true wrath of God.

    Shalom,
    Stan

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    1. Just curious…do you see the Old Testament commands of God to destroy the Canaanites as binding and as important (or perhaps more important) as Jesus’ commands to not repay evil with evil and to love our enemies? How do you reconcile the two? I’m not picking on you, just curious.

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      1. It’s a fair question – I don’t feel picked on. 🙂

        Do I see the command to kill the Caananites as binding and important? No. First, it was commanded to a group of ancient tribes, not to me. Second, I don’t know any Caananites and so even if I thought the command was binding on me, I can’t imagine it being important to me.

        Now, to the question of reconciling the texts. I definitely don’t see the OT commands to Israel as MORE important than Jesus’ commands. I woul say Jesus’ commands should have priority in our lives as His followers in the 21st century and not as ancient Israelites. I’m not sure “importance” would be the category I’d focus on. I think it’s more about interpretation than choosing one text over another. I don’t want to ignore or diminish the OT conquest narrative, but I want to interpret it in a way that leads me to Christ and his way of life as he suggested in John 5:39. I think this is consistent with and modeled for us with how the early church interpreted the conquest narratives.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mike, I have thought there is a great case to be made that Jesus demanded non violence, but I argue that this stance not only precludes Christians from serving as soldiers and police officers but also from voting, since voting is essentially issuing a command to government that is enforced by police and soldiers. For a Christian that espouses non violence to vote would be like a Christian general that argues that he is ok, because he doesn’t fight, he only orders others to. Like wise a non violent Christian ought not to call the police to respond to criminals since that is effectively just asking someone else to engage in violence on your behalf. What do you think?

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