For 1700 years Christians have justified war and self-defense, but where did this notion come from, the Bible?
There is a general rejection of the Kingdom teachings of Jesus, which are encapsulated in His Sermon on the Mount. Christ’s teachings on wealth, oaths, and divorce are offensive to most Christians and they spend little time wanting to understand them. These three are certainly difficult to swallow in the world today, but they are not the main reason why the institutional Churches have rejected the way of the Kingdom. By far the prominent stumbling block has been Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek” and “loving your enemies.”
When Jesus’ words are so plain how have we made Him speak out of both sides of His mouth? His very nature makes it impossible for Him to lie, so what is the truth? The “Just-War” advocates turn Jesus into a liar, or even worse, a devil. They will allow Jesus to say, “Turn the other cheek,” and “love your enemies,” then have Him pretend to say, “I didn’t actually mean it that way.” What these passive people really should do, they maintain, is defend themselves against the evil person, and go to war to protect their country, but instead they naively allow themselves and their neighbors to be harmed or killed. This creates a double standard, and it can get very confusing to read one thing and hear and see something totally different presented by the Church. When nominal Christians read Jesus’ words about nonresistance they just wag their heads and quickly get past these mysterious sayings.
For 1700 years there have been those who have lived on the fringe of society, who are rejected by the world and religious societies, and even massacred, for their childish and primitive belief in the plain words of Jesus to, “Resist not an evil person.” At times they pleaded for a hearing from those who were streetwise and understood survival in the world, and who also claimed to be followers of Jesus. These fringe people have held to a strict application of the words of our Lord when He said, “Love your enemy” Mat. 5:39, and showed a dumbfounding kind of love toward their adversaries, who, many times, silenced that love with a maddening hate.
If Jesus’ words are plain and impossible to be misunderstood, even by a child, then where did Christians get this idea of a “Just War,” and self-defense? And, where did this perceived duty to override the explicit declarations of their Master, providing defenses for self and country, originate? If it didn’t come from Jesus, then there is only one other place it could have come from, the prince of this world, the archduke of darkness, the lord of war and violence, the great enemy of Peace.
The examples we have from the New Testament and the history of early Christians will show us the opposite of what we have experienced since the time of Constantine and in the majority of institutional Churches today. Let’s start with Jesus.
Before Jesus arrived on the scene we could say that all the kingdoms of the world were “right-side up.” They all lived by rules and laws that were ordained by God Rom. 13:1-4 and enforced by the edge of the sword. Everyone understood each other, and understood that the other had rules they had to keep. The Jews were not special in this respect; they had a certain ethnic identity and they had a piece of real-estate they defended with their military might, using swords and spears, and bows and arrows, against those who would not honor civil rules. God had established all of these nations and approved of them using force to provide civil order to avoid lawlessness; the only difference from the Jews was that all the other nations thought that it was their own gods that prospered them or punished them. There really was not that much difference between them and the Jews, primarily that the real God (with His own set of exclusive laws for the Jews) did not allow idol worship. This right-side up kingdom of the Israelites, as we learn from the New Testament, was meant to teach them something of a far greater value than mere civil order Gal. 3:19, it pointed to – a new Kingdom to come – an upside down Kingdom – that is not of this world.
Then appeared a prophet named John, with an alarming message – get ready! – “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Most did not see in John the signs of an up-side down Kingdom coming; they only heard the message about the Messiah and imagined a right-side-up rebellion against those who had broken God’s rules and dishonored His people, and the release from Roman bondage. John’s bold message caused many to flock to him, eager to get advice on how they should prepare for the coming Messiah’s war against Rome, because war was the world’s answer for gaining peace.
When Jesus walked onto the stage many bubbles were burst and hopes dashed of those who were blind and deaf to the text they read, or heard spoken. They could not decipher the hidden message of the Old Testament, and settled for a theology that matched what they could see with their eyes, and settled with their own interpretation of what it all meant. They could see that Jesus was no warrior! He was more like a dove or a lamb. What could he accomplish without aggression? Why wasn’t he trying to organize things, or preaching against the Romans; where was His fire? When Jesus took the stage He had only one main message, an upside down – Kingdom of God. Matthew 5 is a picture of this new Kingdom.
If we fast forward into the 21st Century we can see that time has changed the focus of His message; we zoom-in on particulars like, salvation, or being born again, or Jesus dying as a ransom; and these are all very important things, but they are subordinate to His Kingdom message and our preparation for it. There are nearly one hundred references to the Kingdom throughout the Gospels; and nearly all of His parables were about the Kingdom. To preach the Kingdom was the reason, Jesus says, that He was sent to earth. A proper understanding of the Kingdom necessarily includes, and encompasses, all the other particular elements. If the Kingdom, the attributes of its citizens, and our preparation for it, was Jesus’ main reason and message, then why do we hear so little about it? What is the mystery of this Kingdom that was so important to our Lord, and of which, we hear so little? Could it be that His Kingdom has little appeal to those who want to govern their own affairs, or who “want a king (or President) like all the other nations . . .,” and have a say in the election process? Or, maybe they question the sanity of living “like sheep in the midst of wolves. . .”?
“From that time, Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’. . . And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of diseases. . . .But when the multitudes knew it, they followed Him; and He received them and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing. . . .Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Mat. 4:17,23: lk 9:11; Mat. 9:35).
The Church and the Kingdom . . . Come?
The history of the Church is the rise and progress of the Kingdom of Heaven come to earth; it has its beginning with the creation of Adam, and the promise of the One who would bruise the serpent’s head. The serpent was that devil, which caused the loss of a peaceful paradise where Kingdom principals governed, and the fall from innocence. That same devil would be used as an instrument of God in establishing the future hope of redemption through an upside-down peace plan.
God’s progressing history is His story of a means to an end, of creating and perfecting a Kingdom (tabernacle, sanctuary, and city) wherein He and His people will dwell together for eternity; Ex 25:8, 29:45; Lev 26:11; Jn 1:14, 14:23; 2 Cor 6:16; Heb 8:2, 11:10,16; Rev. 7:15, 21:3. It comes down through the patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets, to the forerunner of our Lord, John the Baptist, who points to the Lamb, “Who takes away the sins of the world,” reestablishing peace; and with that we have an introduction and invitation, an open door for all, to this extraordinary Hope.
The Church has its official starting point with the incarnation of the Word; the Creator taking on the form of a man, Jn 1:1-5. In this Man’s person and works dwell all the fullness of God, of restored humanity, and the key to all of history’s riddles, from man’s creation to his future resurrection, and to a life of rest and peace based on the truth of what those riddles reveal. The history of the Church portrays the origin and progression of God’s Heavenly Kingdom on earth, introduced into a corrupt kingdom run by a despot, Satan. A world darkened by fraud and deceit, given the keys of true knowledge, and a mission to mankind; asked to believe without seeing, to live on hope, then ends with a call to come home. As a consequence of the history of Christ and His Kingdom, there is also the dark history of anti-Christ and his kingdom, with all the lying, deception, hating, persecution, mocking, and the powers of darkness, corruption, and error. It is this history of anti-Christ that reveals to us the infiltration and infection of the once pure stream of Godly living, portrayed by Matthew’s “City on a Hill,” and who has, through his agents, stained the pages of history with the blood of saints. It is this evil who has darkened the meaning of the clear words of Jesus by tempting us to use our rational thinking to transform those words in to something more appealing, something everyone can digest and understand.
In the history of the Church we are not surprised by the persecution from foreign enemies, whether from Roman, Mohammedan, Heathen, or Atheist. The real surprise of history is that it was the domestic foe that spilled the majority of Christian blood. More Christian blood has been shed by so called Christians than by Mohammedans or heathen, and reinforces the fact that the enemy has infiltrated the ranks of the Church; the persecution of Christians, by Christians, forms those mid-night scenes in the Churches’ prolonged earthly sojourn.
The Spiritual Power of the Apostolic Church
Christianity, at the time of the Apostles, unlike today, was practical, concrete, functional, realistic, and it worked. It was a true spiritual life, walking in the unconventional ways of Jesus; not an intellectual pursuit or a list of moral precepts, which are built on reasonable arguments and rationale. The practical Christian lifestyle is the manifestation of a new and different life, fashioned after the meek and lowly Lamb of God.
When we look at the character and life of this early Church we can only use words of the highest order. Not only was its relation to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit on an altogether different plane, rising far above all the other religions in the practice of purity and righteousness, but it set an unbelievable standard of love toward its fellow man. What kind of love is this that would rather die than do harm to a living soul, friend or foe. It was a love that shook the world to its core and condemned the hearts of corrupt consciences, and set tender souls in search of this salvation’s source. In an age when pain and suffering were a national pastime, and personal violence a clear and present danger, Jesus’ command was to “Resist not evil.” This Gospel of unwavering love was no abstract doctrine, but rather a living reality in the life of the Master and His Disciples, and still is today.
The wisest men of Greece and Rome, with all their moral maxims, at the end of the day, sanctioned slavery, polygamy, prostitution, infanticide, war, and the political system that undergirded their existence. It was into all of this that Jesus came, and lived a perfect life, requiring the same of His followers; it was into all of this, that Jesus turned the other cheek and blessed those who killed Him.
The backdrop of a barren desert, all sand and rocks, is a fit picture of the world of Judaism and heathenism. Judaism in its loftiest act of religious institutionalism committed the crime of crimes; they crucified their own Messiah, whose prophesies they diligently studied; they hung a harmless Lamb on a cross to watch Him suffer, and die. As to Heathenism, it can only be represented by a chorus of monsters, who are the epitome of the gross results of unbridled selfishness: Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, and many others in the final stages of the sickness of sin.
The teachings of Jesus carried morality and nonresistance to its highest attainable point in humanity, causing all other attempts to blush in comparison. His life was totally consistent with His teachings and now, from His majestic seat, He compels a motley gang to imitate His actions.
In part three we will look a little deeper into the Christian’s justification for war and violence.