Should Christians be Pacifists? There are many cults of Christianity, and several denominations within Christianity that believe we should be pacifists. This can mean something as simple as not hurting other people, or as strict as not wanting to harm any living thing. But is this position justified, or even commanded by Scripture?
There are many reasons one can choose to justify pacifism. For clarity’s sake, we are just dealing in this article with those that adhere to pacifism based on scripture. We cannot answer every possible argument for pacifism in one short article.
Old Testament Justification
There are theories that the warfare that is present in the Old Testament is actually God’s intervention to correct a wrong. It is not justification for nations themselves to go to war. They will often site verses like Exodus 14:14, in which Moses tells the Israelites “14 The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”. Other Old Testament passages often sited are 2 Kings 18:9–12, Jeremiah 25:8–9, Habakkuk 1:5–11.
The sixth commandment, Thou shall not kill is perhaps the most pointed to verse in the Old Testament that seems to command pacifism.
New Testament Justification
In the New Testament, adherents of pacifism point to Jesus’ teachings to justify non-violence. Here are just a few of them:
52 But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
27 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
In addition, many of the early church fathers believe in non-violent pacifism. These include Tatian, Hippolytus and Tertullian.
Are They Right?
There seems to be support across both Testaments, from Jesus Himself and the early Church fathers in favor of pacifism. So what are the arguments against the view?
First, it seems clear from many of the Old Testament accounts of war that God is sanctioning the use of force to restrain evil. It is not that we should never use force or warfare, but that we should only use it after all other peaceful options have been exhausted.
The sixth commandment that states “You shall not kill” is taken from the King James version of the Bible. The problem is that the Hebrew word that is translated as “Kill” is more precisely translated as “Murder”. Most modern translations correctly translate the sixth commandment as “You shall not commit murder”. This means that rather than being a blanket prohibition on all killing, we should only take a life when it is properly justified.
Refuting New Testament Arguments
But what about the Man Himself? If Jesus is arguing for pacifism, shouldn’t we listen? When we look at the verses listed above, they have a common thread. Namely, they are all from the sermon on the mount. The thing we need to be clear on is who Jesus was talking to. Was Jesus talking to Governments? No, he was talking to individuals. These are principles on how we should live our lives as Christians, not how governments should function.
In fact, there are many verses that allow governments to use force in the restraint of evil. Here are a few examples:
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 5
It Becomes A Matter Of Conscience
So should Christians be pacifists? I don’t see the Biblical command to become a pacifist in light of these passages. If one feels led by conscience to become a pacifist, I will respect their decision. But I believe if everyone in our country were a pacifist, we wouldn’t last very long as a nation.
We live in a fallen world. One in which evil exists. If we allow evil to go unrestrained, it will eventually overwhelm us. Regrettably, force is sometimes necessary in restraining evil. When called for, I believe we should only use the force necessary to restrain the evil. Have you heard other arguments in favor of Christian pacifism? We’d love to hear from you!
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