In America I’ve not found too many Christians who believe in the non-violent ways of Jesus. If anything our ethic on the issue has been that of the most men: Kill or be killed. And the above quote that I came across on Twitter the other day really spoke highly to me. Our society hears more about a non-violent ethic from fringe political groups than they do professing Christians.
I feel we as Christians have a view of violence that is indistinguishable from the world. We have no distinct theological perspective or prophetic witness to offer. Which is really odd because Jesus said a lot of things about how we should respond to violence, which we happily ignore.
Instead, we believe in the 2nd amendment as if it were a commandment of God and a line in the apostles creed. As the late Art Katz was fond of saying: “We are far too American.” (Check out my prior podcast on this: Christians, You Are Far Too American – Episode #14)
My Personal Story
I used to believe a lot of the typical things that most of my fellow conservative Evangelical Christian brothers believed on the topics of guns, violence, self-defense, and just war theory.
I come from a large family that has had numerous members serve in every branch of the military, all the way from infantry positions to officer ranks. Many of my family members own guns. I’m confortable around guns, and have shot them for fun.
I used to believe in a lot of the typical theories behind self-defense and just war theory. In my Christian ethics class in Bible College, I even wrote an essay defending the issue.
But after Bible College and Seminary, I started to feel more challenged by what I was reading in the Scriptures on the issue. And I realized I had been asking a lot of the wrong quesetions.
Most my questions sounded like some variant of “If Hitler broke into your house to rape and kill your wife and children, what would you do?” The answer to such a question always seemed obvious, and ends up being answered the exact same way by almost everyone.
Instead, I found myself asking better questions, like, “Who Is Jesus? What did He come to do? What did He teach us? And how has He called me to live?”
So, in light of such things, I’d like to survey the Scriptures and see what we can learn. Please be sure to listen to this podcast episode, where I will spend a lot more time breaking down the passages below.
…In The Beginning, It Was Not So
When we examine the Scriptures from cover to cover, God did not initially permit violence in response to violence.
Capital punishment wasn’t even permitted after Cain killed Able. Cain was worried someone would kill him. God actually forbade such.
Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” So the Lord said to him, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him.Genesis 4:14-15 (NASB)
It wasn’t until after the flood that God allowed man to kill other men in response to violence.
Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed,
For in the image of God
He made man.Genesis 9:6 (NASB)
However, as we learn from the apostle Paul, all things regarding the Law were only temproary in nature.
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions… until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.Galatians 3:19 (NASB)
Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc all had various commands given them. But, they were only given for but a season. They were given until the seed of promise (Jesus) should ultimatley come. And now that Jesus has come, the Law and all that it demanded has been fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant.
The Hope of the Prophets
The Old Testament prophets ultimatley looked forward to a world free from violence and war. Isaiah and Micah gave very similar prophecies regarding the Messianic kingdom and the impact that the reign of Christ would have on this world.
They envisioned a world in which men responding to the teachings of Christ would ultimately beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and never again learn war.
And while there is still a very real future sense to these propehcies, make no mistake about it, these prophecies are also applicable to the here and now. While we still away the fullness of the kingdom of God to come with Christ at His return, the kingdom He preached has long been established, and is in our midst.
We may be living “in between the times” and the “already… but not yet” aspects of God’s kingdom. But that doesn’t mean it’s not present, and that doesn’t mean we are awaiting for the fullness of that kingdom to come at the return of Christ before we start living in light of the realities of that kingdom. The prophetic hope that the Hebrew prophets looked forward to has broken out in the present, and we are now called to live out our lives in light of such.
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Now it will come about that
In the last days
The mountain of the house of the Lord
Will be established as the chief of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That He may teach us concerning His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For the law will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And He will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.Isaiah 2:1-4 (NASB)
And Micah making the same prophecy in Micah 4:1-3 also added the following lines to his oracle:
Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid,
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.
Though all the peoples walk
Each in the name of his god,
As for us, we will walk
In the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.Micah 4:4-5
What The Gospels Say About Non-Violent Resistence
Make no mistake about it whastoever, Jesus taught and practiced non-violent resistence. We now live in a different age, in which the prophesied kingdom of God has finally come. A new age has dawned. The world is now different. The cosmos have changed.
And if the coming of the coiming of the kingdom of God hasn’t changed our views on guns, bloodshed, violence, and war, if I might be so frank… I don’t know what will. We aren’t simply waiting on Jesus to return before we start living kingdom lives in the present.
Here are some verses to consider from the Gospel:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.Mathew 5:9 (NASB)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.
41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
46 “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.Matthew 5:38-48 (NASB)
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus *said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.Matthew 26:51-52 (NASB)
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”John 18:36 (NASB)
What The Apostles Taught About Non-Violent Resistence
The apostles also taught the same thing Jesus taught about non-violence. And not only did the teach it, but they practiced it, and many gave their lives living out what they taught.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.Romans 8:35-37 (NASB)
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.Romans 12:17-21 (NASB)
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh,
4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (NASB)
The Resurrection Changes Everything
The belief that Jesus resurrection should change our perspective on death. Since death has been conquered we should no longer fear it, nor use lethal force as a tool to save our lives, but we should conquer it in hope of our own bodily resurrection even as Jesus did. Instead of being a people who love their lives, we need to be a people who are willing to lay down their lives for the sake of the peace the gospel came to bring.
We need to stop holding onto this world and this life as if that is all there is. For the resurreciton of Jesus should free us from the fear that causes us to do everything we can to protect our lives. Instead, we live in hope that though we may lose our lives that God will one day raise us from the dead, even as He raised Jesus Christ.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying,
“Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.
11 “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.Revelation 12:10-11 (NASB)
But, What About Romans 13?
Whatever role government may be authorized by God to use violence as “an avenging angel” that “bears the sword” is something that is ultimately a description of God’s “use” of a pagan government to carry out his will in this world, and is ultimately the prerogative unique to God to exact vengeance, something which we as Christians do not have the right to carry out on God’s behalf. We are ambassadors for Christ, and agents of reconcilation, not agents of His wrath.
Romans 13 isn’t prescriptive. Romans 13 is descriptive.
And it is sandwiched between a lot of text immediate before it in Romans 12 (cited above), and closing out Romans 13, that teaches us to sacrificially love our enemies and to not repay evil for evil, but rather, to love them even as we do our neighbor.
So, before you start citing Romans 13 as justification for violence, be sure to read the verses before and after it. If you think this is something Christians are commanded, I believe you are mistaken.
1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.
3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same;
4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.
6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing.
7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.
9 For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.Romans 13:1-10 (NASB)