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Jesus Christ Forbids War
By: John Jeremiah Edminster (6/16/2005)
Christianity armed is Christianity falsified. The gospel that God gives to men and women through Jesus Christ is a message of peace, and a gift of the power to live in peace. What happens if we accept this gospel is not that we are intimidated, forced, or persuaded by reason into laying down our weapons, but that we are transformed into new creatures. This new creature grows increasingly like Jesus Christ, of whom it is, indeed, now a “member” in the sense that an arm, a leg or an eye is a member of a human body.
Jesus accepted torture and death at the hands of his enemies rather than defend Himself by force, and it should come as no surprise that His disciples taught their own disciples not the arts of self-defense, but a way of accepting suffering as given from the hand of God, a trustworthy God who will one day “wipe away all tears from our eyes.” And so the living Christ teaches us today – to accept suffering without seeking to inflict it. This is One said to be "the same yesterday, and today, and forever," so if we fancy that He’s come around to a more “realistic” view of warmaking since He walked the earth as Jesus of Nazareth, we’d better think again.
For Jesus Christ taught His hearers not to fight back against evil, but to love their enemies. The Biblical records tell us that when two disciples urged revenge on villages that had refused them hospitality, Jesus rebuked them, saying that He had come “to save men’s lives, not to destroy them.” Though He drove the money-changers from the temple like trespassing cattle, there is no indication that He injured them. When a party of His enemies came to arrest Him and one of His defenders cut off an enemy’s ear, Jesus disarmed the defender and healed the ear. Finally, when the combined forces of the priesthood and the occupying army had crucified Jesus, He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
To become a member of this Person is to become incapable of waging war. War and fighting, taught the Apostle James, come from uncontrolled desires, and the determination to snatch by force what God may not be granting because it is not in our best interests to have it. Though we are admonished to show respect and obedience to the civil authorities, we are also warned to take no part in the “futile works of darkness,” and in all cases we must choose obedience to God over obedience to men and women. This is not to pass judgment on fellow-Christians that may hear the voice of Christ and obey it, but feel they have not been told to abandon weapons. To them we say, in all love and respect: just keep listening.
Today a great lie is masquerading in Christ’s robes. It sits in the seats of American state power, and among many American Christians that support the United States’ wars, deliberate injustices and deceits, as if oblivious that these are the works of Antichrist. We – America’s voters, taxpayers, consumers – have all been complicit in the destruction of cities, the accidental firing on wedding parties and innocent children, the murder of detainees hung by their wrists from the ceiling, and the sending of our own young people to die in a war evidently sold to us on fraudulent claims. The more clearly we see it, the uglier it gets. But it mirrors us: our self-satisfaction, our small integrity, our heedless and self-centered everyday lifestyle choices that call for the continued binge-guzzling of Middle Eastern oil by the American economy. One might see this last item as part of a larger pattern of importing pleasure and exporting pain, whereby we in the United States also enjoy cheap consumer goods often produced by sweatshop or slave labor elsewhere. At the heart of our condition stands a willingness to say, “let us do evil, so that good can result from it.”
To say this is to serve two masters, which Jesus warned us we cannot do. The one master is God, who speaks to every human soul through the conscience and demands that it be kept clean. The other master is the spirit of this sleepwalking world, which allows double standards, tells us “I’m OK – you’re OK” no matter how we live, and tries to reassure us, if we believe in a God, that God sees things just as we do. Thus theologians have long made themselves popular by arguing for a “sensible” double standard of behavior, a turn-the-other-cheek for private individuals and a go-ahead-and-kill for rulers. Thus your Christian neighbor “homogenizes” the Bible, pulling divine approvals of war out of pre-Christian scriptures, ignoring Jesus’ clear message that He had come to teach a deeper and more compassionate understanding of the preexisting Law.
This “let us do evil that good may come of it” is a temptation always knocking at the believer’s door, ever seductive because we are so terrified of standing unarmed in an armed world and depending solely on the protection of God – even though that protection is very real. As we’ve seen described above, even Jesus’ disciples failed to grasp the spirit of His message – calling for revenge, defending Him with violence – so we should hardly be surprised to find Christians of later ages falling into such error. Jesus knew our potential for self-deception. He told His flock, “the time comes that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God.”
The apostle Paul clearly repudiated “carnal warfare” and “carnal weapons” many times, but later generations seem to have treated his statements as mere pious rhetoric. With the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in 312 it became acceptable to mix Christianity with domination by the sword, and by the time of Aquinas’s Summa Theologica in the Thirteenth Century, the “just war” theory had become standard Christian doctrine. Christians who sought to reclaim their original nonviolent tradition over the centuries were often silenced or killed, but ultimately the Anabaptists, Quakers and others in the modern era rediscovered it, stood by it, and survived – though only as a minority. Minority status may persist so long as men and women seek security more than truth from religion.
The peace testimony that such faithful ones recovered from the life and ministry of Jesus is rarely preached on street corners, because it can’t be promoted like a political program, with appeals to self-interest or humane ideals. For it can’t be separated from the gospel faith in which it is rooted, which converts us into a “new creature” capable of both understanding it and living it, filled with an infectious inner peace that endures, with God’s help, as well under oppression or martyrdom as under outward liberty. But the old creature can neither understand nor live it: “the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness.”
And this is the glorious gospel that provides the only reliable alternative to the world’s warfare: the One who made you wants you to come home to your God at the end of your earthly wanderings. God means you to enjoy the peace, knowledge, and joy of the Divine Fullness, beyond time and change. God dwells in your heart, sees through your eyes, and knows your every thought – yes, including all the ones you wish no one knew. But there is not a foolish, or shameful, or evil thing you have done, or wished to do, or willingly had others do for you, that God is not willing to forgive, so that it may no longer keep you from perfect enjoyment of your heavenly inheritance. But to receive this forgiveness, you must turn to God and ask to be freed from “bondage to sin” – a technical term, often misunderstood as a matter of outward offenses, for an inward addiction to what draws us away from God’s light and love.
For this reason, people that have experienced this “repentance to salvation” have described it as being “born again” or being given “a new heart.” However, this process does not magically leave us immune to temptation, or incapable of error or further growth. We must still “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” But from now on, whenever we find ourselves lacking in the courage, or wisdom, or faith to do what God asks of us, we learn that God will give it to us merely for the asking. This means that we are free to live without our old defenses, “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” For no one harms us except by “power given from above,” so that we may say with the Psalmist, “I will not fear what flesh can do to me.” This same creation, once seen as a battlefield of mutually opposing elements, now appears to us as one organism in which “all things work together for good.”
This is the essence of the “good news” of salvation in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again to free us from slavery to sin, and who still lives, teaches, and reigns as king in the hearts of those here on earth who accept Him – whether as Jesus, as God, as Higher Power, or under some other name.
This new life in Christ is a good life, the best of lives; but it requires us to die to the old self we knew, and so frightens many not ready for it. This is why so many of us choose what might be called Religion Lite, which gives us formulas for relating to our God but allows us to keep conforming to the everyday world, which is run by force, ruled by fear, and stinking with injustice. But this Religion Lite will fail us in trouble and death, and must be outgrown and discarded, along with most of our former opinions about how the world might be “fixed.”
This is a time of great fear. As a civilization we have responded to it shamefully, and as individuals, inadequately. Our actions and inactions have injured many, and, as all the world’s religions have taught, we must reap as we have sown. If we see that it is our nature to do harm, then we must ask to have our nature changed, for we cannot do it ourselves. Will we repent in time? Or will Christ tell us, on that final day when Truth confronts us, “inasmuch as you did this to these, you did it to Me?”
John Jeremiah Edminster, 6/16/2005
Thoughtful responses welcomed.
The writer is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Publication of this tract is made possible by a grant from
the Witness Coordinating Committee of the New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).
For more information on the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), call the New York Yearly Meeting, (212) 673-5750.
This tract is downloadable at www.jesusforbidswar.org . Thoughtful responses are welcomed at the website.
 2 Cor. 3:18: “And all of us… are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory….”
 For “membership,” see John 15:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10.
 See Hebrews 12:5-11, which refers to divine “chastisement” or “training” as meant for our benefit; or 1 Peter 2:19-24, 3:17, and 4:12-14. Cf. Job 2:10, “If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?” This does not mean we are not to witness against injustice done to ourselves. But “vengeance is mine, says the Lord,” Romans 12:19.
 Revelation 7:17, 21:4.
 Hebrews 13:8. Cf. Malachi 3:6a: “For I am the Lord, I change not.”
 Matthew 5:39, 44. This passage (Matt. 5:38-48) also appears, with minor variants, at Luke 6:27-36.
 Luke 9:51-56.
 Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17.
 Luke 22:49-51, John 18:10-11.
 Luke 23:34.
 James 4:1-3. Hindu tradition has a thought-provoking parallel to this teaching, Bhagavad-Gita 3:36-39.
 Paul argues for honor and obedience to sword-bearing rulers in Romans 13, but none at the time were Christian; it does not follow, and never did, that Christians should become sword-bearing rulers themselves.
 Ephesians 5:11; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17, “Get away from them, purify yourselves, says the Lord. Do not touch anything unclean, and then I shall welcome you.”
 This was stated by Peter and other apostles before the high priest at Jerusalem, Acts 5:29.
 It cannot be stressed enough that the Apostle Paul called this sort of reasoning “damnable,” Romans 3:8.
 Matthew 6:24: “he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second.”
 Psalm 50:16-21: “But to the wicked God says… you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you….”
 Thus Christians quote “an eye for an eye” (Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21) as if ignorant that Jesus, “fulfilling” the Mosaic law (Matthew 5:17), had proclaimed a better way, Matthew 5:38, no longer tolerating concessions formerly given “for the hardness of your hearts,” Matthew 19:8.
 John 16:2-3: “They will do these things because they have never known either the Father or me.”
 See Romans 12:17-21; 1 Corinthians 4:10-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Galatians 5:14, 19-25, 6:10; Ephesians 4:26-27. 31-32, 5:11, 6:11-18; Philippians 2:3, 14-15, Colossians 3:8, 15; I Thessalonians 4:8, 5:22, and especially I Thess. 5:15: “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.”
 John 14:27, Philippians 4:7.
 1 Corinthians 1:18.
 See, for example, Romans 14:17, Ephesians 3:14-19, and Revelation 10:6.
 2 Corinthians 7:10.
 Jesus tells Nicodemus “you must be born again,” John 3:3; cf. 1 Peter 1:23.
 This image comes from Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26.
 Philippians 2:12.
 Regarding our want for wisdom, see James 1:5. The prayer “increase our faith” is recorded at Luke 17:5.
 Matthew 10:16.
 John 19:11, Jesus’ answer to Pilate’s claim to have power either to crucify or to release him.
 Psalm 56:4.
 Romans 8:28. Cf. Bhagavad Gita 18:20.
 “God” (not “Christ”) is named as the Savior in much Judeo-Christian scripture (including Isaiah 45:21-22, Hosea 13:4, Luke 1:47). Over the centuries, many Christians have argued that salvation may be given to souls that do not identify their Savior as Jesus. Cf. 1 John 4:7, “every one who loves is a child of God and knows God.”
 Matt. 16:24-25, 19:21-26; John 3:3-8, 12:24-26; Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:1-5.
 Known to Hinduism and Buddhism as the law of Karma, this principle appears in Christian scripture at Gal. 6:7, Rom. 2:6, 2 Cor. 9:6. Cf. Job 4:8, and Rev. 13:10b, “He that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword.”
 Matthew 25:31-46.