Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Romans 13 And Conscientious War Objectors

John 18:36- Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." (RSV).

Recently John Armstrong blogged on Christian conscientious objection to war---here's a snippet:
Most of what we know about the early church suggests that, at least generally, Christians did not serve in the military. Over time the church developed what is called a “Just War Doctrine.” This doctrine is rather complex and has been carefully thought out over the course of centuries. But this doctrine is not of one type or expression. There are variations within it and every single Christian should think carefully about what they believe and why.

Modern complexities often create new challenges to traditional just war thinking. I have retained a modified just war position but I admit it is sometimes hard to retain. I have admitted, in public and private, that I have a great deal of respect for those who wrestle with this issue and embrace a different viewpoint than my own. The stance of Christian conscientious objection is not the way of cowards or of anti-Americans. Whole traditions of Christians respect and hold this point of view. Other churches have adopted modern positions that do not reject all combat but challenge the development of a “war mentality” that predominates so much of the world we live in today.

A fatal mistake, often made by many evangelicals, is to assume that only liberal, or politically left leaning, Christians embrace these positions about war. This is a gross over-simplification. When I was at Wheaton College in the late 1960s pacifism was embraced by more than a few students and some on the faculty. At first I found this shocking but I began to read the literature and ask some hard questions. As I say, I am still not a complete convert to pacifism and doubt that I ever will be. But I am persuaded that the current U.S. position on conscientious objection is not right. Our government allows for conscientious objection to all war but not to particular wars. I discovered this in 1968 when I began to question the moral rightness of the Vietnam War. I soon realized that I had to oppose involvement in all war or I could not take a position against this one war. I still feel that stance of our government on this matter is morally wrong. I understand “why” it has been taken, and how it evolved, but I simply do not think that it is right.

This is another issue with Romans 13 as Romans 13 has been used against conscientious war objectors/war protestors to blindly uphold the status quo of the State and support wars at all costs to the detriment of others. My friend John is right that the Early Church was generally against war. Their reasoning was that war was a worldly pursuit and since they were called from the world why would they go back to the ways of the world. Here are a few quotes from the Early Church Fathers themselves on the subject of war:
Marcellus, ?-298 A.D.

“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.”

Ignatius of Antioch, approx. 35-110 A.D.

“Take heed, then, often to come together to give thanks to God, and show forth His praise. For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.”

Irenaeus, approx. 180 A.D.

“Christians have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not now how to fight.”

Justin Martyr, approx. 138 A.D.

“The devil is the author of all war.” “We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.”

Tertullian, 155-230 A.D.

“But now inquiry is being made concerning these issues. First, can any believer enlist in the military? Second, can any soldier, even those of the rank and file or lesser grades who neither engage in pagan sacrifices nor capital punishment, be admitted into the church? No on both counts—for there is no agreement between the divine sacrament and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot serve two masters—God and Caesar…But how will a Christian engage in war—indeed, how will a Christian even engage in military service during peacetime—without the sword, which the Lord has taken away? For although soldiers had approached John to receive instructions and a centurion believed, this does not change the fact that afterward, the Lord, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”

“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.”

Origen of Alexandria, 185-254 A.D.

“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.”

The Early Church was also antagonistic towards holding political office as well. It wasn't really till Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas came up with and developed a Christian concept of the "Just War" theory that the idea of military service for Christians was deemed to be ok and then it wasn't until the Anabaptists came around that a strong sense and urge for Christians to be pulled towards pacifism over war came back. Anabaptists reignited the long tradition of Christian pacifism and Christian conscientious objection to war in several ways:
Pacifism is one of three historic attitudes of the church toward war. In some form it has existed throughout the entire history of the Christian church. Since the fourth century it has often been overshadowed by the just war theory and the concept of crusade, or aggressive war for a holy cause. The early church was pacifist. Prior to A.D. 170-80 there are no records of soldiers in the Roman army. Following that epoch there are both Christians in the army and also writings which opposed the practice from church fathers such as Tertullian. Some Christian writers sanctioned police functions and military service, provided these did not entail bloodshed and killing. Under Emperor Constantine, who closely identified the interests of the empire with the interests of Christianity, Christian soldiers were common. During the rule of Theodosius II only Christians could serve as soldiers.

When confronted by the barbarian invasions that seemed to threaten Roman civilization and thus the Christianity identified with it, Augustine of Hippo developed the idea, rooted in Roman Stoic philosophy and first given a Christian formulation by Ambrose, which has come to be called the just war theory. It intended not to advocate war but to limit the conditions under which Christians could participate in war, accepting it as an unfortunately necessary tool for preserving the civilization to which Christianity belonged. Since Augustine some form of the just war theory has been the majority position of most Christian traditions.

In the Middle Ages the idea of the crusade developed from another attempt by the church to limit warfare. The peace of God and the truce of God limited times for fighting and banned clerical participation in war. To enforce these limitations the church itself came to conduct warring activity. This act associated war with a holy cause, namely the enforcement of peace. This association developed into the crusades, the holy cause of rescuing the Holy Land from the Moslems. Pope Urban II preached the first crusade in 1095. In either religious or secular versions the crusade has been a part of the church's tradition ever since.

During the Middle Ages it was the sectarians who kept alive the pacifist tradition. Groups of Waldensians and Franciscan Tertiaries refused military service. The Cathari were pacifist. The Hussite movement developed two branches, a crusading one under blind general Jan Zizka and a pacifist one under Peter Chelciky.

The period of the Renaissance and Reformation saw assertions of all three attitudes toward war. Renaissance humanism developed a pacifist impulse, of which Erasmus is one of the most important examples. Humanist pacifism appealed to such philosophical and theological principles as the common humanity and brotherhood of all persons as children of God, the follies of war, and the ability of rational individuals to govern themselves and their states on the basis of reason.

All Protestant churches except the Anabaptists accepted the inherited tradition of the just war. Luther identified two kingdoms, of God and of the world. While he rejected the idea of crusade, his respect for the state as ordained by God to preserve order and to punish evil in the worldly realm made him a firm supporter of the just war approach. The Reformed tradition accepted the crusade concept, seeing the state not only as the preserver of order but also as a means of furthering the cause of true religion. Zwingli died in a religious war; Calvin left the door open to rebellion against an unjust ruler; and Beza developed not only the right but the duty of Christians to revolt against tyranny. Cromwell's pronouncement of divine blessing on the massacre of Catholics at Drogheda illustrates the crusade idea in English Puritanism.

Alongside the wars of religion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries arose the pacifist traditions which for the most part have preserved their opposition to war until the present time. Pacifism emerged as the dominant position of the Anabaptists, who rejected not only the sword of war but also refused to engage in political life. Although their identification of two kingdoms paralleled Luther's analysis closely, the Anabaptists denied that Christians could in any way exercise the sword of the magistrate in the worldly kingdom. When Alexander Mack organized the Church of the Brethren in 1708, Anabaptism was the major impulse in dialectic with pietism. While Quakers, who emerged in the midseventeenth century, distinguished the kingdom of God from that of the world, they did not utterly despair of the world and involved themselves in its political processes up to the point of war. Appeals to individual conscience played an important role in Quaker nonviolent political activity on behalf of justice and peace. Anabaptists, the immediate predecessors of the Mennonites, were the most withdrawn from participation in government, with the Quakers the least separated. The Brethren occupied a median position.

Wars in North America, from Puritan conflicts with the Indians through the Revolutionary War to the world wars, have all been defended in religious and secular versions of the just war theory or the crusade idea. For example, World War I, fought "to make the world safe for democracy," was a secular crusade. Throughout the North American experience Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers maintained a continuing if at times uneven witness against war as well as a refusal to participate in it. In the twentieth century they have come to be called the historic peace churches.

The nineteenth century saw the formation of a number of national and international pacifist societies. The Fellowship of Reconciliation was founded as an interdenominational and international religious pacifist organization on the eve of World War I and established in the United States in 1915. It continues today as an interfaith activist force for peace. In reaction to the horror of World War I and buttressed by an optimistic belief in the rationality of humanity, the period between the world wars saw another wave of pacifist sentiment, both inside and outside the churches. These efforts to create peace included political means such as the League of Nations and nonviolent pressure such as the activities of Mohandas Gandhi to influence British withdrawal from India.

Spurred by the growing possibility of a nuclear holocaust and the realization that military solutions do not fundamentally resolve conflicts, the era begun in the late 1960s is experiencing another round of increasing attention to pacifist perspectives. In addition to the historic peace churches, denominations which have traditionally accepted the just war theory or the crusade idea have also issued declarations accepting pacifist positions within their traditions. Two significant examples are Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, which for the first time endorsed pacifism as compatible with Catholic teaching, and the declaration of the United Presbyterian Church (USA), Peacemaking: The Believer's Calling.

There were violent Anabaptists as well but the vast majority of Anabaptists were characterized by their strong commitments to pacifism and non-violent resistance. Here is an excerpt from one of Menno Simons' correspondences on on the issue of peace and violence:
. . . they say that we are seditionists and that
we would take cities and countries if we had the power

This prophecy is false and will ever remain so; and by the grace of God, time and experience will prove that those who thus prophesy according to the Word of Moses are not of God. Faithful reader, understand what I write.

The Scriptures teach that there are two opposing princes and two opposing kingdoms: the one is the Prince of peace; the other the prince of strife. Each of these princes has his particular kingdom and as the prince is so is also the kingdom. The Prince of peace is Christ Jesus; His kingdom is the kingdom of peace, which is His church; His messengers are the messengers of peace; His Word is the word of peace; His body is the body of peace; His children are the seed of peace; and His inheritance and reward are the inheritance and reward of peace. In short, with this King, and in His kingdom and reign, it is nothing but peace. Everything that is seen, heard, and one is peace.

We have heard the word of peace, namely, the consoling Gospel of peace from the mouth of His messengers of peace. We, by His grace, have believed and accepted it in peace and have committed ourselves to the only, eternal, and true Prince of peace, Christ Jesus, in His kingdom of peace and under His reign, and are thus by the gift of His Holy Spirit, by means of faith, incorporated into His body. And henceforth we look with all the children of His peace for the promised inheritance and reward of peace.

Such exceeding grace of God has appeared unto us poor, miserable sinners that we who were formerly no people at all and who knew of no peace are now called to be such a glorious people of God, a church, kingdom, inheritance, body, and possession of peace. Therefore we desire not to break this peace, but by His great power by which He has called us to this peace and portion, to walk in this grace and peace, unchangeably and unwaveringly unto death.

One other Anabaptist example is Dirk Willems who:
was a martyred Anabaptist who is most famous for, after his escape from prison, turning around to rescue his pursuer, who had fallen through thin ice while chasing him...After his harrowing escape and recapture upon turning back to save the life of his pursuer, he was burned at the stake near his hometown on 16 May 1569.

Today, he is one of the most celebrated martyrs among Anabaptists, which includes Mennonites, Brethren, and Amish, becoming part of their history[1]. A historical drama based on his life, Dirk's Exodus, was written in 1990 by James C. Juhnke.

Thanks to Pastor I. Todyaso for pointing Dirk Willems' story out to me as he was an Anabaptist that I had never heard of before. Anyways read more documents on Christian Nonresistance and Pacifism from Anabaptist-Mennonite Sources: here.

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