23 July 2017

Christian Nonviolence and Pacifism: Some Badly Needed Clarifications (Part 2)

Non-violent activism is not pacifist but political, a form of manipulation rather than overt coercion. But it is coercive nonetheless. Once again while a number of figures associated with this kind of activity are on a certain level admirable, they are not actually following the ethic of the New Testament.

There are times when we must resist and refuse to obey the state. If we suffer as a result, the praise be to God. If the state changes its laws as a consequence of our non-conformity, so be it. Either way the doctrinal reality and status of the state does not change. If the state changes its laws, it is not to be reckoned 'Christian' or virtuous. The state is about self-service, power and the violent vengeance required to maintain stability. This cannot change. One thinks of sundry Assyrian, Babylonian or Persian decrees and royal dictates. Some were in 'favour' of the Israelites. Regardless of motive or content these nations never were transferred into the covenant camp. God never promised them that He would be their God and they His people.
In addition, given that the New Testament always envisions the Church as a small minority, the prospect of genuine social let alone political change is minimal. If there is a model, it is found in Acts 19 but the change wrought in Ephesus (or earlier in Philippi) had nothing to do with legislation. Regardless of the change, the status of the state remained the same.
Many critics of Pacifism will appeal to the 'peace, peace' passages in the prophets. These false promises of peace were being proclaimed by false teachers and prophets and thus they conclude that modern Pacifists belong to the same camp and are of the same rebel ilk.
This is mistaken on multiple levels.
First, Christian Pacifism is not absolute. This bears repeating. The Theologically Liberal pacifism wherein the concept is written into the doctrine of God is not what is being put forth. We're not denying the reality of violence in this world and or even righteous vengeance, we're simply saying that as those saved by God's grace from a Divine vengeance we rightly deserve, we are called (according to the New Testament) to eschew it, to turn the other cheek and take up the cross. Righteous violence is coming and we sound the warning alarm to a lost world. Only Christ can exercise these powers and prerogatives in a righteous way.
The world does it for its own reasons and we sometimes benefit from them. Many are deceived on this point as to how much benefit they actually receive. And all too often the violence of the world (for the world's sake) causes grief for all.
Secondly, the standard criticisms of Pacifism that appeal to these passages have misunderstood them. The false prophets were in the case of Jeremiah hardening the hearts of the people by removing their shame. Their lives and motivations were sinful. Their social system had devolved into a situation of fraud, deception and covetousness. The fact that Judah/Israel was the covenanted nation made this situation especially egregious. Rather than be burdened about this sad reality, the false prophets assured the people that (despite their present state of heart and their wicked deeds) God was with them. Peace, peace was their cry. All is well, when in fact everything was far from well.
Ironically that is actually more reminiscent of Evangelical preachers in our own day who venerate the American economic system and military state and believe these are God-ordained means to protect 'His people'... a notion which often exhibits their confusion. When pressed, they will admit America is not the Covenantal people of God but on a de facto basis, the Church synthesised with the American state (or previously the British) is all too often confounded with the Kingdom of God. American Exceptionalism is but one way of framing the issue that permits them to believe that America (while not quite on the same level as Israel) is nevertheless a 'special' nation, a unique and specially blessed project of God. This is of course without an iota of Scriptural evidence. It is merely an imposed wish-narrative rooted in historical ignorance and lies. It is one of the great heresies to be found within the American Church.
Elsewhere in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel the false prophets preach a message of peace through strength. Rather than submit to God's will and the Judgment due upon the nation, the false prophets resist and insist that the nation will stand in its own strength.
They believed that they should trust in arms and alliances and that through this strength they could resist God's Providential plan (as revealed through the true prophets) which was (for the moment) that Babylon would conquer the Middle Eastern world. They refused to hear the condemnations brought by the Word of God (in the form of the prophets) and they were especially hostile to the notion that God was taking the nation away from them and sending them into exile.
Jeremiah's message of surrender was to them, rank, immoral and smacked of treason.
Once again we are reminded of those that insist that America, the 'Christian' nation will be defended by fighter jets, missiles and bombs. That by building up the mightiest army in the history of the world... God will protect His people? By way of a strange and misguided juxtaposition the Church of God is protected by the bearing of arms and a nuclear shield. Glory through weakness, a basic theme in Scripture, but especially in the New Testament is not only foreign to them, it is heartily rejected. One wonders what Gospel they believe in? Truly, the wisdom of God is foolishness to them. The people who put forth such notions demonstrate clearly they know very little of Scripture or the God it reveals. Its doctrines let alone its ethos are foreign to them.
The same error is repeated on a personal and individual level when these same Christians advocate 'gun culture' and the ethic of violent retaliation. It is they who are promoting a message of 'peace, peace' if you just carry your sidearm and have an arsenal in your house. The 'peace, peace' of the false prophets was about worldly power and security. It had nothing to do with pacifism.
Jeremiah was the one advocating the laying down of arms. It is the exile which parallels our situation today, not that of God's people in a covenant-land. That situation and context has been fulfilled and removed. Our calling is that of the exiles, to build our houses, tend our gardens, raise our families and to seek the peace of the city wherein we live. This is not a call to Babylonian patriotism but neither is it a mandate to join the Babylonian army nor to take up arms against it. In our context we don't oppose the American government, but we certainly don't support it either.
Of course if you've confused Babylon with Zion or the Church, then suddenly taking up arms is viewed as holy or as it is often blasphemously framed in our day... redemptive.
God promises us no peace in this life. We are told to submit to His will. We are told that the world will hate us and persecute us. We are told of covenant apostates who persecute us thinking they do God service. The witnesses of God will be slain in the streets of Jerusalem which is in reality Sodom and Egypt (Rev 11). In New Covenant terms this is Zion, the Church of God. The sins of Sodom were not just sexual perversity, but rather a perversity rooted in self-absorbed, self-serving, self-idolatrous decadence. The physical sin was the judgment that resulted from it. This is clearly taught in Ezekiel 16 and actually helps us come to a clearer understanding of the judgment proclaimed in Romans 1.
There's a reason why America and the West, why 'Christendom' has degenerated into Sodom. The nationalist-militarist ethic plays a part in it as the American and European empires have had no pity and have devoured the world, unleashing death, disease, waste and seemingly endless suffering. All hidden by lies of course by the forked-tongue propagandists (many who profess Christ) who instead argue that every good thing from above has come through European culture and it alone. Apparently imperialism, colonialism, genocide and the theft of resources were the best things that ever happened to these people.
The false prophets then and now advocated political strength and violent resistance. In that strength, peace would be found. It's a castle theology, the same false teaching that dominates Evangelicalism. 
Some Protestants realise this is wrong and yet through Dominionism and false doctrines like Vocation, violence and justified war find other ways into their ethical framework. They find ways to justify it or hide behind jobs, institutions or in separating the work from the person.
The theology of Jeremiah and the prophets was Redemptive-Historical, looking to the Eschaton and despising worldly strength and glory. It seems like acquiescence and surrender and was thus attacked as weak and anti-patriotic. It represents a pilgrim theology, and submission to Providence.
Many seem to forget that Rahab the harlot also committed treason against the city of Jericho. This was an act of faith. While on the one hand this point strays from the discussion of pacifism, it is in keeping with a broader point with regard to the many false 'Christian' doctrines of vocation, citizenship and patriotism. These things are without basis in Scripture. Both Jeremiah and Rahab understood (in different contexts) that loyalty to Christ's Kingdom meant the setting aside of worldly allegiance and politics.
As with many things to be found in Holy Writ, the modern apostate church has inverted these principles and when one refuses to support their wars and bloodlust they accuse you of being an Amaziah or Hannaniah. In fact it is they, the very supporters of so-called Christian nationalism and war who belong to the school and theology of the court prophets, the poison of Israel. Truly, they build the tombs of the prophets and yet they are the offspring of their slayers.
But doesn't Christ say in Matthew 10 that he came to bring a sword? Doesn't he say in Luke 12 that he comes not to bring peace, but division?
Indeed the blade of Judgment hangs over their heads like a sword of Damocles ready to fall. Those who live by the sword will certainly die by it and those who reject Christ will meet His Sword as Revelation so vividly portrays.
The Gospel divides the world into sheep and goats, into believers and infidels, into us and them. The world will hate us and persecute us but even as we are led like sheep to the slaughter, we are more than conquerors. The Gospel brings division, antithesis. It will divide people, even families. There is no peace in this world. Christian Pacifism does not share the United Nations vision of a peaceful world order. We do not sing the false ballads of peace.
Well, we might say that we do have a vision of world peace... but only in Christ. It is only in the transcendent Kingdom of Heaven that swords will be turned into plowshares. Man-made institutions in this fallen age and under Satan's dominion have no hope in such a goal. It is folly and doubly so as these would be peacemakers have failed to make peace with the Almighty God. There is no repentance, there is no dust and ashes. Their dreams are futile. Only the return of Christ will bring peace, but after the purifying fires of judgment.
That said, because we do not put much stock in the UN's worldly visions of peace, the inverse is not true. We do not therefore embrace war and support militarist politicians that decry all efforts toward bringing peace.
Some seem to think peace in Christ means, a Pax Americana based on the idea that America is a Christian nation wielding all the weapons and will destroy anyone who opposes its goals. This false and heretical dream has nothing to do with Christ or His Kingdom.
We as servants of the Prince of Peace take up the cross, bear the shame and follow in the footsteps of our Lord... even if it means we die by the bestial sword wielded by the servants of the god of this age. To live is Christ and to die is gain.
These passages rightly reject the Absolute Pacifist ethic previously mentioned, the 'Peace' concept written into the doctrine of God. The Almighty is not love, love, love or peace, peace, peace but rather is Holy, Holy Holy. God represents love and peace but Holiness is the primary and superlative attribute He reveals to us. It is the nature and basis of His Kingdom.
Peace is only found in holiness and in the Holy Kingdom which lies (chronologically) beyond the Eschaton. Those beyond the grave experience it now even though it has not yet arrived (chronologically) in its fullness.
We on Earth who are in Christ have a foretaste, experienced through life in the Spirit, faith and the joy wrought by forgiveness and the Blessed Hope.

Continue reading Part 3