12 August 2017

Christian Nonviolence and Pacifism: Some Badly Needed Clarifications (Part 3)

Christ brings division, even among Christians (1 Cor 11)... the peace we seek, is found only in him. False worldly peace doesn't excuse the gun-toting, gun-enforced pseudo-peace of either the Right wing militarist or the Libertarian, nor does a lack of peace in a world of violence grant permission for Christians to take up the sword. Thousands of pages have been written attempting to defend the Christian war ethic, just war, 'self-defense' and a host of other lies and scriptural distortions.


Romans 12 clearly explains the context of the Christian. We are transformed, we are different from the world. Read chapters 12 and 13 seamlessly, without the artificial chapter division and note the contrast.  Chapter 13 does not begin a new topic. The discussion of the sword-bearing state is directly related to the discussion already begun in what we call chapter 12. It's the same discussion and Paul is drawing a contrast. He is explaining why there is a state and how we as Christians are to understand it and interact with it. But it's very clear we live and think differently. It has nothing to do with us nor we with it. It is God ordained but it's not covenantal, it's not a work of the Holy Spirit.
The state is legitimate but temporary, providential not holy, necessary but a-covenantal. The pilgrim people who use this world as that which is passing away, who turn the other cheek, who offer the cloak as well, who bear the cross, who living godly in Christ and in imitation of Him, willingly suffer persecution, live under the state but are not part of it and its sword mission. Like the Assyrians and Babylonians of old the New Testament state serves God's Providential purposes but the Jews/Christians living under these regimes were not to enlist in their armies nor help them wage war.
Daniel and Joseph are poor examples to appeal to. I say poor not in the sense of impugning their conduct and testimony. Poor here refers to the analogy. In other words their situations are not quite analogous with a Christian voluntarily enlisting in the military or of their own accord seeking a position within government. While not irrelevant they are hardly patterns for some fancified notion of 'Christian statecraft'. These men were captives and slaves. They did not volunteer.
If one wishes to pursue their so-called 'Christian Statecraft' I would urge caution. I seriously doubt many Christians would wish to entertain the socio-economic policies Joseph enacted. They are hardly compatible with American Evangelical notions of godly government. I don't believe I'm taking much risk in stating that were a Christian to seek office wishing to implement a 'Joseph' platform of universal state ownership and paternalism they would be strongly opposed by our contemporary Evangelical champions of Enlightenment categorised rights and economic policies. Joseph's Egypt was hardly a place concerned with civil rights or capitalist orthodoxy. With regard to Daniel's policies, we know next to nothing. One gets the impression his conduct was praised because of his efficiency, integrity and trustworthiness not in implementing what we would call godly policies, but in faithfully executing the decrees of the Babylonian rulers.
It must be maintained that the New Testament nowhere envisions Christians enlisting in the ranks of the state or wielding the sword.
Sixteen centuries of anti-Christian theology constructed in the name of 'the Church' does not negate this truth. Hiding behind the lies of Just War, Christendom and Christian Nationhood does not change it either.
Christian Pacifism has nothing to do with some kind of namby-pamby 'kumbaya' vision of harmony. The world is full of evil that needs to be answered. We deserve vengeance but we're delivered in Christ. We have no claim to vengeance. We have no right to bring claim against those that have wronged us. Christ is our vengeance. He is the vengeance.
The Day of the Lord is a day of doom. His wrath will descend on the wicked. The world blasphemes and accuses such a vision of eschatology as tantamount to genocide. Indeed millions and billions will die and suffer but there is no crime. There is no murder. On the contrary, there is justice. It is right, righteous and good. The world will find this sick. This is because they are blinded by their sin and self-justification. They reject the reign and rule of God and spit on His Kingdom and the standards by which it consists. They have chosen their god and their kingdom as it were. They have unwittingly (or not) sold themselves to serve their master along with his lies and false promises. They have in fact, despite their protestations, declared war on the True God and even now wage war against the Holy Kingdom of Zion and its citizens... those who are in Christ.
He will destroy them.
What of Old Testament Israel and the conquest of Canaan? Does this not refute any notions of Pacifism? How can we reconcile Christian non-violence and non-participation in the state with the clearly God ordained command to conquer by the sword?
And not just conquer... eradicate. The conquest initiated by Joshua was of the most violent character. Certainly modern Christian Pacifism is in grievous error.
This oft employed but erroneous argument points to one of the fundamental issues and problems that has overshadowed the history of Christianity, that of the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. It cannot be treated exhaustively here. It will prove sufficient to highlight the pertinent issues.
The New Testament is the authoritative commentary on the Old Testament. The Apostles provide us the grid, lens or formula for understanding the Old Testament. This is true from the law, to the prophets, from the many types, symbols and ceremonies to the great promises regarding the kingdom and land of Israel.
The New Testament teaches all of these things are affirmed and confirmed in Christ (2 Cor 1.20). He is the center of every promise. The entirety of the Old Testament points to Christ and His offices. He is the Judge or the Saviour. The Old Testament points to the Gospel and yet in another sense demonstrates the power of sin and man's inability to save himself. Israel was a picture of the Kingdom of God and yet in its failures and limitations also drives God's people to look elsewhere, to look to a city whose foundations are not made with men's hands.
All of the Old Testament is interpreted in light of the New and in fact we learn that Israel itself was an often flawed and incomplete picture of the True Israel, Jesus the Christ.
He is the land, the Temple and the Army of Judgment (ironically led by another Jesus, the Old Testament Joshua). And yet He is the True Land, the True Temple and the True Judge.
The Old Testament examples were but temporary and symbolic pictures of parables pointing to the True Reality found in Christ.
The Old Testament conquest must be understood in light of this. The Judgment that fell on Canaan is a judgment all of us deserve. It symbolised the Judgment that's coming upon all the earth. Its extreme violence is meant to depict the harshness of sin and its penalty, the price of offending and rejecting God and the extent of sin in that it affects women, children and even livestock.
The Old Testament conquest was not unfair. It was completely fair and just. The fact that all of us, all nations, do not fall under such judgment immediately is due to God's restraining and merciful hand. The fact that He suspended that for the Canaanite nation was not unjust but simply a refusal to further extend an already extant mercy.
The destruction of Canaan points to what awaits all men who reject Christ, who follow the ways of the world. They have lived for themselves and yet are without hope.
The conquest must be understood Christocentrically. Joshua and the Israelites were God's agents in executing a deserved and righteous judgment. It's meant to be horrible it was a picture (in microcosm) of the Day of the Lord.
These typological episodes were repeated in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century BC and in the Roman retribution of 70AD.
This Redemptive-Historical understanding provides solid answers and explanations in grasping some of God's 'violence' in Old Testament times. This violence of course is not something we can take unto ourselves. Even the Israelites under Moses only did so under the explicit and direct command and commission of God. No nation or individual can claim such a typological covenant mandate in our own day.
All arguments regarding so-called 'Just War', rights and self-defence are all humanistic and have no basis in a New Testament hermeneutics with or without regard to the Old Testament. They are spurious speculations, dubious occasions of inference and frankly wishful thinking on the part of those who desire to find a way to flourish in the world.
Additionally with regard to the destruction of Canaan the New Testament makes much of the Genesis 6 episode and though this supernatural reality has been mocked, discounted and deemed silly and disrespectable, the New Testament nevertheless teaches and ratifies the common understanding regarding fallen angels involved with humans. Peter and Jude are clear on this. There are a host of secondary issues to this question but suffice it to say, in some way shape or form the giants of Canaan are most certainly connected to the same kind of demonic activity in Genesis 6 that produced the nephilim.*
While I don't wish to get sidetracked as this essay focuses on Pacifism, I would be negligent to fail in mentioning that the New Testament clearly identifies angelic activity as the source for the Nephilim and their later demonic variations. This also played no small part in the wickedness of Canaan and the Redemptive Historical symbolism of Israel(Christ) defeating both Og and the Canaanite kings. The theme appears once more during the Davidic epoch and is actually quite prominent in Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel and the other prophets. There are also more than a few references to it in the New Testament but these are for the most part missed and explained away.    
This crucial element of demonic activity which is actually a fairly significant theme in Scripture has been discounted and relegated to the 'embarrassing' realm of quackery. Seeking social and academic prestige and rooting so much of theology in apologetics and that on the same foundations of science and philosophical rationalism, this somewhat prominent Biblical doctrine and motif has been all but eliminated. And yet ironically it provides no small amount of elucidation in understanding what is often deemed a genocidal war of conquest. It will not satisfy the lost people of the world and the wisdom they rely on, but it does provide Christians a better understanding of what is to many a rather perplexing episode.
The demonic-elimination element does not in any way detract from what MG Kline labeled as the Intrusion principle, the Judgment appearing typologically and divorced from the chronological eschaton. If anything it supplements and enhances it and helps us to better understand the nature of the world that Christ comes to in fiery judgment and vengeance, bringing everlasting destruction. The concept of the New 'heavens' and Earth also takes on a different and certainly more abundant and plentiful, fuller meaning.
Some have accused Christians of embracing a revenge fantasy. There's probably some justification to that charge. We need to be careful. We won't rejoice in the destruction of the wicked out of a spirit of vengeance. We all have fallen into traps, wishing wickedly in our hearts for the destruction of enemies. There is something satisfying in seeing an antagonist fall to the earth and crash in a heap of flames. Our flesh glories in this and it's easy to think about getting back at the world and getting satisfaction on the Day of Vengeance.
Rather we need to pity these people and in this life show empathy. We can't do that when we're pointing guns at them, bombing them and putting handcuffs on them. Let the world police itself. Let the dead bury their dead. Our task is different and it has little or nothing to do with their city and their dreams of Babel.
We will approve of and rejoice in God's Judgments not because we are getting our revenge but because His Judgments are right and true. We will rejoice because sin is being eliminated. We will rejoice because the god of this age and all who belong to him will be cast out into the outer darkness.
We must understand that God's delay in Judgment is rooted in mercy and we also need to reflect that. We proclaim the Judgment and need not shy away from its force and meaning... though this will offend the world and drive them to mock us and blaspheme. Regardless we warn and tell the truth. The vengeance of that Day is not for us, but God executing a righteous and long delayed judgment. While they scoff at such a notion, they stand already condemned. The Judgment has been delayed for the sake of longsuffering (2 Peter 3). They should have already been destroyed but God is willing to wait... to give time for repentance. Aren't you glad? Aren't you thankful? Is that not a cause to rejoice?
And yet this profoundly shapes our ethics and expectations for this life. While the world chases after goals and success, we look up, waiting with blessed hope for the appearing of Jesus Christ.
If this world is doomed to perish in fire, if the works of man are to be burned up, if I'm to expect persecution and mistreatment...
Then would I be concerned with nationalist dreams and building nations that wield power? How about building a business empire?
What about success in general?
Success, just what is that? As Christians using the New Testament, let's work out a doctrine of success. How is that defined in terms of the New Testament? I can assure it is antithetical to both the culture and the common sensibilities of most professing Christians.
Ironically Paul teaches in Romans that even while we are slaughtered we are more than conquerors. The world will hate us and pity us. They will pity our children. They will think us miserable, losers. They will think it strange that we do not join in their visions of the future, and their understanding of happiness.
It's amusing to consider, how if we're not concerned with defending our 'stuff' then there's not so much to get upset about, to fight about. The more we are tied to this world and define ourselves by its definitions of success, respectability, wealth and ethics... suddenly what really matters is protecting these things, fighting others who would seek to take what we have and what we 'earned'. The world is suddenly filled with enemies (as indeed it is) but enemies not of God's Kingdom but threats to our treasure piles.
Christians need to understand that fame and fortune are not our calling. This point is intimately wed to the concept of 'Christian Pacifism'. It is incompatible with the Middle Class values the Church has embraced and ratified.
*The Klinean view that the 'Sons of the Gods' were self-deified kings, perhaps demon inspired, carries a degree of plausibility but ultimately fails to seriously reconcile the Old Testament text, let alone what the New Testament has to say in reference to it.

The largely modern 'Sethite vs. Cainite lines' view is without exegetical warrant and instead represents a case of wishful thinking and systematic theological deduction run amok. I continue to contend that Dominionist Confessionalists and Evangelicals who seek a voice in the culture and ultimately respect are unwilling to appear foolish by believing something much of our culture would relegate to fantasy and science-fiction. Though I'm not sure why this is the case as the Incarnation and Resurrection are certainly just a problematic for modern secular thinking. The abuses on the part of Charismatics and others with regard to the questions of angels and demons also probably plays no small part.