For a much more in-depth discussion of Christian nonviolence, check out The Fourth Way Podcast.
Christians have nothing against the government. In fact, Christians teach that we should submit to the government. However, our primary citizenship is to Christ, and we should be unwilling to do something our government tells us to do if that means being disobedient to Christ. Enacting violence or harm to another, in aggression, self-defense, or even in the role of a government official who commanded wars or participated in them, was something with which the early church just couldn't get on board. To highlight this, I want to pull a large number of quotes and teachings from the early church. â
It is very important for us to look at what the Bible says about the Christian's role and their use of violence. However, looking at an ideology in the abstract can often leave us with many questions as to how that ideas is supposed to play out. But when we see people implement an ideology, it can sometimes affirm or counter our assumptions about what the the ideology actually says. For instance, if pacifists argue that a Christian loving their enemies and turning the other cheek means that they shouldn't harm another even in self-defense, then were we to find any of the apostles defending themselves from harm with violent actions, it would make us think twice about the extent of what Christ was teaching. Likewise, if we find that Christians fail to retaliate with violence, even in self-defense, then that should give us pause as to whether Christ fully meant what he said in regard to violence rather than passing his words off as hyperbole or metaphor.
There are no absolutely clear stories where all details are filled in for us in regard to pacifism. The point of the stories of the early Christians and the Apostles wasn't necessarily to teach self-defense or nonviolence. But what we do see is how early Christians naturally react to violence instituted against them by individuals, their community, and their government.
Since there are a large number of passages which correspond with notions of pacifism, I am only going to deal very briefly with each passage. I understand that there may be certain passages that non-pacifists want to nuance or explore linguistically, and that is fair. However, what I think you'll find is that when you have a large amount of text to deal with, it becomes hard to explain away each one with this notion of some underlying nuance that needs to be explained into the text. It's kind of like when a person who commits a crime has no alibi, owns the murder weapon, has probable cause, just took out an insurance policy on the victim, fought with the victim the night of their death, were the last person seen with the victim, etc - such a case becomes difficult to dismiss on the amount of evidence alone. While you can try to explain away each detail, when you're back on your heels trying to explain away item after item, it doesn't look good for you. While the quality of a piece of evidence is important, there is also a weight that comes with a quantity of evidence. In fact, fifty pieces of evidence with a mediocre quality can be far more powerful than one piece of evidence that is of very high quality. When you couple the quantitative weight of the pacifistic case from the Bible with the relative lack of potential proof texts which are contrary to pacifism (only four main New Testament passages are used, to my knowledge), the weight for pacifism's case grows.
It's amazing how the clarity of your youth can become a quagmire as you grow older and more self-reflective. "Facts" and "truths" that once seemed to be normal and appropriate human intuition crumble away and become vestiges of overturned indoctrination and socialization. Living in the ruins of many an overturned "truth" leaves one wondering not only about the past that lead to such a ruinous visage, but also leaves one questioning which structures left standing will be in ruins tomorrow. Which structures are fortresses of truth for the ages, and which are brittly constructed facades?
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.