Does the cross promote pacifism?

Monday, August 16th, 2010 at 7:25 am

Notes on John Stott’s
The Cross of Christ
Chapter 12: Loving Our Enemies

Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’m in a book club that’s reading Greg Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation (our last meeting is tonight, boo-hoo.) Well, Boyd, who appears to be from an Anabaptist tradition, seems to be a pacifist (I’m reading the last chapter, about violence, right now).

If you’re at all familiar with my family, you know that I have two brothers in the Marines (currently, they’re “poolies”.) John leaves for training in October. Tim’ll leave in January.

And a few of you know that, over the past year, I’ve developed friendships with several people who ascribe to a basically pacifist or nonviolent position on the basis of their faith–in Christ.

It’s been an interesting process, sorting out my own thoughts in relation to pacifism and the cross and how the two relate–or if they relate.

I definitely don’t have it all figured out. I don’t have any problem with personally being non-violent (I don’t have any desire to join the military, etc.)–but I’m not sure if I’m ready to suggest that others should also subscribe to non-violence, or that I should promote non-violence as national policy, etc.

Of course, those are merely side issues compared to the big question that I’m wrestling with, that is: How does the cross inform a Christian’s involvement or non-involvement, support or opposition, approval or disapproval of war and other acts including violence? Or, to put it more simply: Does the cross promote pacifism?

Many of those within my book club (who tend towards non-violence) have said that they do believe in some concept of justified violence–that states have some authority to “wield the sword” (a la Romans 13) which results in violent acts of justice. The question, then, is whether Christians can and/or should be participants in this just violence. This has been my primary struggle.

John Stott addresses Christian involvement in state administration of justice (including via violent means) in The Cross of Christ:

“It is important to note that Paul uses the same vocabulary at the end of Romans 12 [‘do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath’] and at the beginning of Romans 13 [‘he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath’]. The words ‘wrath’ (orge) and ‘revenge/punishment’ (ekdikesis and ekdikos) occur in both passages. Forbidden to God’s people in general, they are assigned to God’s ‘servants’ in particular, namely officials of the state. Many Christians find great difficulty in what they perceive here to be an ethical ‘dualism’. I should like to try to clarify this issue.

First, Paul is not distinguishing between two entities, church and state, as in Luther’s well-known doctrine of the two kingdoms…

Secondly, Paul is not distinguishing between two spheres of Christian activity, private and public, so that (to put it crudely) we must love our enemies in private but may hate them in public….

Thirdly, what Paul is doing is to distinguish between two roles, personal and official. Christians are always Christians (in church and state, in public and private), under the same moral authority of Christ, but are given different roles (at home, at work, and in the community) which make different actions appropriate. For example, a Christian in the role of a policeman may use force to arrest a criminal, which in the role of a private citizen he may not; he may as a judge condemn a prisoner…and he may as an executioner (assuming that capital punishment may in some circumstances be justified) kill… This is not to say that arresting, judging, and executing are in themselves wrong (which would establish different moralities for public and private life), but that they are right responses to criminal behavior, which however God has entrusted to particular officials of the state.”

~John Stott The Cross of Christ

This makes a lot of sense to me–but still leaves the question open in my mind: But should a Christian seek out “official” roles in which they must perform actions that are not permissible to them in their “personal” roles as private citizens and members of the body of Christ?

The Week in WordsSince bulk of this post is an extended quote from Chapter 12 of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, I’m linking it up in lieu of my regular Week in Words post. Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

(See more of my notes on The Cross of Christ.)

***I’d also like to clarify that we should attempt to keep our comments Christ-honoring. I know that this is a topic that can get people riled up (I do, after all, belong to a military-ish family, and you know those pacifists :-P) But let’s try to be respectful.****

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Reader Comments (3):

  1. kewkew says:

    This post is on a subject that I do wonder about. I grew up Catholic, stopped going to church as a teensager, started going to a Mennonite church several years later and became a Christian and a member of the church. I now go to a less conservative Mennonite church where they do not seem to stress the non violence/pacifism. I would love to find an answer to your question:
    –but still leaves the question open in my mind: But should a Christian seek out “official” roles in which they must perform actions that are not permissible to them in their “personal” roles as private citizens and members of the body of Christ?
    By the way, thank you for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.
    Blessings

  2. Barbara H. says:

    That quote from Stott was helpful, particularly the illustration of a policeman who might use force on someone resisting arrest but not on someone personally. I don’t think the Scripture really speaks to the issue of whether a Christian should specifically seek out those roles, but since those roles are God-given — both the role and the responsibility — I don’t think it is wrong for a Christian to do so.

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