Test everything: Just War and Pacifism



I’m an Anabaptist, or at least have an anabaptist background that mixes with some other influences. I believe in the historical peace position and hope that I can practice it in everyday life, whether I’m facing an imminent threat or just living a peaceful existence.

Still, I have always had problems with the explanations I’ve received when being instructed in the peace position by my teaching pastor. I know he believes it and lives it, so I don’t think he is being dishonest in the least, but there are some holes in his explanations.

First, we’re told by pastors that there is absolutely no biblical support for the just war theory. We don’t really even discuss it and I find that rather disingenuous. I understand they believe it, but if we’re too honestly engage with those who believe in JWT (even if they don’t understand that’s what it is), we need to actually understand the arguments and not treat them like their just “war mongering, gun happy, fight picking Christians who are destroying all of what Christ is trying to do on this planet and if they would only get “peace” right, the world would be instantly converted and all would be well.”

Baloney. Hogwash. Don’t believe it.

Stereotypes don’t help. Same on the other end who might see pacifist Christians as weak people who just don’t like confrontation or dealing with hard questions and tough situations.

Baloney. Hogwash. Don’t believe it.

Both Christian pacifists and Christian JWT’s, are seeking to follow the will of God and both are looking at the same Scriptures and coming to their conclusions. Positive engagement is the only way forward. A true JWT Christian does not seek war or conflict, but accept that we live in a fallen world and that sometimes violence is the most loving thing we can do in a given situation.

Any honest anabaptist struggles with “the questions”: what if my child/wife/husband is being attacked? What if my house is being broken into? What if I come upon a woman who is being raped? What if, what if, what if… we all ask these questions, regardless of what side you’re on of the debate. If you’re not, respectfully, you’re not being honest with yourself.

And why shouldn’t we ask the questions? It’s not as if there aren’t verses where God seems to command or send violence upon people (2 Samuel 12:14-31) or whole communities (Genesis 19).

Consider these verses:

1 Timothy 5:8 But if someone doesn’t provide for their own family, and especially for a member of their household, they have denied the faith. They are worse than those who have no faith.

How do we provide for our family? Food, clothing, safety? Does a man take care of his family if he is not willing to defend it unto death? (Also, what about Ephesians 5?)

Ecclesiastes 3:8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Psalm 144:1 Of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;

Numbers 32:6 But Moses said to the people of Gad and to the people of Reuben, “Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here?”

Proverbs 25:26 Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

And consider these two pericopes:

John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.

Do we love our neighbours by not fighting off an attacker if they are being attacked? Would we not want someone to help us?

These are just a sampling of verses that either seem to suggest violence is allowed in certain circumstances or should at least cause us to ask the question, “what does it mean to love our neighbours in the face of a hostile world?”

The other problem I’ve had with the peace position, and I’ve written about this before, is we just DO NOT KNOW what to do with the Old Testament. Some seem to be flirting with a new form of Marcionism, which I do not condone. So, what to do with it? We believe that both the Old and New Covenants are inspired by the Holy Spirit and all of them together form the Christian Canon/Scriptures.

1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. So, while we’re not discussing a prophecy per sey, I think it is important to “test everything”. Test it and retest it. The truth has nothing to fear so there is nothing to fear from asking questions.

John 6:60 admits that “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” Jesus teachings are hard, so struggle is intrinsically linked with discipleship.

Note: This does not mean that just because your interpretation seems to be harder to follow, that is necessarily follows that it is true.

In light of all this, my friend Andrew Fulford has written an engaging 7 part series in support of Just War Theory. I am only part way through but so far I am both enjoying it and being challenged by it. I can’t say it’s shaken me from my position, but it is making me ask hard questions beyond what I’ve heard before. Andrew is a scary smart, thoughtful scholar. So while you’re reading don’t give in to stereotypes.

Andrew interacts with philosophy, natural law and yes, Scripture to reach his conclusions. This no doubt will bristle many an anabaptist who generally feel part of our problem is that we’ve been too influenced by Aristotle and the like all ready. The same applies to natural law, most of us don’t like that either (I don’t actually have a problem with it).

Above all else a Christ followers is a servant of the truth and as such we must never stop searching for the truth, no matter where it may lead.

I urge all serious anabaptists to engage with Andrew’s material and be willing to submit your position to the test. I’m going to keep reading and will post thoughts as I go along.

Totus tuus

One thought on “Test everything: Just War and Pacifism

  1. I’ll have to take a look at Andrew’s material and perhaps prepare a more detailed response. But as to the crux of the matter of whether or not Just War can be argued for… Yes, I agree, it can be argued for…

    …but I propose not a Marconian dissection of the OT in looking at pacifism but more on the lines of recognizing that what is in the OT is the story of the nation of Israel, not necessarily as a “this is the ideal way to do things” but more on the lines of “Here is Israel telling Israel’s story” and looking for God working in that. So, while I certainly see and wrestle with passages that seem to call for genocide, I also see that God was not totally about killing all the Canaanites or all the residents of Jericho and so forth… what about Rahab? What about Ruth? Lot’s of “Well, what about…” when it comes to those genocidal accusations. So, it’s a wrestling point.

    Can violence achieve a good end? I think that argument is sound… yes, it can. Is violence the ideal way in which God achieves his good ends? If we look to Jesus as the revelation of the character of God… I’d say, “no”. Violence is not the ideal. It is not how God intended. It is not “the Way” by which people are to live. It is “second best”. So, in the real situation of “what would I do if my neighbor is attacked”, I’d have to be honest and say that I’d probably end up tackling the guy… BUT… the ideal… that’s what I aim for. And, as I suggested in a tweet yesterday, it takes a Jesus-centered imagination to think of how a non-violent approach can achieve the end of conflict without sacrificing the ideal. In my minds eye, I see Walt Kowalsky at the end of “Gran Torino”, reaching for a cigarette lighter and getting gunned down…and the result being that the gang gets arrested en masse. A non-violent confrontation of the gang… and it resulted in the resolution of a community problem.. sure, at the loss of life for Walt… but again, what is Jesus’ example?

    So, as challenged, I’ll look at Andrew’s material but I wonder how much of it is based upon that resignation, as you stated, of “this is the way the world is” and how much of it is based upon “but things could be so much better”. Personally, I choose that latter view and I hope and pray, if I am given the chance, that I will be given the imagination to seek the ideal and the grace and mercy if I fail…

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