Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
—1 Corinthians 2:13
The subject this quarter is biblical nonresistance or pacifism. There are some differences in the two definitions as pacifism can imply a resistant attitude to war and government— which is contrary to the New Testament teaching of nonresistance. For this writing, pacifism relates to the refusal to bear arms on religious grounds.
The teaching of nonresistance rests primarily in the New Testament rather than the Old Testament. This does not undermine the credibility of the doctrine as many things radically changed under Christ. Nonresistance is neither a topic nor a practice of life for the faint of heart. Some may scoff and say a real man defends himself when facing opposition, but in reality it takes more power and strength to love and forgive than to fight with fists or guns. While the focus of the doctrine of nonresistance is often on the negative principle of not going to war; it teaches a positive, powerful way of life that can break down walls and change enemies more than a tomahawk missile could ever accomplish. The nonviolent power of the cross found in humility does not retreat in cowardice from the world but rather embraces it with love and goodness.
Christians will have a warped understanding of the call to follow Jesus in nonresistance without fully understanding the function and duel existence of the two kingdoms. While vengeance is something that belongs to God Himself, He does use secular governments at times to execute judgment here on earth and to maintain law and order for ungodly people. We can honor and appreciate our civil government and the freedoms provided without giving a loyalty that conflicts with the devotion and pledge of fidelity that should only be given to God. Christians are to be pilgrims and strangers. We are to be traveling through, not getting attached or over-involved with the affairs of this world. Politics and rallying around causes that excite the passions are generally not reflective of the spirit of Christ. This world is our temporary home and we should spend more time and effort preparing for the eternal home.
In everything we do, we need to practically ask ourselves the question, “Would Jesus do this?” We must answer that question based not upon our own ideas and proclivities but upon the example He left us in life. We do not find Jesus advocating for political freedom through war or by protesting on the streets. Jesus did not rally the Christians to march on Rome nor to stand in self-defense against those that would persecute them. We read of a Christ who went the extra mile, doing good to His enemies and loving them. Christ’s example does not align with violence either as a private citizen or as a servant of the state. We as a church need to diligently fulfill our responsibility individually and collectively to spread the gospel of peace and let the state do its job without aggressive interference.
John D. Roth summed it up so well in Choosing Against War, “In the end, Christian pacifism is not an argument to be won, or a tool for reaching ideal political outcomes, or even an airtight ethical system. It is simply a commitment to follow Jesus sincerely and completely, even if that path should lead to the cross.”
Michael W. Smith