A letter from my friend John Edminster
Jesus Christ Forbids War
*Christianity armed is Christianity falsified.*
The gospel that God gives to men and women through Jesus Christ is a message of peace, and _a gift of the power to live in peace._ What happens if weaccept this gospel is not that we are intimidated, forced, or persuaded by reason into laying downour weapons, but that we are transformed into new creatures. This new creature grows increasinglylike Jesus Christ,1 of whom it is, indeed, now a "member" in the sense that an arm, a leg or aneye is a member of a human body.2 Jesus accepted torture and death at the hands of his enemies rather than defend Himself by force, and it should come as no surprise that His disciples taught their own disciples _not_ the arts of self-defense, but a way of accepting suffering as given fromthe hand of God,3 a trustworthy God who will one day "wipe away all tears from our eyes."4 And sothe living Christ teaches us today - to accept suffering without seeking to inflict it. This isOne said to be "the same yesterday, and today, and forever,"5 so if we fancy that He's come aroundto a more "realistic" view of warmaking since Biblical times, we'd better think again.For Jesus Christ taught His hearers not to fight back against evil, but to love their enemies.6The Biblical records tell us that when two disciples urged revenge on villages that had refusedthem hospitality, Jesus rebuked them, saying that He had come "to save men's lives, not to destroythem."7 Though He drove the moneychangers from the temple like trespassing cattle, there is noindication that He injured them.8 When a party of His enemies came to arrest Him and one of His defenders cut off an enemy's ear, Jesus disarmed the defender and healed the ear.9 Finally, whenthe combined forces of the priesthood and the occupying army had crucified Jesus, He prayed fromthe cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."10To become a member of this Person is to become incapable of waging war. War and fighting, taughtthe Apostle James, come from uncontrolled desires, and the determination to snatch by force whatGod may not be granting because it is not in our best interests to have it.11 Though we areadmonished to show respect and obedience to the civil authorities,12 we are also warned to take nopart in the "futile works of darkness,"13 and in all cases we must choose obedience to God overobedience to men and women.14Today a great lie is masquerading in Christ's robes. It sits in the seats of American state power,and among many American Christians that support the United States' wars, deliberate injustices anddeceits, as if oblivious that these are the works of Antichrist. We - America's voters, taxpayers,consumers - are all complicit in the destruction of cities, the accidental firing on weddingparties and innocent children, the murder of detainees hung by their wrists from the ceiling, andthe sending of our own young people to die in a war evidently sold to us on fraudulent claims. Themore clearly we see it, the uglier it gets. But it mirrors us: our self-satisfaction, our small integrity, our heedless and self-centered everyday lifestyle choices that call for thecontinued binge-guzzling of Middle Eastern oil by the American economy. One might see this lastitem as part of a larger pattern of importing pleasure and exporting pain, whereby we in theUnited States also enjoy cheap consumer goods often produced by sweatshop or slave laborelsewhere. At the heart of our condition stands a willingness to say, "let us do evil, so thatgood can result from it."15 To say this is to serve two masters, which Jesus warned us we cannot do.16 The one master is God,who speaks to every human soul through the conscience. The other master is the spirit of thissleepwalking world, which allows double standards, tells us "I'm OK - you're OK" no matter how welive, and tries to reassure us, if we believe in a God, that God sees things just as we do.17 Thustheologians have long made themselves popular by arguing for a "sensible" double standard ofbehavior, a turn-the-other-cheek for private individuals and a go-ahead-and-kill for rulers andtheir hirelings. Thus your Christian neighbor "homogenizes" the Bible, pulling divine approvals ofwar out of pre-Christian scriptures, ignoring Jesus' clear message that He had come to teach adeeper and more compassionate understanding of the preexisting Law.18This "let us do evil that good may come of it" is a temptation always knocking at the believer'sdoor, ever seductive because we are so terrified of standing unarmed in an armed world anddepending solely on the protection of God - even though that protection is very real. As we'veseen described above, even Jesus' disciples failed to grasp the spirit of His message - callingfor revenge, defending Him with violence - so we should hardly be surprised to find Christians oflater ages falling into such error. Jesus knew our potential for self-deception. He told Hisflock, "the time comes that whoever kills you will think that he offers service to God."19 The apostle Paul clearly repudiated "carnal warfare" and "carnal weapons" many times,20 but latergenerations seem to have treated his statements as mere pious rhetoric. With the conversion of theRoman emperor Constantine in 312 - "Saint Constantine" to some - it became acceptable to mixChristianity with domination by the sword, and by the time of Aquinas's _Summa Theologica_ in theThirteenth Century, the "just war" theory had become standard Christian doctrine. Christians whosought to reclaim their original nonviolent tradition over the centuries were often silenced orkilled, but ultimately the Anabaptists, Quakers and others in the modern era rediscovered it,stood by it, and survived - though only as a minority. The peace testimony that such faithful ones recovered from the life and ministry of Jesus israrely preached on street corners, because it can't be promoted like a political program, withappeals to self-interest or humane ideals. For it can't be separated from the gospel faith inwhich it is rooted, which converts us into a "new creature" capable of both understanding it andliving it, filled with an infectious inner peace21 that endures, with God's help, as well underoppression or martyrdom as under outward liberty. But the old creature can neither understand norlive it: "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness."22 And this is the glorious gospel that provides the only reliable alternative to the world'swarfare: _that the God that made you wants you to come home_ to Him, Her, It - God is all ofthese, and more - _at the end of your earthly wanderings. That God means you to enjoy the peace,knowledge, and joy of the Divine Fullness, beyond time and change.23 That God dwells in yourheart, sees through your eyes, and knows your every thought_ - yes, including all the ones youwish no one knew. _But there is not a foolish, or shameful, or evil thing you have done, or wishedto do, or willingly had others do for you, that God is not willing to forgive, so that it may nolonger keep you from perfect enjoyment of your heavenly inheritance._ But to receive thisforgiveness, you must turn to God and ask to be "freed from your sins" - which means not onlybeing forgiven for the past, but also being freed of the compulsion to repeat the same errorsagain and again.For this reason, people that have experienced this "repentance to salvation"24 have described itas being "born again"25 or being given "a new heart."26 However, this process does not magicallyleave us immune to temptation, or incapable of error or further growth. We must still "work outour salvation with fear and trembling."27 But from now on, whenever we find ourselves lacking inthe courage, or wisdom, or faith to do what God asks of us, we learn that God will give it to usmerely for the asking.28 This means that we are free to live without our old defenses, "wise asserpents, and harmless as doves."29 For no one harms us except by "power given from above,"30 sothat we may say with the Psalmist, "I will not fear what flesh can do to me."31 This is the essence of the "good news" of salvation in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again tofree us from slavery to sin, and who still lives, teaches, and reigns as king in the hearts ofthose here on earth who accept Him32 - whether as Jesus, as God, as Higher Power, or under someother name. This new life in Christ is a good life, the best of lives; but it requires us to dieto the old self we knew,33 and so frightens many not ready for it. This is why so many of uschoose what might be called Religion Lite, which gives us formulas for relating to our God butallows us to keep conforming to the everyday world, which is run by force, ruled by fear, andstinking with injustice. But Religion Lite will fail us in trouble and death, and must be outgrownand discarded, along with most of our former opinions about how the world might be "fixed."This is a time of great fear. As a civilization we have responded to it shamefully, and asindividuals, inadequately. Our actions, and inactions, have injured many, and, as all the world'sreligions have taught, we must reap as we have sown.34 _Will we repent in time?_ Will Christ tellus, on that final day when He confronts us, "inasmuch as you did this to these, you did it toMe?"35 John Jeremiah Edminster, firstname.lastname@example.org.Thoughtful responses welcomed.NOTES1 2 Cor. 3:18: "And all of us... are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighterand brighter glory...." 2 For "membership," see John 15:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 4:24,Colossians 3:10.3 See Hebrews 12:5-11, which refers to divine "chastisement" or "training" as meant for ourbenefit; or 1 Peter 2:19-24, 3:17, and 4:12-14. Cf. Job 2:10, "If we take happiness from God'shand, must we not take sorrow too?" This does not mean we are not to witness against injusticedone to ourselves. But "vengeance is mine, says the Lord," Romans 12:19.4 Revelation 7:17, 21:4.5 Hebrews 13:8. Cf. Malachi 3:6a: "For I am the Lord, I change not."6 Matthew 5:39, 44. This passage (Matt. 5:38-48) also appears, with minor variants, at Luke6:27-36.7 Luke 9:51-56.8 Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17. 9 Luke 22:49-51, John 18:10-11.10 Luke 23:34.11 James 4:1-3. Hindu tradition has a thought-provoking parallel to this teaching, Bhagavad-Gita3:36-39.12 Paul argues for honor and obedience to sword-bearing rulers in Romans 13, but none at the timewere Christian; it does not follow, and never did, that Christians should become sword-bearingrulers themselves.13 Ephesians 5:11; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17, "Get away from them, purify yourselves, says the Lord. Do nottouch anything unclean, and then I shall welcome you."14 This was stated by Peter and other apostles before the high priest at Jerusalem, Acts 5:29.15 It cannot be stressed enough that the Apostle Paul called this sort of reasoning "damnable,"Romans 3:8.16 Matthew 6:24: "he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the firstand despise the second."17 Psalm 50:16-21: "But to the wicked God says... you thought that I was one like yourself. Butnow I rebuke you...."18 Thus Christians quote "an eye for an eye" (Ex. 21:24, Lev. 24:20, Deut. 19:21) or cite theNoachian covenant (Gen. 9:6), as if ignorant that Jesus had proclaimed a new and better way,Matthew 5:38, no longer tolerating concessions formerly given "for the hardness of your hearts,"Matthew 19:8.19 John 16:2-3: "They will do these things because they have never known either the Father or me."20 See Romans 12:17-21; 1 Corinthians 4:10-13; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Galatians 5:14, 19-25, 6:10;Ephesians 4:26-27. 31-32, 5:11, 6:11-18; Philippians 2:3, 14-15, Colossians 3:8, 15; IThessalonians 4:8, 5:22, and especially I Thess. 5:15: "See that none render evil for evil untoany man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men."21 John 14:27, Philippians 4:7.22 1 Corinthians 1:18.23 See, for example, Romans 14:17, Ephesians 3:14-19, and Revelation 10:6.24 2 Corinthians 7:10.25 Jesus tells Nicodemus "you must be born again," John 3:3; cf. 1 Peter 1:23.26 This image comes from Ezekiel 11:19 and 36:26.27 Philippians 2:12.28 Regarding our want for wisdom, see James 1:5. The prayer "increase our faith" is recorded atLuke 17:5.29 Matthew 10:16.30 John 19:11, Jesus' answer to Pilate's claim to have power either to crucify or to release him.31 Psalm 56:4.32 "God" (not "Christ") is named as the Savior in much Judeo-Christian scripture (including Isaiah45:21-22, Hosea 13:4, Luke 1:47). Over the centuries, many Christians have argued that salvationmay be given to souls that do not identify their Savior as Jesus. Cf. 1 John 4:7, "every one wholoves is a child of God and knows God."33 Matt. 16:24-25, 19:21-26; John 3:3-8, 12:24-26; Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:1-5.34 Known to Hinduism and Buddhism as the law of Karma, this principle appears in Christianscripture at Gal. 6:7, Rom. 2:6, 2 Cor. 9:6. Cf. Job 4:8, and Rev. 13:10b, "He that killeth withthe sword must be killed with the sword."35 Matthew 25:31-46.