Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just War v. Non-resistence Debate in Boston

Back on March 28th, there was a debate on "Should Christians Fight?" at Faneuil Hall in Boston.
Speaking in favor of Christians engaging in just war was:
Peter Kreeft (Ph.D. Fordham University) is professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is the author of over 67 books on philosophy, theology and Christian apologetics. A gifted thinker and speaker, he speaks at universities and churches all over the world. He draws inspiration from influential figures such as Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, and C. S. Lewis. 
J. Daryl Charles (Ph.D., Westminster Theological Seminary) has written over twelve books on ethics, Christian engagement in the public square, and just war. He is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Christian just war tradition.
Speaking against Christians in war will be:
David Bercot is an attorney (J.D., Baylor University), author, and speaker. He has numerous books on the subject of the early church, where he emphasizes the simplicity of biblical doctrine and early (pre-325 AD) Christian teaching over what he would call the complex and compromised body of theological understandings built up over the centuries that have come to be thought of as orthodoxy. 
Dean Taylor and his wife Tania were both in the U. S. Army when they realized that, as committed Christians, they had to come to grip with Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount on loving one's enemies. They ultimately left the Army in a new and sincere quest for truth, determined to follow Jesus Christ under the banner "no compromise." Mr. Taylor is a widely sought speaker who regularly addresses the question, "What if Jesus really meant every word He said?".

"It's Just War" - Should Christians Fight? Debate from FollowersOfTheWay on Vimeo.

Some Reflections

Shout out to Tim Colegrove for providing the link to the video and for hearing about the event.

When I initially read the names of those presenting at this debate, I was sure it would be a bloodbath (pun intended). On the Just War side sat two highly credentialed scholars. While on the non-resistance side sat two relatively unknown persons (at least to me!). I've been reading books by Peter Kreeft since I was 17; he is a premiere Christian apologist. I encountered the work of J. Daryl Charles when I was doing research for a paper on nonviolence at CUME. The title of his book, Between Pacifism and Jihad, struck me, so I read it cover to cover. It's reasoning was terrible, but its rhetorical punch was hard-hitting (seriously, the violence puns are just low-hanging fruit right now). And I know that his book is widely acclaimed among conservative Just War proponents in the US especially.

That's why it's so fascinating to me that it seemed entirely lopsided in favor of the non-resistance position. I thought the presentations of Drs. Charles and Kreeft were weak at best, but probably more honestly pathetic. I feel like I could have defended Just War tradition better than they did! But on the non-resistance side, I thought the representatives gave a very compelling presentation, even if I would have personally presented some parts slightly differently.

One portion of the debate that shocked me was when Dr. Kreeft seemed perplexed to find out that the non-resisters did not intend to impose the Jesus's teaching of enemy-love onto secular governments. I was very surprised he'd never encountered non-liberal pacifists. But since he is a world-renowned C. S. Lewis scholar and demonstrated his indebtedness to Lewis's essay "Why I'm Not a Pacifist" in his closing remarks, it's apparent that he has not very familiar with Anabaptist-like pacifism.

Possibly the most striking thing about the debate was the clear contrast between the representatives of non-resistance and the Just War defenders on emphasizing Jesus's teaching. I'm not sure J. Daryl Charles ever eludes to Jesus's teaching once for support accept to say that Jesus only meant for his teachings to be applied to inter-personal conflict, not military service. While, by contrast, I not sure the two non-resisters ever fail to point to Jesus's teachings in their presentations. If one was watching this debate as a person seeking a Christ-centered view, they would only be left with one option.

PS - I thought Dr. Charles's repeated appeals to Christians serving in "any vocation" to be a huge red herring. Certainly Christians cannot be loan sharks who exploit people and use violence. Charles's claim can only lead to a compartmentalization of "discipleship." At one point he even referred to a family member's "discipleship" in reference to their service to the State.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Concerning Heretics and Those That Burn Them

Balthasar Hubmaier (1480-1528), Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them (1524)

1. Heretics are those who wickedly oppose the holy scriptures, the first of whom was the devil, when he said to Eve, "Ye shall not surely die", (genesis 3:4) together with his followers.

2. Those also are heretics that cast a veil over the scriptures and interpret them otherwise than the holy spirit demands; as those who everywhere proclaim a concubine as a benefice, pastoring and ruling the church at Rome, and compelling us to believe this talk.

3. Those who are such one should overcome with holy knowledge, not angrily but softly, although the Holy Scriptures contain wrath.

4. But this wrath of the scriptures is truly a spiritual fire and zeal of love, not burning without the Word of God.

5. If they will not be taught by strong proofs or evangelic reasons, then let them be, and leave them to rage and be mad (Titus 3:2,3), that those who are filthy may become more filthy still (Rev. 22:11).

6. The law that condemns heretics to the fire builds up both Zion in blood and Jerusalem in wickedness.

7. Therefore will they be taken away in sighs, for the judgments of God (whose right it is to judge) either convert or harden them, that the blind lead the blind and both the seduced and the seducer go from bad to worse.

8. This is the will of Christ who said, “Let both grow together till the harvest, lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them” (Matt. 13:29). “For there must also be heresies among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).

 9. Though they indeed experience this, yet they are not put away until Christ shall say to the reapers, “Gather first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them” (Matt. 13:30).

10. This word does not teach us idleness but strife; for we should unceasingly contend, not with men but with their godless doctrine.

11. The unwatchful bishops are the cause of the heresies. “When men slept, the enemy came” (Matt. 13:25).

12. Again, “Blessed is the man who is a watcher at the door of the bridegroom’s chamber” (Prov. 8:34), and neither sleeps nor “sits in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1).

13. Hence is follows that the inquisitors are the greatest heretics of all, since, against the doctrine and example of Christ, they condemn heretics to fire, and before the time of harvest root up the wheat with the tares.

14. For Christ did not come to butcher, destroy, and burn, but that those that live might live more abundantly (John 10:10).

15. We should pray and hope for repentance, as long as man lives in this misery.

16. A turk or a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer; and so we should await with patience the judgment of God.

17. If we do otherwise, God will treat our sword as stubble, and burning fire as mockery (Job 41:29).

18. So unholy and far off from evangelical doctrine is the whole order of preaching friars (of which variegated birds our Antony is one), that hitherto out of them alone the inquisitors have come.

19. If these only knew of what spirit they ought to be, they would not so shamelessly pervert God’s Word, nor so often cry, “To the fire, to the fire!” (Luke 9:54-56).

20. It is no excuse (as they charter) that they give over the wicked to the secular power, for he who thus gives over sins more deeply (John 19:11).

 21. For each Christian has a sword against the wicked, which is the Word of God (Eph. 6:17), but not a sword against the malignant.

22. The secular power rightly and properly puts to death the criminals who injure the bodies of the defenseless (Rom. 13:3,4). But he who is God’s cannot injure anyone, unless he first deserts the gospel.

23. Christ has shown us this clearly, saying, “Fear not them that kill the body” (Matt. 10:28).

24. The [secular] power judges criminals, but not the godless who cannot injure either body or soul, but rather are a benefit; therefore God can in wisdom draw good from evil.

25. Faith which flows from the gospel fountain lives only in contests, and the rougher they become so much the greater becomes faith.

26. That everyone has not been taught the gospel truth is due to the bishops no less than to the common people – these that they have not cared for a better shepherd, the former that they have not performed their office properly.

27. If the blind lead the blind, according to the judgment of God, they both fall together into the ditch (Matt. 15:14).

28. Hence to burn heretics is in appearance to profess Christ (Titus 1:10,11), but in reality to deny him, and to be more monstrous than Jehoiakim, the King of Judah (Jer. 37:23).

 29. If it is blasphemy to destroy a heretic, how much more is it to burn to ashes a faithful herald of the Word of God, unconvicted, not arraigned by the truth.

30. The greatest deception of the people is a zeal for God that is unscripturally expended, the salvation of the soul, honor of the church, love of truth, good intention, use or custom, episcopal decrees, the teaching of the reason that come by natural light. For they are deadly arrows where they are not led and directed by the Scriptures.

31. We should not presume, led away by the deception of our own purpose, to do better or more securely than God has spoken by his own mouth.

32. Those who rely on their good intention and think to do better, are like Uzziah and Peter. The latter was called Satan by Christ (Matt. 16:23), but the former came to a wretched end (1 Chr. 13:10).

33. Elnathan, Delaiah, and Gemariah acted wisely in withstanding Jehoiakim, the kind of Judah, when he cast the book of Jehovah into the fire (Jer. 35:25).

34. But in that, after one book was burnt, Baruch by the express direction of Jeremiah, wrote another much better (Jer. 36:27-32), we see the just punishment of God on the unrighteous burning. For so it shall be that on those who fear the frost, a cold snow falls (Job. 6:16).

35. But we do not hold that it was unchristian to burn their numerous books of incantations, as the fact in the Acts of the Apostles shows (Acts 19:19). It is a small thing to burn innocent paper, but to point out an error and to disprove it by Scripture, that is art.

36. Now it is clear to everyone, even the blind, that a law to burn heretics is an invention of the devil. “Truth is immortal.”  

From Henry C. Vedder, Balthasar Hubmaier: The Leader of the Anabaptists (New York: AMS Press, 1971), 84-88.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Didache and Christian Nonresistance

Yesterday my wife Alice and I decided to browse Rodney's used bookstore in Central Square. I immediately bee-lined it to the theology and "western religion" section and found myself quickly drawn into a little Penguin Classics book titled "Early Christian Writings". As someone with strong convictions regarding Christian nonviolence, the early church has always been dear to my heart. If you read through some of the first few hundred years of early church fathers you will discover just how strong the nonviolent ethic was early on and just how essential early Christians felt that it was to their practice of the Gospel life. As I skimmed through "Early Christian Writings" I stumbled upon an early Christian "rule" of faith and practice called the "Didache". The Didache is a manuscript of 1st century origin and anonymous authorship which provides instruction for Christian living and church order. It's importance to the church is illustrated by the fact that several of the early Church fathers gave the Didache high honor, strongly recommending it for reading (Athanasius, Eusebius) and some even suggesting its canonization (Rufinus of Aquileia, John of Damascus). I had read the Didache many years ago before my convictions about violence took shape, but reading it yesterday I found myself rediscovering it in light of the peace tradition of the church. What follows is the first four paragraphs of the Didache:

There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways.

The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you.

And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.

Abstain from fleshly and worldly lusts. If someone strikes your right cheek, turn to him the other also, and you shall be perfect.

The Didache goes on to provide a clear set of moral teaching which is then followed by instruction on baptism and the Lord's supper. What I found fascinating yesterday as I read through it was the emphasis placed on the "love of enemies" as the correct interpretation of the great commandment "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). According to the Didache, the essential meaning and the key doctrine of the greatest commandment is the love of enemies. Early Christian tradition felt that this was so important that it stands to serve as the preface to this manuscript of apostolic instruction. Before everything else, this comes first.

Early Christian history is rich with instruction about faith in practice. Although the preservation of sound theological doctrine was important to the church in the earliest years, the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament epistles and in manuscripts such as the Didache remind us that the earliest Christians didn't isolate theological doctrine from ethics. For the earliest believers, instructions about how to live a life of holiness seem to be just as "doctrinal" as the churches teaching on the Trinity. Unfortunately for the church of today, Christian ethics are often brushed aside as secondary to theology. Theological claims are perceived as "doctrinal" while the realm of ethics is set aside as a kind of "best practices" study of the Church. In so doing, we neglect to provide our communities with the food that they need in order to grow into mature believers. In failing to provide clear instruction, church leadership fails to fulfill the great commission which clearly states that we should go out into the world making disciples and "teaching them to obey everything" Jesus has commanded.

For further study of the early church teaching, I would recommend browsing through Calvin College's Ethereal Christian Classics Library online at this link. The full text of the Didache can be accessed here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Fighting Fire with Fire

“For this reason Jesus has also added, 'But I say to you, do not resist the evil one.' He did not say 'do not resist your brother' but 'the evil one'! We are authorized to dare to act in the presence of evil through Christ’s influence. In this way he relaxes and secretly removes most of our anger against the aggressor by transferring the censure to another. 'What then?' one asks. 'Should we not resist the evil one at all?' Indeed we should, but not in this way. Rather, as Jesus has commanded, we resist by surrendering ourselves to suffer wrongfully. In this way you shall prevail over him. For one fire is not quenched by another, but fire by water. “

-John Chrysostom, c. 347–407

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Today I had the opportunity to view some of the video clips from this past year's Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization. Lausanne is an evangelical conference dedicated to world missions. While browsing through some of the lectures and sermons I found an interesting piece in the section titled "Reconciliaton" titled "Our Boys on the Border". The video is a dramatic piece which shows two men being called to arms by their general. Later on in the clip a woman is shown praying for Jesus peace and shortly afterwards the two men lower their weapons which are pointed at each other and cast their rifles aside. Although the piece was unquestionably powerful, I had hoped for more. I was hoping that someone from Lausanne would urge the church to renounce nationalism, militarism, and all forms of violence towards their fellow man. Unfortunately, it would seem that the church is still convinced that somehow we can use the means of the Pax Romana (the Roman way to peace through force and violence) to bring about the Pax Christi when Jesus makes it clear that the ends must be present in the means. Christ has clearly forbidden violence from among his disciples and, as the early church theologian Tertullian said, "in disarming Peter, Christ has disarmed all Christians." There are no excuses nor any justifications for Christians to bear arms against other men, Jesus has made it clear that Christians are to love their enemies. The Lausanne conference used the scripture found in Ephesians that says, "For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility..." but has forgotten that Jesus accomplished this through the cross as is said in v. 16 "and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility." He makes it clear that his followers will bring about peace in the same way, when he tells them, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) The cross is not only the way of our salvation but it is the example which Christians are called to follow. This has been a deep conviction of the Tanks to Tractors group and it has been our desire to bring this message to the church in Boston.

I am not only concerned about this issue out of a desire for deeper Christian discipleship, but also because I believe it to be a critical matter in the area of evangelization. I consider it a conflict of interests that Christians continue to engage in warfare and capital punishment after their conversion. How can we claim to care for and proclaim the Gospel to sinners if we do so while seeking to kill them? This would be like a doctor claiming to care for and heal his patients while slipping them a lethal dose of morphine. Why should we, who have been guaranteed eternal life, protect our mortal lives by taking the lives of those who are at risk of eternal judgement? We would be wise to remember that the blood of the martyrs is a powerful witness not only because of their testimony to Jesus in words but because of their willingness to go peacefully to their deaths and suffer well, not cursing their enemies but blessing them. It is shameful that the church has not had the faith and the courage to do likewise in this age.

I believe that if Christians committed themselves to Jesus ethic of nonviolence, there would be a massive harvest of souls. People around the world would see that Christ's Gospel is not cheap and purely ideological, but that it is practical and costly. The world would see how seriously we take Jesus commandments and they would wonder what makes him worth dying for. I hope someday to see this taught at conferences like Lausanne.

If you're interested in seeing the Lausanne clip mentioned here, follow this link.