Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Pacifism instead of Revenge

posted by xscot mcknight

Here it is: in Matt 5:38-42 Jesus summons those who want to follow him to a radical way of life. They are to avoid, at all costs, seeking revenge. Jesus sets it up by quoting Exod 21:24 (or its other citations) — eye for an eye text, and flat-out challenges its applicability for his followers as that text was currently understood.
Instead of resisting, instead of striking back, instead of suing, instead of demanding rights, Jesus summons his followers to an alternative way of life. A way of life in which self-denial, love of others, and a contentedness with the control of life by God, how each of these is to shape how one responds to life.
It is easy to overdo this passage, just as it is easy to overdo what Jesus says about murder, anger, adultery, and oaths. Again, I’m with those who see Jesus making points the way the emerging movement has at times done: overstate it in order to let the emphasis become fully clear. There is nothing wrong with fighting for justice (I’m sure Jesus would agree), but the lifestyle of Jesus’ followers was not one of fighting but one of loving. That, so it seems to me, is what this text is about.
One thing this text emphasizes is the lack of aggressive pursuit of personal rights everywhere one goes. I doubt very much this is an all-out, never-fail-to-do-it-just-like-this principle, but once again an exaggeration to make a point. That point being that those who want to follow Jesus are not balled up in self-pursuits, are not pursuing their own rights and powers, and not vengeful people. Instead, they pursue reconciliation and they love others and therefore they do not seek revenge.
The world Jesus wants to create is a world of grace and forgiveness and reconciliation and peace, not a world where justice and rights are the dominant words. That, Jesus is saying, is where I want the hearts of those who follow me.
Many are not persuaded by the pacifistic stance of the follower of Jesus — Augustine being one of the most significant. But, there can be little to said against the fact that God chose to end violence by absorbing violence and that God gave to the Church the image of the Cross as the lasting symbol of what it stood for and how it was to conduct its business. God help me, here I stand.
“The anger of a human,” the brother of Jesus was soon to say, “does not bring about God’s justice.”
Some of you know I’m in Philadelphia, my time on the blog is limited, and I can’t always respond to each question — esp perhaps to those most important. Dana, you’ve asked and said the right things; thanks. I’ll do what I can to get to these when I get back.



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Shawn

posted November 18, 2005 at 12:35 am


“Many are not persuaded by the pacifistic stance of the follower of Jesus”
Not at all, and as a follower of Jesus I dont consider pacifism to be a requirement in following Him.
I agree that we are not to choose personal revenge, and I agree that we should seek reconciliation where possible and before we resort to other means, but consistent pacifism does seem to be a stance that stands close moral scrutiny, to me at least.
And while I agree that justice and rights should not be the primary concern of the Christian, neither should we dismiss them in total. As an example, the fight against human trafficking is in one sense a fight for the rights of others.
One of the problems of modern society (and postmodern as well) is that we have elevated rights above all other considerations. In a sense we have made rights an idol. Virtually everything is now talked about in the language of rights. Sadly this is usually as true of Christians as it is of others.
What we need imho, is to restore our understanding of rights to a proper perspective as part of a more holistic understanding of God-centred values.



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Dana Ames

posted November 18, 2005 at 1:11 am


Thanks Scot. Take your time and enjoy what you’re doing there. I appreciate the note.
Dana



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Mike Cope

posted November 18, 2005 at 9:55 am


Scot – I’ve become a recent reader of this blog. I’m a senior pastor at a church filled with university students and am an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University. Each year when I teach through the Sermon on the Mount in a freshman course called “Life and Teachings of Jesus,” students want to spend some time here.
While I can never really end in the pacifist position, I find its arguments and its willingness to take seriously the call of Christ very impressive. Recently, I read a book called Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp that is compelling.
Anyway, all this to say — please write more about this when you can. Thanks.



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tatiana

posted November 18, 2005 at 10:56 am


“Not at all, and as a follower of Jesus I dont consider pacifism to be a requirement in following Him.”
I think you are wrong.



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ted gossard

posted November 18, 2005 at 3:21 pm


I think all of us, regardless of our theological persuasion (pacificism, “just war” or otherwise) need a good dose of Jesus’ teaching on this subject. We are part of a kingdom in Jesus that no doubt is different than the kingdoms of this world. The end result and goal is what we should be looking at: shalom which includes turning weapons of war into instruments of productivity. And how can anyone say our world is not filled with violence, and that the violence does not affect us? We need this teaching, whatever that means for us.



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doug

posted November 18, 2005 at 3:22 pm


“Not at all, and as a follower of Jesus I dont consider pacifism to be a requirement in following Him.”
I also do not agree. Though I completely understand why this is a common stance of, dare I say, most Christians.
There has been a very intentional, strategic, and systematic influence with political roots in the Christian church over the past 20+ years (especially in North America) of fear and violence based ideology/theology against very subjective definitions of “evil” and for very subjective definitions of “moral values”. I don’t know if many Christians have given this much thought sense it’s been an integral part of their Christian indoctrination; it’s all they know and they dare not examine or question it.
Regardless, fear and violence is not of the Holy Spirit —> Christ —> God. There really is no discussion to be had.



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ted gossard

posted November 18, 2005 at 3:37 pm


Doug, I question your assertion that there is no discussion to be had. I do think there are Scriptural issues you have to deal with on this.
I was raised Mennonite and know (although some of them simply say that Jesus and Paul disagreed!) that they believe that the “state” as “servants/ministers of God”- Romans 13 should consist only of unbelievers. I can understand why there would be disagreement and viable discussion on that one point alone.
Also cases in Scripture in which Jesus highly praises the faith of the Roman centurion. We don’t have, in that account the result that the centurion ceased his military work. The first Gentile convert in Acts, as far as the Spirit being poured out in salvation on the Gentiles was Cornelius, himself a centurion. Again there is no mention that he ceased being a centurion. Of course these places, and others like it do not prove a stance versus a Christian pacificism. But, for me, it goes to show that there is room for a discussion and understandably why there is disagreement on this issue.
Some “just war” stance (Augustine the originator of it, I believe) comes from more than the truncated value system of the current religious/Christian right.



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Chris Jones

posted November 18, 2005 at 5:51 pm


Ted,
I am part of the Mennonite church and I would like to move this discussion beyond the abstract. As a mennonite I believe we (the mennonites) need to be open to God and not close Him off to the possibility that one day we could call His people to enter war. My “gut” does not think so, but we must be open. God’s ways are beyond tracing out.
Equally true is that just-war thinkers must be open to the fact that there will be wars that God does not want them to participate in. So the question is this:
Should Evangelicals and Reformed folks now repent of participating in this war in Iraq?
or
Should we Mennonites repent of not participating in this war in Iraq?
My view at the moment is that this war was wrong for christians and my evangelical and reformed brother and sisters, in my view, are not bringing honor to our Lord as long as they remain quiet and supportive of this war.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 18, 2005 at 6:08 pm


Chris, interesting thoughts. Especially for a Mennonite!
I am inclined to think that this discussion falls into the category of “disputable matters” (Romans 14). I may have a certain conviction- no less, that I am following at a certain time. Yet another brother or sister may have a differing conviction on the same issue. I think God is at work in both cases. He does work with us where we are at. And like Job, we really aren’t going to pin down what he is specifically doing. Therefore we need to continue living in accordance with what comes from faith in relationship to God. And we need to cut slack for others who don’t see the same thing, but something different.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 18, 2005 at 6:18 pm


One other thing I’d like to add: We can have convictions about a matter yet allow for a certain degree of ambiguity in our convictions, faith and action.
Our theologizing is important but fallible, as we seek to grapple with God’s infallible inscripturated revelation. We need to remember that, I believe.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 18, 2005 at 7:23 pm


I’d like to add this: I like and prefer a position of pacifism such as what Scot holds. I still can’t reconcile such a position with other matters in Scripture as I said in an earlier comment. But I can live with ambiguity. What I’m afraid I can’t say, at this point is that I’ve crossed the line into such a pacifism. But I do think I’ve crossed a line due to this teaching of Jesus in which I find that we Christians in general seem all too uncritical of our nation’s militarist stance. And I think it has added conviction for me as to how we are to relate to people: less from a sense of power and more from a sense of love. Including, hopefully for me, enemies or those who hurt us in some way. This is an important aspect of our following Jesus, I think.



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Chris Jones

posted November 18, 2005 at 7:27 pm


I am with you Ted on “cutting slack”. I am also with you on the fallibility issue. Too often we equate our theology with God’s revelation. I embrace Paul’s view, “we see in part”.
I agree this issue could fall under the Romans 14 principle but I am surprised that evangelicals and reformed folks (who are so conservative on other exegetical issues) rely on questionable assumptions and arguments from silence that cause them to turn away from the plain teaching of Jesus. Here’s what I mean by that. Jesus is clear when he says that we should love our enemies. His life reflects to what extent we might be called to do that. However, this does not necessarily mean that we should NEVER kill our enemy. But he never does qualify that statement and both Paul and Peter instruct us to love those that are evil. So it seems to me that it would be more exegetically conservative to lean towards a non-violent perspective UNLESS a compelling move of the Spirit moved us to do otherwise. I put it in the same camp as the homosexual issue. It seems that the bible on the surface is against homosexual activity. Therefore, the more conservative approach is against homosexual activity. So are just-war thinkers the liberals in this case? maybe.
well, I need to go. However, I want to end by saying all of these issues are filled a certain amount of ambiguity like you mentioned. Thanks for the dialouge.



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Ted Gossard,

posted November 19, 2005 at 1:09 am


Chris, About a compelling move of the Spirit. I think you have a point in that in cases where there may be ambiguity- at least in our minds and maybe in the Book itself, we may seem impelled to think and do something that goes against our basic understanding of Scripture’s teaching.
In my thinking, that would fall more into the category of an openness to a better understanding of Scripture (which may simply be the realization that Scripture may not address something in the way we thought it does) and may cause us to question our own understanding. Of course Peter lived during a transitional time but he did struggle with believing all foods/meat to be clean as we see in Acts, though Jesus had earlier at least planted the seeds of this teaching to the disciples (Mark 7:19). The Spirit moved Peter to eat with Gentiles there and in the proclamation of Jesus to see them by the Spirit become part of the people of God.
Certainly the Spirit will never violate the truth of Scripture nor will the Spirit cause us to violate our conscience. But he will challenge us to a stronger faith that accepts and receives God’s truth in the inscripturated revelation. And I think God has made finding truth challenging enough for us- as our dialogue indicates, that we have to keep leaning on him, who alone knows and reveals knowledge of truth to us. And also helping us with the simple realization that we can intellectually know what Scripture says, yet not really “get it” as to God’s will in our lives (like “the Jesus Creed”). Knowing in Scripture certainly is not just a mind matter. It is at the heart relational to God and then to others.
Yes, thanks Chris for the good discussion.



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Shawn

posted November 19, 2005 at 1:25 am


Doug,
I dont think I have been “indoctrinated”. I dont even live in North America for a start. My position in favour of Just War is based on careful and prayerful study of the Bible and the witness of the Church down the ages.
I also have concerns with statements like “there is really no discussion to be had”. I’m old fashioned and tend to get uppity when what I think what is a reasonable and biblical stance is dismissed in that fashion.
You say that violence and fear are not part of God. I agree, which is why I question why my family should have to live in fear for their lives in a society with no police and no army, which is the end result of a strictly pacifist stance taken to its logical conclusion. The result would be anarchy, fear and violence on an epic scale. The only other possibility is to say that Christians cannot be part of the state at all. But this is logically contradictory, not to mention in my opinion immoral. The Gospel is for all people. If we claim that Christians cannot be soldiers or police then we are saying the Gospel is not for those people, because it is unarguable in my opinion that at the very least a police force prepared to use deadly force is necessary for the safety of society and people, especially children, the poor and the defenseless. To leave those people to the predations of evil men has nothing to do with God or morality.
It is immoral because to live in a society and recieve the benifits of safety and freedom paid for by the efforts and blood of others but refuse to not only contribute but to claim moral superiority to them is, again in my opinion, arrogant and selfish.
I dont think this issue is simple or black and white. And I do have respect for those that truly believe in some form of pacifism. But the issue is certainly not anywhere near being closed to further discussion.



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Shawn

posted November 19, 2005 at 1:47 am


I’m one of those Evangelicals who supported the Iraqi action and still do. But while I’m happy to discuss this issue through email I dont want to skew this thread in that direction.



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Chris Jones

posted November 19, 2005 at 10:39 am


Ted,
Good points. I think of Bonhoeffer wtih respect to the move of the Spirit. He was committed to enemy love but something moved in him to get involved in the plot against Hitler. Some of my Mennonite brothers call that a sinful move, maybe even Bonhoeffer himself would agree, but I am not so sure. We have to make room for that move of the Spirit.
Shawn,
You are wise to bring up the point of not skewing the discussion. Scot probably does not want the blog to move in that direction. Therefore, I have set up the following:
http://thoughtsonwar.blogspot.com
I have made one post. Maybe we could dialouge that way.
Shalom



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tatiana

posted November 21, 2005 at 9:12 am


“One other thing I’d like to add: We can have convictions about a matter yet allow for a certain degree of ambiguity in our convictions, faith and action.”
This is a nice idea… and ambiguity is fine if we were not discussing the TAKING OF LIVES. Violence is not an abstract theological issue – it is real life and real death. We cannot simply toss off the typical, “well… everyone is going to believe different things.” I fear that the Church cannot be the Church until we bind together and one and resist the violence that the rest of the world settles for.
I just spent a pretty overwhelming weekend at Fort Benning in Georgia… with 20,000 others. It was a vision. We danced and celebrated and cried out for a new way free of killing and destruction in the name of “security.” Oh, if only the body of Christ might reflect this sort of hope!



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ted gossard

posted November 22, 2005 at 8:18 am


Thanks Tatiana. I appreciate (from my perspective) what you are saying.



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