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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Clueless Christian Peaceniks

Mar 3, 2017

While pacifism has been a minority position within some Christian circles, the overwhelming majority of believers throughout history have recognised that there is a place for the moral and legitimate use of force. Scripture and church history both attest to this.

But yesterday some misguided and rather foolish Christians decided to go on a law-breaking mission to make a point. It seems a small handful of reckless Catholic peaceniks have vandalised a war memorial to state their case. As one news item reports:

toowongCharges have been laid against religious fanatics who confessed to vandalising an Australian war memorial at Toowong, over what they said were its “blasphemous” overtones. The attack on the Cross of Sacrifice, which has stood since 1924, has outraged Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk and led to the Catholic Worker movement member Jim Dowling being charged by police on Thursday afternoon.
The RSL, meanwhile, described the perpetrators as the “lowest of the low”. Mr Dowling’s wife, Anne Rampa, defended the actions of her husband, who removed the sword, and 22-year-old Greenslopes man Tim Webb, who placed the sword in an anvil to reshape it into a garden hoe.
When asked what the difference between their actions and the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed, and Islamic State’s more recent destruction of “blasphemous” artefacts in Palmyra, Syria, Ms Rampa said: “We’re Christian.”

Men gave their lives so that Australians might be free, but these clueless Christians were happy to slap in the face all the fallen young men to make their misguided and biblically untenable statement. Their pacifism was not only insulting to all the boys who shed blood to keep us free, but their defence was reckless and unhelpful in the extreme.

Consider the silly reasoning given by Ms Rampa:

“We’re trying to bring our own religion back to its proper and rightful position in terms of the violence of war.”
“We are very shocked by the presence of the sword on the cross, which is completely antithetical to what Jesus said,”
“It’s really blasphemous to put it there, even though it’s been there a long time. The guy who designed it was apparently trying not to glorify war, but he obviously hadn’t read the gospels and didn’t understand that putting a sword in the place of Jesus was an insult to Jesus.”

The remarks of Mr Dowling were equally foolish and misleading:

“Jesus’s last words to his disciples before he was taken away were ‘put away your sword’. For the first three centuries, his followers largely obeyed these words and refused to kill their enemies. With the conversion of Emperor Constantine all this changed, and ever since Christians have blessed countless wars, and even lead their own.”
“We come here today to repent all wars blessed by the Christian churches. We come to remove the sword from the cross on which our saviour was crucified. We come to beat it into a ‘ploughshare’, in this case a garden hoe. The ploughshare is a symbol of life. The sword is a symbol of death. We choose life.”

Good grief, there is so much fuzzy thinking and so much biblical illiteracy going on here – where do I begin? As to pacifism in the early church, I have penned a full-length piece on this, so I suggest you have a read of it to get the whole story: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/03/23/were-the-early-christians-pacifists/

As to beating swords into plowshares, passages such as Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3 come from Old Testament texts which speak about the last days and the return of God. Such millennial passages of course are not meant to be instructions as to how we should live in a fallen world. Total peace will only come to earth when the Prince of Peace arrives at the end of time.

In the meantime we need the just use of force in the sinful world we find ourselves in. In places like Romans 13:1-7 we read about God ordaining the state and the right to use force (the sword) to fight evil and maintain justice. That is how God works until he comes again.

And we also have texts in the OT that say the opposite about plowshares, such as Joel 3:10 which says, “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.” The context there is God’s judgment on the nations, but isn’t it interesting that a verse like this will never be quoted by the pacifists?

What about the claims that the sword was antithetical to Jesus, and the last words of Jesus to his disciples was about putting away the sword? When Jesus was being led away to the crucifixion, he of course was on a mission, and the idea that his disciples could fight to prevent this from happening was just not to be countenanced.

Jesus was born to die, and no misguided attempts to prevent this happening could be allowed. It was the very same when Jesus sharply rebuked Peter and called him Satan, after Peter said Jesus should not drink the cup of his suffering and death on the cross (Matthew 16:21-23).

Moreover, Jesus actually said other things about swords which the pacifists never seem to mention. For example in Matthew 10:34 he said: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”. And in Luke 22:36 Jesus said to his disciples: “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.”

So the use of the sword is NOT “completely antithetical” to what Jesus said and did. It might seem that way to ideological pacifists, but not for the biblical Christian who takes the whole of Scripture seriously.

And the last words of Jesus to the disciples are not found in the gospels anyway. They are recorded in the book of Revelation. There we read about Jesus with – wait for it – a sword. In the first image of Jesus that we find in the book, we read this about him: “In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Rev. 1:16).

Also, in Rev. 19:11-16 we read this incredible passage:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

And in verses 19-21 we find this:

Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed the signs on its behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped its image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword coming out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh.

Wow, what do we discover here about Jesus? We read about Jesus in relation to things like judgment, warfare, blood, armies, and a sword. This is the picture of Jesus that the pacifists have conveniently ignored or forgotten about. And in the same chapter we read about all the heavenly hallelujah chorus going off as Jesus is praised and worshiped.

And what is the reason for this majestic praise session? The just judgment carried out by none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus is a warrior who executes judgment on the enemies of God. It is the same picture of God we find in the Old Testament. Nothing has changed, and the character of God remains the same throughout.

While these peaceniks are entitled to believe as they will, they need to be reminded that it is only the shed blood of others that allows them the freedom to protest as they will, and even break the law without fear of vigilante justice. As has been said, “Pacifism is made possible by the sacrifices of those who are not pacifists.”

George Orwell put it this way: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” Sometimes a just war is required to prevent evil, tyranny, injustice, and the oppression of the innocent. Stopping Hitler and the Nazis was a pretty good example of a just war.

As G.K. Chesterton put it: “While a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace.” And the willingness to go to war is not about glorifying warfare or hating others: it is about loving those who we care about enough to protect them from evil, even at great cost.

As Faramir put it in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers: “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”

Or as Frank Turek once put it:

One thing is for certain: Christians contradict scripture and common sense when they say no war or use of force can ever be justified. As terrible as it is, war is sometimes the least bad choice available. In other words, it’s not that Christians are for war; it’s that we’re against the alternative—the oppression and death of the innocent. And in a fallen world like this, sometimes the use of force is necessary to protect the innocent. Without it, we wouldn’t even be able to love our friends.

What these Catholic peaceniks did may have sprang from their conscientious convictions, but I would argue that theirs is a misguided conscience. Not only did they pick the wrong target – how dare they trash a war memorial of all things! – but their biblical and historical understanding is skewed to say the least.

www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/religious-fanatics-vandalise-toowong-war-memorial-20170302-guosnc.html
www.townhall.com/columnists/FrankTurek/2008/08/03/jesus_and_the_case_for_war?page=full&comments=true

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17 Responses to Clueless Christian Peaceniks

  • Good morning Bill,
    Thanks for another excellent article on the question of Christian pacifism. You’ve helped me to better understand this issue much better through your profound understanding of the Bible and Christ’s teachings.
    I have argued with friends that at this critical time the world needs a confident and ‘muscular Christianity’, just as it did at The Siege of Vienna in 1683. Your article has articulated this far better than my poor attempts.
    God bless..

  • And, of course, the really stupid thing about it is: if they really thought they had a right to vandalise other people’s property because it appeared blasphemous, there are plenty of other things they could have attacked.

  • Beautiful article Bill,

    I apologise for the shameless promotion, but I literally published an article about violence and the Christian myself just last night. This incredulous behaviour emphasises a point I touched on. Pacifism is somewhat self defeating (at least in a fallen world). This was an act of aggression on part of these ‘pacifists’, albeit passive aggression.

    As you clearly explain here, we are Christians in a fallen world, and so we must do what is occasionally necessary, and so must the Government that protects us, in this in reprimanding an act of lawlessness.

    So much the worse that they would be so disrespectful of our fallen soldiers. A real shame.

  • Thank you
    Swords for justice is vital with regards to Police and Army(ADF).
    Applies also to the sword of the spirit – the spoken word.
    The spoken word for justice is the enemy of PC language.

    “Defend or be devoured!” That’s physically and spiritually.

    Thanks for explaining this -it’s just made my morning.

  • Bill, you are too charitable to these people. They are consumed with pride and arrogance. Not only are they ignorant of the Bible but also culpably ignorant of their own church’s theology and teachings on the just war.

  • Yes John quite so. I tried to lay out what Catholic social teaching has to say about the taking of life here:

    billmuehlenberg.com/2011/05/05/killing-and-catholic-social-teaching/

    As I said in that article:

    Thus it is quite clear that the three biblical allowances for just killing (self-defence, just war, and the death penalty) are all affirmed in official Catholic teaching, and have been so from the earliest days. Catholics are not absolutists here about killing, saying it is always wrong, and they are not ideological pacifists. Individual Catholics may well be, but long-standing Catholic teaching is not.

  • Thank you for this article, Bill. I was horrified to read about this. Not only was this act of vandalism dishonouring to those who fought for freedom, but what damage has been done to the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ?

  • Hi Bill
    Excellent article, it does not make sense to be a christian pacifist..as you and the comments/ contributors noted. The article does suggest how aimless and misguided some ‘christian’ wannabe activists are, considering everything else that is going on…I don’t know them but I hope they have insight to know how silly they appear.
    Prayers for you and your work
    Pita

  • The bible says clearly respect the law and the lawmakers. This act of violence is embarrassing for normal Christians and put us on the same low level as extreme Muslims.
    It puts ammunition in the hands of people who don’t like Christians. Christians should be peaceful, respectful and not extreme in any way!
    So a bad action for normal Christians like myself and an embarrassing day for God!

  • As a Quaker pacifist, I’d like to make a couple of points. Jesus didn’t write Revelations. His own teachings and actions are pacifist, perhaps in part from a pragmatic recognition that he lived under a Roman state that was not shy of using penalties like crucifixion. But it’s hard not to hear pacifism in the teaching that if a person slaps your right cheek, you should offer your left.

    I agree that these people were misguided in thinking that a sword on a cross is an insult to Jesus. The insult is in using the cross as a symbol of Jesus’ teachings. The imposition of Mithras worship on Christianity as part of Constantine’s makeover to use it as the state religion of the Roman Empire created a lot of confusion, and this focus on Jesus’ death rather than his life is one result.

    But while you’re thinking of the brave young men who died for our freedoms in war, try to spare a thought for the brave women and men who tried not to die, but keep things going and build something worth living for despite the damage and destruction of war – before, during and after. And perhaps for the thousands who just died from being where the bomb hit, without any involvement in the issue one way or another. A garden hoe looks pretty harmless compared to that.

  • Thanks Susan, but I am afraid your comment simply demonstrates the moral, intellectual and biblical poverty of the ideological pacifism position. It seems you did not even bother to read my article, since I deal with most of your concerns there. In general, your first big problem is this: whenever a believer seeks to absolutise something that Scripture does not – in this case absolutising pacifism – they become guilty of idolatry. They are also guilty of in fact adding to the Word of God – something we are warned against doing.

    As to your particular points:

    -What does the authorship of the book of Revelation have to do with anything? First of all, all true Christians believe that all 66 books of the Bible are the very words of God. Thus God wrote Revelation as much as he wrote Matthew. Second, we are clearly told in the very first verse that this is the revelation of Jesus Christ, and the very words of Christ are cited throughout the book. So do you believe the words of Christ in that final book of the Bible, or only those words that seem to line up with your ideological agenda?

    -And as I made clear in my article, you are quite wrong to claim that “His own teachings and actions are pacifist” He did not resist the Roman authorities because he was born to die – that was his mission. So of course he did not resist his arrest, interrogation, etc. But he was no pacifist, as not only Revelation makes 100% clear, but as his deliberate creation and use of a weapon of force in the temple cleansing does as well. That is hardly pacifism! And of course Jesus is God, so he is one and the same with Yahweh in the Old Testament who is no pacifist. Hundreds of texts can be appealed to here. Start with this one: “The LORD is a man of war” (Exodus 3:15).

    -I have already dealt in detail with the “turning the other cheek” passage. It had to do with individual, personal responses to belligerency, not God-ordained government action to resist evil and punish evil-doers. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/20/difficult-bible-passages-matthew-539/

    -And you simply rehash the foolish atheist arguments about the origins of Christianity, Mithrasism, and the like. I expect better of Christians.

    -I already dealt with your final point. Those who want to “keep things going and build something worth living” can only do so of course in a free society. And that freedom can only be maintained when brave men and women are willing to sacrifice their very lives so that other people can carry on with life. The very ones who make peaceful living possible are the ones you unbiblically condemn.

    But thanks for your thoughts.

  • Dear Bill,

    Thank you for this thought provoking article. I hope the silly Catholics who vandalised the war memorial get to read it. It might knock some commonsense into them. I wonder what they have to say about the war on terror? I suppose they think that the jihadists shouldn’t be stopped either. That the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ should be allowed to continue.

  • Very well written Bill,

    Thank you for being a voice of reason that stands in contrast to some of the completely nutty ideas floating around out there.

  • They’re nutjobs Bill…I can’t put it any other way.

  • Yes not a bad description Nuhu!

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