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:
Charges 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: https://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.