3. Assumptions

Assume1Many people struggle with the whole concept of pacifism because of some incorrect assumptions.

Assumption #1 – If it says it in the Bible, it must be okay.
As mentioned before, the Old Testament (or Torah) was written before the time of Jesus, and documents the story of God’s relationship with the Hebrews. He established a law-based covenant with them that focused on rules, rituals, regulations and routines as the way to get right with God (much like a parent would set firm rules and boundaries for a young child). There are many references to violence and war in the Old Testament but it’s important to note that this is “God’s story” and it tells us how he interacted with ancient people. Unfortunately it’s often the story of what doesn’t work. God gave them rules to live by and they continually looked for the loopholes. He met the Hebrews where they were at and for a season related to them in ways that they could understand, such as partnering with them in war. He developed their faith as a people so that they could eventually bless the entire world, but Jesus tells us that the bar has been raised and that we need to go way past the rules contained in Hebraic law. War in the Old Testament is “Holy War” – ordained by God, the creator of all life and the only one who has the right to take life away. If he wants to use war for a purpose he can do that but we can’t. He’s God and we’re not. He tries to make it simple for us by giving us the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, and it wasn’t just one of hundreds of commandments – it was important enough to God that he included it in the “top ten”.

The story of the life and teachings of Jesus is the main focus of the New Testament. Jesus says that he’s come to fulfill the law (the old covenant) and to establish a new covenant which is more relational and principle-based. To quote Hebrews 8: 13 – By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. Jesus often says – “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” when he’s about to teach something that’s different from what’s taught in the Old Testament.

Many Christians attempt to live with one foot in the old and one foot in the new but it’s made incredibly clear that although there’s much to learn from the history of the Old Testament it’s made obsolete by the new covenant, and we need to let it go. Flipping back into the Old Testament to find a verse that will support our agenda ignores what the Bible itself tells us to do and often sends us in a direction that totally opposes the teachings of Jesus. It should be painfully obvious when looking at Old Testament Scripture is that no-one in the history of the world has ever understood the Old Testament better than Jesus, and He still taught the way of peace. It’s incredibly arrogant of us to think that Jesus didn’t really know what he was talking about, and that somehow we know better. My pastor suggests reading anything in the Bible through a “Jesus filter” because by looking at Jesus’ life and teachings we can see the heart of God.

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Assumption #2 – We’re entitled to stuff.
Some Christians believe that people in the western world are entitled to certain things, such as a car, house, job, vacations, money… and to rule the world! The most extreme examples of this can be found in a particular school of thought called Prosperity Theology. Jesus makes it very clear that following him is what we’re called to do, and everything else (even our own family) must be infinitely second. The amazing thing is that once you do that, Jesus will make you a better spouse, parent, child, brother or sister. Since many Christians feel that the use of violence is the most effective way to protect their stuff, that becomes their default setting when dealing with anyone who poses a threat to our way of life. As Jesus prays in The Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread…” meaning our basic needs, not our luxurious wants.

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Assumption #3 – We must avoid inconvenience and suffering.
We often don’t want to be inconvenienced or suffer because that would make life less comfortable for us. I’m sorry to be a party pooper but this is another case of Jesus teaching the exact opposite. Living other-centered lives and loving self-sacrificially are qualities that Jesus wants to develop in us. So in Mark 8: 34-35 when Jesus says to the crowd and his disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”, he really does mean be willing to die if necessary. He doesn’t pretend that it will be easy but that’s what we’re signing up for when we become Christians.

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Assumption #4 – There are only two options.
(1) Do something violent and win
(2) Do nothing and lose

Christian pacifism is the third option. It means actively looking for ways to resolve confrontational situations peacefully. Oversimplification is really common when people are advocating the use of violence. They often grasp at straws by creating the most extreme scenario they can think of to convince themselves that violence is the only way, and refuse to slow down enough to even consider negotiation as a possibility.

It goes something like this: Someone with a gun breaks into your house and threatens your family. Do you do nothing and let your family die, or grab their gun and shoot the intruder? The first incorrect assumption here is that the person with the gun will actually use it. In most real-life situations they’re bluffing and they just want to intimidate you. Another incorrect assumption is that when you try to grab the gun you will be successful, but what if you blow it? It might actually result in your family getting killed, and doing nothing might have been what would have saved them.

Here’s another common one: What if we’re being invaded by another country? Isn’t going to war justifiable to defend our way of life? Not according to Jesus. He lived in a country that was being occupied by the Romans, who by all accounts were as barbaric as the Nazis, but he never advocated overthrowing their oppressors. Being a Christian means no matter what’s happening in your nation, you act the way Jesus wants you to act. End of story. You can speak against evil, you can hide people who need protection, and you can die self-sacrificially to defend the weak, but you can’t use violence for any reason.

Note: We often think of the Nazis in World War II as a bunch of heathens and the allied troops as good Christians but there was no more “Christian” country in the world than Germany. Hitler’s army was predominantly made up of church-attending, bible-reading, God-praying, Jesus-loving Catholics and Lutherans who subscribed to Just War Theory. If they’d actually followed the teachings of Jesus, Hitler never would have gotten off the ground!

In our modern world, the most effective way to avoid international unrest is to invest in countries that are likely to turn against us – just a basic Jesus teaching about being proactive to avoid conflict. The problem with this approach for westerners is that we like to have lots of stuff, and we don’t want to be inconvenienced or suffer (see #2 and #3). At the very least, all other measures need to be exhausted before turning to war, and if it does eventually come to that, please don’t pretend that Jesus supports it.

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Assumption #5 – We need the police and the military
I know it sounds scary, but as Christians we don’t actually need the police or the military. You and I may not be brave enough to self-sacrificially protect the helpless, or have enough faith to be able to accept that bad things may happen, but that’s what Jesus ultimately expects from us. This assumption is also a bit silly because it puts the cart before the horse. Eliminating or reducing police or military presence would be the final piece in the puzzle, not the first one, and in reality it may never happen. What’s important to understand is that Jesus calls us to personally change how we live today, not worry about how it will all play out in the future.

There are also some flaws in logic that accompany this assumption:

(a) If we arrive at a point when all Christians are pacifists, actually living out the teachings of Jesus, the world will be exactly as it is now. The truth is that the world would be incredibly different from what it is today. There would be far more charity, relationship building, and love in every aspect of our lives, and that will actually have an affect on how the “bad guys” behave.

(b) The police and military must rely on the use of violence. Our culture tells us that there are times when violent action is required by both groups. The problem is that using violence is often the first course of action rather than the last. I also have to admit that it seems a bit strange to me that although we’re so incredibly technologically advanced, we still rely on archaic things like explosions and penetrating people’s bodies with little pieces of metal (or bullets) to incapacitate them. On Star Trek they just turn their phasers to “stun”. Well, maybe not….but a better way must eventually be possible.

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To learn more, click on “The Bible” at the top of the page.


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