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Pacifism in the early Church

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Pacifism:

The principal support for the view that the Bible advocates pacifism comes from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:39-44, He states:

But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

In addition, in Luke 6:27-35, from Christ’s sermon on the plain:

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. And just as you want men to treat you, treat them in the same way. And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.

John 6:15:

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Mathew 26:50-52:

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

John 18:36:

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”

Romans 12:19-21:

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

2 Corinthians 10:2-4:

I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.

Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

James 4:1-4:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

The Early Church:

Several Church Fathers interpreted Jesus’ teachings as advocating nonviolence.For example:

I do not wish to be a king; I am not anxious to be rich; I decline military command… Die to the world, repudiating the madness that is in it.

—Tatian’s Address to the Greeks 11

Whatever Christians would not wish others to do to them, they do not to others. And they comfort their oppressors and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies…. Through love towards their oppressors, they persuade them to become Christians.

—The Apology of Aristides 15

A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God.

—Hippolytus of Rome

For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.

—Arnobius, Adversus Gentes I:VI

Consider the roads blocked up by robbers, the seas beset with pirates, wars scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale.

—Cyprian of Carthage

Those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and generosity and were struck with amazement. They felt the force of this example of pity. As a result, many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and threw off the belt of military service.

—Disputation of Archelaus and Manes

Conversion of the Roman Empire:

See also: Constantine I and Christianity

After the Roman Emperor Constantine converted in A.D. 312 and began to conquer “in Christ’s name,” Christianity became entangled with the state, and warfare and violence were increasingly justified by influential Christians. Some scholars believe that “the accession of Constantine terminated the pacifist period in church history.” Nevertheless, the tradition of Christian pacifism was carried on by a few dedicated Christians throughout the ages, such as Martin of Tours. Martin, who was serving as a soldier, declared in 336 “I am a soldier of Christ. I cannot fight.” He was jailed for this action, but later released.

Peace churches:

Among all Christian denominations, there have always been groups of members who advocate nonviolence, but certain churches have consistently supported it since their foundation. Besides the three historic peace churches, they include the Amish, Hutterites, Old German Baptist Brethren,Old Order River Brethren, the Brethren in Christ and others in the Anabaptist tradition; Doukhobors, Dunkard Brethren, Molokans, Bruderhof Communities, Schwenkfelders,Moravians,the Shakers and even some groups within the Pentecostal movement. The largest Pentecostal church, the Assemblies of God, abandoned pacifism around the time of the Second World War.

Sourced from Wikipedia

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9 Comments

  1. Deborah Kean says:

    That’s a brilliant post, thank you!

  2. Michael Snow says:

    As you quoted in Rom. 12, Paul reflects Jesus’ teaching. Looking at the historical setting, and then reading Romans 12 and 13 together can be an eye-opener:
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/romans-13-in-context/

  3. drewmeaks1 says:

    Thank for that Michael!

  4. Sue Short says:

    As a member of Mennonite Church USA, i was drawn to this post as a new reader to this blog. Thanks for your scholarship. I have observed that modern Christians are not aware that many in the early church were pacifist, and that these early followers considered walking with Jesus to mean that they were to literally live out His teachings, such as to love enemies. Pretty hard to show love to someone if you are trying to kill them!

  5. […] in church history for quite a long time: believer’s baptism, personal Pentecostal experience, pacifism, etc. But all these things existed to some extent in the early church. Zionism didn’t. Even […]

  6. […] the church fathers and other early Christian documents to see what they thought about killing. And as we previously have written on this blog, he found that they were pacifists. They were against all forms of killing; war, abortion and […]

  7. […] we look at the early Christians, we see that they were pacifists, communists and charismatics. These three ingredients are resurrected over and over again in church […]

  8. […] we look at the early Christians, we see that they were pacifists, communists and charismatics. These three ingredients are resurrected over and over again in […]

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

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