Wow — I really need a break from Feast preparations, so I thought I would write a bit here about something I have been musing about for some time. It hit me again yesterday morning as I was doing my walk and reading Bernard Lewis’ excellent book The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. (I have read it “piecemeal” before, and now am taking advantage of my exercise time to read it in a normal, human fashion. Yes, I do bump into parked cars while I am walking. No, I have not been run over, yet.)
My musings have been about the word “pacifist.” On one hand, I do not believe that, as a follower of Jesus Christ, I should fight in this world’s wars, whether those of my own nation or not. When Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36), I believe that there is a principle expressed in those words that impacts the question of serving in any war — not just a fight against Rome. Jesus didn’t say that His servants would not fight because it was His role to die or because God had delivered Him into the hands of Pilate. Rather, he rooted His statement into the fact that His kingdom is not of this world. His kingdom is still not of this world, and I believe that just as His followers would have been wrong then to fight and attempt to install Him as a leader in this world using the means of carnal warfare, His followers would be just as wrong to do so now.
I don’t want to take the time to completely explain that stance here — one, I don’t have the time to take, and two, it’s not the main principle I am trying to discuss in this post. But to give the essence of it as best I can off the cuff, I believe I have been called out of this world, spiritually, and am not to participate in its carnal governments and wars (2 Cor. 6:17, context 14-18; cf. Rev. 18:4), just as an ambassador for another nation does not so do in the nation where he resides (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20). I believe that Jesus meant His teachings recorded in Luke 6:27-29 to be as radical as they sounded. The kingdom of my King is not of this world, and I will not fight. For the same (and additional) reasons, I do not vote or participate in juries or in politics.
This has been a documented belief of the Church of God in America since at least the American Revolution, and earlier outside of America. Again, I would love to go into this belief in more detail, but such a discussion is beyond the intended scope of this post.
But does this mean I am a “pacifist”? I’m willing to wear a label that fits, even if it is one that society scorns, but when I look up the definitions of “pacifist” there is generally some part that, invariably, does not apply to my convictions and beliefs.
For instance, take the definition of “pacifist” (from Dictionary.com, as are any others that will follow) that says a pacifist is “opposed to war or violence of any kind.” Well, I can’t state that without qualification. Things will get pretty violent at Christ’s return, and God has the right to wage war to accomplish His purposes — “in righteousness He judges and makes war” (Rev. 19:11). So I can’t say that I am completely opposed to “war … of any kind.”
Then there’s the definition of “pacifist” that says a pacifist (one believing in pacifism) believes that “disputes between nations should and can be settled peacefully.” This might apply, except for the words, “and can” — which is a matter of degrees, perhaps. Do I believe that such disputes can be settled peacefully? Yes — provided all parties agree to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. A time of such perfect peace between all nations is coming, and I will be celebrating that time with God’s people during the coming days of the Feast of Tabernacles. May God speed that day! But in this world, before Christ’s return? How realistic must the “can” be to qualify? Is it sufficient if it dwells only in the realm of the theoretic?
I still believe what I said in a post about an insightful Dennis Miller “quip” back on April 11: “A nation that will not come under the shed blood of Jesus Christ will continue to experience the shed blood of its sons and daughters.”
God can provide the kind of peace and security that America desires, and He does not need our tanks, missiles, and blood to do so (e.g., 2 Kings 19), but He does desire our repentance. This is part of the message I believe that I have been called to help proclaim to modern Israel (the US & the British-descended nations) and the world. And, actually, I believe that ultimately this is the only solution that will work.
But until such a turning to God happens, then the other choices are complex. None of them will work in the long run, I believe, and it is really a matter of delaying the inevitable. There is the path we — with horribly faulty step, perhaps — are currently taking: violence and war with overwhelming might against those who would do harm to us. Then there is the way of Neville Chamberlain: talk and appeasement. (Some will complain that this is an oversimplification and that these are extremes on a spectrum; some would say that the belief that it is more complex is one of the sources of our current difficulties. I will leave that consideration to you and continue without comment.)
Stuck with these two ultimately ungodly choices, I believe that the former gives us more time to survive as a nation and an increased opportunity to hear the truth and repent than the latter in these times and against these enemies. Is this in line with the beliefs of a pacifist?
Is it the thought of a pacifist to think that Sean Penn’s answer to the question of whether or not he wished America would win the war — “I think we’re past that point in human evolution where there’s such a thing as winning wars” (AP, 8/6/2007) — is very possibly completely asinine? A “fluff in deep’s clothing,” if you will? More slogan than solution? What aspect of America’s goals in Iraq and the Middle East does Mr. Penn so oppose that he does not wish America would win?
Perhaps I should give him more credit — as well as the benefit of a doubt — and consider the possibility that he does wish America would win, but that the opportunity the question presented was, he felt, better consumed advertising his philosophy. But if I really am a pacifist (the question under consideration), do I have to agree with Mr. Penn’s broader philosophy — which, I suspect is entirely Godless and would probably (in my opinion) doom the nation all the quicker?
Pacifism unaccompanied by utter subjection to God seems even more delusional than the other carnal alternative. The use of the sword may ultimately be a self-defeating approach, but I do recognize that God allows its existence at this time in the hands of the unconverted to maintain peace and to temporarily restrain evil (Rom. 13:4) — a peace and a restraint that has allowed God’s work to flourish in the modern age, as it did under the enforced peace of Rome. For this reason, I pray that the sword in the hands of our unconverted rulers is used with wisdom: sparingly where possible and with ferocity where necessary — delaying the inevitable, perhaps, but a delay is better than an open invitation. Does such a belief disqualify me for the label of pacifist?
I believe that God Almighty forbids me to participate in this world’s wars and requires me to be His ambassador representing His coming kingdom. For this reason and others, I am and must be a conscientious objector when faced with the possibility of fighting in war, as must all who place their lives wholly and completely into subjection to the Living Christ, whose subjects do not fight. I may be called to sacrifice my life — as may any true Christian — but it will be for different goals. Until the arrival of that kingdom, I pray that He may grant that I live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18), that His gospel of the Kingdom of God go out into all nations (Matt. 24:14), and that this nation have ample time to come to its senses, through whatever means He sees fit to allow.
This hasn’t been my best or clearest writing, to be sure, owing to haste and the pressing weight of other needs, but I will stop here. The question remains: do those who believe as I do rightly bear the label “pacifist”? Even if it is technically broad enough in definition, is it too narrow in perceived meaning — which is often the real judge of a word’s use? I will bear that label if it is the one that fits, though I certainly do not agree with many of the fellows who wear it so smugly. But if it does not fit, then what label does?
[Because we are gearing up for the fast approaching Feast of Tabernacles (not to mention the Day of Atonement, tonight), the moderation of comments may be a bit slower than usual (as if “the usual” is fast!) — my apologies in advance!]
[EDIT, 9/22/2007, 10:00PM-ish: I noticed tonight that I misspelled Mr. Bernard Lewis’ name and decided to go in and change it, as well as add the full title of his book and make it a link to the Amazon.com page for that book. It really is an excellent primer on the Middle East and adds a lot of depth and understanding to the thin, “headline oriented” picture we are often presented. Also, I noticed that for some reason my post was not published online until 8:00PM Friday, which makes it look like I wrote it after the beginning of the Day of Atonement, which I did not (it was begun Thursday and finished early Friday). I must have done something dumb in Windows Live Writer (the post was written off-line) to cause it to publish at a later time. So I am going to try to reset the timestamp to about 9:00 the preceding Friday. If I mess up and end up moving it to someplace closer to the Mesozoic Era, my apologies… (And thanks for the comments, so far! Again, with the Holy Days and preparing for the Feast, I am a bit slow on the moderation side of things, but I will try and keep up as best I can!) I hope everyone’s Atonement was a good one!]