[This post was published by the Mennonite World Review on “The World Together Blog.”]
Recent events have reminded me that being a peacemaker involves more than just being “the quiet in the land.” It also involves speaking up.
In summary, here is the three-part story I’m telling in this post:
(1) Conservative Reformed Christians in American are currently having a debate about Christians and the use of deadly force. Some of us Anabaptists spoke up and got a bit of public notice, and now I am praying that this will help more of our Reformed brothers and sisters embrace the way of suffering love more fully.
(2) What is the proper way for “the quiet in the land” to speak up?
(3) How can we do a better job of maintaining our nonresistant heritage right in our own Anabaptist churches?
Perhaps you’ve heard about it: Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. (reportedly the largest Evangelical Christian university in the world), has been in the news for his statement to students at a school convocation. With a chuckle and an insinuation that he was carrying a gun in his back pocket at that very moment, Falwell said the following to much applause:
I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in…
Facing media backlash, Falwell later clarified his comments. But the substance of his position remained the same, and he provided a very questionable interpretation for the only biblical reference he provided in his explanation:
It just boggles my mind that anybody would be against what Jesus told His disciples in Luke 22:36: He told them if they had to sell their coat to buy a sword to do it because He knew danger was coming, and He wanted them to defend themselves.
John Piper, author, chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, and former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, Mn., was troubled by Falwell’s words, so he dialogued with Falwell in private and then wrote an article in response:
This article is about the people whom the Bible calls “refugees and exiles” on earth; namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our weapons are not material, but spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.
To be clear, Piper was not arguing for a nonresistant or even pacifist position. He still thinks soldiers and police officers may use guns, and that Christians may serve in those positions. He just doesn’t think Christians who are private citizens should be encouraged to pack guns for self-defense, and he advocates a very different tone than what Falwell used in his initial comments.
Amazingly, among his Reformed peers and many other evangelicals, Piper’s response has apparently been as controversial as Falwell’s original statements. Just now I did a Google search for “Piper” and “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves” (the title of Piper’s article). The first link listed is Piper’s original article. Here’s what I found in the rest of the top ten (Google order in brackets):
- 5 blog posts disagreeing with Piper. (2, 3, 4, 8, 10)
- 3 discussion forums debating Falwell, Piper, and guns. (5, 6, 7)
- 1 blog news post summarizing Piper’s article then tentatively affirming some rebuttals from other bloggers. (9)
Those 5 bloggers who disagree with Piper use language like this (again in Google order):
- “I honestly don’t know much about the ministry or beliefs of John Piper… But going on this particular article he has written, he comes across as an anti-gun liberal to me… Lol, every liberal is a pacifist until the day their loved ones are threatened, then they want blood. John Piper is no different. If the evil he so carelessly tells us to “not worry about” and just “trust God” with ever came to land at his doorstep you can best believe his tune would change. Quickly.”
- “Piper’s position as outlined is about as close as one can come to individual pacifism without saying so. His response unfortunately ignores much of the context of the New Testament passages it cites, and ignores the Old Testament entirely. As such, I not only view it as unbiblical and disagree with it strongly, I think it would be dangerous and unloving for Christians to accept in society.”
- “Piper seems to lack virtually any and all discernment.”
- “I think that Piper has missed the mark on this one, and I encourage wise men to carry a weapon and to do so carefully, Christologically, and only use it when needed…”
- “I realize John Piper’s problem with Jerry Falwell is that Falwell was encouraging other Christians to arm themselves as American citizens. However, Piper does precisely what Falwell did; he’s encouraging Christians in America not to arm themselves. I’m doing what neither man has done. I’m telling you to follow the Spirit and do as He leads.”
The three discussion forums contain a wild mix of perspectives and generally a lot of confusion.
The one blog news post is much calmer, and it is the cause for my post here today. This post was written by the widely-followed Reformed blogger Tim Challies.
I subscribe to Challies’ emails and find the majority of them very edifying, both informative and convicting. However, when this one landed in my inbox, I was troubled. But I also saw an opportunity as I read these words near the end of Challies’ post:
I have put little thought into the ownership and use of guns and found this discussion quite helpful in forming my thoughts. To tip my cards just a little, I find myself appreciating Piper’s efforts, especially related to demeanor and heart-attitude, but leaning more toward the points made by Wedgeworth and Thune [who both presented rebuttals to Piper].
Here is one of the most influential conservative Reformed voices, I thought, and he is just now forming his understandings regarding Christians and the use of deadly force. Perhaps we can help shape his thinking?
So I posted this on Facebook:
Suggestion: If you are a nonresistant Christian, please write a respectful “letter to the editor” to Tim Challies regarding his coverage of John Piper’s article about Christians and arms. This seems to be an opportune moment to invite our Reformed brothers and sisters to more fully embrace the way of suffering love.
Here is Challies’ coverage: http://www.challies.com/arti…/how-should-christians-use-guns
And here you can write him a letter: http://www.challies.com/letters-to-the-editor
I suggest you include two things in your letter:
(1) A brief response to something in Challies’ post (perhaps challenging one of the rebuttals against Piper’s article) or an affirmation of something you liked in Piper’s article.
(2) A suggestion that Challies read and review Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. (http://amzn.to/1YN9aAP) If he receives a minor flood of letters recommending this book, perhaps we can convince him to read it. Imagine if he would actually start promoting it!
Then I pasted the letter that I had just written to Challies. After reading my post, several of my friends joined me, sending their own letters.
Yesterday morning I discovered that Challies had indeed published the letter that I sent—posted it on his blog and sent it to his thousands of email subscribers. I was delighted! Here is the letter, as Challies published it:
Thank you for giving John Piper’s article on Christians and arms respectful press. I found his words a refreshing breath of Christ-centered love. In response to your summary of responses, I have two thoughts:
(1) While Piper’s article is not perfect, I am disappointed that he has been charged with being “biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old” (Wedgeworth’s words). How can it be wrong to see the new covenant as our lens for interpreting and applying the old, as Piper is trying to do? As an Anabaptist, I come from a long theological heritage of doing just this, and our people have suffered for centuries for refusing to bear the sword. I don’t think it is true that Piper “assumes that we need a direct biblical teaching on a matter in order to know whether it is morally permissible or not” (Wedgeworth’s explanation for his “biblicistic” charge). Rather, Piper is drawing biblical theological deductions from the pattern of God’s unfolding revelation, which climaxes in Christ’s defenseless self-sacrifice and his call for us to follow in his steps. This is no mere simplistic “biblicism.”
(2) Since you have expressed interest in this question of Christians and the use of force, I strongly encourage (exhort, implore, urge, beg!) you to read and review Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. A complex topic like this cannot be properly addressed in a handful of short articles. Sprinkle deals with the biblical evidence from both testaments in detail, historical evidence from the early church, and the toughest practical questions from today. He says he is from your own Christian neighborhood: “The Christian subculture in which I was raised and still worship is nondenominational conservative Reformed. I’ve been influenced over the years by John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and many others who swim in that pond” (from Chapter 1). So you will identify with his way of handling Scripture. And he’s thought about this for a long time, making what he calls a “reluctant journey toward nonviolence.” Piper needs to read this book (I think he’s stranded somewhat inconsistently halfway on the journey). And I think you would find it very helpful as well. Tolle lege!
—Dwight G, Leon, IA
[PS: I did change the Amazon affiliate link from Challies’ to mine. I trust that’s acceptable! 🙂 ]
A letter from one of my friends, Conrad Hertzler, was also published:
I appreciate the overall respectful tone with which you responded to John Piper’s piece “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves”. However, I am disappointed in the narrowness of the arguments used by cited authors in support of Christians using deadly force against attackers. It seems to be basically assumed by people holding your position that the only recourse left to a man whose wife and/or family is being attacked is to stand idly and helplessly by if he does not have a gun handy. As well, the situations which are created by proponents of deadly force are extremely hypothetical and no attempt is made to sort through all the nuances of such hypothetical situations. For a very well stated stance on the non-violent position, I would strongly encourage you to read Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. Mr. Sprinkle has arrived at his position “reluctantly” and as such has though through it well. Blessings.
—Conrad H, Mozambique, Africa
All told, three of the five letters Challies published on this topic were in support of non-violence!
Now, listen closely to Challies’ reply to Conrad:
The narrowness of the articles I quoted was a reflection of the narrowness of the responses. I did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper and extended his argument.
Read that last sentence again:
I did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper and extended his argument.
Challies is a voracious reader, both of books and blogs. (He shares about eight recommended links nearly daily on his own blog.) Yet he did not find any articles from people who agreed with Piper!
Where are the voices in support of Christian non-violence?
To be sure, there are such voices, and they are available online. (See below.) But if Challies was not hearing voices supporting even Piper’s very incomplete embrace of non-violence, you can be sure that there are many other American Christians who have never heard a solid biblical defense of this teaching.
I believe we Anabaptists, given our unique history, are specially equipped and entrusted to carry the message of Christian non-violence, of suffering love. We have a responsibility and opportunity not only to live this message (the “quiet in the land”), but also to share it with fellow Christians.
How do we do this? My online friend Miriam Iwashige, who also wrote a letter to Challies (you can read her reflections here), acknowledged this challenge:
It’s often difficult (perhaps especially for Anabaptists?) to get exactly the right balance of truth-telling and respectful dialog.
Anabaptists have varied in their approach to public debate and influence. Many of the first Anabaptists did not hesitate to speak up:
The first generation of Anabaptists dared to challenge the policies of contemporary rulers. Menno Simons did not hesitate to argue against capital punishment and to call persons in authority to obey the will of God for their office. With his forthright, almost defiant, exhortations to magistrates, Menno stands as a prototype of prophetic witness to the state1
But prolonged persecution in the 1500s and 1600s left the Anabaptists a different people:
After this period of persecution, Mennonites kept to themselves and sought to be the “quiet in the land.” They wanted to practice their religious beliefs and social customs with as little interference as possible, but were not very active in the communities around them.2
This affected the Anabaptist approach to church planting and cultural identity:
Within the mainstream of Swiss, German, and Dutch Anabaptism, the impulse to “go forth … and establish a church” by forming new congregations in every village and town was subverted when intense persecution and other factors transformed large segments of the Anabaptist community into “the quiet in the land.” It was in the lengthening experience as relatively isolated quiet people in the country that a distinct ethnic, subcultural identity became an increasingly pervasive element in their self-consciousness as church.3
It affected evangelism and other forms of social engagement:
The period of Mennonite exclusiveness had arrived. Although severe persecution ceased, irritating discriminations by the authorities continued, and the typical Mennonite became the “Quiet in the Land,” emphasizing the virtues of simplicity, honesty, and adherence to the faith of the fathers, but without imagination or judgment as to opportunities or responsibilities of the higher faith in Christ. The 16th-century Anabaptists had been “in the world but not of the world”; the 18th-century Mennonite was neither “in the world” nor “of the world.” This explained the continuing lack of evangelistic zeal for a long period after persecution and discrimination had passed.4
Anabaptist social influence became mostly limited to prayer—with most of that, perhaps ironically, also silent:
Although Mennonites became known as the “quiet in the land” when they sought ways to avoid the sword of the state, their prayers continued to be an expression of their concern to remain faithful to God as they continued to be accountable to one another in covenant community. In their search for a faithful life-style, Mennonites rejected elaborate liturgy and dogmatic theology in favor of practices that were more simple and quiet. Initially Mennonites (Dutch) prayed silently during worship… In time they prayed silently twice during each service, a practice some maintained until the end of the 18th century. At home also their prayers were in silence before and after meals[ 5. Smucker, Marcus G. “Prayer.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 3 Jan 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Prayer&oldid=102612]
What should we do with this heritage of silence? This is a complex question, and we are not likely to all agree on the answers. For my part, I am not sure I am ready to fully imitate Menno Simons’ aggressive approach, although I have done a few things like signing some government petitions. Nor have I felt called to participate in all modern forms of Mennonite sociopolitical activism.
However, disagreements aside, I think we should be able to all affirm one form of active engagement—urging fellow Christians to follow more closely in Christ’s steps. We can’t expect unregenerate government officials to govern according to all the principles of Christ’s kingdom, but we can expect fellow believers to want to follow Christ more fully.
This is why I wanted to write that letter to Challies, and why I was glad when several of my friends joined me in the effort. Please join me now in praying (silently or otherwise!) that Challies and many of his readers will read the Preston Sprinkle book that Conrad and I recommended to him. If Challies is convinced by Sprinkle’s exposition of Scripture, the ripples could impact many.
Far too many of us, rather than speaking up effectively for the way of peace, are gradually drifting away from our own nonresistant heritage. One piece of evidence: I have been surprised and troubled to see how many Anabaptists (or ex-Anabaptists) post statements in support of the military come Veterans Day (or Memorial Day in Canada). In my mind, if I thank a soldier for fighting so I can enjoy a free country, then I have no business claiming conscientious objector status when the military comes looking for recruits.
Yes, I know:
- No Bible verse explicitly says “Christians must not serve in the military” or “Christians must not use force to defend their families.”
- Genuine Christians come to a range of conclusions on this subject.
- And I have some questions I’m still wrestling with, such as this: If I believe it is wrong for me to use deadly force, is it ever right for me to call 911 when I or my loved ones are threatened, thus inviting another to do the deed that I cannot do for myself?
But, even while acknowledging some ambiguity regarding specific life situations or specific Bible texts, it is certainly possible to come to a coherent, convincing biblical understanding of Christian non-violence.
The days are past (if they were ever here) when we Anabaptists can take a casual approach to passing our nonresistant heritage on to our children. Many of our youth are now listening to a wide range of non-Anabaptist voices. Much good is coming from that; I would be very unhappy if we restricted our input to only Anabaptist sources. However, when rigorous non-Anabaptist teaching is paired with rather casual Anabaptist teaching in the home church, then doctrines such as nonresistance are likely to erode. This is especially true when so many of us are listening to the very same Reformed voices that Challies hears and promotes—the ones who have offered so little in support of Piper’s rebuttal to Falwell.
I believe most of us grow up assuming rather unquestioningly that nonresistance is right; I know I did. I also heard some good teaching to support it. However, some of our teaching is not as rigorous as I think it needs to be. One example: A while back (within the past 3-4 years, as I recall) the Christian Light Publications Sunday School curriculum included a series of lessons on nonresistance. This series helpfully covered a range of texts that support nonresistance, but no biblical texts used to challenge nonresistance were included in any lesson text. I wish the series had included one or two lessons wrestling directly with these “problem texts”—texts such as Romans 13:1-5, Acts 10 (Cornelius the centurion), or Luke 3:14 (John the Baptist failing to call soldiers to lay down their arms).
If this is our usual approach to teaching nonresistance, then we will lose it as soon as we hear more convincing teaching from other sources.
So where do we look for solid teaching on Christian non-violence? I will end this post by again affirming the work of a Reformed author who wrestles with this subject better than anyone else I have read in my admittedly limited reading.
If you want a book that wrestles meaningfully with essentially all the relevant biblical data, both pro and con, then read Preston Sprinkle’s book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence.
The best thing about this book is its engagement with Scripture. But it is also helpful in at least two other ways: for its survey of what the early church believed about Christians and violence, and for its honest engagement with the most difficult practical scenarios you might face in real life.
This book would work well for small group discussion. Why not read it together with a Sunday School class, or with a mid-week Bible study group? If you want to build conviction for nonresistance in your church, I can’t think of a better resource.
If you want more book suggestions on this topic, let me know. I have more good ones in mind.
And if you want to begin with some free reading, see these two articles by Sprinkle:
- “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence” — A paper Sprinkle presented at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting in November.
- “Romans 13 Doesn’t Tell Christians to Kill Their Enemy” — A blog post where Sprinkle expands his interpretation of this one text.
What are your thoughts? How well are conservative Anabaptists doing at passing on our heritage of non-violence and suffering love to the next generation? How can we best share this heritage with Christians beyond our Anabaptist world? Share your insights in the comments below.
PS: In an ironic turn of events, my writing of this post was temporarily interrupted when I finally gave in to my daughter’s demands that I teach her how to play Risk. I don’t know if you approve of that or not, but I did somehow manage to retain my nonresistant convictions despite many hours playing Risk as a youth.
- Burkholder, John R. “Sociopolitical Activism.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 3 Jan 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Sociopolitical_Activism&oldid=101450 ↩
- Suderman, Derek. “Peace Perspectives.” Mennonite Historical Society of Canada. 1998. Web. 3 Jan 2016. http://www.mhsc.ca/index.php?content=http://www.mhsc.ca/mennos/tpeace.html ↩
- Yoder, Lawrence M. “Church Planting.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 3 Jan 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Church_Planting&oldid=91447 ↩
- Pannabecker, S. F., Harold S. Bender and Wilbert R. Shenk. “Mission (Missiology).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 3 Jan 2016. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Mission_(Missiology)&oldid=132556 ↩
17 thoughts on “Peacemaking: The Quiet in the Land Speak Up”
Another excellent article Dwight….thanks for sharing and challenging in a good way! I was so pleased a while back when I discovered this book by a Reformed author supporting nonviolence. As an Anabaptist, I do not agree with all his conclusions (such as the issue of serving in the police force) but am very relieved that he is wrestling with this honestly and has come to a very Christ-centered conclusion. We need to highly respect brothers and sisters from various traditions who are earnestly seeking the way of Christ-like love in the midst of our violent world and the noisy clangor of “Christian” saber-rattlers. For one, I find it encouraging that there are those in Evangelical, Reformed, Catholic, or whatever circle who support Christ’s teaching of love of enemies, welcome the stranger (immigrant) in their midst, care for refugees, feeding the hungry….or whatever the issue might be. May we be truly transformed in the mind and heart of Christ! I appreciate also your calling us to engage those open to conversation. Our Anabaptist heritage is full of those stories and they need to be an example for us today! Thanks again for all the good articles that are Christ-centered and Biblically faithful!
Thanks much for the encouragement, Michael!
You write: “We need to highly respect brothers and sisters from various traditions who are earnestly seeking the way of Christ-like love in the midst of our violent world and the noisy clangor of “Christian” saber-rattlers.” I agree!
I just double-checked what Sprinkle says about serving as a police officer (thanks for the prod). Here are a few excerpts, for the sake of clarity here for other readers who may be wondering:
“Not all types of policing require the use of violence or lethal force… Today, police in England, Scotland, and other countries still don’t carry firearms… Inasmuch as police officers seek peace, protect the innocent, and work for the good of society, certainly a Christian can take part… I agree with [George] Fox, [John Howard] Yoder, and others that Christians may serve in the police force. But I don’t agree that they should kill. how could I? If Christians shouldn’t kill, then Christian police officers shouldn’t kill. One’s vocation doesn’t change the ethical standard. Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount transcends all vocations. So if a police officer is called upon to kill someone whom Jesus would not have him kill, then he must put away the sword and follow Jesus—even if it costs him his job… The only credible argument that *may* justify a Christian’s use of lethal force would be the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument I gave previously. But I have my doubts about whether this *best* reflects the cruciform life of Jesus.”
Dwight, thanks for your thoughts on this. I thought, too, that Challie’s response was interesting although I haven’t had time to digest it. The thoughts that went flying through my brain at the time were, “Did he not bother to look?” and “Maybe there isn’t anything out there in support of Piper.” As I have been joining in some discussions on FB, I am starting to think that it is the latter rather than the former. It has been a major wake-up call for me seeing how Anabaptists (or at least former Anabaptists) are responding to this issue. Probably the biggest surprise is the vehemence with which they are responding. The fact that it is an open/shut case to people is bothering as well. I don’t feel like people are engaging with the deep issues here: issues like the sanctity of life and the Lordship of Jesus. I think this should raise an alarm for our Anabaptist leaders to pass on this teaching and not gloss it over but to wrestle with the hard issues with their young people.
Conrad, thanks much for giving energy to this topic recently. I value your insights and Christ-centered passion. I especially affirm these words you just said:
“It has been a major wake-up call for me seeing how Anabaptists (or at least former Anabaptists) are responding to this issue. Probably the biggest surprise is the vehemence with which they are responding… I don’t feel like people are engaging with the deep issues here: issues like the sanctity of life and the Lordship of Jesus.”
Excellent summary of the issue. As someone more deeply anchored in the Reformed tradition I can say unequivocally that Piper is really the lone voice in the contemporary Reformed world that is even the least bit open to non-resistance. The virtual firestorm response he has gotten is pretty typical for those in the Reformed tradition and in American evangelicalism alike. Among the Reformed more broadly there are three reasons why non-resistance has gotten little traction:
1) A general hermeneutic of covenant theology which tends to blur the distinction between the Old and the New, making the Old Testament written and lived out under the Old Covenant, to be as authoritative and more spherically as applicable to the church as the New Testament. This is the source of so many of Piper’s detractors turning to Old Covenant civil laws for their Scriptural sources to reject what Piper is saying.
2) A broad acceptance of Just War theory with more than a little theonomy thrown in for good measure. Given Augustine’s position as the father of Christian just war theory and the very high regard most Reformed give to Augustine, his teaching on just war is given broad, and in my opinion, uncritical acceptance by most prominent Reformed teachers.
3) There is a startling absence of any voices in the Reformed tradition that hold to any sort of non-resistance or if there are they are not well known. The Reformed lean heavily on scholastic writings of the forefathers in the tradition (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Edwards, etc.) and upon their historic confessions. When there are no contemporary or historic voices affirming a position, it is going to get little thought or attention.
Of course one overarching factor needs to be stated. In America non-resistance = pacifism and pacifism=liberalism. No good red blooded American Reformed Christian is going to stand for being called a liberal. This has led to a unilateral surrender of this issue to the religious left. That complete abdication of this topic to, for want of a better term, the liberal wings of the church. That is why I was likewise so pleased to find Preston Spinkle’s book. I was familiar with Preston for his work with Francis Chan on a defense of the traditional understanding of Hell in the book Erasing Hell, so seeing him taking on this topic was encouraging. The only other book I have run across that deals as deeply with this issue is Guy Hershberger’s “War, Peace and Nonresistance” but given that he is a Mennonite his writings have a very narrow audience (as proof the only review on Amazon for this book is mine).
Ironically, on almost any other topic, the same Reformed who are flogging Piper would agree with him over Jerry Falwell, Jr. and yet these same brothers have exploded with negative responses to Piper including some pretty over the top, frothing at the mouth replies from less thoughtful brethren.
You also touch on some broader themes and one of them has to do with the relative lack rigorous scholasticism in Anabaptism. Simon Fry touched on this in his recent post. I have seen some examples of “this is what we believe because this is what we believe” with no attempt or interest in engaging him contrary voices. As someone who is an interested outside observer I can see that there is trouble coming down the road for the young adult generation in conservative Anabaptism as they tap into non-Anabaptist sources and see arguments that they have never heard before. Lots of interesting things to ponder on this topic.
(as a side note for those unfamiliar with Tim Challies, he is a Canadian and that in part explains why he hasn’t given this topic much thought because even owning a gun in Canada is a difficult task)
Arthur, excellent comments—you have added much that I mostly know but did not have the insight, time, or skill to share as well as you just did. Thank you!
And thanks also for reminding me of Guy Hershberger’s book, which I have not yet read.
You say: “As someone who is an interested outside observer I can see that there is trouble coming down the road for the young adult generation in conservative Anabaptism as they tap into non-Anabaptist sources and see arguments that they have never heard before.”
Fellow Anabaptists—and all peace-loving brothers and sisters—let’s take this as a wake-up call to do a better job teaching on this topic! If we don’t, some of our own church fellowships could soon look more like Challies’ Reformed world than we might ever imagine.
“If we don’t, some of our own church fellowships could soon look more like Challies’ Reformed world than we might ever imagine.”
Some of us might see this as a good thing…. 🙂
Ha! I was aware that line was a little too vague. But YOU KNOW what I mean. 🙂 (And we still won’t fully agree! 🙂 )
Well you cover a lot and bring up a lot interesting thoughts here. I had a lot of thoughts running through my mind as I read it.
First of all, thank you for leading the way in charging Anabaptists to speak up regarding their beliefs of non-resistance. I have long thought that being known as “the silent in the land” is a curse for our people.
It seems we get confused between being “non-resisters” and “conflict-avoiders”. The Anabaptist movement would never have gotten anywhere without speaking out as pointed out in this post. Jesus did not resist authorities with violence, but neither did He avoid conflict. He spoke truth clearly without wavering even in the midst of conflict and confrontation from religious leaders.
You also made mention of Anabaptists posting statements in support of the military on Veterans Day. I struggled with knowing how to feel about that for a number of years. I finally came to this conclusion for myself:
Romans 13 says God established and “ordained” the government (including the military and the police as the arm of the government), and has put it in place to be a “revenger” and to “execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (verse 4). Since I am part of a different kingdom, I won’t be the one doing those things. But is it wrong to thank or give honor to someone for doing what God has established for them to do?
Verse 7 says “Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due…honour to whom honour.” I finally just decided that I could show honor to someone for doing what God has put him there to do, even if it is not what I do.
And I guess I would use these same verses when grappling with the question of calling 911. If God put them there to be a “revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil”, than why not? Verse 4 also says “he is the minister (one who executes the commands of another) of God to thee for good”. If God put them there for our good, why refuse the help?
Don’t know if I make sense, I don’t think I’ve ever expressed my thoughts-written or otherwise- on this subject before. It causes to much conflict. 🙂
Simon, thanks for weighing in! I do agree with what you said here: “It seems we get confused between being “non-resisters” and “conflict-avoiders”. ” A true peacemaker does not try to avoid conflict. Rather, he takes proactive and often risky steps to stem off and resolve conflict. This takes courage as well as discretion!
Now, if I can respond to your latter points without stirring up conflict… 🙂
I still feel discomfort with the idea of thanking our miltary (see—there I did it myself—is the military really “our”?) for their wartime sacrifices. A big reason for my discomfort is that I understand Romans 13 a little differently than you are describing. If you read the following excerpt from a Sprinkle blog post (the one I recommended above), then you might understand where I’m coming from. If Sprinkle’s interpretation is correct, and I think it is, then can I really say “thank you” to anyone for participating in an action that God doesn’t truly approve? And should I really invite them to commit such actions on my behalf?
I do see Paul taking advantage of his legal rights and protection as a Roman citizen, so I agree there is some complexity here. But I am not aware that Paul ever “called 911” in a situation where the result was that the authorities killed his attackers to defend him.
Tough questions! Let’s keep thinking and seeking to follow in Christ’s steps.
Here is the Sprinkle blog post excerpt. (My copy and paste did not transfer his use of italics and bold.) Sprinkle:
Paul’s statement reflects a widespread truth in the Old Testament about God working through secular nations to carry out His will. For instance, the Old Testament calls many political figures “God’s servant,” such as Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa. 44–45); Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon (Jer. 27:6; 43:10); and the ruthlessly wicked nation of Assyria (Isa. 10:5), which God calls the “club of my wrath” and the “rod of my anger.” Please note: Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar were pagan dictators.
The phrase “God’s servant,” therefore, doesn’t refer to Rome’s sanctified service to Israel’s God, but to God’s sovereign ability to use Rome as an instrument in His hands.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Just because God uses secular—and sometimes quite evil—institutions to carry out His will does not mean that God approves of everything they do. Much of what they do—whether it be Assyria’s sadistic practice of skinning civilians alive, or Rome’s crucifixion of thousands of people in the first century—does not reflect the law of Christ. But God can still use such godlessness, because He channels evil to carry out His will.
The so-called government’s “right to bear the sword” is not a moral “right” at all, any more than Assyria had the “right” to slaughter the Israelites in 722 B.C. Assyria and Rome (and America, and North Korea, etc. ) are objects under God’s sovereign control. That’s all Romans 13 says.
This doesn’t mean that God approves of the evil itself. In fact, all those who are ministers of God’s wrath become the objects of God’s wrath themselves precisely because of their violence when they were the “rod” of His anger (read Isa 10 and the book of Revelation).
If you want to serve as God’s agent of wrath, well, you better watch your back when God’s through with you.
The use of “our” when speaking of the military is a troublesome practice and I do it all the time, particularly since I come from a family with a dad who served in the Navy and I myself was one step away from joining the Air Force as an officer shortly after 9/11. What is troubling is that we see “our” American forces s worthy of thanks and honor but what about Christians who lived in Nazi Germany or who live today in North Korea? Romans 13 wasn’t written exclusively to Christians living in democratic countries, quite the opposite. It is a hard question and another one that rarely gets any thought from the wider evangelical church.
Well you’ve given me food for thought. I suppose I will need to add this book to my ever growing pile of books to read.
While I understand the point Sprinkle makes in this excerpt, if governments (regardless of the evil they may do) are ordained by God and God does use them to accomplish His purposes, why not give show gratitude for the good that they do accomplish? Maybe this is a stretch, but could we view it as showing gratitude to God for His justice and protection?
I’ve sent a note along with my check for real estate taxes occasionally, thanking the tax collector for the (thankless) job he does. Does that mean I agree with him or like paying those taxes? I don’t even like what my tax money is being used for most of the time, but I am thankful we don’t live in a lawless society.
As for calling 911, there may be another aspect of that as well. It may not always be to have the authorities kill your attacker or to defend you. To what degree are we held responsible if we do not report a crime? What if your attacker moves on to the next victim because you didn’t call?
Thinking specifically of crimes of sexual nature, how often have we seen prosecution of those who chose to “forgive” and did not call to report what was known to them? Should a wife report a husband that has molested their children to the proper authorities? Is that taking revenge or just doing what the law requires?
For sure, governments have committed atrocities that we could never give approval to, and like Sprinkle pointed out, God still uses one evil institution to punish another. Though we are part of a separate Kingdom, we are still under the laws of the government that God has ordained for our good.
Perhaps it is different to thank God for allowing me to live under the government that we have here in America (as opposed to one like Cuba or Korea) than it is to thank the ones that are in the government He established. Either way, I think gratitude is important.
As Art pointed out, Christians living in countries like that probably are not feeling much gratitude for their government’s actions, but could there still be things to find gratitude in? Maybe its not about them being “worthy of thanks and honor” so much as it is about my attitude toward the government God has put there for this time.
We wouldn’t agree with “Obama bashing”, but is it wrong to thank him for the positive (albeit few) things he does? Is that different than thanking a soldier? I don’t know. I’ve never thanked either one, but I’m just not sure that I could be too hard on someone who does.
I probably have more questions than answers…
And maybe I should refrain my comments until I have read Sprinkle’s book. Maybe he addresses some of these things. 🙂
Simon, I resonate with many of your questions, and where I think I disagree, I don’t pretend the answers are obvious. It isn’t easy to live in the world, but not of it.
I’ve spent enough time discussing this topic on Facebook today that I think I’ll just affirm that if you read Sprinkle’s book (or Hershberger’s, or Yoder’s—see Barnhart’s comment below) you will find a worthy discussion partner sure to help you process your thinking further in a Christ-like direction. Thanks for engaging, brother!
Good thoughts Dwight. The writer who forced me to think about non-violence the hardest is John H. Yoder in “Politics of Jesus”. He is a bit of a flawed messenger, but after the third reading in as many years, I still affirm his message of non-violence. I particularly admire how he links passages, ideas and history into a logical system of understanding the relationship of Jesus to “the Powers that be.” It was he who first directed my notice to the fact that the New Testament assumes believers will fill many roles in society, parents/children, husbands/wives, even master/slave (flinch) but government is referred to in the third person (they, them) and there is no reciprocal command to government as in the other relationship dualities. He also lays some groundwork for a theology of effective, engaging non-violence that actively opposes evil powerfully.
A common misunderstanding about biblical nonviolence is to equate it with passivity, something Jesus never modeled or recommended. Sometimes is seems unbelievers understand this better than believers. I think it was Ghandi who responded to someone who questioned his nonviolence by asking “Which takes more courage, to stand in front of a cannon or behind it?” Perhaps modern North American Annabaptists have grown comfortable standing neither in front nor behind, but to the side. This is not a defend-able position.
I suspect the engine driving the defense of violence is the understanding that the western nation-state is the tool for improving the world. Agnostics see it as the most effective, Christians see the hand of God. They both agree history will not move in the right directions without it. Thus the nation-state becomes an anchor around which theology must move.
Anabaptists of my Parents generation often articulated a doctrine of extreme separation in relation to the state which could be summarized as “You don’t tell me what to do, and I don’t tell you what to do.” I’m not comfortable with that. Who will be the prophetic voice if the church self silences? I’m intrigued by the example of John the Baptist who was not dependent on polite society for his sustenance, thus he was freed to speak the truth. The power of his message came only from a commitment to truth yet his words pierced the hearts of the powerful. I think this could be a model to work toward.
Good thoughts all around, Harlan. Thanks much for sharing.
Yes, John the Baptist. He’s a good model, for sure. Perhaps he is a model for merging the best of black church and Anabaptist theologies of social engagement, something we’ve touched on before.
If you have any wisdom on the question of when we should or should not “turn over to the state” the activity of using force to protect the innocent, I would be interested in hearing further from you. I still have some unanswered questions, despite being convinced of the general nonviolent stance Christ expects us to take.
You’ve recommended Yoder’s book often enough that I really should get it off my wish list and onto my reading list. Thanks for the reminder.
Dwight, thanks for tackling this issue. You do it well. What I especially appreciate is that while I can tell you are passionate about it, you have done your research and articulate more than mere emotion (unlike many who add their thoughts on the issue).
I’ve heard a lot about Sprinkle’s book in recent months and plan to read it this year. Sounds like a worthy read, indeed.
Thanks for pointing us to the call of Christ and for rising to the occasion of addressing this issue in a moment when it seems that for much of American Christians, their boat is being rocked in what they’ve always believed about guns, violence, governments use of force, and the Christians role in it all (referring to Falwell, Piper, Challies and Sprinkle–and fringe conversations I’ve been a part of).
Keep writing for His glory!
Thanks, Asher! Yes, to bring light and not only heat, that is the challenge. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Sprinkle. He does a very good job of writing to multiple audiences at the same time–using excellent scholarship but speaking in a clear and obviously relevant way. Blessings!