Christian pacifism: Wikis


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Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Christian pacifists state that Jesus himself was a pacifist who taught and practiced pacifism, and that his followers must do likewise.

There have been various notable Christian pacifists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy. Ammon Hennacy believed that adherence to Christianity meant being a pacifist and, due to governments constantly threatening or using force to resolve conflicts, this meant being an anarchist. Other pacifists however, such as peace churches, Christian Peacemaker Teams and individuals such as John Howard Yoder and, more recently, Stanley Hauerwas, for example, make no claim to be anarchists. Hauerwas seems to prefer the term "Christian Nonviolence" over pacifism.

Some writers, such as Keith Akers, believe that modern Christians would do well to imitate the Ebionites, an early Christian, pacifist, and vegetarian sect as opposed to the more dominant Pauline Christianity.


Early Church

The Early Church position ruled out violence as an option, even in self-defense. The evidence for this includes the story of Stephen found in Acts 7:59-60. In the story Stephen is stoned to death for his faith, but even at the moment before death, he forgives his assailants for their crime. A similar story is found later in the book of Acts when Paul is also violently attacked for his beliefs, and yet does not seek revenge:

The crowd stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. -Acts 14:19-22 NIV

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthian Church, he writes of the importance of nonretaliation, even in the face of death:

It seems to me that God has put us on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. Yet when we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. -1 Corinthians 4:9-13 NIV

As demonstrated by the following quotes, no Early Church father interpreted Jesus' teachings as advocating anything but strict nonviolence:

The Lord, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.
Tertullian’s On Idolatry[1]
Christians could never slay their enemies. For the more that kings, rulers, and peoples have persecuted them everywhere, the more Christians have increased in number and grown in strength.
Origen Contra Celsius Book VII[2]
Wherever arms have glittered, they must be banished and exterminated from thence.
Lactantius’ Divine Institutes IV, 6[3]
As simple and quiet sisters, peace and love require no arms. For it is not in war, but in peace, that we are trained.
Clement of Alexandria Chapter 12 of Book 1[4]
In their wars, therefore, the Etruscans use the trumpet, the Arcadians the pipe, the Sicilians the pectides, the Cretans the lyre, the Lacedaemonians the flute, the Thracians the horn, the Egyptians the drum, and the Arabians the cymbal. The one instrument of peace, the Word alone by which we honor God, is what we employ.
Clement of Alexandria Chapter 4 of Book 2[5]
Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence.
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[7]
We who formerly used to murder one another now refrain from even making war upon our enemies.
—The First Apology of Justin Martyr 39[8]
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[9]
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.
There is nothing better than peace, in which all warfare of things in heaven and things on earth is abolished.
Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians 13[11]
The new covenant that brings back peace and the law that gives life have gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: "For out of Zion will go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and he will instruct many people; and they will break down their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks, and they will no longer learn to make war." These people formed their swords and war lances into plowshares,” that is, into instruments used for peaceful purposes. So now, they are unaccustomed to fighting, so when they are struck, they offer also the other cheek.
Irenaeus[citation needed]
We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. As a result, an ungrateful world is now enjoying–and for a long period has enjoyed–a benefit from Christ. For 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. In fact, if all men without exception…would lend an ear for a while to his salutary and peaceful rules,…the whole world would be living in the most peaceful tranquility. The world would have turned the use of steel into more peaceful uses and would unite together in blessed harmony.
Wars are scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood. And murder–which is admitted to be a crime in the case of an individual–is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not because they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale!
Cyprian of Carthage[citation needed]
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[13]
We have rejected such spectacles as the Coliseum. How then, when we do not even look on killing lest we should contract guilt and pollution, can we put people to death?
Athenagoras of Athens’ A Plea for the Christians 35[14]


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 like Augustine of Hippo. Even still, the tradition of Christian pacifism was carried on by a few dedicated Christians throughout the ages as the story of Martin of Tours demonstrates.

Around A.D. 356, at a ceremony in which soldiers were given a donative or monetary gift, Martin explained to his commanding officer why he could no longer serve as a Roman soldier. “Up to the present I have served you as a soldier. Allow me now to become a soldier of God. Let the man who is to serve you receive your donative. I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.”[15] For his disobedience, he was executed.

Since then, many other Christians have made similar stands for pacifism as the following quotes show:

Therefore, no longer love this world or its military service, for Scripture’s authority declares that ‘whoever is a friend of this world is an enemy of God.’ Whoever serves as a soldier with the sword is the servant of death, and whenever he sheds his own blood or that of another, this will be his reward: he will be regarded as guilty either because he caused his own death or because of his sin (of killing his enemy in war.)
Paulinus of Nola (A.D. 355-431), Letter 25, To Crispinianus[15]
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.
Francis of Assisi (c. 1181-1226)[15]
The Scriptures teach that there are two opposing princes and two opposing kingdoms: the one is the Prince of peace; the other is the prince of strife. Each of these princes has his particular kingdom, and as the prince is, so also is the kingdom. The Prince of peace is Christ Jesus. His kingdom is the kingdom of peace, which is his church. His messengers are the messengers of peace. His word is the word of Peace. His body is the body of peace.
Menno Simons (1494-1561), Reply to False Accusations, III[15]
To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.’.... Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him. May we in the twentieth century hear and follow his words before it is too late. May we solemnly realize that we shall never be true sons of the heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), “Loving your Enemies” in Strength to Love[15]
Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage and wisdom moves the world.
Ammon Hennacy (1893 - 1970) [16]

Historic Peace Churches

A number of Christian denominations have taken pacifist positions institutionally. The best known are referred to as the "Historic Peace Churches" and include the Quakers, the Mennonites, and the Church of the Brethren. Not all members of these denominations are necessarily pacifists, but there is an expectation that they will be.

Modern Christian pacifist organizations

From the beginning of the First World War, Christian pacifist organizations emerged to cater for Christians in denominations other than the historic peace churches. The first was the interdenominational Fellowship of Reconciliation ("FoR"), founded in Britain but soon joined by sister organizations in other countries. Pacifist organizations catering to specific denominationss are more or less closely allied with the FoR: they include the Orthodox Peace Fellowship, Pax Christi (Roman Catholic), the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, the Methodist Peace Fellowship, and so forth. Some of these organizations do not take strictly pacifist positions, describing themselves instead as advocating non-violence, and some either have members who would not consider themselves Christians or are explicitly inter-faith. However they share historical and philosophical roots in Christian pacifism.

Other theological interpretations

Active nonviolence

Walter Wink advocates that, "There are three general responses to evil: (1) violent opposition, (2) passivity, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus. Human nature tends to respond to threatening situations with either a "fight or flight" response. This understanding typifies Walter Wink's exegesis of Matthew 5:38-41[17] and his book, Jesus and Nonviolence: The Third Way.[18]

Distinction between killing and murder

You shall not murder.

There is controversy over this text about its advocation to not murder versus not kill.

Sacred violence

I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6 NIV

Violence can be seen as a form of ritual sacrifice that Christ tried to end. René Girard advocates that Christianity is meant to stop the continuous mythological re-enactment of sacred violence. The Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary writes,

Girard's work essentially presents us with a unified theory of human violence. Violence is the "darkness" we project onto our gods. Thus, Girard's work also offers an hypothesis concerning human idolatry, namely, that idolatry arises to veil humanity's responsibility for its own violence. A common mistake has been to undertake the matter of idolatry from a theological perspective only. But idolatry is in our nature, not God's, and so is more properly a matter for anthropology.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Tertullian (Roberts-Donaldson)
  2. ^ Origen: Contra Celsus, Book 7 (Roberts-Donaldson)
  3. ^ Quotations | In Communion
  4. ^ Clement of Alexandria: The Instructor, Book 1
  5. ^ Clement of Alexandria: The Instructor, Book 2
  6. ^ Clement of Alexandria: Fragments
  7. ^ Tatian's Address to the Greeks (Roberts-Donaldson)
  8. ^ Saint Justin Martyr: First Apology (Roberts-Donaldson)
  9. ^ The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher
  10. ^ Hyppolytus, "The Apostolic Tradition"
  11. ^ Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians (Lightfoot translation)
  12. ^ Arnobius: a.d. 305 « Love Your Enemies
  13. ^ Ante-Nicene Fathers, volume 6, p. 179: Disputation of Archelaus and Manes
  14. ^ Athenagoras of Athens: A Plea for the Christians
  15. ^ a b c d e The Pacifist Christian: Ideology
  16. ^ Quotes by Ammon Hennacy
  17. ^ Matthew 5:38-41 exegesis by Walter Wink
  18. ^ Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, Augsburg Fortress, 2003. ISBN 0-8006-3609-0
  19. ^ The Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary, My Core Convictions

External links

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