“You can kill us, but you cannot hurt us.” -Justin Martyr
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”-Tertullian
*Matthew 5:9; 5:38-45; 26:52; Luke 6:27-28; Romans 12:14; 12:17-21; 1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Peter 3:9; and Revelation 12:11
Having finished the book A Faith Not Worth Fighting For, I have one wish, that it was instead called A Faith Worth Not Fighting For. I think that phrase is more positive and more accurately reflects the essays within. The Christian faith is something I will fight for in my heart and in the endeavors of my faith, not with weapons, but with the piercing sword of the spirit that gives new life. Here the authors explain why they chose the title they did, which I think is justified.
You can revisit my reviews of each of the essays:
Part 1: Is Pacifism Passive?
Part 2: What About Protecting Others?
Part 3: What If Someone Attacked a Loved One?
Part 4: What About Hitler?
Part 5: What About Policing?
Part 6: What About Those Who Killed For Our Freedom?
Part 7: Should Nations Turn the Other Cheek?
Part 8: What About War in the Old Testament?
Part 9: What About Romans 13: “Let Every Soul Be Subject”?
Part 10: Did Jesus Bring a Sword?
Part 11: What About the Centurion?
Part 12: Did Jesus Use a Whip?
Part 13: What About the Warrior Jesus?
The essays have truly challenged me, and have thus shaped me. We have no choice as Christians but to “proclaim the Gospel of Peace” (Eph. 6:15). There is something wrong if the Christianity we proclaim to people does not carry that message. When people of the world see us—Christians, not people of “the West”—they need to see this peace. We need to become that argument for the peacable kingdom, not merely talk about Jesus as the Prince of Peace. If he lives in us, we will shine that light. As Tripp York says in his conclusion to the book, “Christianity, when necessary, produces martyrs—not heroes.” Not to say that Christianity doesn’t have it’s heroes, but that it’s heroes don’t look like the world’s heroes. We don’t kill. We are outcast, we suffer, and sometimes die. Folks, I look around, and I see that we have become too mainstream, too complacent, too comfortable on our haunches.
My own journey emerged as I discovered violent video games as a child, and became too involved in them. I always enjoyed action movies where the bad guys blew up and the good guys uttered some pithy remark. But since I wasn’t obsessed with violence, I thought nothing of it. When I went to a Christian university, I was challenged by a friend to open my eyes to the peacemaking of the Gospel. It was not until I witnessed him humiliated in the presence of applause, and gloated over this “victory” that I later took to heart what we had studied and began to truly open my eyes. The cognitive dissonance I felt as I sharply rebuked him for a faith he understood better than me would lead me to repentance. Since then I have studied the Gospel’s message of peace unfiltered by empire-addicted rhetoric and it’s mission of vengeance, of peace through superior firepower. My journey has only begun as another good friend recommended this book of essays to me.
About 250 years after Jesus, Maximilian of Tebessa was killed for refusing to serve in the Roman military. Like most Christians of his time, serving in the military meant disobeying his Lord, for it required swearing an oath and living a life of violence. He wouldn’t have been much use to them anyway, for if he was faithful, he would be praying for his enemies and not killing them. Where is such faith today?
I look back on the legacy of the leaders of the American Church Restoration movement such as Campbell and Stone and Lipscomb, and how they turned to the scriptures to try to restore so many of the traditions they saw in the scriptures that they believed had been lost or warped over time. Those men were not perfect, nor were they correct about everything, and we know they disagreed with one another as they initiated what was not supposed to be an event, but a process. Restoration is not an event, but an ongoing path. We must continually seek to restore what we or a previous generation has begun to lose. Today, I look back at the peacemaking teachings of these men and I see that we have lost what they tried to restore in the Churches of Christ to which I belong.
Even before the beginning days of the American Civil War through the beginnings of the first World World War, a great many Christians protested the use of violence by the American state, seeking instead more peaceful means of engaging with the world with the Gospel given them. Many folks who remembered vividly encountering the warring of their own brothers in the American Civil War were not blinded by the words many used to encourage warring abroad, and took a stand against warmongering, against slaughtering fellow men in the service of a state. Many understood the compulsion to take life to save life, but understood also that war seldom worked out so simply, for most if not all wars were fought for power, possession of more land.
But on the brink of the first World War, many Christians were pressured by the sloganeering and propaganda to instead raise three cheers for the killing of fellow men abroad in service to the state. Yet during all this many spiritual bodies, many followers of Christ, especially among the Churches of Christ, remained steadfast in their refusal to rejoice in the spilling of blood to maintain power.
During the first World War a government committee was formed to make it unlawful to disagree with the war effort. The Espionage Act of 1917 declared that speaking out against the American state in any way was equal to espionage and treason. If a journal could be said to publish pacifist material, it could be shut down by the state. Among those publications was the Gospel Advocate, a journal of the Churches of Christ. When the government cracked down, they nearly ceased publishing peacemaking articles overnight, and soon articles came out praising the American nation and it’s mission of bloodshed.
This trend unfortunately took hold in Churches of Christ, though it died down some during the Vietnam War, and continues to this day. It makes me very weary and upset. I look around and see people, including those I very much respect, seduced by coercion and propaganda. Such patterns have a way of repeating themselves when swords are polished and banners unfurled. The only banner I swear loyalty to is the banner of Christ.
York says that martyrdom should be seen as this kind of upside-down gift, just as the early church saw it. “It cannot be sought, though it may be desired, and it cannot be forced, though many have longed for it.” It is not just a gift to us, but to our enemies, for “the martyr presents the enemy with a revelatory experience of how Jesus deals with his adversaries.” You have heard it said, “if you don’t stand up and fight for us, who will?” I say to you that plenty of people in the world want to stand up and fight, and that is the problem. When I look at scripture I turn to as you, “If you don’t break the cycle of killing enemies and show them what Jesus is about, who will? How will they know the Lord we proclaim unless we show them, show them in a way that may blow their mind as we suffer and/or die at their feet?”
Over time Christianity made little compromises that allowed us to gain power, and before long we became the persecutors, rulers of a shallow kingdom who took our faith for granted. It was this way in Rome after Constantine, in England for the next few hundred years, and in America today. So it will be especially tough for us Americans to grasp what has been discussed in the essays of this book. But when you speak to Christians residing in most other countries, the decision is not quite as difficult.
“We are not the Dirty Harrys, Rambos or Achilles of the world,”says York. “There are no acts of redemptive violence or sacrifice because Christ’s resurrection trumps the need for us to continue killing to preserve ourselves or others. Instead, we have as an alternative the ability to forgive our enemies, to absorb the violence, and, if necessary, practice martyrdom.”
If we call ourselves Christians, we should not at all be surprised or confused by the response of the Amish family to the tragedy at West Nickel Mines School. In this day and age, when it comes to peace, they are among our few great teachers.
“Making peace is as costly as waging war,” says Shane Claiborne in his afterward to the book. “Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.”
The Gospel is so worth dying for, but it is never worth killing over. How dare I deny God’s Grace?
Looking back, the toughest question still to me is what I would do if someone was attacking a loved one of mine. If I was in my home, had access to a weapon, and saw someone attacking my wife or child, how would my commitment to peace affect my decision? There are too many variables to consider. I know that I will try to exhaust all peaceful measures first, but in the heat of the movement I may violate that commitment to peace. We are not always in our right minds when coming across such situations. But if every other person is created in the image of God, then I need to think seriously about taking the life of someone created in the image of God.
I have heard Christians speak with bold affirmation (and sometimes desire) that they would kill a man trying to take their property. I find such words to be of the Shaitan, for if I am willing to destroy a man created in the image of God, and risk ending his life at a time in which he is not walking in God’s light, but in darkness, because he is trying to take my possessions, then I am proclaiming that I love matter more than man, and therefore betraying God and denouncing him. If God is not willing that any man should perish, then why should I be? Instead, my example is of the famous “man who treated his mugger right“. Why? Because his words and actions reflect Jesus.
I have heard Christians speak with bold affirmation that “ain’t nothing wrong with watching a man hang for his crime.” Yes, because Jesus’ own mother watched him hang for the crime of being the Messiah. There is something wrong with our desire to see people suffer under any circumstance. The early Christians were so persuaded by Christ on the Cross that they thought the very idea of observing capital punishment sickening. Shame on us. Shame on the American Churches.
No matter what a person tries to do to you, they still bear the image of their creator, and are still a soul he yearns to have reconciled to him. Never forget that.
So if you threaten me with violence, I will surprise you with love. I ask that no man ever kill for me, or enlist in a service that kills for me. For if you ask me to kill for you, I will not. I will never seek to disrespect and soldier or veteran. Though I will thank you for the mind of service, virtue, and sacrifice that you took on in order to perform your deeds, I cannot in my heart thank you for the deeds the state asked you to perform. Be you a veteran I will take you in and feed and honor you, not because of the actions you performed, but because of what you were put through, what horrors you likely have seen. I encourage other churches to take on the same mindset, for I am fully convinced that this is the path of the Christ, the King. Our churches have a lot to change and a lot to repent of. I hope we can begin that now.
However, I know that my commitment to peace is incomplete, and because I know this I am aware that your commitment to peace may be incomplete as well. Therefore, I am willing to suffer you, as well as myself, the grace that the Lord suffers us in allowing us to grow in our faith, including growth in peace. I have never been in a situation where my life was in the hands of an enemy. I have never been beaten or imprisoned. So I do not know how I can put my faith to the test in these scenarios. But I am inspired by men, both of the biblical story and the history after, who gave me the examples I can look to.
I thank the writers of these essays for opening my eyes to a light in the scripture that our culture has closed off because it is so dangerous. I thank those who have walked along with me on this journey, and I pray that others will be led to the Peace of Christ that awaits us with open arms.
May I never shoot the artillery.
‘Cause I’m in the Lord’s army. Yessir.
Peace to you all.