War and Grace
Article by Bill Petri
This article is an attempt to explain a very difficult and often times personal issue. With me, the article is even more personal, having a son in the United States Army who has seen combat. I want to share with you dear reader what I presented to him before he left for his basic training. I feel even stronger about the views expressed than I did the day I shared them with Joshua. I know that most of you reading this article will likely disagree with me. Disagreement is okay. All I ask is for you to keep an open mind as the Bereans did, and to search the Scriptures to see if the things presented line up with the conclusions I have made. If you would like to order this article in book form please click here.
The Constantine Influence
The early Christians were wholly opposed to warfare and violence. They were certainly not cowards, while they refused to serve in the Roman army they apparently did not flinch from lions in the arena, or being beheaded, rather than kill a fellow human being. Tertullian in the second century was one of the first among the early Church Fathers emphatically to condemn the soldier's profession: "Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.1" Two centuries later, with the conversion to Christianity of the Emperor Constantine, the Church ceased officially to reject war. Nevertheless, even a supporter of the Christian empire, Lactantius, was moved to write, "No exception ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be a sacrosanct creature.2" For a few hundred years prior to this, the church clearly maintained pacifist beliefs. "The most glorious end to a Christian's life in the days prior to Constantine was to peacefully surrender to martyrdom3, if chosen to be martyred, and honor Christ by not denying Him." When the Empire took on the label, "Christian," martyrdom became a non-issue and questions on war began to surface. Was it not just to defend one's self from invaders? Is it not good to go to war with those who pose a threat to the length and breadth of the Empire? These became questions because Rome began to have trouble conscripting an army. It was then; Constantine saw the "light" and converted to Christianity! Under Constantine4, soldiers first brandished shields carrying the emblem of the cross.
"As the official Church of Rome departed from pacifism, individuals and groups of Christians began to take up pacifism. Between the second and the seventeenth centuries there was an unbroken succession of so-called 'heresies'. The chain stretched from Tertullian to George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends, named after their belief in the relationship between themselves and others. The attempt to reconcile the original Christian rejection of war with the demands of political power led to the formulation in the fifth century by Augustine5 of the doctrine of the 'just war', to be waged 'only for the purpose of peace'.6"
Augustine developed this theology out of necessity. For years, there had been talk that pacifist Christians were not good citizens of the Empire. When the Roman Empire fell, Augustine felt the need to show that Christians can be good citizens. Augustine was a great philosopher, and he argues his points well in The City of God. However, did he arrive at this doctrine because he was following Christ, or because he was looking to avoid conflict between Christians and nonbelievers in a fallen Empire? While his arguments are logical to our human minds, do they truly represent Christ? Some feel Augustine's doctrine makes sense and rings true with the teachings of our Lord. The doctrine has dominated church theology and philosophy since his day. But what have been the results of this doctrine?
Historically, the most prominent of church-ordained "just wars" were the crusades of 1095-1291 C.E. The Roman Catholic Church has not given any apology or expression of remorse for the crusades; they are still considered to be just wars. Using "crusade" terminology today shows an utter disregard for the atrocities committed during the crusades and a lack of understanding at the Muslim contempt for "Christian" nations, which became ingrained because of those atrocities. Many historians even take the position that the Crusades actually helped Islam become a viable religion in the Middle East, by uniting Muslims against a common enemy. The wars reckoned since the time of Augustine has rarely achieved one of the primary tenets of his doctrine: "The good to be done by the war must outweigh the evil which the war would do." More often than not, minor threats to sovereignty resulted in complete subjection of the offending nation. Or, wars resulted which caused the loss of life to be enormous on both sides without any charitable ending as hoped for by Augustine in his formulation of the Just War Doctrine. Heads of state with heavy Christian populations have used the rhetoric of just war since the term was first used in order to gain favor for military operations. Once a war is declared "just" all moral obligation seemingly disappears and Christians can support and even become combatants for the cause7. Over time, "just wars" raged against more than just pagan nations. Acceptance by the Church was frequently given when one "Christian" nation went to war against another who was in conflict with the Church or her leadership. This was seen on both Protestant and Catholic sides of the Reformation as Protestant countries and territories warred with Catholic and vice-versa8. All believed they were fighting a just war because of the oppression of the other side. During the Reformation, the only thing that Reformers and Catholics could seemingly agree on was that they both hated the Anabaptists; Reformers killed Catholics, Catholics killed Reformers, but everyone killed the Anabaptists. Who did the Anabaptists kill? No one - Anabaptists are pacifists. Since the Reformation, both Christian and non-Christian theologians and philosophers have sought to define and update the Doctrine of Just War. Perhaps the most grievous adaptation of the doctrine was Sir Francis Bacon's interpretation: A just war could be allowed if the aim was conversion to the faith; if they won't accept Christ, force them to at the end of a sword or gun barrel. The results of nearly sixteen hundred years of the Doctrine of Just War should compel Christians to rethink the compatibility of Christianity and war. The Middle East harbors grudges against Christians and Jews, which date back to the Crusades. Our wars have created a gap, which only the grace of God can bridge. While we may be able to free some Muslims from tyrannical regimes9, this good does not counteract the evils and hatred we spawn from our military activities there. Even among Christians, wars have left in their wake damage, which has left wounds festering even today. Only recently did the Pope formally apologize for the conquering of Constantinople (which was the center for the Eastern Orthodox Church since the schism in 1028 where the Roman See separated ties from the four other Sees of the Church) allowing the healing process to begin.
In the midst of war, men do unthinkable things. These atrocities create a backlash that sometimes lasts for centuries or even millennia. At a minimum, the Church needs to be open to pacifism and not hostile towards it. Given the horrors of war, can Christians really hold pacifists in contempt for seeking other ways for resolving disputes?
The Quakers, as they became more commonly known, were one of the smallest nonconformist bodies. Their following the holy Ghost led them to a position in which their Peace Testimony of 1661 - 'the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight war against any man with outward weapons' - was seen as a threat to the government. Fox and thousands of his followers suffered long terms of imprisonment, yet throughout the 17th and 18th centuries there was a steady refusal in Britain and America (where the influence of William Penn was notable) to join in armed rebellion or take part in war.
What is the duty of the nonresistant Christian toward the government in time of war? This was a question facing the Quakers, Mennonites, German Baptists, Schwenkfelders, and Moravians at the beginning of the French and Indian War. "They first faced this question in 1755 when Braddock arrived in America. He wanted the colonies to supply men, weapons, and food. He also needed wagons and teams with their drivers to haul his supplies. The stingy colonial governments would not give him the supplies, so Benjamin Franklin asked the prosperous German farmers for wagons and teams. Surprisingly, a number of Mennonite farmers agreed to help. But they steadfastly refused to haul the army's guns. The Quakers even refused to haul food and hay for the army. Why did the Mennonites and Quakers respond differently? The Mennonites loaned wagons because they believed this was not directly participating in killing. The Quakers, however, thought that even hauling food for the soldiers was helping someone else to kill. Therefore, they refused to help. The Quakers, however, faced an even thornier problem. How can a nonresistant Christian wield the power of government? Quaker delegates controlled the Pennsylvania assembly. They made the laws in the assembly, and Quaker magistrates enforced them. The German-speaking nonresistant Christians supported the Quakers by voting them into office. In June 1755 the governor asked the assembly to raise a militia to protect the frontier from Indian attack. The Quaker politicians compromised their convictions and passed a militia bill. Still they exempted any person religiously opposed to war from serving. When Indian raids struck the frontier, frontiersmen demanded that the assembly defend them. The assembly at first balked but eventually voted money to build forts and raise troops to defend the frontier. This troubled Quaker ministers such as John Woolman and John Churchman. They warned the Quakers in the assembly that they were being inconsistent. Meanwhile refugees from the Indian attacks flooded in from the outlying settlements. Destitute, they needed help. The Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, and Quakers quickly collected food and clothing to aid the refugees. They were willing to do anything that helped their fellowman. In April 1756 the governor declared war on the Lenape Indians. This was the last straw for the Quaker assemblymen. They resigned. Presbyterians took over the assembly. They voted for everything the governor wanted for fighting the war. The Quakers continued to work for a peaceful solution to the conflict with the Indians. Israel Pemberton, one of the former assemblymen, formed the "Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures." Pemberton believed that cheating the Indians out of their land had caused the war. He suggested meeting with the Indians and working out a fair price for their land. To pay for the land, he asked the nonresistant Christians for donations. Two bishops, Andrew Ziegler of Skippack and Benjamin Hershey from Lancaster County, organized the collection of the Mennonite contribution. The Friendly Association sent Christian Post, a Moravian10 missionary, to persuade the Indians to meet with the English in a peace conference. In October of 1758, the Lenape met with the British authorities at Easton. There they agreed to lay down their weapons. The peace-loving efforts of the Quakers had worked.11" Getting to the root of the conflict ended the war, not arms. Some historians figure that this peaceful solution saved as many as 15,000 lives.
But what about those of us who know "right division," what should our response be to military service and the waging of war? To get an answer to this question we must go to the pen of the Apostle Paul.
Paul very clearly states that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, that is to say they are not physical. I cannot help but wonder every time I watch the news if the Body of Christ fully understands this important truth. I watch the world wage a war on terror with physical weapons trying to inflict a mortal blow on enemies who would try to destroy our way of life. Our weapons are not carnal they are not those of the flesh, not such as the people of the world use. They are not such as are employed by conquerors; nor are they such as people in general rely on to advance their cause. We do not depend on eloquence, or talent, or learning, or wealth, or beauty, or any of the external aids, on which the people of this world rely. They are not such as deriving advantage from any power inherent in themselves, or the weapons, which can be mass-produced. Their strength is derived from God alone. But they are mighty through God. They are rendered mighty or powerful by the agency of God. They depend on him for their efficacy. Paul has not here specified the weapons on which he relied; but he had before specified them so that there was no danger of mistake. The following verses state what these weapons are:
The apostle Paul having observed how he, and other ministers of God, showed themselves to be such by patiently bearing everything that was afflictive and distressing to the outward man. Paul then proceeds to show how ministers of God approved themselves in other respects; mainly in regards to the inward man, by the exercise of grace, and a spiritual behavior: "by pureness"; of doctrine and conversation, chastity of body and mind, sincerity of heart, and integrity of life: by knowledge; of the Scriptures of truth, the mysteries of grace; or by a prudent conduct, a walking in wisdom with caution and circumspection: by longsuffering: not easily provoked to wrath, but bearing with patience every indignity and affront: by kindness; gentleness, sweetness of temper and manners, affability and courteousness: by the Holy Ghost; influencing and assisting in the exercise of every grace, and the discharge of every duty: by love unfeigned; without dissimulation, being not in word only, but in deed and in truth towards all men.
The weapons were such as were furnished by truth and righteousness, and these were rendered mighty by the attending agency of God. The sense is, that God is the author of the doctrines which we preach, and that he attends them with the agency of his Spirit, and accompanies them to the hearts of people. It is important for all ministers to feel that their weapons are mighty only through God. Conquerors and earthly warriors go into battle depending on the might of their own arm, and on the wisdom and skill that plans the battle. The Christian goes on his warfare, feeling that however well adapted the truths which he holds are to accomplish great purposes, and however wisely his plans are formed, yet that the efficacy of all depends on the agency of God. He has no hope of victory but in God. And if God does not attend him, he is sure of inevitable defeat.
When we as members of the Body of Christ go to war using physical means against flesh and blood we are doomed to always fail. Our weapons are not carnal, nor do we wrestle against flesh and blood. There is not to us a wrestling with flesh and blood." There is undoubtedly here an allusion to the ancient games of Greece, a part of the exercises in which consisted in wrestling. The Greek word used here (pale) denotes a "wrestling;" and then a struggle, a fight, and finally combat. Here it refers to the struggle or combat, which the Christian has to maintain - the Christian warfare. It is not against flesh and blood - Not with people. The apostle does not mean to say that Christians had no enemies among men that opposed them, for they were exposed often to fiery persecution; nor that they had nothing to contend with in the carnal and corrupt propensities of their nature, which was true of them then as it is now; but that their controversy was with the invisible spirits of wickedness that sought to destroy them. They were the source and origin of all their spiritual conflicts, and with them the warfare was to be maintained.
But against principalities - There can be no doubt whatever that the apostle alludes here to evil spirits. Like good angels, they were regarded as divided into ranks and orders, and were supposed to be under the control of one mighty leader; see Eph.1:21. It is probable that the allusion here is to the ranks and orders, which they sustained before their fall, something like which they still retain. The word "principalities" refers to principal rulers, or chieftains. Powers - Those who had power, or to whom the name of "powers" was given. Against the rulers of the darkness of this world - The rulers that preside over the regions of ignorance and sin with which the earth abounds. "Darkness" is an emblem of ignorance, misery, and sin; and no description could be more accurate than that of representing these malignant spirits as ruling over a dark world. The earth - dark, and wretched and ignorant, and sinful - is just such a dominion as they would choose, or as they would cause; and the degradation and woe of the pagan world are just such as foul and malignant spirits would delight in. It is a wide and a powerful empire. It has been consolidated by ages. All the authority of law; by all the omnipotence of the perverted religious principle; by all the reverence for antiquity; by all the power of selfish, corrupt, and base passions sustain it. No empire has been so extended, or has continued so long, as that empire of darkness; and nothing on earth is so difficult to destroy.
Yet the apostle says that it was on that kingdom we are to make war. Against that, the kingdom of the Redeemer was to be set up; and that was to be overcome by the spiritual weapons, which he specifies. When he speaks of the Christian warfare here, he refers to the contest with the powers of this dark kingdom. He regards each and every Christian as a soldier to wage war on it in whatever way he could, and wherever he could attack it. The contest therefore was not with people, or with the internal corrupt propensities of the soul; it was with this vast and dark kingdom that had been set up over mankind. I do not regard this passage, therefore, as having a primary reference to the struggle that a Christian maintains with his own corrupt propensities. It is warfare on a large scale with the entire kingdom of darkness over the world. Yet in maintaining the warfare, the struggle will be with such portions of that kingdom as we come in contact with and will actually relate:
(5) with the wickedness of the pagan world - the sins of benighted nations - also a part of that kingdom. Wherever we come in contact with evil - whether in our own hearts or elsewhere - there we are to make war.
Against spiritual wickedness - "or wicked spirits." Literally, "The spiritual things of wickedness;" but the allusion is undoubtedly to evil spirits, and to their influences on earth. The devil is a spirit, a wicked spirit; and our danger is the greater from our enemies because they are unseen, and assault us where we are aware of them. The devils are wicked spirits, and they chiefly exasperate the saints with, and provoke them to, spiritual wickedness's, pride, envy, malice, etc.
In high places - "in celestial or heavenly places." These enemies are said to be in high places, or in heavenly places, so the word is, taking heaven for the whole "expansum," or spreading out of the air between the earth and the stars, the air being the place from which the devils assault us.
The same phrase occurs in Eph.1:3; Eph.2:6, where it is translated, "in heavenly places." The word (epouranios) is used of those that dwell in heaven, Mat.18:35; Phi.2:1012; of those who come from heaven, 1Co.15:48; Phi.3:2113; of the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, 1Co.15:40. Then the neuter plural14 of the word is used to denote the heavens; and then the "lower" heavens, the sky, the air, represented as the seat of evil spirits. This is the allusion here. The evil spirits are supposed to occupy the lofty regions of the air, and thence to exert a baleful influence on the affairs of man. What was the origin of this opinion it is not needful here to inquire? No one can "prove," however, that it is incorrect. It is against such spirits, and all their malignant influences, that Christians are called to contend. "In whatever way their power is put forth - whether in the prevalence of vice and error; of superstition and magic arts; of infidelity, atheism, or antinomianism; of evil customs and laws; of pernicious fashions and opinions, or in the corruptions of our own hearts, we are to make war on all these forms of evil, and never to yield in the conflict."15
In sharp contrast to the consequences of "Just War" lie the historical results to Christian pacifism. It is only by living grace that we can ever hope to win any conflict. Grace is never a carnal weapon, but rather it is a spiritual weapon. The Cold war was not won by using physical weapons. When weapons of a carnal nature were employed the cold war grew worse. "The Cold War, says former United States Senator Sam Nunn, ended "not in a nuclear inferno, but in a blaze of candles in the churches of Eastern Europe." Candlelight processions in East Germany did not show up well on the nightly news, but they helped change the face of the globe. First a few hundred, then a thousand, then thirty thousand, fifty thousand, and finally five hundred thousand - nearly the entire population of the city - turned out in Leipzig for candlelight vigils. After a prayer meeting at a local church, the peaceful protesters would march through the city streets singing hymns. Police and soldiers with all their carnal weapons seemed powerless against such a force, the force of grace on public display. Ultimately, on the night a similar march in East Berlin attracted one million protesters, the hated Berlin Wall came tumbling down without a shot fired.
Like a gale of pure air driving out stagnant clouds of pollution peaceful revolution spread across the globe. In 1989 ten nations16 comprising half a billion people experienced nonviolent revolutions. The change came not by carnal weapons, but by spiritual weapons employing grace. Things like prayer, hymns, Bible instruction, loving your enemy, these were the weapons employed by the armies which overturned the evil empire.17" Under the Roman Empire prior to Constantine, Christians were persecuted and during many seasons martyred for simply being Christian. The grace and love displayed by these early followers of Christ eventually won over their oppressors and conquered an Empire without Christians shedding even one person's blood for the cause of Christ. Earlier, I mentioned the dual persecution of Anabaptists by both Protestant Reformers and Catholics. With rare exception, the Anabaptists submitted to martyrdom in the spirit of the early Christians. A popular method for killing Anabaptists was to attach them to a heavy object and drown them. This was because the Anabaptists believed that a baptism that was not entered into by the will of the one being baptized was no baptism at all. The Protestants and Catholics chose to give them one last baptism, drowning. Eventually, these peace- and grace-filled Christians won over their persecutors and the killing stopped. Certainly, there is the danger that the persecution will not cease if we truly "turn the other cheek." A close friend of mine claimed that if my beliefs were followed an evil dictator would inevitably control us. While I cannot deny that as a possible result of my pacifism, I must say it is not the only conclusion possible. Is it too far of a stretch to imagine that displays of God's grace even in the face of losing rights or even death just may cause a turn of events in and of itself? Do we have such little trust in God's sovereignty that we cannot trust what He says is the right way to live?
To the pulling down of strongholds - The word rendered here as "strongholds" means properly a fastness, fortress, or strong fortification18. It is here beautifully used to denote the various obstacles resembling a fortress which exist, and which are designed and adapted to oppose the truth and the triumph of the Christian's cause. All those obstacles are strongly fortified. The sins of his heart are fortified by long indulgence and by the hold, which they have on his soul. The wickedness of the world, which he opposes, is strongly fortified by the fact that it has seized on strong human passions; that one point strengthens another; that great numbers are united. The idolatry of the world was strongly fortified by prejudice, and long establishment, and the protection of laws, and the power of the priesthood; and the opinions of the world are entrenched behind false philosophy and the power of subtle disputation. This wickedness has led to ever increasing warfare, bloodshed, hatred, bigotry, crime, and other such acts of violence. The recent war on terror that the United States finds itself engaged in has not decreased terrorist activity, but rather has seen it escalate to the highest levels ever known. Bloodshed creates more bloodshed, which creates more hatred, which ensures more violence, and hatred. This is what waging a physical war produces. Its end is never good, and it never brings peace that can last. The United States is not eliminating terrorists, but with every act of violence they create more terrorists, who hate Americans more than the ones who preceded them. The whole world system is fortified against Christ; and the peoples of the earth have been engaged in little else than in raising and strengthening such strongholds for the space of 6,000 years. The doctrine of grace goes forth against all the combined and concentrated powers of resistance of the whole world; and the warfare is to be waged against every strongly fortified place of error and of sin in the spiritual realm. These strong fortifications of error and of sin are to be battered down and laid in ruins by our spiritual weapons of knowledge, longsuffering, kindness, love, and the Holy Ghost as we have already seen.
Casting down imaginations - Reasoning or opinions. The Greek philosophers valued themselves especially on their ethic systems, in which their reasoning's appeared to be very profound and conclusive; but they were obliged to assume principles which were either such as did not exist, or were false in themselves, as the whole of their mythological system most evidently was: truly, from what remains of them we see that their metaphysics were generally bombast; and as to their philosophy, it was good for nothing. When the apostles came against their gods many and their lords many with the One Supreme and Eternal Being, they were confounded, scattered, annihilated; when they came against their various modes of purifying the mind - their sacrificial and mediatorial system, with the Lord Jesus Christ, his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and passion, his death and burial, and his glorious resurrection and ascension, they sunk before them, and appeared to be what they really were, as dust upon the balance, and lighter than vanity. Is not the whole system of war in this age of grace just one more false system? It is a system set up against flesh and blood, using for its weapons carnal things. In essence it is the ultimate ungrace act. Warfare is contrary to everything that God is instructing us to be. It calls us to perform the most unchristian acts conceivable. War causes those of a baser nature to sink even lower as the recent prison abuse scandals in both the U.K. and the U.S.A. attest.
The knowledge of God - The doctrine of the unity and eternity of the Divine nature, which was opposed by the plurality of their idols, and the generation of their gods, and their men-made deities. It is amazing how feeble resistance heathenism made, by argument or reasoning, against the doctrine of the Gospel! It instantly shrunk from the Divine light, and called on the secular power to contend for it! Secularism married religion and created a hybrid system called Catholicism. Inevitably, Popery sunk before Protestantism in the same way, and defended itself by the same means. The apostles destroyed heathenism wherever they came; the Protestants confuted popery wherever their voice was permitted a hearing. Heathenism could not recover itself; in vain did its thousands of altars smoke with reiterated hecatombs, their demons were silent, and their idols were proved to be nothing in the world. Later in history, we see believers wage a war in the same manner. Popery could never, by any power of self-reviviscence, restore itself after its defeat by the Reformation: it had no Scripture, consecutively understood; no reason, no argument; in vain were its bells rung, its candles lighted, its auto da fe's exhibited; in vain did its fires blaze; and in vain were innumerable human victims immolated on its altars! The light of God penetrated its hidden works of darkness, and dragged its three-headed Cerberus into open day; the monster sickened, vomited, and fled for refuge to his native shades. Popery tried to hold back the truth of the gospel with its horrible Inquisition. Just as today the enemies try to cause the good Christian to perform acts of atrocity upon other human beings. Anger hatred and rage become the norm of war, and ensnares the poor Christian who forgot that Paul instructed us to not be entangled with the affairs of this world. Every mutilated corpse that returns home from war speaks of the horrors of this world system, and the false religions it has imposed upon its subjects. Every crippled individual who has seen not only their life lay in taters, but their families who care for them, are etched with despair. The horror of war and violence becomes the norm and allows a breeding ground to develop, a breeding ground, which allows ever increasing base behavior. Behavior, which allows for the murder of millions of unborn children, the degradation of prisoners, the rise of hatred and immorality, and a hatred of all that is God. This is what happens when a Christian allows him/herself to be dragged into waging a war on Satan's terms using Satan's rules. In this entire God becomes more and more irrelevant, until we have churches that do not teach, churches that appeal to emotionalism, which allows the entire system to continue to fuel itself. But where grace is exhibited it causes the whole system to crumble and break. A black Baptist preacher using nonviolence, and the weapons of grace brought about the end of segregation laws in the United States. A Bishop in South Africa teaching love for one's enemies, and a care for those who would enslave you helped bring down a system of hatred and bigotry. War is never the answer grace is always the answer.
And bringing into captivity ... - The idea here is evidently taken from military conquests. The notion is, that all the strongholds of paganism, and pride, and sin would be demolished; and that when this was done, like throwing down the walls of a city or making a breach, all the plans and purposes of the soul, the reason, the imagination, and all the powers of the mind would be subdued or led in triumph by the gospel, like the inhabitants of a captured city. Christ was the great General in this warfare. In his name the battle was waged, and by his power the victory was won. The captives were made for him and under his authority; and all were to be subject to his control. Every power of thought in the pagan world; all the systems of philosophy and all forms of opinion among people; all the purposes of the soul; all the powers of reason, memory, judgment, fancy in an individual, were all to come under the laws of Christ, All doctrines were to be in accordance with his will; philosophy should no longer control them, but they should be subject to the will of Christ. All the plans of life should be controlled by the will of Christ, and formed and executed under his control - as captives are led by a conqueror. All the emotions and feelings of the heart should be controlled by him, and led by him as a victor leads a captive. The sense is that it was the aim and purpose of Paul to accomplish this, and that it would certainly be done. The strongholds of philosophy, paganism, and sin should be demolished, and all the opinions, plans, and purposes of the world should become subject to the all-conquering Redeemer. We then wage warfare for the minds of those we come into contact with. We cannot win a war by trying to kill those who are in disobedience, since another individual will replace the one we killed. We cannot win by seeking to impose our will upon another, someone will always resist. Rather we win by changing their thought process, and we do this by giving to all peoples the wonderful message of God's grace, not just with word, but with every deed as well. This is a message, which cannot fail, a message of liberty, and freedom! How wonderful is the Grace of God that is bestowed freely upon wretches such as you and I!
Recompense - Render, give, or return; this is probably one of the most difficult precepts of Christianity; but the grace principle on the subject is unyielding. It is a solemn demand made on all his followers. When individuals do evil to us we as members of the Body of Christ do not repay that evil. Rather, we use the opportunity to do well to those who have harmed us. "Recompense to no man evil for evil..." Neither evil words for evil words, railing for railing; nor evil deeds for evil deeds, one ill turn for another; nor the evil of punishment for the evil of fault How can waging a war against someone be repaying evil with good?
Provide - The word rendered "provide" means properly to "think" or "meditate beforehand19." Make it a matter of "previous thought," of "settled plan," of "design." This direction would make it a matter of "principle" and fixed purpose to do what is right; and not to leave it to the fluctuations of feeling, or to the influence of excitement. The same direction is given in 2Co.8: 21. Revenge is thus taken out of the equation. "Anger, wrath and such like behavior does not enter in to our actions when we "provide things honest." The words are not to be understood of a man's providing things honest, decent, and commendable, as suitable food and raiment for his family, in the sight of all men, to the honor of religion, and the credit of his profession, which is right to be done; but of a provident, thoughtful, and studious concern, to do everything that is laudable and of good report among men.20" War is against such principles. War is the attempt to destroy and tear down people who act contrary to our will. Conflict is never a laudable goal; strife cannot produce a good report among men. Warfare in the physical realm is the ultimate ungrace act.
Things honest - Literally, things "beautiful," or "comely.21" The expression here does not refer to "property," or to "provision" made for a family, etc. The connection requires us to understand it respecting "conduct," and especially our conduct toward those who injure us. "It requires us to evince a spirit, and to manifest a deportment in such cases, that shall be lovely and comely in the view of others; such as all people will approve and admire.22" And the apostle wisely cautions us to "provide" for this, that is, to think of it beforehand, to make it a matter of fixed principle and purpose, so that we shall not be overtaken and excited by passion. If left to the time when the offence shall be given, we may be excited and off our guard, and may therefore evince an improper temper. This is why we read of prisoners being tortured, or mistreated. All persons who have ever been provoked by injury (and who has not been?) will see the profound wisdom of this caution to "discipline" and "guard" the temper by previous purpose, that we may not evince an improper spirit.
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves - Ye are the children of God, and he loves you; and because he loves you he will permit nothing to be done to you that he will not turn to your advantage. To "avenge" is to take satisfaction for an injury by inflicting punishment on the offender. The command is, to avoid a spirit and purpose of revenge. But this command is to be understood that we not seek for "justice" in a worldly and improper way before civil tribunals bent on going to war to correct and set right our own perception of what is right or correct. Never take the execution of righteousness into your own hands; rather suffer injuries. The Son of man is come, not to destroy men's lives, but to save: be of the same spirit. War can never be of this spirit, it can only be contrary to it. When he was reviled, he reviled not again. It is the part of a noble mind to bear up under unmerited disgrace; little minds are litigious and quarrelsome, and full of vengeance. "The command here "not to avenge ourselves" means, that we are not to take it out of the hands of God, and to inflict it ourselves. It is well known that where God is absent in our thoughts and actions, individuals pursue the business of vengeance in a barbarous and unrelenting manner. In a state of savage society, vengeance is "immediately taken," if possible, or it is pursued for years, and the offended man is never satisfied until he has imbrued his hands in the blood of the offender.23" It is this truculent thought process, which has led to the turmoil in the Middle east, the Balkan States, and parts of Africa. It is this mind set of tit for tat that has seen more people killed by wars in the 20th century than the rest of human history combined.
But rather give place unto wrath - This expression has been interpreted in a great variety of ways. Its obvious design is to induce us not to attempt to avenge ourselves, but to leave it with God. To "give place," then, is to leave it for God to come in and execute wrath or vengeance on the enemy in due time. Do not execute wrath; leave it to God; commit all to him; leave yourself and your enemy in his hands, assured that he will vindicate you and punish him.
Vengeance is mine - That is, it belongs to me (God) to inflict revenge. This expression implies that it is "improper" for people to interfere with that, which properly belongs to God. When we are angry, and attempt to avenge ourselves, as individuals, or collectively as a nation, should remember, that we are infringing on the prerogatives of God.
I will repay ... - This is said in substance, though not in so many words, in Deu.32:35-36. Its design is to assure us that those who deserve to be punished, shall be; and that, therefore, the business of revenge may be safely left in the hands of God. This assurance will sustain as, not in the "desire" that our enemy shall be punished, but in the belief that "God" will take the matter into his own hands; that he can administer it better than we can; and that if our enemy "ought" to be punished, he will be. "We," therefore, should leave it all with God. That God will vindicate his people is clearly and abundantly proved in 2Th.1:6-10.
Therefore, if thine enemy hunger ... - This verse is taken almost literally from Pro.25:21-22. Hunger and thirst here are put for want in general. If thine enemy is needy in any way, do him good, and supply his needs. This is, in spirit, the same as the command of the Lord Jesus Mat.5:44, "Do good to them that hate you," etc. Waging war does not allow for this sort of mentality. Often the object of war is to deprive the opposing enemy army of food and water. War deprives people of simple basic necessities. As we have already seen we are waging a war for the mindset of all we come into contact with. By providing our enemies basic needs we begin to win their mind, which in turn causes them to be more receptive towards the gospel.
In so doing - It does not mean that we are to do this "for the sake" of heaping coals of fire on him, but that this will be the result, if the enemy persists in the behaviors which led to the conflict.
Thou shalt heap ... - Coals of fire are doubtless emblematical of "pain." But the idea here is not that in so doing we shall call down divine vengeance on the man; but the apostle is speaking of the natural effect or result of showing him kindness. Burning coals heaped on a man's head would be expressive of intense agony. "So the apostle says that the "effect" of doing good to an enemy would be to produce pain. But the pain will result from shame, remorse of conscience, a conviction of the evil of his conduct, and an apprehension of divine displeasure that may lead to repentance24." To do this, is not only perfectly right, but it is desirable. If a man can be brought to reflection and true repentance, it should be done. In regard to this passage we may remark,
(2) the way to bring a man to repentance is to do him good. On this principle God is acting continually. He does well to all, even to the rebellious; and he designs that his goodness should lead people to repentance; (Rom.2:4). People will resist wrath, anger, and power; but "goodness" they cannot resist; it finds its way to the heart; and the conscience does its work, and the sinner is overwhelmed at the remembrance of his crimes. We see an example of this in the history of the United States. In 1976 Americans saw the extraordinary scene of George Wallace25 appearing before the black leadership of the state of Alabama to apologize for his past behavior to blacks, an apology he repeated on statewide television. The reasons he gave included "I cannot ever continue to do harm to those who have only responded to me with kindness, care, and a love which passes anything I can ever explain.26" The way to end armed conflict is not with more arms, but by displaying the attributes of Grace.
(3) if people would act on the principles of the gospel, the world would soon be at peace. No man would suffer himself many times to be overwhelmed in this way with coals of fire. It is not human nature, bad as it is; and if Christians would meet all unkindness with kindness, all malice with benevolence, and all wrong with right, peace would soon pervade the community, and even opposition to the gospel might soon die away.
Be not overcome of evil - Be not "vanquished" or "subdued" by injury received from others. Do not suffer your temper to be excited; your Christian principles to be abandoned; your mild, amiable, kind, and benevolent temper to be ruffled by any opposition or injury, which you may experience. Maintain your Christian principles amidst all opposition, and thus show the power of the gospel. They are overcome by evil that suffer their temper to be excited, whom become enraged and revengeful and who engage in contention with those who injure them.
Do not, by giving place to evil, become precisely the same character, which you condemn in another. Overcome evil with good - however frequently he may grieve and injure you, always repay him with kindness; your good will, in the end, will overcome his evil. To repay evil with evil is to perform the most extensive act of folly. It is the instruction of corrupt world leaders to convince its citizens that it is for their benefit to perhaps be blown up, killed, maimed, or crippled. No sane person ever intentionally commits such acts upon their person, or upon others, yet we allow our leaders to convince us that in the case of war these behaviors are beneficial. We never ask how can this be beneficial for anyone? How is this overcoming evil with good?
Today a whole generation of Christians living in North America has bought into the instruction of a fool, which has led to the folly of war. Blindly Christians follow a leader who has abused all grace principles by promoting torture, prisoner abuses, infringement upon civil liberties, and the selective enforcement of it's own policies. There is no understanding of the grace principle, which follows:
But overcome evil with good - That is, subdue or vanquish evil by doing well to others. Show them the loveliness of a better spirit; the power of kindness and benevolence; the value of an amiable, Christian demeanor. So doing, you may disarm them of their rage, and be the means of bringing them to better minds. How different the world would be if the heads of governments could grasp this grace principle.
This is the noble and grand sentiment of the Christian religion. Nothing like this is to be found in the pagan classics; and nothing like it ever existed among pagan nations. Christianity alone has brought forth this lovely and mighty principle; and one design of it is to advance the welfare of man by promoting peace, harmony, and love. The idea of "overcoming evil with good" never occurred to people until the gospel of grace was preached.27 It never has been acted on except under the influences of this gospel that Paul committed to our trust. On this principle God shows kindness; on this principle the Saviour came, and bled, and died; and on this principle all Christians should act in treating their enemies, and in bringing a world to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. If Christians will show benevolence, if they will send forth proofs of love to the ends of the earth, the evils of the world will be overcome by the gospel. Nor can the nations be converted until Christians act on this great and most important principle of their religion, on the largest scale possible, to "overcome evil with good." War itself would fade from the Christian thought process if we but acted on what we profess - God's grace.
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life - Having alluded to the soldier, and stated the Christian minister is to resemble him, another point of resemblance is suggested to the mind of the apostle. Neither the minister nor the soldier is to be encumbered with the affairs of this life, and the one should not be more than the other. This is always a condition in becoming a soldier. He gives up his own business during the time for which he is enlisted, and devotes himself to the service of his country. The farmer leaves his plow, and the mechanic his shop, and the merchant his store, and the student his books, and the lawyer his brief; and neither of them expect to pursue these things while engaged in the service of their country. "It would be wholly impracticable to carry on the plans of a campaign, if each one of these classes should undertake to prosecute his private business. We see this fully illustrated from the Rules of War among the Romans, by Grotius, Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry, or to engage in any husbandry or trade; and they were forbidden to act as tutors to any person, or curators to any man's estate, or proctors in the cause of other men. The general principle was, that they were excluded from those relations, agencies, and engagements, which it was thought would divert their minds from that which was to be the sole object of pursuit.28" It is equally improper for them to "entangle" themselves with the business of a human government or army. The minister of the gospel accomplishes the design of his appointment only when he can say in sincerity, that he "is not entangled with the affairs of this life;" compare 1Co.9: 25-27.
That he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier - That is, him who has enlisted him, or in whose employ he is, this then becomes the government and army of his allegiance. His great object is to approve himself to the one who enlisted him. It is not to pursue his own plans, or to have his own will, or to accumulate possessions or fame for himself. It is not for him to employ himself in the service of a worldly ruler operating on principles that are contrary to Grace. His will is absorbed in the will of his commander, and his purpose is accomplished if he meets with his acceptance. Nowhere else is it so true that the will of one becomes lost in that of another, as in the case of the soldier. In an army it is contemplated that there shall be but one mind, one heart, one purpose - that of the commander; and that the whole army shall be as obedient to that as the members of the human body are to the one will that controls all. The application of this is obvious. The grand purpose of the minister of the gospel is to please Christ. He is to pursue no separate plans, and to have no separate will, of his own; and it is contemplated that the whole "Corps" of Christian ministers and members of the churches shall be as entirely subordinate to the will of Christ, as an army is to the orders of its chief, "that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier;" his captain, or general, who has enlisted him, enrolled and registered him among his soldiers; whom to please should be his chief concern; as it should be the principal thing attended to by a Christian soldier, or minister of the Gospel, not to please men, nor to please himself, by seeking his own ease and rest, his worldly gratification and advantages, but to please the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot please Christ when we act contrary to His purposes and plans. We are His; bought with a terrible price, and we are to submit our will to His.
1Ti 1:18-19 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:
1 The Writings of Tertullian, Christian Light Publications pg.13
2 Church History and Rome's Decline, by Johan Wanderlundker, pg 71
3 Ibid, pg.75
4 We could make a very good case that Constantine destroyed Christianity by wedding it with pagan believes thus giving rise to the Roman Catholic Church.
5 Augustine is the founder of modern Roman Catholicism, and Predestinationism that was later embraced by John Calvin. It is his teachings that all the reformers were trying to get back to.
6 War we say NO - Http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/infodocs/st_say_no.html
7 We need only look at President G.W. Bush's Iraqi War to see this mindset within the Christian community.
8 These conflicts gave rise to the dreaded Inquisition.
9 Unfortunately, we replace one tyranny with another. The case in point is the cessation of human rights by implementing a policy of state sanctioned torture and prisoner abuse.
10 The name Moravian identifies the fact that this historic church had its origin in ancient Bohemia and Moravia in what is the present-day Czech Republic. In the centuries that followed, Bohemia and Moravia gradually fell under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Rome, but some of the Czech people protested. The foremost of Czech reformers, John Hus (1369-1415) was a professor of philosophy and rector of the University in Prague. The Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, where Hus preached, became a rallying place for the Czech reformation. Gaining support from students and the common people, he led a protest movement against many practices of the Roman Catholic clergy and hierarchy. Hus was accused of heresy, underwent a long trial at the Council of Constance, and was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415. It is interesting to note Hus was a strict pacifist.
11 The Nonresistant Christians Response to the French and Indian War - Christian Light Publications; author unknown, pg.6
12 John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
14 Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
16 Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Yugoslavia, Mongolia, and the Soviet Union
17 Philip Yancy, What's So Amazing About Grace? Zondervan 1997 pg.135
18 Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
19 Adam Clark's Commentary on the Bible
20 Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
21 John Darby's Synopsis
22 Robertson's Word Pictures
23 Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible
24 The repentance I mean here is the repentance found in 2 Cor.7:9-12.
25 The Governor who once stated, "Segregation now, and segregation forever," during the early days of the U.S.A. Civil rights movement.
26 From CNN news archives, The Death of Racism.
27 This gospel was a secret kept hid in God until He gave it to the Apostle Paul (Ro.16:25-26; Eph.3:1-10).
28 Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown Commentary