Friday, 11 May 2012
Before writing this, I want to be clear that I have been part of churches that are militaristic and support what the military does and the wars, as well as Christians serving in the military. So in other words, I have seen and thought on both sides of the issue.
I would like to call the church to "return" to promoting peace and to abandon the things associated with the military. This does not mean that we "shun" or do not associate with the people who are currently involved in the military and churches that have come to a conclusion that certain wars and even Christians serving in the military.
That said, I want to us to take a look at the early church writings of some of the earliest Christians. I have found a site that has posted many of these writings of the early church.
Letter to Diognetus, A.D. 80 - 200 Christians … love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life. They are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. (ch. 5)
According to this statement we can learn a few things. First, Christians were persecuted in the early church. They were killed for there beliefs. So many of their aspects were "odd" to the people of the world. For one thing they had little money yet they become very rich by their faith in Jesus. They lack the things of the world, yet the have all they need. People dishonor them, yet they become glorified. People speak evil of them, yet they are justified.
But ultimately the one thing I want to focus on with this statement is that they are hated persecuted by the Jews as well as the Greeks, yet those who are persecuting them can find no reason for their hatred. So it is clear that the early church was hated by the world. Even Jesus said in the Gospels that "the world will hate you because of me."
Despite this, though, even the book of Acts records high numbers of converts being converted such as in Acts 2:41 were there were 3000 that became new believers of Christ in one day. I would wager that the early church could have fought back if they wanted to. They at the very least had the numbers -- yet they did not. Now lets look at another quote. This one is from an early church Martyr named Justin:Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 150 "For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" [Is. 2:3]. And that this did come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem men went out into the world, twelve in number and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking; but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God. Now we who used to murder one another do not only refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, "The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn" [a justification for lying used in Justin's time], might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, parents, country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it would be truly ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things in order to obtain what we desire from him who is able to grant it. (First Apology 39)
Justin believed that the early church was a fulfillment of this passage he quoted in Isaiah 2:3. In the second paragraph, Justin is referring to the disciples who after Jesus had worked through the cross had sent the disciples out to teach people about God. The culture of the world then had people how had many enemies. For example the Jews were enemies with just about all the cultures: the Romans, the Greeks, the Gentiles. The Romans did not like the Jews. The Gentiles had issues with the Jews. The list could go on but I hope you get the idea.
However, when people began to believe the word of God, people who were enemies were then laying down their weapons and were instead praising God and embracing each other. Not to say there were not problms and even the book of Acts does record some of these in Acts 15. However those in service would abandon their oath and their service. They knew they belonged to a "new" kingdom. One that Jesus was bringing in that even John saw in Revelation 7:9 where all peoples of the world gathered. Let's look at another quote by Justin:We who were filled with war, mutual slaughter, and every wickedness have each, through the whole earth, changed our warlike weapons—our swords into ploughshares and our spears into implements of tillage. In their place, we cultivate godliness, righteousness, philanthropy, faith, and hope, which we have from the Father himself through the One who was crucified. (Dialogue with Trypho 110)
Again, the people who once were fighting and used weapons, or as I would call it "the way of the world" now abandoned there spears and swords and embraced each other.Clement of Alexandria, c. A.D. 190 For we are not to delineate the faces of idols, we who are prohibited to cleave to them; nor a sword, nor a bow, since we follow peace. (The Instructor III:11)
Tertullian, c. A.D. 210 The Christian does no harm even to his foe. (Apology 46)
Two more very quotes that verify how the early church functioned. I have often heard a very good quote. Granted the first few times I heard it with my former beliefs I mocked it -- however now I embrace it: "When God said to love our enemies, I don't think He meant to kill them." Perhaps it is a "cheesy" line, but I think it is true. We are to love our enemies. I know I have heard that there will be war regardless. I agree with those who say that. In fact, I would be worried if there was not now as even Jesus said "there will be wars and rumors of wars and nation shall rise against nation." However, it seems like some people in church seem to think that we can have justified wars or even that we can help to do our part.
I would challenge this view. I would say if the world is going to go to war, then let it. However, Christians I believe should not get involved other then the loving of the people that are under attack and persecution and the people in the military. In fact some of the most wounded people can be some that come out of military service. They may or may not have physical problems... however many of them have deep wounds that need healed and they needs to be set free from the horrors of war. This is what I believe to be the church's mission in regards to war and those serving. A Christian should hate to see death and war brings death:
Now let's look at a more modern book on the subject of Peace. For this I am going to use A Culture of Peace: "God's Vision for the Church" by Alan Krieder, Eleanor Krieder, and Paulus Widjaja I think the first couple chapters says well some points I want to make.
The authors suggest that we bring about a church as a culture of peace (9) which may be odd as in our day and age we probably would not think of a church with the word "peace." As we have seen from my earlier quotes and even this book affirms that the church was about "peace:"
The early church were noticed as a culture of peace such as an early martyr named Justin: “We… delighted in war, in the slaughter of one another, and every kind of iniquity; [but we] have in every part of the world converted our weapons of war into implements of peace- our swords into ploughshares, our spears into farmer’s tools- and we cultivate piety, justice, brotherly charity, faith and hope, which we derive from the Father through the crucified savior (9)
The authors go on to say that the early church had broken down walls that had separated them such as cultures and tribes and languages. The people began to share a life together. The authors also discuss Acts chapter 2:
Pentecost in Acts 2:9-11 transformed the chaos that Babel created into a culture of peace and harmony. In Babel God divided people into groups separated from each other; whereas Pentecost united people previously separated into one body. There were some tensions though such as the Hellenists and the Hebrews in many churches (acts 6:1-6)(12)
Back in the book of Genesis, God created a confused language that separated the world and created divisions among the people. Today we can still see this. However, due to the power of God and the work of Christ on the cross we can see that God had begun to bring all people back together. Currently we wait to the day that this will be fulfilled as John saw it in Revelation 7:9. When Pentecost happened God had begun to heal and reconcile people together. "Race" was beginning to die, and now we are going to be united as one race as Paul said, "Neither Greek nor Jew, Male or Female."
According to the authors of A Culture of Peace, God had begun a work of reconciliation with Abraham. This was now being fulfilled with Christ. The early Christians knew this to be true (12) and Paul even affirmed this in Ephesians 4:3 that the result of the power of the cross had brought the Jew's biggest enemy: the Gentiles together and the result was Jews and Gentiles praising God and living together in peace (12-13).
The authors of A Culture of Peace discuss how even one of those closest to Jesus had questions when God first brought some of the "enemies"" of the Jews before him in Acts 10:
Peter gets the message of Christ’s peace but finds out that it come at work in the wrong person: the enemy. This became central throughout the New Testament. This was important to early Christians, because with gratitude and puzzlement, were trying to come to terms with what God had done. Through the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit despite differences in races and backgrounds making them into one body. Today we are often different then the early Christians as we have often forget (or do not know) the origins as the church of Jesus Christ, are in miraculous reconciliation (18-19).
It is very clear that how the Spirit of God works then. Culture and race did not matter. Rather what mattered was Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit was merging people into one body. Even in the New Testament the word peace was used so much. The people even referred to the Message of Jesus as the Gospel of Peace. Paul uses "peace" terms in many of his writings such as Romans 5:1 and 10. God has called us to peace 1 Cor. 7:15. Finally two of the New Testament writers call us to seek peace with everyone in Hebrews 12:14 and 1 Peter 3:11. Lastly Paul even starts most of the letters he wrote with something like "grace and peace to you.(19)"
There is so much more I could say on this issue. However, I hope I have made a good point by now. I am asking that churches would encourage peace. Stop suggesting that we join the military and aid in the war efforts. I find it odd that many churches are looking for ways to stand out in the world, so that they are different. However, what I personally see is many churches going on in the ways of the world.
What would happen if all churches (or even a large number) began to discourage military service? I would wager at this point (at least in the USA), they would not have enough people to carry on the endless wars that we are now involved with. Then the USA would be faced with two choices: Stop the wars and bring home the troops or institute a draft. Then what would happen when the numbers of Christians who refused to go in the draft? There would be persecution. I want to be clear that I would hate on one hand to be persecuted or to see it. However, if such a thing happened the church would grow even more.
So in closing, I am encouraging the church and the people of the world to lay down our arms and embrace Jesus and the Gospel of peace. Let us do what the martyr Justin said and trade our "spears" or "guns" for plough-shears and love the people of the world. Let us again return to a church and a culture of peace.
Do you agree that the culture of the church has changed from what it was when it first began? Is Christianity less peaceful today because, in some instances, it shows support for military involvement and war? What would it look like if the church began to promote peaceful living?