My Church and Non-Violence

What does my specific church history teach about non-violence?

As we pick up our discussion on “Jesus & Non-violence” again today I am going to say very little and allow several historical voices to share their understanding of obedience to Christ and renunciation of violence.

A little background will be helpful.

I belong to an independent and non-denominational Christian church.  I wrote about the roots and history of this movement in my last post (Restoring the Conversation).

And I have spent the last few weeks researching the position my church has historically taken on violence and war.  In this research, I discovered that nearly all of the founding visionaries of this movement were well known pacifists.

These leaders include Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Benjamin Franklin, J.W. McGarvey, Moses E. Lard, Robert Milligan, Tolbert Fanning, David Lipscomb and many, many others.

Apparently, the apple does not fall far from the tree!

By far the two most notable people in this list are Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone.  Campbell specifically has an amazing essay on the issue titled, “An Address on War.”  I wish I could print the entire thing here.   I may work on getting it online at some point.   But, lets just take a quick look at the statements of these two influential men, without whom my church would not exist today.


Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell

“But as respects the works peculiar to a soldier, or the prosecution of a political war, they (have) no commandment.  On the contrary, they were to live peaceably with all men to the full extent of their power.  Their sovereign Lord, the King of nations, is called ‘The PRINCE OF PEACE.’  How, then, could a Christian soldier, whose ‘shield’ was faith, whose ‘helmet’ the hope of salvation, whose ‘breastplate’ was righteousness, whose ‘girdle’ was truth, whose ‘feet were shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’ and whose ‘sword’ was that fabricated by the Holy Spirit, even ‘the Word of God.’  I say, how could such a one enlist to fight in the battle of a Cesar, a Hannibal, a Tamerlane, a Napoleaon, or even a Victoria?-!”

— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 374)

“Two swords for twelve Apostles?  Truly they are dull scholars who thence infer he meant that they should literally buy two swords to fight with!”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

“Decidedly, then, the spirit of Christianity is essentially pacific.”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)

“That the genius and spirit of Christianity, as well as the letter of it, are admitted, on all hands, to be decidedly ‘peace on earth and good will among men,’ needs no proof to any one that has ever read the volume that contains it.”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 375)


Tolbert Fanning

“Need we any other proof that a Christian people can, in no way whatever, countenance a war as a proper means of redressing wrongs, of deciding justice, or of settling controversies among nations?”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 377)

“The precepts of Christianity positively inhibit war—by showing that ‘wars and fighting come from men’s lusts and evil passions’, and by commanding Christians to follow ‘peace on earth and good will among men.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 383)

“We must create a public opinion on this subject.  We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

“In the language of the eloquent Grimke, we must show that ‘the great objection to war is not so much the number of lives and the amount of property it destroys, as its moral influence on nations and individuals.  It creates and perpetuates national jealousy, fear, hatred, and envy.  It arrogates to itself the prerogative of the Creator alone, to involve the innocent multitude in the punishment of the guilty few.  It corrupts the moral taste, and hardens the heart; cherishes and strengthens the base and violent passions, destroys the distinguishing features of Christian charity, its universality and its love of enemies’; turns into mockery and contempt the best virtue of Christians—humility;  weakens the sense of moral obligation;  banishes the spirit of improvement, usefulness, and benevolence, and inculcates the horrible maxim that murder and robbery are matters of state expediency.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

“The spirit of war is always a rebellious spirit.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 338)

“The Christian is not permitted to redress his wrongs by taking vengeance upon the wrong-doer.  He is to commit his cause to Him who judges righteously, to whom vengeance belongs.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 338)

“Now we trust that no Christian man who fears God and desires to be loyal to Messiah, the Prince of Peace, shall be found in the ranks of so unholy a warfare.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1861.  Pg. 339)

David Lipscomb

David Lipscomb

“I freely expressed my views of war and other aberrations from the Christian religion.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 638)

“But so long as any man admits the dying testimony of Jesus Christ to be true, he must, I contend, give up his ‘Christian wars’ ‘Christian armies,’  ‘Christian navies,’ ‘Christian victories,’ and military glory.
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 640)

(speaking of Jesus’ claim that His kingdom is not of this world) “The conclusion of these words is inevitable.  My kingdom being not of this world, my servants cannot fight for me, not even in a defensive war.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 640)

“If, then, the Messiah would not, in defense of his own life, have his servants to take the sword, for whose life ought it to be unsheathed?!”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 641)

“Indeed, the spirit of war and the spirit of Christ are as antipodal as light and darkness, as good and evil.”
— Alexander Campbell (“War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1846.  Pg. 641)

“Christianity, (is) essentially pacific, conciliatory, and forgiving.  The Saviour of the world is the Prince of Peace, and all his true subjects are sons of peace and advocates of glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will amongst men.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War and Christianity Antipodal.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1850.  Pg. 524)

Barton W. Stone

Barton W. Stone

“His laws are pacific, he is the Prince of Peace—his subjects are the children of peace.  Nothing appears so repugnant to the kingdom of heaven as war…”
–Barton W. Stone  (“Christians Holding Offices.”   The Christian Messenger, 1842.  Pg. 205)

(speaking of Christians and war), “If these things be true, the Christian world is truly in an awful state of apostacy!  It is surely high time to think seriously and reform.”
–Barton W. Stone  (“Christians Holding Offices.”   The Christian Messenger, 1842.  Pg. 205)

“The Gospel aims a death blow at the very root and principle of war”
— Barton W. Stone  (The Christian Messenger, July 1835)


Wow, quite a body of work from just TWO of the leaders of this movement.  Much more could be quoted from David Lipscomb (a Christian anarchist) and Tolbert Fanning alone.  For purposes of space, however, I thought that these two provided an adequate representation of the many others.

Maybe most interesting are Alexander Campbell’s words at the end of his “Address on War.”  Not only does he lay out a great case for pacifism, he ends by pleading for all of us to promote the cause of the non-violent kingdom of God whenever possible…

“I must confess that I both wonder at myself and am ashamed to think that I have not spoken out my views, nor ever before written an essay  on this subject . . . I am sorry to think, very sorry indeed, to be only of the opinion, that probably even this much published by me some three years, or even two years ago, might have saved some lives that have been thrown away in the desert—some hot-brained youths.

“We must create a public opinion on this subject.  We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.”  Millennial Harbinger, 1848.  Pg. 385)

I presume Campbell would be pleased with this topic for our conversation.

Okay, next post we will have a guest blogger!  Very exciting!

Keep thinking and growing!


6 thoughts on “My Church and Non-Violence

  1. Hey Nick! REALLY interesting stuff. I’ve grappled with this even more so since becoming a daddy to an innocent, little, helpless child. . .and I don’t quite agree with a the notion that “all violence” is bad. (A MASSIVE WAR awaits in Armageddon.) For instance–I know it’s a hypothetical–but if a criminal broke into my house wielding a knife telling me he was going to stab my wife and son, I would do whatever I could to kill that person first. I’ll bet you would too. Even though it’s old testament, Exodus 22:2 does state that a mere thief killed during a burglary is justified. And although Jesus IS the Prince of Peace, God is also a Warrior “The Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name!” God’s character definitely shows a righteous, but fearsome God.

    I don’t discount ANYTHING Jesus had done in His life here. . .(including tossing the people selling sacrifices in the church. . .out of love.) I believe that His desire is to save everyone–not just Jews and “good” Gentiles, hence His constant instructions of love. The only way to change a society is by changing their hearts. . .and I agree that the most powerful means to that change is through love as empowered by the HS, whether it be TOUGH love by standing up for the truth and righteousness, or gentle love.

    Anyway. . .just my thoughts. 🙂

    • Hey, Andrew:

      Thanks for taking time to read a bit and leave a comment with your thoughts. I think it is really great to have this conversation.

      In response to your comment, I think I totally understand your feelings on this issue becoming more real now that you have a small son. My own daughter isn’t very old, and I feel the same protective nature about her that I assume you do with your son. It does seem to make this topic more personal.

      I met a guy who is living full-time in Nicaragua the other day. He committed to a lifestyle of total non-violence before he moved down there. And he told me last week that it was very easy to talk about this topic theoretically while living here, but since living in Nicaragua he has been robbed at gun point and had his house broken into and his wife beaten to the face. He said he never realized how difficult this lifestyle could be, until he moved there and experienced true danger.

      However, he is still committed to total non-violence. It isn’t easy, but he is choosing to trust God.

      You are not the first person (by far) to bring up the worst case-scenario of non-violence with the idea of your house being broken into and your family threatened. And I’m going to do a post in a few weeks addressing that very thing. But, I will at least respond now with my hope that I would not seek to kill the intruder were he/she to break into my home and threaten my family. I can imagine that it would be probably more stress than I have ever been under, and so I cannot say for sure what I would do. But, I am convinced that God’s ideal for me would not be to kill the other person.

      However, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do anything… I think the life of non-violence that Jesus taught and modeled, requires a bit more creativity (as Jesus showed great creativity in dealing with conflict), but does not mean that we passively allow things to happen to us. I would DO SOMETHING. But, I hope that I would not rely on violence.

      Anyway, we are jumping the gun (get it? hahahaha…) a bit here. I’ll save some for a future post. If you haven’t read the whole series, start at the beginning. We are building on a concepts post by post.

      Nice to hear from you. Hope the wife and kid are doing great and that you all are getting to sleep now and then. =)

  2. I’m sure that our Christian “Church” fathers would roll over with the idea that they speak for your church. Actually, they speak for the movement of Christian churches in the mid 1800’s. Technically, there is no Christian “Church” comprising all Christian Churches. How many Christian Churches today own pacifism as a major tenant of their practice? I’d be interested to find out.

    When you say “my church”, it makes it feel like you are referencing the church in which you currently attend and serve. I understand that you mean “Movement”, but the word church fuzzes up the thought for some.

    Thanks for your kind attitude in all of this.

  3. Yes, Dave, well said. I am in fact referencing our “movement” not the popular thought on violence in the specific body I belong to today. In fact, I would guess (though I don’t know for sure) that the popular opinion in my church today swings quite a bit the other way.

    In that sense, you are correct, each church speaks for itself. But, they do hold a common heritage. And what I am trying to show is that just as the acceptance of violence for any reason is a diversion from what the early church immediately following Jesus practiced and what Jesus himself taught, it is also a diversion from what the much more unified early churches and leaders in our particular movement modeled and taught.

    I do not in any way intend to say that it represents the views of my current church. In fact, I assume the opposite.

    But, it is worth noting that in both the church universal and the restoration churches views such as pacifism are not “crazy, out there, wild ideas,” but actually are more consistent with the origins of both.

    Also, I disagree that Campbell and others would be troubled by speaking into the life of church today. I think you may misunderstand the basis of unity that these leaders encouraged.

    The Restoration church plea is to constantly be evaluating what we believe and teach with what Jesus and the early church in the NT believed and taught. For nearly all of the pioneers of this movement, this common place of authority (the NT) taught a vision of pacifism.

    But, for illustration sake, let’s take another example: BAPTISM. There was significant division over the proper methods and proper candidates for baptism in their time (just as there is today). In seeking to find unity, the early leaders did not ask people to simply put up with each others divergent views and learn to get along. Instead they believed we needed a common ground or default reference point. They believed we should give up our many traditions and reach back to the NT and practice what the early church did.

    So, they re-examined infant baptism and the method of sprinkling (as opposed to immersion) and restored the original NT practice of a sentient and accountable believer being immersed. The idea was not to have unity among many churches and people believing many different things about baptism, but to create unity in finding common belief in the original form. It didn’t mean believe whatever you want, so much as let’s agree to believe this since it is what the people closest to Jesus believed.

    In this way, the vast majority of early leaders also sought to “restore” a position of non-violence in regards to their culture surrounded by war (Mexican-American War, Civil War, etc.).

    How interesting that our churches today have clung to the “restoration” of baptism (in regards to methods and proper candidates), but not the “restoration” of a pacifist vision of the kingdom of God. These early fathers may not have wished to speak for every church on every issue, but they did wish to establish common reference points (the NT practice) for us to have unity around. Certainly the quotes in this post represent their desire of a spirit of non-violence as one of them.

    Any understanding of the Restoration movement as a group that encouraged each church to simply believe whatever it wished is a faulty understanding. This movement is not so much about total personal and ecclesiastical autonomy, but an agreement to “return” or “restore” an original practice that becomes the basis of unity apart from other human constructs. Their thought was that with no common ground, true unity cannot be established, at least practically speaking. Unity is formed around a commonly accepted basis for truth-namely, the New Testament church.

    And hardly anything is easier to defend in the NT and the early church than non-violence. I would submit that we have a much, much more comprehensive teachings and patterns of non-violence in the NT than we do even of method and candidate requirements for baptism. Certainly these early leaders considered it important. Yet, today the former is considered aberrant and the latter is commonly embraced… strange…

    Now, I am sure that most people do not understand these roots or principles that are a part of this movement today; even those in my own body. And that is, in my opinion, a great shame. We have lost our distinctiveness as a movement and diluted ourselves into a general community or independent church with no roots whatsoever. We have only ourselves to blame for not continuing to teach these principles that were obviously so important to the early leaders.

    Of course, it doesn’t mean that my particular church MUST believe these things about non-violence, but I think the history of this movement should be taken into consideration.

  4. Pingback: on these days in the American Restoration Heritage: May 10-16 | preachersmith

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