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.

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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)

tfanning

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)

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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!

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Restoring the Conversation

Recently I was approached by a friend who shares an opposite viewpoint on violence than I do and he was expressing some concerns about my steadfast belief that violence in all its forms is outside the reality of the kingdom of God.

And as he shared his concerns, he made one statement that has propelled me to greater research:  “That (viewpoint) isn’t what we teach here (at this church).”

no creed but christNow, to give you some context, I am a part of a non-denominational Christian church that has “no creed but Christ” and is a link in a long chain of churches that has held to the ideal that “we are Christians only, but not the only Christians.”

We are a movement that has held certain things we have considered essential to faith in Christ fiercely, but made allowance and grace for various other viewpoints on the periphery of these things to exist and be discussed in the life of the body.

It is, in my mind, a beautiful ideal and a marvelous history.  And though I believe we have not been totally (or in some cases even mostly) successful in achieving this ideal, it is a goal that I think is noble and reflects Jesus’ desire that we “be one” as a unified body made up of diverse and unique individuals.

Now these “Restoration churches,” as we call them, have tried to achieve this ideal by “restoring” the things we find in the early church.   The basic idea is that Christians can find unity together from various ecclesial backgrounds by escaping (as much as possible) the telephone game diversions in church history through returning to the “ancient reset-buttonorder of things” or The SOURCE (Jesus) and the early church.

It is an attempt to “restore” or “reset” to the biblical origins of church and abandon the many other traditions, creeds and theological constraints that people have evolved throughout history to designate people as either “in” or “out” of their particular brand of church club.

The forefathers of this movement believed that the body of Christ could exist in unity, despite different views of end times, atonement, predestination/free-will and many other tests of membership that groups throughout history have employed, by uniting around one simple statement, “Jesus is Lord.”

In short, these “restoration pioneers” made great sacrifice and dedicated their lives to allowing the conversation that we are having today.  I believe it was their intent and belief that the body of Christ is best when it talks, stretches, converses and grows in difficult issues, but always while maintaining the “spirit of unity”.

Now, some today would say that conversations like this one do harm to the church by causing division.   But, in response, I believe my church tradition would say that it is this very diversity that when approached in love and mutual respect is what makes the body of Christ so unique in this world; that it is one of the defining characteristics of the true kingdom of God.

Yes, unity is the ideal.  But unity is not achieved by taking a single theological cookie-cutter to clone the individuals of our body or by refusing to challenge each other to better model the life and teaching of Jesus.  Unity is not preserved in “turning off our brains” and skirting difficult issues. Unity is what we commit to and fight for as we share the burden of stretching and growing in the likeness of Christ.

conversationIn this regard, the enemy of true unity is not discussions like these, but a spirit-of-disunity within these discussions and a loyalty to any human rationalization or construct that takes priority over what we find in Jesus and the early church.

Most historically, this is what “my” church teaches.  And seemingly, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1800’s on the American frontier.

So, as we continue to think about this difficult topic and submit ourselves to God who is constantly working to move us to greater depth of understanding and participation in His kingdom, keep in mind that it may be discussions like this that help move us closer in that direction.  May the voice of God arise out of the murmur and discussion of His people!

Here’s what is coming next:

1)    What the “Restoration” church fathers thought about violence
2)    What to make of the nation of Israel’s war and violence in the Old Testament
3)    What is a Christian’s responsibility to government?
4)    So what?  Why is this particular discussion important?

The middle two topics will be addressed by two phenomenal guest bloggers (I can’t wait to tell you who they are!), so make sure and check back on their excellent insights!

In grace and for peace…