What The Bible Says About

[Editorial Comments Bracketed in Bold]

"Christian" Activism/"Just" Wars or Passive Resistance?

Rom 13:1-5 -- Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. [God has established these powers, but God is still above these powers; therefore, rather than merely obeying the powers without question, thereby assuming that we are obeying God in the process, everything must be tested against Biblical commands concerning good and evil.] The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. [The fundamental sense of organized government is to promote good and punish evil. For this reason, believers ought to obey rulers where rulers are actually performing the function for which they were ordained of God. Paul is therefore certainly not arguing that Christian's should do evil simply because it was commanded by government. We cannot disobey a divine law ("thou shall not murder") in order to obey a contrary law by the government ("thou shall go to war and kill for the state").] But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. [It is not within the provision of human government to compel the doing of evil, but only good. Thereby, whenever the government calls for activities that believers are forbidden by divine authority to perform, then they must bow to the higher divine power (but be willing to suffer the consequences for their disobedience of governmental edicts).]

John 19:10,11a -- "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over Me if it were not given to you from above.

Acts 4:17-20 -- But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name." Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

Acts 5:29 -- Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!"

1 Pet 2:13-17 -- Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king. [But no command for "activism" to coerce or influence the government to do good.]

Titus 3:1,2 -- Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. [But, again, no command for "activism" to coerce or influence the government to do good.]

Jer 29:4,7 -- This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ... Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." [Our "activism" is to be active prayer for the peace and prosperity of our cities, not joining the city's rulers in government in order to influence the leaders to do good.]

1 Tim 2:1-4 -- I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, [not social action to change the system or to overthrow the government, but prayer for a peaceful environment in which we may continue with the ministry in accordance with the Word of God, and thereby, bring the Good News (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) to others] that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

1 Pet 2:21-23
-- To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth." When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him Who judges justly. [No "activism" here, just humility and trust of God.]

Psa 118:8,9 -- It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.

1 Tim 6:1,2 -- All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered. [Show respect to authorities so that God's truth is not slandered, not civil disobedience to force the ungodly to live like the godly.] Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them. These are the things you are to teach and urge on them.

Eph 6:5-8,12,13 -- Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. ... For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God [resistance through God's spiritual armor, not fleshly attack], so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. [The whole doctrine of separation is designed to set the Christian against the evils of this world, which resistance is moral and spiritual, but not physical.]

1 Cor 7:17,20,24 ... Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches ... Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. ... Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. [Where is the command to change the world to improve our situations?]

2 Tim 2:3,4 -- Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer. [Disengage yourself from worldly things, and commit yourselves to doing the will of the Commander; that means no participation in the world's wars.]

Rom 12:17-21; 13:8 -- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. [Trying to impose godly standards on the ungodly will not be peaceful.] Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ... Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Mat 5:43-45a -- "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. [No command to force your enemies to accept Biblical principles.]

Acts 20:21 -- I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. [Evangelize the ungodly, not "Christianize" them.]

John 18:36 -- Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." [The Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but is a spiritual kingdom, and therefore, the subjects of this spiritual kingdom should not employ force to advance the cause of God. Logically then, if Christians can't use physical force even to advance spiritual, godly interests, would it not also be wrong to join the world in the use of physical force to achieve its temporal interests?]

2 Cor 10:3,4 -- For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. [Spiritual weapons (e.g., prayer) is what demolishes strongholds, not physical force.]

Mat 17:24-27 -- After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax ?" "Yes, He does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" He asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

Luke 6:27-29
-- "But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. [Passive resistance, not "just" war.]

Mat 5:38-41,43-48 -- You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. [Under the Law, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth;" under Grace, passive resistance. It is the same as saying that there is no time or place during the sojourn of the believer in the world when he is not charged with the responsibility of being non-resistant when physical force is the means employed to gain the end.] ... "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Mat 26:50-52 -- Jesus replied, "Friend, do what you came for." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested Him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. [No command for "just" force here.]

Mat 10:18 -- On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. [When called to account by authorities, we are to be a witness of our faith, not an agent for social change.]

John 15:18,19 -- "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. ... If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. [The world will always hate true Christians; if a Christian "serves" in the government, guess who is compromising to maintain the peace?]

Phil 3:18-20 -- For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. [Note: Not on earth as a citizen of America or any other earthly kingdom; our citizenship is in heaven, and that is where our obligations are, our responsibilities center, and our privileges are derived from. A citizen of heaven will live a different kind of lifestyle than a citizen of earth.] And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Phil 1:27 -- Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. [Our conduct on this earth should be a direct reflection of our citizenship obligations, allegiances, and responsibilities. Any other citizenship focus than a heavenly one will be inappropriate for guiding godly behavior.] Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.

Eph 2:19 -- Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, [To say that God wants us to function as "good citizens of our country;" i.e., to vote, to hold public office, to serve in its military, etc., is totally foreign to what God says concerning the rightful focus of our allegiances. The "country" we represent is not America, but the "country" of heaven.]

1 John 2:6 -- Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did. [When did Jesus ever walk in the "activism" mode?]

Luke 9:53-56 -- but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?" But Jesus turned and rebuked them and they went to another village ["Activism" is rebuked by Jesus, not encouraged. If the Christian carries on that purpose, he cannot possibly take the lives of men physically, thereby taking from them the possibility of hearing and believing on the Word of Christ.]

Gal 5:22 -- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [Since the fruit of the Spirit includes peace, which thereby makes believers peace-makers, it would be impossible to, at the same time, bear arms.]

James 4:1 -- What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?

Rom 8:3,4 -- For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

John 12:25; Mark 8:35 -- The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. ... For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. [This principle of Christ is one which rises above the principles of men, and it is in operation today. The sense of this passage is ultimately spiritual, but the outcome turns on the attitude one takes toward his life in this world and the methods he uses to save that life. If his life in this world is more important than life with Christ, then he is of this world and will employ the methods of this world to save it, though he will ultimately lose both physically and spiritually. But if he is willing to lose his life in this world for the sake of Christ and the Gospel, he will use the methods of Christ. This may mean that he loses his life physically, but he will save it ultimately both physically and spiritually.]

[Many Christians hold occupations that violate the higher calling of the New Covenant. Some of these occupations include serving in the military and going to war. We are to love our enemies and turn the other cheek and not return evil for evil. First, in order to join the military or serve in civilian law enforcement one must violate what Jesus and James said about swearing oaths. This also applies to being sworn into a political office. We are pilgrims and strangers; our citizenship is in heaven; we are in the world but not of the world. Our task is to make disciples and call them to be separate and holy unto Christ.]


Working Out Some "Problems" with the Doctrine of Non-Resistance:

(Excerpted and/or adapted from All Things Whatsoever I have Commanded You, by Herman A. Hoyt (July, 1948); Chapter VII: "The Practice of Non-Resistance in War and Peace"; pp. 96-107.)

It is inevitable that these problems should arise in connection with this doctrine, just as they do in connection with every other doctrine of the Scriptures. And while these problems may seem to be insuperable, it is satisfying to know that they only seem that way. Where sufficient knowledge of the Scriptures is available and a proper system of interpreting the Word is followed, these problems disappear instantly.

(a) The Practice of Israel: Since the Old Testament is replete with information concerning the wars of Israel, and these same wars were authorized and commanded by God, it is difficult for the Christian to reconcile this with the command to resist not him that is evil by the use of physical force. However, there are at least three things which answer this objection.

First. Israel was a nation of this world, while the Church is a spiritual nation not of this world. Israel was a nation just like any other nation on the face of the earth, with the exception that God had chosen them for His own. The people had distinct physical characteristics which differentiated them from all other people. They spoke a distinct language which set them apart from others. They lived in a particular location on the face of the earth. There were boundaries to their possessions. They maintained a government, with a capital city, a throne, a king, a royal family. And to maintain this nation in the land, God permitted the use of force for this was the only argument that would be understood by the unregenerate peoples of earth. But the Church is not such a nation. Peter calls it "an holy nation" which has been "called ... out of darkness into his marvelous light" (I Pet. 2:9). The characteristics of this people are spiritual, its language is that of every nation, there is no specific geographical location, no boundaries to maintain, and no capital city, regal throne, king, or family, except heaven and Christ. Christians are pilgrims and sojourners in this world and therefore they do not possess any physical property in perpetuity, and their spiritual possessions cannot be taken away by any kind or show of physical force.

Second, Israel was not a regenerated people, while the true Church is made up of regenerated people. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4). Israel could not perform the righteousness of the law even though the external pressure of the law was brought to bear upon them, for they walked after the flesh. But Christians who are called upon to follow a much higher standard than the Old Testament law, especially in the case of non-resistance, have been regenerated and thus equipped for the task. Even believers find this difficult to do. Certainly Israel would have failed in keeping the higher standard when she failed so miserably in keeping the lower. In this holy nation, the Church, it was the purpose of the Lord that believers should display in the world the virtues of Christ which had been communicated to them in the new birth (I Pet. 2:9). By carefully relating the command for non-resistance to the context, it will be seen that this command was delivered to the "blessed," which word means "born again" (Matt. 5:3, 38, 39), which was not true of Israel.

Third, Israel was a nation operating as such during the dispensation of the law, while the Church is a spiritual nation living during the dispensation of grace. It is true that this reason may be cited at times when it does not bear on the point. But in this case, Christ Himself points to the past and the law which operated then, and then with sovereign authority changes the law for His Church. "Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" (Matt. 5:38 RV). This is taken from the Old Testament law and the principle was in operation during the dispensation of the law. "But I say unto you Resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matt. 5:39 RV). This is the change made by Christ for His people during the dispensation of grace. For this change no charge can be brought against Christ. He was the One who gave the Old Testament law, and He has the right to change it when He deems it right and proper. In this case the Old Testament law has served its purpose, and a new principle is adopted with the ushering in of the new administration for the people of God.

(b) The Proclamations of Christ: Upon two different occasions Christ made statements which might seem to contradict His command on non-resistance. However. these verses when examined in the light of their context fall easily into line with the general teaching of Christ on the use of physical force.

Matthew 10:34. 'Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace. but a sword." The context makes it quite clear that Christ is merely using graphic language to describe the spiritual division which He in His own person will produce every place in the world. Some will believe in Him and that will set them at variance with those who do not believe. No person in all the world has produced more division than Christ, and so sharply has been the division that He describes it under the figure of the sword. But this is not the sword employed in physical force, as the verses preceding and following this declaration will attest (Matt. 10:25-42).

Luke 22:35-38. "And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one" (35, 36). Some take this quite literally to mean that Jesus was authorizing the use of force in the light of the fact that He was being taken from them by the wicked hands of those who later slew Him (37). The disciples, too, took Him quite literally, "And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough" (38). Later, on the same occasion, when the vicious crowd had gathered to take Jesus, and Judas had betrayed His identity to the enemy, "When they which were about him saw what would follow, they said unto him, Lord, shall we smite with the sword?" (Luke 22:49), and before He could answer, "one of them smote the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear" (Luke 22:50). "Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt. 26:52'). By this method, the disciples were set right, and our Lord graciously restored the ear of the dismembered victim. Whatever our Lord meant upon this occasion, He certainly did not mean that now the disciples were free to use force.

(c) The Place of Believers: The most difficult problem of all is the place believers sustain in relation to human government. This problem is difficult because Christians do feel an obligation to their governments.

The passage usually used to set forth the proper relation to civil government is Romans 13:1-7. Some insist that the command of this passage, "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (13:1) is sufficient to warrant military service. But that is a failure to note the intent of the passage. For most certainly the apostle is not urging believers to commit sin just because the government commands it. "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil" (13:3). And for this reason believers ought to obey rulers where rulers are actually performing the function for which they were ordained of God. "Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good" (13:3, 4). This was written in the days when Nero Caesar was on the throne in Rome, and therefore, this was by no means a sanction of the numerous evil deeds of that monster of iniquity. If Paul had meant that believers should take up the sword, it is strange that he would precede this command with a command which cannot be construed to teach this. "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:19-21).

Moreover, there is a higher law to which believers should be obedient. Since believers are commanded to obey civil government in those things that are right, and since war is right for governments of this world, some may insist that Christians obedient to the government in this matter will be doing that which is right. However, the doctrine of separation calls upon believers to separate themselves from many things of this present order that may be right for those in the world. When civil governments issue the call to military service or to anything forbidden by the Lord for Christians, the law of the Lord becomes a higher law to which believers must be obedient rather than to the laws of men. When forbidden to speak in the name of the Lord Jesus, Peter and John enunciated the principle for Christians, "But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19, 20). To the same group Peter stated the same principle in other words on the following day, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). This principle is sufficient authorization for refusing to bear arms. God has spoken, and His law supersedes the laws of men.


Biblical Discernment Ministries - 6/98

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