Pacifism or Just War?

I’m in the midst of working on a research paper for my Social Ethics class at Fuller.

Here’s my reading list:

A plurality of views is represented by these materials.

Where do you stand?

Are you a pacifist, or do you believe war is a valid option?

If you’re a pacifist, why? If you believe war is valid, in what instances?

What do you believe the Bible teaches regarding pacifism and war?

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18 thoughts on “Pacifism or Just War?

  1. Jen says:

    I love that everyone is posting their reading lists for the summer.. Its always interesting. “The Politics of Jesus” looks good..

    Lots of Don Miller and Dan Allender for me, with some guilty pleasure fiction and memoirs thrown in πŸ˜‰

    To answer your question, I believe there is such a thing as justified war. As someone from the hippity dippity left (or close to it, at least compared to most christians I come across) I get the idealistic draw of total pacifism, but its both impossible and unbiblical.

    PS congrats on having another GIRL! πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ You got your hands full bro.

    • WesWoodell says:

      That’s not my summer reading list – it’s part of the reading list for one of my classes at school.

      My summer reading list will look quite a bit different from this. πŸ™‚

  2. Tim Archer says:

    I’m becoming more and more of a pacifist. I think that the military action we see in the Old Testament is rarely examined in its context. And I find it next to impossible to mesh “just war” and the teachings of the New Testament.

    Just war is an attractive concept when you live in a dominant society. because it usually means your nation feeling justified in doing what is necessary to preserve the status quo.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. K. Rex Butts says:

    I am pretty much a pacafist. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and pray for them, not kill or harm them. In more than a few places, the ideal of the cross is taught as the value Christians are to live by. We are called to give our allegiance to Jesus as Lord, not the nations and tribes of this world. We have already won the victory so there is nothing that can be done to us to destroy us, so what do we have to be fearul of…to the point that we must fight to protect.

    But more importantly, as a Christian we have been redeemed into a new life, new world and we are to be witnesses of that inbreaking new world and life that God is restoring in Jesus Christ. How can we be witnesses of that new life when we are occupying ourselves with the business and activities of the old world/life we were redeemed from? That has nothing to do with the question of whether the nations/tribes of this world can go to war. But as for Christians…we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called [us] out of darkness…” who are identified in this world as “aliens and exiles” (1 Pet 2.9, 11, NRSV). I just do not see how we Christians can be that people of God when we continue to play by the rules of this world.

    Every argument I have heard for “just war” assumes there must be an exception…one that is not found in scripture. And so, it must appeal to reasoning and proof-texting of scripture against scriptures own theological trajectory to make its case.

    Grace and peace,


    • WesWoodell says:

      So does this mean you’re NOT preaching a “Support Our Troops” sermon this Sunday (Memorial Day)? :p

      • K. Rex Butts says:

        No, I would rather the church preach a sermon about praying for those around the world being martyred for Jesus Christ. But that tells you just how much nationalism has co-opted our faith…many Christians in America want to remember American troops (and I can understand why) but that rememberance is at the expense of those who have born witness to the gospel by physical death.

        I am curious if you have come across any writings that make a distinction between the use of political violence in order to protect the political kingdoms of this world and the use of violence, say by a local sheriff deputy, to stop an armed assailant from harming an innocent and defenseless person. I just wonder (thinking out loud) is such a distinction can be made ethically and maintain a coherent ethical position towards pacafism. You see, one of the problems I see with participating/supporting political/military violence against another nation, tribe, or group is that such violence is only serving to preserve a worldly kingdom and why would any Christian want to spend energy preserving an worldly kingdom that, eschatologically speaking, has been defeated by Jesus (cf. Col 2.15). If Christians truly believe the Kingdom of God is the only eternal kingdom, why would we not want to spend our energy being God’s vessel to advance that Kingdom? And I don’t believe we can serve two kingdoms.

        Grace and peace,


  4. K. Rex Butts says:

    BTW…so I don’t sound so cold and calloused towards American troops…I do believe the church ought to pray for them as well as other troop whether they are deemed friend or foe. Ultimately, I believe God is saddened when any troop suffers death and I also know their are loved ones ‘back home’ who suffer also…so for that, we ought to pray for their safety.

    Grace and peace,


  5. Terry says:

    Over 20 years ago, I did some extensive research into how the 19th century Disciples of Christ approached the subjects of pacifism and just warfare. Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from each side:

    Alexander Campbell wrote from a pacifist perspective with a strong sense of sarcasm and irony, “…see that Christian general, with his ten thousand soldiers, and his chaplin at his elbow, preaching, as he says, the gospel of goodwill among men; and hear him exhort his general and his Christian warriors to go forth with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other, to fight the battles of God and their country; praying that the Lord would cause them to fight valiantly, and render their efforts successful in making as many widows and orphans as will afford sufficient opportunity for others to manifest the purity of their religion by taking care of them!!!” (“The Christian Religion,” Christian Baptist, 3 August 1823, pp. 17-18).

    In response to pacifists’ criticism that adherents of the just war theory did not love their enemies, John Shackleford wrote, “Men sometimes are condemned to be hung for murder, and a humane man with tears executes the sentence of the law against the criminal, praying for him all the while…To execute the law does not necessarily involve malice and hatred” (“Reply,” Lard’s Quarterly, October 1866, page 357).

    Of course, it’s possible that neither quote will be helpful in your assignment, but I found both arguments to be very thought-provoking.

  6. Alan says:

    Ah. Eh. This is some great stuff. I very rarely find myself straddling the ideological line on issues. But this one, I just don’t know. Somewhere deep in my heart is a warhawk that believes in the possibility that the military might of the country I love just might be a devastatingly effective tool wielded by the Almighty God. On the other hand, the default mode of the Christ (whom I love and in whom I place all hope) seems to be sacrificial pacifism.

    What is a brother to do? I ache more and more for peace but I know pragmatically that this peace is only achievable by complete victory or complete surrender. So, my heart is divided.

    Any guidance on this?

    • WesWoodell says:

      Alan – I’m thinking today there may be a difference between Jesus’ teachings for individual disciples and God’s plan/expectations of earthly governments.

      I’m not 100% sure, but that’s what I’m leaning toward.

  7. Tim Archer says:

    Israel’s military was rightly used for the conquest of the Promised Land and the punishment of nations that sought to impede their taking possession of that inheritance. Even David’s military action took place within that framework.

    Outside of that, God uses ungodly nations and their armies as a tool. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that Alan isn’t correct in his assessment.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  8. K. Rex Butts says:

    I don’t think we can say with any more certainty that God is using American military power to punish other nations/people as we can say that God was using Al Qieda to punish the American nation/peoples. Of course, most American would scream in protest at the suggestion that God might have used the 9/11 terrorists as a tool to punish America (and I am not suggest that this is what God did) but if we conclude that God uses American military power to punish others then to be coherent, we must conclude that God can and would use other military powers to punish America.

    Of course, many American cannot fathom what could be so wrong in America that would warrant divine punishment and that is one of the ways in which nationalistic idolatry is so evident.

    I actually have questions about the theological idea that God is still using Governments to punish other people on a national level for sins. Have the sins of all not been beared by Jesus on the cross (2 Cor 5.21)? If they have and he has taken our punishment, then why is God still using other nations to punish ungodliness? Someone will ask, “what about Romans 13?,” which I believe is more about civil justice (punishment in the negative) as a means of maintaining some level of civil order (the absence of anarchy) rather than divine punishment.

    Grace and peace,


  9. Matt Stone says:

    Pacifist. Because I believe it’s the most faithful way to approach the violence of the state given the way Jesus’ own life climaxed. Alternatives to pacifism are invariably less Christocentric. Common objections (e.g. Romans 13) can generally be deconstructed by an examination of the context (e.g. Romans 12)

  10. Jp Wornock says:

    I recently did some research into the temple “cleansing” because it did not seem to match up with Jesus’ teaching of passivity. My current non-theologian opinion is that Jesus was defending the weak/poor ( from the money-changers) and he was getting bad people out of his Father’s house. It was not a fight for land or money. Also, as a side note, the original text seems to imply that He “Drove” the animals out with the whip (not that He used it on the people).
    So, my current thought is that it is not only ok to fight but actually modeled by Jesus IF, you cannot come to an agreement by discussion and IF you are fighting for people who cannot fight for themselves and who will be persecuted if you do not stand up and fight for them.

    • WesWoodell says:

      Hiya JP – thanks for the comment πŸ™‚

      I’ve studied that passage a bit too recently, and don’t believe Jesus used the whip on the people either. I don’t believe this was a violent encounter.

    • K. Rex Butts says:

      While Jesus certainly lived and preached a non-violent ethic, this passage show he was anything but passive. I heard some people confuse the idea of pacifism with passivity. While I believe Christians are called to a non-violent witness, we certainly are not called to be passive when it comes to matters of injustice and oppression.

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