If Jesus is our Lord, we must Love our Enemies.

Should Christians always love their enemies?
As a short background, I grew up believing that if you were a Christian you had to vote Republican. I also thought it would be brave and wise to buy a gun to defend my family. Shortly after, I got a CCW so I could legally carry. But a few years ago, I started to really study Jesus for myself and everything changed. And as for the reasons why I am so passionate about this issue, let me explain:

1) I grew up going to church every Sunday and I never once heard that people took Jesus' call to love their enemies literally.

2) Because we live in America, we often find Christians making Jesus into our image. This can be seen when we are more concerned with the Constitution than we are with what Jesus actually said.
3) Lastly, our culture has increasingly become more violent, yet Christians are the loudest voice against any changes to gun laws, even though Jesus called us to love our enemies.

Therefore, I hope I can share with you what I have learned over my crazy journey from a CCW advocate to a Christian pacifist. Be informed, that at the end of this article there are list of questions and rebuttals, which will clarify some details. 


Jesus' command to love your enemies.

What is ironic in the debate over loving your enemy is that Jesus said we will be known by our love. Yet, we completely remove the radicalness from that love when we think it is okay to kill our enemies. Read the words of Jesus carefully:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." - Jesus (Luke 6:27-36)

Could Jesus have been more clear? What else could he say to clear up his point? If we want to argue that we will love those who are kind to us, but not our enemies, we entirely miss the point of the second half of the quotation, for "...even sinners do that." Matthew also records how Jesus taught us to love our enemies another time:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? -Jesus (Matthew 5:43:74)


Notice how even God loves his enemies, for he sends the rain and sun on both the just and unjust. But this is not confined to the Sermon on the Mount, but that will be for another time. 

Paul and the Early Church
In Romans 12 and 13, Paul unpacks what it means to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He repeats and paraphrases Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount saying,

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." -Paul (Romans 12:14-21)


In the next verse (chapter 13) he says the government "does not bear the sword in vain." The message is clear: followers of Jesus are called to non-violence, but the government will use power and violence to put fear in evil doers.


Many ask if Christians can serve in the military, police, government, or use violence in self-defense. Believe it or not, the answer to this question is actually clearer than you might think. If the entire New Testament is not enough, we can see a perfect record of the early Church teaching non-violence. Not one s
ingle dissenting voice disagreed with this. I have compiled main quotes from all the main teachers here, which show that there is no time in which Christians should pick up the sword, pledge allegiance, serve in government, police or military where they would have to put people to death by word or deed. The Early Church would actually have excommunicated those who did. I realize this is extremely controversial. My focus is not to condemn those who serve in this capacity, but to mention the early Church did condemn it. I truly respect all those that serve this country, and I do address this in the Q&A at the bottom. If you are interested in a more complete list of Early Church quotes, look here.




So when did the Church start killing its enemies?
The amazing thing about growing up going to church is never hearing anyone advocating loving your enemy,  even though the Biblical and historical record is crystal clear. There is a perfect record of Christians leaders taking Jesus' teaching literally until the fourth century in the Church. 

Constantine really created the first big change. He was a pagan ruler who claimed to see a vision that promised if he would write the first two Greek letters of Jesus' name on the battle shields, he would win the battle.  After winning on October 28, 312, he created the first time ever where someone was killed in the name of Jesus. 

With this new-found power, theologians justified violence for good. Augustine of Hippo paved the way for the Crusades with sayings like, "Does anyone doubt that it is better for man to be led to the worship of God by teaching rather than forced to it by fear and suffering? Because the former group is preferable it does not follow those of the latter should be neglected." After this point, power, force, and killing became the norm for how to deal with enemies and heretics, despite the lack of precedent.

If Jesus isn't our Lord, is He our Savior?
This makes us again return to Jesus. If we claim Jesus as Lord, we should do as He did and follow His example and teaching. If we do not do this, we should hear His voice asking us, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?"(Luke 6:46) We just can't call him Lord and not do as He said, and Jesus explained in John 13:14-17, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them."

All of this is becomes one of my most driving concerns with the Church in America. Even though we believe in Jesus, often we do not actually follow him as Lord. To be completely transparent, this is why I fear that many who have said the "sinner's prayer" but do not actually follow Him as Lord might hear this, "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:21-23)

Will we follow Constantine or Christ?

The question becomes who is our Lord, who is dictating our actions? Once we are honest with that, we will discover who our true Lord is: Constantine or Christ. For it is not enough to believe, since even the demons do that (James 2:19). Our temptation is transform Jesus into our image and practice the Religion of America in the place of Christianity. Depressingly, we have made it all too easy to elevate history and tradition over Jesus. Even though we have been killing people in the name of Jesus for 1600 years, the practice doesn't mean it is right. All too often we study theologians who studied Him, instead of studying for ourselves. If we claim Jesus and the Bible as our final authority, we need to act like it. 

As we have seen, there is no way we can ignore the clear record of the early church, and retain our integrity. In addressing the topic of loving your enemies, N.T. Wright, one of the most respected theologians and scholars, says,"It is hard to imagine this teaching becoming the norm in the church, as it clearly did from the very start, unless it was firmly rooted in the words and example of Jesus himself." So let's have the humility and honestly to research for ourselves, so we can "Do [our] best to present [ourselves] to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."(2 Tim 2:15) Upon doing so, we will no longer be blinded by they lies we hear repeated, but see the truth as clear.

What is our driving motivation and faith?
When we walk in that integrity we will see where our true faith lies. For me, when I conceal-carried my Kimber 1911 everyday, if I heard a loud noise while asleep, I know what I would have done. I would have woken up, grabbed my gun, and made sure the house was secure. The question is, where was my faith? Was my faith in God or myself? I didn't think to pray; I acted. In honesty, I didn't trust God, I trusted myself. Yet when you study the topic as much as I have, you will hear true stories that will rock your normal assumptions.

Preston Sprinkle's Fight book tells of a woman about to be raped. She prayed quickly and she believed God told her to tell her attacker, "Your mom loves you." Once she said that, the would-be rapist ran off crying. Would that happen every time? No one knows, but I can tell you that instead of putting my faith in myself or my gun I will place my faith in Jesus, who I claim to be my Lord.

All too often Christians, especially in America, start with hypothetical situations and then look for support in the Bible. It is not surprising that warriors like David and Joshua are often esteemed higher than Jesus our Messiah when it comes to these matters. I know it is not easy to trust God, but that is what true faith is. It does not mean inaction, but hyperactive non-violence. We aren't confined to the false dichotomy of kill or be killed. Jesus was the inventor of the third way. While this is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, it is the Way of Jesus.

FOLLOW UP QUESTIONS

Doesn't being a pacifist mean you do nothing in passivity?

Christian pacifism or Christian non-violence is not the same as passivity, or not doing anything. To quote Preston Sprinkle, "Jesus advocated not for balmily passivity but for nonviolent hyperactivity soaked in stubborn love."

What if someone breaks into your house?

There are many ways advocates for non-violence will answer this question. Some will say they would wrestle the intruder, others will say they believe God would intervene. My perspective is this: If I were faced with this horrible situation, I would first pray. I would expect God to give me the right words or actions to stop the intruder without destroying him. I would also be willing to lay down my life, if necessary, to defend my family and keep them safe. I am not willing to develop a theology from a hypothetical situation. I will start with Jesus and work out from there.

What about Hitler? Should Christians then have done nothing?

Many love to bring up the dream scenario that, if you knew what Hitler would do and you had the opportunity to intervene, would you kill him before he annihilated millions of people? I made this exact argument with a friend of mine not that long ago. The fact is that this didn't happen. And if we are going back in time, imagine if this did happen. What if the religious nation of Germany said no to Hitler and refused to fight in the army because they were committed to following Jesus and loving their enemy? If this had been the case, the war would have never happened.

Do you hate those who serve in the military or police?

I do not hate those that serve at all, Christian or not. They serve in a tremendous way and I am indebted. I truly respect those who serve and have served this country and thank them every time I meet a public servant. Yet I will continue to argue that it is not ideal for a Christian, according to Romans 12 and 13. As I said before, chapter 13 says the government does not bear the sword in vain, but chapter 12 clearly shows how Christians are not to bear that sword in any way. This position is completely confirmed by the early Church. Yet, my desire and goal is not to condemn or judge any who serves in these ways, but to point out that Christians are commanded to love their enemies at all times. Finally, I see this as similar to how Christians have always disagreed on how to observe Sabbath.  This is an issue that is up to our own conscience (see Romans 14:5-7); therefore, my job is not as judge but as one pointing to what Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church said. 

What about Luke 22:36?

Many also quote Luke 22:36, where Jesus says “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one."  The thought is that this verse questions the clear claim of Jesus, Paul, and the Early Church. But this verse is a weak proof text, since the next verse says, "For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” Jesus told them they needed swords so they would look like rebels, in order to fulfill Isaiah 53:12. If that was not enough, read one more verse and the disciples say they have two swords, and Jesus says "That's enough.” How would two swords among 13 guys be enough for a battle, let alone self-defense? This is why many commentators think Jesus' response of "that's enough" means "you guys are completely missing the point."

Aren't you ignoring the Old Testament?

This question is one of the most prevalent and also the most legitimate. The Old Testament does contain many violent and horrible accounts. What I want to state first is the Kingdom of Israel was a physical Kingdom, just like an Kingdom of Man now. It was not the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to proclaim, inaugurate, and spread. Israel was a physical people, with physical borders and physical enemies. This is no longer the case in the Kingdom of God, because our battle is not against flesh and blood, but rather it is a spiritual battle (Eph 6:12). As a side note, I do want to add in my current reading through the Old Testament, I am surprised by how many times Israel acted on their own accord. Just because actions were recorded in the Bible, doesn't mean God wanted them to happen. Don't ignore verses like: Isaiah 2:4, Joel 3:10, Mic 4:3, Hos 1:7, 2:18, Zech 9:10, Isai 1:15, and Exod 20:13.

If I refuse to be non-violent, what does that mean?
I am not ignorant enough to think that this article will convince many. I know I was stuck in my ways when I carried my Kimber 1911 everyday. The natural question is, now what? If you as a Christian admit you would use violence when necessary, we can still actually agree. I have respect for those who are honest enough to say that, even in light of the example of Jesus, Paul, and the early church. As long as you do not claim that Jesus would be okay with it, I will never argue. There are many teachings of Jesus we all ignore, and we can admit that and still have integrity. But if we ignore His teachings and example and make a spiritual loophole so we can justify our actions, we have ceased to follow Jesus as Lord.
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2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this thoughtful and well articulated article. I grew up in an Anabaptist "peace church", but but have sometimes been challenged to succinctly and clearly explain why faith compels me to be a conscientious objector. This article does that so well. The big and disheartening question is how so much of the church has diverged so far from the core clear message of the one we claim to follow. Many Christians are so quick to label themselves as "pro-life", but this seems to extend only to a single issue. Shouldn't a pro-life stance express itself to similarly opposing the death penalty, the arms trade, military service, poverty eradication, human trafficking and modern day slavery, etc, etc. it is interesting that it is now the Bishop of Rome who is again the clearest Christian voice on such matters. The church that first turned to Constantine, is now seemingly taking the lead in redirecting the Body of Christ back to its Source. Finally, on how we got to where we are, I would recommend reading "The Subversion of Christianity" by French sociologist and Christian activist-intellectual, Jacques Ellul...thanks again!

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  2. I really liked that article. Some great points. The Christian Right's attitude towards violence is way out of wack.

    I'm not a pacifist technically, but I am practically. I think the general discussion suffers from too much black/white thinking. I also get told that I'm not a vegan (which I became simply because I want the killing and torture and suffering to stop -- ALL of it regardless of species) since I will eat animal products when with friends if that's all that there is. The exception proves, not disproves the rule.

    If someone claims to be my friend and lets me get hurt because he has moral scruples about violence, that kind of defines the limit of his friendship. I won't hesitate to defend those I care about, violently if that's the best I can do. Violence is our last resort to threats that exceed our competence to meet rationally. The problem isn't that we resort to it at all, but that we resort to it before it's our last option. When it is in fact our last option, but then we refuse to engage, allowing real tangible harm to real people for the sake of an abstract principle, I can hardly consider that "rational".

    I recently watched an amazing series of films called "Human". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdb4XGVTHkE&feature=youtu.be&t=236

    The relevant piece is this guy (the link takes you right to him) explains how he inflicted pain to test the measure of others' love for him. If we actually want people to be saved, we'll think further than just defending ourselves against ones like these. I'm not say avoid thinking about it. I'm saying think further.

    Invariably, though, the Christians I've talked to who believe in armed defense, death penalty, police and military right to violent force, etc., have already dehumanized people like this to the level of trash and scum. Then the idea of blowing them away if necessary makes sense. And they don't seem to get the sin involved in getting their heads into a condition where considering human beings as no better than trash or scum is so obvious to them that they have no question about it. Very, very sad besides being completely hypocritical.

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