Saturday, 25 May 2013

Loving Your Enemy: Part 2: The Historical Context

The most important class I took at bible college was Hermeneutics, or the study of the interpretation of scripture. It was in this class that I learned valuable principals such as, “a text without a context is a pretext”, or the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. The goal of good hermeneutics is to ascertain the original meaning and intention of the author the text. It is to this end that I believe a historical study of the early church is beneficial to the interpretation of the Biblical text. History helps to paint the lines that we must stay within and it helps to construct the boundaries for a faithful reading of the text. Examining what was important to the apostles, and the generation that followed, and then the next generation, gives a basic tradition, a framework, of values and beliefs, that must guide our faith today. The study of church history helps us to develop that basic framework.

So what did the early church believe on killing? Here's what is completely amazing: 

The first three centuries of Christianity, all Christian leaders, without exception, were pacifists and called all Christians to live the way of peace.

Let's look at a few statements by the early church fathers:
Justin Martyr

  “We refrain from making war on our enemies, and [we] cannot bear to see a man killed, even if killed justly.”  - Justin Martyr (103-165 A.D)

Clement of Alexandria

“He who holds the sword must cast it away and that if one of the faithful becomes a soldier, he must be rejected by the Church, for he has scorned God.” - Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D)

“For even if soldiers came to John and received advice on how to act, and even if a centurion  became a believer, the Lord, in subsequently disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier” - Tertullian (160-220 A.D)

"Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?" - Tertullian (160-220 A.D)

Hippolytus of Rome
"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate must resign or be rejected. If a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God."
 - Hippolytus of Rome (170-236 A.D)

Military service is seen as wrong in the early church for 3 reasons:

a) ETHICAL: Violence is not an option for Christians. The early church fathers would often cite Jesus' teaching on enemy love to this end. 

b) PHILOSOPHICAL: War is based on the State’s goal of self-preservation or self advancement rather than the Christian’s goal of self-sacrifice.

c) SPIRITUAL: Military service demands too much loyalty, leading to idolatry.
 “ The overwhelming evidence suggests that the followers of Jesus were pacifists for the first three centuries. Many early church leaders and documents underscore the unwavering commitment to nonviolence.” - Ronald Sider, The Early Church on Killing.

The Early Church on Killing: 
(summarized points taken from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed) 

1.Prior to Constantine not one writer says it is right to kill or join the military.
2.Many passages prohibit participation in killing or the military.
3. Rejection of killing is comprehensive.
4. It is inaccurate to say military participate is wrong because of idolatry. Sometimes, but often it is related to Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
5.The evidence for “divided and ambiguous” is overdrawn. No one says it is right to join the military. No one encourages capital punishment.
6. Sider also thinks the continuous theory toward Just War is overcooked.
7. There is clear evidence that by the end of the 2nd and early 3rd centuries that some Christians were in the military. Perhaps these are those who were converted after joining the military. Some texts condemn baptized Christians joining the military. Lactantius’ later writing therefore inveighs against what is going on, suggesting that by the early 4th Century the voice was being divided.

But what is clear is that no one supports killing in war. That some participated shows a Christian disconnect. There is no voice saying it was right, so anyone who says there were different teachings goes against the evidence we do have. To make this a little clearer: that some were in the military does not mean there were teachers who said it was right.

What happened? 

A sculpture of Constantine
The Constantinian Shift: Early in the fourth century, Constantine declares Christianity a legal religion through the Edict of Milan, immediately reversing any ongoing persecution. Instead, he lavishes gifts upon all Church leaders (e.g., increasing their salary, making them exempt from paying taxes, building church buildings, funding Bible copying, etc.). Crucifixion and gladiatorial games are abolished due to the traumatic connection with Christian victimization. Sunday is declared a weekly holiday for all people. Pagan holidays are absorbed into the Christian calendar. Pagan temples are converted into Church buildings, with statues of Roman gods replaced with statues of the Apostles and other biblical characters. The Church is now friends with the State.

"The Constantinian Shift amounted to a fundamental reorientation in the relationship of church and world."  
- John Howard Yoder

Theological Development in light of the Constantinian Shift:

• Augustine (354 – 430 C.E.) & later Aquinas (1225 – 1274 C.E.) develop and defend a
“justified war” theory for Christians, based on existing Roman and Greek thought.
• Christians are now encouraged to join the army and be involved in government. Violence is to be used as God’s instrument to “punish” evildoers (e.g., Romans 13:1-7).
• Augustine sees punishment as a more justifiable motive than self-defense.
• By 416 C.E., all Roman soldiers are required to be Christian.
• 500 C.E - 1400‘s In the Western Church Non-violence is restricted to the elite christians.
(monasticism, saints etc..)

Nonviolence was for a thousand years relegated to the monastic, saintly realm. It is during this time that the church openly participates in the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisiton, and church sponsored killings. Everything changed during the reformation. The church for first time was being openly critiqued and called back to a more faithful earlier expression of Christianity. The most important change that took place as a result of the reformation, was the translation of scripture in to local languages. Reformers like Luther toiled for years to place scripture in the hands of the common person. 

Groups of people began to read scripture for the first time and discover the radical teachings of Jesus' and his Kingdom. These people who began to take Jesus' teachings seriously were called the 'radical reformers'. The radical reformers were not content to stop at Luther or Calvin's reformation. They wanted to continue radicalizing the church back to the early church revealed in scripture. Soon they began to baptise by full immersion and as a result recieved the title 'ana-baptist', meaning 'again' and 'baptise'. The Anabaptists would be greatly persecuted for their beliefs. Both Catholics and Protestants killed, burned, and slaughtered the Anabaptists. The perfered way of execution was by 'third baptism', in which the unrepentant victim would be drown to death. Through all the persecution the Anabaptists maintained a faithful peace witness to the world. 

Check this video out for a more indepth look at Anabaptists: 

Historical Development of Non-Violence in light the Reformation.

• Anabaptists– The Radical Reformers

• Swiss Protestants...

• Conrad Grebel (1498-1526)

• Felix Manz (1498-1527) – the first martyr – death by “third baptism”

• George Blaurock (1491-1529)

• German Catholics... Michael & Margareta Sattler (1490-1527)

• Dutch Catholics... Menno Simons (1496-1561)

Today we have a small minority of denominations that espouse Non-Violence. (Anabaptists, Eastern Orthodox, Early Pentecostals)

Reflection Questions for Discussion

1. What has been your experience (or lack thereof) of peace teaching in the church?

2. What was your knowledge and/or experience of the Anabaptists before this blog series?

3. What are thoughts on the Constantinian Shift? Should the church and state be one or seperate? 

4. Should the church ever use violence to promote its agenda? 

(Click here to go to Part 3) 

1 comment:

  1. Most teaching that I have heard from the pulpit about peace is usually about peace of the heart, peace from the Spirit. Not so much about living in a peace, as in non-violence.
    Why do we lack the application of the Spirit of peace, not only in this issue but in everyday circumstances, like dealing with aggressive drivers and aggravating neighbors?

    The "Church" shouldn't be used to "promote" anything other than the agenda of Christ, if I can say that. I think a large part of the problem is that we do not know what God is wanting us to do, or we don't like what we are called to do, or do not believe that God's agenda will be accomplished His way.
    If there was a way to reveal truth in a real way, a tangible way...maybe violence or convincing people do behave in non-biblical ways wouldn't be an issue.