There has never been a mightier man to walk the earth than Jesus of Nazareth. His moral, emotional, and spiritual strength was unparalleled by anyone of his day. It remains unmatched to this hour.
Yet his message was unequivocaly one of non-violence.
The first three centuries of Christian history following his advent into the world attest to the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who first followed in Christ’s way upheld this conviction of non-violence with great passion. Soldiers abandoned their posts upon coming to the Lord. They refused military service. When struck upon one cheek they offered the other.
This practice only began to change with the unholy alliance of church and state under Constantine in the third century. What little evidence there is to suggest otherwise is not difficult to refute. Keith Giles has written an article recently that explores this notion in more detail, which I highly recommend you read.
Even still, living in America today it is hard to refute Gandhi’s painful observation: “The only people who don’t see Jesus and his teachings as non-violent are Christians!”
WHY CHRISTIANS FIGHT
What is the reason for this quandary? It is simple, really.
Under interrogation by Pilate Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36).
Note that Jesus’ disciples did want to fight to keep him from being handed over. This is because, like Jesus said, they still thought his kingdom was of and from the world. Right up to the moment of his ascension they were still clinging to this belief (see Acts 1:6).
Also note that there is a difference between God’s kingdom being from the world and its being for the world. Just because His kingdom is not of the world does not mean it is not for the world. On the contrary, it is. This simply goes to show that it is not advocating any form of spiritual escapism to proclaim that God’s kingdom is not of this world.
So why did Jesus’ disciples want to fight? Why did Peter draw his sword and cut off one man’s ear? Simply because they thought their Rabbi’s kingdom was of the world.
And why do some of Jesus’ followers still want to fight today? Why do they support war and the military industrial complex? For the same reason. There remains a widescale confusion as to where God’s kingdom is coming from. Nevertheless,
God’s kingdom is not coming from a world where men fight to overthrow regimes and establish new orders. God’s kingdom is coming from heaven where the battle is won by a Lamb laying down his life.
SOMETHING WAS DIFFERENT
So it would do us well to take a fresh look at the words of Jesus. If you’re not sure where you stand in regards to this issue you may want to consider the testimony of the first three centuries of Christian history prior to Constantine. Something was different, and you owe it to yourself to find out what that something was.
There was a reason Celcus said of the Christians: “If everyone were to act the same as you, the national government would soon be left utterly deserted and without any help, and affairs on earth would soon pass into the hands of the most savage and wretched barbarians.”
There was a reason Martin of Tours proclaimed: “I am Christ’s soldier, I am not allowed to fight.”
There was a reason Tertullian declared: “When Christ disarmed Peter, he disarmed every soldier.”
Behind all these words there is a deep and positive reality, and you can be sure it is not any form of cowardice or escapism. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the cross is mightier still.