Biblical Nonresistance

In this post, I will look at one area where the Anabaptists have remained true to the teachings of the apostles, while most churches have not.

What Is Nonresistance?

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), Jesus gave his followers many instructions for how they should live. I will look at one of his teachings in particular, one that is found in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the rest of the New Testament, which Roman Catholics and Protestants do not teach as necessary. That is the doctrine which Anabaptist churches have called nonresistance (others have called it “nonviolence”).

Nonresistance is to prefer to die oneself, rather than to kill another person. It is to choose to suffer wrong oneself, rather than to harm another.

Why Be Nonresistant?

This article is about nonresistance, but to fully understand this doctrine, I recommend that you consider Jesus’ main message, the Kingdom of God. That is the kingdom through which we are saved and whose laws we must obey. The Kingdom of God matters, because a kingdom that comes from heaven will have different values than a kingdom that comes from the earth. When Jesus taught his disciples, he taught them those heavenly values, one of which is to renounce violence and force. Jesus said,

I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. . . . I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:38–48 ESV)

The command “Do not resist the one who is evil” is where we get the term nonresistance. And this is a command that Christians must follow. When Jesus told the apostles to teach all their followers “to observe all that I have commanded you,” this was one of those commands (Matt 28:20). In fact, Jesus wrapped up his Sermon on the Mount by saying that everyone who “hears these words of [his] and does them” is like a wise man who built on rock rather than on sand (Matt 7:24–27). 

So when Jesus said, “Do not resist the one who is evil,” his command is binding. If someone attacks or defrauds us, Jesus’ followers must respond with good instead of retaliating. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and our persecutors. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for violence on our part.1Some have argued that since Jesus uses relatively minor offenses as examples, the context therefore shows that Jesus leaves open the option that we may use violence against someone who has the intent to kill. Even if that is the case, the consistent witness of the New Testament is pretty clear. However, note these issues with that interpretation:

The context is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, Jesus is saying that even if we are physically injured, we shouldn’t resist. That context shouldn’t be ignored.

The context is still entirely consistent with reading it as a condemnation of all nonviolence; it’s just that the context allows us not to read it that way. So it might be safer to accept the larger blanket statement so that we’re sure we’re obeying Christ.

If Jesus were giving the general principle that we shouldn’t do violence, it’s still not surprising that he would pick examples that would be likely to happen to people (non-lethal offenses). So that could be the real reason the examples are non-lethal offenses—to actually make the statement stronger and to emphasize that we should be nonresistant in even the smaller details of our lives. So, again, it might be safer to accept the larger blanket statement so that we’re sure we’re obeying Christ.

Paul reiterated Jesus’ command when he wrote to the Christians in Rome that they should “[r]epay no one evil for evil” and “never avenge [them]selves” (Rom 12:17–19). He says,

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. (Rom 12:20–21)

In other words, when we combat violence with violence or coercion with coercion, we are not actually winning—instead, we’re being overcome by evil. If I respond violently to someone who threatens me, I’m actually allowing him to define my actions. But if I respond by helping my enemy and providing for his needs, I can remain true to the higher laws of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Peter also confirmed what Jesus and Paul said: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Pet 3:9). He concludes, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (3:17). It’s an honor to suffer for Jesus’ Kingdom, and there are blessings in store for those who return good for evil.

Jesus didn’t ask us to do what he wasn’t willing to do himself—even when he himself was threatened with death, he did not retaliate, saying to Pilate,

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)

Because Jesus’ Kingdom is from heaven rather than from this world, Jesus and his citizens don’t use the world’s methods for overcoming evil. As Paul said, we should “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). Though God ordains earthly governments and allows them to rule their people through coercion rather than by the laws of his Kingdom, we can have nothing to do with the unholy methods and politics of the world.

Not Just About Physical Violence

True nonresistance is not just about how we respond to physical violence. Even when people insult or revile us, we should bless them (1 Cor 4:12). We should seek each other’s good rather than our own (1 Cor 10:24). Paul tells the Romans:

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. (Rom 12:16-17)

If we want to gain the noble love for neighbor through which we respond with love whenever someone attacks us, we need to start by responding with love to everyone who offends or annoys us even in the smallest way.

Our Heavenly Warfare

Now, our Kingdom does go to war, but our warfare takes place in the heavenly realms. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, saying,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)

And what are the weapons of our warfare? Paul lists them for the Ephesians: “the belt of truth, . . . the breastplate of righteousness, . . . the gospel of peace[,] . . . the shield of faith, . . . the helmet of salvation, and . . . the word of God” and prayer (Eph 6:14–18). To the world, these weapons seem weak, but they are mighty and effective. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor 10:3–4). I wish I could use this space to tell story after story of times when God’s weapons averted powerful evils. Maybe another time.

The weapons of this world are incapable of bringing light or peace. Using “necessary evils” to restrain evil will only result in further evil, but the weapons of heaven will ultimately destroy evil. But we will need to be willing to lose our lives in the process, because our methods do not ensure long life or earthly peace.

The Witness of the Apostolic Church

This is why the apostles’ church taught for centuries that servants of God and his Kingdom must not take up arms or retaliate, whether for personal protection or war. Some early writers wrote

We have learned not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us. Instead, even to those who strike us on one side of the face, we offer the other side also. (Athenagoras, c. AD 175).

If, then, we are commanded to love our enemies (as I have remarked above), whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become just as bad ourselves. Who can suffer injury at our hands?  (Tertullian, c. 197).

[Christians] do not attack their assailants in return, for it is not lawful for the innocent to kill even the guilty. (Cyprian, c. 250).

[We] have learned from [Christ’s] teaching and His laws that evil should not be repaid with evil. Rather, it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it. We would rather shed our own blood than to stain our hands and our conscience with that of another. (Arnobius, c. 305).2Arthur Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. These quotes are from, respectively, vol. 2, p. 129; vol. 3, p. 45; vol. 5, p. 351; vol. 6, p. 415).

This is only scratching the surface. More quotes can be found here,3“And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies;” (Aristides, Apology 15) This is listed with other definitive commands of Christianity.

“for we have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak.” (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 1)

For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself. . . . I have great knowledge in God, but I restrain myself, lest, I should perish through boasting. . . . I therefore have need of meekness, by which the prince of this world is brought to nought. (Ignatius, to Trallians 3-4)

“For he [Paul] does not merely instance the Gnostic [in context, the most perfect Christian] as characterized by suffering wrong rather than do wrong; but he teaches that he is not mindful of injuries, and does not allow him even to pray against the man who has done him wrong. For he knows that the Lord expressly enjoined “to pray for enemies.” To say, then, that the man who has been injured goes to law before the unrighteous, is nothing else than to say that he shows a wish to retaliate, and a desire to injure the second in return, which is also to do wrong likewise himself.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.14)

“Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins. For it is not those that abstain from wickedness from compulsion, but those that abstain from choice, that God crowns.” (Clement of Alexandria, fragment ANF)

[Jesus taught his disciples] “not only not to strike, but even, when themselves struck, to present the other cheek [to those that maltreated them]; and not only not to refuse to give up the property of others, but even if their own were taken away, not to demand it back again from those that took it; and not only not to injure their neighbours, nor to do them any evil, but also, when themselves wickedly dealt with, to be long-suffering, and to show kindness towards those [that injured them], and to pray for them, that by means of repentance they might be saved” (Irenaeus)

“If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the monition of the Lord is at hand: “To him,” He saith, “who smiteth thee on the face, turn the other cheek likewise.” Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience. Whatever that blow may be, conjoined with pain and contumely, it shall receive a heavier one from the Lord. You wound that outrageous one more by enduring: for he will be beaten by Him for whose sake you endure.” (Tertullian, Of Patience 8)

“For what difference is there between provoker and provoked, except that the former is detected as prior in evil-doing, but the latter as posterior? Yet each stands impeached of hurting a man in the eye of the Lord, who both prohibits and condemns every wickedness. In evil doing there is no account taken of order, nor does place separate what similarity conjoins. And the precept is absolute, that evil is not to be repaid with evil. Like deed involves like merit.” (Tertullian, Of Patience 10)

“And the Lord shall save them in that day, even His people, like sheep; . . . No one gives the name of sheep to those who fall in battle with arms in hand, and while repelling force with force, but only to those who are slain, yielding themselves up in their own place of duty and with patience, rather than fighting in self-defence.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.39)

“not willingly to use force, nor to return force used against thee” (Commodianus, Instructions 48)

“For this reason it is that none of us, when he is apprehended, makes resistance, nor avenges himself against your unrighteous violence, although our people are numerous and plentiful. Our certainty of a vengeance to follow makes us patient. The innocent give place to the guilty; the harmless acquiesce in punishments and tortures, sure and confident that whatsoever we suffer will not remain unavenged, and that in proportion to the greatness of the injustice of our persecution so will be the justice and the severity of the vengeance exacted for those persecutions.” (Cyprian, Treatise 5, Address to Demetrianus 17)

“And because we may not hate, and we please God more by rendering no return for wrong, we exhort you while you have the power, while there yet remains to you something of life, to make satisfaction to God, and to emerge from the abyss of darkling superstition into the bright light of true religion. We do not envy your comforts, nor do we conceal the divine benefits. We repay kindness for your hatred; and for the torments and penalties which are inflicted on us, we point out to you the ways of salvation.” (Cyprian, Treatise 5, Address to Demetrianus 25)

“Do no one an injury at any time, and provoke no one to anger. If an injury is done to you, look to Jesus Christ; and even as ye desire that He may remit your transgressions, do ye also forgive them theirs; and then also shall ye do away with all ill-will, and bruise the head of that ancient serpent, who is ever on the watch with all subtlety to undo your good works and your prosperous attainments.” (Theonas of Alexandria, To Lucianus 9)

“Torture and piety are widely different; nor is it possible for truth to be united with violence, or justice with
cruelty. . . . For religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned. For nothing is so much a matter of free-will as religion; in which, if the mind of the worshipper is disinclined to it, religion is at once taken away, and ceases to exist. The right method therefore is, that you defend religion by patient endurance or by death; in which the preservation of the faith is both pleasing to God Himself, and adds authority to religion.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.20)

“But we, on the contrary, do not require that any one should be compelled, whether he is willing or unwilling, to worship our God, who is the God of all men; nor are we angry if any one does not worship Him. For we trust in the majesty of Him who has power to avenge contempt shown towards Himself, as also He has power to avenge the calamities and injuries inflicted on His servants. And therefore, when we suffer such impious things, we do not resist even in word; but we remit vengeance to God, not as they act who would have it appear that they are defenders of their gods, and rage without restraint against those who do not worship them.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.21)

Since, therefore, he does injury to none, nor desires the property of others, and does not even defend his own if it is taken from him by violence, since he knows how even to bear with moderation an injury inflicted upon him, because he is endued with virtue; it is necessary that the just man should be subject to the unjust, and that the wise should be insulted by the foolish, that the one may sin because he is unjust, and the other may have virtue in himself because he is just. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.23)

“For he who endeavours to return an injury, desires to imitate that very person by whom he has been injured. Thus he who imitates a bad man can by no means be good. . . . Now if, when provoked by injury, he has begun to follow up his assailant with violence, he is overcome. But if he shall have repressed that emotion by reasoning, he altogether has command over himself: he is able to rule himself. And this restraining of oneself is rightly named patience, which single virtue is opposed to all vices and affections.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.18)

“For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.20)

“For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.” (Arnobius, Against the Heathen 1.6)

“In like manner, as the statement is false . . . so also is this, “that in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became His followers;” for neither Celsus nor they who think with him are able to point out any act on the part of Christians which savours of rebellion. And yet, if a revolt had led to the formation of the Christian commonwealth, so that it derived its existence in this way from that of the Jews, who were permitted to take up arms in defence of the members of their families, and to slay their enemies, the Christian Lawgiver would not have altogether forbidden the putting of men to death; and yet He nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to any one, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever. Nor would the Christians, had they owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not to allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors.” (Origen, Against Celsus 3.7)

“And those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and munificence, and were struck with amazement, and felt the force of this example of pity; so that very many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, and threw off the belt of military service, while others withdrew to their camp, taking scarcely a fourth part of the ransom, and the rest made their departure without receiving even so much as would defray the expenses of the way.” (Disputation of Archelaus and Manes 1)

“we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, “The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,” might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.” (Justin Martyr, Apology 1.39)

“For we do not train our women like Amazons to manliness in war; since we wish the men even to be peaceable.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.8)

“If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands? . . . We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. For what wars should we not be fit, not eager, even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay?” (Tertullian, Apology 38)

“But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar. . . . But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, [disarmed] every soldier.” (Tertullian, On Idolatry 19)

“Is the laurel of the triumph made of leaves, or of corpses? Is it adorned with ribbons, or with tombs? Is it bedewed with ointments, or with the tears of wives and mothers? It may be of some Christians too; for Christ is also among the barbarians.” (Tertullian, The Chaplet, 12)

In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.”  To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.” (Origen, Against Celsus 8.73)

“Consider the roads blocked up by robbers, the seas beset with pirates, wars scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.” (Cyprian, Letter 1.6)

“¹⁷A 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. ¹⁸A military commander or civic magistrate that wears the purple must resign or be rejected. ¹⁹If a catechumen or a believer seeks to become a soldier, they must be rejected, for they have despised God.” (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 16)

Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, their case is different, as in the instance of those whom John used to receive for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions, I mean the centurion whom Christ approves, and the centurion whom Peter instructs; yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer, and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of it, which has been the course with many; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service; or, last of all, for God the fate must be endured which a citizen-faith has been no less ready to accept. Neither does military service hold out escape from punishment of sins, or exemption from martyrdom. Nowhere does the Christian change his character.” (Tertullian, The Chaplet 11)

“But for a man bare feet are quite in keeping, except when he is on military service.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 2.12)

“We sail with you, and fight with you, and till the ground with you; and in like manner we unite with you in your traffickings—even in the various arts we make public property of our works for your benefit.” (Tertullian, Apology 42)
and the early Christians frequently made reference to the Scripture passages I have cited so far as well. So far as I know, there is virtually no disagreement that the early church was unanimously opposed to its members’ doing violence. So much so that those who believe violence to be appropriate for Christians need to try to find reasons why their belief doesn’t apply today. See my section on objections to nonresistance.

The Church Has Joined the World

War is a terrible evil that has destroyed the lives of millions of people. Many societies have praised taking part in war, but many who have actually been on the battlefield have seen what war actually is. One Civil War soldier wrote home after a battle,

In battle, man becomes a sinner and delights in the work of death . . . When I was a baby I was a great admirer of military stories, now their honors seem tarnished with blood and with tears of widows and orphans.4John G. Marsh, 29th Ohio. As quoted at the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum in Winchester, VA.

Wilfred Owen, who died in World War I, wrote the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est,” repeating a Latin saying, “It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” He writes that, if one had actually seen the horrors of war,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

This is the way the kingdoms of this world work, but not the Kingdom of God. However, the Roman church, the very church that Paul admonished long ago to overcome evil with good, has departed from the apostolic faith to take part in crusades and countless other wars. The Protestant reformers, such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, also took part in violence and war. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches all have a long history of being state churches, and the resulting mixtures of God’s and the world’s kingdoms always used violence to subjugate their enemies.

Even now that they are no longer state churches, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant churches have encouraged Christians to take up arms and go to war for the sake of their earthly nations. In fact, most wars in the West for the past millennium have consisted of Christians slaughtering fellow Christians who simply lived on the other side of a national border. As I write this article, one of the major branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church is urging Russian Christians to go to war against Ukrainian Christians, most of whom belong to the very same church. By their actions, they demonstrate that the heavenly calling of the Kingdom of God is only secondarily important to them after their earthly loyalties.

Even though the Anabaptists reclaimed this doctrine for the church, not all the early Anabaptists followed the teaching of nonresistance as they should have. Yet the nonresistant Anabaptists gave a pure witness of love for their King—when he commanded them, they loved even their enemies, going to the death rather than to kill those who persecuted them.

Objections

This section will cover some objections that are given against the doctrine of nonresistance. Since most Christians today have received the heritage of a church that compromised itself with the Roman Empire in the A.D. 300s, many different reasons have been offered for why we don’t need to follow what seems to be clear commands by Jesus Christ.

  • God commanded war in the OT, and he allowed violence then, so obviously God is okay with certain kinds of violence. But we are no longer in the Old Testament, and its practices no longer apply to Christians. As I showed above, Jesus gave us a different way of responding to those who threaten us—we love them and pray for them.
  • Scripture teaches that we should obey our earthly government. The government sometimes orders us to join in their warfare.5Found here. But Scripture also clearly teaches us to obey God rather than man. In no other case are we allowed to cease to obey Christ when the government tells us to. Besides, if we did, we would show that our highest loyalties are to the government rather than to Christ. This directly contradicts the doctrine of the two kingdoms, and even common sense itself.
  • But those who commit violence against us or against the innocent deserve to die; thus it is not wrong to kill in return. This is the world’s way, but not Jesus’ way, as I have shown in this article. It is the prerogative of the government to punish evildoers, but it is not our prerogative as members of God’s kingdom.
  • Jesus meant his statements to be taken as a general rule, not as a rule for every case. In extreme cases, it makes sense to disregard those statements, because they weren’t meant for extreme cases. Perhaps we could be given some sort of textual evidence for this interpretation? I’m aware of none. Furthermore, Jesus practiced what he preached in the most extreme case—when the life of the Son of God was being threatened.
  • God isn’t nonviolent; he chooses who lives and who dies. Why should we be nonviolent? When God chooses that someone dies, he is not committing violence, because it is his right to choose our span of life—he is our creator. Yet he tells us to be nonviolent, so we must obey him. And when the divine Son of God showed us in this world what the ideal response to violence is, he showed us suffering love on the cross, where he forgave the worst deed the world ever committed.
  • But even Jesus violently drove people out of the temple. But Jesus is God. He has that right. Furthermore, he did not kill anyone. And he was not attacking anyone in order to harm them. If you would like to drive moneychangers out of Temple in Jerusalem with a whip, be my guest. That specific deed is very different from attacking someone in order to harm them.
  • Jesus told his followers to buy or bring swords (Luke 22:36-28). If I were a campaigner who consistently taught that smoking was wrong, and if I were on my way to one of the most momentous faceoffs of my career, and I asked one of my staff to go out and buy a pack of cigarettes, what would you assume? That I hadn’t really meant my statements about smoking as they had sounded? Unlikely. You would probably assume that I wanted to have them present to prove a point (maybe to hold up the pack of cigarettes as an object lesson, or maybe to read something from the back of the pack). Similarly, just the fact that Jesus wanted swords present doesn’t mean that he hadn’t meant his statements about nonresistance as they had sounded. Most likely, he wanted the swords there to prove that he could have fought back but chose not to. When his servant did fight back, he rebuked him (Matt 26:52-54, Luke 22:49-50, John 18:10-11). This hardly seems a strong argument against taking Jesus’ words at face value.
  • What if the Spirit tells me or you to fight back? Shouldn’t we obey that spiritual call? God doesn’t contradict himself. We should test any spirits according to what we already know as having been revealed through the Spirit. And God’s Spirit inspired Scripture, so he has already told us whether we should fight back. We have a spiritual call not to retaliate.
  • Doesn’t Scripture teach that we will make eschatological war?6Rev 19:11-21 Even if we would be commanded to make war against the ungodly at the end of the age, that doesn’t mean that we can disobey Jesus’ clear command today. However, I see no reason from Scripture that we will be doing violence at the end of the age. Having begun by the Spirit, will God conclude with the flesh? The only reference to eschatological war that I can find says that all were killed by the sword of Jesus’ mouth, not by the people. That passage gives no evidence that we will make war in the flesh, and also suggests that the war will be a metaphorical or spiritual one.
  • Jesus told his disciples to carry swords when he went to Gethsemane. But he did not let them use those swords, telling Peter to put his away, and healing the man Peter wounded. Most likely, Jesus wanted to (1) show the Jewish leaders that he could have defended himself, but chose not to, and (2) show his disciples that they were not to use swords.
  • John the Baptist didn’t tell soldiers to leave the army. But John the Baptist was the last prophet before Jesus. It was Jesus who taught the radical new message of enemy love; John the Baptist did not teach Christianity; he heralded its coming. For a further point, see below.
  • The early Christians didn’t tell soldiers to leave the army. The early Christians didn’t require soldiers who became Christians to leave the army. This is probably because you couldn’t voluntarily leave the army and because there were many noncombative jobs in the army. However, note that Christians were not allowed to join the army, and that soldiers needed to commit to nonviolence: “A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected. A proconsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God.” (Hippolytus)
  • The early Christians didn’t go to war simply because, as soldiers, they would have needed to worship false gods. It wasn’t that they were nonresistant.7This article That’s simply false. Just look at the quotes I offered above. They are predominantly about convictions against violence.
  • Christianity would have died out if Christians hadn’t resisted pagans or other enemies. We’d all be Muslims now if we didn’t fight. Actually, the times of the most explosive growth for Christianity have been when Christianity was a persecuted minority. Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. The Anabaptists converted many simply by their joyful testimony when burned at the stake. And Christianity is even growing today in hostile places where we’re persecuted by communists or Muslims.
  • Nonresistant people are just standing by and letting evil happen. On the contrary, we are actively doing good in such a way that it will forever end evil. We put our enemies to shame by blessing them and loving them. Our love is an aggressive force against which few forces can stand for very long. Why do you think the nonresistant early Christians or the nonresistant early Anabaptists were persecuted? Clearly, the state feared them. When you are attacked, do the most powerful thing—love—and don’t dilute it with necessary evils. Our prayers have power with God, and our loving actions throughout life will do far more good than the occasional violent actions of a person of the world.
  • Who will take care of the people who are evil enough not to be stopped by love? After all, some evils just won’t be stopped except by war or violence. When we return good for evil, we do recognize that we will not be able to stop every evil in the short term. However, God has ordained the earthly governments to restrain evildoers for now. The governments can’t ever conquer evil, like we of the Kingdom of God can, but they can at least keep the worst evils from happening. Yet when the government doesn’t stop evil through their rightful authority, and when our love won’t stop evil, we know that God is still there to control evil and bring it to an end. If we follow his prescribed methods, we can trust him to bring about good. If we don’t follow his prescribed methods, can we trust that good will come of our disobedience?
  • Is it okay to stop a violent person by force, if we do not injure him? This is a gray area for me. It seems that it could be the truly loving thing to stop a violent person before they incur guilt by hurting someone else. However, in many cases, it seems that nonresistant love and prayer often stops the violent more effectively. In any case, whatever we do must be done out of love for our enemy, and we can certainly not kill them.

Are Jesus’ Commands Only About Personal Insults?

One response to the case for nonresistance is that Jesus wasn’t talking about all physical violence, but instead he was saying that we shouldn’t retaliate against our personal enemies. Their point is that Jesus doesn’t tell the state not to retaliate, as in going to war or using force. Some even suggest that Jesus was only talking about personal insults, not about putting our lives in danger. There are a few issues with this objection:

  1. Jesus does speak about insults like cheek-slapping, which of course aren’t likely to seriously injure us. However, that’s not the only thing he speaks about. He tells us to pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44), and persecution doesn’t stop at insults. In fact, the Old Testament principle that he’s overturning is “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matt 5:38). If someone damages an eye or knocks out a tooth, that’s not merely an insult.
  2. Jesus does speak about our personal enemies rather than police or national wars. However, Anabaptists believe that nations have a right to punish evildoers and go to war. So it makes perfect sense, in Anabaptism, that Jesus didn’t command the government not to do that. We, however, are a part of the kingdom of God, not of earthly nations. We don’t go to war.
  3. We don’t merely use the Sermon on the Mount as our only support for the doctrine of nonresistance. Other sayings by Jesus and the apostles also tell us to respond peacefully. So a real response to nonresistance must take those passages in account too.
  4. Just take a step back from the discussion and honestly consider these questions: How am I loving my neighbors by shooting them? Is self-defense about loving my enemy or about loving myself?
  5. For the first few hundred years of Christianity, Christians believed as the Anabaptists do on this subject. The witness of the apostolic church is clear, as you can see from the early Christian quotes included with this article.

Protecting the Innocent

One of the most powerful objections to nonresistance is an emotional one. Yes, it is fine for us to risk our own lives through nonresistance. But what if someone attacks an innocent people who can’t defend themselves, like children? Even if we can’t protect ourselves, can’t we at least unselfishly protect others?

I recognize the emotional pull of this. Protecting my wife and children is one of the deepest-seated values I have. However, no matter how noble that desire is, it is not a good reason to commit violence.

First, God has asked us not to fight back. Yet God is good, and he cares for the innocent far more than we do. Surely he can be trusted to bring good out of an evil situation. He himself will bring justice for the oppressed: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” he says. It is a terrible thing to have to see the innocent suffer, but it is worse yet to become violent people ourselves.

Second, if we take someone’s life, we are acting as their ultimate judge, which we have no right to do. We are taking away their chance to repent and seek God. Yet God loves that violent person and wishes to see him come to repentance. If an innocent person, like a child, dies, that person will be with God. But if a guilty person dies, that person will likely have no chance to repent. And by committing violence ourselves, we are making ourselves guilty of the same thing our enemy is guilty of. Remember, to use violence is to be overcome by evil.

Finally, by resorting to violent means, we are throwing away our chance to make the most use of our spiritual weapons. Instead of doing warfare in the heavenly realms through faith and prayer (as I described above), we are bringing in our impure and worldly methods to try to accomplish good. Yet our enemies are unlikely to be less equipped for physical warfare than we are. If we fight on their turf, they will be most likely to win. Instead, we must fight on our turf, using the power of Christ’s love against the worst that they can do.

This sounds like idealism, but it is not. Nonresistant Christians the world over have won great victories through loving their enemies. Our warfare has freed people from prison, saved them from death, kept children safe from rape, and ended all sorts of violence. Not every time does God choose to save us from torture or death, but we trust his wisdom for every situation. We don’t know what great good he has planned, which will come to fruition in spite of the evil.

By refusing to use the warfare of the world, we are not standing by doing nothing. Instead, we are wielding weapons more powerful than our enemies can know. How can anyone be a Christian and believe that the sword of the flesh is more effective than the sword of the Spirit? Can one who believes in God trust guns rather than prayer? From the way Jesus speaks, it seems that we cannot fully have both. The Anabaptists have chosen prayer.

Summary

The core of Christianity is to love God and our neighbors, and Jesus calls us to love even our enemies. Love works itself out in action—instead of responding with retaliation, anger, or evil speaking, we will bless our enemies. This was the witness of the apostolic Church for centuries, and this is the witness of many Anabaptist Christians today. I conclude that the Anabaptist doctrine of nonresistance is at the heart of true Christianity, and that no church, whatever their history, may change this doctrine.

  • 1
    Some have argued that since Jesus uses relatively minor offenses as examples, the context therefore shows that Jesus leaves open the option that we may use violence against someone who has the intent to kill. Even if that is the case, the consistent witness of the New Testament is pretty clear. However, note these issues with that interpretation:

    The context is “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In other words, Jesus is saying that even if we are physically injured, we shouldn’t resist. That context shouldn’t be ignored.

    The context is still entirely consistent with reading it as a condemnation of all nonviolence; it’s just that the context allows us not to read it that way. So it might be safer to accept the larger blanket statement so that we’re sure we’re obeying Christ.

    If Jesus were giving the general principle that we shouldn’t do violence, it’s still not surprising that he would pick examples that would be likely to happen to people (non-lethal offenses). So that could be the real reason the examples are non-lethal offenses—to actually make the statement stronger and to emphasize that we should be nonresistant in even the smaller details of our lives. So, again, it might be safer to accept the larger blanket statement so that we’re sure we’re obeying Christ.
  • 2
    Arthur Cleveland Coxe, The Ante-Nicene Fathers. These quotes are from, respectively, vol. 2, p. 129; vol. 3, p. 45; vol. 5, p. 351; vol. 6, p. 415).
  • 3
    “And their oppressors they appease (lit: comfort) and make them their friends; they do good to their enemies;” (Aristides, Apology 15) This is listed with other definitive commands of Christianity.

    “for we have learned, not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak.” (Athenagoras, A Plea for the Christians 1)

    For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself. . . . I have great knowledge in God, but I restrain myself, lest, I should perish through boasting. . . . I therefore have need of meekness, by which the prince of this world is brought to nought. (Ignatius, to Trallians 3-4)

    “For he [Paul] does not merely instance the Gnostic [in context, the most perfect Christian] as characterized by suffering wrong rather than do wrong; but he teaches that he is not mindful of injuries, and does not allow him even to pray against the man who has done him wrong. For he knows that the Lord expressly enjoined “to pray for enemies.” To say, then, that the man who has been injured goes to law before the unrighteous, is nothing else than to say that he shows a wish to retaliate, and a desire to injure the second in return, which is also to do wrong likewise himself.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 7.14)

    “Above all, Christians are not allowed to correct with violence the delinquencies of sins. For it is not those that abstain from wickedness from compulsion, but those that abstain from choice, that God crowns.” (Clement of Alexandria, fragment ANF)

    [Jesus taught his disciples] “not only not to strike, but even, when themselves struck, to present the other cheek [to those that maltreated them]; and not only not to refuse to give up the property of others, but even if their own were taken away, not to demand it back again from those that took it; and not only not to injure their neighbours, nor to do them any evil, but also, when themselves wickedly dealt with, to be long-suffering, and to show kindness towards those [that injured them], and to pray for them, that by means of repentance they might be saved” (Irenaeus)

    “If one attempt to provoke you by manual violence, the monition of the Lord is at hand: “To him,” He saith, “who smiteth thee on the face, turn the other cheek likewise.” Let outrageousness be wearied out by your patience. Whatever that blow may be, conjoined with pain and contumely, it shall receive a heavier one from the Lord. You wound that outrageous one more by enduring: for he will be beaten by Him for whose sake you endure.” (Tertullian, Of Patience 8)

    “For what difference is there between provoker and provoked, except that the former is detected as prior in evil-doing, but the latter as posterior? Yet each stands impeached of hurting a man in the eye of the Lord, who both prohibits and condemns every wickedness. In evil doing there is no account taken of order, nor does place separate what similarity conjoins. And the precept is absolute, that evil is not to be repaid with evil. Like deed involves like merit.” (Tertullian, Of Patience 10)

    “And the Lord shall save them in that day, even His people, like sheep; . . . No one gives the name of sheep to those who fall in battle with arms in hand, and while repelling force with force, but only to those who are slain, yielding themselves up in their own place of duty and with patience, rather than fighting in self-defence.” (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4.39)

    “not willingly to use force, nor to return force used against thee” (Commodianus, Instructions 48)

    “For this reason it is that none of us, when he is apprehended, makes resistance, nor avenges himself against your unrighteous violence, although our people are numerous and plentiful. Our certainty of a vengeance to follow makes us patient. The innocent give place to the guilty; the harmless acquiesce in punishments and tortures, sure and confident that whatsoever we suffer will not remain unavenged, and that in proportion to the greatness of the injustice of our persecution so will be the justice and the severity of the vengeance exacted for those persecutions.” (Cyprian, Treatise 5, Address to Demetrianus 17)

    “And because we may not hate, and we please God more by rendering no return for wrong, we exhort you while you have the power, while there yet remains to you something of life, to make satisfaction to God, and to emerge from the abyss of darkling superstition into the bright light of true religion. We do not envy your comforts, nor do we conceal the divine benefits. We repay kindness for your hatred; and for the torments and penalties which are inflicted on us, we point out to you the ways of salvation.” (Cyprian, Treatise 5, Address to Demetrianus 25)

    “Do no one an injury at any time, and provoke no one to anger. If an injury is done to you, look to Jesus Christ; and even as ye desire that He may remit your transgressions, do ye also forgive them theirs; and then also shall ye do away with all ill-will, and bruise the head of that ancient serpent, who is ever on the watch with all subtlety to undo your good works and your prosperous attainments.” (Theonas of Alexandria, To Lucianus 9)

    “Torture and piety are widely different; nor is it possible for truth to be united with violence, or justice with
    cruelty. . . . For religion is to be defended, not by putting to death, but by dying; not by cruelty, but by patient endurance; not by guilt, but by good faith: for the former belong to evils, but the latter to goods; and it is necessary for that which is good to have place in religion, and not that which is evil. For if you wish to defend religion by bloodshed, and by tortures, and by guilt, it will no longer be defended, but will be polluted and profaned. For nothing is so much a matter of free-will as religion; in which, if the mind of the worshipper is disinclined to it, religion is at once taken away, and ceases to exist. The right method therefore is, that you defend religion by patient endurance or by death; in which the preservation of the faith is both pleasing to God Himself, and adds authority to religion.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.20)

    “But we, on the contrary, do not require that any one should be compelled, whether he is willing or unwilling, to worship our God, who is the God of all men; nor are we angry if any one does not worship Him. For we trust in the majesty of Him who has power to avenge contempt shown towards Himself, as also He has power to avenge the calamities and injuries inflicted on His servants. And therefore, when we suffer such impious things, we do not resist even in word; but we remit vengeance to God, not as they act who would have it appear that they are defenders of their gods, and rage without restraint against those who do not worship them.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.21)

    Since, therefore, he does injury to none, nor desires the property of others, and does not even defend his own if it is taken from him by violence, since he knows how even to bear with moderation an injury inflicted upon him, because he is endued with virtue; it is necessary that the just man should be subject to the unjust, and that the wise should be insulted by the foolish, that the one may sin because he is unjust, and the other may have virtue in himself because he is just. (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.23)

    “For he who endeavours to return an injury, desires to imitate that very person by whom he has been injured. Thus he who imitates a bad man can by no means be good. . . . Now if, when provoked by injury, he has begun to follow up his assailant with violence, he is overcome. But if he shall have repressed that emotion by reasoning, he altogether has command over himself: he is able to rule himself. And this restraining of oneself is rightly named patience, which single virtue is opposed to all vices and affections.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.18)

    “For when God forbids us to kill, He not only prohibits us from open violence, which is not even allowed by the public laws, but He warns us against the commission of those things which are esteemed lawful among men. Thus it will be neither lawful for a just man to engage in warfare, since his warfare is justice itself, nor to accuse any one of a capital charge, because it makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited. Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all; but that it is always unlawful to put to death a man, whom God willed to be a sacred animal.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes 6.20)

    “For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be requited with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.” (Arnobius, Against the Heathen 1.6)

    “In like manner, as the statement is false . . . so also is this, “that in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became His followers;” for neither Celsus nor they who think with him are able to point out any act on the part of Christians which savours of rebellion. And yet, if a revolt had led to the formation of the Christian commonwealth, so that it derived its existence in this way from that of the Jews, who were permitted to take up arms in defence of the members of their families, and to slay their enemies, the Christian Lawgiver would not have altogether forbidden the putting of men to death; and yet He nowhere teaches that it is right for His own disciples to offer violence to any one, however wicked. For He did not deem it in keeping with such laws as His, which were derived from a divine source, to allow the killing of any individual whatever. Nor would the Christians, had they owed their origin to a rebellion, have adopted laws of so exceedingly mild a character as not to allow them, when it was their fate to be slain as sheep, on any occasion to resist their persecutors.” (Origen, Against Celsus 3.7)

    “And those soldiers were filled with wonder and admiration at the grandeur of the man’s piety and munificence, and were struck with amazement, and felt the force of this example of pity; so that very many of them were added to the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, and threw off the belt of military service, while others withdrew to their camp, taking scarcely a fourth part of the ransom, and the rest made their departure without receiving even so much as would defray the expenses of the way.” (Disputation of Archelaus and Manes 1)

    “we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. For that saying, “The tongue has sworn but the mind is unsworn,” might be imitated by us in this matter. But if the soldiers enrolled by you, and who have taken the military oath, prefer their allegiance to their own life, and parents, and country, and all kindred, though you can offer them nothing incorruptible, it were verily ridiculous if we, who earnestly long for incorruption, should not endure all things, in order to obtain what we desire from Him who is able to grant it.” (Justin Martyr, Apology 1.39)

    “For we do not train our women like Amazons to manliness in war; since we wish the men even to be peaceable.” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4.8)

    “If we are enjoined, then, to love our enemies, as I have remarked above, whom have we to hate? If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as bad ourselves: who can suffer injury at our hands? . . . We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, market-places, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum,—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods. For what wars should we not be fit, not eager, even with unequal forces, we who so willingly yield ourselves to the sword, if in our religion it were not counted better to be slain than to slay?” (Tertullian, Apology 38)

    “But now inquiry is made about this point, whether a believer may turn himself unto military service, and whether the military may be admitted unto the faith, even the rank and file, or each inferior grade, to whom there is no necessity for taking part in sacrifices or capital punishments. There is no agreement between the divine and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness. One soul cannot be due to two masters—God and Cæsar. . . . But how will a Christian man war, nay, how will he serve even in peace, without a sword, which the Lord has taken away? For albeit soldiers had come unto John, and had received the formula of their rule; albeit, likewise, a centurion had believed; still the Lord afterward, in disarming Peter, [disarmed] every soldier.” (Tertullian, On Idolatry 19)

    “Is the laurel of the triumph made of leaves, or of corpses? Is it adorned with ribbons, or with tombs? Is it bedewed with ointments, or with the tears of wives and mothers? It may be of some Christians too; for Christ is also among the barbarians.” (Tertullian, The Chaplet, 12)

    In the next place, Celsus urges us “to help the king with all our might, and to labour with him in the maintenance of justice, to fight for him; and if he requires it, to fight under him, or lead an army along with him.”  To this our answer is, that we do, when occasion requires, give help to kings, and that, so to say, a divine help, “putting on the whole armour of God.” And this we do in obedience to the injunction of the apostle, “I exhort, therefore, that first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority;” and the more any one excels in piety, the more effective help does he render to kings, even more than is given by soldiers, who go forth to fight and slay as many of the enemy as they can. And to those enemies of our faith who require us to bear arms for the commonwealth, and to slay men, we can reply: “Do not those who are priests at certain shrines, and those who attend on certain gods, as you account them, keep their hands free from blood, that they may with hands unstained and free from human blood offer the appointed sacrifices to your gods; and even when war is upon you, you never enlist the priests in the army. If that, then, is a laudable custom, how much more so, that while others are engaged in battle, these too should engage as the priests and ministers of God, keeping their hands pure, and wrestling in prayers to God on behalf of those who are fighting in a righteous cause, and for the king who reigns righteously, that whatever is opposed to those who act righteously may be destroyed!” And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings than those who go into the field to fight for them. And we do take our part in public affairs, when along with righteous prayers we join self-denying exercises and meditations, which teach us to despise pleasures, and not to be led away by them. And none fight better for the king than we do. We do not indeed fight under him, although he require it; but we fight on his behalf, forming a special army—an army of piety—by offering our prayers to God.” (Origen, Against Celsus 8.73)

    “Consider the roads blocked up by robbers, the seas beset with pirates, wars scattered all over the earth with the bloody horror of camps. The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder, which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale. Impunity is claimed for the wicked deeds, not on the plea that they are guiltless, but because the cruelty is perpetrated on a grand scale.” (Cyprian, Letter 1.6)

    “¹⁷A 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. ¹⁸A military commander or civic magistrate that wears the purple must resign or be rejected. ¹⁹If a catechumen or a believer seeks to become a soldier, they must be rejected, for they have despised God.” (Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 16)

    Of course, if faith comes later, and finds any preoccupied with military service, their case is different, as in the instance of those whom John used to receive for baptism, and of those most faithful centurions, I mean the centurion whom Christ approves, and the centurion whom Peter instructs; yet, at the same time, when a man has become a believer, and faith has been sealed, there must be either an immediate abandonment of it, which has been the course with many; or all sorts of quibbling will have to be resorted to in order to avoid offending God, and that is not allowed even outside of military service; or, last of all, for God the fate must be endured which a citizen-faith has been no less ready to accept. Neither does military service hold out escape from punishment of sins, or exemption from martyrdom. Nowhere does the Christian change his character.” (Tertullian, The Chaplet 11)

    “But for a man bare feet are quite in keeping, except when he is on military service.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor 2.12)

    “We sail with you, and fight with you, and till the ground with you; and in like manner we unite with you in your traffickings—even in the various arts we make public property of our works for your benefit.” (Tertullian, Apology 42)
  • 4
    John G. Marsh, 29th Ohio. As quoted at the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Museum in Winchester, VA.
  • 5
  • 6
    Rev 19:11-21
  • 7

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