Early Christians and War….

While Tertullian emphasized the negative aspects of the military to Christian discipleship, Origen pointed out the positive vision of a life of Christian peacemaking. He criticized the army as a society of “professional violence,” pointing out that Jesus forbids any kind of violence or vengeance against another. “We will not raise arms against any other nation, we will not practice the art of war,” he wrote, “because through Jesus Christ we have become the children of peace.” To him the spiritual life means rejecting all forms of violence, and “absolute pacifism.”

A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (Bass, Diana Butler)

I know I have mentioned this fact several times on this blog but it is worth talking about yet again. Most of the early Christians believed that being a soldier was just not compatible with being a Christian.  When Jesus told us that the two most important things in a Christian’s life is to love God and to love all your fellow-man that precluded an occupation directed toward killing others.  It was not until four hundred years later when Augustine penned his treatise on “just wars” did this even begin to be reversed.

Here are a couple of other quotes from this book related to Augustine:

Augustine (354–430), an adult convert to Christianity and the reluctant bishop of the North African city of Hippo, emerged as the dominant theologian of Constantinian Christianity. His questions shaped Western Christianity for more than a millennium. Perhaps no one struggled more than he to understand doctrine, practice, and the institution of the church in the new cultural context, as shown by his thousands of pages of theological speculation on politics, the church, the nature of God, and Christian living….

 Although he had written reams about original sin, predestination, the creeds, just war, and heresy, the mature Augustine returned to the central point of early Christianity: “This love embraces both the love of God and the love of our neighbor, and ‘on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’” 

Augustine, like Paul before him, was a prolific writer/thinker of his time. He, like me sometimes ;), had an opinion on just about everything. It was interesting to see that later in his life he basically came back to the original premise of Christianity.  I wonder what he would say if he were alive today about how so much of his words shaped Jesus’ religion. I wonder if he wished he could have taken back some of those initial thoughts?

I am somewhat of a believer in the thoughts of Thomas Jefferson that Augustine, along with St. Paul, took a very simple message of Jesus and made it complicated.

How did we get to the point today where so many Christians seem to  celebrate military conflict. They proudly encourage their children to become warriors  in our military. Many have almost made being a soldier a requirement for being a “real” Christian.

Sanctity of Life??

I am going to take on a hard one here. The big “A”.  I have been in a conversation with some Christian friends of mine about the current healthcare reform now being debated in congress and around the country.  Some of my friends said the following: “I can’t support this reform as it might allow some to have abortions funded”!  I, certainly am also against abortion. It is killing an innocent life and definitely against Jesus’ teachings.

But how do Christian who make abortion a litmus test for everything else answer these typical questions by some:

 You Christians only believe in the sanctity of life in the nine months before birth, not in the eighty years or more after birth. You are a bunch of hypocrites!

To support their statement they give the following examples:

  • You support killing people who commit certain types of sins (murder, rape, etc). You say Jesus came to die for all of us. That we are all loved by him. Does that include just some sinners and not others? And didn’t God say “Vengeance is mine” not yours?
  • You will  eliminate the possibility of saving thousands of lives who otherwise be  lost to health issues in order to “maybe” save some fetuses.  What about all those people who die daily due to not being able to afford healthcare? Are they somehow less important to your god than those yet to be born?
  • You condone and often enthusiastically support killing your neighbor in a war simply because your government tells you to kill. It doesn’t matter that they are your “enemy” simply because they were born in a different country than you and are also following what their politicians say!
  • Where do you get off classifying which lives are sanctified and which aren’t? You are a bunch of hypocrites!

 I don’t know of any pat answers for the above examples.  Jesus clearly said that revenge is no longer justified and an eye-for-an-eye is no longer acceptable in the new covenant he brought to us. He told us unequivocally to love our enemies, and turn the other cheek. Again and again in the Bible Jesus tells us to follow his example . To my knowledge Jesus never passed judgment, except for the religious establishment of course, on anyone let alone killing anyone.  God said “Do not kill”. My bible doesn’t add “except for time of war or really bad guys”. I definitely think the Amish, Mennonites, and other like minded sects have it right in this regard. About the only thing Jesus killed was a fig tree for not having fruit out of season? I don’t understand that one but will let it slid as it is not important to my following Christ.

 Are we Christians being hypocrites when we want to enforce only our limited definition of “Sanctity of Life”? I am tending to think so but I will respect your right to think otherwise. This is a very difficult issue between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world.