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A Theonomic Defense of Pacifism

Biblical Law - Including the Old Testament - Opposes War, Capital Punishment, and Lethal Self-Defense

About the Author

In a nutshell, Kevin Craig has been a "Christian Reconstructionist" since 1977. His first Chalcedon Report article appeared in 1979. He received personal tutoring from R.J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen, and shared the pulpit with David Chilton at Reformation Bible Church in Anaheim, CA. More details are available.

About the Reader

If you are a Christian, you are a pacifist. If you are not a pacifist, you are not following the Prince of Peace. You have reached a web site that would like to see you become a better pacifist!

What Is "Theonomy?"

"Theonomy" is an influential conservative Christian movement. The name comes from two Greek words, "God" and "Law." It attempts to establish the continuity between the Old and New Testaments, advocating the social implementation of God's Law in both Testaments. More Here. A whole lot more here.

Why Americans in Particular Have Trouble Hearing God's Law

Anyone attempting to prove that Biblical Law requires pacifism must come to grips with the fact that the United States of America may well be the most violent nation on earth. Americans take for granted the idea that if anyone gets in the way of your instant gratification, any steps -- including violence -- may be taken.

Some patriots will chafe at that assertion, but the ideology goes back to the formation of the United States, a beginning splattered with blood. "Christian Reconstructionists" debate whether the colonists had legal basis for rebelling, whether they were rebelling against Parliament or against the king, whether it was a revolution or "a conservative counter-revolution," and on and on. This scholarly-sounding mumbo-jumbo is simply an evasion of the stark evil which was the Revolution. Blatantly in violation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2, the Revolution was also a plain violation of the commandment not to kill. Consider this excerpt from the blood-splattered link above:

Imagine a young man about 23 years old. As an agent of the British Empire, he wears a red coat. He believes that the colonies face a situation of "anarchy" and chaos. For generations, the British government has maintained law and order, and he has been told that this stability is threatened by lawless hordes who vandalize tax-paying merchants while dressed as Indians. Based on reports of a large cache of arms in Lexington and threats of armed revolution, he has been sent away from his family in Liverpool to help maintain order in the colonies.

Oh dear. This nice young man has just had a large part of his face and shoulders blown away by the musket fire of an outraged tax-resister. This colonist (and others like him) apparently believed that this young British agent evinced "a design to reduce them under absolute despotism." As the officer lies dying in a pool of his own blood, the revolutionary "minute-man" rejoices in his victory over this red-coat's objective of the "establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states." [Language from the Declaration of Independence.]

Is this a loving (1 Corinthians 13:5-7) or righteous (John 7:24; Exodus 23:2; Proverbs. 24:21) judgment of this young human being? Was this British soldier a budding Adolph Hitler, or a "good Christian family man"?

Was this revolutionary killing the beginning, or the end, of a Christian nation?

The government levies a tax on you. What is your response as a Christian?

(a) pay the tax
(b) challenge the tax in court
(c) blow the IRS agent's brains out with Magnum Force
(d) a and b

If you answered "c," you lose. Jesus says "all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matthew. 26:52). If human life means less to you than taxes, or less than a particular political theory, then you have missed the Gospel.

America has missed the Gospel.

Worse than that, America once had the Gospel, and threw it away. The conflict in 1776 was not a group of colonists who were told they could not preach the Gospel. It was a group of merchants who did not want to submit to "the powers that be." They would rather destroy property and kill government agents than pay a tax one-tenth the size of the taxes we routinely pay today.

The casualties on both sides of this War were (are) staggering. How many Christians died? How many murders were committed over the issue of taxes? America was baptized in violence, materialism, and autonomous revolution.

This baptism resulted in the creation of a reprobate nation whose violence has gone unabated. While Britain and most other Christian nations abolished slavery without resorting to violence, the Unitarian United States fought an incredibly destructive Civil War. And when the most recent 200 years of American history are compared with the first 200 years, a Christian can only shed a tear at the decline of a "City Upon a Hill" into the Sugar Daddy of international socialism and bastion of the fascist New World Order.

Most Christians do not think of themselves as pacifists because they think of themselves as Americans. Unfortunately, America is an anti-Christian nation. America is a Secular Humanist Theocracy. For a Christian to think of himself as an American is as senseless as a Christian thinking of himself as an Islamic Fundamentalist. If you see the contradictions, you will be saying, "How can I become a better pacifist?" Well, you're in luck; the Bible tells you how.

The problem goes back to the origin of America. Whereas the original colonies were more or less Christian Theocracies, much of the formation of the Federal Government involved an attempt to get away from Christian Theocracy. There may have been some Christians involved in the effort, but they were not consistent with the Scriptures.

My goal as a pacifist is to follow the Scriptures even when it contradicts the reigning mythology of America. I trust that your goal - whether you call yourself a "pacifist" or not - is the same: God before country.

The Biblical texts considered in the links above are sufficient to prove the case for pacifism. If you have digested those links, you might be ready to consider more Biblical evidence for Pacifism.

The Prince of Peace and the Law of Love

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). "Pacifism" comes from the Latin word for "peace." This might be considered a prima facie case for pacifism in itself. But strangely, when the average conservative Christian is asked, he doesn't say "Yes, of course I'm a pacifist [and then clarify the term if need be]." The average American reacts quickly and angrily: "I ain't no pacifist."

Jesus said the entire Law and Prophets might be summed up in the command to love God and love your neighbor, which Jesus taught included our "enemies." Under the Sixth Commandment ("Thou shalt not kill"), the Westminster Larger Catechism explicates the Biblical requirements of non-violence. One could hardly imagine a fuller statement of pacifism.

But a clearer statement could be imagined: it would be obtained by removing three "exceptions" to the law of love which have crowded out pacifistic ethics since the time of Constantine. The Catechism teaches that "publick justice" (i.e., "capital punishment"), "lawful war," and "necessary defense" are all exceptions to the negative requirement not to kill, or the positive command to love one's "enemy." We should examine each of them, culminating in the death of our faith in the whole idea of the State itself.

"Self Defense" and the Way of the Cross

Jesus says we are to love our neighbor, even our "enemy." Jesus also says that no greater love exists than to give one's life for another. Jesus did not defend Himself when His life was threatened. Peter writes that this is a model for us (1 Peter 2:21-23). Some say, "But Jesus was giving His life as an atoning sacrifice; I'm not the Lamb of God; I've got to be 'responsible.'" This analysis completely overthrows the ethical teachings of Jesus. Read the passages again.

Some find a justification for lethal self-defense in Exodus 22:2-3. Indeed, some find here a mandate for killing. This is astonishing. The passage actually says that if you engage in lethal self-defense you are guilty of murder and must be executed! An exception arises at night, and one resorting to lethal self-defense will not be executed under those circumstances. But this is far from advocating lethal self-defense! And once again, even if the passage seemed to teach exactly what opponents of pacifism said it did, the whole system of ethics taught by Jesus would be negated by one passage. Everything else in the Catechism's exposition of the Sixth Commandment -- commands which should govern most of our daily lives -- is overturned by one "exception" -- a hypothetical exception which never even occurs in the lives of most people.

The willingness to give your life for another is not "impractical." I'd like to show you how it has worked for me. John Howard Yoder has edited a book entitled What Would You Do If . . ., which contains numerous accounts of how people have dealt with violent threats without themselves resorting to violence. But we must begin with the authority of Scripture, and admit that even if it doesn't "work," pacifism is still Christ's Command.

"Capital Punishment" and Liturgical Bloodshed

Another concept that has a tendency to overthrow everything else in the Catechism's exposition of the Sixth Commandment is the idea of "Capital Punishment." The Old Testament says nothing about "Capital Punishment." The Old Testament says that when certain sins are committed, there must be a shedding of blood to cleanse the land of bloodguiltiness (Numbers 35:33). This is a liturgy, not a penal sanction. Our ideas on "Capital Punishment" have been derived from Roman Law, not Biblical Law.

In Deuteronomy 21, the response to an unsolved homicide is the killing of an heifer. No responsible expositor believes that in A.D. 1999 the State should kill a cow when a homicide occurs but the perpetrator is not convicted. I think this is quite Biblical. No blood should be shed in such a case (Hebrews 10:4). But if we can convict the perpetrator, should we then shed his blood (Genesis. 9:4-5)? If our society needs to shed blood in the case of a solved homicide (Numbers 35:33), why not also in the case of an unsolved homicide (Deuteronomy 21)?

"Capital Punishment" is an issue of great consequence, and erroneous conclusions have been reinforced by centuries of Christian-Humanist syncretism. Accordingly, my page, The Death Penalty Debate, is a little on the long side.

"National Defense" and Liturgical Bloodshed

The thinking behind war also comes from Rome. The Bible says that Holy Wars were the execution of "capital punishment" on a national scale. Not just against one criminal, but against an outlaw nation. The Bible clearly says that the Canaanites polluted the Promised Land with their Leviticus 18-20 - type sins. The entire nation had to be dedicated to God as a sacrifice in order to cleanse the land. War in the Old Covenant was conducted by priests as a liturgical event. The objective was the shedding of blood. The pacifist says it is no longer theologically necessary to shed blood in "Holy War," but the Westminster Larger Catechism says otherwise, citing Jeremiah 48:10: "cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood."

"Holy War" in the Old Testament was, with "capital punishment," a liturgical shedding of blood. War was an act of national "Capital Punishment." After Christ's work on Calvary, there is no longer a Biblical justification for "Holy War," and therefore no justification for war of any kind (Micah 4:3).

Pacifism, Limited Government, and Anarchism

If there is no justification for "Capital Punishment," and no justification for war, is there any justification for the State at all? Have we abolished "the Sword"?

If there is one thing that unites "Christian Reconstructionists" involved in politics, it is the ideal of "limited government." Undoubtedly more than 98% of the current Federal Budget would be eliminated in a Theonomist utopia. Welfare, Education, Foreign Aid to socialists, economic intervention, and the fire-bombing of "religious wackos" in Texas would all be eliminated by Theonomists as lacking Constitutional mandate, to say nothing of Scriptural mandate. But anyone who calls for an elimination of the remaining 2% of the Federal Government (criminal law and "national defense") would be called a "heretic" and denounced in scathing language by these same Theonomists. As close as Reconstructionists are to libertarians, they freak out at the idea of being mistaken for "anarchists."

The Bible plainly teaches anarchism. Jesus said that the Gentile kings love to be "archists," but His followers are not to be so. That is the definition of an "an-archist": a servant, not an archist (Mark 10:42-45). The "chaos" we envision in a state of "anarchy" is really the chaos of lots of would-be archists attempting to impose their concept of order (or dis-order) on others through terrorist violence. There is no ethical distinction between these terrorists and the U.N.-approved "smart-bombs" that killed half a million women and children in Iraq.

The Bible teaches that "national security" is more likely to result when there is no State at all than when there is a strong central government. Human beings were created by God in families, and there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that God intended human beings to leave patriarchy and pursue politics. The political paradigm has failed. We must return to the Edenic paradigm of Patriarchy.

The Pacifism Debate: Selected E-mail and Newsgroup posts

I don't claim to have the last word. I still have doubts and questions. I appreciate strong dissenting arguments. Mail them to me at Read some of them here.

How to Become a Pacifist

O.K., forget the word "pacifist." Just ask, "How can I be a better Christian?" or "How can I 'be at peace with all men?'" (Hebrews 12:14) (Frankly, I think our sanctification has to come to a point where we don't care what other people call us. I would rather be called a "pacifist" than an "American." At least if I'm being called a pacifist [or, more likely, "stupid pacifist!"] it will be because I am perceived as different from a nation of people who will kill other human beings over a relatively small amount of money. There's an ancient and very wise proverb that I just made up which goes something like this: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but emotion-laden labels are just a way of avoiding my argument.")

Slowly but surely I am posting the steps toward pacifism. If you have your own suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.

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