Anabaptism: Non-Violent Resistance

Recently Christian apologist Wintery Knight deleted my comments, banned me, and then passively accused me of some combination of supporting anti-war, pacifism, appeasement, and/or isolationism as well as being historically ignorant and governed by feelings. I wrote about this experience at “Is Wintery Knight a Snowflake?” and also specifically addressed the question “Is Iran A Threat To Christians?

Now, these claims, when applied to me, are strawmen. Nevertheless, it is worth rationally examining these claims to see how far Christianity has fallen from Jesus’ teachings and examples.

Anabaptists are not pacifists. We reject violence[1] in favor of non-violent resistance. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus in rejecting violence, but actively, even aggressively, resisting that which is not of God. If we reject violence, does this mean that we are anti-war? Yes and no. We recognize that God gave government the sword to enact justice. Yet, Christians responding to evil with violence directly contradicts what we have been commanded:

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

Since we are forbidden to take the sword ourselves, this means that we can take no part in governing—at minimum those parts that use violence.[2] If governments decide to go to war, they answer to God, not Anabaptists. Governments can and will go to war, but we will not and can not participate or lend it our personal support.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

We serve God only, even if it means death. This is why some drafted Anabaptists were imprisoned and died rather than fight.

It can clearly be seen that we do not approve of appeasement. We resist evil wherever we find it, at home or abroad. Since we give our sole allegiance to God, we cannot be patriots, but we do support our leaders through prayer and try to live so they will find no fault in us. Historically, Anabaptists preferred to reject citizenship. As this is no longer feasible, some groups, like the Amish, have utilized legal religious exemptions instead.

As for isolationism versus deterrence, it is not the role of the body of Christ to decide foreign policy. This is the sole responsibility of the ruling government, which ultimately answers directly to God. Anabaptists can give no support to any policy that promotes violence at the hands of Christians.

Neither feelings nor history have any implication on these views. We do as Jesus did even when it feels difficult. We do as Jesus did though we have been murdered throughout history.

Consider the example of the anti-abortion protester in front of an abortion mill. Despite the wanton murder that takes place there, they do not and must not resort to violence. Similarly, we Anabaptists live our lives by opposing murder peacefully and by living our lives with clean hands, even when this means personal risk. We do this without the violent hand of government. Indeed, if the government one day recognizes abortion for the murder that it is, it will likely act with the firm hand of justice. It will not be gentle. This, I think, is why the Bible warns:

“But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Wrath is highly effective, but better by far is to save lives by argument, persuasion, and love. That is the way of the Anabaptist.

References

[1] Not all sects are unified on whether personal self-defense is acceptable.

[2] This includes law enforcement, the military, the presidency and vice-presidency (which enforces the law with a violence threat-point), the legislative branch (which passes laws that use violence as a threat-point), the judicial branch (which upholds the law’s threat-point). It is equally wrong to vote for those who use violence. Since the various regulatory agencies are backed by the threat of violence, working for them is still arguably questionable. One valid role is being the President’s spiritual adviser.

4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Anabaptism and Passivism - Derek L. Ramsey

  2. Kevin Failoni

    Hi Derek, I take issue with your assertion that Christians cant respond to threats . You quote the verse dont repay evil with evil. Which I agree with obviously, except for physical threat. Proverbs 3:30 says do not contend with a man without cause. This indicates that if given cause it is right to defend yourself. Scripture says also as much as possible be at peace with all men. For me to assume while protecting my family from physical harm that I can determine where the soul of the attacker will end up is presumptuous. God’s sovereignty determines that imho. Yes as a part of the pre determined plan of God Jesus did not physically resist in his passion. yet he told his disciples in Luke 22:36 ” if you dont have a sword , sell your cloak and buy one” Jesus knew that now was the time when his followers would be threatened, and he upheld there right to self defense. So to sum up I acknowledge not repaying evil with evil, of course logically self defense would not be repaying evil with evil, but repaying evil with just behavior. Thx Kevin

    1. Derek Ramsey

      Kevin,

      Christians can respond to threats in a non-violent way (e.g. locking doors; running away). Unquestionably the OT allowed violence for various reasons related to OT covenants. But my covenant is with Christ and his standards.

      If Jesus was concerned with self-defense, why did he emphatically tell his disciples to bring only two blades to Gethsemane? Two would be completely insufficient for self-defense. Jesus tells us exactly why:

      “It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

      The swords were a symbol of lawlessness. Jesus did not intend them to be used. Only a few hours after telling them to bring two swords, Peter struck out with his sword and Jesus rebuked him:

      “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”

      John Calvin once said:

      “It was truly shameful and stupid ignorance, that the disciples, after having been so often informed about bearing the cross, imagine that they must fight with swords of iron.”

      Immediately before telling his disciples to buy a sword, he said:

      ““When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered.”

      Matthew 10 describes this sending out:

      “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. [..] Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. [..] Do don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.[..] Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. “

      Our sword is the Word of God.

      Derek

  3. Kevin Failoni

    Thanks for your response Derek. You said ” if Jesus was concerned with self defense ……. bring only two blades.” And then ” thecswords were a symbol of lawlessness Jesus did not intend them to be used” you are reading your axiom into that verse. Jesus said in Luke 22 sell your cloak and buy a sword. Why? The obvious logical conclusion was to protect yourself. We know because the word used here was dagger the exact weapon used to fend off thieves and robbers. ” greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for a friend” to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow rape when one could have hindered it is evil” Moreland Geisler. Whatever your interpretation 2 things are true 1. Jesus required the to have swords . He expected them to carry them on their persons. ” it is enough” some carried weapons in his presence with his command. In the case with Peter you get the sense that although they had a right to employ swords in defense of this unrighteous arrest, he wants them to put aside that right to allow himself to be taken out without resistance. And lastly Jesus could not tell them to do a lawless act, therefore a sword for protection cant be lawless. K

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