our imagination. Or, we may feel
like lashing out towards those who
In a world that’s so violent, what
is the way forward for a disciple of
the Prince of Peace?
The Christian faith has a deep
well of resources from which to
draw. Not only do we have Scripture,
we have the works of church fathers,
theologians, pastors, monks, and
reformers who have been writing
for almost 2,000 years about a
Christian response to violence. We
also have the example of countless
others who have lived faithfully in
times both vexing and vicious.
The two big positions –
pacifism and just war
Since Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God (Mark 1: 15) his followers have sought to apply His teaching
and example to living in a sin-ridden
and war-torn world. The attempt
has led to two main streams of
thought in response to violence –
just war and pacifist, each position
having significant nuances within it.
What both positions share
The conviction that Jesus is Lord is
central to both positions. There are
political powers that should be
submitted to, but ultimately a Christian’s allegiance is to Christ and His
Kingdom, not to a political party or
even a nation. As we read in Acts
5: 29, when the two loyalties collide,
“We must obey God rather than
human beings.” The line between
to restrain evil,
such as with
Police forces and
Pacifists do not.
they share. in
fact, they have
Much More in
as origen or
ones such as
the state had
use violence to
suPPress evil and
carry out justice.
By Gordon Heath
HOW SHOULd WE THINK
ABOUT WAR ANd PEACE
IN SUCH A dIFFICULT
these two authorities is often
blurred with partisan political
prattle that declares, “My country,
right or wrong.” No Christian can
ever entertain such a claim, for as
G.K. Chesterton writes, it’s like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
That being the case, passages such
as Romans 13 speak of the legitimate authority and responsibilities
of civil government. Historically,
both just war and pacifist Christians believed there were two
divinely ordained spheres, the
Church and the State, although
how the two spheres related and
functioned, as well as how Christians could participate in the
State, were matters of debate.
But both Christian traditions
agreed the God-ordained role of
the State is to promote justice and
suppress sin. They also agreed the
State can use “the sword” to carry
out its mandate.
Issues related to war, peace,
justice and violence are primarily
the prerogative of the State. In the
confusion and consternation that
overwhelm us today, many Christians have ignored centuries of
theological reflection, and as a
result have a deficient and less-than-robust view of the State.
Christians concerned with war
and peace can and should advocate, organize, and act in ways that
further the cause of peace and
justice, modelling life in the Kingdom of Christ – and in doing so
prophetically point to the future
fullness of the Kingdom.
Violence by individuals is of
course different. War and violence
are the purview of government.
Personal vengeance and violence
are not options for Christians.
But what exactly does all this
mean for us today?
Christians thinking seriously
about their stand on war and peace
unending war and Islam’s ad- vance. Civil unrest and horrific violence.
New weaponry and the threat of
Christians in Europe in the 14th
century experienced it all.
Seven centuries later news reports are remarkably similar. What
are we to think about the violence
in Ukraine or the Middle East?
How do we respond to the forced
displacement of ancient Christian
communities? What is a Christian
response to threats such as Islamic
State (IS), or Joseph Kony’s kidnapping of African children for use as
It’s easy to despair in the face of
such horrors and to recoil from
situations that are dark beyond
What’s the role of civil government?
Protect and act justly in the face of aggression. It bears the sword to do
Promote peace and justice and protect its people.
The positive role of a State can be seen in the many examples of failed
states around the globe, and the suffering and misery they leave in their
wake. Imagine what a difference it would make in those places if there
was good government (a “Leviathan” as Thomas Hobbes called it).