The study of “right and wrong” or ethics is very important but ethics do not exhaust the full contents of what Christianity is. Ethics are concerned with the practical conduct of human life so, it is natural that curious Christian minds should have carefully investigated these rules and behavior. Also, when we find that some have carried this study to advanced levels we should not be surprised that this quest for meaning, predictably, should become corrupted on some points. This quest for right discernment has many times fallen into errors, oversights, and misunderstandings, if not outright hypocrisy and heresy. But, this should not prevent the responsibility of thoughtful Christians to seek out the truth. When what we read in the New Testament comes into conflict with, and fails to balance with, our actual experience then it is imperative that truth loving Christians bear out these differences with the attitude of honest inquiry and not simply stop at the status quo. Is it not the Christian’s duty to clarify, defend, instruct, and preach correct virtues and to live them out in broad daylight? Yet, this is not what we always find. Jesus said, looking toward the end-times, that “good would become evil and evil good,” so I will say again, when what we read in the New Testament comes into conflict with and fails to balance with our actual experience then it is imperative that truthful Christians bear out these differences with the attitude of honest inquiry.
In this pursuit of truth, no period of Christian history is as important as that of the first three centuries. All errors that we encounter can be eliminated as we find our way back to that period of time when Christianity was in its infancy and the teachings of Christ and the Apostles were still fresh in the hearts and minds of those who experienced it firsthand; the success of this period has never since been equaled. That power that sprang from the founder’s personal life pulsated with more energy at that time than it has ever since when emerging decay was held in check by frequent purifications in the fires of persecution and the Church’s vision had not been biased and its conscience dulled with accumulating compromise.
In the midst of today’s many problems of Christian integrity and ethics, the most urgent and challenging at this present time is that of the Christian attitude to war, self-defense, and violence. There has never been a time when the weight of it pressed more heavily upon the minds of Christians than it does today. It is a question that needs to be asked and involves the whole world and includes our necessity of coming to a reasoned decision on this critical issue – in all cases it requires that we question the fixations we have to health, wealth, security, reputation and even life itself in this world. The sad thing is that it appears that, generally speaking, there has been no reasoned inquiry and that most Christians have accepted the popular explanation for this problem without question. Everywhere, by an overwhelming majority, Christians have settled in word and deed the decision to fight and shed blood, and to kill – providing it is done in defense of country or for the weak or for the maintenance of national pride and righteousness – are the Christian’s duty, right, and privilege. But, only by an act of self-deception could anyone persuade himself that this is the final word on the subject. The degree and knowledge of which the majority have been persuaded owes in large part to other factors rather than calm, impartial, and considered judgment of a Christian heart. In the tense excitement and overflowing passion of the current state of affairs, the truth and reasonableness of the “popular opinion” are not only taken for granted but is elevated to the degree of the “sacred” where dissent or disobedience merits disrespect, disapproval, and even punishment. As has happened in the past during times of crises such views cannot be tolerated. Public feelings and state watchfulness at grip with the enemy will likely check or silence any expression of disagreement. During such times the question of non-resistance and pacifism may become a closed question. But, there is a rising tide of those who have looked below the surface of popular Christian belief on this subject and are not satisfied with the false and superficial answers that have been given to its sincere doubts and questions.
The New Testament has been thoroughly studied and written upon and although no work on Christian history, ethics, and teaching, could ignore this subject, it has been out of the question by contemporary authors to exhaustively consult the writings of the Ante-Nicene Church in search of this truth. What may be called the modern interest in the early Christian attitude to war goes back only to the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptist and considers their actions only as an anomaly. The modern Church is virtually devoid of those who know anything on the subject. The greatness of those who sacrificed so much to bring this truth into the light has been continuously downplayed and ignored by popular Christianity. This can be attributed to nothing less than an attempt by Satan to hide the very core and nature of the Gospel message and to present Christ and Christianity in a whole different light.
The problem of Christianity and war is one that demands serious attention, even during ordinary times, but recent events have magnified the problem and the need for attention. The real problem is that the average Christian naturally expects to find support for his convictions from the local Church, and in fact, that is exactly what happens, so it has been left to the few who have discovered the truth to spread it with whatever means is available and with whatever skill they possess.
The words of the New Testament, the life of Jesus, the lives of His disciples, and Apostles, and the history of the primitive Church for three hundred years all speak with a clear voice and are vibrant and strong regarding this subject. With Constantine’s ascension to power, the persecution stopped and Christian leaders, still bearing the scars of persecution, were raised to positions of authority and importance. True Christianity began to go into hiding but a scarlet thread can be traced from that time to this of Christians who came to know a truth that would cost them everything. Although we live in times of relative peace the time will come once again when those who follow the Lamb in non-resistance to evil will pay the cost of true fellowship.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For (Christian) people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 2 Tim. 3:1-5