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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Early Christians' views on war, power, and politics

In my upcoming book "Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War" I've written some things that are likely going to get me into trouble with a lot of religious people. One one level, I feel sorry that I have to offend so many people, especially people that I love and respect. On another level, I feel a sense of righteous indignation (at least I hope it's righteous indignation and not something else) that what passes for Christianity today in the Western world is so far from what Jesus, the Apostles, and the early Church had in mind. The quotes below cover the period of the first two centuries of Christian history. As far as I know, no historians dispute what you are about to read. As you read these quotes, I'd like for you to ask yourself a question. Which is more likely? That the early Church after the closing of the New Testament, and hence closest to the lives of Jesus and the Apostles, started out in error but then gradually came to the truth around the time of Constantine--or the other way around?

The Early Church and the World, Professor C. J. Cadoux writes: “Up to the reign of Marcus Aurelius at least [161-180 C.E.], no Christian would become a soldier after his baptism.”

“Early Christianity was little understood and was regarded with little favor by those who ruled the pagan world. . . . Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens. . . . They would not hold political office.” (On the Road to Civilization—A World History, A. K. Heckel and J. G. Sigman, 1937, pp. 237-8)

The Encyclopedia of Religion states: “The early church fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, affirmed that Christians were constrained from taking human life, a principle that prevented them from participating in the Roman army.” In his book

“A careful review of all the information available goes to show that, until the time of Marcus Aurelius [Roman emperor from 161 to 180 C.E.], no Christian became a soldier; and no soldier, after becoming a Christian, remained in military service.”—The Rise of Christianity (London, 1947), E. W. Barnes, p. 333.

The book The Early Christian Attitude to War says: “Inasmuch as they [Jesus’ teachings] ruled out as illicit all use of violence and injury against others, clearly implied [was] the illegitimacy of participation in war . . . The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved.”

“They refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. . . . it was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magistrates, or of princes.”—History of Christianity (New York, 1891), Edward Gibbon, pp. 162, 163.

“The behavior of the [early] Christians was very different from that of the Romans. . . . Since Christ had preached peace, they refused to become soldiers.”—Our World Through the Ages.

” And The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, states: “[Early Christians] refused to take any active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the empire. . . . It was impossible that the Christians, without renouncing a more sacred duty, could assume the character of soldiers.”

The Catholic Herald of London stated: “The first Christians . . . took Jesus at His word and refused to be conscripted into the Roman army even if the penalty was death. Would the whole of history have been different if the Church had stuck to its original stand? . . . If the churches of today could come out with a joint condemnation of war . . . , which would mean that every member would be bound in conscience to be, like the Christians, a conscientious objector, peace might indeed be assured. But we know that this will never happen.”

“Early Christianity was little understood and was regarded with little favor by those who ruled the pagan world…Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens…They would not hold political office.” --- On the Road to Civilization, A World History (Philadelphia, Chicago, etc; 1937) Albert K. Heckel and James G. Sigman, pp 237, 238.

“Zealous Christians did not serve in the armed forces or accept political offices.”-- World History, The Story of Man’s Achievements (River Forest, Ill; 1962) Habberton, Roth and Spears, p. 117.

“While among Romans it was considered the highest honor to possess the privileges of Roman citizenship, the Christians announced that they were citizens of heaven. They shrank from public office and military service.”-- “Persecution of the Christians in Gaul, A.D. 177” by F.F.G. Guizot, former prime minister of France, Vol. III of The Great Events by Famous Historians (New York; 1905), Rossiter Johnson, ed, p. 246.

“The Christians were strangers and pilgrims in the world around them; their citizenship was in heaven; the kingdom to which they looked was not of this world. The consequent want of interest in public affairs came thus from the outset to be a noticeable feature in Christianity.” – Christianity and the Roman Government (London; 1925), E. G. Hardy, Principal of Jesus College, Oxford, p. 39.

“The emperors disliked Christianity because it seemed unpatriotic and un-Roman.”—The Course of Civilization, Volume One, (New York; 1961), p. 144.

It's time for a Reformation!


Paul Pavao said...

This is great. More people need to know these things.

My favorite story about this is, unfortunately, probably not true. It still shows the early Christian mindset, however.

At the end of Justin's First Apology is a letter supposedly written by Marcus Aurelius. It describes a battle where the Christians in the Roman army refused to fight because violence was offensive to them.

Marcus Aurelius was really miffed, and he was going to kill them. However, they told him they had other means of warfare, and they fell on their faces and prayed.

Immediately, says the letter, a rain began to fall that was light and refreshing on the Romans but a withering hail on their enemies. The Romans won the battle, and Marcus Aurelius asked that Christians no longer be persecuted because they obviously served a great and useful God.

Historians say the letter probably isn't real, but Justin thought it was, and he thought it represented early Christian thought.

The other really important note is that canon twelve of the Council of Nicea says that someone who joins the army is to be excommunicated for ten years.

As long as we're quoting and claiming we believe the Apostles Creed, which is based on the Nicene Creed, can we really ignore Nicea on the subject of warfare?

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Please fill me in. What does Nicea say about warfare?

toby said...

that's really interesting stuff. way to look back at history and to get a take on how things maybe should be today.

MikeSnow said...

C.John Cadoux's classic was the first book that John Howard Yoder recommended to me when coming to terms with my Christian convictions.

Aaron D. Taylor said...

So you knew John Howard Yoder? Very cool!

Joseph said...

Mr. Aaron I am not sure if you know this or not, but I was looking for early 20th century church views on politics for an article I am currently working on and I found what appears to be a rip off from you. I did not see the proper attribution and the article even has the same mistake in it that yours had. In the second paragraph it says One, one when it should say on one. The link is as follows:

Aaron D. Taylor said...

Thank you for pointing this out to me Joseph.

Anth Wilson said...

So who is emulating early Christians today? Very simple answer, it is only the Jehovah witnesses.

Louie Tanyag said...

It means that early Crhistian is reflecting in our modern day to the Jehovah's Witness.

Ivana said...

Yes,John 18:36..Jesus says his Kingdom is no part of this world or else his attendants would have fought for him that being said why fight for a government we are no part of especially after being commanded to love our neighbor at John 13:34,35 so you see by no means do we take up arms against our brothers....