James M. Arlandson
This article is the conclusion of the seven-part series on pacifism and the sword in the New Testament. The purpose of the series has been to bring clarity to many contradictory and confusing opinions circulating around the web and in the print media.
Part One is the key to the entire series. It demonstrates that Jesus separates the kingdom of God from the kingdom of Caesar. And he did not intend to reestablish the theocratic kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6-7), which fused together religious and civil law with a military in the Old Testament. Instead, he does a new thing (Isaiah 42:9; 43:19; 48:6) throughout the globe, establishing the kingdom of God that breaks down all barriers. It is a remarkable (and miraculous) fact that his movement has and is succeeding, for it indeed goes around the world. His prediction that it would do this has been and is being fulfilled (Matt. 13:31-32; 28:18-20).
Following the key theme of two kingdoms, I hypothesized in the Introduction and Conclusion of the first article that all of the verses in the New Testament on pacifism and the sword would fall into place and receive clarification. I wrote (slightly edited):
. . . Understanding the separate kingdoms of God and Caesar (the State) . . . is essential for grasping all of the verses in the New Testament about peace and the sword. Such verses will fall into place once the division of kingdoms is elaborated on.
The entire series confirms that hypothesis. The two-kingdom theology means that the kingdom of God does not wield a sword. Rather, the spiritual kingdom wages only spiritual warfare. The New Testament hands the literal sword over to the kingdom of Caesar.
Before proceeding, I should point out that I did not deal with two topics: the doctrine of just war and the Book of Revelation. A study of just war would demand an even longer series. Plus, if we cannot sort out what the New Testament says, then we cannot move past the preliminaries, for the New Testament is the foundation for hundreds of millions of believers. The Book of Revelation describes events in the End Times that only God has control of, and he will judge his planet in his way and in his time. It would have been difficult to build doctrine on that book. But nothing in it contradicts this series. In fact, the sacred book confirms it, particularly the doctrine of divine judgment.
Part Two in the series reveals that at first glance the Gospels seem to permit the disciples to wield a sword. Matthew 10:34 says that Jesus came to bring a sword, not peace. However, this verse is found in the context of family division, not a military holy war. He never commanded his followers to use a sword against a stubborn family member. In fact, just the opposite: a violent family member may become hostile against a new convert to the Jesus movement. His disciples have to be ready for that.
Next, in Luke 22:36 Jesus told his disciples on the night he was betrayed and arrested that they should sell their cloak and buy a sword, each. The disciples then show him two swords, and he said that the two were enough. However, when Peter actually used one of the swords in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was about to be seized and led away, he rebuked Peter. "No more of this!" And then: "Put your sword back in its place! He who draws the sword shall die by the sword!" Parts Two and Four demonstrate that this one act of violence happened before the formal creation of the Church (Acts 2). Sword use was never a church-wide and regular policy. The disciples turned the world right side up with preaching and praying alonefollowing their Lord and waging only spiritual warfare.
In Part Three we see that God honors soldiers and officers with blessings. Two of them even converted. Each one remained in the military, and each one carried his weapons after receiving a divine blessing or conversion. However, we should balance that out with the truth that the New Testament texts do not suggest that the Church as an institution should become militant. The stories are about individuals serving as lawful agents of the State, not in a Christian institution. They are trained agents of Caesar. This fits the two-kingdom theology so clearly spelled out in the entire New Testament, confirming the theme of the series as well.
Part Four shows that God ordains that the State may wield the sword to enforce justice on the earth, which brings about peace (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-16 and 4:15). This part in the series demonstrates, once again, that the two kingdoms are separate, which expresses the wisdom of God. There are four implications of Part Four, as follows:
First, the State does not receive direct revelations from God. We can therefore use reason to shape it and to establish, for example, democratic institutions. We do not have to follow the dictates of any theocrat throughout history. But the Church should counsel the State towards righteous policies, avoiding religious or secular oppression and intolerance. And it would be beneficial if the State were to realize that it receives its ultimate ordination from God.
Second, the United States has learned the lesson of separation. The Founders of our nation write the First Amendment of the Constitution thus, in its entirety:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
After learning the hard lesson of keeping the State and the Church separate, the US is following the divine order revealed in the New Testament. That is why its citizens living under this law enjoy God-ordained religious freedom and tolerance.
Third, the lawful agents of the State are called "servants" of God (Romans 13:4). As I observed in Parts Four and Six (slightly edited):
. . . If a Christian becomes a soldier or a police officer, then he officially and publicly serves the State. But his private faith and religion will make him a better servant because he strives to act with integrity. Ultimately, the Christian soldier or officer serves a just and loving God, so he follows and obeys justice and love (not one without the other). All of this depends on fluctuating circumstances. The soldier or officer must exercise wisdom as to when and how to apply love and justice. This is why he must stay in Christian fellowship, so he can ask for counsel from the body of believers. He must also know the law, which provides a lot of guidance in difficult situations.
Fourth and finally, the following has been another theme running throughout the series. I have written in nearly every article:
Church leaders in the name of the Church or of God should never convene a council or general assembly in order to raise an army to fight battles and to coerce heretics and opponents to conform.
If the Church were to do this, we would witness a repeat of its atrocities sometimes (not always) in its history. May we never see the Church committing atrocities again! However, since God ordains that the State may wield the sword, Christian pacifists disobey their own Scriptures if they counsel only pacifism.
Part Five argues that it would be most unwise for the Church to counsel the State to turn the other cheek. That forces the theology of the kingdom of God on to the kingdom of Caesar. Part Five concluded (edited):
Thus, in addition to the rhetorical interpretation, we have two other main ones, the historical (legal) and the eschatological [end times]. But whichever one an individual Christian or believing community chooses (or a combination of the three), none of the interpretations directly apply to the State. "Turn the other cheek," appearing in the context of the Sermon on the Mount and then the Sermon on the Plain, is addressed to the new kingdom community who heeds the call to a new way of life. The kingdom of Caesar has to deal with life-and-death danger, not a rhetorical device, a formal slap on the face between neighbors in a legal context, or a personal, eschatological context of insults. To be accurate and faithful to the verse, it says nothing about a national attack or criminal activity, which the kingdom of Caesar has to deal with.
Part Six follows a Question and Answer format, covering topics not found in the previous parts. Notably, it explores the dilemma that says that all Christians are commanded to love their enemies, so are Christian soldiers and police officers permitted to kill them, if necessary and lawful? The short answer is yes. Readers may click on Part Six, below, to find the discussion.
To conclude the series, I end once again with the main foundation or theme. The kingdom of God is distinct from the kingdom of Caesar. Briefly stated, the mission of the Church, which is created by the kingdom of God, is to save souls, teach believers, and help the needy in practical ways. It was not and will never be called to bloody people with swords.
May the two kingdoms never again be fused together!
And may the Church fulfill its true mission!
This series is dedicated to all the law enforcement and military personnel around the world. Thank you for your service.
James M. Arlandson may be reached at here.
The complete series of articles:
Jesus, Pacifism, and the Sword|
Pacifism and the Sword in the Gospels
Soldiers, Officers, and God
Church and Stateand the Sword
Should the State turn the other Cheek?
Questions and Answers on Pacifism and the Sword
AddendumFight or Flight?
Many translations of the Bible may be read here.
Articles by James Arlandson
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