We’ve Gone To War And We Can’t Come Back – Pacifism in The Restoration Movement

The time to discuss war, violence, and non-resistance is not when your nation finds itself in war in an instant, nor when a thief is in your garage, or a man seeks to strike you in the street.  Our gut reaction in the times of adrenaline will be self preservation. You can’t speak of non-retaliation when in a war, as those who put down arms surrender to whatever tyranny. Pacifism does not begin there at the moment or in the heat of war. It begins decades earlier at settling grievances.

So many people mistake Pacifism with Passive – Doing nothing at all. This is the opposite of Pacifism.  Pacifism is rooted in the word Pacify – Meaning to seek to undertake the hard work to understanding grievances people might have with us, or we with them, and seeking a working solution to settle the quarrel, early on, before it explodes into something larger.

When it comes to evil, war, and violence, tensions, hard feelings, I know we have a lot of passive people in our culture today. They don’t want to fight wars, work out relational, work,  or business  grievances etc. “I’m not dealing with this.” is not Pacifism, it is Passive.  They are not  Pacifists. They will do little hard work to resolve grievances others have with them, nor theirs with others. They are not peacemakers.  They just ignore the problems and walk away. They seek to be passive, not seeking to Pacify–  Not in Family, marriages, or community relationships. They are fake pacifists. The hard work of Pacifism is beyond their energy level, conviction, morality, or character. They do not represent Christian Pacifism at all.  They know little about the deep principles of how to live Pacifism.

Therefore these questions should be discussed. This is why I keep probing the subject of Christian Pacifism and non-violence, non- aggression the last few years. Because none of my mentors had that discussion with me, and when I heard about this subject  I found myself floundering in ignorance, on both sides of the debate.  I suspect most people are in my boat. (video’s linked at the end)

Is it ever a wrong moment to discuss Peace concerns? Church, why not?

The more I read Church of Christ history I see how Anabaptist influenced they really were. This fact is all but lost in a culture and a church that eventually went to war anyway.

Who wants to talk about such an uncomfortable truth as a transition from a peace church to a church history of believers active in war, and willingness to violent responses in the face of violence. Not an easy subject for churches to discuss, when your scriptures hint at non-retaliation, and we are as war like as our secular nations.

I have never even heard a hint of this Pacifism in my school days around Christian Colleges, even though Alexander Campbell, an early leader in the Restoration Movement Churches, was a pacifist and believed the scriptures taught nonviolence. Also, for that matter, most Christians are unaware that the leaders of the early church, within the first three centuries until Constantine, were Pacifists as well. Military service and killing in war were anathema universally at that time.  Most preachers stumble on this fact, but few will introduce the concept.

For further research and reading please go to.

  • Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State Paperback – October 1, 2005 by Craig M. Watts
  • Alexander Campbell’s “Address On War” (Which is included in the Disciple of Peace in the back)
Hymn “Down by the Riverside” – Louis Daniel Armstrong
“I’m gonna lay down my Sword and Shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
I’m gonna study, study, war no more
I ain’t gonna study war no more
Ain’t gonna study war no more
I ain’t gonna study war no more.”

Below are a few selections of thought on Christians in war from an Alexander Campbell’s perspective. You probably never have heard such ideas from a single pulpit or Sunday school class in a Christian Church, of any stripe such, ideas probably in your lifetime.

Why is this?

  1. We have gone to war and killed. Church members, and Christian family members. To cast questions on their “Sacrifice” by killing might be viewed as disrespect our fellow believers and family.
  2. We don’t believe Pacifism is Biblical at all.
  3. Even if it were Biblical, it’s too painful to think about how wrong we might have gotten the Gospel, how much we misunderstood PEACE,  or how warped our view of justice, mercy, or grace might have become. So we do not bring up the difficult questions or themes from the scripture, even when hinted at(or outright stated).
  4. 4. It’s a divisive issue. Because it would cause division even Alexander Campbell  spoke little about Pacifism, though he believed it was in line with Jesus’s teaching,  So did not speak publicly about it often, rather put his thought to paper, and it was circulated. (You have to understand how deep a pursuit the unity of the believers was for the Restoration Movement to fully understand why the pursuit of “Unity”, to a degree, tempered the conversation on “Non-retalation” )

Here in is the tension between the desire for Unity and Peace

“If violence is characterized by division and agonistic struggle, then unity is attributed to peace. In the thought of Alexander Campbell, unity and peace are connected in direct opposition to violence. If the church of Christ on earth was to achieve unity in mission and communion, then violence amongst Christians could have no place. Yet ironically, Campbell often refrained from making Christian pacifism a key element of restored New Testament Christianity, because he feared that pacifism would be an issue of division.

Nonetheless, after witnessing the effects of Christians participating in war, Campbell expressed regret at having not been more vocal about Christian pacifism. Watts says, “One of his few expressions of regret took place shortly after the Mexican-American War. He declared he was ‘ashamed’ that he had not expressed more fully his opposition to war and support for nonviolence just prior to the outbreak of hostilities.”8 For Campbell realized, if only too late, that Mexican-American War and the Civil War proved to be more divisive than addressing the issue of Christian pacifism ever could be. ”

– Jonathan Totty.The Non-Violent Epistemological Premise of the Declaration and Address

And as Totty smartly realizes…… “Campbell lived not long after schisms and divisions were often accompanied by violence and war amongst Christians.”

“For several reasons, Campbell was reluctant to teach pacifism during times of conflict. First, Campbell did not want to show partisan bias. Second, during the wars of nineteenth century America, there were many pacifist agendas, and Campbell did not want his own theological reasons for abstaining from war to be confused with other reasons. And third, he thought politics proved divisive when preached from the pulpit.” – Jonathan Totty.The Non-Violent Epistemological Premise of the Declaration and Address

To this day, I have yet to met few Church of Christ/Christian Church person who are aware that the early leaders of the Restoration Movement, who sought to restore the first century church teaching and practice (Also an Anabaptist pursuit from 1500’s) were pacifists. I have written about it several times, and shared a few insights with a few individuals. One one person ever asked a further question, made a comment about their opinion, or to my knowledge probed the facts further.

Pacifism, non-retalation, and non-violent responses, is a conversational, and theological dead end.

This is what bothers me. I do not write this to convince you of Pacifism. I am not there, maybe to “some degree” in my heart and head, but not in my practice or speech. However, it is a question we should discuss, and it should be put it on the table, all the time, for each generation to discuss. Because it is very important. Because it beats so closely with the heart of Jesus for mankind. Because the scriptures have “Problem passages” that hint at such things as evil beget evil, so avoid that.  God may chose to use various ways, he is God, but how he wishes us to behave and interact as humans might not the same. Imagine that! As one Anabaptists put it, and this is only my very poor recollection – “God goes to war, so we humans don’t have to.” Why? WOW! What?

This summarizes very well why I write on this subject.

“I believe the memory of the church’s pacifist past should not be suppressed but rather be brought to the surface. If some choose to reject it for themselves, let them do so without claiming it is not a legitimate part of who we are as the churches that grew from the reform movement of which the pacifist Alexander Campbell was at the forefront.”

Craig Watts, Disciples of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence and the State (Indianapolis: Doulos Christou Press, 2005), 33.

Biblical Meekness never meant weakness and cowardice. It derives from a Greek word used to describe a well self-controlled horse. He had the potential to run you over, to stomp and kill you with his hooves, if he so chooses, at any time. But he is in control of his wild impulses. He is the master of those impulses, rather than mastered by them. I love how Jordan Peterson put it in this interview. when asked about “The Meek will inherit the earth.” He actually captured the essence of the Greek word in modern language very vividly.
“Meekness…. those who have swords and know how to use them, but choose to keep them sheathed will inherit the earth.” – Jordan Peterson Oz Talk: Jordan Peterson.
When entering this conversation I think it is important to note that sheathing swords, I think we all agree, is always the best option of all. None goes to war lightly.

I am very much enjoying my reading of Anabaptist, and Restoration Movement Church history. I’ll not drop this exploration quickly. Too fascinating. Too much at stake. Too much to learn.

A few thoughts on war from Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. Leaders and founders of the Restoration Movement Concepts.

“But as respects the works peculiar to a soldier, or the prosecution of a political war, they (have) no commandment. On the contrary, they were to live peaceably with all men to the full extent of their power. Their sovereign Lord, the King of nations, is called ‘The PRINCE OF PEACE.’ How, then, could a Christian soldier, whose ‘shield’ was faith, whose ‘helmet’ the hope of salvation, whose ‘breastplate’ was righteousness, whose ‘girdle’ was truth, whose ‘feet were shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace’ and whose ‘sword’ was that fabricated by the Holy Spirit, even ‘the Word of God.’ I say, how could such a one enlist to fight in the battle of a Cesar, a Hannibal, a Tamerlane, a Napoleaon, or even a Victoria?-!”

— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 374)

“That the genius and spirit of Christianity, as well as the letter of it, are admitted, on all hands, to be decidedly ‘peace on earth and good will among men,’ needs no proof to any one that has ever read the volume that contains it.”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 375)

“Two swords for twelve Apostles? Truly they are dull scholars who thence infer he meant that they should literally buy two swords to fight with!”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 375)

“Decidedly, then, the spirit of Christianity is essentially pacific.”
— Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 375)

“In the language of the eloquent Grimke, we must show that ‘the great objection to war is not so much the number of lives and the amount of property it destroys, as its moral influence on nations and individuals. It creates and perpetuates national jealousy, fear, hatred, and envy. It arrogates to itself the prerogative of the Creator alone, to involve the innocent multitude in the punishment of the guilty few. It corrupts the moral taste, and hardens the heart; cherishes and strengthens the base and violent passions, destroys the distinguishing features of Christian charity, its universality and its love of enemies’; turns into mockery and contempt the best virtue of Christians—humility; weakens the sense of moral obligation; banishes the spirit of improvement, usefulness, and benevolence, and inculcates the horrible maxim that murder and robbery are matters of state expediency.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 385)

“Need we any other proof that a Christian people can, in no way whatever, countenance a war as a proper means of redressing wrongs, of deciding justice, or of settling controversies among nations?”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 377)

“The precepts of Christianity positively inhibit war—by showing that ‘wars and fighting come from men’s lusts and evil passions’, and by commanding Christians to follow ‘peace on earth and good will among men.’”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 383)

“We must create a public opinion on this subject. We should inspire a pacific spirit, and show off on all proper occasions the chief objections to war.”
–Alexander Campbell (“An Address on War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1848. Pg. 385)

“The spirit of war is always a rebellious spirit.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1861. Pg. 338)

“The Christian is not permitted to redress his wrongs by taking vengeance upon the wrong-doer. He is to commit his cause to Him who judges righteously, to whom vengeance belongs.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1861. Pg. 338)

“Now we trust that no Christian man who fears God and desires to be loyal to Messiah, the Prince of Peace, shall be found in the ranks of so unholy a warfare.”
–Alexander Campbell (“The Spirit of War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1861. Pg. 339)

“I freely expressed my views of war and other aberrations from the Christian religion.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1846. Pg. 638)

“But so long as any man admits the dying testimony of Jesus Christ to be true, he must, I contend, give up his ‘Christian wars’ ‘Christian armies,’ ‘Christian navies,’ ‘Christian victories,’ and military glory.
–Alexander Campbell (“War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1846. Pg. 640)

(speaking of Jesus’ claim that His kingdom is not of this world) “The conclusion of these words is inevitable. My kingdom being not of this world, my servants cannot fight for me, not even in a defensive war.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1846. Pg. 640)

“If, then, the Messiah would not, in defense of his own life, have his servants to take the sword, for whose life ought it to be unsheathed?!”
–Alexander Campbell (“War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1846. Pg. 641)

“Indeed, the spirit of war and the spirit of Christ are as antipodal as light and darkness, as good and evil.”
— Alexander Campbell (“War.” Millennial Harbinger, 1846. Pg. 641)

“Christianity, (is) essentially pacific, conciliatory, and forgiving. The Saviour of the world is the Prince of Peace, and all his true subjects are sons of peace and advocates of glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will amongst men.”
–Alexander Campbell (“War and Christianity Antipodal.” Millennial Harbinger, 1850. Pg. 524)

(speaking of Christians and war), “If these things be true, the Christian world is truly in an awful state of apostacy! It is surely high time to think seriously and reform.”
–Barton W. Stone (“Christians Holding Offices.” The Christian Messenger, 1842. Pg. 205)

“The Gospel aims a death blow at the very root and principle of war”
— Barton W. Stone (The Christian Messenger, July 1835)

“His laws are pacific, he is the Prince of Peace—his subjects are the children of peace. Nothing appears so repugnant to the kingdom of heaven as war…”
–Barton W. Stone (“Christians Holding Offices.” The Christian Messenger, 1842. Pg. 205)

“Campbell often refrained from making Christian pacifism a key element of restored New Testament Christianity, because he feared that pacifism would be an issue of division. However, I argue that the plea for unity uttered by Thomas and Alexander Campbell is implicitly peaceable, and though Alexander Campbell often refrained from preaching on pacifism for fear of division, the plea for church unity is a key element Christian pacifism.” The Non-Violent Epistemological Premise of the Declaration and Address. Jonathan Totty ,April 18, 2017

A few video resources for you that were interesting to hear their points of thought. Then on to my article.

A presentation about Pacifism in Churches Of Christ.

Here is a good debate with arguments from both sides.


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