Modern Christianity is a puzzle to many people! Ministers mouth pious platitudes of love and kindness on the one hand and sanctimoniously sanction bloody wars on the other. This sets up a double standard, and frustrates any serious attempt to apply the teachings of Jesus Christ in today’s chaotic world.
A person reading the teachings of Christ cannot reconcile His teachings regarding love and kindness to neighbor with the violent and bloody wars in which many multiple millions of “Christians” have participated! No wonder there is confusion and uncertainty regarding Christianity today!
The pagans and heathens have looked at “Christianity” and have evaluated it as a hypocritical religion. It teaches love and kindness, justice and mercy, but completely fails to practice these virtues in such areas as war, big business and brutal sports such as football and boxing.
Because of the conflicts between the teaching and the actual practice of Christians, even many of the educated of our day have questioned Christianity and have accused it of failing. Is it any wonder that here are so many people who are irreligious agnostics, skeptics and atheists? Christianity to them appears unreasonable because of this great flaw in what is today called Christianity.
Instead of preventing war, the religious peoples of the world have frequently been the cause and instigators of war. There have been many “holy “wars fought over this earth’s surface. History has proven that the religions of this world can’t bring about a change in man or a solution to our mounting increase of wars and rumors of wars.
The character of man must be changed before we can have real peace. But who is going to bring this change about? Will it be the Catholic Church? Will it be the Protestant churches? Will it be any of this world’s religions?
In 1959 a noted atheist wrote in The Age of Reason magazine: “Although many religious systems accept the same basis for their creeds, their differences as to interpretation have caused the most vicious and antagonistic conflicts, conflicts that have led to murder and massacres, and to the bloodiest wars man has ever suffered upon this earth.”
Any student of history knows that these accusations are true! What shame that such murderous and bloody conflicts have been a result of religion rather than in spite of religion. This is not the way of the meek and gentle Carpenter of Nazareth who taught that we should love our enemies and do good to them that hate us!
This world’s religions are also shown guilty by another source, the Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 23, pp. 346-347.
“In the past it (religion) has certainly been the direct or indirect cause of war, there has been no century without its authorized representatives or interpreters inciting the nations to conflict for its greater glory and power. Religions of old failed admittedly to appreciate their opponent’s point of view. When arguments failed, the invariable recourse was to arms.”
“On the whole, when religion dominated the state, the religions in the customary ecclesiastical meaning of the term were too absorbed by worldly ambitions, under the masks of humility and piety, to realize the divine possibilities at the root of their creed. Not only the historic creeds, but the smaller religionists who forgot to exercise toward others the toleration they demanded for themselves, made religion so empty and delusive a phrase that Madame Roland might well have exclaimed: ‘Religion, what crimes are committed in thy name!’”
These worldly religions, including what has masqueraded as Christianity, are guilty before God because of the terrible atrocities committed in the name of the Prince of Peace.
It should now be evident that the religions and churches of the world have not known the way to peace. The churches do not know what causes war. They don’t know or care to know how to avoid it. They haven’t understood fully nor practiced the true teachings of the Bible which show the way to peace. If they had, they would not have become involved in these so-called “holy” wars. These churches have obviously not known the way to peace. They have not understood the plain teaching of Jesus Christ about whether or not a Christian fights or be involved in war.
A careful look at today’s world shows an entirely different Christianity in most respects, from the Christianity of New Testament times. This is especially so in regard to the Christian teachings regarding war and violence.
In this article the contrast of the teachings and practices of early Christians with present Christians will become very clear. We will see plainly that early Christians started off in a far different manner than is being practiced in most professing Christian communities today.
The period of history covered in this article will be from the beginning of Christ’s ministry in A.D. 27 to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Most Christian sects especially claim to believe, in practice, Christ’s teachings summarized in the “sermon on the mount.”
“Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). A person who is meek is one who is humbly patient or submissive, as under provocation from others (The American College Dictionary). Such a person will not be provoked to anger, but will be patient and submissive.
“Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children (sons) of God” (Matt. 5:9). Peace is exactly the opposite of violence and war. Anyone involved in violence and destruction cannot be under God’s divine blessings! The sword of war will not bring peace!
The Christian can’t expect to live under peaceful circumstances at all times. He is going to be involved in conditions which are not at all peaceable, even though he himself will be at peace with man and God. He need not have anger or malice toward those who are angry at him.
Jesus Christ showed that the true Christian is one who will be persecuted (Matt. 5:10-12) for the sake of righteousness (right living according to God’s laws, Ps. 119:172), but he will not become angry and take up arms against other individuals or other nations who may be angry with him or his country. Instead he will take it patiently and not strike back. By taking this persecution patiently, he will receive his great reward.
The Christian is instructed “resist not evil” (v. 39). How can anyone justify resisting evil in war or at any other time in view of this plain statement? Instead of resisting others, Jesus instructed that we are to turn the other cheek!
Jesus taught that we are not to hate our enemies (v. 44). How can one take the view that it is possible to kill and not hate! Doesn’t make any sense!
Any experienced soldier will tell you that you must hate in order to be a good soldier and kill the enemy! Hate is taught to soldiers so that they will be effective. How can any human being say that he can kill others in love? To make such a statement is to distort and pervert all scripture concerning real Christian love. It is exactly opposite from a dictionary definition of love. It is even a travesty on cold, carnal logic! Instead of hating and killing our enemies, Christ commanded His followers:
“But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Can any professing Christian go to war in face of such plain and clear statements? Can any man claim to follow Christ who gave these binding instructions on His disciples for all time, and yet kill his fellow man?
Jesus sent His followers out as sheep among wolves (Matt. 10:16).Sheep have no protection against wolves, they are defenseless.
Let’s compare that with a Christian. The Christian has no natural or physical defense against those that persecute and hate him. If he used weapons to protect himself, he would have protection. A Christian engaged in war against nuclear weapons at his disposal, would not be a sheep among wolves! Even though a true Christian is defenseless by himself, he does have God’s divine protection (I Peter 3:12-14).
Instead of Christ’s disciples fighting against those who persecuted them, they were instructed to flee. “But when they persecute you in this city flee ye into another” (Matt. 10:23). Later on, the disciples followed this instruction. There is an example where Christ actually fled during severe persecution to save His life. He had just begun His ministry, and was in the synagogue at Nazareth. He told the congregation that the scripture of Isaiah concerning Him was being fulfilled. He had come to preach the Gospel to the poor and to set the captives at liberty. The people were incensed and angered at His statements. They wanted to kill Him by throwing Him headlong over a cliff. It was not yet His time to die. His ministry and the training of His disciples were yet ahead.
If it were proper for a Christian to fight, here was His opportunity. But Christ did not fight. He never did. Instead He just slipped through their midst and fled (Luke 4:30). Later on, after His ministry was finished and it was His time to be put to death, He again was threatened by violence. What did He do? He did not fight, nor even revile those who persecuted Him. He accepted His unjust punishment as a “lamb led to the slaughter.”
These scriptures and examples of Christ ought to teach us that there is a time to flee; there is also a time to stand, and even be put to death if necessary. But there is no time to fight back and hurt others as these and many other scriptures plainly show.
Many people will fight back in time of crisis or peril out of fear. Christ instructed us not to fear others (Matt. 10:28). We are to have real peace that comes only from God. Such peace does not come from fighting or hating others.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you; not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Instead of trying to save our lives by fighting we must be willing to give them for the sake of Christ. If we try to save our lives by fighting we will lose them! “Whosever will save his life shall lose it: and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Luke 16:25).
The 2nd great commandment for all mankind is “to love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22:39). Only a twisted and perverted mind could imagine that to kill in violence and war is to “love thy neighbor.” And yet, history has shown that many wicked men and bigoted rulers have thought that they were doing God a service by killing and destroying those that opposed them or their own peculiar religious beliefs.
On the night before Jesus’ death, Peter cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus immediately healed the servant and told Peter to put the sword away. “Then said Jesus unto him, put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt. 26:52).
The symbol “sword” of that day would obviously include any modern military weapon. It we want to continue to live the life of a Christian we had better not take up the sword or we may perish quickly by the sword!
Jesus Christ came to save and heal. He did not come to destroy and to kill. He expects His disciples to follow His example today! On one occasion, Jesus found it necessary to instruct His own disciples not to hate or kill. They wanted some of the people who would not accept or receive Him to be killed by having fire come down from heaven. Here is Christ’s own answer to them. “For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:56).
Instead of killing, Jesus laid down His life willingly for the world. Because He willingly gave His life for others, God gave Him eternal life (John 10:17).
He showed that this present age is not the time for His servants to fight (John 18:36). Christ’s Kingdom is not of this time or this society. If it were, then His servants would fight here and now. After being made immortal and a part of the very family of God, after the Kingdom of God comes to this earth, His immortal, spirit-born servants will fight with Christ against all the wicked. All rebellion will be put down and the world will finally have real peace.
That time is not here now. Christ has not yet returned to set up His Kingdom on earth. When He does, the whole world will know about it. Armies from all nations of the earth will gather together at Jerusalem to fight against Him and His saints.
Christ knew that there would be ever increasing wars as we near the end. He knew that Christians would not always be able to avoid being subject to the terrible things that war brings. He constantly warned of these terrible times to come. But He nowhere instructed His followers to arm or defend themselves.
In Matthew 24 He prophesied concerning the wars of our time. He did not say that we should become involved in these wars, or that we should be angered or even upset by them. He said just the opposite. “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matt. 24:6).
We should not become fearful or troubled and try to save our own lives. Our lives are completely in God’s hands. Instead of afflicting and killing others, (Matt. 24:9), Jesus said that the true Christian would be afflicted by persecution and wars.
In fact those that would forget these strong admonitions of Christ and start injuring and killing others would in turn be killed (Matt. 24:49-51).