The regenerated do not go to war, nor engage in strife. They are children of peace who have ‘beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks, and know no war’ (Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3). … Our weapons are not weapons with which cities and countries may be destroyed, walls and gates broken down, and human blood shed in torrents like water. But they are weapons with which the spiritual kingdom of the devil is destroyed. … Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword.
– Menno Simons

It’s strange that war raises so few problems for most evangelicals. Or actually it’s not so strange. It’s where the Constantinian mindset is shown most strongly today. Your average evangelical can’t see how being a disciple and being an Australian might come into conflict. For them, discipleship is about private, spiritual freedom; war is about political freedoms. (They can’t imagine a political dimension to the kingdom, they can’t imagine the kingdom as a new way of ordering life in the midst of a broken world – but why would they? They don’t see it in their churches!)

For most evangelicals, their primary political allegiance is to Australia, rather than to the kingdom. It’s this primary allegiance which allows them to fight wars against our country’s enemies, despite Christ’s injunction to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. But the church should be ‘a holy nation’ which transcends national borders and refuses to fight. If our first loyalty is to Christ, we can’t go fighting wars; we would be killing our brothers and sisters (Christians in the other countries) as well as our enemies. We would be failing in our duty to imitate Christ; we would be imitating the world.

ANZAC Day seems a kind of syncretism to me. Too many evangelicals like the way the average Australian sounds a bit religious on ANZAC day. They are happy for the world to quote ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ in connection to the ANZAC legend, because at least they’re quoting the Bible. I’m fairly sure that there will be a number of preachers across Perth appropriating the ANZAC legend tomorrow in their sermon and drawing a parallel to Jesus laying down his life for us.

But war is a tragedy. In our concern for honouring the horrible deaths and suffering of so many soldiers, we tend to avoid critiquing the political agendas of empire that caused those deaths. We forget that Jesus died in an act of reconciliation, while our fathers and forefathers died in an act of war. They were brave and they were probably selfless; but, alas, they were not fighting for the kingom of God.

So what should a pacifist do if he or she is in church in Perth tomorrow and hears the preacher draw a connection between the ANZAC legend and Jesus’ death? Don’t speak out during the sermon; it’s rude and it will never achieve anything. Don’t turn your back, that’s rude too. Should you keep your mouth shut? If you do, you might die inside as I’ve been dying inside for several years keeping my mouth shut about so many things. Should you start some respectful conversations? Yes, probably. It won’t lead anywhere quickly, though. But if you’re a pacifist, you already know that.

12 thoughts on “ANZAC Day

  1. Hi Nathan,
    Great piece on ANZAC day. I am always disturbed by the impact that ANZAC day has on our churches. You are a prophet. I heard soldiers being compared to shepherds of all things on ANZAC Sunday!

    I have been re-examining the early church fathers in the hope that I would find a coherent early-church pacifist position before Constantine (given that we all blame the conversion of Constantine for the church’s current views on war etc).
    But contrary to what I had hoped to find, there simply isn’t one.

    What troubles me Nathan is that so few Christians historically have supported the pacifist view on violence/war. Why is that? Why hasn’t it been obvious? Why hasn’t the Spirit or the Church directly revealed or taught non violence as followers of Jesus?

    I would imagine that 95% of evangelicals think in terms of a ‘just war’ theory. Add to that the 1 billion Catholics whom I presume also support a ‘just war’ theory. It worries me Nathan. Could it be possible that we are simply seeing what we want to see in regards to pacifism?

    God bless you Nathan

  2. Good post Nathan. Reading it made me think about what I would preach on ANZAC Day.

    One thing I wonder about is your comment about Jesus dying in an act of reconciliation. I guess that is a way to look back on it from a Christian perspective. Couldn’t the same be said for the elimination of the Nazi’s in WWII?

    I was disturbed recently to find writings by Gandhi, where his response to the Holocaust was basically for Jew’s to ‘sacrifice’ themselves, because it was more noble. The Nazi’s killed over 20 million Jews, people of other ethnicities and disabled people in a few short years before and during WWII, how many more would have died had they stood up and said ‘accept me or kill me’ and had no support from the rest of the world?

    But, what basis could the intervention be faith based? The Good Samaritan helped after the event, and I can’t imagine the ‘Whoever is without sin cast the first stone’ speech working on people like Hitler, Bush or Kim Jong Il. I don’t know.

    Regardless, I choose to remember, but not honour, the people who have gone to war (the soldiers, nurses, chaplains etc) as well as the many who took the places of those who have gone and pray that some day soon, it will stop, and never happen again.

    1. Wes, tough questions there! I didn’t know about Gandhi’s reponse to the Holocaust. A common cry among pacifists is that pacifism can’t be expected to fix all the problems which were created by militarism. Which doesn’t really answer that particular dilemma. I’d say the elmination of the Nazis could be seen as an act of liberation – but not reconciliation.

  3. There is an archeological dig currently examining the earliest church meeting place in Megiddo.

    It is from the 250’sCE and shows that Roman soldiers were a part of the church. Quote….

    “The excavations show that in the Roman and Byzantine periods the ancient settlement extended at least as far as the current excavation area. The exposed buildings were on the western fringes of the settlement. A large building that served as a dwelling was erected in the third century CE. One of its wings was apparently dedicated to Christian worship and was used as a prayer hall by the members of the community. The archaeological and epigraphic finds indicate that women and Roman army soldiers were among the members of the Christian community. The dating of the structure to the middle of the third century CE is based on the numismatic, ceramic and epigraphic finds. The time period of the building therefore predated the recognition of Christianity during the reign of Constantine (the Edict of Milan in 312 CE) and its adoption as the official religion by the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. The proximity of the building, laying on the edge of the settlement, to the Roman army fortress that Schumacher excavated at the top of the spur (G. Schumacher, 1908, Tell el-Mutesellim 1. Leipzig, Fig. 287), shows that Roman army soldiers lived in quarters located in a civilian area, alongside buildings of the Jewish village.”

    For a detailed examination of the find with pictures see…

  4. Hi Nathan,

    Most evangelicals accept that Christians may go to what are called “just wars”. John Yoder (Politics of Jesus) and Richard Hays (Moral Vision of the New Testament) argue very strongly that pacificism is supported throughout the New Testament. There is no NT justification for Christians engaging in war.

    Most evangelicals rely either on the OT to support their case for Christian particpation in “just wars” and many take the view that the the NT adresses personal ethics and not social ethics. A big problem is that the OT does not just support defensive wars but also wars of aggression(including genocide) .

    If we read the bible as a story with direction whose central story is the story of Jesus who embodied the kingdom of God (reign of shalom) in his life, lifestyle, deeds, words and relationships, then I think that we can sustain the view that Jesus reveals a non violent God who loves his enemies.

    Jesus fulfils and transcends the OT. He shows that love of God through love for those in need (the “neighbour”) fulfils the law.

    It is interesting to note that Jesus never quotes from the OT texts of violence.

    John Arthur

  5. Hi John, do you have any thoughts on Brad’s comments? This archaeological find is a little disturbing. I mean to dig out a book in the library about military and church in the early church.

  6. I agree, it is easy to form a theology of non violence from what we have written about Jesus in the NT. And I personally want it to be the case….

    However, if I am honest with the NT, non violence and the non- violence of God is not given much space. Isn’t it a bit odd that something so central to the Gospel is never expanded upon? Why is it when a Roman Centurion comes to Christ in the Gospel what appears to be the important point for the author is that gentiles are now acceptable to God in Christ? Wouldn’t it be a great opportunity to mention how he gave up being a soldier as well in accordance with obedience to Christ?

    Of more concern to me (and my main point) is why wasn’t it carried on into the post apostolic period if it was so central to the message? I am not speaking of 400Ce or the middle ages here but the generation directly after the apostles- some of whom even knew the apostles!

    Should it really take until the Anabaptists in the 16th century to get Jesus’ teaching right?

    Anyhow, food for thought

  7. Hey Brad, I’m going to have a read of the chapter in Yoder’s ‘new’ book Christian attitudes to war…, “The Pacifism of Pre-Constantinian Christianity” and see what the master has to tell us. 🙂

  8. Hi Nathan,

    Many pacifists do not take the view that Constantiniansim began with Constantine as Robert Morey seems to imply. e.g. Yoder maintained that the process got under way sometime in the second century but it accelerated under and after Constantine. (For a summary of Yoder’s position see pp.166-170 0f Craig Carter’s book “The Politics of the Cross”, Brazos, 2001).

    My summary of the first 3 centuries is as follows:

    (1) The early church was predominantly pacifist but not solely.

    (2) Soldiers first began actively entering the army between 170 and 180 AD so that for the first 140 years or so after Jesus’ death and resurrection the church was clearly pacifist.

    (3) Although some Roman soldiers converted to Christ prior to this, many either left the army or died for refusal to bear the sword and for failure to worship the emperor.

    (4) In first century, Palestine Jews and Jewish Christians were not permitted to join the Roman legions.

    (5) The Christian movement in first century Palestine was a Jewish peace movement. They refused to join the revolt against Rome in the Judeo-Roman war od AD 66-73 but fled to the mountains as Jesus predicted (See NT Wright “Jesus and the Victory of God” pp.151-160, 250-253,268-271. Marcus Borg also takes a similar positon in “Conflict, Politics, Holiness and Politics in the teaching of Jesus).

    (6) After Christians started entering the army, it is unclear what proporion of these were engaged in peace keeping and what proportion were involoved in fighting.

    (7) It is clear that in some areas Christians were involved intaking up arms but this does not seem to be predominant.

    (8) The reason why most Christians refused to take up arms was not simply because this would involve emperor worsip ( though it would have) but because of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God and the way of shalom (eirene).

    (9). The sermon on the mount is one of the most frequently quoted passages of scripture used in the first three centuries.

    (10) Although the church was predominantly pacifist in the first 300 years, 100 years after Constantine the church had overwhlmingly rejected Pacifism. This was not only because emperor worship was no longer required of soldiers but because Jesus’ peaceful way had been abandoned.

    John Arthur

  9. Your last section had me chuckling, if any minister ever linked those two together, the congregation probably would start whispering. The brother would be questioned and probably put under discipline. Considering my faith many brothers were still put in prison up to the 90’s for refusing to bear arms or swearing an oath.

    If you are into reading check out “Choosing to Suffer Affliction” Its available as a free download.

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