Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, painting by Rembrandt (1659) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alright, I’ll acknowledge from the start that from within my context this is a provocative title and I suppose any responses will bear witness to whether the entire blog post is read. So with that small qualification let me begin my explanation with a short anecdote. Recently I met with a group of people who hold a deep desire to re-establish a strong stance regarding non-violence as essential to a believer’s witness to Christ and salvation. The motivating factor for this gathering is deep spiritual convictions that have resulted from studying the New Testament. In the midst of the conversation, one particular opinion became apparent that the Old Testament was of little use as was Paul’s teachings when it came to faithful living. I’ll admit that one of my greatest pet peeves is the growing tendency to pick and choose the easiest scriptures that support our convictions. So my initial reaction was one of frustration. Admittedly, I am part of a tradition that holds to a hierarchical view of scripture, which obviously places precedent on the New Covenant (Testament). This preference has come to be translated as the New Testament only. And this is where my argument begins (probably a direction not anticipated).

Having come into an Anabaptist tradition from Reformed Protestantism, unlike those born into this tradition, I did not inherit it but chose this path for very specific reasons. Specifically what I mean by this is that I was once a person who fully embraced the national religion and felt a strong affinity to patriotism and serving in the military. After all I was once a crash firefighter at a Naval Air station in Massachusetts. I’m becoming more convinced that God has an ironic sense of humor. To make a theological move from where I once was to where I am now was not an easy path and while it began with a serious study of the Sermon on the Mount it took equally intense studies of the Old Testament narratives and a complete deconstruction of my theological perspective. Theologically the Old Covenant serves as a foundation for developing an eschatological view of God’s narrative.[1] What that means is that if a person ignores the Old Covenant it’s like me coming in halfway through a movie thinking that I understand the whole story. Throughout my trek to Neo-Anabaptism I came across several theologians and ethicists who tremendously affected my hermeneutical lens, John Howard Yoder being a central figure. Yoder looks at the OT as history and traces God’s redeeming work from Abraham through the prophets. What he notes is that throughout these narratives (particularly the Holy War narratives) God commands his people to trust in his ability to deliver them. What is most notable is that the places where the greatest violence takes place is also where the Israelites are disobeying God (at this point I highly recommend The Politics of Jesus and The New Revolution). Essentially he demonstrates that God’s desire is for God’s children to be a contrast to the monarchical society. Once again this is admittedly a brief and inadequate explanation. However it is necessary.

So what does this have to do with me not being a pacifist? First, pacifism is a loaded term that carries with it a definition embedded in enlightenment thinking (particularly progressive liberal theology, not that fundamentalist or evangelical theology is any better). It presupposes that it is the essential work of the individual to bring about peace on earth (not that peace on earth is a bad thing). What is significant about this is the presupposition that people can attain peace on earth and as an outgrowth of liberal progressive thinking the emerging kingdom is dependent upon the believing community’s ability to bring it about. From an Anabaptist perspective it is almost a natural progression from pragmatic faith to progressive theology thus leading to the current situation and all its implications. Moreover, this term is essentially tied to the political bureaucracy of the social context. In my context it is articulated within the framework of the US political system (US democracy). Its essential identity has been formed through an advocacy position and finds its primary power in relationship to the government it protests. Pacifism requires war and violence to sustain its existence.

Secondly, I’ve come to know a growing number of people who base their conviction solely upon a weak Christological foundation rooted solely in the New Testament. My greatest protest of systematics is it tends to ignore the interdependence and interconnection of the many theological categories. Theologians like Jürgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf have been essential in moving theological development beyond the old systematics. What I am saying here is that if we solely base our conviction upon the New Covenant we are unable to see the eschatological and soteriological trajectory of God’s redeeming work. Without a solid exegesis of the Abrahamic covenant, the Exodus, the entrance into the land, and the Exile, the theologian misses out on an essential portion of God’s metanarrative. It is impossible to understand the significance of Jesus as messiah without the Old Covenant.

Thirdly, a pacifism which is dependent upon the New Covenant alone represents a modern form of Gnosticism not unlike that of Marcion. There is an inherent dualism and dichotomy made between the “god of the Old Testament” and the “god of the New Testament.” Due to the inability of reconciling the two covenants the old is then discarded as irrelevant. Unfortunately a consistent and solid Anabaptist theology requires a comprehensive engagement and interpretation of both covenants. This is especially difficult when the dominant hermeneutical lens affirms war as an action of government which believers are to support. It necessarily requires a commitment to a marginalized hermeneutical lens. This, however, does not negate the obvious theological dangers in failing to do due diligence theologically (doctrinal breakdown of the Trinity being one).

Finally, it is necessary to state that I am fully committed to obeying Jesus’s command to love enemy and Paul’s exhortation to overcome evil with good. However, it is not my desire to change the world! I understand my role in the world to be one of faithful obedience to the commands of Jesus. I also trust God’s command to be still and trust in God’s redeeming deliverance. This is not an easy way out. It requires a faith in the eschatological hope of God’s promise and his ability to bring it about. This also does not relinquish my responsibility as a disciple to be about the reconciling work God has called his followers to in all its various forms. While I don’t consider myself to be a pacifist, I do consider myself to be a radical disciple of Jesus. See, it is not about the absence of war and violence but the presence of faithful discipleship. And as such I also recognize the fundamental expression of my faith as caring for the “the least of these, my brothers and sisters.” I am convinced that if I am to abide in Jesus as he abides in the Father then I must obey his command to love others. So, I might not be a pacifist but I am fully committed to following Jesus and obeying all that he has commanded.

[1] Both John Howard Yoder and Jürgen Moltmann demonstrate the necessity of the Old Covenant in order to develop an eschatology of God’s redeeming work. Moltmann especially relies on it as he also argues that eschatology is the proper starting point for Christian theology. See, Theology of Hope (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) and John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994).

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