A remarkable cartoon was printed in one of our major dailies the other day. The artist had pictured a Jesus image sitting on a hill and busy with the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount, or rather, a parody of that sermon. At his feet: the attentive disciples. The words proceeding from the mouth of this pseudo savior: “… Verily I say unto thee: If thy brother is able to destroy thee four times, renew then thy rockets that thou mayest annihilate him five times over.”
The intent and message of this caricature are clear, especially in view of recent controversies over the use of nuclear arms. The cartoonist ridicules those Christians and politicians who call themselves Christians who do not out of hand condemn nuclear arms. For that purpose he even dares to falsify and pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ as it addresses us in the Sermon on the Mount. There is nothing new in the accusations of hypocrisy. It has been heard time and again, and not only with regard to the acceptance of nuclear armament. Conventional weapons are condemned in the same way.
Christians, if they really desire to live according to the gospel, should become radical pacifists, condemning every form of force. That is what the later Anabaptists, the Mennonites, thought about it. That is also what today's Christian pacifists claim. Anabaptist trends are not foreign to this pacifist world view.
The Incorruptible Word
Are those pacifists right? Do they read the Bible properly? The whole Bible?
After all, these words are really there, are part of the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
Yes, that is what it states, and it is the Word of God that, from the mouth of God's Son, comes to us in those passages. To the authority of that Word we must subject ourselves unconditionally. But subjection to that authority also means that we must not tear a part of Scripture out of its context and use it to contradict the rest of the Bible.
Article 4 of the Belgic Confession lists all the books of the Old and New Testaments and then Article 5 states:
We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God.
Many who wish to be considered Christians reject this confession. They distinguish between “the God of the Old Testament,” supposedly a God of wrath and revenge, and “the New Testament God,” who is full of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The latter is then the one proclaimed by Christ.
In this manner, then, the Bible is torn apart and robbed of its divine strength. Then the Holy Scriptures do not confront us with the divine revelation which comes to us from above, but with human perceptions of God. The Old Testament, then, portrays a God designed by Moses and the Prophets, whereas a much more spiritual and for us more acceptable concept is presented by Jesus. This, of course, opens further possibilities: one can distinguish between the perception of God by Jesus and the one by the Apostle Paul … But then nothing remains of that infallible Word of the one, true God who never contradicts Himself. And therefore we must not take the Sermon on the Mount out of the totality of Holy Scripture. We must read it in the context of the whole Bible.
The twin commandment that requires loving God and the neighbor, which the Lord Jesus taught the scribe, can be found back in the Old Testament. See Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
Bearing the Sword of God
In Romans 12:17-21 we read:
Repay no evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Now that is clear language. It is the same as the language of the Sermon on the Mount. Look at verse 19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'“
The Christians who are addressed by Paul should not take the law into their own hands. They must leave room for the wrath of God. He is the avenger. The apostle refers here to Deuteronomy 32:35. When we think of that revenge as taken by God, we should not visualize it in the form of calamities and the final judgment alone. God has appointed men here on earth whose task it is to administer God's justice. They are the bearers of office, the judges and magistrates who are even called “gods” in the Bible (Psalm 82, John 10:34, 35), and they must perform the wrath of God. Paul then continues in chapter 13 with the same issue, complementing the discourse with this message: what Christians may not take into their own hands, that now has been very specifically entrusted into the hands of the magistrates, those who bear the sword for God! The apostle states about the government, the ruler: “…he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute His wrath on the wrongdoer.”
Radical pacifists wish to pull that sword out of the hands of the authorities. And they want to do so with a reference to the words of the sixth commandment which is then supposed to corroborate their contention. After all, is not that what it says: “You shall not kill”?
No, that is exactly what it does not say!
The word that is used here has been translated by the NASB and the NIV as: You shall not murder. The word found in the original text here is not used anywhere else in the Bible for the shedding of blood to which the government is often instructed, but exclusively for what we call murder and manslaughter.
The magistrate, the agent of God's anger must punish and sometimes even put to death – especially to prevent murder as much as possible. The writers of the Heidelberg Catechism understood that very well. That is why they conclude their explanation of the sixth commandment: “Therefore, also, the magistrate is armed with the sword to prevent murder” (H.C., L.D. 40).
The Word Cannot Be Broken
Back now to the Sermon on the Mount. There also it is stated that man may not avenge himself. The rule: Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, (Exodus 21:24) was an instruction for the administration of justice. But this was not to be applied by the people in their relations with each other. For that, self-denial and love were required by the commandments. Love of the neighbor was specifically demanded in the Old Testament (Leviticus 19:18). But the Jewish exegetes had added something that changed the commandment into its opposite: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” That corruption is strongly condemned by the Lord Jesus.
But nowhere did the Savior deny the authority of the government to wield the power of the sword. To Pilate He said: “You would have no power over Me unless it had been given you from above…” (John 19:11). The spies who were sent by the scribes and the chief priests to trick Jesus were sent back with this message: “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's” (Luke 20:25). To the Jews he explained that the Lord calls judges and kings “gods” and that this word of God cannot be broken (John 10:35), thus emphasizing the integrity of the Scriptures, whose authority is beyond dispute.
And therefore, anybody taking the pacifist point of view must needs “break the Scriptures,” in fact rejecting large portions of the Bible.
God Himself has repeatedly commanded Israel to go to war. The government must use the sword because of sin, to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and also for the sake of redemption, when by maintaining good law and order, it provides an environment where the work of Christ's church gathering can flourish.
Use – Not Abuse
We know very well that judges and rulers have often acted differently and are still doing so. Often they have persecuted the church. Article 37 of the Belgic Confession explains that. But before that is done, Article 36 first expresses that the office of the government and the calling to obedience by the subjects are unassailable ordinances of God. Even though that power is often misused in a flagrant manner, the proper use, as commanded by God, remains.
Therefore we must condemn the whole philosophy of this pious-sounding pacifism, including the message of that cartoonist.
That does not mean that everything has now been said, for example, about modern warfare and about nuclear weapons. We may be able to deal with that in a future issue.