I talked to a brother the other day who was a conscientious objector in the 1960’s. I asked him why he refused to do military service.
“Because I don’t want to kill a Christian brother. And it would be unreasonable to first run and ask an enemy soldier what he believes before you eventually kill him. So I can’t kill anyone.”
I found this argument for pacifism very interesting. Now, I think it’s clear that Jesus doesn’t want me to kill anyone, regardless of their faith. He wants me to love my enemies (Mt 5:44) and not use weapons of war (2 Cor 10:3).
But obviously, other Christians disagree. They think that we are sometimes warranted to kill others. But do they seriously think that we should kill other Christians?
Did Jesus envision his disciples to ever kill each other?
I think the answer is obviously no. But I was curious if my non-pacifist sisters and brothers think differently. And so I asked them on Facebook:
If Jesus envisioned his disciples to sometimes kill each other, why didn’t he talk about it?
So far, I have received hundreds of comments, and not a single one addresses why Jesus doesn’t talk about his disciples killing each other if he really envisioned it. Most people have asked me questions instead, of how I would stop Hitler or a murderer attacking my family etc. Interesting questions for sure, but this time I wanted an answer from them.
Some did address when they found it appropriate for Christians to kill other Christians. It was when a Christian is defending themself from an attacking Christian. This scenario is of course hard to identify. Most people who are “attacking” others do it in perceived self-defense, be it a preemptive strike or due to a perceived threat.
What’s worse for this theory of just fratricide is that it is completely detached from the Bible. Not only is Jesus silent on the matter of disciple-killing, but the rest of the New Testament also abstains from discussing it. It is as if the early Christians only expected them to love and care for one another rather than taking each other’s lives.
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible doesn’t even talk much about self-defense. The two views on violence one can reasonably deduce from the biblical text, is that it is either OK when a political leader demands it, or that Christians should be pacifists. The Just War theory that distinguishes between different kinds of wars originated with the pagan Cicero and was later adopted by church father Augustine without much input from the Scriptures. Before him, most church leaders were pacifists.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesus doesn’t want his followers to slaughter one another. I find it even harder to imagine that he wants us to kill non-Christians, condemning them to eternal punishment. And so, I think that when he asks us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek, he really means that we should not kill anyone.
Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author and editor for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!