This series has attempted to answer the question “Was Jesus a pacifist?” in the negative. The argument began with a survey of four aspects of Jesus’ background: natural law, the context of literary conventions, social context, and the Old Testament. These four aspects pointed to the conclusion that Jesus’ teaching was not pacifistic. The second post presented the various kinds of pacifisms, and the reasons offered to support these kinds, to facilitate comparison. That is, once the reasons for non-violence were clear, we could check to see whether the source documents for the Christian religion held those reasons. The third post began by concluding the background for Jesus’ teaching did not consist with pacifism. It continued by surveying the NT documents, written after Jesus’ teaching had first been given. This aimed at discovering if Jesus’ teaching, intervening as it does between OT and NT, produced effects that would suggest he had departed from what his background would lead us to expect. The third post found that all four aspects of his background continued into the age of the New Testament. This made the conclusion that Jesus was not a pacifist even more likely. The fourth and fifth parts of the series attempted to explain the teachings and actions of Jesus that pacifists claim support their position, and found that none of these teachings or actions do so. Finally, the sixth post provided some possible explanations as to why the early church misunderstood what those teachings were really about, and turned to embrace pacifism. Of course, many may remain unconvinced, and the brevity of the analysis may provide some defense for that posture. Yet, hopefully, the argument has at least provided a reason for a moment of pause.
Before bringing this discussion to a close, a few further thoughts deserve reflection.
Perhaps remarkably, Dr. John Howard Yoder includes the just war tradition in his book Nevertheless, as what he calls “The Pacifism of the Honest Study Cases”. 1 This is not entirely misleading. By subordinating war and violence to justice, the just war tradition does substantially reduce the possible uses of violence open to state and non-state actors. Indeed, one can reasonably see how, if everyone followed just war principles, there would never be another war. In fact, this is arguably the natural implication of the eschatological vision of Isaiah 2, the very one that early church pacifists appealed to: since it is submission to the Law that brings about peace, and that Law taught not pacifism but just war principles, the coming age of peace shall come about not because people refuse to join the army, but because all nations will be just, and therefore give no cause for war in the first place.
Most significant theological conversions do not come about because of mere arguments. They almost always are accompanied by changes of imagination and desire. They come about because people catch a different vision of the whole world, and begin to see the parts in light of that whole. So while the foregoing series has attempted to provide better parts than the pacifist narrative, it may seem rather piecemeal apart from the natural whole. Thus a brief sweep of that whole deserves some mention. That whole is the two kingdoms vision of magisterial Protestantism.
The two kingdoms vision begins with a distinction between the internal and the external, the soul and the body. This is a distinction that all cultures have acknowledged, and so does not need much defense, and will receive none here. Two kingdoms theology argues that God rules these two realms differently. The internal he rules directly, immediately, by the power of the Word through the Spirit. The external he rules indirectly and mediately, through various human agents, in a way that can be sinfully resisted.
Intertwined with this distinction are other familiar distinctions. One of these is the Law / Gospel distinction. According to the two kingdoms approach, the believer is justified by faith, and so internally is put beyond the power of the Law. Being justified, the law no longer has the power to condemn. But externally, in behaviour, the believer still sins, and so can still be subject to the law. Further, unbelievers are certainly still subject to the law. The Law continues to have force because people continue to sin, and the preservation of the common good of society requires some coercive restraint upon behaviour. Yet, the power of the Gospel is not unrelated to external life. Rather, it transforms it organically, from the heart outward. Indeed, the entire purpose of the Gospel is to effect this transformation: grace is aimed not at the destruction or replacement of nature, but its restoration and perfection according to its original telos.
The external kingdom, ruled mediately by humans and according to Law, has an intrinsic nature, one that has traditionally been summarized into the “Three Estates”: family, church, and state. Genesis provides us with origin of these estates. God created humanity and directed them to be fruitful and multiply, originating the family and marriage and its function of procreation. He further told them to take dominion over the earth, bringing about the second function of the family, that of production and business, i.e., economics. As the images of God, these human beings also had the task and joy of worshipping God, and doing so as the social beings that they are. This is a description of the church in its original state. Finally, the human family, eventually to be composed of many smaller families, would naturally have to organize these tasks, and organize the relations of the various families together. This is the task of politics, ordering the polis toward the common good.
The three estates are just a part of nature, and it is nature that the Gospel, the internal kingdom, will one day restore by grace. Until that day, however, sin remains, and so heteronomous law is needed. And in the temporal, external kingdom, order is maintained by that law. In the present age, when some forces and individuals aimed at disorder are willing to act in extreme ways, sometimes coercion is required to maintain the common good against threats. Decisions of when to use this common good rightly reside with the whole to which that common good belongs, i.e., the polis. Hence, as long as there is sin, natural justice dictates that the polis has the right to use force, and to delegate that use to magistrates and their officers. Grace, though in many cases eliminating the need for such force, does not entirely do so; nor does it require force to be abandoned in the face of severe threats to the political order. Rather, it normally works by reshaping the hearts, and so the behaviour, of citizens and strangers, so that the common good can be reached with less and less heteronomous imposition, and more and more natural obedience to the order of charity.
This is a quick summary of the two kingdoms approach to politics and violence, but it should be sufficient to sketch the big picture. Within this context, just war tradition makes sense as a theological implication of the more basic principles, that the present time is characterized by the overlapping of the two ages, and that the age to come resides primarily in the internal, in the inner man; the external can come to signify the internal change to a greater degree, but until the day when all things are renewed, it must be regulated by the systems and order of the old age, the age with sin and so with need of coercion to maintain a minimum of justice.
One implication of this larger argument is that the magisterial Protestants saw something that the early church, the peace-Anabaptists, and even some modern critical scholars, have been unable to see, i.e., that Jesus was neither a pacifist nor an anarchist. Why is it that these early modern figures were able to see this, when so many were unable?
The answer is ultimately in their method. The magisterial Reformers were humanists; they were taught to seek for the truth in the sources, interpreted naturally and honestly according to authorial intention. They were also scripturalists; they believed they had to submit to the entire counsel of the Word of God, not just arbitrarily chosen canons within the canon. They understood the significance of the temporal good (they do not have the title “magisterial” for nothing), though they did not make it the ultimate good (and so did not collapse the two kingdoms, or the two ages, into one, as the Roman Catholic and Anabaptist options have done).
The result was that they saw the points that have been made in this series. They saw that the OT really did contradict Marcionism; they saw the continuity of the NT with the OT, and of both with natural law. If nothing else, we hope that the present series will cause some today to see the wisdom in the approach of the Reformers, and to deeply consider whether they might still have something to say to us.