Early Christian Teaching
Modern Christianity is a puzzle to many people. It does not really make sense.
Here is one outstanding reason.
A person reading the teachings of Jesus cannot reconcile His teachings regarding love and kindness to neighbor with the violent and bloody wars in which many millions of “Christians” have participated. No wonder there is confusion and uncertainty regarding Christianity today!
The pagans and heathens have looked at “Christianity” and have evaluated it as an hypocritical religion. It teaches love and kindness, justice and mercy, but completely fails to practice these virtues in such areas as war, big business, and brutal sports such as boxing and wrestling.
Because of the conflicts between the teaching and the actual practice of Christians, even many of the educated of our day have questioned Christianity and have accused it of failing. This is shown in an unusual article appearing in the Austin American, December 28, 1960.
Christianity has failed, and the world stands on the brink of another Dark Age because of it, one of the world’s great scholars said. Dr. Frederick Eby, 86, professsor emeritus of history and philosophy of education at the University of Texas, said, “The world is in the most unfortunate, tragic situation at this time since the beginning of the Middle Ages, and all of humanity is involved. The ideas and principles on which civilization is based are evidently inadequate to solve today’s problems. Official Christianity has been weighed in the balance, and after 2 000 years it has been found wanting.
“The trouble,” Dr Eby says, “stems from the fact that the New Testament has been misinterpreted — first from the standpoint of Greek philosophy, then from the standpoint of the Roman governmental system, or imperialism. The result was the revulsion against all former systems of thought during the Middle Ages, and the reversion to ‘narrow asceticism.’ Scholasticism began an endeavor to recondition Western European civilization, and the Protestant Reformation resulted.
“It ended in a tie-up between the state and church, and with the state dominant, led to attempts at world domination by the Spanish, French, Dutch and British,” Dr. Eby said. “All of them were more interested in exploiting the wealth of foreign, backward, peoples than in training them for democracy and for a realistic Christianity. As a result, Christianity is looked on as the white man’s religion, and it has no appeal for heathen minds. It is irrevocably tied up for them with the development of modern science and the horrifying discovery and use of today’s instruments of war” (Austin American, December 28, 1960).
What answer can we give the primitive and heathen people of the world in view of such plain facts? What can we tell the agnostic, the atheist and the scholar? Has Christianity really failed?
Or, has Christianity, as seen by the world, departed from the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” Jude 3?
Even a casual look at today’s scene shows an entirely different Christianity in many, if not most, respects, from the Christianity of New Testament times. This is especially so in regard to the Christian teachings regarding war and violence.
In this present chapter a contrast of the teachings and practices of early Christians and present Christians will become very clear.
We will see plainly that early Christianity started off in a far different manner than it is being practiced in most professing Christian communities today.
First, the plain, simple, and to-the-point teachings of Christ will be surveyed. After we learn briefly what His teachings are, we will see whether or not His disciples continued that same teaching. We will also see if the New Testament Church continued to practice those same teachings.
The period of history covered in this chapter will only cover the beginning of Christ’s ministry in A.D. 27, to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Most Christian sects believe in the summation of all Christ’s teachings as summarized in the “sermon on the mount.” These are among the first teachings of Christ.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth,” Matthew 5:5.
A person who is meek is one who is “humbly patient or submissive, as under provocation from others” (American College Dictionary). Such a person will not be provoked to anger, but will be patient and submissive.
“Blessed are the peacemakers . . .” Matthew 5:9.
Peace is exactly the opposite of violence and war. Anyone involved in violence and destruction cannot be under God’s divine blessings. The sword of war does not bring peace!
The Christian cannot expect to live under peaceful circumstances at all times. He is going to be involved in circumstances which are not at all peaceable, even though he himself may be at peace with man and God. He need not have anger or malice toward those who are angry at him.
Christ showed that the true Christian is one who will be persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12) for the sake of righteousness (right living according to God’s laws, Psalm 119:172), but he will not become angry and take up arms against other individuals or other nations who may be angry with him or his country. Instead he will take it patiently and not strike back. By taking this persecution patiently, he will receive his great reward.
The Christian is instructed “resist not evil,” verse 39. How can anyone justify resisting evil in war or at any other time in view of this plain statement? Instead of resisting others, Jesus instructed that we are to turn the other cheek.
Love Your Enemies
Christ taught that we are not to hate our enemies (verse 44). How can one kill in war and not hate?
Certain philosophers and religionists take the view that it is possible to kill and not hate. How silly! Any good soldier will tell you that you have to hate in order to be a good soldier. Hate is taught to soldiers so that they will be effective. How can any carnal human say that they can kill others in love? To make such a statement is to distort and pervert all scripture concerning real Christian love. It is exactly opposite from a good dictionary definition of love.
Instead of hating and killing our enemies, Christ commanded His followers:
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” Matthew 5:44.
Christ sent His followers out as sheep among wolves, Matthew 10:16. Sheep have no protection against wolves — they are defenseless.
Let’s compare that with a Christian. The Christian has no natural or physical defense against those that persecute and hate him. If he used weapons to protect himself he would have protection.
If a Christian engaged in war against an enemy force and had atomic and hydrogen weapons at his disposal, would he be a sheep among wolves?
Even though a true Christian is defenseless by himself, he does have God’s divine protection, I Peter 3:12-14.
Should We Fight or Flee?
Instead of Christ’s disciples fighting against those who persecuted them, they were instructed to flee.
“But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another . . .” Matthew 10:23.
Later on, the disciples did follow this instruction. There is an example where Christ actually fled during severe persecution to save His life. He had just begun His ministry, and was in the Synagogue at Nazareth. He told the congregation that the scripture of Isaiah concerning Him was being fulfilled. He had come to preach the Gospel to the poor and to set the captives at liberty. The people were incensed and angered at His statements. They wanted to kill Him by throwing Him headlong over a cliff. It was not yet His time to die. His ministry and the training of His disciples was yet ahead.
If it were proper for a Christian to fight, here was His opportunity. But He did not fight. Instead, He just slipped through their midst and fled, Luke 4:30. Later on, after His ministry was finished and it was His time to be crucified, He again was threatened by violence. Just what did He do? He did not fight, nor even revile those who persecuted Him. He accepted His punishment in meekness, as a “lamb led to the slaughter.”
These scriptures, and examples of Christ, ought to teach us that there is a time to flee, and there is also a time to stand — and even be put to death if necessary. But there is no time to fight back and hurt others as these and many scores of other scriptures show plainly.
Many people will fight back in time of crisis or peril out of fear. Christ instructed us not to fear others, Matthew 10:28. We are to have real peace that comes only from God. Such peace does not come from fighting or hating others.
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not Your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” John 14:27.
Instead of trying to save our lives by fighting we must be willing to give them up for the sake of Christ. If we try to save our lives by fighting we will lose them!
“Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it,” Matthew 16:25.
Will You Perish by the Sword?
The second great commandment for all mankind is to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” Matthew 22:39. Only a twisted and perverted mind could imagine that to kill in violence and war is to “love thy neighbor.” And yet, history has shown that many wicked men and bigoted rulers have thought that they were doing God a service by killing and destroying those that opposed them or their own peculiar religious beliefs.
On the night before Christ’s crucifixion, Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus immediately healed the man and told Peter to put the sword away.
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword,” Matthew 26:52.
The symbol “sword” of that day would obviously include any modern military weapon. If we want to continue to live the life of a Christian we had better not take up the sword, or we may perish quickly by the sword!
Christ came to save and heal. He did not come to destroy and to kill. He expects His disciples to follow His example.
On one occasion, Christ instructed His disciples not to hate or kill. They wanted to kill some of the people who would not accept or receive Him by calling down fire from heaven. Here is Christ’s own answer to them.
“For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them,” Luke 9:56.
We are instructed to follow Christ. He set us an example to follow by trying to save life instead of destroying life.
Would You Give Your Life?
Instead of killing, Christ laid down His life willingly for the world. Because He willingly gave His life for others, God gave Him eternal life, John 10:17.
He showed that this present age is not the time for His servants to fight, John 18:36. Christ’s Kingdom is not of this time or this society. If it was, then His servants would fight here and now. After being made immortal and a part of the very family of God, after the Kingdom of God comes to this earth, His immortal, spirit-born servants, will fight with Christ against all the wicked. All rebellion will be put down and the world will finally have real peace.
That time is not here now. Christ has not yet returned. He has not yet set up His Kingdom on earth. When He does, the whole world will know about it. Armies from all nations of the earth will gather together at Jerusalem to fight against Him and His saints.
Jesus knew that there would be ever-increasing wars as we near the end. He knew that Christians would not always be able to avoid being subject to the terrible things that war bring. He constantly warned of these terrible times to come. But He nowhere instructed His followers to arm or defend themselves. In Matthew 24, He prophesied concerning the wars of our time.
He did not say that we should become involved in these wars, or that we should be angered or upset by them. He said just the opposite. Notice:
“And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet,” Matthew 24:6.
We should not become fearful or upset and try to save our own lives. Our lives are completely in God’s hands. Instead of afflicting and killing others, Matthew 24:9, Jesus said that the true Christian would be afflicted by persecution and wars.
In fact those that would forget these strong admonitions of Christ and start injuring and killing others would be in turn killed, Matthew 24:49-51.
Did the Apostles and early new Church follow these plain and clear instructions of Jesus? To find out we must examine their own teachings on this same subject.
Did James Follow Christ?
The Apostle James who wrote the Epistle of James, was a brother of Christ. What did he teach on this subject?
He wrote that “the fruit of righteousness (obeying God’s commandments, Psalm 119:172), is sown in peace [not war] of them that MAKE PEACE,” James 3:18. You do not make peace by making war!
This same apostle wrote in explicit terms the true cause of war (James 4:1-3). This text was quoted in Chapter I. He showed that the root cause of war is lust and greed. Lust and greed are sin as defined by the Ten Commandments, and the violation of this law is sin, I John 3:4. The Christian is to quit sinning, Romans 6:12.
In this place James rebukes the twelve tribes of Israel (compare James 1:1 with 4:1) for participating in war. He tells them how to keep from having war. It is too bad that the modern Israelitish countries do not heed his instruction. If they did, the world would be a much better place in which to live.
Did Peter Follow Christ?
Certain churches believe that Peter was given the keys of rulership over the Church. Did he follow Christ in teaching that we are not to participate in these worldly wars?
“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps,” I Peter 2:21.
This specific example given by Peter shows that we should suffer for the cause of Christ, not cause suffering. Peter followed Christ’s example. After his conversion, he did not take up arms against others. He learned his lesson on the Mount of Olives the night before Christ’s crucifixion.
Peter taught that we are to have compassion for others — to be courteous — to have pity on others, I Peter 3:8. In the verses following this text, Peter taught that we are not to render evil for evil, nor railing for railing. On the contrary, we are to bless those who do evil to us or who rail against us. God has His eyes on the righteous and will take care of them when they follow this instruction, I Peter 3:12. Peter did follow Christ, He taught that we were not to kill or harm others, just as Christ, his Master did.
Did John Follow Christ?
Did the Apostle John follow Christ in this teaching?
He taught that if a man says that he loves God and hates his brother he is a LIAR! (I John 4:20). A person who is even angry with another has already committed murder in his heart, Matthew 5:22. You cannot kill — ever — in war, unless you hate or develop a sense of hatred toward the enemy.
John also taught that those who are begotten of God overcome the world. But how do we overcome the world? By war? No, by faith, I John 5:4.
The whole theme of John’s writings is love, both to God and neighbor. All of his writings were contrary to hate, violence, and warfare.
Did Paul Preach a NEW Gospel?
Did Paul follow Christ in this teaching against war and violence, or did he in his “Pauline theology” teach a different doctrine than Christ and the other Apostles? Paul wrote:
“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ,” I Corinthians 11:1.
This scripture shows plainly that Paul followed or “imitated” (Revised Standard Version) Christ. He also taught the same identical Gospel that Christ did, contrary to many of the modern Biblical scholars. Let’s examine his writings to really prove that he did follow Christ.
He preached a gospel of peace, Romans 10:15, and told us to “live in peace,” II Corinthians 13:11. We are told to follow this peace with all men, Hebrews 12:14. We cannot follow peace with all men if we are fighting them in warfare!
Paul taught that we were not to take vengeance on others. That is God’s prerogative, not ours.
“Recompense to no man evil for evil . . . . If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst give him to drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” Romans 12:17-21.
This scripture is so plain and clear that there is no need for explanation. Any honest person can see by this one scripture that it is wrong for a Christian to go to war and fight against others.
A reading of the “love” chapter of the Bible, I Corinthians, chapter thirteen, ought to show that it would be impossible for a person with real Christian love to fight in carnal wars. The Apostle Paul is consistent with the teachings of Christ, isn’t he? But only a few of his many teachings are mentioned here which deal with this subject.
Paul stated that Christ lived within the Christian, Galatians 2:20. It is only logical then that the Christian who alone has Christ living within him, would do just as Christ did and that would not include taking up arms against others. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, Hebrews 13:8, therefore, He would not cause violence in carnal warfare now in the lives of all true Christians.
War is a Work of the Flesh
Those traits that Paul enumerated as being of the works of the flesh included hatred, wrath, strife, seditions, and murders. In making war with the nations of this world, a person would be committing all of these wrong “works.” The Apostle to the Gentiles states, Galatians 5:20-21, that the people who do these things would never inherit the Kingdom of God.
On the other hand, the Apostle continues in this same passage to show that the Christian who has Christ living within him will have the “fruits of the spirit.” These include love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, and meekness. Such traits are diametrically opposed to any participation in warfare with carnal physical nations.
A person who is really seeking to do the will of God can easily see from the writings of this Apostle that he did not in one instance condone fighting or warfare or being involved in this world’s quarrels or fights. In fact Paul showed clearly that even though others would despitefully use us, or who would cause trouble and all manner of evil to come upon us, we should not return evil to any man, I Thessalonians 5:15. That would certainly include an opposing soldier in another army.
Ambassadors for Christ
Paul showed why we cannot become members of any military organization because we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom (incorrectly translated conversation, from the Greek word politea) and as such we cannot become a member in the armed forces of an opposing kingdom, Philippians 3:20. The kingdoms of this world are against the rule and government of Almighty God. We are Ambassadors for Christ, II Corinthians 5:20, and as such, we cannot fight for a foreign government anymore than the United States Ambassador to Russia can fight for the Communists. But we must show proper respect and honor toward our country as Romans 13 clearly shows. We can salute our flag, since it is a symbol of the nation, and is due proper respect. It is not idolatry to show respect to government, or the symbols of government. Later chapters will explain these things more completely, and show how we must be in obedience to authority.
The individual who is following Christ with his whole heart will find from the writings of this Apostle another reason why it is impossible to serve in the military forces of this world. A Christian is already a soldier! A Christian is already in a war for another government and kingdom. But it is not a physical war! Anyone should know that it is illegal, unlawful, and possibly punishable by death for a person to be a member of two different armed forces of different nations.
Our Warfare is Spiritual
Paul brings this out in several scriptures. He showed that we are now in a spiritual warfare. We are not fighting in the same way as those of this world and its governments. We do not use physical weapons, but our weapons are all spiritual, Ephesians 6:11-18. We are not in a warfare with the people of this world, but with Satan and his legions of unclean spirits. We are also at war against entanglements and weaknesses of the flesh.
He instructed the young evangelist Timothy to “war a good warfare,” I Timothy 1:18 and to endure hardness or trials as a good soldier, II Timothy 2:3-4. He also said in this same place that we are soldiers of Jesus Christ and such a person cannot become entangled by affairs of this life. Verse twenty-four states that such a person should not strive but be “gentle unto all men.” The Apostle was also engaged in this same warfare and he “fought a good fight,” II Timothy 4:7.
We cannot serve two masters — we cannot serve in two armed forces — else we will hate the one and love the other, Matthew 6:24.
Our principal weapon is God’s Word — it is not the physical weapon used by this world, Hebrews 4:12. We need not use physical weapons if God is on our side since He has all power and authority, and can, and will, act on our behalf to protect and guide us. He is a consuming fire which will devour all adversaries, Hebrews 12:29.
With these few quotations from the writings of the Apostle Paul it becomes plain that he followed Christ. He did not preach some new doctrine which “permitted” Christians to take up arms in defense or in offense. When we really come to understand the whole Bible on this subject, we will find that all Scripture is actually in harmony on this subject.
Since the Apostle is now obviously proven to have forbidden participation in physical warfare, let us see if the New Testament Church followed his instruction, the instruction of Jesus Christ, and the original twelve apostles.
Christian Church Founded Amidst War and Tumult
Flavius Josephus, who lived during this same period of time, gave us great detail regarding the conditions in Palestine during this same period. The last section of his historical book concerns the Wars of the Jews. In one translation of his work there are about 150 pages of text concerning this period of time which concern the seditions, uprisings, wars and rumors of wars. This period with which we are concerned, from the time of Christ to A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed, was one of almost continual war and tumult.
It was under such conditions that God sent Jesus Christ to this earth. It was during this time that God started His Church at Jerusalem. With wars and rumors of wars going on all around them, just what did the Christians do? If it were proper to participate in war, here certainly was an opportune time to do it. Palestine was under the heavy Roman dictatorship. Injustices were rampant.
Here surely was the time to overthrow the tyrannical, dictatorial government which suppressed Christianity.
Many people in this time did continually try to throw off the Roman yoke. There was a group of people called the Zealots who bitterly, and sometimes violently opposed this rule. Jesus probably would have received much favor from some of His countrymen if He had joined them as their leader to bring freedom.
If He had done this, many would have accepted Him then as the Messiah, since many of the people were looking for the Messiah who would free them from Roman rule. But Jesus had nothing to do with violent or forceful overthrow of government.
Anyone who would like to read more about these perilous times can find ample information by reading the pertinent sections in Josephus.
Jesus did not take part in trying to eject the “foreign invader.” Neither He nor any of His followers did any of these things! He and His disciples very carefully stayed completely away from participation in military service and from politics of any kind. Jesus let Caesar run his own government. He let Caesar fight his own wars, and He let the Jews carry on their own uprisings without His assistance.
After the Church was founded on Pentecost, 31 A.D., the Christians were right in the middle of these wars and all kinds of trouble. But there is not one shred of evidence in the whole of the book of Acts or the whole New Testament that the Christians had anything to do with any of these activities. The reason is that they really followed Christ! They obeyed Him rather than man, Acts 5:29.
“And ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come,” Matthew 10:22-23.
The Church was hardly founded before the prophesied persecution came. About three and one-half years after the Church was founded, severe persecution began.
The first record we have of Christians following this instruction is found in the book of Acts.
“And at that time there was a great persecution against the Church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria except the Apostles,” Acts 8:1.
If there ever was a time, here was a time to “defend the faith.” Here was a time to defend the sanctity and privacy of the home, or to stand up and fight, but God’s people left the vengeance to God and they fled to other places as Christ instructed.
This prophecy is dual and also refers to our time today. The time is soon coming when another persecution will come against God’s true Church. In that time many of God’s people will again have to flee for their lives. Those who disobey will probably be tortured and killed.
What About Cornelius?
Some may quickly bring up the point of the soldier Cornelius. The scriptures tell of his conversion in Acts 10. What about Cornelius? He was in the Roman army of occupation. He was a devout man, and to him and his house the Holy Spirit was first given among the Gentiles. Peter did not tell him to sever connections with the military. He did not tell him that in order to be converted he must be discharged! These are arguments that many people bring up. There is only one error in such arguments. The scriptures do not record the details of all the instruction that Peter gave Cornelius. Since Peter was obedient to the scriptures, he would give the same instruction to this soldier that John the Baptist did, Luke 3:14. He would give him the same instructions that Paul gave regarding people in such slavery, I Corinthians 7:21-23. In a later chapter, we will explain these particular scriptures fully.
In examining the New Testament scriptures, it is found that they are silent about any Christian participation in war. The reason is that they did not participate in the wars that were going on. They had not departed from the faith! They followed Christ and did not harm or kill other human beings.
Flee for Your Lives
The Christians knew very well from Christ’s Olivet prophecy that during their time there would be wars and rumors of wars, but they also knew that they were not to participate in them. They knew that things were going to degenerate to the point that they would finally have to flee for their very lives. Jesus prophesied that when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies, they were not to fight for their lives or freedom. They were not to participate in the war in any way. Instead they were to flee to the mountains for safety. Instead of defending home, honor or country, they were to flee.
Today we are sometimes asked just what we would do in case of invasion by foreign enemies of our beloved country. In the first place, if all of the people of our country were obeying and trusting in God, it would never happen. Since they are not obeying God, we know from prophecy that we will be invaded, and our country will go into terrible slavery. When that time comes, God has promised that those of His Church who have been watching and praying diligently, will be able to escape. God will provide a way of escape for His people.
The world might not consider this the honorable way to face the enemy — but it is the way that God will provide — it is the way He has instructed His people to follow when His remnant Church goes to a place of refuge, Revelation 12:14.
At the time immediately before the final siege of Jerusalem, the New Testament Church followed the instructions Christ gave them. They did not participate in the war, they fled for their lives. Here are the instructions Jesus gave about this flight:
“And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto,” Luke 21:20-21.
Here is exactly what they did do according to Eusebius, a famous church writer of the fourth century:
“On the other hand, the people of the Church in Jerusalem were commanded by an oracle given by revelation before the war to those in the city who were worthy of it to depart and dwell in one of the cities of Perea which they called Pella. To it those who believed on Christ migrated from Jerusalem, that when holy men had altogether deserted the royal capital of the Jews and the whole land of Judea, the judgment of God might at last overtake them for all the ir crimes against Christ and His apostles, and all that generation of the wicked be utterly blotted out from among men” (Ecclesiastical History, Book III, Vol. 4).
We have now seen many scriptures and facts to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus taught us not to take part in the military services or to harm others.
The original Apostles in their writings continued in the faith and gave this same teaching. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, continued to preach in strong and unwavering letters this same truth. The Christian Church, even during the time of severe persecution, and of wars and rumors of wars, did “keep the faith” and did not permit such perilous times to cause them to disobey God and participate in these bloody uprisings and wars. They fled in the time of persecution, and when the final destruction came on Jerusalem they had already fled for their lives according to the instructions of their Master.
They kept the faith! They did not waver! But, did succeeding generations of the Church follow this same shining example? The Bible and secular history has the answer. It is amazing and surprising when the story is fully told. The next chapter will unfold a new era in the Church. Startling changes came about. Just what were those changes and how do they affect us today? We shall see!