We have been united as follows concerning the sword. The sword is an ordering of God outside the perfection of Christ. It punishes and kills the wicked and guards and protects the good. In the law the sword is established over the wicked for punishment and for death and the secular rulers are established to wield the same….Now many, who do not understand Christ’s will for us, will ask; whether a Christian may or should use the sword against the wicked for the protection and defense of the good, or for the sake of love….The answer is unanimously revealed: Christ teaches and commands us to learn from Him, for He is meek and lowly of heart and thus we shall find rest for our souls….The worldly are armed with steel and iron, but Christians are armed with the armor of God, with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and with the Word of God.1
What Would You Do?
Imagine with me that you walk into your college classroom and find your professor standing at the door, waiting for you. “We need to talk about your paper,” he states. With a confused look, you ask him what he is talking about. He goes on to explain that your paper needs to be rewritten, the only reason being that the paper does not agree with his worldview. Your immediate response is bitterness and anger. You begin to imagine all the little things you will do to retaliate for his discrimination. However, what can you really do? This professor has control over your grade. What do you, as a Christian, do?
The early Anabaptists also encountered reasons to respond bitterly and aggressively to those who oppressed them. However, in the sixth article of the Schleitheim Confession, we discover that the Anabaptists believed that Scripture instructed Christians not to lift the sword, no matter what the cause. The early Anabaptists’ stance on non-resistance went beyond the issues of just war and fighting. They believed that it should influence every area of their lives; how they interacted with friends, enemies, governments, and the church. Non-resistance is about living with the kingdom of God in view and being willing to follow Christ’s example of love for all people, whether friend or foe.
Citizens of Another Kingdom
The Catholic church had encouraged its members for generations to enlist in the army, however, the writers of the Schleitheim Confession believed that Christ taught a very different message; one of non-retaliation and refusing to use force. The key to understanding the early Anabaptists’ view on the sword is to recognize their belief in two kingdoms. They maintained that Christians are first of all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and second, citizens of their earthly kingdom. Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”2
Jesus was explaining that because Christians are citizens of His kingdom, they must first fulfill the obligations to His kingdom before the laws of earthly kingdoms. This does not mean a Christian only has to follow those laws with which he agrees. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, those that exist have been instituted by God.”3 Christian are to obey the authorities that God has placed in their lives, unless those authorities are asking them to do something that goes against God’s commands in Scripture.
A Different Way
This belief meant a complete change of life for early Anabaptists. They wrote, “Christ teaches and commands us to learn of Him, for He is meek and lowly in heart and so shall we find rest to our souls.”4 They affirmed that Christians are called to follow Christ’s example when it comes to how we live, i.e. we are not to defend ourselves from physical force, nor should we pass judgment in worldly courts, just as Christ did not defend himself5 or pass judgment when a case was brought before him.6 Think with me about the shooting at the Amish school in Lancaster, PA. The families of those victims give us a clear picture of what a life of Biblical nonresistance looks like; despite the killer’s horrible crime, they offered forgiveness and grace to him and his family. When the world sees Christians respond with love instead of retaliation, it causes them to ask, as the reporters did, “How could they forgive such a terrible, unprovoked act of violence against innocent lives?”7 The world begins to see that, wow, these people are different which opens the door for us to fulfill our ultimate calling: to lead others to repentance.8 The early Anabaptist understood that ultimately the battle for the Christian is not physical. “For the weapons of the world’s conflict and war are carnal and against the flesh only, but the Christian’s weapons are spiritual, against the fortification of the devil.”4 They believed Christians are to be armed with the armor of God9 so they are ready to fight the battle of eternal significance; the battle for the minds and souls of men.
Responding as Christ
So let me ask you the question, does your stance on non-resistance affect your life or do you live like the rest of the world? The non-resistance of the early Anabaptists affected every part of their lives; their relationships, workplace, and church. They understood that being non-resistant is more than not fighting in war. It is a way of life. For example, what do you do if someone promises they will pay so much for a job and, when it comes time to pay, they refuse to pay the agreed upon price? I know my first reaction would be to do everything I can to get my money. However, is this the correct response as a Christian? If we look at Christ’s example, he was reviled, cursed, and treated unjustly; yet he always responded in love, without retaliation. Therefore, just like Christ, we are called to turn the other cheek, and to love those who treat us unfairly. “How is this possible?” you may ask. Living a non-resistant life can look like an impossibility when you try to do it in your own strength. However, through the work of Christ on the Cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit we, as Christians, now have the ability to live a non-resistant life. Christ enables us to love those who hate us and wrongfully use us. Let me ask you the question again: is your stance on non-resistance just hypothetical, or is it something that affects your entire life?
|Aaron Beery and his wife, Sadie, live in Elnora, Indiana, where he serves as the Administrative Assistant at the Elnora Bible Institute. He enjoys playing the piano, singing, reading and horseback riding. He hopes to use his counseling training to speak into people’s lives in this sin-cursed world for the glory of God.
1 Schleitheim Confession of Faith.” www.anabaptistwiki.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.
2 John 18:36
3 Romans 13:1
4 Wenger, J.C “Schleitheim Confession of Faith, 1527” Web. 01-26-2016.
5 Matthew 5:38-42
6 Luke 12:13-15
7 “Amish Grace and Forgiveness” www.lancasterPA.com. Web. 01-26-2016.
8 Matthew 28:19-20
9 Ephesians 6:10-20
The Holy Bible English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.