excerpts: Disciple of Peace (1)

 

Disciple-of-Peace-WattsHave you ever wondered …

what the earliest members of what we know today as “Churches of Christ” in the United States tended to believe regarding war, military service on the part of Christians, capital punishment, self-defense, etc. …

what Alexander Campbell, the leading figure in the Restoration Heritage in that time, thought about such …

or what Bible-based arguments for nonviolence might sound like …

then I have just the book you’ll want to read. Disciple of Peace: Alexander Campbell on Pacifism, Violence, and the State (Doulous Christou Press, 2005) by Craig M. Watts discusses all of the preceding in a clear, thoughtful, and well-documented way.

Following are some quotes from this work. I’ll reproduce some additional quotes from it in a post here this Friday.

* … Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) was the single most important influence in the American religious movement that produced the Disciples of Christ, the Church of Christ, and the independent Christian church. … Many of Campbell’s convictions remain apparent in the life of the present day churches that trace their history back to him. … However, other facets of his teaching, while once widely embraced by members of these churches, are no longer a conspicuous part of the churches’ teaching and practice. One such fact that is notably absent is a clear commitment to pacifism. (pp.9-10)

* Among the first generation of those in the religious movement he helped found – which he preferred to call Disciples of Christ – virtually all who committed their views to print opposed the participation of Christians in warfare. In the writings of the early Disciples, it was support of war, rather than opposition to it, that was exceptional. … [Alexander Campbell’s] peaceable views were not refuted but rather out-shouted by those who raised their loud and impassioned voices for the so-called “necessity” of war. (pp.10-11)

* The commitment of Campbell to restore primitive Christianity included a commitment to the primitive church’s practice of nonviolent love that leaves no room for war. (p.15)

* … [Alexander] Campbell’s pacifist convictions were widely shared by the early Disciples. Many of the best known Disciples leaders were pacifists. These include his father, Thomas Campbell, Barton Stone, Jacob Creath, Benjamin Franklin, Racoon John Smith, Phillip Fall, Robert Richardson, Tolbert Fanning, Moses Lard, J.W. McGarvey, and others. (p.18)

* … Campbell held that in the time since Christ, there has been no divine warrant for war. Any presence on the battlefield by Christians is not only without God’s authorization but contrary to the command of Christ. (p.32)

* Campbell deplored the practice of elevating military heroes to a stature comparable to saints and of speaking of those who fall in battle as if they are martyrs. (p.34)

* For Campbell, it is not just the exceptional heroic individual who is called to nonviolence. Rather, it is the nature of the Christian community itself that demands nonviolence, not an individualist focus on moral perfectionism. (p.34)

* Campbell stood against the idea that war is a legitimate means for a just authority to oppose an unjust power that oppresses the weak and deprives people of their rights. … Campbell considered such a notion self-deceptive, spiritually hazardous, and biblically ignorant. (p.35)

* In Campbell’s writings on war and peace no words of scripture are cited more often than Jesus’ statement to Pilate … John 18.36. For Campbell, this passage alone was sufficient reason to restrict Christians from the battlefield. (p.37)

* Campbell stated, “Patriotism, it is conceded, has no special place in the Christian religion. Its founder never pronounced a single sentence in commendation of it.” As Campbell knew, Jesus Christ had a love that recognized no borders, “and as patriotism is only an extension of the principle of selfishness,” patriotism being a love of what is one’s own, “he deigned it no regard, because selfishness is the great damning sin of mankind.” … Campbell’s objection to patriotism implied nothing critical of natural affection for one’s own country. Rather he opposed that patriotism which promotes the love for and promotion of the interests of one’s own country at the expense of other peoples and nations or to the neglect of the needs of those beyond the boundaries of one’s own country. (pp.63-64)

* At the outbreak of the Civil War, Campbell lifted his pen to call for peace and to dissuade Christians from participating in the conflict. As he had in the past, Campbell again reminded his readers that “no Christian man who fears God and desires to be loyal to the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, shall be found in the ranks of so unholy a warfare.” (p.66)

* Since the purpose of the military was to prepare for, and when called upon to do so, participate in war, Campbell saw no place in it for Christians. (p.84)

* All of Alexander Campbell’s writings on war indicate that he was an absolute pacifist. He condemned wars of aggression and defensive wars alike. Repeatedly he insisted that Christians had no place in the military because the practice of war is utterly at odds with the spirit of Christianity. Further, Campbell taught that self-defense is contrary to the Christian life. In all areas he stood for nonviolent solutions to human conflict. However, he made one exception. Campbell supported capital punishment as the penalty for the crime of murder. Such a position seems incompatible with his pacifism. However, even Campbell himself recognized as much. (p.103)

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