The world has been in quite a bit of turmoil this summer. From commercial planes being shot down in the Ukraine, to Schools being bombed in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Here closer to home there has been significant uproar about immigration with regard to the refuge children and the number of deportations. Recently a group of faith leaders and activists including a few pastors from here in north Texas, protested outside the White House and were arrested for their civil disobedience. Most of my life I have been conditioned to avoid entering into such significant debates and taking sides. Perhaps you have been too. Last year at seminary some of our reading challenged me to rethink my stance of pacifism in avoiding big questions. Below is a paper I wrote about it, be prepared it is a bit of a polarized argument. (I think I got a B on it)
No Room For A Christian Pacifist
It has been displayed through the example of the martyrs and everyday life that the world around us will certainly consume and destroy us. We must work actively to combat the forces of evil and destruction around us daily. A brief exposition on the Handbook of the Militant Christian by Erasmus of Rotterdam will reveal what the “Continual Warfare” (Handbook 61) of life consists of and what we must do for salvation.
The Continual Warfare of life Erasmus refers to is: deception by Satan that we have nothing to fight for or against, awareness that we are in the midst of battle and that we must be aware of our enemy and ourselves, and the action that is then required to serve God properly.
The Element of Deception is the most obvious thing that makes up the “continual warfare of life”. Shortly after creation humankind was exposed to the element of deception in the form of a “snake,” which lied about a fruit and the effect it would surely have on any who ate of it (Gen. 3). Erasmus is aware of this and many other deceptions not only in scripture but in the world around him. The effect that this deception has on humanity can lead to what Erasmus points to as one of the most significant handicaps one can have. He says, “Yet in this matter (the matter that we are at war at all) a great majority of mankind is often deceived… and as a result most individuals behave as if there had been a cessation of hostilities” (Handbook 61,62 *parenthetical added) When someone is convinced that harm will not come then they refuse to protect their hearts and minds from “Vices” such as power, authority, honor, pleasure, and lust that can consume them. The enemy is always “prepared to attack us” (Handbook 62) by exploiting our weakness and susceptibility to vices, which brings a need and connects us directly to the second element of continual warfare.
Our fist and primary defense against the enemy is awareness. Erasmus says, “Whenever it (the enemy) finds us unaware, in idle false security, it unexpectedly… captures the mind” (Handbook 62). Just as the most skillful of war strategists, Erasmus describes, the “slimy snake” as one who knows our strengths and weaknesses so intimately that one must always be aware of how this enemy is working. If one is not aware of one’s susceptibility to addictions to anything pleasurable, then it is possible to be consumed by the need for something. Erasmus points out that the mind is more important to be guarded than the physical body, because the enemy is one that “cannot be contained by entrenchment or expelled with an army” (Handbook 63), which eludes that the enemy is not a physical power. Erasmus is stressing the key is to remain aware of oneself and the enemy in order to protect oneself. This concept of awareness is not only purported by Erasmus but also by a non-Christian authority on war, Sun Tzu. In the book The Art of War he says “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Every day we face the battle of doing what is right by others and learning to choose love over hate, and these are battles that we cannot afford to lose. Awareness is a key element of the continual warfare and one of the most difficult to master. For Erasmus it is imperative to know that Christ is the leader of the Christian Soldier and the one who gives life (Handbook 63, 64).
After navigating the deceptions of the enemy and the awareness of self, one must take action. It is not enough to only have inward piety; one must have a balance between the inward and the outward man, Erasmus says, “let your acts be those of one who desires perfection” (Handbook 97). Just as it was not enough for Joseph to be aware of what was about to happen when he was approached by Potiphar’s wife. He understood that what happens on the inside must have an outward result and he ran away from the situation (Gen. 39). Erasmus says, “He (Christ) intended that you fight under His banner during this life” (handbook 64). To fight is to take action, to work actively for the will of God and not to sit idle or passive while waiting for God’s Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matt. 6:10). When fighting the powers of darkness all around one takes part in bringing light and life to the earth with Christ instead of working against God to fulfill our own selfish indulgences. By this fight a greater reward is achieved in both this life and the next.
The way of salvation is to die to sin. Erasmus makes clear that “to die to sin is a difficult accomplishment” (Handbook 96). The greater question is not one of accomplishment but of intent. To Erasmus to “die to sin” lies in his quite entreatingly abrupt explanation of “in the world.” Erasmus says:
“If you mean by the world the earth, the sea, the atmosphere, the heavens then obviously we are all in the world. But if the world is for you ambition, desire for honor, promotion, authority, if the world consists of pleasures and lust, then I doubt if you are even a Christian.” (Handbook 95)
To seek honor is to steal honor from God. To seek promotion is often at the expense of others. To seek authority is to seek personal exaltation. One should seek only to please the Lord and that is what brings life, anything done otherwise is “fleeting nothings” (handbook 97). The militant Christian is rewarded for one death, to sin, with the reward of two lives, a full life here and now as well as in glory.
A Christian must be militant. One must always be mindful of deceit, for one is always under attack—not only from the evil forces of this world, but even from one’s self. Having awareness of one’s self and one’s surroundings ensure that one will be able to combat these evil forces, for a militant Christian must always be ready to take action for Christ in this “continual warfare of life.” A Christian must be willing to fight and to die, a death to sin, in order to find the “way of salvation.”
Thanks for reading, feel free to post your thoughts or objections in the comments below.