Sunday, December 28, 2008

peace on earth...? II

Let me start with some history.

The early church, the people who stemmed from the Jesus movement, were pacifists. In fact for three centuries, the followers of Christ refused to enter violent conflict. Some have suggested that Christians did not engage in the military because they would have had to eat food sacrificed to idols. If I remember correctly, there is evidence that soldiers who accepted Christ were instructed by the church that they could remain in the military, but they could not bear arms.

It was in the early 4th century that Constantine came along and had a 'conversion experience'. I think many historians are suspicious of the authenticity of the conversion and think it was more for political gain than any other reason. Irregardless, Constantine forced his conversion on his military and all who recognized him as king. They were all to become Christians. If you were to look up the origins of the tradition of celebrating Christ's birth (Christmas), I think you will find connections to Constantine who made the decree that the common god of that time's celebration would be changed to a celebration of Jesus' birth.

All that to say, by the 5th century things had changed drastically. The Church was no longer the peacemaking minority but (through force/coercion) had become the violent majority. Augustine, often known as the most influential theologian post-Paul in Christian history, then came along and reintroduced a belief that originated in Aristotle's philosophy, called the Just War Theory. War was acceptable and necessary for the church to engage in if certain circumstances/criteria were met. This has been the normative approach to Peace/Conflict ever since by the Roman Catholic Church and by a majority of Protestants as well (There are some sects in both the RCC and Protestantism that reject violence as an acceptable means to conflict resolution.)

You do not have to search too far in your history books to find wars fought by Christians. Violence, particularly against other religions such as Islam and Judaism, have led to some atrocious acts.

So this is a capsule of what the historic church perspective has been for two milennia. I think this is the necessary starting point for a discussion on peace. Where have we been? Where are we now?

The next overview to explore is what Jesus and Paul have to say about Peace & Violence in the New Testament canon. Can we grasp a common ethical thread throughout the body of the New Testament that should inform us of our perspective on War and Peace?

Other posts that must be forthcoming...
-Ok, NT is covered, what about the OT...seems like a violent God doing violent acts. What is the OT notion of peace?
-What is the just war theory and if it is flawed, how is it flawed?
-What is the alternative to JWT?
-What about historic examples? Hitler? Genocide in Rwanda?...etc.

If you have other areas that you would like touched on, submit your questions and I will do the best I can.

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