Passing His Peace Along
Confessions of a gospel pacifist after 9/11
by Jason Overman
My dad was a conscientious objector. I grew up hearing how
he as an unsaved rock musician was drafted to Vietnam, excelled
in basic training, then unexpectedly met Jesus; how his new faith
and the guidance of a CoG7 minister led to a radical about-face
and a confession that he could not kill; and how after enduring
the ridicule, he was deemed sincere and was honorably discharged.
He pursued the ministry. I was four.
At eighteen I too registered C.O., but my conviction went
mostly unexpressed prior to the catastrophes of 9/11. As fear
faded to anger and talk turned to war after the terrorist
attacks, two Christian co-workers asked me, "What do you think we
should do?" With some reluctance, I said, "Do you mean we
Christians or we Americans? There is little doubt that we
Americans will retaliate, but should we Christians?" Opening to
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I shared with them the message that
turns everything upside down.
I am a pacifist. The words often stick in my throat. Since
9/11 many who have renounced war for Jesus' sake find it hard to
speak. Our silence is complicated. For some it names a grief that
is reluctant to voice its ideals in the company of pain. For
others it reflects a fear of being thought cowardly, unpatriotic,
or judgmental. For many, however, silence simply speaks to our
doubts and hard questions: "What about defending justice or
protecting the innocent? What if everyone was like you; who would
resist evil? Isn't pacifism unrealistic, even irresponsible?"
Pacifists are silent mostly, I think, because we don't know what
As weighty as these objections are, discipleship begins
elsewhere. We ask not, "Does the pacifist position work?" but
rather "What has Jesus called us to be in the world?" Not "Will
everyone do this?" but "Will I?" We are witnesses to nonviolence
not because it is practical but because we worship a crucified
The peace of Christ is not like the world's. That His peace
is bound up in a cross and not in a gun prepares us for the
scandal of faithfulness. We seek not, then, to reconcile our
convictions to human logic but to His story instead. And it
challenges every Christian: Can disciples of the Crucified kill
one for whom the Lamb was slain?
In the old West, "the peacemaker" was a Colt.45. In more
recent times, it was the B-36. For the world, it has always been
thus. But the Gospels tell a different story: "Peace on earth"
begins with a "babe lying in a manger" (Luke 2:1416). The
prophets had predicted a prince of peace who would "establish
peace" and "guide our feet into the way of peace" (Isaiah 9:6,7;
26:12; Luke 1:79), but no one expected this. A warrior, yes, but
not a babe; it contradicted everything.
Paul says of our universally violent world, "The way of
peace they have not known" (Romans 3:17). We look the wrong way.
We trust that war can be a peacemaker, that we are justifiably
innocent while the enemy is irretrievably evil. But this way
begets endless spirals of violence. In contrast, the gospel says
God sent forth His Son as a sacrifice for sin (v.25). A manger
led to a cross. It is a scandal because it denies that our
strength can attain its own peace, because it holds that God
would redeem us without use of force, because it dares say that
"all have sinned" and stand guilty before Him, yet He loves all
and would save all still (vv.19-23).
The good news is that in a world of lust-driven war, Jesus
preached peace, made peace, and is our peace by way of a cross.
The blood of Christ breaks down the walls of enmity that divide
us from God and from each other (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians
2:1417; Colossians 1:20). It disarms and triumphs over powers
that enslave us (2:15,16). It defeats our greatest fear: death
(Romans 5:20,21; 6:23).
The cross is a peacemaker because it is founded on God's
love. This is no sentimental love but a sacrificial love that
gives itself for another. God is love precisely because He "gave
His only begotten" (John 3:16) for the sake of His enemies: "But
God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were
still sinners, Christ died for us ... when we were enemies we
were reconciled to God through the death of His Son . . . "
As the Son embodies His Father's love and gives Himself for
us (Galatians 2:20), the seeds of war - fear, anger, greed - are
stifled and reversed. The cross names the intersection where the
self-giving love of God meets the self destructing hate of the
world head-on and does not return in kind. Absorbing the evil,
God makes space for peace as He accepts the worst that humanity
can hurl - crucifixion - and offers an unexpected and reconciling
forgiveness in return. The cycle is broken; resurrection trumps
revenge; retaliation gives way to restoration. This is the gospel
of peace that we preach (Isaiah 52:7).
The cross of Christ dictates the shape of discipleship. When
Jesus told His disciples, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they
shall be called sons of God"; when He called them to exchange
"eye for an eye" thinking with "do not resist evil"; when
He commanded them to love, bless, do good, and pray for the
enemy, He did so because this is what peacemaking sons of God do
The New Testament is remarkably consistent. The sacrificial,
nonresistant, love of God seen in Christ's cross finds fresh
incarnation in His spiritual body. The church partakes in
Christ's sufferings (1 Peter 4:1,13), takes up her cross to
follow Him (Luke 9:23,24), and models His sacrificial love to the
world (Ephesians 5:1,2).
But it's easier to wield a sword than a cross. John and
James would call fire down on their enemies, and Peter would lop
off the head of his. But Jesus said:
"You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the
Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save
them. . . . Put your sword in its place, for alt who take
the sword wilt perish by the sword" (Luke 9:54-56; Matthew
Jesus explained to Pilate that His kingdom was not like
theirs; it didn't require war to create or sustain (John 18:36).
But the Resurrection enabled the disciples to rise above their
fears and live the way of peace with courage. Stephen prayed with
his last breath for those killing him, "Lord, do not hold this
sin against them" (Acts 7:60, NIV). Paul, a violent enemy
initially, encouraged his churches to not render evil for evil
but to "accept wrong" (1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Corinthians 6:7).
To the Romans, he challenged not to be conformed to this world
but to be a "living sacrifice" instead (Romans 12:1,2).
The contrast between church and state escalates in the next
passage as the authorities of this world are said to exercise the
very wrath and vengeance that the church is told to refuse. We do
not resist even unjust rulers like Rome because God
providentially uses them to restrain evil with evil. But we are
called to a better way; we "overcome evil with good" (13:1-4;
The New Testament does not dismiss war from our vocabulary;
it subverts it. Faith is a battle: We are more than conquerors
fighting the good fight as soldiers of Jesus Christ, because
Christ has "led captivity captive" and secured our victory over
evil (Romans 8:37; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3; Ephesians 4:8;
1 Corinthians 15:57). This military language is emptied of its
ordinary content and put into the service of the Lamb and His
Paul describes this reversal in 2 Corinthians: "For the
weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for
pulling down strongholds..." (10:4). These weapons are detailed
in Ephesians: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith,
salvation, the Spirit, and Word of God. With these we battle
spiritual wickedness, not flesh and blood (6:10-18). We really do
conquer, but it is by our faith and the blood of the Lamb (1 John
5:4; Revelation 12:11; 15:2).
Pacifism is not passive. To "seek peace and pursue it" with
everyone requires creative and courageous action (1 Peter 3:11;
Hebrews 12:14). We do not just say no to war; we say yes to
peace. We do not refuse to fight; we refuse to fight on human
terms. God has not abandoned the world to war; Resurrection names
the victory that can turn enemies into friends. Still, we do not
deny that battles will be lost or that we may even suffer and
die; we deny that war risks less. If evil's threat should
overwhelm, we, like our Lord, commit ourselves "to Him who judges
righteously" (1 Peter 2:23), knowing that the cross is not a
surrender to evil but its sure defeat.
Facing the enemy
September 11, 2001, presented Christians in America with a new
enemy. But is it really new? The world Jesus inhabited was no
less evil than our own, and resorting to violence was no less
tempting. Yet Jesus resisted this option and calls His disciples
to do the same. Is our enemy more an enemy than the one Jesus
called us to love, more evil than the one who hung Him on a cross
and for whom He prayed, "Father, forgive them" (Luke 23:34)? The
world will think so; we cannot.
As wars drag on, their logic and limits are painfully clear.
As a gospel pacifist, I humbly put my trust elsewhere. I look
back to my peacemaking Lord and forward to His peaceable kingdom;
I patiently proclaim the end that He began. Isaiah foretold of a
time when "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and
their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword
against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (2:4).
My dad summed it up this way: "In the kingdom, there will be
war no more, but I don't have to wait for that. In Christ, that
kingdom has come, and for me war has ended already."
"Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen" (Romans 15:33).
Jason Overman serves the congregation in Jasper, AR. USA
Taken from "The Bible Advocate" - September 2007, a publication
of the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA
I my in-depth study called "The Christian and Warfare" I have
expounded on God, Israel, and Warfare, as under the Old
Testament, or Old Covenant.
The truth of the matter is that we are not under the Old Covenant
today, but the child of God is under the New Testament. And the
fact is there ARE DIFFERENCES under the New Testament than the
Old Testament. What was ALLOWED and given under Moses is NOT
automatically allowed and given under the New Testament.
Jesus said many times, "You have heard it said ... but I say
If you read the New Testament and especially the words of Jesus
in the Gospels, with an unbiased mind, say the mind of a child,
it is quite unthinkable that Christians can be part of a nations
God is life giver and quite frankly life taker. He does not in
the main intervene in a woman's mis-carriage, or people dying
from accidents and sicknesses, or from human violence. He is the
one who gives life and He is the one who has the right to take
life. In a real sense then God is not a pacifist as such. But on
the other hand He does have the right to say HOW His children on
earth should live their lives, in any particular age. This last
sentence of mine often upsets some Christians, because they have
been taught incorrectly what Hebrews 13:8 means - God is the same
yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If they would just stop and
thinking logically, they would see very quickly that Christians
today do not practice a way of life that is exactly the same way
of life as the ancient Israelites did under Moses. They would see
quickly that the New Testament is NOT in many ways of life, the
same as the Old Testament.
So it is with "the child of God" and warfare as allowed under the
Old Testament and as taught by Jesus and His apostles under the
God is always the one who has the right to take life, when and
how He sees fit. He is also the only one who can resurrect the
dead back to life. It is clear from the Old Testament prophets
and from the New Testament book of Revelation, that God will wage
war when He (in the person of Jesus) returns to live on earth and
set up His Kingdom for a 1,000 years. He will also use His family
of born again human children and the angelic beings, to help Him
wage war on some of the people and nations of this earth at His
coming. It is written He will destroy those who are destroying
Today, in the Christian age, from the coming of Jesus proclaiming
the New Testament gospel to His coming again in power and glory,
the children of God are to be pacifists. When those children are
changed from human to divine, from mortal to immortal, from
physical corruption to eternal glory, to be a very part of the
family of God, then we will have the perfectness and the
holiness, to take life, and to raise life from the dead.
You need to study my study called "The Christian and Warfare" if
you have not already done so.
Entered on this Website - the Feast of Trumpets, September 2007.