by Earl J. Prignitz

For several hundred years following the death of Christ, there is absolutely no question that his followers were certain that he had forbidden war. As a result of many Christians refusal to participate in war they suffered the consequences of imprisonment and/or death. These facts are indisputable. A learned writer of the seventeenth century said, "It is as easy to obscure the sun at mid-day, as to deny that the primitive Christians renounced all revenge and war."

There are innumerable records of men who were put to death because they refused to be enlisted in the army. There are also countless examples of men who while serving in the army became Christians and subsequently laid down their arms, regardless of the cost.

Hence it is indisputable that the early Christians who lived nearest to the time of our Savior, believed without any doubt, that he had unmistakably forbidden war. They were so certain of their belief that, in support of it, they were willing to sacrifice their fortunes and their lives.

It wasn't until after the time of Constantine that Christians began participating in the army. Christianity had deteriorated to that extent by that period in time.

The departure from the original faithfulness was certainly not sudden. Like every other corruption, war crept in by degrees. In the first two hundred years after the death of Christ, not a single Christian soldier is to be found on the records. In the third century, as Christianity became partially tainted, Christian soldiers were common. The number increased from that period on. Only occasionally were there voices raised for peace, and the idea that war is unlawful finally came to a halt in the (professing) church.

The only exceptions were the Anabaptists from whence the Mennonites and Brethren have their roots and the Quakers who began a century later under their founder George Fox plus a few others scattered about in other churches. Since I am a Quaker I wholeheartedly support the peace testimony of Friends.

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Comment by Earl Prignitz on July 26, 2008 at 9:55pm
Mary, you might be interested in my credo. You can find it at:
Comment by Earl Prignitz on July 26, 2008 at 8:01pm
I know Some pacifists support physical violence for emergency defense of self or others. While others support destruction of property in such emergencies or for conducting symbolic acts of resistance like pouring red paint to represent blood on the outside of military recruiting offices or entering air force bases and hammering on military aircraft. I am one who follows the principles of nonviolence, believing that non-violent action is morally superior and/or pragmatically most effective.
I base my position on my Pacifism that follows the principles of nonviolence, believing that non-violent action is morally superior and/or pragmatically most effective and is founded on the principles laid out very clearly by Jesus Christ. Since I claim to be a Christian and have advocated the Christian way of life for others for so many years it just makes sense to me to follow his teaching all the way.
Comment by Earl Prignitz on July 26, 2008 at 3:23pm
Hear the words of Justin, who was martyed in 165 A. D., "We ourselves were well conversant with war, murder and everything evil, but all of us throughout the whole wide earth have traded in our weapons of war. We have exchanged our swords for plowshares, our spears for farm we cultivate the fear of God, justice, kindness, faith, and the expectation of the future given to us through the crucified one...the more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever increasing numbers become believers."

Or again listen to Hippolytus in 218 A.D., "A military constable must be forbidden to kill, neither may he swear; if he is not willing to follow these instructions, he must be rejected by the community. A procounsul or magistrate who wears the purple and governs by the sword shall give it up or be rejected. Anyone taking or already baptized who wants to become a soldier shall be sent away, for he has despised God."

Then following years of struggle with power being distributed among many rulers one powerful leader emerged one Gaius Flavius Valerius Constantinus - or just Constantine. He emerged from the imperial tumult through several military conquests, the most popular of which was the battle of the Milvian Bridge in the year 312. Before he entered into battle, so the legend goes, he saw a sign of the cross in the sky, and heard a voice saying, 'In this will you conquer.' Quite ironic isn't it, considering that for Jesus the cross meant refusal of worldly ways of conquering.

It was just a few years following Constantine's putting his blessings on war that the love affair between Church and State grew even more intimate. The emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of the empire and made it a crime not to be a Christian. That is when things really got messy. Christians were ordered to kill pagans who refused to become Christian.

The Church in reality moved from being the persecuted to being persecutor. In the name of one who taught us to love our enemies, the church burned its enemies alive.
Comment by Alex Bell on July 26, 2008 at 2:54am
Thanks for this post. I've been arguing the same thing at my church. Could you provide documentation and references please?

Regards, Alex


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