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Saint Augustine
The Problem of Universal Ethics for Christian Pacifism
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Article Index
The Problem of Universal Ethics for Christian Pacifism
The Historical View
Contemporary Views of Pacifists
The Link Between Pacifism and Denial of Univeral Christian Ethics
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by Daniel R. Heimbach


Most Christian scholars will agree with Oliver O'Donovan's statement that "Christian ethics must arise from the gospel of Jesus Christ."1 We agree that to believe in the existence of Christian ethics is to affirm a moral order that in some real way centers on and arises from the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that thinking otherwise requires denying Christian faith has any direct bearing on moral life. At the same time, most Christians also believe the moral order in which we stand addresses everyone in the world. We believe that moral judgments understood and affirmed by Christians pertain to all regardless of location, choice, culture, experience or religion. So, while we affirm a real moral order centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ, we also believe this moral order is universal and that Christian moral standards are not just in-house rules for members of the Christian community laying no claim on anyone else. And we believe that the moral order recognized and affirmed by Christian ethics is universal, not only in some potential or future sense, but right now in the sense of pertaining to the entire world in which we presently live. Thus O'Donovan is summarizing what most Christians believe when he says that "Christian moral judgments in principle address every man. They are not something which the Christian has opted into and which he might as well, quite as sensibly, have opted out of. They are founded on reality as God has given it."2 Indeed, it is for this very reason that Christians believe persons in other cultures untouched by Christian influence nevertheless fall short of God's universal standards of moral perfection, are judged by God for sin, and can only be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.

But, while most Christians believe we stand in a uniquely gospel centered moral order that applies to everyone and not just to Christians, not all Christians accept this to be so. While it has never been the majority view, it is nevertheless the case that a notable body of Christians do not agree on this point. Though affirming the true existence of a genuinely gospel centered ethic, some Christians have nevertheless denied that the gospel centered moral order in which Christians stand applies outside the Christian community. While these hope that Christian ethics will someday apply universally, they believe that right now we live in a world in which Christian ethics only apply to Christians, and that for now at least what is sin for Christians may not be sin at all for non-Christians.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 10:12