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Saint Augustine
The Problem of Universal Ethics for Christian Pacifism - Conclusion
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This leads me to make the following conclusions:

  1. First, that pacifism cannot be universally applicable and biblically Christian at the same time.
  2. And, second, that Bible-honoring Christian pacifism cannot be sustained as a coherent system without denying the universality of Christian ethics.

The first means that trying to impose pacifist principles in a way that applies to everyone all the time, including operations of government, simply cannot be reconciled with treating Romans 13 as applicable to a universal moral order. One may go one way or the other, but not both ways at the same time.

The second means that a high view of biblical authority for regulating the moral order in which Christians stand cannot be maintained without affirming some sort of ethical dualism, and that claiming to have a high view of biblical authority while promoting universal pacifism is so inherently discordant these positions cannot be held together without contradiction or false impression.

And these conclusions about what makes Christian pacifists struggle so persistently with affirming the universality of Christian ethics leads me to a final comment regarding those now breaking with tradition by trying to apply their pacifism beyond the Christian community:

It appears to me that this recent trend among Christian pacifists is stymied by a dilemma from which there is no way out except reverting to traditional pacifist dualism, or else ceasing to be Christian, or pacifist, or both. On the one hand, those trying to apply pacifism universally must rely on biblical authority to establish the sort of moral relevance required to obligate the entire world. But if so, they are checked by New Testament teaching authorizing government use of lethal force. On the other hand, if those seeking to universalize pacifism undermine or reject biblical authority to avoid the relevance of New Testament approval of government using lethal force, they lose the sort of authority required to obligate everyone in the world.

It seems to me these Christians have no way out except reverting to traditional pacifist dualism or ceasing to be pacifist. Some in this dilemma may possibly insist on continuing to pursue universal pacifism at the cost of rejecting Christian ethics, but that would be a disaster of far greater magnitude. Finally there may, of course, be some who knowingly choose to embrace inconsistency, and these we should pity while warning anyone vulnerable to their message.

Professor Heimbach serves as Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina. He has served as chairman of the Seminary's Christian Ethics Department. He presented this paper at the 60th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in November, 2008.

A 1972 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, he served from 1989 to 1991 as the Deputy Executive Secretary and Associate Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. From 1991 to 1993 he was the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 December 2011 10:12