Wheaton Scholar Argues the Early Church Was Pacifist

The Institute on Religion and Democracy published a piece by me yesterday on a lecture given by George Kalantzis at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Kalantzis’s lecture, which previews arguments from a forthcoming book, was entitled “There Will (Not) Be Blood! Early Christian Attitudes Toward War and Military Service.” For those interested in the matter, Kalantzis framed his arguments as a direct challenge to some of the conclusions of Peter Leithart in his Defending Constantine (a book that was itself aimed at refuting some of the Anabaptist historiography of the Constantinian turn associated in particular with John Howard Yoder).


Here are the first few paragraphs of my article, but of course I’d appreciate it if you clicked through and read the whole thing over at IRD.

At the heart of Kalantzis’s lecture was his argument that Christianity and Rome embodied two radically clashing worldviews – worldviews involving not only contrary practices of religion and piety but contrary ethical commitments as well. Indeed, “the conflict between Rome and the Church was ultimately the collision of sacrificial systems.”

Rome embodied an understanding of the cosmos built on violence and ruled by gods that demand sacrifices. While the Romans tolerated various accounts of the truth they demanded that all Romans participate in those sacrifices and related cultic practices in order that the gods might be appeased and Rome prosper. That prosperity, like the cult on which it depended, was built on violence and military conquest.

Christianity, on the other hand, embodied an understanding of the cosmos shaped by Jesus’ triumph over sacrifice and death through his resurrection. Early Christian writers therefore rejected participation in the Roman army or even in Roman government because it implicated them in pagan worship and because it required them to perform actions fundamentally incompatible with the way of Christ. For Christians the bloodless sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper marked participation in a kingdom that transcends national divisions.

Read the rest here.


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on September 22, 2012, in pacifism and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Wheaton Scholar Argues the Early Church Was Pacifist.

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