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Anarchy and Pacifism


Although the Jesus Christians have always been staunch pacifists, and although they are critical of religious hierarchies, in the article below, they examine weaknesses in their own position.

Anarchy and pacifism are two subjects which are closely related, in terms of the ideology out of which they have arisen. For that reason, I would like to discuss them together in the same article, starting first with anarchy, and then bringing pacifism into it a bit later.

Unfortunately, anarchy (which literally means government by no one) has suffered from a bad image in the minds of the uninitiated. The general public pictures a Charles Manson "helter-skelter" world full of hate and chaos when they hear the word anarchy; but this is not what most anarchists picture when they use the word. Some of the world's most "together" people have given the concept of anarchy serious consideration. Leo Tolstoy, for example, was regarded as an anarchist. And many people today who do not think of themselves as anarchists would almost certainly embrace at least some of the ideals which serious anarchists espouse.

For the sincere anarchist, the goal is a world where each individual takes personal responsibility for his or her own actions. Evil is not controlled through punishment, but rather through the sterling example of genuine goodness that radiates from the anarchists themselves. Tolstoy saw this radical approach to justice epitomised in the words of Jesus when he said: "Resist not evil; but render good for evil."

This concept of dealing with evil only through personal goodness forms the link between anarchy and pacifism.

Many anarchists see peaceful forms of civil disobedience and active nonviolence as effective ways to change the world. Gandhi's movement in India to rid the country of the British, and Martin Luther King's civil rights movement for African Americans in the United States both used these techniques. But all of these movements were somewhat beaten to the punch by the early Quakers, who were pioneers in the area of equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion, or sex.

The ideals of anarchy and pacifism are reflected today in much of the New Age movement and other left-wing political movements. There is amongst all of these people a strong yearning for world peace and a new utopian age of personal accountability.

Unfortunately, there are also some problems with this approach, and it is toward these problems that I would now want to direct attention.

We have discovered that, if the devil cannot get us to avoid obedience to Jesus, he will often take some teaching of Jesus and try to get us to extend it in such a way as to blind us to how that teaching fits in with the rest of what Jesus taught. For example, it is extremely rare to find anyone who is willing to forsake all that they own and to live by faith. But of those we have met who tried living by faith, many have become convinced that they must never ask for help or ask for money when they are in need. They argue that God should bring the provisions to them without any effort on their part. God certainly can do such a thing; and in our own experience he often has. It is commendable that people should at least be willing to consider such a step. However, there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus to forbid people asking for help.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Jesus taught, "When you go to a town, ask who is worthy, and stay with that person, eating whatever they provide; for a worker is worthy to receive such payment." (Matthew 10:11 and Luke 10:7)

While some people have become disillusioned because provision did not come without asking, others have become self-righteous because provision did come without them having to ask. It is so easy to demand that others follow an ideal that Jesus never required them to follow, especially when they find that ideal working for themselves. But we must be careful about putting heavy burdens on other people that Jesus never asked them to carry.

A similar problem can arise with regard to anarchy. The anarchist can become like the "nondenominational" Christian, who insists that only the other guys are "denominations"... that their particular division is something quite different from the other divisions. Anarchists can become proud of the fact that they have no government, no leaders, no rules, no accountability, no discipline, and (presumably) no self-righteousness. But what we end up with is a choice between someone who is (at least liable to being) proud of what they do, and someone who is (at least liable to being) proud of what they do not do. You do not escape the risk of being proud, self-righteous, or passing judgment just by espousing anarchy.

Government by no one is still government, and we must examine how well it works in comparison to such things as government by the people (democracy), government by God (theocracy), government by a king (monarchy), government by a dictator (autocracy), etc. Did Tolstoy, for example, do more good for God and for the world than did the Anabaptists, who established churches and thus became the target of opposing political forces? Tolstoy lived to a ripe old age, while the Anabaptists were sought out and executed; and Tolstoy was able to do this at least partly because he was able to assure his enemies that he was not building an empire to rival their own. Peasants were encouraged to just stay humble little peasants, working hard for their masters and not upsetting the status quo. Tolstoy even boasted that people who lived like that would be well-liked by all. But this is not what Jesus taught.

Tolstoy argued convincingly against Christian support for the courts of the world, on the grounds that we should not "judge" others. But in his arguing, he himself passed scathing judgments on the government and the church of his day. We would be inclined to take a similar position, i.e. we judge the churches and governments of the world as being counterfeits of the perfect government that God wishes to establish in each of our hearts. But we must not forget that the line between righteous judgment and self-righteous (or downright evil) judgment is not always clear.

And that is where the pacifists come in. They offer a simple method of delineation between the physical and the spiritual, between what they regard as evil judgment and what they regard as legitimate or righteous judgment. If you physically touch, injure, or kill another person, they say, your judgment is wrong, and should be deplored. The atrocities of war and the execution of criminals are seen as the worst examples of judgment, and pacifists attack these en toto, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. There is no comparison, they believe, between judgment of that nature and the judgment that they are exercising in condemning it.

But here is a trap that many idealists fall into. If you can demonise the opposition (in this case, the military and the courts), it can serve as a convenient cover for the demons that lurk within your own heart. Jesus taught that the real sin was not violence or even murder, but rather the hatred and bitterness that seems to affect all of us.

It is so easy to tell the Albanians to love the Serbs who have just raped and murdered their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, or their daughters and sons. And it is easy to tell the Serbs to do the same thing with regard to the ethnic cleansing that they were subjected to prior to the latest war. But what are we doing about our own hurts and differences? It is absolutely right when anyone says that the answer in Yugoslavia lies in turning the other cheek, in forgiving past sins, in constructive dialogue and unity. But it is too easy to be smug in condemning them for their lack of Christian virtue when we haven't even begun to appreciate just how much patience they have each shown already. It could be that we are guilty of the worst possible hypocrisy if we try to judge them for their bitterness when we have bitterness in our own hearts over some of the most trivial injustices, some of which may even be entirely imaginary.

By all means, let us encourage the pacifist ideals of loving our enemies; and even more so, let us endeavour to practise those ideals, not only with our enemies, but also with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But let us go very lightly on preaching them to a world that has yet to see us practise ourselves what we are so quick to demand from them.

The truth is the truth (i.e. the truth about the need for more humility, patience, love, and forgiveness), but how we present it can make all the difference. Jesus did not see a simple black and white line between physical violence and spiritual violence. For him, the enemy was just as real in someone who would shout obscenities at his brother as they were in someone who would open fire with a machine gun. In fact, everything about Christ's life seemed to indicate that he saw the honest open aggression of a warring nation (e.g. the Romans) to be less abhorrent than the pious cover-up of a warring (pharisaical) heart.

I recently read something which seemed to be saying that one of the key planks in the Quaker program for world peace is a very strong world government under the auspices of the United Nations. Many years of experience have shown the Quakers that real peace requires discipline of one sort or another.

In the years before the U.S. Civil War a great many people aligned themselves with the Quakers as professed pacifists. Then, when war actually broke out, the others almost all fell away. They could not resist taking up weapons when they saw no other way to stop the evil of slavery. The Quakers, on the other hand, almost all stayed faithful to their commitment to peace. Peace was not just a shallow fad for them, but something which they had learned through bitter experience would require extreme discipline on their part.

Unfortunately, there are disturbing signs that present-day Quaker commitment to peace has, at least for many, been accompanied by a lack of commitment to Jesus. Like so many others in the churches, they have fallen away from the kind of Christian discipline that their early founders had, and it has led to them advocating a form of discipline (i.e. a strong world government, overseen by the U.N.) which we believe (according to our understanding of Bible prophecy) will lead to the worst suffering the world has ever known. If people will not choose to be disciplined by God, they will eventually be disciplined by the god of this world. There is in the peace movement (and the anarchy that accompanies it) enough deception to make some believe that they are preaching the gospel of Christ when they may really be preaching the gospel of antichrist. We must learn to tell the difference.

There are four insidious lies which I believe have contributed to the perversion that now exists in the peace movement. They must be addressed in our own lives if we are not to be swept away spiritually by them. Remember, that these perversions do not detract from the genuine truths that led to the peace movement in the first place. However, the Bible says that when the world says "Peace!" sudden destruction will come upon it. (1 Thessalonians 5:3) If we do not deal with these four lies personally and seriously, "sudden destruction" may be the end result for us as individuals as well.

LIE NO. 1: Pain is evil. This lie overlooks the fact that pain is the body's way of telling us that something is wrong. An alarm in a car or in a shop is not evil, even if the thief who breaks in is. The alarm is our way of becoming aware of the real evil and dealing with it. When children (or adults) are punished in some physical way, the pain they experience is meant to get their attention, and to tell them that something is wrong, i.e. that something needs to change. There are other ways to generate this awareness besides inflicting pain; but inflicting pain is one option, and should not be universally ruled out. In fact, physical pain inflicted in love will often do less damage to the individual than what could result from insensitive use of words, or worse still, from simple neglect.

LIE NO. 2: Discipline is evil. Horror stories about parents who punish their children, and about organisations that require members to meet certain standards are used to support the present trend against all discipline. The real issue for us as Christians should not be whether or not a person or group exercises discipline, but rather it should be whether the overall goals of the discipline were in keeping with the will of God, or whether they were contrary to the will of God. If we will not examine discipline along these lines, we will end up condemning God himself for making demands of his children and for punishing those who fail to meet his demands.

LIE NO. 3: Life is God. It is the nature of the "creature" to cling to life with all that is in us. However, the Creator has told us that there is something greater than this life if we will just learn to let go of what we cling to so desperately now. (See Romans 1:25.) People die every day, and God rarely intervenes, even though he could if he wanted to. He does not act because death, to him, is more or less a myth. We must be careful about letting our natural revulsion at death make us condemn anything that leads to someone's death. Was it Socrates who said, "Not life, but a good life is to be chiefly valued"?

LIE NO. 4: Power is evil. It is easy for the cynic to believe that "all power corrupts", but even if that were true, it would not prove that power itself is evil. The truth is that God himself is both all-powerful and all-good. And he desperately seeks people who can use the power and authority he wants to give them in a fair and loving way. A war against all power is a war against God.

The anarchist philosophy is a convenient means of escape from our responsibility to exercise authority over others (and also a convenient means of escape from our need to respect God's authority in others). Every part of our life is made meaningful and productive through organisation. There is no one who is totally free from organisation, and those who are most disorganised are generally sad specimens of humanity. People like George Fox (who is credited with having founded Quakerism), Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ were very organised and disciplined people. They each exercised a great deal of authority in their own way, and led many people as a result.

Anyone who has ever achieved anything truly worthwhile on earth has done so through such discipline. We can react to the abuses of power that we see all around us, by running away from responsibility and sending others away to "follow their own conscience", but the bottom line is whether we have done that in faith and obedience to Jesus, or whether we have only reacted in fear and, thus, become instruments of the devil.

We believe that Jesus will soon return to judge the earth with a rod of iron. Blood will flow in the streets when he begins to carry out his judgment on this planet. (Revelation 14:19-20) He is recruiting an army of people who are willing to follow him into that battle... not a battle for any earthly government, but a battle for his heavenly government. Are we willing to train now to be a part of that army?

In summary, we have discovered that there is no perfect government here on earth, and that includes anarchy. There will always be abuses in whatever system we choose, and a philosophy that incorporates anarchist and/or pacifist principles will not act as a sufficient safeguard against such abuse. The bottom line must be our own willingness to follow God in whatever direction he may choose. Unless we can deal with the sources of evil in our own hearts, these philosophies will prove to be just as ineffectual in overcoming evil as any other.

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Although the Jesus Christians have always been staunch pacifists, and although they are critical of religious hierarchies, in the article below, they examine weaknesses in their own position.

Anarchy and Pacifism

(May, 1999)

Anarchy and pacifism are two subjects which are closely related, in terms of the ideology out of which they have arisen. For that reason, I would like to discuss them together in the same article, starting first with anarchy, and then bringing pacifism into it a bit later.

Unfortunately, anarchy (which literally means government by no one) has suffered from a bad image in the minds of the uninitiated. The general public pictures a Charles Manson "helter-skelter" world full of hate and chaos when they hear the word anarchy; but this is not what most anarchists picture when they use the word. Some of the world's most "together" people have given the concept of anarchy serious consideration. Leo Tolstoy, for example, was regarded as an anarchist. And many people today who do not think of themselves as anarchists would almost certainly embrace at least some of the ideals which serious anarchists espouse.

For the sincere anarchist, the goal is a world where each individual takes personal responsibility for his or her own actions. Evil is not controlled through punishment, but rather through the sterling example of genuine goodness that radiates from the anarchists themselves. Tolstoy saw this radical approach to justice epitomised in the words of Jesus when he said: "Resist not evil; but render good for evil."

This concept of dealing with evil only through personal goodness forms the link between anarchy and pacifism.

Many anarchists see peaceful forms of civil disobedience and active nonviolence as effective ways to change the world. Gandhi's movement in India to rid the country of the British, and Martin Luther King's civil rights movement for African Americans in the United States both used these techniques. But all of these movements were somewhat beaten to the punch by the early Quakers, who were pioneers in the area of equal rights for all, regardless of race, religion, or sex.

The ideals of anarchy and pacifism are reflected today in much of the New Age movement and other left-wing political movements. There is amongst all of these people a strong yearning for world peace and a new utopian age of personal accountability.

Unfortunately, there are also some problems with this approach, and it is toward these problems that I would now want to direct attention.

We have discovered that, if the devil cannot get us to avoid obedience to Jesus, he will often take some teaching of Jesus and try to get us to extend it in such a way as to blind us to how that teaching fits in with the rest of what Jesus taught. For example, it is extremely rare to find anyone who is willing to forsake all that they own and to live by faith. But of those we have met who tried living by faith, many have become convinced that they must never ask for help or ask for money when they are in need. They argue that God should bring the provisions to them without any effort on their part. God certainly can do such a thing; and in our own experience he often has. It is commendable that people should at least be willing to consider such a step. However, there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus to forbid people asking for help.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Jesus taught, "When you go to a town, ask who is worthy, and stay with that person, eating whatever they provide; for a worker is worthy to receive such payment." (Matthew 10:11 and Luke 10:7)

While some people have become disillusioned because provision did not come without asking, others have become self-righteous because provision did come without them having to ask. It is so easy to demand that others follow an ideal that Jesus never required them to follow, especially when they find that ideal working for themselves. But we must be careful about putting heavy burdens on other people that Jesus never asked them to carry.

A similar problem can arise with regard to anarchy. The anarchist can become like the "nondenominational" Christian, who insists that only the other guys are "denominations"... that their particular division is something quite different from the other divisions. Anarchists can become proud of the fact that they have no government, no leaders, no rules, no accountability, no discipline, and (presumably) no self-righteousness. But what we end up with is a choice between someone who is (at least liable to being) proud of what they do, and someone who is (at least liable to being) proud of what they do not do. You do not escape the risk of being proud, self-righteous, or passing judgment just by espousing anarchy.

Government by no one is still government, and we must examine how well it works in comparison to such things as government by the people (democracy), government by God (theocracy), government by a king (monarchy), government by a dictator (autocracy), etc. Did Tolstoy, for example, do more good for God and for the world than did the Anabaptists, who established churches and thus became the target of opposing political forces? Tolstoy lived to a ripe old age, while the Anabaptists were sought out and executed; and Tolstoy was able to do this at least partly because he was able to assure his enemies that he was not building an empire to rival their own. Peasants were encouraged to just stay humble little peasants, working hard for their masters and not upsetting the status quo. Tolstoy even boasted that people who lived like that would be well-liked by all. But this is not what Jesus taught.

Tolstoy argued convincingly against Christian support for the courts of the world, on the grounds that we should not "judge" others. But in his arguing, he himself passed scathing judgments on the government and the church of his day. We would be inclined to take a similar position, i.e. we judge the churches and governments of the world as being counterfeits of the perfect government that God wishes to establish in each of our hearts. But we must not forget that the line between righteous judgment and self-righteous (or downright evil) judgment is not always clear.

And that is where the pacifists come in. They offer a simple method of delineation between the physical and the spiritual, between what they regard as evil judgment and what they regard as legitimate or righteous judgment. If you physically touch, injure, or kill another person, they say, your judgment is wrong, and should be deplored. The atrocities of war and the execution of criminals are seen as the worst examples of judgment, and pacifists attack these en toto, regardless of the extenuating circumstances. There is no comparison, they believe, between judgment of that nature and the judgment that they are exercising in condemning it.

But here is a trap that many idealists fall into. If you can demonise the opposition (in this case, the military and the courts), it can serve as a convenient cover for the demons that lurk within your own heart. Jesus taught that the real sin was not violence or even murder, but rather the hatred and bitterness that seems to affect all of us.

It is so easy to tell the Albanians to love the Serbs who have just raped and murdered their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers, or their daughters and sons. And it is easy to tell the Serbs to do the same thing with regard to the ethnic cleansing that they were subjected to prior to the latest war. But what are we doing about our own hurts and differences? It is absolutely right when anyone says that the answer in Yugoslavia lies in turning the other cheek, in forgiving past sins, in constructive dialogue and unity. But it is too easy to be smug in condemning them for their lack of Christian virtue when we haven't even begun to appreciate just how much patience they have each shown already. It could be that we are guilty of the worst possible hypocrisy if we try to judge them for their bitterness when we have bitterness in our own hearts over some of the most trivial injustices, some of which may even be entirely imaginary.

By all means, let us encourage the pacifist ideals of loving our enemies; and even more so, let us endeavour to practise those ideals, not only with our enemies, but also with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But let us go very lightly on preaching them to a world that has yet to see us practise ourselves what we are so quick to demand from them.

The truth is the truth (i.e. the truth about the need for more humility, patience, love, and forgiveness), but how we present it can make all the difference. Jesus did not see a simple black and white line between physical violence and spiritual violence. For him, the enemy was just as real in someone who would shout obscenities at his brother as they were in someone who would open fire with a machine gun. In fact, everything about Christ's life seemed to indicate that he saw the honest open aggression of a warring nation (e.g. the Romans) to be less abhorrent than the pious cover-up of a warring (pharisaical) heart.

I recently read something which seemed to be saying that one of the key planks in the Quaker program for world peace is a very strong world government under the auspices of the United Nations. Many years of experience have shown the Quakers that real peace requires discipline of one sort or another.

In the years before the U.S. Civil War a great many people aligned themselves with the Quakers as professed pacifists. Then, when war actually broke out, the others almost all fell away. They could not resist taking up weapons when they saw no other way to stop the evil of slavery. The Quakers, on the other hand, almost all stayed faithful to their commitment to peace. Peace was not just a shallow fad for them, but something which they had learned through bitter experience would require extreme discipline on their part.

Unfortunately, there are disturbing signs that present-day Quaker commitment to peace has, at least for many, been accompanied by a lack of commitment to Jesus. Like so many others in the churches, they have fallen away from the kind of Christian discipline that their early founders had, and it has led to them advocating a form of discipline (i.e. a strong world government, overseen by the U.N.) which we believe (according to our understanding of Bible prophecy) will lead to the worst suffering the world has ever known. If people will not choose to be disciplined by God, they will eventually be disciplined by the god of this world. There is in the peace movement (and the anarchy that accompanies it) enough deception to make some believe that they are preaching the gospel of Christ when they may really be preaching the gospel of antichrist. We must learn to tell the difference.

There are four insidious lies which I believe have contributed to the perversion that now exists in the peace movement. They must be addressed in our own lives if we are not to be swept away spiritually by them. Remember, that these perversions do not detract from the genuine truths that led to the peace movement in the first place. However, the Bible says that when the world says "Peace!" sudden destruction will come upon it. (I Thessalonians 5:3) If we do not deal with these four lies personally and seriously, "sudden destruction" may be the end result for us as individuals as well.

LIE NO. 1: Pain is evil. This lie overlooks the fact that pain is the body's way of telling us that something is wrong. An alarm in a car or in a shop is not evil, even if the thief who breaks in is. The alarm is our way of becoming aware of the real evil and dealing with it. When children (or adults) are punished in some physical way, the pain they experience is meant to get their attention, and to tell them that something is wrong, i.e. that something needs to change. There are other ways to generate this awareness besides inflicting pain; but inflicting pain is one option, and should not be universally ruled out. In fact, physical pain inflicted in love will often do less damage to the individual than what could result from insensitive use of words, or worse still, from simple neglect.

LIE NO. 2: Discipline is evil. Horror stories about parents who punish their children, and about organisations that require members to meet certain standards are used to support the present trend against all discipline. The real issue for us as Christians should not be whether or not a person or group exercises discipline, but rather it should be whether the overall goals of the discipline were in keeping with the will of God, or whether they were contrary to the will of God. If we will not examine discipline along these lines, we will end up condemning God himself for making demands of his children and for punishing those who fail to meet his demands.

LIE NO. 3: Life is God. It is the nature of the "creature" to cling to life with all that is in us. However, the Creator has told us that there is something greater than this life if we will just learn to let go of what we cling to so desperately now. (See Romans 1:25.) People die every day, and God rarely intervenes, even though he could if he wanted to. He does not act because death, to him, is more or less a myth. We must be careful about letting our natural revulsion at death make us condemn anything that leads to someone's death. Was it Socrates who said, "Not life, but a good life is to be chiefly valued"?

LIE NO. 4: Power is evil. It is easy for the cynic to believe that "all power corrupts", but even if that were true, it would not prove that power itself is evil. The truth is that God himself is both all-powerful and all-good. And he desperately seeks people who can use the power and authority he wants to give them in a fair and loving way. A war against all power is a war against God.

The anarchist philosophy is a convenient means of escape from our responsibility to exercise authority over others (and also a convenient means of escape from our need to respect God's authority in others). Every part of our life is made meaningful and productive through organisation. There is no one who is totally free from organisation, and those who are most disorganised are generally sad specimens of humanity. People like George Fox (who is credited with having founded Quakerism), Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ were very organised and disciplined people. They each exercised a great deal of authority in their own way, and led many people as a result.

Anyone who has ever achieved anything truly worthwhile on earth has done so through such discipline. We can react to the abuses of power that we see all around us, by running away from responsibility and sending others away to "follow their own conscience", but the bottom line is whether we have done that in faith and obedience to Jesus, or whether we have only reacted in fear and, thus, become instruments of the devil.

We believe that Jesus will soon return to judge the earth with a rod of iron. Blood will flow in the streets when he begins to carry out his judgment on this planet. (Revelation 14:19-20) He is recruiting an army of people who are willing to follow him into that battle... not a battle for any earthly government, but a battle for his heavenly government. Are we willing to train now to be a part of that army?

In summary, we have discovered that there is no perfect government here on earth, and that includes anarchy. There will always be abuses in whatever system we choose, and a philosophy that incorporates anarchist and/or pacifist principles will not act as a sufficient safeguard against such abuse. The bottom line must be our own willingness to follow God in whatever direction he may choose. Unless we can deal with the sources of evil in our own hearts, these philosophies will prove to be just as ineffectual in overcoming evil as any other.

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