In the era before Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire, the church took very seriously Jesus’ message of peace. No soldier was allowed to become a member of the church unless he took an oath that he would refuse to obey an order to kill. If a member of the church joined the army, according to the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, “they must be rejected for they have despised God.”
Along with Imperial Christianity, of course, came a radical change in attitude. A thousand years after Christ, soldiers wearing the cross massacred the population of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. Innumerable wars have been waged by Christians over the centuries, often in the name of Christ, and often against other Christians. In 1862 American soldiers marched to war against other Americans, for example, singing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” seeking God’s favor as they trampled out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.
These days, as our church parking lots are filled with cars bearing pro-war bumper stickers, let’s try to remain mindful that the book we carry into the building with us includes the following:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Matthew 5:9
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. 2 Corinthians 10: 3-4
The Psalmist asks God to Scatter the nations that delight in war. Psalms 68:30
And every year at Chrismas we read the prophecy from Isaiah 9: 6, regarding the coming of the messiah, but we seem to always leave out verse 5:
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.