Nonresistance: A Personal Background

Oct 10, 2013

By popular request, I’ve been bringing back some of the stuff I’ve written about nonresistance. You may have read that I come from an Anabaptist background, where nonresistance was one of the major distinctives. It was probably one of the top two sticking points in my theological journey towards truth, one of only a few doctrines I really didn’t want to let go.

My parents began attending an Anabaptist church when I was fairly young, so many of my formative years were spent learning, among other things, that fighting and killing (whether as part of the military or in self-defense) were utterly abominable. Only non-Christians (or people who thought they were Christians - but how could they be?) would engage in such a moral travesty. The path of Christ requires that we lay down as lambs to the slaughter, whenever someone tries to hurt us (or someone else), for whatever reason. Only so could the world find peace.

Furthermore, we were taught, this was the belief of Christianity (at least real Christianity) throughout the ages. You just had to read Fox’s Book of Martyrs to see that; page after page of innocent Christians being hung, burned, beheaded, dismembered, and generally slaughtered in every way imaginable. It was sad, but this was the price of peace.

This doesn’t just go for times of religious persecution; it was a general way of life. If someone threatened you, or your family, your recourse is prayer. After all, they said, “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” We don’t fight with spears and swords and guns; we fight with the power of God. This was backed up with collections of stories of miraculous deliverances through peaceful means, prayer and singing and the like. It all seemed to make sense.

Then I reached a point in my life where I started to study the Scriptures for myself, to be able to defend the things I believed against those who disagreed with me. I enjoyed a good, rigorous debate when I was on the right side, and at first this was just another debate - I took up swords with a friend of mine who didn’t believe in nonresistance and we went at it.

For a long while I felt like I was winning, but seeds of doubt kept growing in my mind. There were parts of the Bible that were difficult to reconcile - God’s commands in the Old Testament, for example - and at last I resolved to settle the issue once and for all with a thorough study of the matter. I purchased several books and read through the Bible from beginning to end, making a list of all the verses I could find that referred to or taught on violence. Then I dug in.

You’ll see a small bit of my journey in the previous nonresistance posts, written in late 2009 and early 2010; to make a long story short, by the conclusion of my study, I was convinced that Anabaptist nonresistance was not Biblical. I began work on a long booklet (or short book) that would present my case and debunk nonresistance, but due partly to my busy life and partly to my short attention span, that effort petered out after only a few chapters.

So I never actually ended up putting my conclusions in writing.

Recently, though, I’ve had a few of my friends encouraging me to pick up the pen again and finish what I started four years ago. I’m dusting off my old notes and preparing to present a revised and updated take on Anabaptist nonresistance, and what the Bible really does teach on the issue. I plan to finish this out, post by post, more or less following the outline I laid out back then. If I can, I’m going to try to have it completed by the time classes start in January. We shall see how that plays out.

Your comments and encouragement are welcome along the way!

Next post: Nonresistance: Setting the Stakes