Do the teachings of Jesus Christ on peace and nonviolence contradict what many “Christian” nations and individuals practice? The answer may surprise you!
Christianity is the largest religion in the world. Today over 2.18 billion people around the world, representing over 32.5 percent of the world’s population, profess Christianity. From the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life list of the 10 countries with the largest number of Christians, the following are the top five ranked by percentage who are Christians:
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (63,150,000 Christians; 95.7 percent of population).
- Mexico (107,780,000; 95 percent).
- Philippines (86,790,000; 93.1 percent).
- Brazil (175,770,000; 90.2 percent).
- United States (246,780,000; 79.5 percent).
But do the high percentages of professing Christians in these nations make them safe and peaceful refuges from crime and violence? Unfortunately, the answer is no.
Consider three of the top “Christian” nations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with its nearly 96 percent Christian population, is also one of the most dangerous nations in the world. The Congo has been embroiled in a bloody civil war for many years that has resulted in over 3 million deaths. The DRC is also considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women due to the high occurrence of rape.
Mexico, with its 95 percent Christian population, is also a very dangerous nation. Mexico has been engaged in a drug war for many years, and 27,199 people were murdered in Mexico in 2011. (That’s a rate of 24 homicides per 100,000 people.)
The United States has the highest murder rate of highly developed countries; 14,827 people were murdered in the United States in 2012.
And some of the most destructive wars in human history have been fought by Christian nations. World War I, World War II, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War and the Thirty Years War were all wars where the majority of combatants, on both sides, were Christians.
Clearly, Christianity has not led to world peace—even among professing Christian nations.
Christians are to be peacemakers
The purpose of this “Christ vs. Christianity” column is to show how many churches and individuals who profess the name of Christ teach and practice things that are directly contrary to what Jesus Christ actually taught. If you would judge Jesus Christ by some of those who profess to follow Him, you might think that Jesus would be an advocate of individuals’ expression of disdain and even hatred toward their enemies and of nations’ reliance on battle-hardened military might.
But is this actually what Jesus stood for—or would stand for today?
The Sermon on the Mount (found in Matthew 5, 6 and 7) is one of the most detailed teachings of Jesus Christ recorded in the New Testament. In this vital sermon, Jesus Christ laid out the central facets of the way of life He taught His followers.
One of the central themes of the Sermon on the Mount is Christ’s expectation that His followers be characterized by peace—not violence or war.
In the famous opening to this great sermon known as the Beatitudes, Jesus taught, “Blessed [happy] are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). Christ’s followers should be characterized by living a way that leads to peace—totally the opposite of a life characterized by violence and strife.
The Christian standard of being a peacemaker is found throughout the New Testament. The apostle Paul wrote that Christians are to do whatever possible to “live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Many scriptures support the basic truth that Christians are to “pursue peace with all people” (Hebrews 12:14; see also 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 5:22; James 3:17).
Christ and the spirit of the Sixth Commandment
Jesus showed that it’s not just the physical act of murder that breaks the Sixth Commandment. Jesus Christ also made a shocking statement in commenting on the Sixth Commandment (of the 10 Commandments). He said:
Inner anger and hostility toward other human beings also break this law.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).
Jesus was expanding the meaning of the Sixth Commandment by revealing the spirit of the law against taking human life. Jesus showed that it’s not just the physical act of murder that breaks the Sixth Commandment. Inner anger and hostility toward other human beings also break this law.
Yes, having feelings of hatred toward other human beings is a sin and breaks the Sixth Commandment!
The rest of the Bible elaborates on this key statement by Christ. Notice what John wrote: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Many other scriptures make it clear that hating another person is sin and breaks this commandment (2 Corinthians 12:20; Titus 3:3; 1 John 2:9-11).
Notice this teaching later in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. ...
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44).
These words could be considered some of the hardest to apply of all of Jesus Christ’s teachings! The Gospel accounts show us that Jesus not only taught this standard, but practiced it (Matthew 10:23; 26:51-53; Luke 4:28-30; John 8:49; 10:39).
Christians should operate on the principle found in Romans 13:10: “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Why Violence in the Old Testament?
How do we reconcile the clear teachings of Jesus Christ on nonviolence with the many examples of violence and war in the Old Testament? Even a casual reading of the Old Testament will show that the nation of Israel engaged in warfare and some of God’s servants (like King David) fought and killed people.
Here are four keys to understanding why this is not a contradiction.
- God's Consistent Law
God’s law against murder is universal and existed during Old Testament times. His expectation was always for human beings not to kill or harm other human beings (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). In fact, God’s law against murder existed even before the 10 Commandments were codified on Mount Sinai (Genesis 4:8-11).
- Lack of Faith
God promised to fight Israel’s battles for them if they would demonstrate faith and obey Him (Exodus 14:13-14; 23:27-30). Unfortunately, by Israel’s refusal to trust and obey God, they chose to fight to receive and defend the land God gave them (Exodus 16:2-3, 28; 17:9; Deuteronomy 1:26-45).
- The "Heart" Factor
God permitted certain behaviors, such as divorce (and, we believe, warfare), in ancient Israel because of the “hardness of your hearts” (Matthew 19:8). One of the primary differences between the Old and New Covenants is that under the Old Covenant, Israel was not given the Holy Spirit that is necessary to understand and fulfill the spirit of God’s laws. The Holy Spirit is provided under the New Covenant to write the law on human hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:31-33). In simple terms, New Covenant Christians are expected to live up to a higher standard than those who lived under the Old Covenant.
King David, though he was a man after God’s heart, was reprimanded by God because he “shed much blood and … made great wars” (1 Chronicles 22:8). Because of this, God did not allow David to accomplish one of his greatest goals—to build a permanent temple for God in Jerusalem.
In summary, there is no contradiction between the Old and New Testaments! God’s consistent will was for His people to be peaceful and nonviolent. In the New Testament Jesus Christ expanded on the Sixth Commandment to include hatred and anger—and He expects Christians to show love to others and practice peace and nonviolence.
Jesus Christ’s teachings and practices are very clear when we honestly read the four Gospel accounts. Christ’s followers are to demonstrate love for others—and one major way we are to demonstrate love is through a life of peace and nonviolence.
Jesus Christ wants His followers to put their trust in Him for protection and to be noted for their peace and love for others! The Kingdom of God, the focus of Jesus Christ’s message, is all about how Jesus will bring peace to the world (Isaiah 9:7).