First off, it’s not pacifism that I have a problem with nor a pacifistic interpretation of the Bible. I find pacifism to be a highly admirable position and have frequent disagreements with my own father when it comes to topics concerning war and the death penalty and torture. He is hardly a pacifist by any means. I do not believe pacifism is a heresy. In truth, I am completely unaware of any official orthodox position when it comes to how we should deal with war or anything of the sort. But I certainly do not support the position that those who do not affirm a pacifist position are “un-Christlike”. Many of the pacifists I know share a great appreciation of The Sermon on the Mount of Jesus. Jesus says many things in there that make it sound as if he is making pacifism the “official” doctrine of the Church.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9)
“Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;” (Matt. 5:38-39)
Some verses later though seem to contradict this pacifist message. For instance,
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)
“He said to them, “But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)
If Jesus is strictly speaking a pacifist, why then is he telling us to sell our mantle and buy a sword? Of course, we are to be peacemakers both spiritually and in terms of creating worldly peace but often times our decisions to follow Jesus put us at animosity with other people. For instance, Jesus knew people who chose to follow him would be persecuted so why should we expect peace when following Jesus? Jesus also knew that there would be false prophets to be resisted. Galatians 1:9 reads, “If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Of course, we are not to return evil with evil deeds but what the pacifists are stating is that war is an inherent evil. A peacemaker would be one who resorts to war at last resort. No one would state that what the United States did during World War II, opting to stay out of the war as Jews suffered and died under the power of Nazi Germany was “good”. No one would have stated that doing nothing about the Nazis in that time would have been good. War was necessary at that given time. Yes, it was evil that it had to happen but the nations that ultimately decided to defend the Jews and war with the Nazis were doing the right thing.
Another issue with pacifists is that they typically assert that Christians who kill other Christians are not really Christians. But people who claim to be Christians are not necessarily Christians themselves. They may be wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). The question is would Jesus approve of the torture or death penalty of those who entice others to sin? Pacifists would say no referencing John 7:53-8:11. But if the context is looked at, Jesus is condemning judgmental attitudes of other people who simply want to throw the first stone. Jesus, in fact, says that it would be better for someone to have a mill-stone tied around their neck and thrown to the bottom of the sea than to entice someone to sin (Matt. 18:6). Wolves in sheep’s clothing do entice others to sin, there is no doubt about that. If having a mill-stone tied around your neck and thrown to the bottom of the sea is at least more merciful than the worse part, then I don’t think Jesus would be necessarily anti-torture. Torture and the death penalty as punishments, I think are valid. In practicality they fail (who’s guilty and who’s not?). The death penalty can sometimes be more merciful. But all set aside, I don’t think one should simply jump to the conclusion that non-pacifists, supporters of the death penalty, and supporters of cruel and unusual punishment are inherently un-Christlike unless they support these things “for the fun of it”.