Will the Real Christianity Please Stand Up!: Part 3, Killing and War

Related to the Constantinian heresy is the Christian relationship to killing and war. 

Specifically, if we're looking for the "real" Christianity, to see if the taproot of the faith is good or bad, then we have to examine the earliest centuries of the church, from the New Testament writers up to Constantine. And what did these, the earliest Christians, teach about killing and war?

The church historian Roland Sider has complied the evidence in his book The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook On War, Abortion, And Capital Punishment. In summarizing all the historical evidence, Sider concludes that "every extant Christian statement on killing and war up until the time of Constantine says Christians must not kill, even in war." In fact, the common practice for Roman soldiers who converted to Christianity was for them to leave the military.

Now, the point I want to raise here is historical, rather than political or moral. That is, we can debate the issues of self-defense, just war, or Christians serving in the military. But I want us in this post to focus on the question of this series: Are "bad Christianities" heretical aberrations? Or is Christianity itself intrinsically bad? What is the "real" Christianity?

Personally, I think the pacifism of the early church is helpful in answering such questions. Perhaps, as many argue, Christians can be involved in killing, especially after Constantine when Christians began to serve and rule within nation states. To be sure, that's a furiously contentious debate. Regardless, the history is clear that the origins of Christianity were not bound up with killing. The norm within early Christianity was non-violence.

It's undoubtedly the case that Christians have been involved in killing, war, crusades, and inquisitions throughout history. But that violence can't be traced back to ethic of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and the witness of the early church. The blood started flowing with Constantine, not Christ. 

Now, does that mean that Christians can't be involved in things like self-defense or a just war? Again, those are debated questions. My point for this series is that it seems pretty clear to me that Christianity starts going off the rails whenever it is working hard to accommodate killing, and that bad Christianities are produced by just that sort of labor. 

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