Given how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love and esteem one another, and given how God has revealed this triune nature to the world through the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the world has now been inaugurated into a new era of biblical glory. This glory is tied to worship, and so as the Church takes root and flourishes throughout the world, the glory of this godliness grows and spreads.
At the heart of the full biblical ethic is this fundamental attitude:
"Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:20-21).
But there is an easy mistake to make here, and it is the result of switching terms halfway through the discussion. "Do not return evil for evil" is not a nonviolent ethic, but rather a righteous ethic. If violence and evil were synonyms, then to return violence for evil would be disobedience. But some violence is righteous, as when God does it, or when men deputized by Him use it. And if nonviolence were synonymous with righteousness, then perhaps we could reason our way to the position that violence is excluded by the command not to return evil for evil. But it isn't -- there are many situations in which a refusal to use violence would be unrighteous.
The peaceful nature of the destination does not determine the ethic for the journey. The law of God determines the ethic for the journey. Until we get there, we are to do as we are told. We are not to do as we think we will be doing when we get there. There will be no sex as we know it in the resurrection -- that does not make sexual love in marriage now "anti-Trinitarian." The destination is one thing, and the journey another. The old spiritual puts it well, "Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside." The fact that every believing heart longs for the day when we will lay down sword and shield is actually grounds for holding more tightly to both of them now.
But of course, there is a clinging to the weapons of war that is idolatrous and unbelieving. So what else is new? Unbelief does that with all sorts of things. Sex, wine, comfort, food, or guns -- the idolatrous use of a created thing does not outlaw the obedient use of that same thing.
If an intruder came into my home, and I fought him off, it would be beside the point to say something like, "You know, the Bible says not to return evil for evil." I would reply, "That's right. That's why I didn't return evil for evil. With regard to the intruder, I returned unrighteous violence with righteous violence. Had I done nothing, that would have been evil. I would have been returning all the good my wife has done for me with the evil of cowardice. Returning evil for evil would have been bad. But I am sure you would agree that returning evil for good would have been worse."
One of the central problems with pacifism is that it has an inexorable tendency to flatten the difference between rightous violence and unrighteous violence -- just as someone who believed that every form of sex was defiling would necessarily have to flatten the distinction between marital lovemaking and rape. Since both are sinful, he would argue, the differences between them are only of degree and not differences in kind. But the difference between a man fighting to possess another man's wife, and the husband fighting to protect his wife -- that difference is stark. A vast chasm separates them, and righteousness is on one side of the chasm and unrighteousness on the other.
Because pacifism flattens the distinction between good and evil, we can see scripturally that pacifism is a form of infantilism, and is not suited for rule. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not an evil tree -- it, like everything else in the Garden, was good. When Adam took from the tree, the problem was that he took from it in disobedience and prematurely. God Himself says that when he had done so, he had become like God in knowing both good and evil (Gen. 3:22). The problem was not that man had come to know the difference because the perfect God had that knowledge. The problem was when and how.
Knowing the difference beween good and evil, being able to make these most necessary distinctions, is something that the Bible describes as necessary for a mature ruler. When God established Solomon as a king in Israel, He gave him the ability to distinguish good and evil. And we, who are being prepared to govern the world in Christ, are offered the same gift. "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:14).
Pacifism does not just retreat from violence; it retreats from wisdom, it retreats from making these most necessary distinctions. Retreat from the antithesis is retreat from rule, and the Scriptures throughout tell us that we are called to rule, we are being prepared for rule. It is not a coincedence that pacifists, in order to function in safety, have to depend on somebody else's rule, someone else's police force, to do their dirty work for them. "Let the Gentiles do it." Some passengers don't want to pay the fare, but they want to ride anyway.
So now, two thousand years after the advent of the Christ, there are certain circumstances where killing a man is holy, righteous, and good. It is good. And there are other circumstances where it is evil. Flattening the distinction between them, because we are headed for an eternal state in which evil will have been destroyed, is to be guilty of a very basic category mistake. That category mistake is a refusal to look at the distinction between good and evil head on.
Ironically, this mistake puts off the day when the Church will be equipped to rule, and therefore we have to say that pacifists in the Church are a major impediment to the coming of the time of peace that the prophets talked about so wonderfully. Pacifists don't just cause war in the commonly recognized way -- through weakening a particular nation's resolve and emboldening a neighboring agressor. That sometimes happens, and it is unfortunate -- but it is not my point here. Pacifists encourage wars because they demonstrate that the Church cannot yet tell the clear difference between good and evil, and is therefore not mature enough for her members to partake in rule. And peace will not come until the Church equips her sons to take up their responsibilities in the sphere of civil authority, with the law of God in one hand, the grace of God in the other, and mercy under their tongue.