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    Painting by Unknown Italian Master, The Battle of the Ticino, 1550s

    Christianity and Nonviolence

    Can there be such a thing as just war from the Christian perspective? One of Anabaptism’s foundational documents seeks the answer.

    By Peter Riedemann

    February 8, 2023
    • John Mays

      This is very wrong. Should Ukrainian Christians “turn the other cheek” to the Russian aggressors ?

    • Michael Nacrelli

      This isn't quite on par with Thomas Aquinas. There are many good reasons most Christians find the arguments for pacifism unconvincing.

    • Nigel Parrott

      I agree wholeheartedly with this article,and the Biblical truth behind it. However I do question if I am Christian enough to stand by and watch, someone attack my spouse,child or grandchildren an not intervene?

    This article is a chapter from the book Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith.

    People Are Grafted into Christ

    God draws near to the one whose heart is fearful, who is sorry for his sin, and who does not know where to turn in his distress. The world itself is too restricted for him, and he lifts up his heart to God alone.footnote God will show himself to this person, provide comfort in his sorrow, and point to his Son, who says, “Come to me, all you who are heavily burdened, and I will give you renewed strength. Put on my yoke, for it is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). Such a call the Lord extends to us through his servants whom he has chosen from the worldfootnote to be his witnesses.footnoteThose who hear his voice and come to him will never be rejected.footnote

    We teach further that Christ came into the world to bring salvation to sinners.footnote As it is written, “This is the Father’s will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him shall not be lost but shall have everlasting life.”footnote We teach also that a person may be planted and grafted into Christ through faith. This is how it takes place: as soon as a person hears the gospel of Christ and believes it from the heart, he receives the seal of the Holy Spirit. As Paul says, “After you believed, you were sealed with the Spirit of the promise. That is the Holy Spirit, who is the pledge of our inheritance, the promise that we who belong to God shall be redeemed, to the praise of his glory.”footnote

    This spirit of Christ, promised and given to all believers, makes them free from the law or power of sin and grafts them into Christ.footnote He makes them one with him in mind, in his very character and nature, so that they become one plant and organism with him.footnote Christ is the root or stem; we are the branches. As he himself says, “I am the true vine, and you are the branches.footnote” Thus we are one substance and essence with him, truly one bread and body. He is the head, and we are all members, belonging one to another. footnote

    Christ is the root and the vine, and we are grafted into him through faith. Just as the sap rises from the root and makes the branches fruitful, so the spirit of Christ rises from the root, Christ, into the branches and twigs to make them all fruitful. The twigs are of the same nature as the root and bear its kind of fruit.footnote Christ shows this in a parable: “No one gathers figs from thistles or grapes from thorns. No good tree can yield bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bring forth good fruit, but each tree is known by its own fruit.”footnote Christ is a good tree, a true vine; hence, only good can flourish and be fruitful in him.footnote

    Thus each person becomes one with God and God one with that person, as the Father is one with his Son. Each person is gathered and brought into the church of Christ so that each may remain in God.…

    Painting by Unknown Italian Master, The Battle of the Ticino, 1550s

    Unknown Italian Master, The Battle of the Ticino, 1550s


    Christ, the prince of peace, has prepared a kingdom for himself, namely, the church, and has won this kingdom by shedding his own blood. Therefore, all worldly warfare in this kingdom has come to an end. This is what was promised through the prophets: “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into grape knives, pruning hooks, and scythes. From that time on, nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”footnote

    Therefore, Christians should not take part in war, nor should they use force for purposes of vengeance. Paul exhorts us not to avenge ourselves but to leave retribution to the Lord, who says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”footnote Since vengeance now belongs to God and not to us, it ought to be left to him and not to be practiced by us. Since we are Christ’s disciples, our lives should be examples of his nature. Jesus could have repaid evil with evil, but he did not.footnote He could, indeed, have protected himself against his enemies by striking down all who wanted to seize him with a single word.footnote But he did not, nor would he permit others to do so. He said to Peter, “Put your sword in its place.”footnote This shows how our king, with a powerful army, sets out against his enemies, defeats them, and exercises vengeance! He restores Malchus’ ear that had been struck off.footnote  Jesus also says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.”footnote

    It is clear that Christians cannot take part in war or avenge themselves.… Whoever does so forsakes and denies Christ and is untrue to Christ’s nature.

    Christ wants us to act as he did. Therefore, he commands us in these words: “It was said to the people of old, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say that you should not resist evil. If someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn and offer him the other one.”footnote That makes it clear that you ought neither to avenge yourself nor go to war. Instead, as the prophet says, offer your back to those who strike and your cheeks to those who tear at the beard.footnote  That means we should suffer with patience and wait upon God, who is just. He will requite the evil.footnote

    Some may wish to say that David, who was loved by God, went to war, and so did other saints;footnote thus when war is justified, we may do the same. But we say no to that. David and the other saints went to war, but we ought not to, because of the words quoted above: “It was said to the people of old, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I tell you, do not resist evil.”footnote Here Christ makes the distinction. There is no need for many words, for it is clear that Christians cannot take part in war or avenge themselves.footnote Whoever does so forsakes and denies Christ and is untrue to Christ’s nature.…

    Making Swords

    Since Christians should either beat their swords into plowshares or put them aside,footnote they should also not make them, for they are used solely to kill or wound people. Christ has not come to destroy people,footnote and therefore his disciples should refuse to do so too. Thus Christ says, “Do you not know to what Spirit you belong?”footnote  This is as though he would say, “Does the Spirit of grace teach you to destroy other people? Or do you wish to live according to the flesh and turn away from the Spirit, whose children you have become? Do you not know that I have not come to destroy people? If you want to be my disciples, you must let my Spirit rule over you and not live according to the flesh.  For whoever obeys the flesh cannot please God.”footnote

    Now, since Christians should not practice vengeance,footnote neither should they make the weapons by which others carry out vengeance and destruction, in order not to take part in other peoples’ sins.footnote Therefore, we do not make swords, spears, muskets, or any such weapons. However, what is made for people’s benefit and daily use, such as bread knives, axes, hoes, and the like, we can and do make. Someone might say, “But these could be used to harm and kill others.” Yet even so, they are not made for that purpose, so there is nothing to prevent our making them. If such a tool should ever be used to harm someone, we do not share the guilt. The one who misuses it will have to accept the judgment.footnote


    1. Isa. 58:6–10
    2. John 15:16
    3. Acts 1:7–8
    4. John 6:37
    5. 1 Tim. 1:15
    6. John 6:39–40
    7. Eph. 1:13–14
    8. Rom. 8:1–11; Joel 2:28–29; Acts 2:16–21; Rom. 8:1–10
    9. 1 Cor. 10:14–21
    10. John 15:1, 5
    11. Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:20
    12. Rom. 11:16
    13. Matt. 7:16–20; 12:33; Luke 6:43–44
    14. John 15:1–2; Rom. 11:16
    15. Isa. 2:3–4; Mic. 4:2–3 
    16. Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:17–19; Heb. 10:30
    17. 1 Pet. 2:21–23
    18. Matt. 26:53
    19. Matt. 26:52; John 18:11
    20. Luke 22:51
    21. Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34
    22. Matt. 5:38–39
    23. Isa. 50:6
    24. Deut. 32:35–36; Joel 3:1
    25. Gen. 14:14–16; Num. 31:1–12; Josh. 6:20–21; 8:1–29; Judg. 4:6–16, 23–24; 1 Sam. 17:20–52
    26. Matt. 5:38–39
    27. Luke 9:53–55
    28. Isa. 2:3–4; Mic. 4:2–3
    29. John 12:47
    30. Luke 9:5
    31. Gal. 3:2–5; Rom. 8: 8
    32. Matt. 5:21; Rom. 12:14
    33. 1 Tim. 5:22
    34. Ezek. 33:18–20
    Contributed By PeterRidemann Peter Riedemann

    Peter Riedemann (1506–1556) was an early Anabaptist leader and missionary.

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