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Pacifism is a term derived from the Latin meaning peacemakers, the word being used in Matthew 5:9. New Testament or Christian pacifism is therefore identical in its meaning with New Testament non-resistance, also taught in the Sermon on the Mount and throughout the New Testament. As generally employed, however, the term pacifism is used to cover many varieties of peacemaking, which may or may not be Christian in their orientation. Some modern pacifists oppose all wars and some do not. Some who do oppose all wars find their authority in the will of God and in the word of Scripture, while others find it largely in human reason.

While recognizing these differences and realizing the impossibility of a generalization which covers accurately all cases, the following would seem to be the chief criticisms of modern pacifism generally, seen from the viewpoint of New Testament nonresistance as found in the Anabaptist tradition:

(1) Pacifism too frequently sees peace as an end in itself, whereas the New Testament sees it as "the fruit of the Christian Gospel; peace is the fruit of regenerated individual lives. . . . While it includes social and political reconstruction, these collectivist improvements also root in the radical change necessary in the human heart." Thus, the primary task of the peacemaker is to bring individuals into direct contact with Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.

(2) Pacifism is frequently too optimistic concerning the possible achievement of world peace. It does not reckon sufficiently with the reality of sin, and too lightly assumes the transformation of the unregenerate social order into the kingdom of God.

(3) Pacifism frequently fails to understand the basic nature of the state as an organization for the maintenance of order by coercive means in a sinful social order. It too lightly essays to administer this state by Christian principles, whereas the police power of the state is in fact the wrath of God at work among men, causing their evil doings to be kept in check by forcible means which are likewise evil. It is freely recognized that some states approach the Christian standard more nearly than do others, and that some statesmen are men of integrity and Christian character more than others. In the best of states within the unregenerate social order, however, the basic nature remains the same, hence a frequent pacifist assumption that the state may use the Sermon on the Mount as its basic constitution is an illusion.

(4) As a consequence of this misunderstanding pacifism frequently compromises with the coercive methods of the state. In so doing it waters down the high ethic of the New Testament. Its love is not sufficiently far-reaching. Nonresistance, love, and the cross give way to nonviolent coercion or nonviolence, which in its essence is a form of warfare.

See also Nonviolence, Nonresistance


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Daniels, Fred. "Theories of Conscientious Objectors Toward War in the 16th and 17th Centuries." Ph. D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1954.

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Author(s) Guy F Hershberger
Date Published 1959

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Hershberger, Guy F. "Pacifism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 Sep 2023.

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Hershberger, Guy F. (1959). Pacifism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 104-105, 1113. All rights reserved.

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