Many times in the discussion of Christians and their attitudes toward war, nonresistance and pacifism get tumbled together as a single doctrine without distinction. In fact, nonresistance has numerous facets which make it unique from the doctrines of pacifism. Nonresistance appears to take a broader view of one’s responsibility as a citizen of a country and of the kingdom when it states that Christians should strive to avoid conflict as a daily practice but may, in times of war, serve their fellow citizens through military service in a noncombatant role. Matthew 5:39 gives the doctrine its name;
But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
This verse can lead a reader astray into thinking that the Lord has called His followers into a passivity in the face of evil but there is much nuance that confers a more positive and active sense to the command. The Christian’s initial order of business upon regeneration is to begin the process of separating him/herself from the world and its ways, including the common use of force to accomplish the objectives of living. The Christian also begins to develop an awareness that they are citizens now of a different kingdom of a higher order while being sojourners in the world. Behavioral expectations come from the former to be practiced in the latter.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
While we sojourn here in this world, the Lord does not however command us to disengage from it. On the contrary, we are obligated to use spiritual means to bring blessing and do good for others (Rom 12:17-21). This said, the most crucial component of the new thinking of a regenerate person is to be directed toward the recognition of a new citizenship and the outward display of that privilege. Through the differences that are to be noted in Christian behavior, an evangelistic awareness is created among non-Christians, attracting some back to the Cross. They are at the center of God’s will and demonstrate their full faith in such. Some may have to pay with their lives for the privilege of following the Lord while others may be rescued by supernatural means. In either case, the testimony that remains will bear witness to greatness of God.
The distinction between nonresistance and pacifism comes in the interpretation of a couple of points. The first is the separation of the Church from the state. The commands of the Bible are written to the regenerate believers who, through their belief, obligate themselves to following and applying these commands. The pacifist will say that because violence is prohibited for the Christian, it is therefore prohibited for the government as well. Second, while Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom and look forward to eschatological restoration of that kingdom again on earth, they retain a responsibility to the state in which they live. The citizen must meet their obligations to support the state (Rom 12:1-7) (except as armed combatants) trusting that the end of the age will come at its appropriate time and usher in the new. This important distinction allows the nonresistant Christian to serve their government in non-combative roles for the common good.
The unbelieving world gives no credence to the doctrine of nonresistance because it is so contrary to the thinking and practice of the unregenerate. It appears that many fellow Christians also share this disdain of Christians who seek to follow the path of nonresistance. Those against the doctrine posit three objections against it. First, they point to Israel as a warring state as recorded in the Word of God. It is to be noted that Israel was a state of the world and an unregenerate people following a different set of commandments. Second, there appears to be a contradiction between the commands of Christ and his call to nonresistance. Critics point to passages such as Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Careful exegesis shows that this passage focuses on spiritual division and not war; the same practice usually clears up the confusion surrounding other passages (Luke 22:35-38, 22:50). Finally, there is difficulty in defining the correct relationship of believers to civil government. This is perhaps the most challenging argument against the practice, sometimes leading to charges of hypocrisy. Romans 13:1-7 can be referenced as defining the proper relationship.