By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
There is something wrong with that word “nonresistance.” Perhaps it is more a problem with the English language, which simply has no single word to adequately express the doctrine of nonresistance.
The early Anabaptists used the German term Wehrlosigkeit, meaning “defenselessness.” This term, although it does a good job of capturing the spirit of Jesus’ words to be “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), does not capture very much of the doctrine of nonresistance.
The problem with the words “nonresistance” and “defenselessness” is that they capture only one side of the doctrine. “I refuse to defend myself and to resist evil, because Jesus said not to.” This is only one side of the doctrine. Jesus said to “love your enemies.” From this we conclude that we cannot shoot and kill our enemies, for “Love worketh no ill to his neighbour” (Romans 13:10). We need to take better notice of the rest of what Jesus said, however:
“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (from Matthew 5:44).
Notice the positive side of nonresistance. Nonresistance does not only have a negative side, i.e., what I will not do, but also a positive side – what I will do. Read again the underlined words – love, bless, do good, pray for. This is the positive side. Not only will I love my enemy enough to not kill him, I will love him enough to do something positive to him, do good to him, and pray a blessing for him from the Lord Jesus. When someone does something to me which offends me, I will not just ignore him, I will tell him, “May the Lord Jesus bless you.” If my enemy who did something to me is needy, I will tell him, “Come over to my house for a good meal.” If my nation is warring against another nation, not only will I not go to participate in the war, if possible and as the Lord leads, I will participate in relief efforts for the suffering people – my “enemies” – of the other nation.
Unfortunately, discussions of nonresistance sometimes become so full of defending the negative, “what I won’t do” side of the doctrine – which, please understand me, does need to be done – that the beautiful positive side gets very little attention. In closing here, let us look at a few examples of people who practiced both sides of nonresistance.
The Apostle James. Acts 12:2 records that Herod “killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Martyrs Mirror gives more details on his martyrdom. Not only did he not resist being led out to death, but he forgave his persecutors. The executioner, seeing James’s trial, was so touched that on the way to the place of execution, he repented of his sins, became a Christian, and asked James’s forgiveness. James forgave the man and gave him a Christian kiss. Another man then executed both of them.
Dirk Willems. When being pursued by hostile authorities wanting to burn him at the stake, Dirk not only did not hurt them, but turned back at the risk of his life to pull his pursuer from a frozen river he had fallen into. He was then arrested and burned for his Biblical faith in the Lord Jesus.
CO’s of WWI. During World War I, the conscientious objectors from Mennonite, Amish, Brethren, etc. backgrounds suffered immensely for their convictions. Stories of hangings, beatings, imprisonments, etc. by members of theU.S. military are legion. Many of them continued steadfast under trial, not giving in to becoming soldiers and treating their persecutors with nonresistant love. They did not stop at this, however – after the war, many young people from these churches went toEurope to participate in relief work.
Joseph. Joseph was a beautiful example of nonresistance who lived, as people say, centuries before his time. Not only did Joseph refrain from harming his brothers, when he had opportunity, he heaped blessing and good upon them – giving their money back, giving them gifts and a place to live inEgypt, etc. He did test them, to be sure, but his overall record was one of love and good toward them.
The Lord Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate example of all sides of nonresistance. He not only refrained from harming or wishing evil on his persecutors, but from the cross He prayed for them – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
May the Holy Spirit help us to believe and practice both sides of nonresistance, that we may be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).