I’m quite excited about this one – yesterday I came across a new release from Baker Academic, The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment, by Ronald Sider.
Often I have been in discussions with people about my somewhat unusual views on such matters, and have brought up the fact that for 300 years the early Church was essentially unanimous in their opposition to war, military service, the gladiatorial games, capital punishment, abortion, and infanticide.
Not that I want to take a position of “the early church said it, I believe it, that settles it,” but at the same time such a unified witness from the community of faith should give us pause before we go about brushing off such prohibitions against killing.
The problem in those discussions has often been demonstrating this was in fact the position of the early church, especially when I’ve come across that evidence in dozens of different books and articles.
This is where Sider’s The Early Church on Killing comes in.
Not simply an argument for Christian nonviolence, Sider’s 200-page sourcebook is almost entirely made up of primary source material, the words of the Church Fathers and Mothers themselves, with some helpful introduction to the various documents. So what we get is first hand evidence of what the early church thought about killing, and a convenient source for referencing these challenging words.
The conclusion Sider arrives at by the end is that “First, up until the time of Constantine there is not a single Christian writer known to us who says that it is legitimate for Christians to kill or join the military. Second, there are a substantial number of passages written over a period of many years that explicitly say that Christians must not and/or do not kill or join the military… the rejection of killing is comprehensive” pg. 190.
Such evidence might not be the last word in a Christian discussion about war and other forms of killing, but it is at the very least a crucial first word that we should not easily forget.