An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


The renunciation of the use of violent force that would take the life of another person. The early Christian community was of two minds whether a Christian could be a soldier. On the one hand, Jesus' positive appraisal of the faith of the centurion (Lk 7:9) and the acceptance of civil authority, specifically the military, in Romans (13:4) and in 1 Peter (2:14), served as warrant for the just use of force. This came to be developed as the just war theory. On the other hand, Jesus was believed to have rejected the use of force in his teaching. This was seen, for example, in Jesus' teaching to “turn the other cheek” (Lk 6:29; Mt 5:39). Jesus' opposition to the use of force was also seen in his life, in the rebuke of Peter's drawing of the sword (Jn 18:10-11), and in his willing acceptance of his own crucifixion. By the fourth century, with the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, the end of Christian persecution, and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion, pacifism was assumed largely by the monastic movements. The renunciation of force was believed to be a higher way of life. The Reformation gave rise to pacifist Anabaptist groups which have continued to the present. These include, most notably, the historic “peace churches”-Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren. While Christian pacifism has historically been grounded in an absolute prohibition against the use of force, three other kinds of pacifism have developed: pragmatic, technological, and vocational. Pragmatic pacifists believe that non-violent suffering can bring about the end of violence. Technological pacifists believe that pacifism is required in opposing modern war because of the threat such war poses to all creation. Vocational pacifists believe that the renunciation of violence is not a universal obligation but a specific calling that bears witness to the larger ends of God. In Anglicanism, pacifism has generally been rejected except as vocational witness. See Episcopal Peace Fellowship, The (EPF).

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.