by J. C. Wenger

This paper was read at the Peace Witness Seminar, Evangelicals in Social Action, Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, Virginia, November 30, 1967.

It is now being published in booklet form in the hope that it may contribute to the current discussion of Christian social ethics, a discussion which promises to be increasingly fruitful as the disciples of Christ seek to apply His teachings in a world of tensions and warfare.

[*] Initial Definitions
[*] What Is Involved
[*] Some Basic Differences
[*] The Record
[*] Celsus and Origen
[*] Further Evidence
[*] Fourth - Century About-Face
[*] State Religion
[*] What Does the New Testament Teach?
[*] Historic Theologies of Church and State
[*] Called to What?
[*] The Two Kingdoms
[*] In a Democracy
[*] A Witness in Action
[*] The Question of Priorities
[*] A Thorny Question
[*] A Word of Gratitude
[*] About the Author

Initial Definitions

"Blessed are the peacemakers," declared our Lord. The Latin Bible in Matthew 5:9 uses the term pacifici for peacemakers, and it is from this Latin word that our term pacifism derives. A pacifist is, in the loose sense, a person who labors for peace and for the abolition of strife, bloodshed, and warfare. In a stricter sense, the term pacifist is often applied to a person who declines to serve in the military because it is contrary to his convictions to destroy human life. If such a person bases his ethics on the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, he may well be called a Christian pacifist. In this sense the terms pacifist and nonresistant are synonyms.

The term nonresistant is of course taken from the word of Christ, "Resist not him that is evil" (Matthew 5:39). Or, as the New English Bible paraphrases, "Do not set yourself against the man who wrongs you." Both the ASV (1901) and the RSV(1946) support the translation first given. In this sense, the Christian nonresistant is the disciple of Christ who obeys his Lord's word not to meet evil and injustice with force and violence. He also follows the example of his loving Master, "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23, ASV). Peter also indicates that the disciple of Christ is "called" to a life of suffering-and in his nonresistant spirit he receives a blessing in such experiences as evil treatment and reviling.
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What Is Involved?

What does the ethical teaching of Christ and His apostles involve in a positive way? The most basic principle is to act at all times in terms of a genuine interest in and concern for those who show hatred or ill will toward us. Christian love is not a matter of gushing sentiment, nor even of trying to feel a certain way. It is rather a deep desire to manifest in actual life the same caring love toward all men which Christ manifests. This means that the nonresistant Christian seeks actively to promote the welfare of others, even of evildoers. Also involved in Christian nonresistance is a resolute willingness to suffer injustice and injury without retaliation. Such Christlike meekness calls for divine enablement and grace. Christ never promised the nonresistant Christian immunity to suffering or even death. Theoretically, this attitude of willingness to suffer rather than to retaliate could be called Christian pacifism.
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Some Basic Differences

When one turns away from theoretical considerations to actual life, however, he discovers that the terms pacifism and nonresistance are not always Synonymous. Guy F. Hershberger distinguishes pacifism from biblical nonresistance in four respects: (1) The pacifist may devote his labors to the abolition of war, making international peace his major goal, while the New Testament nonresistant is concerned primarily to bring men and women to the experience of "peace with God" through responding to the glorious gospel of Christ in repentance and faith. The ensuing relationship of peace-both with God and with men-is far deeper and more meaningful than the absence of warfare. (2) Pacifism as a movement does not always reckon as seriously as it should with the depths of sin in the human heart, and consequently, is overly optimistic about the possible abolition of war. (3) Pacifism sometimes fails to recognize the role of the threat of force in the peace-keeping function of the state -- in the preservation of law and order. In this task, the state functions as an agent of the wrath of God against sin, and even employs the threat of bodily harm if the evildoer resists. (4) Finally, the pacifist sometimes fails to see his role as one of absolute nonresistance and a willingness to suffer injustice, and to overcome evil with good, and he compromises an absolute position by "nonviolent resistance"-by behavior which is more Gandhian than Christian. ("Pacifism," Mennonite Encyclopedia.)
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The Record

Historical research on nonresistance is embodied in the monograph of Professor C. J. Cadoux of Oxford (The Early Christian Attitude to War, published by Headly Brothers, London, 1919; also in his later work, The Early Church and the World, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1925; compare Professor C. J. Heering of the University of Leiden, The Fall of Christianity, A Study of Christianity, The State and War, Allen & Unwin, London, 1930). The material relating to the early church, as well as to the Reformation era of the sixteenth century, is dealt with briefly by John Horsch in his two monographs (Die biblische Lehre von der Wehrlosigkeit, Scottdale, Pa., 1920, and The Principle of Nonresistance as Held by the Mennonite Church, Scottdale, Pa., Fourth Printing, 1951) and more comprehensively by Professor Guy F. Hershberger in two of his major books (War, Peace, and Nonresistance, Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa., Revised Edition, 1953; and The Way of the Cross in Human Relations, Herald Press, 1958).

It is a shallow answer to reply that the only reason the early Christians refused the military was that emperor worship was involved. Adolf Hamack, a most eminent authority on the history of the church, lists three major reasons beyond emperor worship for the nonparticipation of Christians in the military forces of the Roman Empire: (1) Christians absolutely renounced war and the shedding of human blood. (2) Military officers sometimes imposed death sentences, and soldiers were called upon to execute these sentences. (3) The soldier's oath of absolute obedience was offensive to Christians who felt that such obedience was owed to God alone. Harnack also mentions involvement with pagan cults, as well as the behavior of soldiers in times of peace. (See his book, Militia Christi, Tubingen, 1905. The later research of Cadoux went even beyond that of Harnack.)

Christian church is adequate and clear. One need here but consult the writings of Harnack, Cadoux, Heering, and Hershberger, where the evidence is summarized. Polycarp (c. A. D. 155) called the Philippians to obey the word of Peter, "not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing." Justin Martyr, also writing in the middle of the second century, refers to the pre-conversion participation of Christians in warfare, but he testifies that "we . . . have . . . changed our warlike weapons, our swords into plowshares, and our spears into implements of tillage." About 180 Athenagoras reported: "We have learned not only not to return blow for blow, nor to go to law with those who plunder and rob us, but to those who smite us on the one side of the face to offer the other side also, and to those who take away our coat to give likewise our cloak." The very first evidence of a partial breakdown of nonresistance came in the year A.D. 174, when Tertulhan issued a loud and bitter cry against the participation of certain Christians in army service. "Shall it be held lawful," demanded Tertullian, "to make an occupation of the sword when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law?" On the contrary, insisted Tertullian, if a soldier gets converted, he must immediately abandon the military (which he savs many have done) or he must be ready to die as a martyr.
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Celsus and Origen

In the latter part of the second century the pagan critic of Christianity, Celsus, was keenly aware of the nonresistance of the Christians, and he did not hesitate to point out to them their duty to fight for the king. Celsus stated that if everybody followed this ethic of nonresistance the empire would be ruined. In the next century, Origen, the learned church father, attempted to reply to Celsus. It was about the middle of the third century when he admitted to Celsus, "We have come in accordance with the counsels of Jesus to cut down our warlike and arrogant swords of argument into plowshares, and we convert into sickles the spears we formerly used in fighting. For we no longer take sword against a nation, nor do we learn anymore to make war, having become sons of peace for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader." But what about the fear of Celsus that if everyone were nonresistant the empire would be ruined?

In the course of his exposition Origen also got around to that charge. Origen's only security was in God. It was God who delivered helpless Israel from the pursuing Egyptians at the Red Sea. The same God is still mighty to deliver any nation who would put its trust in Him. Far from being parasites on the empire, Christians make a tremendous contribution to it. "For the men of God are assuredly the salt of the earth; they preserve the order of the world; and society is held together as long as the salt is uncorrupted. . . . And as we by our prayers vanquish all demons who stir up war, and lead to the violation of oaths, and disturb the peace, we in this way are much more helpful to the kings, than those who go into the fields to fight for them. . . . We do not indeed fight under him [the emperor], although he requires it; but we 'fight' on his behalf, forming a special 'army'-an army of piety-by offering our prayers to God . . . Christians are benefactors of their country more than others. For they train up citizens, and inculcate piety to the Supreme Being; and they promote those whose lives in the smallest cities have been good and worthy, to a divine and heavenly city. . . . And it is not for the purpose of escaping public duties that Christians decline public offices, but that they may reserve themselves for a divine and more necessary service in the church of God-for the salvation of men."
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Further Evidence

The godly and influential bishop, Cyprian, who died as a martyr in A.D. 258, commented rather bitterly that "if a murder is committed privately it is a crime, but if it happens with state authority, courage is the name for it., Cyprian insisted that Christians "are not allowed to kill, but they must be ready to be put to death themselves." He held that "it is not permitted the guiltless to put even the guilty to death." Early in the fourth century, Lactantius of Bithynia, in commenting on the divine command, "Thou shalt not kill," insisted that it was not lawful for a just man to engage in warfare.

Therefore, with regard to this precept of God, there ought to be no exception at all. It is," he declared, "always unlawful to put a man to death." About the year 310 a writer named Arnobius implied that nonresistance had been the position of Christians from the beginning of the church. He added, "If all without exception . . . would lend an ear for a little to His [Christ's] salutary and peaceful rules . . . the whole world, having turned the use of steel into more peaceful occupations, would now be living in the most placid tranquillity, and would unite in blessed harmony, maintaining inviolate the sanctity of treaties."

In addition to the writings of various church fathers, we may also observe that a number of local church regulations-ancient church orders and canons -- officially forbade military service. The soldier, and the magistrate "with the sword," "let him leave off or be rejected [as a church member]." "Let a catechumen or a believer of the people, if he desires to be a soldier, either cease from his intention, or if not, let him be rejected." Actual cases of withdrawal or of refusal of induction are on record. Eusebius, the fourth-century historian, tells us, for example, of a youth of 21 from Numidia, Maximilian by name, who appeared before an African proconsul named Dion for induction into the army. Maximilian refused induction, however, stating simply, "I cannot serve [as a soldier], for I am a Christian." Dion replied sharply, "Get into the service, or it will cost you your life." Maximilian replied, "I do this age no war-service, but I do 'war-service' for my God." No amount of threatening could budge him from his simple confession, "I am a Christian and I cannot do evil. . . .I shall not perish, but when I have forsaken this world, my soul shall live, with Christ my Lord." The outcome was that on March 12, 295, this young "soldier" of Christ was put to death. Maximilian's father returned home, "giving thanks to God that he had been able to bring such a present to the Lord." Professor Cadoux reports that there were numerous cases like that of Maximilian, and ventures the suggestion that this may have contributed to the onset of the severe persecution which broke out in 303 and raged for a decade.
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Fourth - Century About-Face

The climate of the church on the subject of peace and nonresistance changed extremely rapidly after the conversion of Constantine (312), and after he gave Christianity legal status in the empire (313). The amazing fact of Constantine being a Christian emperor and soldier caused the church to do a swift about-face. It is of course also true that from A.D. 174, there had been some soldiers in the Roman army who professed to be Christians. Yet as late as 374 Basil the Great still counseled that those who had killed in war should abstain from communion for three years, "for they were unclean of hand." On the other hand, incredible as it appears historically, the Council of Arles in 314 threatened nonresistants with excommunication! This action seems unbelievable! Harnack comments: "By this decision the church completely revised her attitude to the army and war, the attitude that had prevailed until now, at least in theory. The church had longed to win the emperor, and now flung herself into his arms. . . . She . . . relegated to the monastic orders her old views about war and the military calling." By the latter fourth century outstanding leaders were giving assent to the new position formulated at Arles. Athanasius (about 350) could write, "Murder is not permitted, but to kill one's adversarv in war is both lawful and praiseworthy." And twenty-five years later, Ambrose could declare, "And that course which either protects the homeland against barbarians, in war, or defends the weak at home, or saves one S comrades from brigands, is full of righteousness." It only remained for Augustine (354-430) fully and systematically to defend the right of Christians to participate in a just war.

Augustine lived in the age when the barbarian Goths took Rome, and later he was to see the Vandals penetrate even into North Africa. War, therefore, tended to become for him the struggle of a good state against malicious evildoers. He, therefore, held that "authority and power to wage war shall be in the hands of the ruler, and in carrying out war-decrees the soldiers really serve the cause of peace and the common good." Augustine could appeal to John the Baptist who recognized that soldiers were not murderous, but authorized by law, and that the soldiers did not thus avenge themselves, but defended the public safety." Augustine had to write a letter of counsel to a Roman commander named Boniface who contemplated laying down his command be-cause he was a Christian. Augustine assured Boniface. "Do not think that no one can please God who serves with arms." lie went on to state that it is indeed fine that some Christians withdraw from the world into the ascetic life, "yet everyone ... has his own gift from God. . . . Others, therefore, 'fight' against unseen foes by praying for you, and you work for them by fighting against the visible barbarians."
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State Religion

As early as A.D. 380 the two emperors, Theodosius of the Eastern Empire, and Gratianus of the Western Empire, in a joint edict made Christianity the official arid obligatory [ ! ] religion of state. The total reversal of attitude on nonresistance came in A.D. 416 when the empire required that all soldiers must be Christians. It, therefore, required only about a century for a remarkable change of climate-from the time when Constantine had nails purporting to come from the cross of Christ made into a helmet for himself, and into a bit for his horse, until the time when it was required of all soldiers that they be Christians. This reversal of attitude from primitive Christianity's nonresistance to a full-orbed acceptance of warfare was a major aspect of what Heering calls the "Fall" of Christianity.
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What Does the New Testament Teach?

The crucial question, of course, is not how later churchmen evaluated participation in the military. The normative question is, What did Christ teach about resistance and retaliation? It is not a question of taking an occasional word out of context, or of making a wooden legalism out of a few phrases. Rather, exegetical honesty requires us to test the intent of our Lord's words by His own example in actual life. Did He mean literally that Christians should not resist an evildoer? That the love of His disciples should be so great that they were willing to offer the other cheek when smitten? Matthew 5:38-48. Did He actually mean that He was sending out His disciples as harmless and defenseless lambs in the midst of wolves? Luke 10:3. Was Paul truly reflecting the spirit of his Lord when he reminded Christians that although they walked in the flesh, they do not war according to the flesh? 2 Corinthians 10:3. Also, when he reminded the young church in Thessalonica not to render evil for evil to anyone? 1 Thessalonians 5:15. Also, that the Lord's servant must not strive, but be gentle toward all? 2 Timothy 2:24. Was Peter led of the Holy Spirit when he grounded the nonresistant spirit of his Christian readers in the nonresistant example of Jesus Christ who suffered unjustly -- even to crucifixion on a felon's cross? I Peter 2:21-24. Was Peter right in twice asserting that Christians are called to a ministry of nonresistant suffering? 1 Peter 2:21; 3:9. Is it correct that just as the Lord Jesus suffered in the flesh, so the Christian ought to "arm himself" with the same readiness to suffer meekly? 1 Peter 4:1. The witness of history is that the primitive church understood these many injunctions to mean literally what they said. And this witness did not die out until the fourth or fifth century.
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Historic Theologies of Church and State

What would the renaissance of a biblical doctrine of salvation involve in the area of ethics in the sixteenth-century Reformation?

I. It appears that the Roman Church continued on with its two ethical standards: (1) a rather worldly and compromised Christian ethic for the masses and (2) a strict ethic of withdrawal from the sins and compromises of the larger Christendom on the part of the ascetic monks and nuns. The more ambitious Roman theologians even thought of the pope as wielding two swords, the spiritual sword of the Word over the faithful, and the worldly sword of steel over the nations of the earth.

II. The Calvinists were the Christian optimists, at least from one point of view. It is true that the Calvinists saw the depths of sin in human nature, but they also saw a sovereign God who in His majestic sovereignty elected some men to eternal life and efficaciously brought them to repentance and faith through the gracious work of His Spirit. With great vigor these elect saints then tackled the problems of living in a wicked world. They saw their task as involving the creation of a Christian society, with the Christian ethic imposed on the masses by law. Witness the restrictions of all kinds in Calvin's Geneva, also the Puritan communities of New England in a later day. Society must behave in a Christian fashion where these sturdy sons of Calvin have the political power to enforce it, using "Christian magistrates" and "Christian constables" to do so. But this very attitude is a total repudiation of the principle of voluntarism-the attitude which insists that the taking upon oneself of the commitments of Christian discipleship must be one S own free response to the gracious wooing of the Spirit of God. There is, we believe, no place in Christianity for coercion and compulsion in matters of Christian faith and life.

III. The Lutheran theologians saw no hope of a "Christian society." Rather, they saw the church as set in an intensely evil world, proclaiming the blessed gospel of Christ, and inviting those whom God moves by His Spirit to unite with the church. In one's private life one should be a meek and forgiving child of God. But the state has also been ordained of God. And the state must of necessity em ploy force and coercion in dealing with sinners. Therefore, the Christian as a citizen can and must to some extent subscribe to Augustine's theory of a just war. The Christian citizen must do his share of the unpleasant tasks which result from human sin. This obligation must have appeared especially compelling to sixteenth-century Lutherans living under what Luther called his landsherrliche Kirchenregiment-the system in which the secular prince determined the religious confession of his subjects, as a sort of "emergency bishop." But in a profound sense it left unresolved how a man could do as a citizen what is sin for him as a disciple of Christ. (Compare the puzzled response of a medieval peasant to his bishop who told him that he was not hunting on Sunday as a bishop but as a prince: "If the devil gets the prince, what will happen to the bishop?")

IV. The later Quakers, especially those associated with William Penn's "noble experiment," hoped to be able to maintain a peace-loving government without engaging in war. Although the Pennsylvania government was markedly successful in dealing with the Indians, the point was finally reached when the Society of Friends had to choose between surrendering the government of Pennsylvania to nonpacifists, or dropping their doctrine of nonresistance: at which point (1756) they chose the former, and clung to pacifism.

V. The Anabaptists and their three groups of spiritual descendants (Mennonites, Amish, and Hutterites) seek to hold to the primitive position of the church on nonresistance, not because of its age but because they feel that only that position is possible if one seriously seeks to follow both the teaching and the example of the Lord Jesus. Hence Conrad Grebel, the chief founder of Swiss Anabaptism and a former disciple of Zwingli, wrote in 1524: "The gospel and its adherents, moreover, are hot to be protected by the sword, nor are they thus to protect themselves. . . . True Christian believers are sleep among wolves, sheep for the slaughter. Thev must be baptized in anguish and affliction, tribulation, persecution, suffering and death. They must be tried with fire, and must reach the Fatherland of eternal rest, not b~' killing their bodily enemies, but by [mortifying] their spiritual [enemies] . Neither do they use worldly sword or war, since killing has absolutely ceased with them-unless indeed we are still under the old law." This has been the nonresistant position of the Anabaptists and of their spiritual lineage for almost four and a half centuries, and for this "heresy," coupled with a free church (in opposition to one established by law), and believer's baptism, they suffered about 5,000 martyrs in the sixteenth century.
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Called to What?

At what point do nonresistant Christians protest when the state employs the sanction of force? When a man goes berserk and begins to kill people? When a gang of pirates makes shipping lanes unsafe? When the rulers of a given state embark on a policy of conquering and exploiting neighboring states? When a government sets out on a military expedition on the other side of the earth, in the type of situation when the local nation must almost be destroyed in order to "save" it? In a general way the Christian nonresistant feels that the mission of Christ's church is a sort of extension of that of Christ. Christ did not come to administer justice, or to hold court to decide disputes between brothers. He did not come to punish evildoers, but to redeem the evil race. His entire ministry was one of loving and self-giving service. This is, declares the absolutist, also the calling of the Christian. He is not here to administer justice, to punish evildoers, or to take up arms for the rights of the oppressed. His calling is to be a herald of the saving gospel of Christ, to be an agent of reconciliation, proclaiming by life and by lips that Christ does save from sin. He does set men free from the tyranny of Satan. He does bring peace-both peace with God and peace with one's fellowman. The nonresistant does not attempt to instruct the government on specifics as to how to cope with organized crime, prostitution, the liquor industry, racial injustice, and the like. But he does attempt to give a clear witness that God commands all men everywhere to repent, that any violation of the ethic of love in human relations is sin, that any activity or business which degrades persons is a major evil, and that it is the will of God that society should be "colorblind," showing equal love and providing equal opportunities for all men-regardless of how much or how little pigmentation they may have. President John R. Mumaw has attempted to spell out the difference between this historic doctrine of absolute nonresistance and its paler and perhaps less biblical half brother, pacifism, in his essay, Nonresistance and Pacifism (Scottdale, Pa., Second Printing, 1952).
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The Two Kingdoms

The basic presupposition of the nonresistant position is the biblical doctrine of the two kingdoms: the kingdom of Christ which is entered by the new birth, whose task is the evangelization of society and the nurture of the saints, whose method is the proclamation of God's Word, whose only sanction is excommunication from the church, and whose ethic is love and the (believer's) cross. The other kingdom is that of this world, and in this realm the function or calling of the group is the maintenance of law and order, the means of control is by law, the sanction is the threat of force, and its attitude toward the church may vary from Romans 13 to Revelation 13 (benign government vs. persecuting "beast"). Involved here is the nonresistant's understanding of the separation of church and state. The church as church does not dictate to the government nor give specific instruction on how to cope with various threats to its welfare or existence. Likewise, the government should not attempt to instruct the church on its message or its methods of operation. If the church minds its proper business of BEING GOD'S PEOPLE ENTRUSTED WITH THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, and if the government attends to its proper business of giving praise to those who do well and serving as a minister of wrath for those who do evil, THERE WILL BE NO CONFLICT BETWEEN CHURCH AND STATE. Seen in this light, there is no place for political pressure upon the government from its nonresistant subjects (citizens). But it would appear perfectly in order for such Christians to direct respectful petitions to the government, pleading for a freer atmosphere or climate in which to proclaim the Word of God and to carry on the good works characteristic of the saints of Christ, as well as for the rectification of social injustice.
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In a Democracy

Two considerations, however, modify the simplicity of this frame of ethical thought. One is that many Christians now live in what are known as democracies, a form of government in which the rulers profess to follow such policies as are the mind of the citizenry as a whole. In many democracies, Christians constitute a sizable portion of the citizenry. This would seem to indicate the propriety of a more vocal expression of concern on the part of Christians than obtains under a monarchy or dictatorship. I do not believe it appropriate for nonresistant Christians ever to be more than earnest witnesses to the powers that be. Political pressure-such as in most marches -- does not seem to be justified for nonresistant Christians.

The second consideration which may, at least at first, seem to modify the absolutist separation of church and state is the fact that most of the personnel of government in the democracies profess faith in Christ and hold membership in the church. This makes the matter of witness and appeal all the more indicated. Surely it is in order for nonresistant Christians to call to the attention of the leaders of the state (1) the tragedy of terminating the life of a criminal-thereby cutting off his opportunity to repent-and (2) the futility of thinking that capital punishment is a strong deterrent to the horrible crimes committed by the emotionally ill. It is surely legitimate for Christians to plead and to urge that evil men who oppress the racial and the poor minorities are violating both the holy law of God and the rights guaranteed to all citizens in the legal framework in which the state operates. However, specifics on how to deal with criminals, and how best to cope with injustice, must be left to the wisdom of those in power in the state. The church does not issue detailed instructions to the state on how 10 carry out its work.
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A Witness in Action

Mention was made a few moments ago about "most marches" being forms of political pressure. Perhaps it would be legitimate to describe a march which occurred in a small city in the U.S.A. which in the judgment of the present writer was purely a Christian witness and not a form of political pressure. There were no banners and no paid marchers. The march did not terminate on the steps of the courthouse. No demands were made on the city government. This was the form of the march. Responsible church leaders from the white and colored Christians of the city were working at the improvement of race relations in the community. These Christian leaders called for an integrated service in two houses of worship. First the group of concerned Christians met in a meetinghouse used regularly by a congregation in a colored community. There the saints worshiped as one happy group of God's children. Then they lit candles and walked in a body 10 a meetinghouse in a white community and held a second service to the glory of God. Undoubtedly that show of goodwill as between races had a most salutary witness value and wholesome influence in that city of 40,000 in northern Indiana. It was, in my judgment, wholly Christian, proper, and needed.
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The Question of Priorities

If we accept the biblical portrait of human nature -- that man is a fallen creature, naturally in revolt against the holy law of God which calls for operating in all human relations on the basis of agape love -- it is futile to think that ideal social conditions can be created on earth by legal processes, or by tinkering with government, or by improving the schools. This does not mean that the government can accomplish nothing at all. Many are the evils which the state has more or less mitigated by law and its enforcement. And many of these actions no doubt came about through the leavening effect on the general social conscience of the witness of the Christian church. But the nonresistant Christian feels it to be his calling to throw his life into the work and ministry of the church, teaching the Word of God, supporting missions at home and abroad, doing works of love and mercy to all classes of men in distress, and laboring generally for the advance and growth of the kingdom of God. The individual Christian cannot afford to devote all his attention to the state of his soul (Pietism), nor can he turn away from the church to the task of restructuring society (Puritanism), but he concentrates rather on WORKING TOGETHER WITH GOD in the building and extension of the church of Christ (Anabaptism-Mennonitism).

Yet it must immediately be added that this fragmentation of Christendom into three camps, more or less mutually exclusive, is an artificial and only partially true picture. All Christians are concerned about their inner spiritual life. And all Christians care about the structures of the society in which they live. All Christians more or less agree that the church is God's primary institution for the carrying on of His work in the world. The emphasis of Anabaptism-Mennonitism is, therefore, largely one of priority. Its uniqueness consists mainly of the absoluteness with which it follows the principle of suffering love and nonretaliation. It renounces any and all activities which violate human personhood, or which bring destruction or damage to men, women, and children. Its most unique ethic is, therefore, its renunciation of military service. This stand is based squarely on the teaching and the example of the Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus. He assured His disciples that just as it was necessary for Him to fulfill His mission by bearing His cross to Golgotha, so must those who wish to be His disciples take up their individual crosses (what it may cost them, even unto death, to be Christians and to be following Him daily). While the history of the church is not normative, for many a time God's people have turned aside to various aberrations of doctrine and ethics (mostly in the form of compromising with the worldly methods of an unregenerate society), yet nonresistant Christians are encouraged when they learn from history that in the early centuries the dominant ethic of the church was one of absolute love and the rejection of any and all forms of military service.
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A Thorny Question

A difficult question of ethics for nonresistant Christians involves the payment of taxes specifically labeled as war taxes, or even the payment of that portion of their federal income tax which is allocated for the support of war. Two extremes seem to be improper for the nonresistant Christian. One is the almost irresponsible attitude which indicates that it does not matter what the government does, just so I am not asked to do anything contrary to my standards -- as if the Christian has no witness responsibility to those in places of trust in government, particularly to a democratic government. This attitude seems selfish and more concerned for one's own self than for being a suffering witness in a world of deep distress. The other attitude which is possible, however, is that of a continual and arrogant review of the work of the government, constantly looking over the shoulder of the chief executive and making critical comments on every move he makes. Is it not possible that the president or premier may on occasion be in possession of relevant information which is modifying his decisions and which he may not feel free to divulge publicly? It is not necessary to comment that the chief executive bears a fearful responsibility for the welfare and security of the nation which has entrusted him with precisely this task. How simple and easy it is to denounce the action of the government-at least in a land which seeks jealously to preserve the right of free speech and a free press, even when the nation is in national danger! But ought the nonresistent withhold a portion of his legally owed tax?

The case is somewhat similar to the question which arose in the minds of concerned nonresistant farmers during World War II. Is it right to make money from crops which may even in large part be purchased to feed military forces? The chairman of the Mennonite Peace Committee at that time, Dean Harold S. Bender, was crystal clear in his words of counsel. Yes, he declared, produce all the food you can! The world is going to suffer from a lack of foodstuffs. The government will see to it that the military personnel are fed. If Christian farmers go on strike it will be the nonmilitary citizens who will suffer with hunger. Is there not some parallel here? Will not a government, in time of war, allocate whatever funds are necessary for the support of its armed forces? If money must be withheld anywhere it will not be from those who are on the field of battle. Those programs will suffer which are most needed for the welfare of the unfortunate segments of the people-the poverty program, the rendering of assistance to schools of higher learning, the building of both general hospitals and institutions for the care of the handicapped and the emotionally ill, and better care for the retired and aged. Yes, it is easy to withhold a portion of one's tax although it is levied by law. But is it the most Christian way to make known that one favors the ethic of the meek and lowly Savior? Are not sincere communications to the President, and to the members of Congress, backed up by earnest prayers and silent tears, a better way to make known one's concerns for the cessation of wars and their many evils?

Jesus Christ lived in a land which was occupied by a foreign government. That government was arrogant, thinking to bring peace and security to the world by being the 'benign ruler" of as much of it as it could conquer! Rome's domains stretched from North Africa to England. Some of the Jews, the Zealots, thought it advisable to advocate the overthrow of the Roman occupation of Palestine by force. The Lord Jesus showed no interest whatever in joining forces with the Zealots. Rather, He seems to have taken one of them, given his zeal a new turn -- that of building the kingdom of God by spiritual means and methods-and made of him an apostle, one of the Twelve, Simon the Zealot by name. How it must have hurt Simon-and many other good Jews -- to pay taxes to the hated Romans, and thereby to help support the exasperating army of occupation! No doubt the Twelve discussed and debated this subject on many an occasion.

Finally, the question was taken by the Pharisees and Herodians to a good Source for answer, the Lord Jesus Himself. And although the motive in asking the question may not have been pure, the reply of Jesus in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 20) was sincere and abundantly clear. The Lord argued from the fact that money is a means created by the state for the use of its citizens that the state in turn has the power and the right to demand the payment of taxes from its citizens. He said plainly, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Is not this directive of our Lord normative for this painful and vexatious question today? Needless to say, one can but have high admiration and respect for those who for conscience's sake do not so understand the matter. But it does seem that a nonresistant Christian may both (1) protest to the government its evil course on any issue, and at the same time (2) continue to pray for the government and to pay all taxes in full.
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A Word of Gratitude

It would be almost a sin to close this study without a word of deep and grateful appreciation to governments such as that of the United States which even in a time of national danger (1940), when it reluctantly set up universal military training, was, nevertheless, so considerate of Christian conscience as to make provision for those who by reason of religious training and belief were conscientiously opposed to serving in the military, either as combatants or as noncombatants. Such citizens were given the privilege of performing work of national importance under civilian direction. God be praised for this generous attitude
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J. C. Wenger is Professor of Historical Theology in Goshen College Biblical Seminary. He studied at Eastern Mennonite College, Goshen College (BA), Westminster Theological Seminary, University of Zurich (ThD), University of Basel, University of Chicago, University of Michigan (MA), and Princeton Theological Seminary (Postdoctoral Visiting Fellow).

He is the author of various books in the field of Mennonite history and doctrine, including Separated unto God, Introduction to Theology, The Mennonite Church in America, and the Complete Writings of Menno Simons (editor).

He has served his denomination, the Mennonite Church, as a deacon, a minister, and a bishop, and as a member of various boards and committees. He is currently a vice-president of Mennonite World Conference. Married to Ruth D. Detweiler, RN, he is the father of two sons and two daughters.

Copyright @ 1968 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. 15688 Printed in the United States

From the booklet Pacifism and Bibical Nonrestance, by J. C. Wenger, © 1968 by Herald Press, Scottdale, Pa. 15688 Printed in the United States. All rights reserved.


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June 22, 2000