January 2019 – DTBR #35. That we are at liberty to serve in the army, or as police constables, take part in politics, or recover debts by legal coercion.
This can be stated in a positive way: “Our Kingdom is not of this world”, and we follow the commands of Christ to do no violence. Therefore, we have no part in the government or enforcement apparatus of our society, and we do not serve in the armed forces or civilian police, take no part in politics, and do not go to law to recover debts.
“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world ” (John 17:16).
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence” (John 18:36).
“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, Ihatye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:38-39).
“.. .for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matt26:52b).
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?… why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?” (lCor:6:l, 7b).
This DTBR really covers four topics:
- Military service.
- Acting as a civilian enforcer of the law.
- Voting, and being a politician, i.e., an elected official in government.
- Going to law against another to recover financial items.
All but the second were first introduced as a DTBR in 1886, but all were well established by then as a view of the Christadelphian community. “Or as police constables” was added in 1919, as noted below.
The first, opposition to Military service, was part of our community’s belief from the start, John Thomas being very clear on the subject. He chose the very name of our community in 1864 because of the requirement for a name in connection with conscientious objection. However, from his initial thoughts on the subject in 18351 we can see he was consistently opposed to war in the present dispensation. And this has been a characteristic of the Christadelphians ever since, especially after clarification of exactly what this entailed in WW1.
Serving as a Police Constable was discouraged in a long article in 18722 although a brother being converted while holding such a position could retain it. Dispute over this around 1917 was a partial cause of the Berean split, (see below) and so this exception was dis-allowed in 1919 and the words “or as Police Constables” were added in 19193 (Unfortunately this action did not prevent the split).
Shunning involvement in politics was also part of John Thomas’ world view at least by 18604; there was a long article emphasizing this in 18735
The topic of “recover debts by legal coercion” really did not appear to trouble the brethren before 1872, when the topic of going to law against a non-member was raised6. Based on the passage above in 1 Corinthians 6, suing another brother was never in question. But there was some debate in the pages of The Christadelphian before Robert Roberts stated this concept also applied to non-Christadephians, and added this clause, as we have said, in 1886.
We will deal with each topic in turn.
In the United States and Canada, conscientious objection was permitted from the country’s founding, although regulation was left to individual states in the USA prior to the introduction of conscription during the civil war. Exceptions were then called out. It is of interest that in the list of denominations, officially recognized as being conscientious objectors in the Confederate Congress records of 1863, appears the “Nazarenes”, the name for the Christadelphians in the South at the time. Although John Thomas prepared a petition to the United States congress in 1865 seeking recognition of the position of his newly named denomination, this was never presented. During WW1, only non-combatant service was permitted in both countries for conscientious objectors. The resultant hardships of brethren are quite well documented, but have not been collected in any systematic way. The history of Christadelphian Conscientious Objection in North America will hopefully be told in future issues of The Tidings.
The reasons for refusing to perform military service are varied. Many conscientious objectors cite religious reason. For example, members of the Historic Peace Churches such as Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Conservative Mennonites and Church of the Brethren object to war from the conviction that Christian life is incompatible with military action, because Jesus enjoins his followers to love their enemies and to refuse violence. However, only a minority of Quakers have taken this position in the two worldwide wars, and many Mennonites served in the army in both world wars.
The attitude of Christadelphians to non-combatant service was unclear before WW1. Certainly, in the civil war many “Christadelphians” served in uniform, although as non-combatants, John Thomas’ son-in-law, Benjamin Lasius, was one such. In Great Britain during the run-up to conscription in 1916, the position of CC Walker, editor of The Christadelphian, towards non-combatant service was unclear. The relevant clause in the draft petition of the main Birmingham ecclesia in 1914 was: “That the conscientious objection of your petitioners does not extend to strictly non-combatant branches of National Service, but only to those which involve the bearing of arms or resort to force.” 7 This apparent position was rejected by Frank Jannaway and the large majority of Christadelphians, so total exemption was sought — and achieved. It was understandable that Jannaway took it the way he did, and he essentially became the leader of the Christadelphian community in its successful objection to serving in the armed forces in any capacity.
CC Walker later claimed he was misunderstood:
“Some objection was taken to this [petition] by those who read into it what was not there. As a matter of fact, all our conscientious objectors rendered service in ‘strictly non-combatant branches of National Service.’ This clause 7 has been referred to by brother F. J. Jannaway in one of his recent essays as ‘famous’. [This] may perhaps be admitted in view of recent dust clouds.” 8
It is of interest that in the UK in WW1, many Christadelphians obtained exemption from any sort of military service. Their total of about 1700 is around 45% of all such, and ten times the next largest denomination.9 In exchange for exemption, they had to perform civilian work, often farming. This, technically, is not “absolute exemption”, as almost all Christadelphians in the UK agreed to perform work of national importance, at the direction of the government. Some Christadelphians, particularly Viner Hall, urged asking for “absolute exemption”, refusing any form of even civilian service. This almost invariably resulted in prison, and the seven Christadelphians who did so were sentenced to at least two years in prison.10
The basis for the Christadelphian position before tribunals is fourfold:
1. The early Christian Church invariably refused military service. This is illustrated extensively in the pamphlet by J.B. Norris “The Christian and War”.
2. Christadelphians believe in separation from “the world”, “You cannot serve two masters”. It is based on this that we take no part in politics, and serving in any armed forces requires stating allegiance to the country. In addition, as discussed below, an oath is required.
3. The commandments of Christ for non-violence are binding on those who follow Christ.
4. Christadelphians, as I have indicated, have been opposed to military service since before the civil war in the United States; the name of the denomination was the result of the requirements imposed upon conscientious objectors in that war.
The military oath
To emphasize the fact of “our kingdom is not of this world”, it is unacceptable to make an oath of allegiance as required to serve in the military and police forces. For example, the Michigan State trooper’s oath is: “All MIVDF members take an oath of allegiance to the United States of America and the State of Michigan to obey the orders of the Governor of the State of Michigan, and the officers appointed over them.” What are the implications of this?
• Christ is no longer our commander and chief.
• We could be ordered to act in a manner inconsistent with Christ’s commandments.
“But above all things, my brothers, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yes be yes; and your no, no; lest you fall into condemnation” (James 5:12).
The commandments of Christ
Christ’s Commandments (which are also part of our Statement of Faith), among others, instruct us to:
2. Resist not evil: if a man smite thee on one cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt 5:39,40).
5. Agree with your adversary quickly, submitting even to wrong for the sake of peace (Matt 5:25; 1 Cor6:7).
8. Recompense to no man evil for evil: overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17).
10. Render not evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing (! Pet 3:9).
12. Grudge not; judge not; complain not; condemn not (James 5:9; Matt 7:1).
15. Re not conformed to this world: love not the world (Rom 12:2; 1 John 2:15).
The background to the “Berean” split in Great Britain
It is doubtful if this phrase would have been added but for a dispute about the way the Birmingham Temperance Hall ecclesia dealt with two of their members, Pearce and Davis. In 1917 they spoke against disciplining some who had joined the police force, apparently in lieu of military service. They were removed from ecclesial office, but not disfellowshipped. A minority within the Birmingham ecclesia, led by Viner Hall, objected, and insisted on disfellowship. When this was refused, they formed a new ecclesia, known as the John Bright St. Ecclesia. The Clapham, London Ecclesia became involved, and ultimately the Berean movement was formed by about 1923 in Great Britain. (The Bereans in North America separated over quite a different problem, which was A.D. Strickler’s view of the nature of Christ, and C.C. Walker’s reluctance to declare him out of fellowship. C.C. Walker was editor of The Christadelphian at the time.)
It is hard to know, at this distance in time, quite why the Clapham Ecclesia was so determined to interfere in an internal dispute of the Birmingham Ecclesia, why the minority felt so strongly about the affair that they withdrew, and why subsequent attempts on all sides to heal the rift failed. Both sides issued numerous pamphlets, and there seems little to be achieved by listing all the claims and counter claims.
Thus the words “or of Police Constables” were added in 1919 in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to heal the breach. All sides never disputed the inadvisably of joining the police force, just that two brethren were reluctant to make it a question of fellowship.
The reasons why
The basis of the objection to serving as a Police Constable (or any other police force) is essentially the same as that for military service. To quote the words of C.C. Walker:
“.. .On the one hand brethren are refusing the office of special constable when required by the magistrates to take it, and being penalized for the refusal; and on the other hand, brethren are voluntarily accepting the office of special constable… Although the cases on either hand are few, the situation is there and must be faced… As regards the law of Christ concerning violence there is practically no difference between the two. A brother might as well be in the army as be a special constable.” 11
The question is: ‘Should a Christian take any part in politics?’ Should he or she:
- Vote in a general or local election?
- Join a political party?
- Become an elected representative?
- Join in political demonstrations or pressure groups?
What is really expected of a Christian? What is the right thing to do?
Christadelphians believe that the Bible teaches us that we should avoid all involvement in politics and that the answer to each of the questions above is ‘No’. But those who are not familiar with this point of view may well be puzzled by it. After all, isn’t the right to vote an important part of life in any democratic society? Isn’t democracy the best political system for a country, the way to ensure moderate policies and stability? Doesn’t this require all of us to participate by playing our part in the political life of our country?
Millions of respectable citizens vote. There are many sincere Christians who are active in politics, and it could be argued that it’s actually part of a Christian’s duty to see that their country is run property. Surely Christians should exercise their right to vote, should try to get the right people into power and so help to improve society?
It has even been suggested that it is un-Christian not to vote. What would happen, for example, if everybody abstained at election times? Wouldn’t it result in complete chaos for us all? How could such a selfish attitude possibly be compatible with a Christian outlook?
Society’s Point of View
Our society expects its citizens to take part in the political process. It is also true that there are many politicians who enter politics with the conviction that they can improve the lot of mankind. In the recent history of the Western world, a number of governments have had remarkable success in improving the quality of life of the average individual — the establishment of the Welfare State in the UK, and the post-WW2 German economic miracle are obvious examples of this. There are also many leading politicians who are happy to be known as practicing Christians, and who seem to have no qualms of conscience about the exercise of power in the interests of the public good. Some political parties even include the description ‘Christian’ in their party’s name.
All these points certainly look like reasons for Christians to be willing to play a responsible part in the way their county is managed, especially if it is ‘for the right motives’. So why do Christadelphians take such a different view of these important issues?
God’s Point of View
Everything so far has been looked at from a purely human standpoint. The phrases used include expressions such as “the public good”, “the quality of life”, and “improving the lot of mankind”.
Now these expressions are all very well if you are a humanist. If you don’t believe in God, and you think that man is the author of his own destiny, then it’s perfectly reasonable for you to believe that we can manage our own political affairs in a manner that will bring about a better future for the world.
But what about God’s instructions? What about the teachings of Jesus Christ? Surely, if we claim to be Christians, followers of Christ, then we cannot leave them out of our considerations. Quite the opposite in fact, we must look very carefully at what they tell us.
Christadelphians believe that it is only God’s view on this subject that matters — as with every other aspect of our lives. So we must turn to the Bible to read what God has to say about our relationships with the societies in which we live. What then does the Bible have to say about the Christian and Politics? What is the positive teaching of the Word of God?
Three Bible Principles
The Bible has much helpful and clear teaching on this subject; in particular, there are three principles that we must consider. Briefly summarized, these are:
- God rules in the kingdom of men.
- God has His own political manifesto for us.
- We should follow the personal example and teaching of Jesus.
We can illustrate the last principle from Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. Should we?
Vote in a general or local election or join apolitical party? “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also ” (Matt 6:21).
Become an elected Representative? “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24).
Join in political demonstrations or pressure groups to make a better world? “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day”(Matt 6:34).
Recover debts by legal coercion
This topic has caused little discussion. It is, however, not a simple topic to cover. It is in fact often misunderstood: some take the passage in 1 Corinthians to prohibit going to law in any circumstances.
“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?”(ICor 6:1-7).
This erroneous application has caused many problems. Indeed, many circumstances force one to appear in court, and to use the legal system is essential in some states in the USA if you merely want to buy a house, and many brethren have been asked to appear as witnesses in court cases. One should note that a number of Christadelphians in Great Britain are lawyers, although few, if any, seem to specialize in court cases.
I will quote from a wise article on this by Bro. Jack Balchin.
“Consider the question of “going to law”. Who among us has not heard a brother or sister build a tortuous argument on Paul’s injunction? Perhaps you have done it yourself. I have. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul takes the Corinthians to task for going to the civil courts to secure redress for wrongs caused by other brethren. He asks, how is it that they do not deem themselves competent to settle such disputes if they are destined ultimately to be the justices of the world’s peace?
“That is a paraphrase of verses 1-6. Yet how often has this chapter, and particularly the first verse, been quoted to justify denying to brethren all the processes of the civil law?
“Our Authorized Version perhaps encourages the misunderstanding: ‘Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?’The Revised Standard Version removes these obscurities: ‘When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare to go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?’
“At once it is clear that the Apostle deals only with those matters which the Ecclesia is competent to resolve. Yet this text has been used to regulate entirely different and external matters. One example of the misapplication of this text is its use to deny to the brethren the right to insure their houses against burglary or their cars for any purpose. Insurance policies often specify that the insured must assist the insurers to recover from third parties or others, through the courts if necessary, the cost of damage or loss falling on the insurers. But the text deals with disputes between brethren!
“The question of going to law’ cannot be left there, however. If Paul had concluded his discussion at verse 6, we might have inferred that brethren can hold court on disputes within their competence to settle and can refer to civil courts matters outside their competence. But Paul did not end his discussion there. He goes on in verses 7-8 to state the principles which underlay his previous injunctions. What he leaves to last is, in fact, of first importance. Here we find the kernel of the matter: ‘To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren.’
“Now people embark on lawsuits to vindicate their name or rights, or to secure privileges or compensations. To do so they must win their case. To lose it is to fail. But Paul says that the result either way is defeat. It is defeat because they are trying to win, and to try to win in this context is unchristian. They may have been wronged or defrauded; but that gave the Christian no right to sue at law. The world would think that there were grounds enough; but the matter must be viewed with the eyes of the Christ who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return, when he suffered did not threaten, but trusted to him who judges justly (IPet 2:22-23). So the Corinthians were at fault on two counts. The first was that they were wronging and defrauding men, even brethren. The second was that, instead of suffering the wrong done to them, they sought to be avenged. However they might attempt to justify their going to law, their “righteousness” was in fact “unrighteousness”. And the Apostle adds this warning: ‘Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?’ (verse 9).
“The fundamental principle is thus seen to be that of non-retaliation. It governs relations between brethren and it also governs the brethren’s relations with other persons. On that principle any going to law spells failure for a man in Christ. Whether the going to law is to recover damages, to rebut a libel for the sake of honor, to secure a divorce for unfaithfulness or desertion and thereby to be compensated, vindicated or revenged — it is a confession of failure.”13
Based on this exposition, the use of the legal system in many circumstances is quite permissible for Christadelphians. And even in the case of suing to recover debts, this can present considerable difficulties, as was pointed out in The Christadelphian in 1988.
“And what of the brother who finds that because he is suffering himself to be defrauded, his business is being ruined, his family are going in need, he is unable properly to remunerate his employees, or he has to impose greater burdens on his good customers to cover the loss incurred by those who refuse to pay? What recourse has he to the provisions of the state in these circumstances?
“Purely because of the complexity of many of these circumstances, it is impossible to give categorical answers to such questions. But in every one of them it is important that the principle should be upheld that we are prepared to suffer to be defrauded, and no action whatsoever should be taken that can be considered retributive.”14
The principle is clear, but the application is sometimes difficult. We must give thanks if we are never faced with such a circumstance.
Peter Bilello (Ann Arbor, MI) and Peter Hemingray (Pittsburgh, PA)
1. Apostolic Advocate. (Vol. 2,1835) p. 108.
2. The Christadelphian, 1872, p. 530.
3. The Christadelphian, 1919 p. 559.
A. Herald of the kingdom, 1860 p. 138.
5. The Christadelphian, 1873, p 312.
6. The Christadelphian, 1872, p 491.
7. The Christadelphian, 1914, p. 422.
8. The Christadelphian, 1923, p. 507.
9. See The Christadelphian, April 1919, p. 165.
10.1 must acknowledge Cyril Pearce for this information; search the Internet for “cyril pearce database”.
11. The Christadelphian, 1917, p. 437.
12. Mostly extracted from “Christian and Politics” by Reg Carr. Also see “The Gospel and Politics” by AD Norris.
13. The Christadelphian, 1960 p. 358.
14. The Christadelphian, 1988 p. 391.