WHY I AM A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR
(a book written in 1982)
by John M. Drescher
God has disarmed the Christian. He has called us into a new
community which has its citizenship in heaven. This is our first
loyalty, our primary relationship. Having been disarmed by God,
we lay aside guns and bombs because they are too weak to achieve
We are called to love, to live by love, to share in the
redemptive mission of Christ. As Christians we are armed with
love, believing that love is the one valid way to conquer
enemies. As God has loved his enemies in acting redemptively for
them, so the child of God is called to love all persons and to
call them into the fellowship of faith. In this fellowship
Christians have more in common with fellow Christians across
national lines than with non-Christian fellow citizens. As with
Abraham, we also are called to abandon all for the "city whose
builder and maker is God."
In this book John Drescher unapologetically shares his
conviction and the biblical basis for an evangelical pac-
ifism. He presents a clear call for Christians to give priority
to the life of Christ as a way of peace. Fully aware that we do
not expect nations to follow the path of discipleship, the author
challenges Christians to choose peace and to work for peace among
the nations. He sets peacemaking in the context of our
evangelical mission to win all persons, including our enemies, to
become our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The great issues facing us in the world today are poverty,
race, and war. As Christians we are called to relate the message
of the kingdom of Cod to each of these. This message is one of
love and peace, a call to social change by relationship with
Jesus. Our crucial word for a troubled world is that the risen
Christ is the liberator, that he modeled in his non-violence the
way to a new community. As Martin Luther King said, "The choice
is no longer between violence and non-violence. It is either non-
violence or non-existence."
If ever Marshall McLuhan's words "The medium is the
message," were true, it is when the way of love communicates the
love of Christ. This is a desperately needed message in a day of
the worship of power - that which Malcolm Muggeridge has called a
"pornography of the will." The words of Jesus are most relevant,
"Blessed are the meek ..." for they are the ones who actually
enjoy the earth. "Blessed are the peacemakers ..." for they are
expressing their participation in the family of God.
The question all of us must raise is, if God has disarmed
the Christian, on whose authority does a Christian pick up arms
again? The answer Drescher gives is clear: No authority can
supersede that of God. Those who would render this role to Caesar
need to answer the question of how a government, any government,
can countermand God. And those who see violence as evil, but an
inescapable evil for which we ask God's forgiveness, will need to
answer how those who take up arms against God's will can presume
on his forgiveness. And for those who find occasion to declare a
given war to be a "just war" the issue should at least be arrived
at through larger Christian consensus and not left to the private
judgment of individuals, The Christian convictions and biblical
evidence presented by this author must be a part of the dialogue.
Peace is an important concern for all of humanity. In fact,
with 50,000 nuclear warheads in place--enough to blow the world
to pieces fifty times over - peace is the overriding
social-political issue of this decade. In addition to our concern
over who might push the button, we should find the way for the
button not to exist. But as Christians we know that peace is more
than disarmament, more than the absence of terror. It is the
shalom from God, the well-being of a people living in grace. Our
mission is to extend the love of Christ, to expand the community
of God's people, to enhance the transnational fellowship of the
"For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken
down the middle wall of partition between us" (Ephesians 2:14).
Let us pray that the dynamic of Christ's love in the lives
of conscientious Christians will become a powerful force for
peace in our threatened world.
Myron S. Augsburger
A Starting Point
My college roommate, several years after World War 2, was a
dedicated young German of my own denomination. He had served in
Hitler's army. In our late night discussions he described how he
and other German Christians were caught up in all the fervor and
fury of German patriotism. During those war years he never
doubted he was doing his God-given duty. He was confident that
the German cause was just and he could not believe anything to
the contrary. Those who thought otherwise were traitors. After
all, the German war slogan was "God is with us."
Along the frontier of Germany and France one can see
tombstones bearing the identical inscription: "For God and the
Fatherland." Some are in French, marking the graves of those who
died fighting for France; some are in German, over those who died
fighting for Germany. Troops from both countries included persons
claiming to be Christians, who believed God was on their side as
they battled each other. Both sides believed their nation was
waging a just war. And both obeyed without question the demands
of political and religious leaders who assured them they were
right in doing so.
Such troubling facts led me to study seriously what the
Scripture says on the Christian's relation to war. I needed to
deal honestly with whether the position of those who seek to
follow Jesus should be different from those who do not.
Further I was forced to look at the practice of the church
down through the centuries and draw conclusions from such a
study. Is the church part and parcel of the world when it comes
to war or does the church of Jesus Christ have a different
message and method in dealing with conflict?
In sharing the essence of my own conviction as a Christian
conscientious objector to war I bear witness to what Scripture,
the Holy Spirit, and the convictions of many other concerned and
committed Christians say to me. I believe my position corresponds
closely with the viewpoint of persons and churches who have
adhered to the Christian peace position down through the
centuries. And I find that in nearly every denomination or church
tradition, in every generation, some persons believed and
preserved the views commonly held by those called "peace
In sharing my personal convictions as a conscientious
objector to participation in war, I recognize that the subject is
one which has divided sincere Christians since the fourth
century. Prior to that time there was almost unanimous agreement
that Christians cannot engage in warfare. Since then there have
been many attempts at reconciling Christianity and war.
Briefly stated biblical pacifism is rooted in divine
revelation. It accepts the Scripture as final authority in all
matters of faith and conduct. Its frame of reference is biblical
rather than philosophical or historical. It views the New
Testament as God's fullest revelation with Christ at the center
as the final court of appeal. Here is where the Christian must
begin in discussing Christian ethical behavior.
Further biblical pacifism is rooted in the experience of the
new birth by the Word and Holy Spirit. Its practice cannot be
expected from persons who operate only on the human level with
human strength alone.
Biblical or Christian pacifism, in its very essence, takes
the Scripture, Christ regeneration, and the church with utmost
seriousness. While other forms of pacifism may contain important
and helpful truths, biblical pacifism is different in its
Kinds of Pacifism
Humanistic pacifism places primary emphasis on what
concerned persons can do and applies a peace ethic to all
society. It despises war primarily because of war's destruc-tive
nature upon both humanity and all life's resources.
Gandhian pacifism exerts pressure by peaceful means to
accomplish desired ends. It is rightly concerned about human
welfare. On one occasion, when Calcutta was seething with riots
and bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus, Gandhi with love and
without violence went to the center of the dangerous city and
peace was restored. What thousands of armed soldiers could not
do, one man committed to peace did.
Moralistic pacifism makes much of the immorality of
war and the dignity and goodness of mankind. It appeals to
peoples moral judgment on war and the issues involved.
Political pacifism proposes political action, law, and
pressure upon government to avoid war. This approach seeks to
entrench itself in government to guide the state in the avoidance
Anarchistic pacifism repudiates or rejects government. It
says the state is evil.
Apocalyptic pacifism perceives the possibility for peace and
the practice of Jesus' teaching in love only in some future age
when there will be no enemies or weapons of war. It sees Christ s
commands on love and peace as impractical and impossible at
present. Others take a position which looks to the future in the
reverse of this. They refuse carnal weapons now but believe that
in the final great war, God's war, in which they will share, the
weapons God does not now allow will be approved, as they join in
the final battle.
A quick survey of approaches by those who to one degree or
another sanction the Christian engaging in warfare might be
summarized as follows:
The Catholic Church generally has assumed two layers of
Christian piety. The clergy in obedience to the Scripture dare
not fight in war, but the laypeople who are not expected to live
in such holy devotion may fight. The grace of the holy persons
somehow covers those who fight.
Modern fundamentalism calls for unquestioning obedience to
earthly men in this area, while usually claiming a clean break in
other areas They depend heavily on Old Testament illustrations
and appeal strongly to church tradition and a literalistic
interpretation of Christ as the lion, warrior, or the conqueror.
An approach taken largely by the more liberal wing of
Christendom begins with the fact of sin rather than with Christ
and points to the Christian's responsibility in society. Being
part of sinful humanity, the Christian carries social
responsibility. Since all of us are both good and evil, we all
are involved in the sin-stained society. A part of that sin is
conflict. The Christian must, in times of war, judge which is the
greater evil and choose the lesser. This may mean fighting in
some wars but refusing to fight in others.
The Just War Theory
Much of Christendom, across denominational lines Catholic
and Protestant, has attempted to deal with the Christian's
participation in war on the basis of the "just war" theory. This
theory says that under certain strictly-adhered-to conditions, a
particular war might be an exception to the gospel and not a
violation of the New Testament teaching. The following four
criteria are to guide Christians on whether or not to participate
in a specific war:
1. War is permissible only after all other efforts have failed.
2. The intention of the war must be good. For example, it should
be for the restoration of law and order, not for economic or
exploitive advantage of any kind.
3. There must be no burning, massacre, or killing of innocent
victims. Targets must be military, not civilian.
4. The force used in war must be proportionate to the goal
sought. War should not destroy more than is gained.
According to the "just war" theory Christians are to apply
these criteria in every war. And if the conditions or intentions
of the war change, Christians must declare the war is wrong and a
violation of the gospel and refuse to fight.
In response, several observations are in order.
First, the theory has never worked. There is no record that
it was ever used. Since its conception in the fourth century it
has remained only a theory. Never has a body of bishops or major
denominational body officially condemned any war.
Second, it assumes that one side will be just and the other
unjust. But as we know, both sides claim their cause is just in
times of war. Obviously there is much that is unjust on both
sides and no nation is an unbiased judge of the moral rightness
of its cause.
Catholic writer Richard McSorley in "Kill? for Peace?"
states another weakness:
"The theory was formulated to show that some wars might be an
exception to the law of the gospel; it has become a theory used
to justify every war that comes along. Instead of justifying an
exceptional war, it is used to make all wars acceptable....
The just war theory is the only attempt at a moral justification
of war by Christians. If it is rejected, then the Christian is
left with the gospel, which rejects killing as immoral."
Further the "just war" theory implies (1) that a nation will
truthfully present all the facts to its people before and during
a war so that the Christian can make a moral judgment, and (2)
that the Christian, usually an 18-year-old person, has the
discernment to make a correct judgment.
Finally, many Christians who previously held to the "just
war" theory admit that it breaks down completely, if indeed it
ever could be used, when modern weapons are designed
indiscriminately to destroy masses of civilians. Bede Griffith in
"Morals and Missiles", Catholic essays on the problem of war,
"Until now it has been a matter of debate whether it is
legitimate for a Christian to refuse to fight, but now the
question must be whether it is legitimate for a Christian to
fight at all." Modern warfare technology alone has rendered the
"just war" theory obsolete.
The biblical pacifism position holds that those who submit
unconditionally to the lordship of Christ in faith and life
cannot morally participate in any war. Accepting Christ, his
teaching, his life, and his cross as our final frame of reference
points clearly to laying down one's own life rather than taking
the life even of an enemy. The doctrine of biblical nonresistance
does not rest on a few proof texts but rather is vitally related
to the very essence of the gospel, the regenerated nature of the
Christian, and the lordship of Christ.
Biblical pacifism is the result of Christian discipleship.
My refusal to fight is based upon my calling as Christ's
disciple. Jesus is my Lord! He is my teacher and I am determined
to follow in his steps obediently, regardless of the
consequences. My way of life and ethics must be in harmony with
his. As the way of salvation is determined by him, not by me, so
the way I am called to live is detennined by his standards, not
mine. Christ tells us to love our enemies, pray for our enemies,
forgive our enemies, do good to our enemies, and overcome evil
Biblical pacifism's objective is to lead others to know
Christ and to follow him, helping them find reconciliation
with God and others so that they in turn can become ministers of
the gospel of reconciliation. To do this it is impossible to
participate in any program of ill will, retaliation, or war which
conflicts with Christ's spirit and commands. Having stated my
sincere views concerning the Christian engaging in warfare, let
me enlarge on several basic areas of conviction as a
The Victorious Christ
First and fundamental to my position is my understanding of
who Christ is, what he says, and what he did.
Who He Is
The beginning point in my conscientious objection to war has
to do with who Christ is. He is the "word become flesh." He is
the one through whom God has spoken in these last days. Christ is
God's will incarnate. He is the full and final message of God's
will and of what he intends us, as his people, to be. We are
called "to be as he is in the world."
A clear and constant concern of Scripture is to present
Christ as the cosmic Christ. He is the Savior of the world. He
died for all and cares equally for each person. But we love to
localize him. We regard Christ as a respecter of persons, and
demand that he become a national, denominational, or personal God
only. Especially during wartime, in spite of our confessions of
faith, we limit his love.
In wartime it seems difficult to believe that Christ died to
save our enemies as much as he died for us. We try to confine
Christ in the small container of one country. But Christ cannot
be thus confined. He has called and is calling disciples from
every tribe, tongue, and nation. He is the Christ of all
cultures. He is not on the side of the biggest bomb. He will
never sanction belief in racial superiority, the sin of cultural
pride, or the destruction of others of his children. As the
cosmic Christ, the savior of the world, he cannot.
What He Says
My Christology must further take into account, not only what
Christ is, but what he says. Jesus declared, "I am the way, the
truth, and the life" To believe this is to accept him not only as
the way to God for salvation, but to accept his teachings as the
way of daily discipleship. So I seek to live under his lordship.
He is the authority for belief and behavior even though the
temptation remains to live a life and to use methods he never
allowed and even spoke against.
This means that I do not go to the Old Testament as my
primary reference to prove the rightness of warfare any more than
I go to the Old Testament to prove the rightness of polygamy,
slavery, or animal sacrifices.
Christ came to fulfill the law in his own life and in his
teaching. His "but I say unto you" supersedes the Old Testament
statements and especially the reports of Old Testament behavior.
Thus reports of Joshua's battles do not become the basis of
belief and behavior for the New Testament believer. Nor does the
Christian derive his doctrine of war and peace from the account
of David's destruction of Goliath and his killing of ten
To take seriously the truth that Jesus is God's final
message means that I cannot add "except" to Christ's commands. I
dare not say, "Love your enemies (except in wartime)"; "Do not
resist an evil person (except in wartime)"; "Put your sword back
in its place ... for all who draw the sword will die by the sword
(except when the government tells one to fight)"; "If anyone
says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar (except
when he fights a war)"; "Bless those who persecute you; bless and
do not curse (except when my country is at war)"; "Do not take
revenge ... but leave room for God's wrath (except when Caesar
says differently)"; "If your enemy is hungry, feed him (except
when at war)"; and "Overcome evil with good (except when your
country reverses it)."
Christ's teaching on nonresistance to evil (on a physical
level) are clear and unequivocal. They are so clear that such men
as Tolstoy and Gandhi, who were not prepared to accept the total
Christian gospel, found their basis for pacifism in Christ's
teaching. D.L.Moody said, "There has never been a time in my life
when I felt that I could take a gun and shoot down a fellow
being. In this respect I am a Quaker."
Some time ago a brilliant young man at a leading university,
who had no contact with the teaching of the peace churches, was
asked the basis for his conscientious objection to war, He
replied, "Is there any alternative for one who takes Christ's
teaching and example seriously?"
One of the striking things about many who claim a high view
of inspiration and biblical authority, as well as the centrality
of Christ, is that they suddenly shift to philosophy, tradition,
and expediency when it comes to the war question. Many appeal far
more to tradition and the words of church fathers than they do to
the Scripture. Unlike their decisive appeal to the New Testament
for conversion and standards of Christian behavior in other
areas, they appeal to the Old Testament for the sanction of
Christians engaging in warfare.
William C.Allen describes the discrepancy between the
Christian engaging in warfare and the teaching of Christ thus:
"When I heard the sergeant who called out to the lads fresh from
bayonet practice, while instructing them how to stab and cut at
the vitals of the enemy, 'Now boys, you must forget all that you
learned in Sunday school,' I realized that the Sunday school
teaches one thing and the army another."
A writer in the "Christliche Welt," a prominent religious
journal in Germany in 1917, proposed the temporary suspension of
Christianity for the duration of the World War. "In a war of this
character, where ruthlessnesses of an unparalleled type are
displayed and when the very rudiments of Christianity are
ignored, it would be wise," the journal suggested, "if
Christianity is to be maintained, that it should not be preached,
or taught, during the continuance of war."
Jonathan Dymond in "Essay on War" (1824) wrote: "If we will
not be peaceable, let us then at least be honest, and acknowledge
that we continue to slaughter one another, not because
Christianity permits it, but because we reject her laws."
James Russell Lowell was blunt and burning in his stanza:
As for war, I call it murder, There you her, it plain and flat,
I don't want to go no furder, Than my Testament fer that.
Christ will never send his disciples where he himself will
not lead. "Follow me" is forever his watchword. It is impossible
to imagine Christ leading in the slaughter of others for whom he
What He Did
Finally, my Christology must take seriously what Christ did.
All the records of Christ's works indicate that he spent his life
in matters related to God's will and his redemptive work. One
thing upon which we all agree is that Jesus personified in his
person and relationships - in his love for his enemies by dying
on a cross - the way of love and peace. To my knowledge, no one
has ever dared to picture Christ with a gun in his hand.
Jesus is my example. He demonstrated throughout his earthly
life the way of suffering love in contrast to retaliation. All
Christ's words are brought to living expression in himself. And
he says, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John
20:21). The Scripture repeatedly says in many different ways, "As
he is, so am I in this present world."
According to the apostles, the way Christ dealt with evil
and how he bore his cross instead of retaliating against his
enemies are to be imitated. All the New Testament writers, with
the possible exception of Jude, mention this. Paul says, "Follow
me as I follow Christ" Peter points out clearly, "To this you
were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an
example, that you should follow in his steps.... When they hurled
their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he
made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges
justly" (1 Peter 2:21,23) "Whoever claims to live in him [Jesus]
must walk as Jesus did" (I John 2:6). Paul writes, "Your attitude
should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5).
Christ demonstrated the way of peace, and he commands his
followers to do the same. We are to have his spirit in relating
to our enemies. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he
does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9). The Sermon on the Mount,
the essence of Jesus' teaching, is picked up phrase by phrase
throughout the New Testament, calling for obedience here and now.
As a peacemaker, Christ calls me to invade and penetrate all
of life and society - with life, not death - and to preach the
practical possibility of reconciliation among persons everywhere.
I witness by what I say and do that the war is over, that
hostility is an outright denial of the message of Christ,
contrary to the spirit of his teaching. "Jesus said, 'My kingdom
is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight.... But
now my kingdom is from another place" (John 18:36).
Relation to the Cross
To make Christ only divine in dying for us and then to claim
that we are not to live as he lived, not to follow in his steps,
is to fall into the old docetic heresy which denies Christ's true
humanity. Christ calls us not only to enter into his death but to
live his life. The new birth is not only a rebirth of the soul
but a rebirth of life where all things become new. And his Holy
Spirit is given to us to bring to pass the divine will in us.
C.Rutenber of Eastern Baptist Seminary commenting on the song,
"Battle Hymn of the Republic" says:
"That typical war song of Christendom, dragging Christ to battle,
needs to have the sentimentality squeezed out of it.
Realistically, it must be read like this: 'As he died to make man
holy, let us kill to make men free.' Also that spoils the song."
The great betrayal of Christ through the centuries is that
his professed followers reach out to claim the benefits of the
cross for salvation but refuse to take the way of the cross as
the means to live the Christ life. Christ calls us not only to
faith but to discipleship. The way of the cross is always linked
to the work of the cross. The whole life and death of Christ is
an indictment of carnal warfare.
Christ's disciples were slow at learning that his methods
were opposite the sword. When Peter felt he could solve things by
using the sword Jesus had to remind him that this is not the way
his kingdom operates (John 18:10-11).
I agree with Reo M.Christenson, who wrote in "Christianity
Today" (January 5, 1973): "It still seems reasonable to me that
the church should condemn such public evils as racial
discrimination, cruelty, oppression, hypocrisy, deceit,
corruption, and war - especially war, which I find wholly
incompatible with the Sermon on the Mount and all Jesus stood
for. And I think the church should encourage its members to
oppose these things by every peaceful and ethical means. All of
these are evils that Jesus opposed by word, example, implicitly,
I agree also with Robert McAfee Brown in his book "The Bible
Speaks to You" when he writes:
"Nothing in Jesus life or teachings can be 'twisted' in support
of killing or warfare."
Ronald J.Sider, in an outstanding article, "A Call for
Evangelical Nonviolence," makes an appeal to those who
take the Scripture and the atonement of Christ seriously:
"It is my contention that a biblical understanding of the cross
leads necessarily to a nonviolent stance, and, conversely, that
only a fully biblical view of the cross and justification can
provide an adequate foundation for nonviolence. As Dale Brown
suggests, 'The tendency to separate God's love of his enemies
from our love of [our] enemies is one of the heresies of the
doctrine of the atonement.'"
Sider says further:
"If evangelicals really believe that Jesus is Lord and that
canonical Scripture is binding then surely there is only one
possibility. If Scripture calls us to love our enemies as Jesus
loved his enemies on the cross, we must either accept the way of
nonviolence or abandon our affirmation of scriptural
authority.... If we reject the biblical imperative to follow
Jesus at this point, we in effect express our disbelief about the
validity of God's way of reconciling enemies. But to do that is
to express disbelief about the atonement itself."
Thus to take up the sword is for me to deny all Christ is,
what he said, and what he did in life and in dying on the cross.
Now that is saying it as it is. Amen to it all. As a child
reading my Bible, especially the Gospels, the words of Christ in
red (and kids like that, easy to see what He said) it was obvious
to me that Christians fighting in a nation's war machine did not
square with the teachings of the Gospels. Jesus had come to
institute a NEW WAY, a NEW COVENANT. What was ALLOWED by God in
the Old Covenant, because of the hardness of the human heart,
was, in MANY ways to CHANGE. A NEW order was to enter, and some
things old were to be replaced with NEW standards, and a new
attitude of mind and heart.
It is time for MANY to RETURN to being like a CHILD in reading
the words of Christ and in having the FAITH of the NEW that now
replaces much of the old.
Entered on this Website January 2008