WHY I'M A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR #3
by John M. Drescher
The "Ordained" Government
Fundamental to my peace position is my understanding of what
the Scripture says about govemment and human authority.
The Lambeth Conference in London in 1920 said:
"Each of us belongs by his birth to some one of the many nations
of the world. But the Christian belongs by the second birth to
one holy nation which is God's own possession. When loyalty to
his own nation causes conflict with the loyalty to that holy
nation of which Christ is king, a Christian can have no doubt
which loyalty gives way."
Basic to my not engaging in warfare is my understanding of
the clear and consistent scriptural teaching on the two kingdoms.
Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my
servants would fight" (John 18:38).
In the context of Romans 13 which speaks of the Chris-
tian being nonconformed to this world, living in peace,
exercising love for the enemy, and leaving vengeance to Cod, we
have the statement that the "powers" are ordained by God. This
statement has caused a lot of problems for some.
Several things stand out clear. God planned order not chaos
or anarchy. Even bad governments can, to some degree, preserve
order. Second, God is over the powers. He ordained them. But this
cannot mean, as some suggest, that God is morally responsible for
every ruler in power. God ordained all men in the same way since
this is addressed to Christians regardless of the country in
which we live. He ordained the leaders in China the same way he
ordained leaders in the United States.
(Which may and does in many cases mean, He ordained them not! He
often, and in the main, leaves men to "do their own thing" - BUT,
He keeps the power to shape, stop, allow, whatever, at whatever
time. So in that respect He still "ordains" the nations. He
always remains in the final power and authority over all His
creation - Keith Hunt)
God ordered or ordained government, no doubt, in much the
same way he ordained marriage. He ordained that people should
hallow relationships through marriage and he ordered that mankind
should live in order, not anarchy. It can never mean that he puts
his stamp of approval on every marriage or on every government
(I guess not, or how would you account for Hitler and his work
and government - Keith Hunt)
Next the Scripture says that government officials are
ministers of God to the extent that they reward the good and evil
according to their merits. The effectiveness of government can be
measured by these two factors. The same point is made in I Peter
2:13,14. Therefore, as a Christian, I should do good. Dare we
argue that the Christian is told by God to do wrong if the
officials order them to do so?
Here in Romans, as elsewhere in the Scripture, I am told to
submit to the authorities. Notice, however, obedience and fear
are reserved for God. And if that obedience to God conflicts with
human authority and results in punishment or persecution, then I,
along with Christ, the apostles, and faithful disciples down
through the centuries, must be willing to submit to the
consequences of that disobedience.
(And it is IMPORTANT to know that Paul and Peter use "general
statements" as do other writers of other parts of the Bible. You
need to make sure you UNDERSTAND this important key to reading
the Bible. Study "An Important Key" if you have not done so
already. The general statement by Paul and Peter can have many
exceptions. If the power is basically good and follows a good way
to live, many laws etc. falling in line with God's laws, then
indeed they are doing His will, and are there to uphold those
decent and good laws of the land, and if you break them, you're
in trouble. The Roman Government of Paul's time allowed the Jews
to live very well, and observe their religion, temple,
priesthood, sacrifices, Sabbath etc. All that Rome asked was that
the Jews be good citizens. It is very much like living in Canada
or the USA today. Be a good citizen and obey the overall good
laws of our land, they are, many of them in line with God's laws
and will in living decently. Get out of line with them and you
are in trouble - Keith Hunt)
The Scripture can never mean, as it is interpreted by many
in regard to warfare, that I must do whatever any king president,
dictator, or magistrate orders. We admire Daniel for disobeying.
We could not yield if a ruler demanded idol worship or ordered us
to quit preaching the gospel. Many who hold that we must obey the
government when it says we should fight are the quickest to tell
the government when they will not obey in other areas. Why, in
this one area of warfare, do so-called Christians and biblicists
say we are commanded to obey without question? Why, in this one
area, is there no separation of church and state?
Further, if the command of Scripture is to obey, why try war
criminals who obeyed leaders without question? Then those who
obeyed Hitler in killing the Jews were doing their God-given
duty; then Hitler was ordained and doing God's will. No, Jesus
said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's"
(Matthew 22:21). Obedience is for God alone. The problem is that
the church has usually rendered to Caesar more than his due and
to God less than belongs to him.
To render the government its due or to submit to those in
authority can never mean to do anything the state asks one to do
and throw the guilt back on these who issue the order.
Romans 13 also tells us not to resist the powers. Does this
mean we should never question or seek to change existing programs
or policies of the government? Does it mean that Christians
should never speak out or act in the face of injustice and evil?
Hardly! it does, however, preclude the Christian's involvement in
revolution and violence. There is a vast difference between
witnessing to government and taking up a gun for its overthrow.
The Christian is not to engage in the overthrow of governments.
And we dare not be detracted by the argument that Paul appealed
to Caesar for help. There is a vast difference between appealing
for legal help and taking up a gun and killing a person, his
family, and as many in the community and country as possible.
Thus Romans 13 (and other passages usually used to sanction
the Christian engaging in warfare) really calls Christians to
refuse to be squeezed into the conformist and pagan values of the
world's systems so that we may be free to pledge full allegiance
to God and to live under the lordship of Christ. The New
Testament teaches that the loyalty and relation of the Christian
to government is a limited one: to pray and honor always, to
overthrow never, and to obey when NOT in conflict with God's
will. See 1 Timothy 2:1, 2; and Acts 5:29.
(And remembering that Paul and Peter were using "general
statements" that have many exceptions in various situations and
times, will help you understand correctly these often misused
passages - Keith Hunt)
Finally a biblical pacifist is a realist. He knows the power
of sin. He knows that the way of reconciliation many times means
death He does not ask, "What will happen to me if I am faithful
to Christ?" He knows what faithfulness cost Christ. Like his
Lord, he may be faced with the accusation that he is socially
irresponsible and a traitor to his nation.
Persecution and Misunderstanding
A peacemaker can expect persecution Jesus made this clear,
and he pronounced the persecuted "blessed." Sam Darcy wrote:
"In the past fifty years we have arrested tens of thousands who
advocated peace. Many hundreds of them were tried, fined, and
imprisoned. But we have in the past hundred years never arrested,
tried, or convicted even one advocate of war."
Sometimes pacifists have been labeled cowards. The best
answer to that is the courage and suffering which many pacifists
have endured. And, which is easier for any of us, to go with the
tide or to have the courage to stand for what one believes in
spite of public opinion? Pacifism is not easy when the church,
community, and the entire country is against the few who go
contrary to the crowd. During the past wars, many Christian
pacifists have suffered greatly, not only from government, but
even more from other "Christians." One needs only to read a book
such as "Peace Be with You" by Cornelia Lehn to catch a glimpse
A peacemaker can expect to be misunderstood. W.G.Peck in
"The Divine Revelation" writes:
"The power of the world, founded upon force and forging even more
perfect weapons of death, will always disown him [Jesus] as
It will also disown his faithful followers. Robert E.
Goodrich,Jr., speaks of a cartoon which pictures a young man on a
street corner holding a sign with only one word on it "Peace."
Across the street people are yelling in hate, "Troublemaker."
Goodrich comments: "The same thing would probably happen to us if
we were to put any one of the beatitudes on a sign and walk down
Reinhold Niebuhr says it another way: "Nothing which is true
or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate
context of history: therefore we must be saved by faith."
John F.Kennedy observed: "War will exist until that distant
day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation
and prestige that the warrior does today."
A true peacemaker is not passive. He believes in the power
of love and the power of God. "For though we live in the world,
we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with
are not the weapons of the world" (2 Corinthians 10:3,4). The
Christian peacemaker believes that no ruler is more powerful than
God, and that God will finally triumph. The peacemaker gives
priority to solving conflict at his own risk rather than at the
risk of another. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" not
just the "peacekeepers."
The Christian Practice
Although my position does not arise from the traditional or
historical approach, but from the Scripture, yet the facts of
history are striking in speaking to the early Christians
attitudes toward war.
All serious scholars of church history today agree that for
the first three centuries of the Christian church, Christians
rejected not only emperor worship and idolatry but participation
in the military. Obedience to the gospel, the early church held,
was consistent only with a position of non-resistance and not
serving in the military.
Yale church historian Roland Bainton writes: "From the end
of the New Testament period to the decade 170-180 there is no
evidence whatever of Christians in the army." Guy F.Hershberger
adds: "It is quite clear that prior to about AD 174 it is
impossible to speak of Christian soldiers." No single leader of
Christianity in the pre-Constantinian era (313 AD) approved a
military career as right for a believer in Jesus Christ. Bainton
"All of the East and West repudiated participation in warfare for
Later when some began to serve as secretaries, clerks, and
other noncombatant positions in the military, the early church
father, Tertullian, disagreed with this and any kind of
Tertullian (who died in AD 225) asked: "If we are enjoined
to love our enemies, who are we to hate? If injured we are
forbidden to retaliate, who then can suffer injury at our hands?"
Tertullian also insisted that if a soldier is converted he
must immediately abandon the military (which he says many have
done). Other early church fathers made similar statements.
Justin Martyr (martyred in AD 150) said, "We who were filled
with war, and mutual slaughter, and every wickedness, have each
through the whole earth changed our warlike weapons, our swords
into ploughshares and our spears into implements of tillage."
Origen, the great Alexandrian theologian of a century later
sai: "We [Christians] no longer take up sword against nation, nor
do we learn war any more, but are become the children of peace."
In March of AD 295 Maximilian, the son of an army officer,
was put to death for refusal to put on a soldier's uniform. He
refused to accept the soldier's badge saying repeatedly that he
could not do so because he was a Christian. The story of his
trial and his response and death is recorded in many books with
clear evidence that he was considered by the church at that time
as a holy martyr for refusing to serve in the military.
English scholar C.J.Cadoux, in his thorough and extensive
study of the early church and war, says that the church testified
uniformly against the military profession during the first three
centuries of the Christian church. In his book, "The Early
Christian Attitude Toward War," Cadoux reports that early
Christians did not compromise on nonresistance; only after
Constantine gave Christianity the official support of the empire
was compromise made. The writings of Augustine finally influenced
the church officially to sanction Christian participation in the
armies. G.J.Herring in "The Fall of Christianity" speaks of this
joining of church and state as the fall of the church.
In a substantial piece of historical scholarship, "It Is Not
Lawful for Me to Fight," French scholar Jean-Michel Hornus speaks
of the great cover-up of the historical fact that "all early
Christians have agreed upon the rejection of military violence."
And one reason why this fact is often overlooked is that
this commitment "appears to have been a spontaneous reaction by
the Christians, a virtual state of mind, rather than a dogma of a
church law." Hornus quotes the church fathers who stress the
wrongness for the Christian to go to war even when it appears
justified. He cites a soldier named Martin, converted about the
year 336 who was later Bishop of Tours. Martin told the Emperor
Julian, "Hitherto I have served you as a soldier. Allow me now to
become a soldier to God. Let the man who is to serve you receive
yon donative, I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me
Even many years later the church, at least in official
documents, opposed the Christian's engagement in warfare, which
the following story illustrates.
When Ivan the Terrible ruled Russia, he was so intense in
his leadership that he neglected his social life. This became a
great concern to his aides and upon their recommendation Ivan
decided to marry. He sent some of his aides on a search for a
bride. They settled on Sophia, the daughter of the king of
Greece. Ivan asked the king for his daughter's hand. The wish was
granted on the condition that Ivan the Terrible become a member
of the Greek Orthodox Church, which he agreed to do.
Upon hearing of the church's requirements for baptism, Ivan was
distressed. One of the articles stated that a member could no
longer be a professional soldier. So Ivan devised a plan. When he
and 500 of his army went into the water with 500 priests for
baptism by immersion, Ivan and his soldiers each extended an arm,
with a sword, out of the water. They had joined the church with
their bodies but left their swords and fighting arms unbaptized.
How persistently the church has thought that it can own
Christ's lordship and still kill with the sword, At least Ivan
and his soldiers recognized the conflict and contradiction more
clearly than most of Christendom through the centuries.
Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue
from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from
evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
1 Peter 3:10,11.
If you have not yet done so, study by studies called "The
Christian and Warfare" on this Website - Keith Hunt
Entered on this Website January 2008