A Christian Declaration on Peace, War, and Military Service (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1953)
Christian Declaration on Peace, War, and Military Service, A (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1953)
The position of the General Conference Mennonite Church on love and nonresistance as adopted at Portland, Oregon, August 22, 1953.
"We believe that war is altogether contrary to the teaching and spirit of Christ and the Gospel; that therefore war is sin." Thus spoke representatives of the General Conference Mennonite Church, meeting at Souderton, Pennsylvania, August 17-22, 1941. The world was just then beginning to experience the full tragedy of the most devastating war in history. The armistice, which concluded World War II, ushered in an era which has been one not of peace but of the sword. Among the most grievous conflicts of our day is the deeply embedded ideological and power struggle between Fast and West. Today the world is haunted by fear of future war.
In this moment of world history we wish humbly to acknowledge anew the total claim of Jesus Christ in our lives individually and jointly. We pray that our brotherhood might achieve a new unity of conviction concerning the Gospel teachings of love, peace, and nonresistance. We pray also that many outside our Conference may be led to respond to the call of Christ and to a life of nonresistance. To this end we submit this declaration on peace, war, and military service.
Our convictions concerning the way of love and peace are shared with Christians in many communions because these beliefs are rooted in the great essentials of the Christian Gospel. We appreciate the mutual encouragement this wider fellowship has afforded. We share with other Mennonite branches the conviction that the doctrine of love, peace, and nonresistance is of Christ's and not of man's making. We join in the reaffirmation of the inter-Mennonite peace statement issued in 1950 at Winona Lake, Indiana, as follows:
- It is our faith that one is our Master, even Christ, to whom alone supreme loyalty and obedience is due, who is our only Savior and Lord.
- It is our faith that by the renewing grace of God which makes us new creatures in Christ, and alone thereby, we can through the power of the indwelling Spirit live the life of holy obedience and discipleship to which all the sons of God are called, for His grace does forgive and heal the penitent sinner and brings us to a new life of fellowship with Him and with one another.
- It is our faith that redeeming love is at the heart of the Gospel, coming from God and into us to constrain us to love Him and our neighbor, and that such love must henceforth be at the center of every thought and art.
- It is our faith that Christ has established in His church a universal community and brotherhood within which the fullness of Christ's reign must be practiced, into which the redeemed must be brought, and from which must go out into all human society the saving and heading ministry of the Gospel.
- It is our faith that the life of love and peace is God's plan for the individual and the race, and that therefore discipleship means the abandonment of hatred, strife and violence In au human relations, both individual and social.
Our convictions concerning peace and war grow out of our understanding of the Bible as the infallible Word of God, believing that God has revealed himself supremely in Jesus Christ and that all Scripture must be interpreted in the light of this revelation. The term "nonresistance," which has traditionally characterized our biblical peace position, is derived from the admonition of our Lord: "Resist not evil" (Matthew 5:39). Nonresistance is an expression of Christian love and emphasizes that which love refrains from doing as it encounters evil. The pages of Scripture are written large with the divine judgment upon resistance, war, and hatred. For example:
Matthew 26:52 "Put up again thy sword into his place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." John 18:36 "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight." Romans 12:19 "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, taut rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." 1 Timothy 2:24 "The servant of the Lord mast not strive; but be gentle unto all men." 1 Peter 3:8, 9 "Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another . . . not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing." James 4:1 "From whence come wars and fightings among you, come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" 2 Corinthians 10:4 "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal." Romans 12:21 "Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good",
Christian love is essentially positive. Jesus admonishes us to love others as God loves us: "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love" (John 15:9) ; "This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as, I have loved you" (John 15:12). If God loved pus while we were His enemies, we must love our earthly enemies:
Matthew 5:44-45 "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." Romans 12:20 "If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head." Matthew 7:12 "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." Romans 12:18 "Live peaceably with all men." Matthew 6:14 "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers." 1 Corinthians 13:15 "And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
All these words concerning nonresistance, reconciliation and ways of overcoming evil were brought to living fulfillment in Jesus Himself. "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not" (1 Peter 2:21-23). Not only did Christ reveal in His life, death, and resurrection His way of nonresistant suffering and triumphant, reconciling love, but also the whole tenor of the Gospel manifests this theme. The atoning cross of Christ in the center of human history stands also for the acceptance of suffering, the sacrifice of, self, the outpouring of love, and the complete surrender of life to the ministry of redemption for others. As disciples of the Cross we are called to a life of nonresistance and peacemaking: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23).
Scriptural Principles Applied to Life:
These peace principles--rooted in the Gospel of Christ--have been cherished by our fathers and forefathers through more than four centuries of faith and obedience. We are penitent because we today embody so imperfectly that glorious heritage of high commitment which was wrought out in the fires of sacrifice, persecution, and martyrdom. Conscious that all members of our congregations are not of a single mind on these issues, we humbly present our convictions on how the love of Christ does lead us unitedly to seek living expression in our total relationship to others.
- We believe that the way of nonresistance and peacemaking finds its true source in a soul that is at peace with God; and we pray that "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" may abide in our hearts and minds and imbue all our relations with our fellow men.
- We believe that the way of reconciling love should find its first expression in the intimate relationships of home, and that from here these relationships should extend to the church, school, community, and vocation. We confess that we have too often been found wanting in the Christian graces of love, forgiveness, patience, and peacemaking. We hearken to the admonition of the Apostle Paul: "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32).
- We believe that Christian love knows none of the artificial barriers of race and class. The disciple of Christ loves and ministers to all men. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free . . . for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). We would humbly seek deliverance from the prejudices which continue to corrode our souls.
- We believe that strife and wars are born of the selfishness and greed of individuals, groups, and nations. (James 4:1). We invoke divine aid that we might be emancipated from a covetous passion for material gain and that we might be sensitive and responsive to the basic needs and wishes of our neighbors both near and far. We acknowledge the summons of Christ to transform all our economic and social relationships with the spirit of love.
- We believe that we are called to minister through the spoken and the written word and in loving deeds to those who suffer and live in want. With thankfulness to God for channels of service, we pledge our labors in missions and relief, reconstruction and resettlement, voluntary service and disaster work, and other programs of the Conference and the Mennonite Central Committee. In all these voluntary works of love to suffering humanity we pray that everything may be done "in the name of Christ." Seeking for all men first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we must embrace in one united ministry the evangelism which brings men to Christ and the creative application of the Gospel to cultural, social and material needs.
- We believe that God has established the state in its place of authority and we express gratitude to our respective governments for making legal provision for the expression of Christian conscience. We pledge prayers of intercession for our governments and promise to live lives of usefulness and moral integrity.
- We believe, however, that when instances arise where the demands of state run counter to the authority of God, we must declare with Peter that "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
- We believe that even toward the monstrous evils of such totalitarian systems as secular Communism the Christian Gospel has a positive word; Christ's followers meet their enemies in the spirit of Christian love. Our warfare must be spiritual, "overcoming evil with good."
This leads us to the conviction with which we began, that war is altogether contrary to the teaching and spirit of Christ and the Gospel. War is sin. If we profess the principle of peace and nevertheless engage in warfare and strife, we as Christians become guilty of sin and fall under the condemnation of Christ, "the righteous judge."
We are deeply concerned that some of our fellowship when confronted with the issue have not found themselves in full accord with the official church position and have accepted or endorsed some form of military service. However, as a church and as individuals we assure them of our continued love and prayers thereby "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . . till we all come in the unity of the faith . . . ." (Ephesians 4:3, 13)
Application to Military Service:
In the light of the foregoing statements of belief and in the sincere desire to stand with Christ, the Prince of Peace, we cannot approve military service in any form. Our position leads us to. the following convictions:
- We are constrained of Christ to take no part in warfare or military service as combatants or as noncombatants because both forms of service have as their ultimate military end the impairment and destruction of life or property of our fellow men.
- We cannot with clear conscience apply our labor, money or material resources for the furtherances of military ends. For example, we cannot remain true to our peace witness if we purchase war bonds or work in defense industries.
- We cannot serve under civilian organizations if their purposes are diverted to military objectives.
- We declare it unchristian to share in wartime propaganda, hysteria, and mass hatred and revenge.
- We are aware that as laborers, employers, farmers, professional people, and property holders we benefit from the inflationary values of wartime. We therefore hold ourselves morally responsible to share generously these monetary gains for the relief of human suffering and the spread of the Gospel.
- If we reject military service, it follows that we can have no part in any form of peacetime or wartime preparation for that service--such as training in schools and colleges or participating is other forms of scientific, educational or cultural programs designed to contribute to military purposes.
- We continue to witness against universal military conscription with its injurious effects on the moral fibre of men and nations. Because we cannot support military conscription in any form we seek to find alternative patterns of service that both satisfy and transcend the demands of the state. We pledge ourselves to the sacrificial support of these alternative services.
- If war does come again with all its possible terrors of destructiveness, bombing, atomic blasts, bacteriological warfare, poison gas--we declare our readiness to serve sacrificially to save and restore life but not to destroy it. In the light of our above statements it follows, however, that we cannot serve in civilian defense programs if they are under military direction, designed to fulfill military objectives.
We humbly confess our inadequacies in fully understanding and faithfully living the abundant life of love and peace which Jesus taught us. We are aware of the gulf which separates our official conference position and our individual practice; nevertheless, we press on in the hope of having each member drawn into a close, personal, living relationship of Jesus Christ. We believe that, with God's grace, our fellowship will be revived in the ways of love, peace axed nonresistance if we yield ourselves in an unqualified discipleship to Christ, earnestly search the Scriptures, diligently educate our children, build churches that are consecrated brotherhoods, permeate our communities with Christian patterns of living, and move forward in a mighty thrust of teaching, preaching, healing and service.
To the Christians of all communions we affirm that our Lord is pleading with his Church for a break with war and that He is calling His children to a life of love, nonresistance and peacemaking In Christ. We appeal to all men to search reverently the Scriptures, to respond affirmatively to the claims of Christ, and to be co-laborers with Christ in the blessed ministry of reconciliation of man to God and man to his fellow man. Amen.
Context of the Statement
This 1953 statement was approved by the General Conference Mennonite Church delegate convention only weeks after a ceasefire was finally achieved in the Korean War after two years of negotiations. The shadow of conscription and military clearly helped to focus Mennonite attention on its own peace witness as the cold war continued to bubble. The statement emerged from the Board of Christian Service; the sole Canadian on the Board was J. A. Dyck of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. The denominational leadership planned carefully for this statement. Consideration by the delegates was preceded by presentations by influential denominational leaders like Erland Waltner, Carl Lehman and Robert Kreider on the topics of nonresistance, the Anabaptist vision and the limitations of the non-combatant position. The statement received unanimous approval after lengthy discussion.
A number of Mennonite peace statements were approved during the early 1950s, including the 1950 Mennonite Central Committee statement at Winona Lake, Indiana, and the Mennonite Church's 1951 Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance. This statement expanded the earlier 1941 Statement of the Position of the General Conference of the Mennonite Church of North America on Peace, War, Military Service, and Patriotism approved during World War II.
Reports and official minutes of the thirty-third session of the General Conference Mennonite Church held at Jennings Lodge, Portland, Oregon, August 15-23, 1953. Newton, Kan. : The Conference, 1953: 247, 267-271.
"Report of the General Conference." The Mennonite 68 (8 September 1953): 553-554.