We have seen from historical records the history of Catholic teaching regarding participation in war and fighting. What has been the Protestant teaching and practice? Most Protestant sects do not teach against fighting. The usual practice is for a young man in a Protestant church to fight for his country in time of national emergency. However, there have been a few denominations who have taught that it is wrong to fight and participate in war. Was Protestantism always divided on this subject? What was the view of the original theologians of the Protestant Reformation? Did they hold to the teachings of a few sects today, who will not participate in war, or did they teach that it was a Christian's duty to fight? Where did the various teachings start, and who are the ones who have held differing beliefs? It is time to learn the answer to these and other intriguing questions concerning various Protestant sects.
The most famous man of the Protestant reformers was Martin Luther. In spiritual matters he taught that the Christian must be subject only to Christ. However, he taught that in physical matters concerning the state, the Christian must be subject to the state. The reasoning behind this is that God has ordained all human government, and therefore man must be subject to that government. Luther apparently wished to avoid the issue of fighting but it was necessary that he face the issue and state his belief. Here is his statement: "The hand which bears such a sword (the sword of government) is as such no longer man's hand but God's; and not man it is, but God, who hangs, breaks on the wheel, beheads, strangles and wages war... It is not I that smites, thrusts and kills, but God and my Prince, whose servants are my hand and life." (Ob Kriegsleute, page 626, as quoted in The New Testament Basis of Pacifism, Macgregor, page 130). From this one statement, it is apparent that Luther did not depart from the teaching of the Catholic Church on this point. The Protestant Reformation did not get back to the same teachings of Christ, the Apostles, or the Church of the first few centuries. If God bears the sword of war for each government, as Luther reasons, then God fights against Himself in every war. This is the faulty reasoning of man contrary to God's revelation, the Bible!
Protestant Church Teaching
This basis of belief is commonly practiced or accepted by most Protestant Churches today. Very few if any churches who have held this belief have ever changed to the opposite view. However, there have been some sects and divisions of the Protestant Church who have been founded with the belief that fighting is wrong. Principal among those who have started with nonviolent teachings are those of the "historic peace churches." These churches have always taught that war was wrong and that the Christian should have no participation in war. Or they have taught that if a Christian is engaged in war it must be in a noncombatant capacity. A non-combatant is a person in military service who does not carry any weapons. Such men usually work in special assignments such as the medical corps, or other positions not requiring the carrying of weapons. Of the churches of this group, the Society of Friends, often called Quakers, are most widely known. This society (it has never legally called itself a church) arose as a result of the teachings of George Fox in the middle of the 17th Century. This was a whole century after the time of Luther and the Reformation. The Friends had considerable persecution in England, so many of them migrated to America. In Massachusetts they had about as much persecution from the Puritans as they had previously experienced in England from the Anglicans. So, they moved to other areas such as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. William Penn was one of the leaders of this organization. Here they finally found freedom from religious persecution. Here is a portion of the statement on warfare by George Fox, the founder of the society, in a declaration made in 1660. "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ... which leads us into all truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the Kingdom of Christ, or for the kingdoms of this world... Therefore we cannot learn war anymore." (Statements of Religious Bodies, Compiled by the National Service Board for Religious Objectors, edited by C. Leroy Doty, page 27). A second organization that has historically spoken against participation in war is the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches. Here is a portion of their statement: "We cannot compromise with war in any form... We cannot have any part in financing war operations or preparations through war bonds. We cannot knowingly participate in the manufacture of munitions weapons, and instruments of war or destruction. We cannot take part in scientific, educational, or cultural programs designed to contribute to war, or in any propaganda or activity that tends to promote ill-will or hatred among men or nations." From these statements it is clear that these organizations have stated their beliefs and intentions clearly. There are other religious sects that have also published statements of belief on warfare. The Jehovah's Witnesses are known to many people as conscientious objectors to war, However, their approach to this subject is slightly different from some of the other organizations. They believe themselves to be a society of ministers who are already in an army (spiritual) and therefore cannot participate in the military activities of the nations of this world. Here are portions of a statement prepared by the general counsel for the Jehovah's Witnesses, "Jehovah's Witnesses are conscientiously opposed to war as prosecuted by nations and to the participation in such war in any form. Jehovah's witnesses are a society of ministers... We are Christian soldiers, and as such we are in an army." (Ibid, page 31). The Church of the Brethren is another church which has taken a stand against military service. Here is a portion of their official statement concerning war. "All war is sin. We, therefore cannot encourage, engage in or willingly profit from armed conflict at home or abroad. We cannot, in the event of a war, accept military service or support the military machine in any capacity." (Ibid, page 11). These are just a few of the various sects who have taught against participation in the wars between nations. There are fifty-seven churches recorded in the work just quoted who have made statements concerning this subject. Some of these church statements teach that it is the Christian duty to fight in war, however most of them state that it is wrong.
Let Your Conscience be Your Guide
The majority of Protestant churches are "on the fence". They permit their members to be pacifists, conscientious objectors of various sorts, or to participate in war according to their own conscience. Even in those churches which teach against war and fighting there is a great variation in the belief and activity of the membership. Even in some sects that teach against fighting, the member may enter military service in a combatant or non-combatant capacity if "his conscience" so permits. Some do not follow the teaching of their church in regard to fighting. In some of these denominations one man may refuse "for conscience sake" to register with selective service. Another may register but refuse any kind of military service for "conscience sake". Another may accept noncombatant service. From these comments it becomes apparent that there is a great deal of confusion among the sects on this subject. Any observant person, especially during the time of war, such as World War II, will notice that the over-whelming majority of the Protestant Churches either permit their members to go to war, or actively teach that they should as a patriotic duty. Thus we have two extremes. One church teaches that the member must fight for his country. Another church teaches that it is wrong under any circumstances to have anything to do with the military, or for that matter to even assist in a civilian capacity in the war effort. Between these extremes is every shade of difference in belief. Here are churches which purport to be the Churches of Jesus Christ. Christ was not divided' Yet these churches are' This is BABYLON or confusion.
Conscience is not Enough
The basis of teaching for many of these churches is a matter of conscience. "Do what your conscience tells you." From this has come the common term "conscientious objectors." In other words, people who object to war for conscience sake. Others do not object to war for conscience sake. Most of the churches will not take a stand on this issue because their congregations would not permit it. In following the conscience, a person does what seems right in his own mind. That is the way most religions follow today. In the final analysis each man is usually permitted to make up his own mind as to what is right or wrong. Whether or not he should fight or not fight. This way of life is mentioned several times in the Bible. In the Book of Judges almost continual wars and violence are described. There were famines, times of slavery, and times of temporary deliverance. What brought all this trouble and hardship to Israel? The reason is given at the very end of the book. "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). The nation of Israel followed their conscience. Disaster and suffering resulted' Today the story is the same. We are in a time of war and rumor of war. Why? Because people are still doing what seems right to them instead of what saith the Lord! Most of these churches are not teaching, "thus saith the Lord", concerning war and violence. They say: "Do what seems right to you (your conscience) God will understand." This same way is also mentioned in Proverbs. "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). Here again is the way of conscience. Why is it that the way of conscience is wrong? "The heart (mind, or conscience) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer. 17:19). From these scriptures it is plain why we cannot use our conscience as our guide. Something more sure and certain is needed. We must know God's ways and His laws, not our own ways.'
"Christian 'fights' Christian"
By following conscience, we may end up fighting against men of our own faith and doctrine. That is exactly what has happened in most of the wars of the last millennium and a half. Catholic fighting Catholic. Lutheran fighting Lutheran. Methodist fighting Methodist, Almost all major denominations have been fighting each other in the wars of men. Witness both world wars, and witness the Civil War in the United States where even "Christian" brother fought against "Christian" brother. This is not of God' This is of Satan the Devil. Satan is trying to completely destroy the works and creation of God. One way he is attempting to do this is to get the churches to teach that it is right to fight. Then, when war is stirred up, many people who have been taught this way of conscience, will fight and kill each other. Satan is trying to bring a complete end to all mankind and influence man to destroy himself in world cosmocide with the awesome and fearful atomic weapons now stockpiled. God will restrain man from such a terrible end and thwart Satans plan (Matt. 24:22). What we and all mankind need to learn is that there is a God in heaven who has set certain physical and spiritual laws in motion. It is these laws, as revealed in Holy Scripture, that are to regulate our behavior, not our conscience. Our conscience is only a reflection of our training, our environment, and what we have learned through the five physical senses. This is not enough. We need to have better facts and information on which to base our actions.
Bible has Only Sure Answer
We must go to the Bible to find God's Divine revelation for man. Throughout it's pages we will find the right way to live. We will not find it by following our conscience. We need to be steadfast in our belief, based on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ and His teachings throughout the Bible. We must not do, as most of the religions of today, and teach that we should fight. We should not sit on the fence as many other churches are doing today. We must make plain simple clear statements that fighting and warring between nations is sin! From such sin we must turn away. We have seen a few of the teachings and statements from Catholic and Protestant sources and how they have changed through the years. Now, what saith the Lord? In chapter two we read from a historical point of view what Jesus and the Apostles taught concerning fighting Now we must examine again more closely some of these same teachings from a doctrinal point of view. First we need to examine carefully the teachings of the New Testament. Instead of following conscience, let us follow Christ. The next chapter will give His inspired teachings and those of the apostles.