Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance (Mennonite Church, 1951)
Statements: 1951-1960 Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance, A (Mennonite Church, 1951)
- Basic Central Truths
- Scriptural Basis: Old Testament
- Scriptural Basis: New Testament
- Christ, the Example of Suffering Love
- The Way of the Cross
- The Way of Discipleship
- The Problem of the Use of Force in an Evil World
- Our Commitment to Total Discipleship
- Context of the Statement
A Statement Adopted by Mennonite General Conference, August 23, 1951
In August 1937, the Mennonite Church through its General Conference assembled at Turner, Oregon, in the face of approaching war, adopted "A Statement of Position--Peace, War, and Military Service," in which it set forth its faith and committed itself clearly on the issues of the time. Since then we have passed through a grievous world conflict, and after a few years of uneasy peace find ourselves again in a limited war and in dread of a third world war, with constantly growing world armaments and tensions. The United States government has repeatedly extended the military service law of 1940 and now plans to establish a permanent military training system. Other nations are committed to enlarged military programs. In the face of these conditions, a renewed statement of position is desirable, setting forth more completely the full meaning of our nonresistant faith, both for the strengthening of the faith and life of our membership and for a more adequate testimony to others. Therefore, we, the representatives of the Mennonite Church, assembled in General Conference at Goshen, Indiana, August 21-24, 1951, do adopt the following "Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment with Respect to Peace, War, and Nonresistance."
Basic Central Truths
The peace principles of the Mennonite Church, including its historic four-century-old witness against all war, are an integral part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and of the discipleship which we believe the lordship of Christ requires of all of His followers. They derive directly from a Christian faith which holds as central truths:
1. That one is our Master, even Christ, who is out only Savior and Lord, and to whom alone supreme loyalty and obedience is due. He is the basis for our faith and commitment to the nonresistant way of life, and in His strength alone do we hope to live in peace and love toward all men. "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
2. That by the atoning and renewing grace of God which makes us new creatures in Christ, and through the power of the indwelling Spirit, we can live the life of holy obedience and discipleship to which all the children of God are called.
3. That redeeming love is at the heart of the Gospel, and that the life of love and peace is God's plan for the individual and the race.
4. That Christ has established in the church which is His body, a universal community and brotherhood of the redeemed, within which the fullness of His lordship must be practiced and from which must go out into all human society the saving and healing ministry of the Gospel.
5. That war is altogether contrary to the teaching and spirit of Christ and the Gospel, and to God's will as revealed in His Word; that therefore war is sin, as is all manner of carnal strife; that it is wrong in spirit and method as well as in purpose, and destructive in its results; and that if we profess the principles of peace and nevertheless engage in warfare and strife we become guilty of sin and fall under the just condemnation of God.
Scriptural Basis: The Old Testament
While we believe that the Old Testament Scriptures are divine in origin and authoritative in character, we nevertheless hold that these Scriptures are but a part of the progressive revelation of the nature and will of God leading to the full and final revelation found in the New Testament under the new covenant. Therefore Old Testament Scriptures which are sometimes cited in support of Christian participation in war may not be used to contradict clear New Testament teaching, but must be interpreted in the light of the teaching of Christ and the apostles, for in Christ we find the norm for the whole of Scripture. The national history of Israel as recorded in the Old Testament cannot be an example for us, for under the new covenant the people of God, the church, are of every nation, and are separate from the world and its institutions; church and state are separate. But even in the Old Testament it is clear that it was God's original will that there should be no killing and warfare; and that man, made in God's image, should be governed by love.
Scriptural Basis: The New Testament
Among the many New Testament passages which clearly show the sinfulness of all war and strife, and the requirement of creative Christian love, we point to the following: "Blessed are the peacemakers";
"Love your enemies . . . do good to them that hate you . . . that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven"; "Resist not him that is evil"; "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them"; "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me"; "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight"; "Put up thy sword into its place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword"; "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves"; "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"; "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good"; "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle to all men"; "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal"; "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we 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"; "Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing"; "From whence come wars and fightings among you, come they not hence even of your lusts"; "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren"; "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. . . . And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also"; "But the greatest of these is love" (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:44, 45; Matthew 5:39; Matthew 7:12; Luke 9:23; John 18:36; Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:20, 21; 2 Timothy 2:24; 2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Peter 2:21-23; 1 Peter 3:9; James 4:1; 1 John 3:16; 1 John 4:20, 21; 1 Corinthians 13:13).
Christ, the Example of Suffering Love
All these words Christ brought to living expression in Himself. In the life and work of Him, who in His incarnation became one with man, is given the full revelation of God's will, reaching its supreme meaning at Calvary. Integral to this divine-human life of our Lord was His innocent and nonresistant endurance of the evil inflicted upon Him, His identification of Himself in His suffering with all sinners, thus bearing man's sin in His own body on the cross, and His triumphant victory over sin by the very means of His death. What He taught in the Sermon on the Mount He fulfilled in His life and practice, including the cross. As those who believe in this Christ are united with Him in death and resurrection experience, they also will become identified with Him in His way of nonresistant suffering and triumphant overcoming. In this "way" of Christ, war and its related evils can have no place.
The Way of the Cross
But beyond the specific New Testament words and even the example of Christ, we hold that the whole tenor of the Gospel, being redemptive, forbids the destructiveness of war and calls for love. The very cross of Christ itself, the means by which God's love operates redemptively in a world of sinful men, speaks against war; for it stands for the acceptance of unlimited suffering, the utter denial of self, and the complete dedication of life to the ministry of redemption for others. This way of self-sacrifice is the cross which Christ lays upon us when He calls us to take up our cross daily and follow Him in the discipleship of self-denial, nonresistance, and suffering love.
The Way of Discipleship
We believe further that the Christian, having been laid hold of by God through Christ, must follow his Lord in all things regardless of consequences. He must pay the price of complete discipleship, for to him the commands of Christ and the principles of the Gospel are not mere counsels to be accepted or rejected as may seem good at the moment, but rather imperatives which must be followed to the end. Once the premise is accepted that Christ speaks with authority from heaven, only one thing remains, that is to obey His command. And this the new man in Christ will desire from his heart to do.
But this way of discipleship is not only a command to be obeyed; it is the way of victory and peace for the individual and society, to be practiced in the here and now and not to be postponed to some future kingdom. With a joyful belief in the reality of God's reign, we therefore forthrightly establish our lives on the power of Christ. We are convinced that the teachings of Jesus and the power of the Gospel are the solution to the problems of sin in man and society; and that the reason society is still in its broken state is either because men reject Christ and His Gospel or because those who have taken the name of Christ will not live that Gospel and take up the cross of utter discipleship laid upon them by their Lord. The true Christian must move out into the world of sin and need and there apply the Gospel to its fullest extent, uncompromisingly, and in and through his own life. This calls for an action program requiring the full unfolding of divine grace and power through man, but it is the only hope of the world.
The Problem of the Use of Force in an Evil World
We recognize that in a world where the evil and the good exist side by side, there is a necessary place, authorized by God Himself, for the use of force by the state in the restraint of evil and the protection of the good, though always under restrictions deriving from the higher laws of God. But we hold that the Christian cannot be the executor of this force, his call being to operate on the basis of love. If he abandons this way, he effectually destroys the only hope for the world, since force can never create righteousness or a Christian society; it can at best only restrain the evil in varying degrees.
Our Commitment to Total Discipleship
These declarations of faith and conviction give no blueprint for permanent peace nor do they assume that human endeavor alone can bring about a warless and sinless world within history, for only when men come under the lordship of Christ can they make peace and fulfill the prayer of our Lord, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." They do, however, require certain positive attitudes, duties, and ministries by Christian disciples toward all men which have far larger scope than only a testimony against war and which call for consistent demonstration of sacrificial Christian love in all relationships. We believe, however, that the tremendous demands of this way of total love and total discipleship can by God's help be met, and we do here by God's grace declare our renewed acceptance of these demands and our determination to undertake their fulfillment in His name. Specifically, we understand this commitment to mean:
In Our Own Spirit
1. That we have peace with God.
2. That the peace of God shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
3. That the love of Christ shall reign in our natures and be the controlling motive in all our relations with our fellow men, in the family, in the church, in the community, in society, in all of our daily life.
In Our Service and Witness
4. That we are bound in loving outreach to all to bear witness to Christ and to serve in His name, bringing the Gospel and all its benefits to everyone, and summoning men everywhere to the life of full discipleship and to the pursuit of peace and love without limit. For this ministry we mean to use every feasible way and facility: the spoken and written word; the demonstration of holiness and love in family, church, and community; relief work and Christian social service; and all other ways. In this service our youth can play a great part; they should give themselves to it in large numbers both in shorter or longer terms of special service, and in lifetime dedication.
5. That we have the responsibility to bring to the total social order in which we live, and from which we receive so much, the utmost of which we are capable in Christian love and service. Seeking for all men first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we should hold together in one united ministry the evangelism which brings men to Christ and the creative application of the Gospel to cultural, social, and material needs. This ministry will go to all alike regardless of race, class, or condition.
In Our Social, Economic and Political Relations
6. That we practice a sharper Christian control of our economic, social, and cultural practices, to make certain that love truly operates to work no ill to our neighbor, either short-range or long-range. Knowing how much the selfishness, pride, and greed of individuals, groups, and nations which economic systems often encourage, help to cause carnal strife and warfare, we propose not to contribute thereto or to anything which destroys property or causes hurt or loss of human life.
7. That Christian love most hold primacy in all our economic and labor relations, that we cannot participate in activities, organizations, investments, or systems which use the methods of force and violence, compromise Christian ethics, or do not permit the full exercise of Christian love and brotherhood, and that we seek in our own practices to work out this love and brotherhood in concrete applications.
8. That though we recognize fully that God has set the state in its place of power and ministry, we cannot take part in those of its functions or respond to any of its demands which involve us in the use of force or frustrate Christian love; but we acknowledge our obligation to witness to the powers-that-be of the righteousness which God requires of all men, even in government, and beyond this to continue in earnest intercession to God on their behalf.
9. That while rejecting any social system or ideology which opposes the Gospel and would destroy the true Christian faith and way of life, we cannot take attitudes or commit acts contrary to Christian love against those who promote such views or practices, but must seek to overcome their evil and win them through the Gospel.
In War and Military Service
10. That we can have no part in carnal warfare or conflict between nations, nor in strife between classes, groups, or individuals, and that we can therefore not accept military service, either combatant or noncombatant, or preparation or training therefor in any form.
11. That we cannot apply our labor, money, business, factories, nor resources in any form to war or military ends, either in war finance or war industry, even under compulsion.
12. That we cannot take part in scientific, educational, or cultural programs designed to contribute to war, nor in any propaganda or activity that tends to promote ill will or hatred among men or nations.
13. That while we witness against conscription in any form and cannot lend ourselves to be a channel for its compulsions, we shall seek to find ways to serve in wartime as well as peacetime, through which the demands of the state may be both satisfied and transcended. We both expect and desire that this service be sacrificial on the part of our young men and that the church go with them all the way in their service and witness sharing in the sacrifice.
14. That if war does come, with its possible serious devastation from bombings or other forms of destruction, such as atomic blasts, germ warfare, poison gas, etc., we will willingly tender such civilian help as conscience permits, sacrificially and without thought of personal safety, so long as we thereby help to preserve and restore life and not to destroy it.
15. That in wartime, as well as in peacetime, we shall endeavor to continue to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty; avoid joining in the wartime hysteria of hatred, revenge, and retaliation; and manifest a meek and Submissive spirit, being obedient to the laws and regulations of the government in all things, including the usual taxes, except when obedience would cause us to violate the teachings of the Scripture and our conscience before God.
While we are deeply grateful to God for the precious heritage of faith, including the principle of love and nonresistance, which our Swiss, Dutch, and German Anabaptist-Mennonite forefathers purchased for us by their faith, obedience, and sacrifice, and which we believe is again expressed in the above declarations and commitments, we are convinced that this faith must be repossessed personally by each one out of his own reading and obeying of God's Word, and must ever be wrought out in practice anew. Hence we summon our brotherhood to a deeper mastery of the Scriptures as the infallible revelation of God's will for us, and to find afresh under Holy Spirit guidance its total message regarding Christ's way and its application in our present world.
We humbly confess our inadequacies and failures both in understanding and in following this way of love, peace, and nonresistance, knowing well that we have come short in demonstration and proclamation of Christian love. As we renew our commitment of discipleship and ambassadorship for Christ, we entreat God for the grace we so much need, and pledge each other our mutual help in learning and obedience.
We also appeal to all Christians to re-examine the full meaning of the Gospel of the cross and Christian discipleship to proclaim this Gospel in its fullness for the saving of men and the healing of the nations, and to exercise the entire ministry of reconciliation of man to God and man to man which is entrusted to all the followers of Jesus Christ.
Context of this Statement
This statement, approved by the delegates to the Mennonite Church's General Conference in 1951, responded to the North American Mennonite experience with government in World War II and the new "police action" by the United Nations in Korea. Continuing conscription of young men for military service in the United States kept issues of war and peace at the forefront of Mennonite consciousness. The moderator for the 1951 conference sessions was Oscar Burkholder of Breslau, Ontario.
This statement was influenced by the 1950 Mennonite Central Committee statement, "Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment" approved only nine months before this more extensive Mennonite Church statement. It also carried forward pieces of the 1937 Mennonite Church statement, but added the more fully developed "discipleship" theology as articulated by Harold S. Bender in the mid-1940s.
The Peace Problems Committee was a standing committee of the Mennonite Church from 1919 until 1965 when it was merged with the Committee on Economic and Social Relations to form the Committee on Peace and Social Concerns. During the time this statement was prepared, the committee was composed of ten members -- six from the United States and four from Canada. The Canadian members were Curtis C. Cressman, A. Lorne Fretz, Jesse B. Martin (all from Ontario) and Milo Stutzman from Kingman, Alberta. Martin remained from the committee that composed the 1937 statement. U. S. members still active from 1937 included Harold S. Bender and Orie O. Miller.
Context written 1999 by Sam Steiner