Why I'm a Conscientious Objector - Part Two
by John Drescher
The Global Gospel
Fundamental to my peace position is my understanding of the
gospel. The entire New Testament teaches that the gospel is
global. One distinguished advocate of world missions wrote:
"Nothing is more deeply embedded in Christianity than its
The gospel is to be preached to every creature. The
reconciling work of Christ cannot be restricted to one community,
church, country, or continent. The gospel is the good news of one
who, rather than following the world's way of righting wrongs,
gave himself for the wrongdoers.
J.B.Phillips paraphrases Paul's statement in Ephesians 2:16,17
"For he reconciled both [Jew and Greek, insider and outsides) to
God by the sacrifice of one body on the cross, and by this act
made utterly irrelevant the antagonism between them. Then he came
and told both you who were far from God [the outsiders, the
Gentiles] and us who were near [the insiders, the Jews] that the
war was over."
That is the gospel: war is not only sin, but war for the
believer is over.
That is the good news. For me as a Christian, all persons
loved by God are my beloved also - even though they may consider
me their enemy. Redeeming love is at the heart of the gospel;
love and peace are God's plan for people regardless of who they
are. For me to participate in warfare means that I go contrary to
all I understand the gospel to mean.
Richard C.Detweiler wrote:
"To preach a gospel of reconciliation while at the same time
supporting or even participating in military action as the will
of God is the height of contradiction. The same must be said with
regard to the Christian's attitude toward other social evils.
Whenever the means by which we witness is inconsistent with the
way of the cross we profess to follow, we are contradicting our
War offers death instead of life, hate instead of love,
judgment instead of forgiveness, retaliation rather than
reconciliation; it sets out to search and destroy instead of to
seek and save. It aims lethal weapons against the very persons
I'm told to give the gospel. To me, engaging in warfare is the
supreme denial of the Great Commission and all Christ said and
did. I agree with Charles Clayton Morrison who said: "Nothing
more antithetical to Christianity can be imagined than war. It is
the denial in the boldest possible form of the very life
principle of the religion of Jesus. It is anti-Christian in the
rawest, nakedest form."
Discipleship and Evangelism
Engaging in warfare strikes at the heart of discipleship and
evangelism. Each person I face in combat is either a
Christian or non-Christian. If I destroy a Christian, I kill the
brother for whom Scripture says I should lay down my life. If my
enemy is a non-Christian I destroy one for whom Christ died and
take away any further opportunity to be a reconciler or to let
him find salvation. In the interest of the gospel and salvation,
I cannot participate in war.
The supreme duty of Christians, individually and
corporately, is to carry out the Great Commission. Just as
nations send soldiers to the ends of the earth to destroy, so
Christ commands his followers to go to the end of the world to
save. War, supported by Christians, is one of the chief reasons
for failure in world evangelization.
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ]
... and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether
things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his
blood, shed on the cross" (Colossians 1:19-20). "All this is from
God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the
ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to
himself in Christ.... We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as
though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on
Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:15-20).
Julia B.Foraker in "I Would Live It Again" writes of
Grenville Moody, a popular army chaplain during the civil war.
Chaplain Moody could easily forget the cloth, when deemed
necessary, and do it with evangelistic zeal. At Lookout Mountain,
for example, the colonel of Moody's regiment went tearing up and
down the lines yelling to the troops, "Give 'em hell, boys! Give
'em hell!" The chaplain was at his heels yelling, "Do as your
colonel tells you, boys! Do as your colonel tells you!"
Chaplain Moody accurately reflected the position of the
church at large since the fourth century. In the same spirit,
many who claim to represent Christ and his gospel forget his
words in wartime and merely echo, often with evangelistic fervor,
those who command exactly the opposite of what Christ himself
commands. It stands to reason that one cannot "give 'em hell" and
at the same time preach salvation. Even Frederick the Great said:
"if my soldiers would really think, not one of them would remain
in the ranks."
Nothing in war can be harmonized with the spirit and gospel
of Jesus. A Christian engaged in war is a complete contradiction.
Major General John F. O'Ryan wrote: "War is the denial of
Christianity and all the most sacred things of life."
The Universal Church
Fundamental to my peace position is my understanding of the
church. Scripture recognizes the existence of nations. The Bible
says that out of every tribe and tongue, people and nation, God
gathers and redeems men and women as his people, his family,
Christ's body on earth, the church. We have been brought into the
kingdom of his son (Colossians 1:13). "You are a chosen people, a
royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1
Thus the nation to which the Christian belongs first is the
nation over which Christ is king: it is the church of Jesus
Christ. That nation exists under every form of government.
Christians relate to each other regardless of race, country, or
political system. This unity in Christ bridges all that separates
and it breaks down all barriers. The church is "one body" (1
The entire New Testament teaches that the church is an
interracial, super-national, transcultural body composed of all
who put their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and follow him as
Lord. When groups, including Christians, take up arms against
another group including Christians, both are saying that Caesar,
not Jesus, is Lord. Christians of one land battle and kill
Christians of another land because these are requirements of
nations at war, Caesar commands it. Persons in one church family
put to death persons of that same church family.
William C.Allen in the "Reformed Church Messenger" writes:
"When war involves Methodists stabbing Methodists, Baptists
shooting Baptists, Presbyterians blowing Presbyterians to bits,
Catholics annihilating Catholics, when these beastly deeds are
performed at the behest of a physically safe leadership,
generated for gain but hid in a propaganda of professedly noble
ideals, then I am sure that war is contrary to Christian
It is striking to me that in the great cry for church unity
and oneness, not much is made of the great division and death
that war brings to the body of Christ. Christians yield to the
states demand for closer solidarity in the secular struggle
rather than responding to the inward and genuine call to unity in
Christ, across cultures and curtains. The church thus becomes
representative of some select form of Christianity (American,
British, or whatever) bearing more the marks of a culture or
country than of the cross of Christ and of a universal fellowship
where there is neither black nor white, Easterner nor Westerner,
American nor Russian. The church sings, "We are not divided, all
one body we" until wartime, when each church backs whatever
territory it happens to be in.
On an existential level, this means that the body of the
nation dare not be rent, but the body of Christ may be. It
assumes that nation, not church, is the "destiny" man cannot
I agree with Frenchman Jean Lasserre in "War and the
"It would seem impossible for a French believer, on the grounds
that his government was in conflict with the German government,
to resign himself to taking part in the slaughter of Germans,
when there are believers among them who, like him, form part of
"The church is a gold coin of divine minting. One side shows the
likeness of its Lord, the other the map of the world. Both sides
are so indelibly stamped into the coin that to mar either means
loss, to efface either destroys the coin."
Many of the church's songs in every land center around the
scriptural idea of the church being "one body" with "one mission"
and "one destiny" and yet we say all this does not apply when one
nation declares war against another.
An editorial in the "Christian Century" puts it bluntly:
"The church shall acknowledge the fundamental and eternal
contradiction between war and Christianity; that the very fact of
war shouts the failure of Christianity; and that the church
therefore cannot bless war without surrendering its diameter as
Christian. The church's clear duty therefore is to excommunicate
war, deliberately and solemnly to say it, and so to inform the
state, that the state may never again expect to receive the
resources of the church as aids of any war in which it may ask
its citizens m engage."
Over the years the church has sung:
For not with swords loud clashing Nor roll of stirring drum,
But deeds of love and mercy, Thy heavenly kingdom comes.
Yet the church does not have the nerve to believe this.
Frederick A.Atkings wrote following World War II:
"The attitude of the churches to war is so incredibly weak and
illogical that it cannot be maintained much longer. The church is
against war when there is no war going on; immediately when a war
starts, the church blesses and supports it. War is wrong but it
is perfectly justified as soon as we engage in it."
Harvey Cox has written:
"A church that is not able to take a firm stand against war is
not a church which deserves to be believed."
War does strange things to persons. As John Haynes Holmes
noted many years ago, "When a war is 'on' it is almost a hopeless
task to find men who can discuss it nationally.... Reason flies
out of the window along with some other valuable human assets. We
are all assured that the enemy has not one virtue left, and that
we have not one vice in our midst."
Falsehood, hate, and bitterness take over. Preachers who
proclaim love and peace in peacetime turn to preaching hate in
In his book "Preachers Present Arms" Ray H.Abrams documents
at length the story of the involvement of the clergy in World
Wars I and 2 as well as the Vietnam War. One minister told his
people: "We are fighting not only for our country and for the
democracy of the world but for the kingdom of God.... We cannot
draw the line between Christianity and the military. The two go
together. Every church should be a recruiting station."
Evangelist Billy Sunday in wartime suddenly shifted from his
usual theme of the love of God and salvation for all to say: "The
man who breaks all the rules but at last dies fighting in the
trenches is better than you God-forsaken mutts who won't enlist."
Frederick Lynch wonders how it is possible for persons
reared in Christian schools and churches suddenly to make a
complete turnabout to kill and shout for blood when the
government and press tell them to hate. In one day all the
previous teaching is forgotten, and if one dares people to
remember what they were taught he is hooted down. "Is it that the
human heart is too desperately wicked for even Christianity to
control it when the deepest passion of all, revenge and lust for
blood, are amused?" Lynch asks.
Historian Philip V.N.Meyers, speaking to a Methodist
ministers conference, deplored the fact that "in war every
soldier must bid adieu to his personal moral conscience. His
moral conscience which teaches him that manslaughter in peace is
murder, must in war give way to a new law, the law of loyalty to
the state. The individual conscience is superseded by a
supposedly higher type of war morality."
A Safe Church
C.G.Rutenber, professor of the philosophy of religion at
Eastern Baptist Seminary wrote an excellent book, "The Dagger and
the Cross." In it he says: "The church always wants to be on the
safe side, like the man who wears both belt and suspenders. It
wants God, but it wants guns too. It wants Bibles, but it also
wants bullets. It trusts in Jesus, but also in jets. And the
result? The effort to mate the point of the dagger and the foot
of the cross fails. Spiritual power and national, worldly power
refuse to combine in stable equilibrium. The enthusiasm for
battleships devours the enthusiasm for friendships. The
preference for bombing missions absorbs the interest in foreign
missions. Evangelism succumbs to militarism and exists only as a
side issue to the successful prosecution of the war. The church
becomes the handmaiden of the warrior-state."
I sense kinship with Christopher Butler who wrote in The
"Let us take the opportunity of saying clearly that the church,.
the people of God, does not seek protection from its enemies -
whoever they may be - in war, and especially not in war of modern
type. We are the mystical body, and Christ is our Head. He
refused to defend himself and his mission by the swords of his
disciples or even the legions of angels, the ministers of God's
justice and love. The weapons of the gospel are not nuclear but
spiritual; it wins its victories not by war but by suffering."
Following World War I David Lloyd George wrote, "If there is
another war, the Christian church will be responsible for it."
And General Tasker Bliss said:
"The responsibility is entirely on professing Christians in the
United States. If another war should come they would be
responsible for every drop of blood."
It is an awful condemnation on America, identified as
Christian by the world, that it is considered a warring country,
having killed more people in this century than most of the other
nations in all of human history.
For me, therefore, I must acknowledge the tremendous eternal
contradiction between war and Christianity. The church cannot
bless war without surrendering its character as Christian.
Yes, it is just that simple. War and Christianity do not jive,
they cannot dance together. They are not horse and buggy. They
make no sense being hitched up together. To think of the NEW
TESTAMENT Jesus, what He taught and how He lived, as being still
guiding the "church" as He ALLOWED anciemt carnal Israel to live
and act, because of the hardness of the heart, makes no sense at
all, when the main point of the NEW COVENANT is to CHANGE the
heart, from that of stone to that of flesh.
The historic fact of God's true people over the centuries, from
the start of the New Testament Church of God, is that they either
died for their faith in the place where they stood, or they FLED
to the hills and the mountains, the valleys and the forests. BUT
they NEVER took up arms of war and fought in their nation's war
New Testament Christianity CANNOT be reconciled with Old
Testament wars. What God once winked at, He now calls all men to
REPENTANCE and to CHANGE their heart and mind.
If you have not yet done so, you need to study my studies on "The
Christian and Warfare" on this Website.