This subject poses a question of the utmost significance to God’s commandment-keeping people. The Bible says of Lot in the city of Sodom that he was “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” 2 Peter 2:7. Jesus compared our days with Lot’s time, and we can truly see the fulfillment of His words all around us. Wickedness never ruled more determinedly than it does now. Obviously the prince of this world, Satan, is ruling supreme in all realms of life. Through his deception, death has come to the human race. Jesus said of him, “He was a murderer from the beginning, . . .” John 8:44. In heaven he started war, which was a completely foreign concept to the angels, who had never experienced disharmony, distrust, evil surmising, or fighting.
“Satan delights in war; for it excites the worst passions of the soul, and then sweeps into eternity its victims steeped in vice and blood. It is his object to incite the nations to war against one another; for he can thus divert the minds of the people from the work of preparation to stand in the day of God.” – Great Controversy, p. 589.
It is true that ancient Israel fought wars – even wars of conquest. Often they themselves were the aggressors. The Bible reports deeds of great heroism and bravery. Therefore, many say, war must be justified. But is this really true?
We understand clearly that Israel of old was a “theocracy” (from the Greek theos, meaning God, and kratein, meaning to rule). It signifies that God was their superior Ruler, not man. You may ask, How did God rule them? From Scripture and testimony references we understand that His commands were communicated through the two precious stones called the “Urim and the Thummim” fastened in the breastplate of the high priest (Ex. 28:30; Num. 27:21, 1 Sam. 28:6). When an inquiry was presented to God in prayer, His reply came either from a halo of light encircling the right stone, meaning Yes or approval, or a cloud shadowing the left stone, meaning No or disapproval (see Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 351). Besides this, the Lord at times appeared in the holy shekinah, a cloud enveloping a bright light and appearing in the most holy place (Lev. 9:23, 24; Ex. 40:34,35; 2 Chron. 5:13,14), to make known His will (see Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 349). Furthermore, He spoke through His servants the prophets.
No nation on earth today can boast of such visible signs indicating God’s will or whether or not they should engage in war. Besides, Christ said: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, . . .” Matthew 5:43, 44. Christ obviously overthrew the old war policy completely. And why? Simply because Israel as a people would no longer be a chosen nation. The people would be scattered among all nations. Now the Gentiles would be chosen to carry the gospel to the remotest parts of the earth. Theocracy was ended forever. Let no one therefore refer to ancient Israel and excuse modern warfare on that basis.
“No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God. He is the maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, . . .” – Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 386.
Then today all nations and races are to be considered as one common brotherhood, even though they may be divided by languages or social or racial barriers.
RUMORS OF WAR
Jesus predicted there would be wars and rumors of war, especially in the end time. What is the Christian’s attitude toward these wars? It is clearly evident that Satan, the murderer from the beginning, is the instigator of all of them. The Almighty placed a sharp restriction on warfare when He said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Nowhere do we find any indication that this applies only to private or civilian life. When Peter drew his sword in apparent self-defense, Jesus said: “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Matt. 26:52. And John the Baptist told the soldiers, “Do violence to no man, which meant the same as “Do not kill,” because killing and violence are virtually synonymous and differ only in degree. How, then, can any Christian, with Christ’s love in his heart, be a soldier fighting, killing, and dying for an earthly fatherland? It would be the greatest inconsistency, to say the least, if not a terrible wrong. In God’s sight, it is transgression of His holy law. How can Christians, regarding their fellow men as being of the same brotherhood, lie in trenches and foxholes in opposing army camps, firing at and killing each other?
EARLY ADVENTIST POSITION
The first time the Adventist people as an organized body had to face the issue of war, and their relationship to it, was at the outbreak of the Civil War in the US. In 1861, at the onset of the war, the problem was insignificant, because the army was made up strictly of volunteers. However, as the war continued and there was great loss of human life, the government instituted a draft system. As this became mandatory, the Lord gave special instruction to His messenger, Ellen G. White:
“I was shown that God’s people, who are His peculiar treasure, cannot engage in this perplexing war, for it is opposed to every principle of their faith. In the army they cannot obey the truth and at the same time obey the requirements of their officers. There would be a continual violation of conscience. Worldly men are governed by worldly principles. They can appreciate no other. Worldly policy and public opinion comprise the principle of action that governs them and leads them to practice the form of rightdoing. But God’s people cannot be governed by these motives. The words and commands of God, written in the soul, are spirit and life, and there is power in them to bring into subjection and enforce obedience. The ten precepts of Jehovah are the foundation of all righteous and good laws. Those who love God’s commandments will conform to every good law of the land. But if the requirements of the rulers are such as conflict with the laws of God, the only question to be settled is: Shall we obey God, or man?” – Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 361,362.
The Lord worked wonderfully for the Adventist people, for when the draft was enacted on March 3, 1863, it granted a provision by which anyone, by paying $300, could “be discharged from further liability under that draft.” This provision remained in effect until July 4, 1864, at which time the $300 commutation privilege was withdrawn. However, on February 24, 1864, a new draft law had been enacted which now granted alternate service, previously open to anyone, only to those who had religious principles against bearing arms. Such individuals could, when drafted, be considered noncombatants and assigned to “duty in the hospitals; or to the care of the freedom, or shall pay the sum of $300.00.” – Act of Congress, February 24, 1864.
In the interval from February 24, 1864, to July 4, 1864, the Adventists did not even apply for the alternative service but continued to pay the original $300 commutation money until it was no longer possible. Only then did they make an open declaration to the government. The Executive Committee of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference addressed a “Statement of Principles” to the governor of Michigan:
“To His Excellency, Austin Blair, Governor of the State of Michigan:
“We, the undersigned, Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, respectfully beg leave to present for your consideration the following statements:-
“The denomination of Christians calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists, taking the Bible as their rule of faith and practice, are unanimous in their views that its teachings are contrary to the spirit and practice of war; hence, they have ever been conscientiously opposed to bearing arms. If there is any portion of the Bible which we, as a people, can point to more than another as our creed, it is the law of ten commandments, which we regard as the supreme law, and each precept of which we take in its most obvious and literal import. The fourth of these commandments requires cessation from labor on the seventh day of the week, the sixth prohibits the taking of life, neither of which, in our view, could be observed while doing military duty. Our practice has uniformly been consistent with these principles. Hence, our people have not felt free to enlist into the service. In none of our denominational publications have we advocated or encouraged the practice of bearing arms; and, when drafted, rather than violate our principles, we have been content to pay, and assist each other in paying, the $300 commutation money. And while that provision remained of universal application, we did not deem any public expression of our sentiments on this question called for.
“We would further represent that the Seventh-day Adventists are rigidly antislavery, loyal to the government, and in sympathy with it against the rebellion.
“But not having had a long existence as a distinct people, and our organization having but recently been perfected, our sentiments are not yet extensively known. The change in the law renders it necessary that we take a more public stand in the matter. For this reason we now lay before Your Excellency the sentiments of Seventh-day Adventists, as a body, relative to bearing arms, trusting that you will feel no hesitation in endorsing our claim that, as a people, we come under the intent of the late action of Congress concerning those who are conscientiously opposed to bearing arms, and are entitled to the benefits of said laws.
J. N. LOUGHBOROUGH,
GEORGE W. AMADON,
General Conference Executive Committee of Seventh-day Adventists.
Battle Creek, Michigan, August 2, 1864.”
– In Time of War, p. 58.
This stand was endorsed by the Provost Marshal General on September 1, 1864, as follows: “Members of religious denominations, who have been drawn in the draft, and who establish the fact before the Board of Enrollment that they are conscientiously opposed to the bearing of arms, and are prohibited from so doing by their rules and articles of faith, and that their deportment has been uniformly consistent with their profession, will be assigned to duty in hospitals, or to the care of freedom, or shall be exempt on payment of $300 to such persons as the Secretary of War may designate.
“By command of the Provost Marshal General,
Capt. and A. A. A. G.”
– Review and Herald, September 13, 1864 (In Time of War, p. 65).
Which of the three provisions open to them did the Adventists prefer? “It is said that the next draft will take about one in three able-bodied men, liable to the draft. And it is supposed that this proportion of Seventh-day Adventists will be drawn; that is, one in three. In this case if each should pay into the treasury $100.00, the same would be sufficient to pay $300.00 for all drawn in the coming draft.” – Elder James White, Review and Herald, January 24, 1865.
The Civil War ended April 9, 1865. Note that this statement was made about 2 1/2 months before the end of the war, indicating clearly that the Adventists in general paid and helped each other pay $300 exemption money rather than take advantage of the other two provisions, hospital service or care of freedom.
Those who attempted to take one of the two other provisions so as to save the $300 – a very large sum in those days – found that what Sister White had stated in Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 361, was all too true. “In the army they cannot obey the truth and at the same time obey the requirements of their officers.” The practice of the Adventist people during the Civil War was equivalent to total conscientious objection today.
Is the official stand of Seventh-day Adventists toward military service the same today as it was in 1864? Order “SEVENTH-DAY ADVENTISTS and CIVIL GOVERNMENT” and “Why Seventh-day Adventists Are Noncombatants” put out by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and now reprinted by us. Answer this important question for yourself!