NON-RESISTANCE IN ARMED CONFLICT FOR CHRISTIANS
by Herman A. Hoyt
The exercise of physical force has characterized the course of history since the entrance of sin into the human family. Expulsion from the Garden of Eden was followed almost immediately by the sin of Cain when he slew his brother (Gen. 4:8). He then became the object of physical wrath in the society of that day (Gen. 4:14-15). His descendants followed the path he made so that physical violence became a way of life (Gen. 4:23-24). This pattern of life grew to such enormous proportions that God was forced to bring the flood on mankind (Gen. 6:13).
From that day till this hour the pages of history are replete with the accounts of physical violence in ever expanding proportions. Personal animosities, family feuds, racial strife, class conflict, religious hatreds, civil hostilities, and national conflagration have all employed physical force to attain their ends. The mounting dimensions of armed might and military operations have now reached the point where they threaten the very existence of civilization, perhaps even more, the survival of mankind. But even so, the development of war on a global scale moves on, and as the instruments of war increase in size and destructiveness it means that the worst is yet ahead.
It is this frightening prospect that has produced a veritable contagion of effort on the part of nations to halt the toboggan slide to world destruction. The past two hundred years, more particularly the last seventy-five years, even more precisely the last thirty years have been marked by every conceivable invention known to men to halt the trend toward total annihilation. There have been alliances to maintain a balance of power, world courts, disarmament conferences, the League of Nations, the United Nations, Detente, NATO, SEATO, Salt talks, but all to no avail. The Middle East Crisis threatens to engulf the whole world. In the face of demands made by the Arabs, Israel faces two alternatives. On the one hand Israel can resist the pressures of the Arabs, realizing this course will lead inevitably to war. On the other hand she can yield to these pressures and face annihilation.
These prospects mean that the ever increasing involvement of the Church in the wars of nations lies ahead. From its beginning at Pentecost Christians have been forced to face the realities of armed strife. During the first three hundred years this was minimal. But when Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire the possibilities of personal involvement increased. As long as armies were constituted by mercenaries, there was the possibility of avoiding armed service. When the reformation appeared on the scene, and Luther and Calvin identified church and state, involvement in military service reached a high point.
It was not until the days of Napoleon that the situation became serious for Christians. He inaugurated nationwide conscription. While this did not spread to the new world until much later, there was a feeling among the American Colonists that Christians should not be exempt from military service. However, they were permitted to pay money in lieu of military service. And in addition they were not only expected to pay the regular tax, but also a special war tax. And on top of this they were expected to contribute to the needs of the army and the alleviation of suffering.
By the time of the Civil War, universal military conscription had become the pattern of government across the world. It was slow in being employed during the war between the States, and even after it was made law in both North and South, Christians were permitted to pay for a substitute. World War I saw a definite change. Universal conscription was made absolute. No substitutes were allowed nor any commutation fee. Every man had to answer the draft in person. When the law covering conscription was finally passed, it did make provision for conscientious objection, but defined noncombatancy as that under military direction.
In World War II the government provided greater breadth for exemption from military service. Not only were religious scruples made the basis for relief from military service, but philosophic considerations were also given a place for evaluation. The Korean War and the War in Vietnam brought new pressures on the government to reevaluate the stipulations involved in universal military conscription. Without a doubt any war of the future will develop demands upon the manhood and womanhood of this country commensurate with the emergency. This is then the time to give new thought to the proper Christian position to take in the next emergency. Calm reflection will be more apt to produce right thinking and response than would be true in the midst of the wildfire of emotion.
Through the years four positions have developed as to the proper response of. Christians as dictated by the Scriptures. There are those who believe that the Scriptures teach the rightness of "Preventive War." Another position has long been held that there is such a thing as "A Just War" sanctioned by the Scriptures. Still another view held by many sects in Christendom is that the Scriptures teach "Pacificism." The writer of this monograph believes that the Bible teaches "Nonresistance" on the part of Christians.