CHRISTADELPHIANS AND THE STATE
DAVID M PEARCE
the day we are baptised into the Lord Jesus, we join God＊s family of
believers. At this point we deliberately cut off our connections with this
world, and set off on a journey to God＊s Kingdom. We are like the Israelites,
leaving Egypt to cross the wilderness. Or Abraham, leaving Ur of the Chaldees to
go to a land God would show him. We believe Jesus is coming soon, to sweep away
all human governments, and become king of the whole world. In that day of
revolution and permanent change, we aspire in God＊s mercy to be Jesus＊
immortal ministers and officials, the people who will help him to rule his
kingdom. That being so, on the day we are baptised we say goodbye to the country
of our birth. From that point onward, we are citizens of God＊s kingdom. No
longer is our loyalty to Russia or America or England, but to Jesus our king. In
a figure of speech, our position becomes that of aliens 每 people who live in a
country but have a different nationality. Or putting it another way, we are like
travellers with a visa, passing through one country on the way to another.
attitude is found in all the great men and women of the Bible. In their hearts,
they were pilgrims, travelling ever onwards with no time to stop and build a
house. Have a look at some important Bible passages which show this should be
our attitude, too :
11 v 8-10 ＆By
faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after
receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he
went. By faith he sojourned in the
land of promise, as [in] a strange country,
dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same
promise: For he looked for a city
which hath foundations, whose builder and maker [is]
this quotation we see Abraham literally leaving the country of his birth, and
deliberately living in a tent, not a house, when he reached the promised land.
He was showing his Canaanite neighbours that he did not belong to their society,
but was waiting for the day when God would give him their land. We are in the
same position, waiting for Jesus to give us the Kingdom. We may not actually
sell our house and move, like Abraham did, but in our hearts that is what we do
when we are baptized and we leave behind this evil world of sin and wickedness.
11 v 13-16 ＆These
all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar
off, and were persuaded of [them], and embraced [them],
and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For
they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that [country]
from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they desire a better [country],
that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for
he hath prepared for them a city.＊
Note the expression ＆strangers and pilgrims＊. A stranger is an alien, and a pilgrim is a man on a journey. Note too that it says these great men and their families never went back to the place they had left, even though they could easily have done so. And because they were now walking with God, he was prepared to be known as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. He traveled with them.
13 v 12-14 ＆Wherefore
Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered
without the gate. Let us go forth
therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.
For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.＆
this passage we see that Jesus himself had to turn his back on ＆the camp＊ -
the Jewish state, the Temple and the Law and all that they stood for. This act
of separation cost him suffering and persecution, and the writer says we may
experience the same harsh treatment
when we walk away from this world; people consider us to be traitors, and
disloyal to the State. Many of the Christian Jews who read the letter to the
Hebrews would have had literally to walk away from Jerusalem when it became
surrounded by the Roman armies in AD 70. If they clung to the Jewish state and
stayed in the city, they lost their lives. We have to be prepared likewise to
drop everything and go when the call of the angel comes. If we linger and look
back, we shall be overthrown. Jesus has a three word exhortation for us 每
＆remember Lot＊s wife!＊
Corinthians 6 v17 ＆Wherefore
come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch
not the unclean [thing]; and I will receive you,
and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the
the words ＆come out＊ 每 the same words that the Lord spoke to Abraham. We
have, Paul says, to separate ourselves from the idolatry and filth of the world,
and become God＊s children, part of his big family.
WE HAVE TO OBEY THE LAWS OF THE COUNTRY WE LIVE IN?
might assume that if we are no longer in our hearts citizens of Russia or
England or Kazakhstan, we no longer need to obey the laws of those countries.
But the Bible says we should obey them, and take care that we never have
to go to court for breaking them. We should be law-abiding people. Here is a
passage from Peter :
1 Peter 2 v 13,14 ＆Submit
yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the
king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the
punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the
ignorance of foolish men＊.
should never find ourselves being arrested for stealing or fraud or violence.
Our Master has taught us all these things are wrong. Our lives should be
examples of truth and kindness and patient submission.
this rule apply to everyday things such as not exceeding speed limits if we are
driving a car, or paying our taxes to the government? Well, Peter said above
that we should obey every law that the king or president sets over us. And Jesus
himself on two occasions insisted his followers must pay their taxes. One time
was when Peter was asked if his master paid tax :
17 v 24-27 ＆they
that received tribute [money] came to Peter, and
said, Doth not your master pay tribute? He
saith, Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying,
What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or
tribute? of their own children, or of strangers?
Peter saith unto him, Of strangers. Jesus saith unto him, Then are the
children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the
sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou
hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money: that take, and give
unto them for me and thee.＊
13 v 1 ＆Let
every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God:
the powers that be are ordained of God＊ v
he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil,
be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God,
a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that
doeth evil. Wherefore [ye]
must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers,
attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute [is
due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour＊.
It might seem strange to think of Caesar, or the president, or the local council, being appointed by God. Paul is not saying they are good servants of God who respect and fear him. Many times they have been idol worshippers or atheists. But he sets them there as an ＆umbrella＊ to give protection to honest citizens, and, generally, to allow freedom to preach and to worship. Of course there have been periods when the umbrella has folded up, and anarchy has descended for a while, but God eventually disposes of wicked rulers and appoints others in their place. Paul says in this passage it is a matter of conscience for the Christian that he pays all forms of tax, along with everyone else.
SHOULD BE OUR ATTITUDE TO POLITICS?
Since we are told by Paul that the government of the country where we live has been set there by God, we cannot take part in revolutions or demonstrations or strikes in an attempt to bring about change. It is important to note that Jesus lived under Roman rule, and suffered with his fellow countrymen from the occupation of his country. Nevertheless, he did nothing to overthrow Roman rule. When Pilate questioned him as to his political status, he insisted that though he was a king, his kingdom did not belong to this world. That is a useful pointer for us 每 our kingdom is not of this world. It will come, when God is ready.
Paul has a similar ruling in the passage we have already looked at :
13 v1,2 ＆Let
every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God:
the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power,
resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to
It is for the same reason Christadelphians are not at liberty to vote in elections to appoint government officers, whether in local elections or national ones. We have to adopt the position of aliens. During an election, a person from another country is not allowed to take part in the voting. He lives in the country, but has no part in its affairs.
IF THE GOVERNMENT SAYS I MUST JOIN THE ARMY?
Some countries, including Eastern European ones, have compulsory military training for young men, and in some cases women, too. Even in countries with a professional army, in a time of war inevitably there is conscription, which means men below middle age are obliged by law to take up arms to defend the State.
followers of Jesus, we are forbidden to defend ourselves with violence, or to
take away human life. Our Master is quite definite about this :
5 v 38-41 ＆Ye
have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite
thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue
thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have [thy]
cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.＊
matter how severe the provocation may be, the Christian is not to strike back.
He is to leave his life in the hands of God and the angels. There was a time
when Jesus himself was attacked by enemies 每 at his arrest in the garden of
Gethsemane. Peter bravely pulled out a sword and began to hit out at the people
who were holding his Lord. But Jesus immediately rebuked him :
26 v50-53 ＆Then
came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out [his]
hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote
off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, ※Put up again thy sword into his
place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently
give me more than twelve legions of angels?§＊
Hard though it is to suppress our natural instincts to defend ourselves, it is our duty to leave everything in the hands of God. ＆Vengeance is mine, I will repay＊, he says.
record that the First Century Christians refused to fight in the Roman army.
Gibbon, in his mammoth book ＆the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire＊
"The Christians felt and confessed that human institutions might be necessary for the present system of the world, and cheerfully submitted to the authority of their pagan governors. But while they inculcated the maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take an active part in the civil administration or the military defence of the Empire.§
entering military service, a soldier has to swear an oath of allegiance. In this
he promises to obey senior officers, and to give his life for his country if
required. But Christadelphians have no allegiance to the country where they
live. We belong to God＊s kingdom. There is a practical point which confirms
this is the correct attitude to adopt. Suppose a brother who has sworn to obey
orders is commanded to drop bombs on an enemy city. He knows there are
Christadelphians living there. How can he possibly kill his dear brothers and
sisters? In the American Civil War 150 years ago this was exactly the situation,
and our brothers asked to be excused from military service. In the Great War of
1914-18 some brothers went to prison for refusing to be conscripted, and a
brother in Germany was executed.
will say it is not realistic for a country to live by Jesus＊ rules. What about
Hitler, they say 每 surely he had to be stopped by force? The fact is, Jesus＊
commands were not intended for nations; they are for individuals. Those
individuals are being trained for the future age, when they will help Jesus
bring judgment upon unrepentant men and women. But for the moment they cannot
support one state or another. They must remain neutral. Happily they know that
when God＊s judgments are over, there will come a time of universal peace, when
all nations will be taught to live by Jesus＊ standards, and men ＆will learn
war no more＊.
LAW OR MAN＊S LAW?
You may argue at this point 每 surely, there is a conflict here! On the one hand we have been saying we must obey the laws of our country, and then when that law says we must fight, we disobey ! That is absolutely true, and there is an important principle here. If God＊s law conflicts with man＊s law, we have to give God＊s law priority. When Peter and his friends had been strictly forbidden to preach about Jesus, they disobeyed their earthly rulers. Here is their defence :
5 v 27-29 ＆
＃ they set [them] before the council: and the
high priest asked them, saying, ※Did not we straitly command you that ye
should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your
doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us§. Then Peter and the [other]
apostles answered and said, ※We ought to obey God rather than men.
There are other scriptural examples of brave men who defied their rulers when they had to choose between God＊s law and man＊s. Daniel＊s three friends were commanded to bow down to an idol. They refused, because God＊s law said they must not. They were prepared to die in the fiery furnace rather than abandon their principles. And Daniel himself was thrown into the lion＊s den because he would not obey the king＊s decree that all people should worship only him.
rights legislation says people who find military service unacceptable because it
goes against their conscience, have a right to exemption. Most Western countries
have agreed procedures for people like ourselves who refuse to fight, with a
record going back for over a century. The ＆conscientious objector＊, as he is
called, is made to attend a court or tribunal, where he is examined to ensure he
is genuine, and not just seeking to avoid military service out of fear. If his
case is approved, he then has to undertake alternative service to the army by
doing work ＆of national importance＊. This includes tasks such as hospital
work, farming, forestry or mining. CO＊s, as they were known during the War,
were despised and hated because they would not fight for their country, and some
were bullied or had to spend spells in prison. They accepted this reproach as
suffering for the sake of Christ.
East Europe there is not the same tradition of allowing conscientious objection.
Under communism, your loyalty was entirely to the state and no exceptions were
allowed. Since Perestroika, however, the former USSR countries are slowly
adopting human rights legislation, in order to make them acceptable to the West
in the interests of trade and cooperation. The Russian Constitution, for
example, includes the right to conscientious objection, and a
law has been passed through the Duma in 2002 to make arrangements for
implementing the clause in the Constitution. It looks as though the
＆alternative service＊ will last much longer than the normal period of
training for the army, and may well have to be spent a long way from home. In
the Ukraine, conscientious objection is already permitted for registered
churches, and we are in the process of registering the Christadelphian community
to allow our young brothers to take advantage of the law.
is clear that our young brothers have a test of their faith when the time comes
for them to register their objection to military service. It must be remembered,
though, that all our brothers, and probably sisters too, may be ＆called
up＊ if war breaks out. We all have to be ready to take our stand for Christ,
even though the consequences may be unpleasant. And there is one very important
point on which to conclude. When you have to stand before the tribunal committee
to prove you are a genuine brother or sister in Christ, you will need to have
evidence to support your claim. You will need a certificate to show when and
where you were baptised. You will need to be able to show you were
regular attender whenever there was a Breaking of Bread or
a Bible School, that you did your daily readings and prayers, and that
your life was free from drunkenness and immorality. Could your neighbours give
evidence that you were a changed person after you were baptised, showing
kindness and forgiveness to others, caring for the poor and your brothers and
sisters in distress, speaking the truth and keeping your promises? If not, it is
high time to make changes, because, who knows, it could be very soon when we all
have to stand before the great Judge himself.