Christians believe that the bible is God’s word and that sin is a transgression of God’s law. God’s law is the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20). The 6th Commandment tells us that as Christians we will not kill, and thus the challenge for Christians during war time is born. Historically SDAs have been known as “conscientious objectors”, opposed to killing, war and violence. Some members take this stance further to include not “bearing arms” (not carrying a gun or other weapon of war), to avoid the possible temptation of killing. Others go further still to say that being in the war effort at all (even without a weapon, keeping all of the Commandments) is supporting wrong and is a sin. Debate has arisen over the past 150 years and still continues today, as to whether or not a Christian can choose to join the army, navy or air force, either of his / her own free will or if forced with conscription. Is it biblical to choose prison or death over compliance if conscripted? These moral dilemmas have been faced by many faithful Christians, and it is my prayer that this article may lead you to more prayerful study about this heavily debated topic. The following is an historical account of the German SDA church’s response to World War 1 and the split that followed.
I will start by saying, if you are not an Adventist, the church politics on this matter are basically irrelevant to you, which is why I will only very briefly cover this (feel free to skip down to the Testimony 1 and 2 links). I believe the links I give after will help both Adventists and non-Adventists alike to understand the dilemmas brought about in war time, also to show some amazing testimonies of faithful individuals who were helped by God during World War 2.
For Adventists who wish to have a clear understanding of this issue, I recommend continuing through the resources posted after.
To begin, it is important to understand my reasons for posting this article. I personally believe that the SDA church badly needs help, and I believe that help can come from members of the SDARM / IMSSDARM rejoining the fight for truth in the church. I don’t necessarily agree with all the doctrines of either the SDARM or IMSSDARM, however I believe they and the SDA church are in unity on vital doctrines. In my opinion the SDA church needs more conscientious individuals to help spread the message of truth across the world. I believe many have been discouraged and driven into the Reform or Independent movements. My hope is that this division will end, so we can all get back to work spreading the 3 angels’ messages to the world. It seems an impossible dream to fulfil, however Christ prayed a similar prayer. I believe His power to bring unity and reform will prevail.
I am not in favour of ecumenism, however I believe there are insignificant differences between the SDA, SDARM, IMSSDARM and Independent SDA groups to justify separation. One of these differences (sometimes the only difference some people see) is the matter of whether Christians should go to war.
In late 1914, the year before Ellen White died, the German SDA church went through a major crisis (NB. Ellen White was completely silent about this event). The Government of the time was forcing members of all Christian churches to go to war, and the German SDA Conference leader threatened to disfellowship any German SDAs who refused to sign up. His ultimatum eventually lead to the death of a number of members who refused to comply. The Conference leader’s motives are still unknown. Some put it down to pride, faithlessness or weakness, or simply claim he was protecting the church. I have heard mixtures of all of these. However, one thing is clear, it happened.
What was also clear was the church’s reaction to his unsupported decision. The church sent a delegate to attempt to solve the rift between the church and the disfellowshipped members, with the offer to reinstate their memberships. For whatever reason (again, much unfruitful speculation has been given on this matter), the grieved ex-members refused to rejoin unless the church agreed to remove its new-found position on war – “It is up to the conscience of the individual if they join the army”. Rather, they proposed that the church should return to its original stance (passed in 1860s General Conference regarding the US Civil War), that SDAs are non-combatant, conscientious objectors and that any member who went to war would be disfellowshipped. These ex-members also wanted the main instigator of their disfellowshipment removed. Neither of their proposals were accepted and they did not accept reinstatement. (NB.The General Conference of the SDA church, even in the time of Ellen White, was made up of humans who were prone to error.)
Instead, this group of people went on to form over 23 separate, independent German groups. However, over time one key group took hold and began to spread to other countries. The group claimed to be the true SDA church, labelling the SDA church as apostate. It took the name of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement. In 1951 the group split into two major factions (with many other splinter groups), which both still continue to this day. With approximately 30,000 members in each, both Reform churches maintain basically the same doctrines, albeit contention over the issue of the nature of Christ and other doctrines. The Reforms both claim to be God’s only church on earth and are generally quite adamant that the SDA church has “fallen” (by extension the SDA church is Babylon, but this is rarely directly stated). There are many members who do not take this hard-line approach though, and simply see that the SDA and Reform churches are working together to the same end, just in different areas.
But what is the correct stance to take? For me it is a difficult one, as I have friends whom I respect and care about in both Reforms. However, I now attend a relatively conservative SDA church. But, there are always two sides to every story. For the Reforms’, I will leave it up to you to seek them out and see their side. I personally wasn’t impressed by their arguments and found some of them quite deceptive.
We could debate all day long whether or not it is right for a Christian to go to war. However, for me I prefer to see a practical application. Is it possible to be in a war situation and keep God’s commandments? I believe God has allowed Christian men to be conscripted to serve in war to give us practical, real-life testimonies to study and understand. These men weren’t perfect, but they loved God and served Him first, even above their commanding officers. They were “conscientious objectors” conscripted and forced to go to war, but who remained faithful to the commandments of God. The first was conscripted to the German army and the second to the the US Army. I think together their testimonies give a complete picture, with each of their consciences and understandings shaping their war experience.
Testimony 1: A Thousand Shall Fall (German Soldier) -This is a professionally read audio book ($10 mp3). Once you follow the link, scroll down and there is a sample of the book. It is a real faith-strengthener. A hard copy book is also available from amazon.com. (NB. godslastwarning.com is not affiliated with either of these sites or the sale of the audio / hard copy book.)
Testimony 2: Desmond Doss Documentary – youtube – A very good documentary on Desmond Doss, famous war veteran who won the Purple Heart for bravery, yet never fired a shot during the war. He also kept the Sabbath amid great opposition.
These resources are applicable to Adventists only:
Taylor Bunch – Forty Years in the Wilderness – pdf – This covers the war issue without getting into the debate of whether or not the SDA church has “fallen”. Rather, Bunch shows that the apostasy seen is actually a fulfilment of prophecy.
Taylor Bunch – The Exodus of Ancient Israel from Ancient Egypt… – pdf – A series of 36 sermons on the SDA movement and its relationship to Ancient Israel.
Eugine Prewitt – The Roots of Modern Movements – audioverse mp3 sermon – While I don’t agree with the judgements he passes on some of the members involved in the 1914-16 crisis in the German SDA church, I believe Prewitt presents some interesting incites into the whole debate.
IMPORTANT NOTE: To further understand the war issue, please study prayerfully the following pdfs. However, I cannot fully endorse the following books as I do take issue with some of the authors’ doctrinal stances. Also, sometimes they can be needlessly harsh and miss the point of what we should be trying to do, that is to reunite the SDA and Reform churches. Kramer and Farrel do however reveal some of the history and politics that to my knowledge isn’t covered by the Reforms’ materials:
Helmut Kramer – SDA Reform Movement – pdf – 3 testimonies from ex-members of the IMSSDARM.
Vance Farrel – The Truth About the Adventist Reform Movement*– pdf – To be honest, I am in two minds as to whether or not I should actually post this. The article is quite sensationalist and derogatory, but it does hold valuable testimonies which I believe are relevant to the topic. Farrel mainly deals with what is now called the SDARM.