LCG follows Mr. Armstrong on military

The writer is a member of the Living Church of God.

By Robert J. Thiel

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif.--The Sept. 30 issue of The Journal included comments from a couple of people in the Churches of God (Bronson James and Steve Collins) involving an issue that I thought was resolved back when the COGs separated from the Seventh-day Adventists. Sadly, some are teaching that military service is acceptable for Christians.

Is it?

The Journal correctly reported the position of the Living Church of God: "Concerning military service, Dr. [Roderick] Meredith [founder of the LCG] holds to the teaching of Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W. Armstrong that "truly converted Christians should not serve in the military" ("COG Leaders React to Terrorist Attacks").

Specifically Mr. Armstrong taught: "We believe that Christian disciples of Christ are forbidden by Him and the commandments of God to kill, or in any manner directly or indirectly to take human life; by whatsoever means; we believe that bearing arms is directly contrary to this fundamental doctrine of our belief; we therefore conscientiously refuse to bear arms or to come under the military authority" ("Fundamental Beliefs of the Radio Church of God" as quoted in Early Writings of Herbert W. Armstrong, articles written 1928-1953).

Before Mr. Armstrong

But this was not a truth that Mr. Armstrong restored to the church. The Church of God had already gone on record as being conscientious objectors. After Ellen White and her husband took over the Church of God and declared its name to be Seventh-day Adventists, those faithful left and were known as the Church of Christ or Church of God (the church was not incorporated as Church of God Seventh Day until 1884).

One publication put out by those who left the Seventh-day Adventists was Hope of Israel, which began in 1863. Here are two reports from Richard Nickels of Gillette, Wyo., on Church of God members being conscientious objectors and the Seventh-day Adventists being a bit less enthusiastic about conscientious objection.

Before quoting it, I should add that the position of the U.S. government used to sometimes be that conscientious objectors could pay a fine in lieu of military service, and that is what Church of God members, Quakers and members of other pacifist religions did until about the end of the Civil War.

Here is the quote from Hope of Israel:

Four months in prison

"One clear indication of the beliefs of the Hope of Israel supporters generally was their conscientious objection to participation in the Civil War. It appears that some Advent groups attempted to buy exemption from the draft for their male members. Eli Wilsey of the Hartford 'Church of Christ' spent at least four months in prison 'for refusing to fight with carnal weapons.' Frequent news articles on the progress, and staggering costs, of the war were published, with the exhortation to the brethren to have nothing to do with the 'war, revenge and murder.'

"One news report was that brother William Cronk of Casco was drafted, passed examination, 'But was declared exempt from field service on account of his religious principles. He is in the government service in the hospital.' N. Wallen and R.C. Horton reported in a letter dated January 16, 1865, from South Haven, Michigan, that the brethren of Hartford and Casco were going to try and raise $300.00 to clear all the brethren who may be drafted."

The April 23, 1865, issue contained a quote from a publication called Harbinger expressing sorrow at the death of President Lincoln, thanking God that Mr. Lincoln made laws to deliver Christians from participating in war.

John L. Staunton, a president of the Michigan SDA conference, enlisted in the Union army, and an SDA congregation then disfellowshipped him, maintaining that "only nonresisters could be in their church."

This information comes from History of the Seventh Day Church of God, published by Mr. Nickels in 1988. This and other references available from Mr. Nickels and the Giving & Sharing ministry he founded show that historically the Church of God has been against military service for its members.

The Seventh-day Adventists have made so many exceptions in modern times that it would be difficult to state that it is truly against military service for its members.

Departures from the faith

Sadly, military service is another area in which some claiming to be in the Church of God have departed from the faith. A few years ago the Worldwide Church of God changed its position against military service. It even ordained one whom I recall to have been an active military officer to be a minister in charge of several congregations in Hawaii.

The Journal article quoted Bronson James as stating that the Church of God International does not teach against its members serving in the military.

Indeed, "the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith" (1 Timothy 4:1).

Whaid Rose, president of the Denver conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day) (CG7), wrote on Oct. 1, 2001: "Christians should renounce such carnality and the weapons of human strife, and should not participate in military combat through the armed forces."

However, the CG7 president is apparently considering changing his view because he further wrote: "You should know that over the years I have defended the church's pacifist stance, but that the events of Sept. 11 has [sic] me thinking much about this. Would you say that this 'different kind of war against America' calls for an exception to the rule?"

No, I would not agree with Mr. Rose that circumstances should change doctrine. Jesus taught (Revelation 3:11) that the Philadelphia era should "hold fast" (I am not implying that the CG7 is part of that era).

What should be done?

Since the terrorist attacks are not a reason for an exception to the church's historical position against military involvement, what should be done? That is easy. The nation should repent. God promises to protect the nation if we obey Him and to allow curses if we do not.

God protects those who obey Him. ". . . If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God . . . God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 28:1-7).

But look what happens to those who disobey: "Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country . . . The Lord will strike you with consumption, with fever, with inflammation, with severe burning fever, with the sword, with scorching, and with mildew . . . The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them; and you shall become troublesome to all the kingdoms of the earth" (Deuteronomy 28:15-16, 22-25).

Dr. Meredith pointed out a similar concept when he said, "If you were God, would you bless and protect a nation which claimed to trust in You and yet broke and smashed Your spiritual laws with absolute impunity?"

Would God bless, asked Dr. Meredith, a nation that has exterminated 35 million unborn children, a nation filled with liars, thieves, drug addicts and sex perverts, a nation that legally protects foul-mouthed blasphemers?

"God did not directly cause these recent tragedies!" wrote Dr. Meredith. "Rather, as our personal and national sins have increased, He has 'removed' His protective hand from the United States, Britain and Canada!

"We are not truly 'Christian' nations anymore--not by any honest definition of 'Christianity'!"

Dr. Meredith quoted Isaiah 59:1-2, which says our iniquities have separated us from God.

From the New Testament

In addition to Jesus' comments that His Kingdom was not of this world, let's look at what else He said.

He said in Matthew 5:21-22, about the command "You shall not murder": ". . . I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council."

He also said, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus teaches us not to respond as the world responds. You do not show love for your enemy by engaging in war to try to kill him.

John wrote that "whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:14-15).

Those that hate do not abide in the light nor have eternal life.

John the Baptist addressed the military this way: "Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, 'And what shall we do?' So he said to them, 'Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages'" (Luke 3:14).

There is simply no way soldiers are refraining from intimidating if they are trying to kill.

Love your neighbor

Paul wrote: "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men" (1 Corinthians 7:23). Becoming part of the military makes one a slave of men. Remember that Peter said we ought to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

Members of the Church of God are to rely on God. We are to love our enemies, pray for them and trust God. Christ's Kingdom is not now of this world, thus we His servants do not fight.

It is sad that not all in the COGs still believe and teach this.

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