Since the name ‘Christadelphian’was first used in 1863 by Brother John Thomas, we have consistently been known as conscientious objectors to military service. As the one body of Christ, we have stood up and defended the inspira­tion of the Scriptures and argued against Church doctrines on many fronts, but there has been noth­ing as pressing and nerve-racking as our conscien­tious objection to military service. With Armageddon becoming more imminent, now is as good a time as ever to review our stance on this Biblical principle and strengthen our minds in God’s service.

A Christadelphian’s reasons for refraining from partaking in combatant military service are con­ceived from the Bible, with some principles more obvious than others. In Scripture, killing was only ever allowed under God’s command and was strictly prohibited by the Ten Commandments. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 stresses the importance of being a peacemaker; states that hatred is tantamount to murder; teaches us not to resist evil but to turn the other cheek; exhorts us to love our enemies, bless them than curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who despitefully use and persecute us, while concluding with instructing us to do to others as we would like them to do to us.

Combatant Military Service

Throughout the remainder of the New Testament there are countless references which continue to outline our defence against combatant service. Paul shows that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. We are told to be ready to do every good work, to be blameless and harmless, not to return evil for evil, not to return cursing for cursing but rather respond with blessings realising that vengeance belongs to God and He will justly repay our enemies (2 Cor 10:3-5; Titus 3:1; Phil 2:15; Rom 12:14,17,19-21).

Imagine the evil if we joined the military and ended up having to fight our brethren and sisters from other countries! However, the most important reason we refuse combatant military service is, that being baptised children of God, we have given our allegiance to Him and understand, as Daniel 2:21 points out, that God removes and sets up kingdoms at His will. World events are under His control, not ours, and we are prohibited from giving our allegiance to earthly kings because we have given ourselves to our Lord. He is our master (Rom 14:8; 1 Cor 7:23). We cannot join with the world and become the enemy of God, potentially resisting God’s very will (Jas 4:4). Therefore, we see it is both illogical and unscriptural to partake in combatant military service.

As Christadelphians, we must appreciate that our citizenship is in heaven and not of this world (Heb 11:16; Eph 2:19; John 18:36)

What about Non-Combatant Service?

If given exemption from combatant military service, a Christadelphian will often be faced with undertaking non-combatant military service instead. However, it is not appropriate to serve the military in a non-combatant duty either, as doing so would be seen as giving full support to just another branch of the same war machine. The reasons for refusing non-combatant service are not dissimilar from the explanations relating to why we refuse combatant duties. The primary reason is that our sole allegiance is to God and as any form of military service (whether combatant or non-combatant) involves swearing an oath of allegiance to man, we would be placing ourselves in a position of having to break our allegiance with God. This oath forces us to choose between man and God. We are not at liberty to submit to any other authority than God’s because we are bought with a price and are not to be the servants of men (1 Cor 7:23). We are instructed to be the servants of God and to do our Lord’s bidding until he returns (1 John 5:3). As Christadelphians, we must appreciate that our citizenship is in heaven and not of this world (Heb 11:16; Eph 2:19; John 18:36). The laws of heaven in this citizenship take precedence over every other law.

With these reasons in mind, it is vital for young people today to realise the necessity of understand­ing these principles. Conscription in the past has typically forced males between the ages of 18-25 to sign up for military duty. However, with a worldwide push for women’s equality, it won’t only be our young men who are conscripted and need to give an account of their faith. These days strong, athletic, healthy and energetic youth of either gender are always going to be targeted for military operations. This further highlights the importance for our young people to understand why we refrain from military service.

The Challenges of Conscription for Us

With conscription comes many challenges in a Christadelphian’s life, primarily mentally. Many brethren who have faced tribunals to give account of their conscience and beliefs describe the ordeal as stressful, pressurised and soul-searching. They had to think hard about their personal beliefs and whether they really were committed to them, as well as having to present substantial evidence to back up their claims. In each case the judge was looking at their lives to see whether they were consistent with their beliefs.

How consistent are we? In the 21st century, increasing technology and communication al­lows people to see who we really are. Social media exposes a side of our life that makes us very trans­parent to the world. They can see if we live up to our beliefs or not. A young person’s life can be so easily uncovered and traced using technology, and this reason alone should warn us that we need to be seen to have a clear track record in all aspects of life and not linger on the ‘borderline’ of sin. How would we feel if we claimed to be servants of God before the judge and he pulls out a list of recent lifestyle behaviours which contradict the very allegiance we are giving lip service to?

Elderly brethren who have been through the conscription process use many different words to describe their courtroom experiences. These are some of the emotions they have expressed: “stress­ful”, “humiliating”, “terrifying”, “nerve racking”, “sleepless anxiety” and “pressure filled scenes”. It was not a comfortable appearance for the conscien­tious objector who was subjected to many pressing, probing questions. The individual had to provide proof that they knew their Bible and how to defend their stance. Their personal history was brought up and discussed, including inconsistencies in their life. One was considered ‘guilty until proven innocent’ and therefore had to provide adequate proof to show that they were faithful Christadelphians with a real scriptural conscience against military service. No one (in the public)  liked Christadelphians and they were considered cowards, making it much more uncomfortable for a young man to successfully plead his case and gain exemption from military service.

A Test of our Faith

There are many cases of Chris ta­delphian brothers who endured the trials and public shame that are as­sociated with conscription as they stood for what was right – showing that it is possible for us too, if we have the dedication. One of the most steadfast examples was Brother John Evans during the First World War (as outlined in a CSSS publication, Test Case for Canada). Brother John endured all kinds of physical and verbal abuse, mental anguish, grief, starvation, isolation and constant hatred for what he steadfastly believed, while being shipped across the world to different prisons, detention centres and camps for a year. Because of Brother John’s faithful restraint, he was discharged from the army.

Bre Ron Buchan and Roy Rendel sheltering from the rain at labour camp, 1943

More recent examples of brethren suffering because of their conscience during the Second World War and the Vietnam War demonstrate that even in a so-called tolerant society, they were not exempt from receiving public humiliation, accusations of desertion, prison sentences, physical and verbal abuse, loss of employment, as well as being forced to perform civil work or work of national importance away from home. Despite today’s emphasis on human rights, when it comes to defending one’s country, society can still inflict hardship and injustice to any who refuse to fight. We need to be ready to endure any hardship that might come our way in the future.

The Need for Consistency

Demonstrating consistency in a believer’s life is a very vital part of proving sincerity when seeking to gain exemption from military service. The necessity of being consistent in both words and actions has been carefully noted in the past. Words needed to be backed up by godly be­haviour, otherwise the inconsistencies were quickly identified by the judge. The court does not just look at whether an objector has been violent in the past or not; it looks at the complete history of their life in relation to how they profess to live their lives according to biblical values. Any inconsistency is relentlessly scrutinized, demonstrating the impor­tance of having a completely consistent life.

In the past, when conscription was at its height, it was a high priority for ecclesias to educate young and old on this subject. Today, however, it is not a priority, even though our young people need to appreciate our reasons for conscientious objection.

Perhaps it would be a wise idea to follow the prac­tices of ecclesias in years past. During the Second World War and the Vietnam War, the brotherhood realised the importance of ecclesial preparation through the use of Bible marking workshops, youth group talks and lectures on conscientious objection. Some youth groups even conducted mock tribunals with young brethren. Additionally, older brethren took on a highly supportive and important role by speaking to, advising, educating, encouraging, and dispelling the fears of answering the omit questions of young brethren. It would be of great benefit to the young people if this could happen today.

There were two main reactions of young people standing before unsympathetic judges at the tribu­nal hearings. Some caved in and ended up joining the armed forces or left the Truth altogether. The majority, however, stood firm, their consciences strengthened under the ordeal. Brethren looking back to those years saw the benefits of that trial, re­alised what was true in their lives and consequently understood more profoundly what it meant to be a follower of Christ. This, in turn, led many young men to baptism. Some had a more personal drive to follow Christ because they realised that being a Christadelphian was not something that you are simply born into, it was a holy calling. Some expe­rienced a deeper understanding and appreciation of personal beliefs and biblical principles. Some found that their conscience was pricked in everyday life situations as they came to grasp the importance of consistent godliness in their lives. As a result of this great trial in life, many young men found that they came out of the process with a much more strength­ened conscience compared to when they went in.

How will we Stand?

As has been mentioned several times throughout this article, sincerity and consistency were major factors which won the day before the tribunals. It would have been very discomforting to have yourself minutely examined in a courtroom and all of your worst mistakes and blem­ishes pointed out to all present. To pass this cross-examination of allegiance to God, a young man had to prove that he was really committed to God’s ways and was truly separate from this world.

An anonymous letter received by Bro Ron and Sis Dot Barton after he appeared in court, as documented in the newspaper article.

How would we fare? Would we stand up to scrutiny if our behaviour throughout our life at school, university and work were all dug up to determine the type of person we are? Our online history would be tracked, our spending patterns would be highlighted, our free time would be analysed and our comments on social media would be investigated. Any in­consistencies would immediately be seized upon. How would the judge view our conscience against taking up arms if we are engaged in violent sports and video games? Even a game of paintball would be looked upon as evidence of incon­sistency. How could we prove our commitment to the ways of God if we don’t attend youth group classes, or Wednesday night Bible classes? What if someone testified that we neglected our daily Bible readings and study, that we didn’t care for the sick and needy, that we found association with the world more preferable than associating with brethren and sisters? How would we feel if evidence was given showing that we are more interested in seeking the comfort of this life and not seeking the Kingdom which is about to be established in the near future? All these questions highlight the point that we must always be ready to give an answer to those who seek to know our beliefs and conscience, and that answer must be backed up with godliness and integrity. One day we will stand before the judge of all the earth to give account of our beliefs and conscience. Will we be accounted worthy to stand before him in that day and receive the commendation of everlasting life?