And Follow Their Faith!
Anybody who stood up to the Nazis is a hero in my book. Will we be steadfast in the coming time of war and trial? I became aware recently of a body of Sabbatarians who have a rich history of holding to their faith, in spite of hardship, persecution, and excommunication from their own Church. The Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement began during World War I in Europe. Their story is one of courage, and is a sterling example for us to follow. Will our faith be as immovable as theirs?
The Fourth Command, the Sabbath, is only one of Ten Commandments. The Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill [do no murder]," is as commonly broken as the other commandments. The Church of God continues to this day to be opposed to carnal war and military service.
During the formative years of the Sabbatarian Adventist Movement, some equivocated, but most Sabbath-keepers of the mid-Nineteenth Century were opposed to carnal warfare. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States during the American Civil War declared in 1864:
"The denomination of Christians calling themselves Seventh-day Adventists, taking the Bible as their rule of faith and practice, are unanimous in their views that its teachings are contrary to the spirit and practice of war; hence, they have ever been conscientiously opposed to bearing arms. If there is any portion of the Bible which we, as a people, can point to more than any other as our creed, it is the law of the ten commandments, which we regard as the supreme law, and each precept of which we take in its most obvious and literal import. The fourth of these commandments requires cessation from labor on the seventh day of the week, the sixth prohibits the taking of life, neither of which, in our view, could be observed while doing military duty. Our practice has uniformly been consistent with these principles. Hence, our people have not felt free to enlist into the service. In none of our denominational publications have we advocated or encouraged the practice of bearing arms, and, when drafted, rather than violate our principles, we have been content to pay, and assist each other in paying, the $300 commutation money." -F. M. Wilcox: Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War, p. 58.
In 1865, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists reaffirmed their original stand: "Resolved that . . . . we are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed as being inconsistent with the duties enjoined upon us by our divine Master toward our enemies and toward all mankind." -The Review and Herald, May 23, 1865.
During World War I (1914-1918), German and other European Seventh-day Adventists did an about-face and its leadership, supported by the American General Conference, not only broke with the traditional teaching of their Church, but actually encouraged its members to join the military and engage in warfare. While 98% of the members decided to obey the instruction of the officers of the denomination, taking part in the war, 2% decided to remain faithful to the law of God, upholding the original position, as taught and practiced up to that time. These faithful believers were disfellowshipped from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe because they chose to uphold the Church's original position in regard to keeping the Law of God (all Ten Commandments).
In a booklet published by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Germany, they announced the following doctrinal change: "In all that we have said we have shown that the Bible teaches, firstly, that taking part in the war is no transgression of the sixth commandment, likewise, that war service on the Sabbath is not a transgression of the fourth commandment." - Protokoll, p.12.
"On the German mobilization, in August, 1914, the SDA's of that country were faced with the necessity of making an immediate decision concerning their duty to God and country when called into the armed service (see Germany, V; Noncombatancy). After counseling with the few SDA leaders locally available at that time, the president of the East German Union Conference informed the German War Ministry in writing, dated Aug. 4, 1914, that conscripted SDA's would bear arms as combatants and would render service on the Sabbath in defense of their country . . . .
"Admittedly, the three SDA leaders in Germany took a stand concerning the duty of SDA's in military service that was contrary to the historic stand officially maintained by the denomination ever since the American Civil War (1861-1865)." -The Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, Commentary Reference Series, Vol. 10, p. 1183, Edition of 1966.
The Adventist leaders declared: "At the beginning of the war our organization was split into two parties. As ninety-eight percent of our membership, by searching the Bible, came to the conviction that they are duty-bound, by conscience, to defend the country with weapons, also on Saturdays, this position, unanimously endorsed by the leadership, was immediately announced to the War Ministry. Two percent, however, did not submit to this resolution, and therefore had to be disfellowshipped because of their unchristian conduct. These unprofitable elements set themselves up as preachers and, with little results, sought to make converts to their propaganda of foolish ideas. They call themselves, falsely, preachers and Adventists. They are not; they are deceivers. When such elements receive their merited punishment, we regard it, in fact, as a favor done to us." -Dresdener Neueste Nachrichten (a German newspaper), p. 3, April 12, 1918.
In the same year, SDA leaders made another declaration, as follows: "In the beginning of the war there were some members, as there are also in other places, who did not want to take part in war service, either because of their lack of unity, or because of fanaticism. They started to spread around their foolish ideas in the congregation by word and in writing, trying to convince others to do the same. They were admonished by the church, but because of their obstinacy they had to be put out, for they became a threat to internal and external peace." -Stuttgarter Neues Tagblatt, September 26, 1918.
Those disfellowshipped from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, not only in Germany, but also in many other countries in Europe, had no intention of starting a new Church. They were about 4,000 in number. Attempts at reconciliation with the main body were made just after the war, in 1920 and in 1922, but with no positive result.
Therefore, as their numbers increased, the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement was organized as a church, separate from the main body of Seventh-day Adventists, when representatives from different countries met at Gotha, Germany, July 14-20, 1925. It is the purpose of the Reform Movement to continue with the original teachings and practices of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement General Conference first operated from Isernhagen, Germany, and then Basel, Switzerland. During the Nazi Era and World War II, mainstream SDA's served the Nazi state, as they had accommodated the German government in the first World War. The April 20, 1940, Morning Watch (an Adventist publication) praised Adolph Hitler for his humility, self-sacrifice, and "warm heart." Adventists even disfellowshipped members of Jewish origin. Imagine, goose-stepping Adventists! This is a very black page in Adventist history. Although almost all SDA's placed themselves without exception behind the National Socialist Government, gave the German salute, and performed military service, the adherents of the Reform maintained their old principles of faith and stood up to Hitler. Some were killed in concentration camps, rather than deny the Sabbath.
Reform Adventists publish an inspiring testimony of steadfast Sabbath-keepers during Germany's dark days, "And Follow Their Faith!" ($5.00 postpaid from: Giving & Sharing, PO Box 100, Neck City, MO 64849.) This 60-page book includes pictures, history, and letters of martyrs for the faith. In some cases, Nazi-collaborating regular Seventh-day Adventist ministers testified against them. One hero was Anton Brugger, born in 1911 in Salzburg, Austria. He was condemned to two years of prison in a labor concentration camp as a conscientious objector. While working in the concentration camp as a woodworker, Brugger wrote, "The officers of the Justice Department wanted to force me to work on the Sabbath, but the foreman was so satisfied with me and my work that I did not have to work on Saturdays. In exchange, I helped to unload boxcars every Sunday." Suddenly, without notice, they came to get him for the military. "I could not pledge allegiance to the [Nazi] flag, because in doing so I would have promised not only to fight with arms, but also to fight on the Sabbath day. Because I could not give this promise, I was condemned to death." In his touching letters to his mother and wife, Anton Brugger fully demonstrates the Spirit of Christ. He explains, "I could not swear to a worldly power unconditional fidelity, for this I did already to my Saviour at my baptism. Then I made a covenant with the Lord, promising Him to keep faithfully His commandments and follow Him under all conditions and difficulties in life. So there remained only two alternatives: either to remain faithful in all trials - even unto death - or else to become unfaithful by choosing the easier side. I chose death since I desire to attain to eternal life, for which Jesus Christ has called me by His sacrificial death. . . . For me there is no halfway position; I am either fully true to my conviction, or not at all. . . . I ask you [mother] to put forth special efforts to put out of your heart all hard feelings against everyone who has done you harm during your life. . . Forgive them with all your heart and forget all the evil done." In his final letter to his beloved Esther, written hours before his execution of February 3, 1943 (at the age of 31), Anton said, "may the Lord bless you . . . and protect and help you graciously so that we may see each other again forever beside HIM in His wonderful kingdom of peace. . . . Farewell, my Darling, auf WIEDERSEHEN!" ("And Follow Their Faith!" pages 40-51).
After World War II, Reform headquarters was moved to America, now in Roanoke, Virginia. The SDA Reform Movement works in 83 countries. In 1999, it claimed almost 30,000 members. I do not agree with them regarding Ellen G. White and vegetarianism as a test of fellowship. However, I admire their courage to stand up to 98% of their brethren, and remain faithful to the Sabbath even under war and Nazi tyranny. May we all resist the liberal crowd and be faithful to the Lord of the Sabbath. For more information, contact Reformation Herald Publishing Association, PO Box 7240, Roanoke, VA 24019, or see the SDA Reform Movement website, http://www.sdarm.org/, or borrow the VHS video tape, "Historical Origin of the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement," for $3.50, from: Richard C. Nickels, 3316 Alberta Drive, Gillette, WY 82718.