The Sabbath and Military Service

The Sabbath-keeping Church of God has a long tradition of non-participation in war. Both the Church of God (7th Day), and most descendants from the Worldwide Church of God are opposed to military service. Some of these groups have anti-participation-in-war statements in their statements of belief. While Seventh day Adventists do not have a statement on carnal warfare in their official doctrinal statement, SDAís, when inducted into the military, generally become non-combatants.

Anabaptists in Europe, who became prominent in the 1500s, generally opposed taking part in warfare. While not all Anabaptists were Sabbath-keepers, some were. My ancestors became followers of a prominent Sunday Anabaptist named Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonites. Because they would not participate in Prussian wars, my German Mennonite ancestors, known as the "von Nickel" clan, gave up their ownership of the largest nickel mine in Eastern Europe, and settled in the south Russian area of the Ukraine, at the invitation of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. John Kiesz, the late noted evangelist of the Church of God, Seventh Day, also is descended from these Germans in Russia. They eventually migrated further east, reaching Tashkent, in Asiatic Russia. In about the 1870s, seeking to avoid mandatory military service in the Russian army, my fatherís ancestors migrated to the Dakotas in North America. Others went to Paraguay, in South America.

Those who refuse to kill and maim other human beings in warfare often face contempt, ridicule, and persecution. In spite of ardent persuasion from public officials, my grandfather in North Dakota refused to buy War Bonds during World War I. Buying bonds was supposed to be voluntary. He did not want to support President Woodrow Wilsonís war in Europe. As a result of grandpaís refusal, the local sheriff came to Cornelius Nickelís farm and confiscated a cow on behalf of the United States war effort.

In 1969, as a young college graduate and twenty-one year old convert to the Sabbath-keeping Church of God, I faced a hostile draft board shortly after I was baptized. The government had declared me "1A," which means that I was subject to being drafted and sent to the Vietnam War. I performed a diligent study of the Bible teachings on war, writing a lengthy paper to my draft board, in order to convince them that I was a sincere conscientious objector to war. One of the members of the Draft Board reviewing my case was Professor of Religion at the college I had been attending. I remember his pointed questions, and sneering ridicule of my beliefs. I got a little practice in case I ever have to appear before a Grand Inquisition. Rather than allow me to engage in public or international service in the Peace Corps as work in lieu of military service, the Draft Board decided that I must take the lowliest job available: janitor at Goodwill Industries in Portland, Oregon. So, for two years of alternate service, known as the "1-W" program, the valedictorian, of both his high school and college graduating classes, mopped floors and cleaned toilets. It was a good, character building experience. I could have fled to Canada to live with relatives there, but I am happy that I was able to serve my country in a non-destructive way. While some of my contemporaries who went to Vietnam came back in pine boxes, crippled with injuries, or drugged out of their minds, I worked with handicapped people and learned many helpful lessons.

My personal experiences are not unique. Sabbath-keeping and non-participation in warfare seem to go hand in hand. The Waldenses huddled in the valleys of the Alps underwent military attack and persecutions time and again. They were never aggressive, and only in extreme circumstances would defend themselves.

Conscientious Objectors during the Civil War

During the American Civil War, many Adventists and Church of God Sabbatarians refused to participate in the war.

One clear indication of the beliefs of the Hope of Israel (name of the Church of God paper, the predecessor of todayís Bible Advocate) 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 the Harbinger expressing sorrow at the death of President Lincoln, thanking God that Lincoln made laws to deliver Christians from participating in war.

John L. Staunton, a one-time president of the Michigan Conference, enlisted in the Union army, and the Waverly church disfellowshipped him, maintaining that only non-resisters could be in their church.

H.E. Carver OF Iowa was conscientiously opposed to Christians fighting with carnal weapons, that is, in warfare. He believed that the church should adopt the same position and urged that the question be discussed in the columns of the Advent Review. This occurred at the outbreak of the Civil War, shortly before the foundation of the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination.

The Whites stated at a council in Lisbon, Iowa that the subject should not be discussed because of the danger of being destroyed by the war elements in the country for seeming to be unpatriotic. James White wrote in the Review that to engage in war would be a violation of two of Godís commandments, but in case of being drafted, the government would be responsible for an individualís violation of Godís commandments. In effect, he said that it was all right to break Godís law! This error was so obvious that Ellen G. White had to apologize in the Review for her husband, but maintained that something had to be said on this delicate subject. Mrs. White never did pronounce a vision concerning conscientious objection.

The Iowa Church of God brethren were firmly convinced that it was wrong for Christians to engage in warfare. During the initial phase of the Civil War, Elders B.F. Snook and J.H. Waggoner prepared a petition to the Iowa State government, asking their church be exempted as non-combatants. The petition was circulated among the brethren for signatures, and sent to the state capital. Battle Creek did not sanction this effort, terming it "fanaticism." Due to the Church of God petition, a law was enacted exempting non-combatants from bearing arms. Carver termed the non-action of the Battle Creek Seventh-Day Adventists as "cowardly."

However, Uriah Smith reported that the Seventh-Day Adventist General Conference did indirectly exempt Seventh-Day Adventists by petitioning the government to exempt them through an already existing law.

Conscientious Objection Today

Jesus said in John 18:36, "My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence." The Saviorís servants are not to engage in carnal warfare. There are many scriptures supporting the view that participating in war is contrary to New Testament beliefs. I suggest that you read the article, "Military Service and War," written by Herbert W. Armstrong, available on the Worldwide Web at

Besides presenting a problem with the sixth commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," military service presents insurmountable problems with keeping the Bible Sabbath. As Ron Dart writes in his article, "Capital Punishment, A Christian Dilemma," there is little difference between a slave and a man drafted into the military. Soldiers eat and sleep when and where they are told. They work and fight when and where they are told. They are not free to quit and go home. If a civilian Sabbath-keeper refuses to work on Godís weekly Holy Day, he may lose his job; a soldier under the same circumstances may be court martialed and jailed. Sabbath-keeping, and military service and war, are totally opposed to each other.

Yet paradoxically, Ron Dart (interviewed in the November/ December, 1998 TSS), does not believe it is wrong to be in the military or engage in war. In a subsequent interview, Dart said he does NOT believe that we should conscientiously refuse to bear arms, or refuse to come under the military authority. He says, "I think it [opposition to military service] is a doctrine that needs to be carefully re-thought. As it was taught by the Worldwide Church of God, I came to see that there were flaws in the argumentation. During my years in WCG, I accepted the teaching on military service." He says that Garner Ted Armstrong believes the same way, and that his church left it as a matter of individual conscience. "My views," Dart states, "can best be stated as a dissatisfaction with the traditional view [rather] than as holding the opposite view. I would be very happy to participate in a scholarly conference on the topic if such can ever be arranged. My mind is open on this subject."

Doctrinal Statements on Military Service

Article 15 of the Statement of Beliefs of the Church of God, Seventh Day, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, states: "Participation in Warfare. Jesus Christ our Lord taught us to love and forgive our enemies, and to work for the peace and salvation of all peoples. Wars among nations and violence between persons are not Godís perfect will, but result from greed, lust for power, selfishness, and other sinful motives. Christians should renounce such carnality and the weapons of human strife, and should not participate in military combat through the armed forces. Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-38; Romans 12:17-21; John 18:36; Matthew 26:51, 52; 2 Corinthians 10:3, 4; James 4:1."

The United Church of God, an International Association, with home office near Cincinnati, Ohio, says this in their statement of belief:

"We believe that Christians are forbidden by the commandments of God from taking Human life, directly or indirectly, and that bearing arms is contrary to this fundamental belief. Therefore, we believe that Christians should not voluntarily become engaged in military service. If they are involuntarily engaged in military service, we believe they should refuse conscientiously to bear arms and, to the extent possible, to refuse to come under military authority."

Down through history, Sabbath-keepers have often been persecuted and attacked by papal armies. They have had to flee to avoid massacre, and have had to defend themselves only under extreme, provocative, circumstances. In the Twentieth Century, purposeless wars have slaughtered millions. If there is any lesson to be learned from this bloody history, it is that war is "hell," and that a Bible believer should shun such evil practices. We look forward to the coming of the Savior. His return will initiate the ONLY "war to end all wars." Sabbath-keeping and military service appear to be totally incompatible. This is not a borderline, "gray" issue. The Sixth Commandment is as important as the Fourth Commandment. If any of our readers have comments or stories to relate on the subject of military service, please write to the author.