Mennonites in the World War/I

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Jesus Christ built His Church upon the Rock. Notwithstanding waves of persecution, infidelity, and indifference which have swept over it, it is still there, and we have the assurance that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. The Church grew rapidly from the beginning, with Jerusalem as a center around which the believers nocked until per secution began to rage, when "They that were scat tered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word." With all that the followers of Christ became very numerous in some places and passed through ten general persecutions before the time of Constantine, neither sacred nor profane history shows that they avenged wrongs or tried to protect themselves or their government with carnal weapons. On the contrary they professed to be "strangers and pil grims," and their lives corresponded with their pro fession. Matt. 5:21-26,38-48; Luke 6:27-29; John 18:36 and kindred Scriptures were the basis of one of the tenets of their creed.


A number of things led away from the simple faith. First, heathen customs had crept into the Church already in Paul's time and continued. Second, heresies became more numerous. Gnosticism, Montanism, Sabellianism, and Manic haeanism are among the most striking examples. Third, the idea that it required an elevation to the priesthood to rightly interpret the Scriptures led common people away from the Bible instead of to it, and naturally the people became less and less devoted to its teach ings. Fourth, the Roman Church became somewhat idolized. Cyprian said, "One visible Church and one only, can be right. In it and not beyond it, is the abode of the Holy Spirit." This held nominal membership in a visible church so high that it be came an end in itself rather than a means to an end. These things tended to make the Church more worldly, and at the same time caused the truly de- \out to lament the conditions and finally to with draw fellowship from Romanism. They could not fellowship the corruptions that naturally came into the body, and the once persecuted now became the persecutors. Those who dared to stand against those things were at once branded as heretics. This was perfectly natural in the light of Cyprian's state ment.

Church and State[edit]

But even a corrupt Christianity has some ad vantages over a pagan religion. The number of adherents increased until the State courted alliance with the Church. Just before going into battle with Maxentius, also one of the rivals for the Roman throne, Constantine declared himself in favor of Christianity, won a signal victory, and made Chris tianity the religion of State. That was a sad day for the Church.

Persecutions, hard as they were to bear, were a blessing" in keeping out those who were not true. But since Christianity had been made the religion of State, it had also become popular to "belong to Church." Many became Christians in name for personal gain. A form of piety was all that was necessary for office whether in government or in religious work. Church ordinances became a means of salvation in the minds of people baptism to wash away sin; the communion to eat the literal fles h of Christ and to drink His literal blood as a means of purification, and in itself a great virtue; alms-giving a means of placing accounts on the credit side of the ledger in heaven.

Developments of the Papacy[edit]

Step by step conditions developed which led to the reign of a few in spiritual matters. Then rivalry did not cease until one was considered superior to all others. He was called the father of the Church on earth, the papa or pope. Hereafter no one was expected to find fault with him or his work. When Symmac hus was pope, a member of the synod was appointed to try him for some charge brought a- gainst him. Symmachus said, "God alone should try the Bishop of Rome."

Persecutions from within[edit]

In all ages after that there were those who would not bow to the mandates of the Roman Church but rather suffered terrible persecutions. Faber, in speaking of the Paulicans (so called be cause they so often quoted from the Apostle Paul) says, "The firmness of their religious adherence to principle was marked by their frequent and ready submission to martyrdom. Hundreds of them were burned alive upon a huge funeral pile."

John Haynes Holmes, in his book, "New Wars for Old," gives some illustrations of the position of the early Christians He says, "One said, It is not lawful to bear arms/ Another, Because I am a Christian I have abandoned my profession as a soldier/ A third, I am a Christian and therefore I can not fight/ A fourth, I can not fight if I die; I am not a soldier of this world but a soldier of God/ " Speaking of the time when the Church was largely won by the Roman Empire, he says, "One of the most surprising results of this conquest of Christianity by the Empire is the practical annihilation of the doctrine o>f norare si stance, which had played suc h a conspicuous and heroic part in the early history of the Church."

The same author, speaking of the Catharists or Cathari, says, "It is a matter of record that when the persecutors of Rome fell upon them with fire and sword .and rock pillaged their homes, tortured their old and young, and slaughtered men, women, and children, all alike without compunction they died for the faith that was within them/

Peter Waldo, the Waldenses and Kindred Sects[edit]

Peter Waldo was a rich merchant in the city of Lyons, France, who lived in the twelfth century, became converted and devoted his entire fortune to translating the Scriptures and placing them within the reach of the common people. He went forth to preach the Word with the power of the Holy Ghost. Chamber's Encyclopaedia contains the following- regarding Waldo: "He was less the founder of a sect than a representative and leader of a wide-spread struggle against the corruptions of the clergy." In speaking of the "struggle" it must not be understood that this was with carnal weapons, for this would be contrary to the claims made in his preaching. He held that the nonresistant principles of the New Tes tament had their roots back in the decalogue. His followers were hunted like wild beasts of the forest and hundreds of them sealed their faith with their life blood, but they would in no wise use physical force in self-defense. Chamber, in speaking of the Waldenses, says, "They are shown to be identical with the followers of Waldo, but they must not be confounded with the Albigenses who were persecuted at the same period. The protest of the Waldens es against the Church o>f Rome only related to practical questions, that of the Albigenses related to matters of doctrine." Both these bodies were non-resistant.

Alphonsus, King of Aragon who made a decree against what he called heretical sects a decree of death further says, "If from this day on any one shall receive said Waldenses. .. .or other heretics of whatsoever confession, into their house, or hear their pernicious preaching in any place or give them food, or dare show them any other favor, be it known to the same that he has incurred the disfavor of God and of us, that he is punishable for the crime of "leze-majesty," and that his goods shall be confiscated without appeal." Regardless of this the doctrine spread and believers and teachers found refuge and food. This was very trying to the au thorities who in some cases offered pardon to the heretics if they would only tell who gave them shel ter, but the language of one seemed to be the thought of all. A woman was on trial for her life. Her persecutors said : "We want to know whom you have taught." She simply said, "Let me in peace with this, but interrogate me concerning my faith of which I will gladly tell you." In some burroughs half of the people were either murdered or imprisoned for their faith, but their only defense was the Gospel of Jesus Christ which they gave with earnestness to those who persecuted them.

Reformers and Nonresistance[edit]

Martin Luther's position on nonresistance was a very peculiar one. He held that the Bible taught nonresistance, and in ordinary life should be practiced; but that citizens of a country are obliged to fight at times. In other words, nonresistance is our duty as Christians, but as citizens we can not live up to the teachings of the Bible.

Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, in his "Ad monitions to Those at Schwyz," says, "But if we look at it from a Christian viewpoint, it is by no means right for us to go to war. According to Christ's teachings we should pray for those who speak evil of us, and when we have been smitten on one cheek, turn the other also; for thus we shall be sons of our heavenly Father" (Vol. II, Page 294) At the same time he held that Church and State should be one, but he found this impossible if he was going to carry out his own writings, and hence from this standpoint admitted that war was neces sary at times. He was required to take part in a battle between the Catholic cantons of Lucerne and the canton of Zurich. The latter army was defeated and Zwingli was among the slain.

Both Calvin and Erasmus, both men of learning and prominent in the reformation in France and Holland as well as beyond the borders of their own country, taught nonresistance. The former said, "Trust in the power of man is to be unconditionally renounced ; if there is need, God will work a miracle to save His Church." But then, as now, nonre sistance was not a popular doctrine, and Calvin finally yielded the point, but Erasmus continued a firm advocate of that doctrine to the end of his life. His "Plea for Reason, Religion, and Humanity A- gainst War," was scholarly, clear, and convincing.

Menno Simons[edit]

What Luther was to Germany, or Calvin to Switzerland, Menno Simons was to the Netherlands and more. Menno's heart was stirred because of the many believers who were as "sheep having no shepherd," their leaders having been imprisoned or killed. For these he suffered agonies of body and mind. One quotation from his writings shows much regarding the disposition of the man. "This is my only joy and the desire of my heart, that I may ex tend the borders of the kingdom of God, make known the truth, reprove sin, teach righteousness, feed the hungry souls with the Word of the Lord, lead the stray sheep into the right path, and win many souls for the Lord through His Spirit, power and grace."

Menno and Nonresistance[edit]

On the question of nonresistance, Menno said, "O beloved reader, our weapons are not swords and spears, but patience, silence and hope, and the Word of God. With these we must maintain our cause and defend it. Paul said, The weapons of our war fare are not carnal; but mighty through God. With these we intend and desire to resist the king dom of the devil; and not with swords, spears, can non, and coats of mail Behold, reader, such re bellion we seek to cause, but never a rebellion of calamity. .. .True Christians know no vengeance, no matter how they are maltreated."

His Work and Death[edit]

Menno was a great organizer. With him it was not a question of name but of faith and belief. In his interviews he found Waldenses, Anabaptists, Hussites, etc., who agreed with him on the teach ings of the Scriptures and he received them into the body as members of the Church. In this his work reached far beyond the borders of his own country. He was hunted like a wild beast. Criminals were promised pardon for any crime whatsoever, if they arrested or even killed him. His sacrificing dispo sition was not appreciated regardless of his desire to help mankind and glorify God. Thirty years of active service, under the greatest persecution, with a reward offered for his head, under privations and exposure, all for Christ's sake, was too much for his mortal body, and in his sixty-sixth year he passed to his reward.

Menno's Followers[edit]

These principles implanted into the lives of his followers made them as despised as he himself was. in times of war they would have no part in the conflict. During the religious wars of Europe both Protestants and Catholics suspected them of treachery. Both persecuted them because of this, but that did not prevent them from following the beautiful example of their Master in forgiving, and praying for their persecutors. They fled to other countries for refuge (Matt. 10:23) only to be driven from there later.

From Germany to Russia[edit]

At the invitation to Catharine II, Czarina of Russia, a great many Mennonites moved from Ger many to her country with the promise of freedom of worship, freedom from military service, freedom of education, and exemption from certain taxes on conditions that they settle in a part of the country which required a great deal of work to bring under cultivation This began in 1788 and continued at intervals, so that (according to J. J. Wiens, an evan gelist from that country) there were at the begin ning of the late war, eight settlements in Russia and three in Siberia, several of them quite large. Considering the fact that there was a large exodus of Mennonites from Russia to America, Germany must have lost thousands of these people to Russia. From Europe to America

For various reasons there were periods of un rest in Germany. During one of these, thirteen Mennonite families left there and settled in what is now Germantown, Pa., in 1683. During the next thirteen years quite a number more came. William Penn offered the Mennonites of Europe freedom of worship and exemption from military service if they would move to Pennsylvania. The news spread rapidly and between 1710 and 1735 possibly five hundred families left Europe, most of them from Germany and Switzerland, and settled in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. Still later the Napoleonic idea of conscription aroused the nonresistant people again, and wihile there was no immediate danger, many people felt that this was their time to leave and turned their minds toward America. Between 1800 and 1850 a large number left Europe and set tled in different parts of the United States.

Militarism and Emigration[edit]

Military pressure was not directly responsible for all the emigration, but in many cases the cause can easily be traced to it indirectly. These emi grants were among the best tillers of the soil, and were a class of people which the country could ill afford to lose. Helping the needy, honest work, fair dealing, and living quietly were all traits of the Men- nonites traits which make for good citizenship notwithstanding the fact that they would not fight. The efforts to strengthen the military laws of Eu rope took many of these people away and thus only weakened the country. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."