The Conscientious Objector

The expression “Conscientious Objector” hardly needs a definition. Most everyone is well aware of what it implies. Especially is this true in these days of war in which many are placed before the questions: What is right? and, What is wrong? What must I do? and, How shall I do it?

Though the term could be applied in a general way to all who object to certain things or acts for conscience sake, it is more particularly used in times of warfare such as the nation and the world is now conducting. One reads and hears often now-a-days of the conscientious objector.

However, no matter whether we speak of if in a general sense or particularly, the fact must be established that in either case we have to deal with the important subject of Christian liberty. And if we understand the conception ‘Christian Liberty’ correctly, it is a liberty which is circumscribed by the law of Christ. In other words, there can be no Christian freedom other than that which is ordered and controlled by the law of Christ Jesus our Lord. All liberty which is not governed by this law will be revolution and anarchy in a most literal sense; a liberty also in which the conscience is activated by the law of sin. This pseudo liberty we witness in the period of the French revolution which was instigated by a man like Rousseau who advocated the liberty in which all the decency and order prescribed by the Word of God were barriers of restraint, and a liberty in which individualism could come to its own. This pagan freedom, though it gives free reign to the lusts and passions of sinful men, is a freedom without restraint, and such freedom is revolting. On the other hand, true peace and happiness, true freedom, are to be found in the sphere where the Word and Law of God in Christ orders and controls. So the psalmist declares: “I will walk at liberty for I seek Thy precepts,” and again, “Great peace have they which love Thy law”.

Moreover, though Christian liberty is subjected to the law of Christ in the Scriptures, it is nevertheless under no obligation respecting external things which in themselves are indifferent, things which we may indifferently sometimes use, and at other times omit them. It is necessary that we have a ready knowledge of this aspect of Christian liberty, lest we fall into endless superstitions and lose all tranquility of conscience. Some in the Church of Paul’s day had evidently fallen into the error that it was wrong to eat meat and therefore ate herbs, while others believed that they might eat all things. One man esteemed one day above another, while another esteemed every day alike. To each of these classes the apostle exhorts: “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” And further he states: “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself, but to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” And further: “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” And finally: “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin”.

We learn from this brief discussion on Christian liberty therefore in the first place that all Christian liberty must be controlled by law, the law of God in Christ. As a bird in the air and the fish in the water are free so long as they abide in the law of God in the air and the water, so the Christian is free so long as he abides in the law of Christ. And secondly, that that law, as such, has no respect unto things in themselves indifferent. Sin is not in things. Though the law prescribes our conduct in the use of things, it does not have respect to the things themselves. And therefore, finally, we conclude that to him who thinketh that it is sinful to do a certain thing which in itself is not sinful, to him it is sin, for he sins against his conscience. Or to paraphrase the words of the apostle: It is not sinful to eat meat, but if you think it evil to do so, and you nevertheless do eat meat, you have violated your Christian liberty, and you are damned if you eat’.

Now what does this have to do with the conscientious objector ? To answer this question, we must bear in mind that we conceive of such an objector as one who purports himself to be a Christian, standing in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. He has therefore been delivered from the law of sin and death, and walks now in principle according to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. His mind and heart have been renewed, and therefore he also has a renewed conscience which allows or disallows, which condones or condemns, which says go ahead or stop, but always according to the will of God revealed in Christ in the Scriptures. Walking in the light he necessarily will be a conscientious objector to all that opposes that light. He will, for example, when he hears God’s name blasphemed, raise his voice in protest, and refuse the companionship of those who violate this commandment of God. He will, when the temptation arises, as it did with Joseph, to commit fornication and adultery, refuse and exclaim, ‘how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?’ Having been delivered from the curse of the law, he has a delight in the law of God after the inward man. He is a conscientious objector to all that opposes that new principle of life. His Christian liberty consists herein that he knows that he has been delivered from the bondage of sin and death by the perfect obedience of Jesus Who now calls him to walk in all good works according to the law of love. He is free therefore to serve his God once more antithetically by saying ‘yes’ to God and ‘no’ to darkness, the devil, and the lie. Every Christian in this sense is truly a conscientious objector.

But then, it must be equally plain that the Christian objects to nothing that does not militate against the principles of Christian liberty, and certainly, he will take care that he objects not to any of the ordinances of God, even though these may seem to conflict with his feelings. He will have to judge all things in the light of the law of Christ and conform to that which is right according to that law.

This applies also to the question of participating in the present war now raging. One’s conscience may tell him that it is evil to murder. In this case the conscience is true and responds truly in accord with the law of liberty. But if one’s conscience should say that all killing is murder, therefore I may not take part in the death of a murderer, that conscience is not true, for it conflicts with the law which commands that all evil must be punished and he who sheds man’s blood, his blood must be shed. If one therefore should conclude that he may never kill because all killing is murder, he would forever make it impossible to realize the ordinance of God to kill murderers. It must be plain that his conscientious objection is resting on false premises and not on the law to which he is subjected in the sphere of Christian liberty. Add to this the facts that the Scriptures plainly state that God has appointed governments to wield the sword in the civil state within its own borders and with respect to its own citizens, or against other governments as in the case of war. And God has also commanded the citizens under that government to obey unconditionally the sword power over them in all things that pertain to the domain of that government. One may not conscientiously object to participation in warfare when the law over him demands complete submission to the order of his government. His conscience, should he nevertheless object, is not true, because it conflicts with the law of God. The Christian is not morally responsible for the justness or unrighteousness of a war declared by his government. Neither is he responsible for any act performed in strict obedience to the government as in the case of military service. But the Christian is morally responsible to obey the law of God which demands obedience to the call of his government to fight. Should the Christian doubt the justness of the war his government wages, he can have no conscientious objection to fighting in obedience to his government, but he may lodge a well-grounded protest with his government stating why he deems the war unjust. Yet though it is his privilege to judge the righteousness or unrighteousness of the war, a thing most difficult for one not acquainted with all the facts and purposes of his government, it is not his privilege to disobey the call to arms. For God will have every soul in subjection unto the higher powers who bear the sword in the name of God. The law of Christian liberty binds the Christian also to this law of God.

The same applies to the matter of Sunday labor in defense industries. One may be convinced that all labor on the Sabbath is a violation of the fourth commandment. Jesus Himself taught us that works of necessity not only may bub must be performed on the Sabbath. Add to this the fact that should the government demand such Sunday labor in a national emergency, the Christian citizen again is duty bound to obey his government. In either case the Christian may have no objection which violates the law of God in the Scriptures. His conscience, should it object, militates against the ordinance of God and may not be relied upon.

However, in connection with this matter of Sunday labor, we have something to add. It is our conviction that much of this Sunday labor for defense is not by order of the government at all. Industrialists and manufacturers of defense goods have taken it upon themselves to order a seven day week, at least many of them have. Though the powers that be have hinted that war emergency would eventually demand a seven day week, it has not yet become evident to us that the law has been clamped down on every war plant This, of course, makes it difficult for the Christian to decide whether the order to work on Sunday is government ordained or an order issued by selfish, covetous industrialists motivated by lucrative principles. Because of this, we have advised Christian labor men who questioned the matter of Sunday labor and were not sure that the order came from the government, to make it a matter of conscience. In other words, should the Christian doubt the authenticity of his orders to work on the Sabbath, and he felt that he did wrong by working, he may not sin against his conscience. And it is our opinion that in every case where no immediate emergency exists and the government does not demand it, the Christian must be a conscientious objector to Sunday labor. And as to choosing jobs in which so-called works of necessity must be performed, such as policemen, firemen, switch-board operators, trainmen, etc., the conscientious objector to Sunday labor does right in leaving them well enough alone or rather leaving them to be performed by those who have no religious scruples concerning the Sabbath.