As pointed out before, the rejection of the message of 1888 was not without consequences. From history we learn what happens when a message of God is rejected. "Where the message of divine truth is spurned or slighted, there the church will be enshrouded in darkness; faith and love grow cold, and estrangement and dissension enter" (The Great Controversy, pp. 378, 379). The Laodicean condition (Rev. 3:17) affected the church to such a point that, when a great crisis came with the outbreak of World War I, the majority were not prepared for the test.
Before we can discuss the events that took place under the test, we must reemphasize the original position of Seventh-day Adventists concerning participation in war.
Original Stand: No Participation
Over one hundred years ago, when SDAs were faced with the question whether bearing arms, especially in time of war, is consistent with the requirements of the law of God, they decided:
"We are compelled to decline all participation in acts of war and bloodshed."–Report of the Third Annual Session of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (The Review and Herald, May 23, 1865).
The original Adventist position–no participation–had the seal of God’s approval. It was in harmony with the Bible (John 18:36; Matt. 5:43, 44; Luke 9:56; Matt. 26:52; John 15:14) and with the Spirit of Prophecy. Sister White wrote during the Civil War:
"I was shown that God’s people, who are His peculiar treasure, cannot engage in this perplexing war." Why not? "For it is opposed to every principle of their faith. In the army they cannot obey the truth and at the same time obey the requirements of their officers."–Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 361.
"War and bloodshed," according to the Spirit of Prophecy, is "a disregard for the law of God." –The SDA Bible Commentary [E. G. White Comments], vol. 7, p. 974.
At the Turn of the Century: Same Position
At the turn of the century, the Adventist Church had already gone a long way in the wrong direction (Testimonies, vol. 5, pp. 75, 76, 84, 217; and vol. 8, pp. 119, 249, 250; and so on). Nevertheless, her spiritual condition was incomparably better in those days than it is today. Her original position–no participation–was still upheld, as can be seen from articles published in the Review and Herald and in the Signs of the Times.
Here is an interesting experience summarized from an article published in the Review and Herald of June 21, 1898.
"Many people imagine that the times when quiet, unoffending people could be made to suffer real persecution for their loyalty to God and His Word, are in the past, and that men in these days are too enlightened to persecute their fellowmen for conscience sake; but we have had under close observation for nearly a year a case which shows that all the elements of religious persecution are everywhere present as much as they ever were; and that more extended and relentless persecution than has ever yet been known is not only possible, but is highly probable, yes, actually inevitable, since careful and systematic preparations are being made for it."
Hereunder we refer to the experience of a young Adventist in one of the European countries.
Christen Rasmussen, a nineteen-year-old Dane, was called up for military service in l897, when he was just turning to the Lord. April 10, 1897, was a Sabbath day; therefore, he did not present himself at the military headquarters at one o’clock p.m., according to the conscription letter he had received. Instead, he appeared only after sunset. Being sharply reprimanded for his delay, he was assigned to his duty.
During the week he approached the captain requesting exemption on Sabbath days, but his petition was not granted. Under those conditions, the young man understood that it was his sacred duty to obey the King of the universe rather than the king of Denmark. Sabbath morning he remained in his room reading his Bible. A corporal came after him, but he refused to act contrary to his conscience. Then a lieutenant came, and commanded him to take his place in the ranks, but he replied, "I cannot."
"Why not?" the lieutenant asked.
"Because it is the Sabbath."
Finally Christen left his room, accompanying the lieutenant outside, but he refused to take his place in the ranks.
So the young conscientious objector was brought to the captain.
"Why do you not take your place?" the captain asked.
"Because the Lord has said, The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work."
"Well, you are a soldier, and must obey; nothing of that kind is taken into consideration here. Take your place," said the captain.
"I cannot, sir."
As the young man did not yield to the pressure of the officers, a sergeant was ordered to take him to prison.
Before the military court his only answer was this:
"The God who created heaven and earth has said, ‘On the seventh day, which is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God, shalt thou do no work,’ and I cannot do anything other than obey Him."
The young hero of the faith was sentenced to eighteen days’ solitary confinement, on bread and water. After each period of five days in a dark cell, he was permitted to spend one day in a lighted cell.
The sentence he received was milder than he expected: "eight months’ hard labor in the penitentiary." Because of his refusal to work on the seventh day, each Sabbath he was put in a dark cell, or hole, where there was no fire, and he suffered much from cold. But he spent only a little less than two months in prison. He was pardoned on the king’s eightieth birthday.
A Danish newspaper, Aarhus Folkeblad of February 19, 1898, commented on this case as follows:
"One cannot comfort himself with the thought that this is an isolated case; for that there will soon be many I know of a certainty. We really come to the heart of the matter only when we see that such a man can come into a yet more serious situation in time of war. For, according to what I have seen, belonging to the Seventh-day Adventists, they will absolutely refuse to go against an enemy with weapons in hand. They will hold themselves strictly to the fifth [sixth]* commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ They will allow themselves to be killed, but they will not kill. If this is correct, and I believe it is, then these men are useless as soldiers, and may, if war should break out, come into the most deplorable condition in that they may be condemned to death, and put others in the painful situation of being obliged to pronounce so hard a sentence upon them."
Christen represented the historic position of the Adventist people, who believed that, while in the army, a Christian could not obey military orders and at the same time remain loyal to the law of God. In those days it was also understood that on this point a great test was before the people of God. The editor of the Review and Herald (June 21, 1898) added the following comment:
"The Danish people are as kind and courteous and gentle a people as can be found in the world. Moreover, all those who came in contact with young Rasmussen liked him personally, and the officers praised his efficiency and willingness; yet the worship of the military demon begets so false a conception of duty that not one of them would hesitate in obedience to inflict upon him any sort of punishment. Why?–Because, in their minds, human government is greater than God. Young Rasmussen was not punished because the officers had any ill-will toward him, nor because they were hardhearted men. Far from it. On the contrary, it caused them pain, and they did it at the sacrifice of personal feelings to what they conceived to be their duty. The same thing would be done in any other country in the world; only the punishment might be much more vigorous. The kings and rulers of earth have set themselves against God and have assumed the right to set aside His law, which says, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; and as a matter of course, the other portions of that law are as lightly regarded by them.
"This case shows the fallacy of another idea that is entertained by many; namely, that religious persecution must be prompted by hatred of the religious principles of the ones persecuted. In this case those at whose hands Rasmussen suffered had no religious bias. They cared no more for Sunday than for the Sabbath. It was absolutely immaterial to them what religion the soldiers professed, or if they professed none at all. The only thing that concerned them was to secure implicit and unquestioning obedience to the regulations of the army. If a man disregards them, the fact that he does so in obedience to God’s law is not for a moment taken into consideration; punishment must follow to the bitter end.
"‘But there must be discipline in the army, or else its efficiency is at an end; and if partiality is shown, there will be an end of discipline,’ will be urged by many, and not last, by any means, by men who occupy places of influence in the church. Think of the wickedness of such a defense! God and His law must be considered of secondary importance to the military machine! It is of more importance that the army should be maintained than that God should be regarded! The mere statement of the case is sufficient to show that it is as gross paganism as ever existed. What hope can there be of peace on earth as long as such principles rule?
"The situation will be worse in the future than it has ever been in the past; for war is now sanctioned by the professed ministers of the gospel as it has never been before. It is so easy for the rulers to raise the cry of ‘humanity’ in justification of any war, or else there is always that magic word ‘patriotism’; and when a country is ‘Christian,’ it is readily argued that to defend its ‘honor’ is a Christian act; so that he who will refuse to disobey God’s law, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ will be condemned as a traitor to God and his country, and that even by the ministers of religion.
"Is it not time that the question should be again asked: ‘How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.’ In so-called ‘Christian’ countries, the worst sort of paganism is assuming overwhelming proportions. The great mass of people seem to think that when the ‘government’ (which is, in the main, only another name for the army) commands disobedience to God’s law, there is no alternative but to disobey it; and those who refuse to transgress God’s law are branded as lawless and disobedient. What is it but heathenism thus to ignore God, and to set the military god above Him?
"Thank God that there are still faithful witnesses to the truth, lone voices in the desert, saying, ‘Behold your God!’ When the testing time comes, these single voices will be multiplied by thousands, whose quiet lives of humble obedience to God’s law will speak louder than any words, and will result in bringing many from the camp of Satan to enlist under the banner of the Prince of Peace."
Other young Adventists, in Germany, also represented the historic position of the church. In The History of the Advent Movement in Germany, a thesis prepared by Jacob Michael Platt for his doctorate of philosophy degree, Stanford University, he gives the following information based on an article published in the Review and Herald of September 26, 1907:
"The German Seventh-day Adventist young men drafted into the armed forces before 1914 faced many hardships as a result of adhering to their beliefs."
The military authorities believed that these young men were simply following the instructions received from their pastors. So, in some cases, church leaders were called before the military courts to give an explanation. The leaders were wise enough to assert that, while it was true that they taught obedience to the law of God as a Christian duty, each soldier acted according to the dictates of his own conscience. It became clear that the soldiers could think and decide for themselves. In no instance were the authorities able to determine that an Adventist soldier was acting on the advice of his spiritual leaders. Platt continues his report:
"The German Ministry of War resolved on the strict enforcement of the law, hoping that severity of punishment might bring these Seventh-day Adventist young men to terms. Military authorities were astonished to find that these soldiers were willing to endure harsh punishment rather than do ordinary work on Saturday."
Young Adventist men, as a rule, suffered severe punishment for their decision to obey God rather than men. Among others, Platt mentions these two: Hermann Gross and Hans Kraemer. Having been sentenced to eight years of imprisonment in 1904, Gross served four years in military prison, often in solitary confinement and at times in a dark cell. A similar sentence was meted out to Kraemer. They were both released upon the advice of medical officers, who certified that longer confinement would cost their life.
A peculiar case was narrated by Platt: In 1903, Johann Strasser, when drafted into the army, refused to do service on the Sabbath. The officers interrogated him: "How long have you been a Sabbathkeeper?" "I have been a Sabbathkeeper from childhood, as my parents had," Johann replied. The military authorities found out that Martin Strasser, Johann’s father, for refusing to work on the Sabbath while in the army, received a prison sentence of three years, and they were convinced that Johann, too, would remain faithful to his religious convictions. Therefore, they exempted him from service on the Sabbath.
"As instances of adherence to religious beliefs increased, the German army officials became perplexed," Platt informs. "It was evident that Adventist soldiers would not violate their consciences, regardless of consequences. For about nine months, during 1904 and 1905, when a new recruit was found to be a Seventh-day Adventist, he was rejected as unfit for military service; but the government did not continue this policy. Yet for all of the rigors of the German military discipline, the authorities dealt relatively mildly with objectors for conscience’ sake. They meted out to Seventh-day Adventists no punishment worse than imprisonment, or enforced labor on fortifications, or duty in hospitals."
Before World War I, historic Adventists understood that war songs are not heard in the narrow pathway leading to heaven, but only in the abyss (Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 595). It was clear to them that combatancy is inconsistent with the law of God. To the question, "Can a Christian do military service?" they had only one answer–No! Here is additional evidence quoted from the Signs of the Times:
"Can a Christian enlist in the army and be a soldier?
"A Christian has yielded himself a servant of Christ. ‘Ye call Me Master and Lord; and ye say well, for so I am’ (John 13:13). ‘One is your Master, even Christ’ (Matthew 23:8). ‘Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey?’ (Romans 6:16, R. V.).
"Having become a servant of Christ, a man cannot accept another master. ‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other’ (Luke 16:13).
"Notwithstanding these plain statements, some men think they can be Christians while as soldiers they are sworn servants of the government, and may at any time be ordered to the front and to fire upon the enemy. Indeed, they expect this when they enlist, though it is in direct disobedience of the command of God, ‘Thou shalt not kill’ (Exodus 20:13).
"What is the soldier’s business? Is it not to fight and to war? But ‘the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men’ (2 Timothy 2:24). And the Holy Spirit said through John the Baptist, ‘Do violence to no man’ (Luke 3:14). Read these scriptures: ‘This is My commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). ‘Love worketh no ill to his neighbour’ (Romans 13:10). ‘I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44).
"Reader, do you honestly think you can serve these two masters?"–The Signs of the Times, April 9, 1902 (by Geo. E. Hollister).
The evidence presented so far shows that noncombatancy, which in those days was equivalent to no participation or conscientious opposition, was the historic position of the SDA Church in connection with military service, especially in time of war. And this position was based on the Bible (New Testament) and on the Spirit of Prophecy.
At this stage a serious question should arouse the thinking of the reader: What consequences are to be expected if the church changes her stand from no participation to complete freedom of participation? Will everything continue as usual? Will peace and harmony be kept up among the members as if nothing serious has happened in the church? Or will there be a crisis and a shaking? These questions will make the contents of this book meaningful to serious-minded Adventists when they find out that such a change has actually happened.