First post: Nonresistance: A Personal Background
Alvin C. York was born in 1887 in the mountains of Tennessee. He was raised by loving parents, but fell into a wild life of drinking and riotous living after his father’s death when he was 24. For four years his sinful lifestyle was a disgrace to his family and his community. Then, in January of 1915, God stopped him and turned his life around. Alvin gave his life to the Lord at a revival meeting, began attending a Church of Christ in Christian Union, and threw himself into his newfound faith and his local church.
A few years later, God turned his life around again; Alvin was drafted to serve his country in the Great War. Now he faced a dilemma: He was an American and felt it his duty to serve his country, but his church taught against violence and warfare. What was he to do?
Alvin applied for exemption on the grounds of his conscientious objection. Because his denomination didn’t have an official doctrine, his application was denied, and he gave in and boarded the train for basic training.
But his quandary was anything but decided. His friends back home continued to press the issue on his behalf, and the War Department finally granted him the status of a conscientious objector. All he had to do was sign some papers and he could go home. Yet his doubts returned - was this really the right thing to do? He could get no peace to move forward in either direction.
Alvin finally took a ten-day leave and returned to his home in Tennessee. He sought God in the solace of the wilderness, and at last received his answer.
“As I prayed there alone, a great peace kind of come into my soul and a great calm come over me, and I received my assurance. He heard my prayer and He come to me on the mountainside. I didn’t see Him, of course, but he was there just the same. I knowed he was there. He understood that I didn’t want to be a fighter or a killing man, that I didn’t want to go to war to hurt nobody nohow. And yet I wanted to do what my country wanted me to do. I wanted to serve God and my country, too. He understood all of this. He seen right inside of me, and He knowed I had been troubled and worried, not because I was afraid, but because I put Him first, even before my country, and I only wanted to do what would please Him.
“So He took pity on me and He gave me the assurance I needed. I didn’t understand everything. I didn’t understand how He could let me go to war and even kill and yet not hold it against me. I didn’t even want to understand. It was His will and that was enough for me. So at last I begun to see the light. I begun to understand that no matter what a man is forced to do, so long as he is right in his own soul he remains a righteous man. I knowed I would go to war. I knowed I would be protected from all harm, and that so long as I believed in Him He would not allow even a hair on my head to be harmed.” 1
For Alvin, the question of nonresistance was wrapped up in the call to defend his country. For others, it may be more personal - the challenge to defend your own life, or your family’s. If you’re fortunate, maybe you’ve never had to face either - but when the situation arises, what will you do? That is the question this debate will answer.
Before we get into the body of the discussion, let’s lay a bit of groundwork. We will define some of the terms we’ll be using in the remaining posts, for the sake of clarity, and then set down our commitment to find what Scripture says on the matter.
- Nonresistance (n): A position which forbids violence in defense of one’s own person, property, or family. This generally includes participation in the military or police, and often any position in a command position over military or police units.
- Pacifism (n): A position which generally forbids warfare, but may not forbid self-defense or police actions.
- Exegesis (n): The practice of studying what the Scriptures actually say. See also “eisegesis”.
- Eisegesis (n): The practice of studying to find one’s own doctrines or beliefs in the Scriptures. See also “exegesis”.
Pursuit of Truth
The Bible, as the infallible and inspired Word of God, is our first and sole authority in this matter. The only question that matters, ultimately, is “what does God want from us?” Not “what does America want from us,” and not “what does our church (or elders) want from us,” but God Himself. He’s revealed His will for us in the Scriptures, so that is where we will turn for the answer.
God has revealed His wisdom to His followers in the Church as well. Where there is disagreement between wise men of God, we must use His Word as the final arbiter of truth - even men of God may fall prey to one error or another. Only His Word stands pure amid the tests of time. Throughout this series we will have the opportunity to consider opinions and arguments outside of Scripture; which ones will stand, and which ones will fall, must be decided by Scripture.
Traditions decay, and emotions fade; the truth will endure.
Alvin went on to receive 40 military awards for his bravery and heroism in World War I. For the rest of his story (as well as an excellent article on making the tough decisions) we’ll point to the Art of Manliness: How to Wrestle with a Difficult Decision: Advice from Sergeant Alvin C. York ↩