B. W. Johnson's Question - Is The Christian An Incubus In Society?
B. W. Johnson was a pioneer scholar of first rank. More members of the church know him through his two-volume commentary on the New Testament that any other of his day, not excepting J. W. McGarvey. It was Johnson's contention that a Christian is either a part of the government he enjoys, in the fruition of its laws, and he "cannot refuse to sustain it in a just cause," or else the Christian is "an incubus to his country," in which case if the majority of the people should become Christians it would "result in national ruin." And he asked those who held views contrary to his own if they were "prepared for the legitimate results of your premises?"
"Is the Christian an incubus to his country?" This is a question for our colleges. Why? Simply because if our colleges are going to teach or encourage the teaching of such theories of the Christian's relation to government that will give to the young people who attend these colleges such a slant on things, then our colleges will make our young people misfits in society rather than prepare them for the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.
The question is also one for the parents. Why? Because the average parent does not want his son or daughter to become an incubus in society. So it may occur to them to investigate the influence the schools are exerting over their students on these questions. They may not want to send their children to a school that will instill within them such an attitude toward the government of which we are a part and under which we live in the enjoyment of "the full fruition of its laws." Do Christian parents want "Christian education" to make their children one-sided, their young preachers lop-sided, and so far as society is concerned to produce a generation of incubuses and misfits. Think it over, parents.
The question is also one for every member of the church. Why? Because every individual sustains a relation to society and the government under which he lives. "No man liveth unto himself and no man dieth unto himself."
If one individual can go without a government, why cannot all other individuals do the same? Where has God ordained certain ones to perform the functions of citizenship, and others to refrain from doing so?
The Practical Application
Suppose that we found ourselves suddenly without any form of government. What would we do about it? Would that situation be tolerable, or intolerable? Would we call a mass meeting of our neighbors, or attend one called by others, to consider ways and means of supplying the need? Whose duty would it be to take some steps to correct the situation?
Suppose that some brother attended such a meeting and explained his views of the "proper" attitude of Christians toward government. What if one who was not a Christian should rise and say:
"If we go ahead with the movement to organize a government, it will involve more than our local protection. The time would be sure to come sooner or later when the government would have to defend itself against foreign invasion of its rights, or even its territory. If it is wrong for you Christians to defend it, then, it is wrong for all of us to defend it. If you Christians can get along without a government, so can we. We are not going to enter into an agreement that one group of us will do the fighting for all. We do not want to fight any more than you do. We will not fight unless we have to in defense of our nation. But we are not going to enter a contract in advance to let you Christians enjoy all of the benefits of the government, while we fight for both of us. In the first place, many in our own ranks might join your churches in order to escape military duty. That would neither help your churches nor the government. Besides it is your purpose and desire to bring everybody in this country into your churches. If your goal should be reached, who would defend the nation? and how could the nation survive without military power? As long as there are people in the world, governments will be needed; but governments cannot be maintained without military power. Your views are not practical. A Christian nation, holding the views you express, would be at the mercy of any unscrupulous group such as have caused, and are causing, disturbance in the world. If your views are not practical for all the people of a nation, they are not practical for any of the people of the nation. So, the only sensible thing we can do is to organize a government, but write it into the constitution of the nation that no Christian can possess property in this country. In self-defense, we cannot allow our land to be occupied by those who will not defend this country against the foreign invader."
While Christians theorize about what a Christian can or cannot do in time of war, it might be interesting to let some one who is not a Christian present the viewpoint of those who are expected to do for the Christian what the Christian decides that he cannot afford to do for himself. It is neither ethical nor logical to assume that other men should do our fighting for us. It is no more their fault than ours that we have some fighting to do. Think of a religion that prompts men to seek to enjoy the benefits of society without a proportionate share of the responsibilities. Is it fair? And can men be attracted to an unfair arrangement in the name of religion?
An Issue Growing Out Of The Issue
It has been said that the government issue and the war question are individual matters. So far as the issue is concerned, that is not saying much, for everything is an individual matter--it is up to the individual as to what he is going to do about it, no matter what it is, right or wrong. But out of the discussion of these things has come a very fundamental issue--namely, the double-standard issue. Is there a double standard in morals? We are being told that it is all right for non-members of the church to do certain things that would be wrong for a member of the church to do. In the realm of morals that cannot be true. Nothing is moral that is immoral, no matter who does it. There is no such thing as certain conduct being moral to one person and immoral to another--that is, all right for a sinner to do and all wrong for a Christian to do. Is it all right for a person who is not a member of the church to commit adultery, but only a sin for members of the church to do so? That would certainly be bad doctrine to teach to our boys and girls before they become members of the church! In other words, shall we teach the young people that certain things are wrong to members of the church only, but before one is a member of the church he is free to do certain things? The doctrine is certainly a dangerous one. Think of its effect on society and on our children in the midst of society respecting moral conduct. Yet, I know of an elder in the church who recently said that it did not make any difference whether people who were not members of the church were guilty of adultery and murder or not. He was trying to make an argument against members of the church going to war. There is the issue that is growing out of the issue--is there a double standard in morals? There are a number of tracts, articles and sermons appearing in various quarters under the title: "Can A Christian Kill For His Government?" But why ask if a Christian can do that? The obvious import of the question is that to kill in that capacity is murder--yes, the use of the word "kill" in the title is intended to denote murder. If it does not, then there is no point to it. But if it does, then why ask if a Christian can commit murder for his government? Why not ask if anybody can commit murder for his government? Murder, like adultery, is murder. Adultery is adultery, no matter who commits it. And murder is murder, no matter who commits it. Why try to make such a distinction? For one reason only: A futile effort to prove that it is all right for a sinner to be a soldier but wrong for a Christian to be one, and, therefore, the sinner must perform all functions of government, and bear the sword, for the Christians.
Yet, I have been told that there are some who think that a collegiate author who wrote a tract with that title is smart! And some who are rated as being reasonably intelligent have indorsed it! The very title of such a tract or a sermon kills it.
Brother Whiteside has very appropriately said that the command "thou shalt not kill" does not refer to legal executions or government functions, but that it is a prohibition against murder. It wouldn't hurt some of the young know-alls to ponder Brother Whiteside's article, and it wouldn't do the Gospel Advocate any harm to publish it.
If sinners are not under moral law how did they become sinners? The theory of hereditary total depravity assumes that they were born sinners--but we have all denied that doctrine, at least until now.
Hear Paul on this point: And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled." (Col. 1:21) Before these people were "reconciled" they were alienated from God "by wicked words." What were the "wicked words" of these non-members of the church, who were not Christians? Paul had the thing in reverse--he should have told the Colossians that it would be "wicked" for the members of the church to do those things, but that it would be all right for those who were not Church members to do them. According to that idea-how does one become a sinner, if he is not born a sinner?
There is no double standard in morals. If the war question is one of morals, rather than the functions of government, then nobody could "kill for his government" and in consequence thereof, we could have no government. But if it is a question of government, as it assuredly is, then it is not murder If it is murder, what makes it right for one and wrong for another? If it is not murder--and it is not--then what makes it wrong for a member of the church to do military service the same as anybody else?
Surely, all should be able to see that such service comes under Paul's instructions in Romans 13. When the government is performing its rightful mission on behalf of its citizens, "he (it) beareth not the sword in vain." Twice in that passage Paul says that the one who bears the sword in the rightful functions of the government for good against them that do evil, are "ministers of God." The theory that a sinner can do it but a Christian cannot, means that there is, at least, one good thing a sinner can do that a Christian cannot do. And it means more than that! It means, that a sinner can have fellowship with God in doing a good thing that Christians cannot have fellowship with God in doing.
Talk about a dangerous doctrine, the issue that has grown out of the issue--that of a double standard of morals --is dangerously bad doctrine. It is bad for everybody, in the church or out of the church, to be taught such a thing. Yet, it is but the logical consequence of a false theory of a Christian's relation to civil government that has been taken for granted by so many brethren for so many years. It is to be hoped that some of the brethren, who are so erratic on the question, can quit calling the rest of us "warmongers" long enough to seriously "think on these things."