This year marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the ”War to End All Wars”: World War One. It directly killed nine million combatants and seven million civilians. Furthermore, it contributed to the spread and severity of epidemics that killed an additional 100 million people.
And here’s the really embarrassing part: with few exceptions, WW1 was a war in which Christians killed other Christians. Catholics fought other Catholics; Protestants fought other Protestants. People who claimed to follow Jesus slaughtered their supposed brothers in the trenches because their leaders – many of which claimed to have been appointed by God – ordered them to.
Madness. Utter, disgraceful madness.
As time went on and more people died without breaking the stalemate of the conflict, many started to protest. In fact, one of the reasons the war ended in 1918 was that soldiers and civilians alike criticized their own governments for continuing the pointless fighting. But many were late in the game. Christian pacifists criticized WW1 long before it was cool: and many of them were Pentecostals.
The Weekly Evangel, the official evangelistic magazine of the Assemblies of God, stated in 1917:
From the very beginning, the movement has been characterized by Quaker principles. The laws of the Kingdom, laid down by our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, have been unqualifiedly adopted, consequently the movement has found itself opposed to the spilling of the blood of any man, or of offering resistance to any aggression. Every branch of the movement, whether in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, or Germany has held themselves to this principle.
When the war first broke out in August of 1914, our Pentecostal brethren in Germany found themselves in a peculiar position. Some of those who were called to the colors responded, but many were court marshaled and shot because they heartily subscribed to the principles of non-resistance. Great Britain has been more humane. Some of our British brethren have been given non-combatant service, and none have been shot down because of their faith.
In the same year, Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn who was a Pentecostal leader and grandson of the founders of the Salvation Army, wrote:
Find me in the New Testament where Christ ever sent His followers on such a mission? On the contrary He sent them out to save men—not to butcher them like cattle. . . . No! as far as the Christian is concerned, the “eye for an eye” system has given place to the “Turn to him the other cheek also” of Matt. 5:39-44.
And A. J. Tomlinson, first general overseer of the Church of God of Prophecy, wrote in early 1918:
I could not take a gun and fire it at my fellow men even at the command of a military officer. I could submit to the penalty inflicted upon me for refusing, but I cannot kill. I doubt if I could take the obligation to become a soldier in the first place.
Pacifism is often labeled naive or short-sighted, but in this case the pacifist Pentecostals were able to see the truth through all the patriotic war-mongering around them, thanks to them sticking to Jesus’ commitments in the Sermon on the Mount.
World War One was an idiotic catastrophe of Christians killing Christians. Our Spirit-filled ancestors refused to play that game.
Read more about early Pentecostal pacifism here.
Micael Grenholm is editor-in-chief for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!