Nonresistance and Nonparticipation in Civil Government

by Paul Horst

Tract 21E74
published by Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc. Crockett, KY 41413

On this subject we have many Scriptures. "Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also . . ." "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 5:38-48). "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

Also, in Ephesians 6:12 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 we are plainly told that our warfare is spiritual, not physical, and the weapons, although they are powerful and effective, are not of this world (carnal).

Finally, in Hebrews 11:13-16 we clearly see that the child of God has a heavenly country and therefore a heavenly citizenship which demands his first allegiance. Any nation on earth in which he dwells must realize that he is there as an alien, and that, although he will endeavor to be subject to their will where possible, he cannot be expected to participate in their affairs nor compromise his heavenly citizenship.

As we consider these truths and others, such as the Beatitudes, we come to see that nonresistance is not just a matter of what we will do or not do in certain situations, but rather a very spirit of meekness, humility, and love which possesses the Christian when he is truly born again. The spirit of resentment, revenge, and retaliation is crucified with self, and the new spirit becomes our way of life.

Not Nonviolence or Passive Resistance

This is not nonviolence or passive resistance, which, though not involving physical force, does yet manifest the spirit of resistance and demanding of our rights. Guy F. Hershberger, a Mennonite leader, has stated: "The [black's] leader, Martin Luther King, has successfully trained thousands in something which we have professed to believe for four hundred years - the way of nonviolence." This is clearly false, for the way of nonviolence includes many things foreign to the way of nonresistance, such as lobbying to influence legislation, demanding of our rights and privileges, refusal to obey the law even when obedience does not involve one in wrongdoing. Of course we can have no part in suppression or inequalities, but nonviolence is not the answer, nor is this what we have professed to believe for four hundred years, but rather we believe that which Jesus and the early church professed - nonresistance.

Not Only Abstinence From Vengeance

Neither is it only abstinence from personal vengeance, for the Old Testament already forbade this and made provision for orderly judgment and punishment (Deuteronomy 19). Therefore, we believe that Jesus intended that all vengeance is forbidden to the Christian. How could He have made it more clear? God says (1 Peter 2:21-24) that Jesus is our example and that He, when reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to God. Shall we, then who profess to follow Him, lift our hands or weapons to defend our lands, houses, families, or our own bodies? Shall we not rather leave all vengeance to God and those whom He shall use to execute His wrath? (See Romans 13).

Not An Endeavor to Bring About World Peace

The Bible leaves us no hope that men shall ever be able to bring about world peace through disarmament, political lobbying, and so forth, owing to the very nature of the world and the heart of man. Therefore, nonresistance is no futile attempt or fanciful dream to that end.

Neither is it an effort to "bury our heads" to the evil around us, but rather the result of a firm conviction that evil must be met by spiritual resistance; and must be overcome with good (Romans 12:21). It is true that God used His people in the past, as a nation, to punish sin; and provides for such punishment today through earthly government; and will in the future bring condemnation upon all the ungodly. Yet the people of God in this age are given the ministry of reconciliation rather than the ministry of retribution. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour" (Romans 13:10).

That this spirit must fill all of life, we see in 1 Peter 3:8, 9, for here it is applied to the home and our closest relationships. Here it is that we are apt to be the most careless in exercising those virtues which rise out of love. Here, too, we see how to apply it to all situations, for if it is good for the home, as all agree, then it is good for neighbors, friends, strangers, and enemies.

Not Opposed to Government

Let it be said, however, that while we cannot participate in earthly governments, we are not opposed to them, but rather accept them as a necessary part of an evil, unregenerate society. We lend them our support in every Scriptural way (by prayer, financial support, and obedience wherever possible without conflict with the Word of God).

Some have supposed that the early church and the Anabaptists opposed participation in the government because of the nature of the governments under which they lived, but we have no reason to think they would have acted differently under any other form of government. The reasons which they gave and the Scriptures set forth in support of nonparticipation apply equally to dictatorships, kingdoms, and democracies. This is true in time of peace as well as during persecution. Jesus refused to be made king or judge (John 6:15; Luke 12:13, 14). Also, we notice that the New Testament never speaks to the government, nor to Christians as a part of the government (except in the case of the soldiers coming to John the Baptist, under the Old Covenant), but always to the Christians about the government. Thus, Romans 13 does not justify participation in government, as many think, but rather says "he" is God's servant "to thee . . . he beareth not the sword in vain . . . he is a revenger." But "ye must needs be subject . . . ye pay tribute . . . they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing" (justice, order, revenge).

Does a democratic form of government make every citizen a part of the government as some say? They say this to justify voting, saying "all are a part of the government anyhow, whether they vote or not, so we might as well use our opportunity to help control it." If this is true, then we become responsible for the actions of the government and the killing even though we refuse to fight. This we deny, maintaining, as God's people have done in the past, that we are not a part of the carnal government and want no part. Why then should we, by voting, acknowledge that which we so strenuously deny by our refusal to fight or hold public office?

No, brethren, but let us remember that we are now already living in the heavenly kingdom, our King is the Lord Jesus, and for that King we are willing to die!


This material was typed in by Dick Sullivan. Thanks a lot, Dick!


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