The photograph was poignant. It seemed to illustrate a contrast of world views. In the photograph was a crowd of people at a Fourth of July celebration with their eyes turned upward, watching a fireworks display. Dispersed among the crowd were a few sisters with headship veilings and their less noticeable male counterparts from the “peace churches,” exclaiming at the beauty of the display.
For many in America the Fourth of July is a day of celebration and festivity. Americans remember this day as a memorial of the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. It is easy to get caught up in the mid-summer Independence Day festivity spirit of parades and fireworks, etc. As pilgrims and strangers we should be aware of the nationalistic spirit we are celebrating when we join with the festivities of this day.
Mennonites, Amish, and others were dubbed “peace churches” because of their Biblical stand of not resisting evil both on a personal and national level. Their pattern of life was according to Matthew 5:39, “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Nonviolence is part of the fabric of Christ’s kingdom, of which the peace churches are part. To mix the pride of nationalism and the glamorization of war and violence, which is so evident at a community fireworks display, with the symbols and people who are part of the peace churches, should trouble us. As nonresistant people we allow God to be the sole avenger of evil. We are transient pilgrims and strangers who are citizens of the other world kingdom, where love and nonviolence are woven into character of life.
Jesus clearly defined the other world nature of His kingdom in His answer to Pilate. John 18:36, “Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
Christ did not fight to protect Himself, neither did He issue orders for His disciples to fight. He was part of the other world kingdom. The message is clear from this verse that there are two kingdoms: one of the world and one of heaven, the other world. The one kingdom will fight for its rights and preservation, and the other resists not evil.
Through the ages the true church was loyal to the other world principle of nonviolence and non-participation in war and politics. It did not serve in armed forces or in places of power in the government but was respectful and subject to the government under which it lived.
To join in celebration of violence against a worldly kingdom such as Britain, a country that God has set up and calls a minister of His, is a contradiction of principle. “For he is the minister of God….” In America Independence Day is a celebration of independence and rebellion against the British government. To celebrate this is an inconsistent position for the Christian. To gather in public places and mingle with the other kingdom to celebrate violence and warfare suggests we do not understand or care about the conflict of the nature of the kingdoms.
We as people of the peace churches will leave a clear testimony as to which kingdom we are part of when we do not celebrate the nationalism of a kingdom of this world. The two kingdom principle has been and will always be part of Biblical and Anabaptist thinking and theology.
We should not participate in the public celebrations of Independence Day and other holidays that honor war and violence. We also should refrain from singing the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” and attending re-enactments of battle. We will leave a clear testimony when we do not purchase or use fireworks on this day. We instead need to give testimony to our appreciation for Christ’s work of peace. Isaiah 32:17, “And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever.” We can do this by not entering the political arena with opinions of how the country should be governed. We hurt the testimony of a separated people and the testimony of Christ’s love by making critical commentary toward government leaders and policy.
The New Testament scriptures use third person pronouns, such as he and they, when referring to civil government. This clearly indicates the Biblical writer’s view of the nonparticipant status of the church. We are called to give a high place of honor to the civil authorities. May we never lose the correct Biblical view of civil government. Paul says it well:
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom 13:1-4).
We could possibly conclude that there has been a lack of teaching in some of these areas, and our people do not understand and have innocently participated in celebrations that are inconsistent with Biblical principles. May we allow the truth to set us free!