An Open Letter to UPCI Ministers: Biblical Perspective

Posted: January 17, 2012 in Resolution #6
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(This letter was written by Donald W. Whitt III, a youth pastor, and is published here by permission.)

An Open Letter to UPCI Ministers:

A Biblical Examination of the Current and Proposed Resolution to the UPCI Articles of Faith on Conscientious Scruples

January 2012

            Recently, members within the United Pentecostal Church International have proposed a revision to the article on Conscientious Scruples. The proposal calls for an amendment to the current article which would allow more space for members and clergy not only to enter into the Armed Services, but also to take human life.  This is a letter in response to the proposed revisions to the current article.  I have organized my letter by comparing the current article on Conscientious Scruples and the proposed resolution.  I compare how each letter uses loyalty, what loyalty means to national identity, and how the Bible verses they reference add or detract from the respective articles.

I am a youth pastor for a UPCI church. I do not currently hold a license; however, I have hopes and aspirations of joining the ranks of licensed UPCI ministers in the future.  I find the current discussion and possible revisions to the Conscientious Scruples article to be deeply disturbing.  To further add to the issue, depending on how you slice the pie, I would not consider myself a pacifist.

Professionally, I am a public servant in law enforcement, I grew up in a UPCI church and I hold a master’s degree specializing in politics and religion.  As a result of my profession, this is a matter that I continually struggle with and meditate on with much consternation.  I know this is an extremely complex matter that directly impacts our holiness, Christian identity and national identity.  It is a matter which calls for rigorous introspection and healthy discussion while considering the complexities involved with taking a human life.  The complexities need to be tackled, examined and nuanced through the lenses of Biblical understanding while avoiding hypothetical situations and anecdotes.

The two articles share a theme of loyalty.  Loyalty is a fundamental part of our national identity and the expression of that loyalty may be described as patriotism.  The first paragraph “affirm[s] unswerving loyalty” to the government because “the institution of the human government” is of “divine ordination.”  The third paragraph recommends that Christians should “fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizens” and the fifth paragraph condemns groups which use Scripture to justify disloyalty or to argue that there is no need to lay down one’s life “for the preservation of our commonwealth.”  The current article describes loyalty as unswerving and suggests that loyalty is expressed by fulfilling the obligations of a loyal citizen; it condemns disloyalty, gives space for the expression of loyalty by laying down one’s life, and justifies loyalty to a government because government is divinely ordained.  The current article suggests that our Christian and national identities are founded in theological concepts of loyalty.

The proposed 2011 resolution only speaks to loyalty in the latter portion of the last sentence, “[w]e also encourage those…to express courageous loyalty to a country while serving in appropriate roles working ‘heartily, as to the Lord’ (Colossians 3:23)”.  The current article encourages unswerving loyalty while the proposed resolution encourages Christians to have courageous loyalty.  The difference is more than splitting hairs; the proposed resolution encourages courageous loyalty without any of the context the current article provides.  The current article condemns disloyalty while the proposed resolution has no such condemnation.  The current article suggests that loyalty is expressed by laying down one’s life and fulfilling the obligations of the citizen while the proposed resolution suggests that loyalty is expressed by taking the life of another human being.  The proposed resolution, if endorsed by the UPCI, would seem to suggest that our patriotism is expressed not by fulfilling the obligations of the law, and defending the country with our own life, but by taking the life of another human.

Furthermore, the use of Colossians 3 in the proposed resolution is perplexing as Colossians 3 establishes that a Christian’s principle identity is based upon our redemption in Christ and is thus an inappropriate selection of scripture to provide Biblical support for taking a human life.  The overarching chapter addresses the putting off the former sins of the “old man” and putting on the “new man” (Colossians 3:9-10) and verses 10 and 11 imply that our principle identity upon redemption is established in Christ, with other Christians, regardless of national identity or status: “And [you] have put on the new man, which is renewed in the knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”  Colossians 3:15 declares that the peace of God should rule in our hearts as we are all called into one body, and again, establishes a spiritual identity amongst Christians which supersedes any national identity.  It is unclear how Colossians 3:23 or an expanded look at Colossians 3 is even relevant to the issue of loyalty and taking human life as a courageous expression of that loyalty.  The reference is used completely out of context. Colossians 3:23 deals with slaves and their masters and cannot be used to justify Christians bearing arms in service to their country.

The current article invokes a series of Biblical scriptures that speak to holiness, avoiding violent confrontations, consequences of a violent lifestyle, condemnation of unjust killing, and the Lord’s justice.  They reference turning the other cheek, (Matthew 5:39), following peace with all men and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14), those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52, Revelation 13:10), vengeance is the Lord’s (Romans 12:19) and the unlawful killing of the just (James 5:6).  The use of scriptures in the original article appears to be one of pacifism (Matthew 5:39) with strong admonition for those who use violence (Matthew 26:52, Revelation 13:10) and the exercise of peace is an expression of holiness (Hebrews 12:14).  The current article lays a basis of scriptures that are consistent with and support the theme of pacifism.

The proposed resolution invokes a series of Biblical scriptures that condemn murder, yet declares that the “taking of human life is complicated with a wide variety of complexities.”  The resolution references the commandment “thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13), the murder of Able at the hands of Cain (Genesis 4:8-10), and cities of refuge (Numbers 35:6, 12).  Exodus 20 and Genesis 4 are quite clear on the matter of murder and Numbers 35 discusses cities of refuge in which murderers can retreat from an avenger while they await judgment.  These references are clear on the matter of murder and do not support the resolution’s assertion that taking human life is a complex matter. The proposed resolution does not offer any scripture to support the taking of human life in the name of the nation.

Thus, to replace the current article with the 2011 proposal would be, in my opinion, premature at best.  It dismisses the scriptures cited in the Conscientious Scruples article, the discussion of loyalty and martyrdom, and offers no scriptural basis to add to the subject it proposes, while indicating that taking human life is an expression of patriotism. The resolution’s declaration regarding the taking of human life is irresponsible in that it neglects to offer sound scripture supporting such a declaration and casually dismisses the matter of taking human life as simply too complex to resolve.

I do not consider myself a pacifist, but I cannot support this 2011 revision in its current form.  As a young man viewing the process from the outside, the process of changing this article is very important to me.  I hope the proposal will not quickly pass without deep introspection and much revision to the proposed resolution.  I would like to see a theological examination of the greater context of the scriptures cited in the original article.  Minimally, I would like to see an examination of and a reconciliation of Brother Bernard’s chapter on the “Sanctity of Human Life” in his book Practical Holiness.  He introduces a hearty and compelling argument to abstain from any violent action whatsoever. We need to diligently examine what other Apostolic theologians, like pioneering oneness leader Frank Bartleman, amongst others, have to say about this issue.

In addition to the material at hand by Brother Bernard and other authors, we should understand how the Bible speaks to the myriad of issues that this subject presents:  holiness, righteousness, national identity, spiritual identity, and our involvement in the execution of secular government – including its defense, and its offensive campaigns.  Furthermore, we need to consider what can learn from the Old Testament about this subject.  David wasn’t allowed to build the temple of God because he was a warring king – incidentally, wars which were sanctioned by God.  If we are the temple of God, how does taking life affect our righteousness?  Would God no longer want to dwell in us?  However, the Law allowed for war, self defense, and capital punishment, which would almost certainly require taking the life of a subject.  How does that inform our decision?  We should examine how Romans 12 and 13 inform us about the subject of public service and the execution of a secular government.  To what extent are we willing to execute and establish justice and equality?  How does the Bible differentiate between murder and the taking of life?

I know that the UPCI has had vigorous, wide-ranging debates over the years about many lessor subjects.  Surely this subject deserves a robust and hearty discussion regarding the “wide variety of complexities” involved with taking human life.  An organization that has the courage to fearlessly tackle the legal, sociological, historical, moral, ethical, philosophical, theological, and above all, the Biblical conditions involved here, is one I would like to join.  While there may not be a strong consensus regarding the outcome of the Conscientious Scruples article, I can handle a sincere conclusion that falls within the range of possibilities represented by either article.  I’m less sure I can respect a collective indifference.

Donald W. Whitt, III

Comments
  1. Brother Whitt,
    I was just wondering if you might review one of my books on Amazon?  It is a very short read.  An eBook that you can download immediately.

    It speaks to the leadership element of those who feel the need to control everything around them.

    Abdicating The Throne
    http://astore.amazon.com/life-church-20/detail/B005UF4X1W 

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