Archive for the ‘Resolution #6’ Category

(The following was written by Cameron Price, a United Pentecostal Church pastor, and is published by permission.)

How I See Resolution #6

If you were to read through the Articles of Faith in the manual of the United Pentecostal Church International, you would come across one titled “Conscientious Scruples.”  It carefully, methodically and, most importantly, scripturally lays out in great detail the organization’s position on bearing arms as, “Christians shall not shed blood nor take human life.  Therefore, we propose to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizens, but are constrained to declare against participating in combatant service in war, armed insurrection, property destruction, aiding or abetting in, or the actual destruction of human life.”  For decades, this remained the unchanged position of the organization, of which I am a member, and it has served us just fine.

But now there is a movement in the form of Resolution #6 to change our position on the bearing of arms.  The author of Resolution #6 lays his foundation with 12 Whereases, none of which include a single scripture reference.  The proposed new article reads like a trinitarian trying to explain the Godhead, calling the issue, “complicated with a wide variety of complexities.”  He encapsulates the essence of his article by encouraging members to “serve according to their conscience, in any and all capacities,” or as my parents’ generation used to say, “If it feels good, do it.”  So if this resolution passes, our new position will be, well, that we have no position.  Do we need an article to say that?

I’m going to call this the way I see it.  We’ve all seen the following scenario play out in some form.  A pastor teaches and enforces hardline holiness standards, that is until his teenage daughter insists on leading worship and/or playing the keyboard, but refuses to comply with all of Daddy’s platform requirements.  With the issue now hitting too close to home for comfort, Pastor Dad softens his position to accommodate her.  After all, he doesn’t want to offend her and possibly drive her out of church.

Resolution #6 is no different.  Our current article on conscientious scruples worked great before 9/11.  But since we declared war on terror, now virtually every family in America (and subsequently every family in our congregations) has someone serving in a combative role in the US military, and the issue hits close to home, making us suddenly uncomfortable with our organization’s current position on the bearing of arms.  And since maintaining our prayerfully crafted, scripture-laden position would be just downright unpatriotic, our only option is to replace it with a new one that doesn’t offend anybody.  Everybody’s a winner!  Say, think of all the other Articles of Faith we could change to make the UPCI more accommodating!  Do I sense revolution in the air?

Since most of the people who will be voting on Resolution #6 fit into the “uncomfortable” position described above, I expect it to pass largely unopposed, and when it does, I will be sad.  Like most everything else in my wallet, my fellowship card will hold a little less value.

We should just focus on revival and not let issues like this divide us.

I’m sure someone either has said something like that, or will say something of that nature as we continue to discuss Resolution #6. I’ve been part of the UPCI for 27 years. I know how we talk.

But bear in mind the kind of issue we’re talking about. It’s an issue of Christians deliberately choosing to serve in professions in which they may be called upon to destroy the life of another human being. To some, an issue like this shouldn’t divide us.

Amazing.

Besides trivializing a significant alteration to our Articles of Faith, the “just focus on revival” mindset displays a remarkable short-sightedness. You see, what we’re dealing with isn’t simply another inconsequential issue of church politics. This isn’t just another debate about a “standard of holiness” drawn from an isolated verse of Scripture. This isn’t just another discussion of how to properly interpret Daniel’s 70th week. No. This issue is none of those. If it were, then I’d jump on the unity bandwagon and thump the big bass drum crying, “No Division! Focus on Revival!” But I can’t. I can’t because this issue is different.

This is about morality. That’s right; this is an issue of Morals. Those are pretty unpopular things in our culture right now, at least the way we define them, but we’re still supposed to be very concerned about them. Aren’t we? Aren’t we against gay marriage because it’s a moral issue to us? Trouble is that when we think of morality we usually default to issues of human sexuality like faithfulness in marriage versus adultery, or sexual purity before marriage versus fornication, or homosexuality versus heterosexuality. To most of us, an immoral person is one who’s lascivious. (There’s a great word.) But morality is about far more than the proper expression of human sexuality. You see, at the root morals are simply the rules that define for us what behaviour is good and proper.

The ancient Greek idea of Ethos is at the root of our concept of morals as rules of behaviour. Ethos referred to character and how character was made known. For a Christian, the idea of ethos (our character and its manifestation) cannot be separated from the life in Christ. In fact, the New Testament makes it clear that the character of Christ is supposed to be revealed through our lives. It teaches us that Christ’s spirit, attitude, and way of thinking are to be present in us. As ministers we spend years of our lives trying to influence parishioners to develop Christ-like attributes and to yield to Christ’s indwelling Presence. Christ’s influence on our behaviour is in fact His influence upon our morality. As Christians we recognize that we are moral because Christ is moral, that His morality is what stands at the centre of our morality…that His morality becomes our morality.

We innately know as Spirit-filled people that our Saviour’s moral compass was firmly pointed in the direction of life. But if for some reason our innate knowledge-base has been shut down by the Federal Government, the Scriptures should make this clear to us. Do the Beatitudes support the idea of “saints militant”? Does John 3:16 sound vaguely life-ish to anyone? How about Jesus statement to his rip-roaring, hell-fire breathing disciples who wanted to blaze the opposition? “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.  For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:55-56, KJV) That should be enough for any of us. It should be enough for any of us that our Saviour’s morality called upon Him to save, not destroy. Our morals as Christians should call for us to make the same choice, and they should scream loudly whenever we begin to consider making a contrary decision. After all, our Lord refused to take human lives. And didn’t He say that a servant was supposed to be as his Lord? Yes, I believe He did.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this…this…issue has me so troubled. The only answer I can come up with goes something like this; “This is about fundamental morality…and if we can’t get our morals right, how can we be trusted to get anything right?” Our entire existence as a church organization is based on the assumption that what we have to say has eternal significance. The Gospel we proclaim is of eternal consequence; believing or disbelieving the Gospel affects us forever. But how on earth can we profess to have the authority to proclaim eternal principles when we lose ourselves so easily and without concern over an issue of basic moral principles?

We in the UPCI like to proclaim, voluminously, our Apostolic credentials. We like to draw bold lines that connect us to the Original Church. We like to confidently assert that we preach the same message the Apostles preached; except, of course, when we don’t want to compare our contemporary message to theirs. And on this issue we don’t really want comparisons with the ancient Church…just keep all those comparisons to subjects like water baptism and jewelry. The whole early church thing is rather inconvenient when it comes to this issue.

For some time I considered writing a post that examined the historical Christian attitude toward taking human life in war, focusing on the first 250 or so years of the Church’s existence. If you’re wondering, the ancient saints were firmly and loudly against Christians bearing arms and taking human life. Yet as of this posting I’m inclined not to do it, and not to do it because I think it won’t make any difference. If the morality of our Lord can’t influence me to choose life, if the general tenor of our New Covenant can’t influence me to choose life, and if the Indwelling Holy Spirit can’t influence me to choose life, then all the convicting words and brutal martyrdoms of ancient saints for the very issue that Christians should not bear arms or shed blood won’t influence me to choose life.

At the heart of this morality play currently on stage (or back stage) before underwhelming crowds across our fellowship is this challenge; we must choose life. After all…if we don’t make the choice for life, what are we making a choice for? If we, the “originals”, the “People of the Name”, the “real” Apostolics, can’t discern the significance a moral issue like this one, what can we discern?

(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

(The following letter was written by L. Danny Barba, a minister with the UPCI, and is published here with his consent.)

An Open Letter to UPCI Ministers

A Historical Perspective on Our Conscientious Scruples

January 2012

            The recent discussion about the altering of the principles of UPCI’s articles on conscientious scruples marks a monumental shift in our theology. Have you ever wondered what the founders of the Oneness-Pentecostal movement would say about issues we vote on today? Yes, those very same founders who received the Oneness revelation and practiced Jesus’ name baptism. This is a historical question I took up over a year ago in my PhD history seminar at the University of Michigan. As a very-committed member of the UPCI for over half my life now, a life-long citizen and patriot of the U.S., and now a trained-historian, I wondered how our founders understood their relationship and commitment to the U.S. when our country required them to take up arms with the possibility of taking human life.

Various records clearly show what Pentecostal pioneers did, not just said, when faced with such moral dilemmas about involvement and bearing arms in war. The record overwhelmingly points to pacifism as rooted in the Bible as was the Oneness understanding of the Godhead. Although he declined to join any church body, Azusa Street eyewitness evangelist Frank Bartleman decried the wholesale slaughter of human life and the premature consigning to hell of millions of soldiers.

In fact, a vigorous pacifism, together with the expulsion of Oneness ministers from the Assemblies of God, propelled the need for organization. Looming global war sent early Pentecostal pioneers rushing to form a religious body, in order to be granted Conscientious Objector status. Oneness Pentecostal organization founder  Sam McClain who received the Holy Ghost in 1912 and was of age to serve, recounts the tumultuous time, “the United States was preparing to enter World War I and as we had so recently organized, we could not get noncombatant service for our young men in the draft.” Did they refuse to serve out of sheer cowardice? God forbid. A deep conviction against the possibility of taking human life kept them from serving. In 1919 McClain published an early Oneness position on war in the Apostolic Herald stating,

“The Pentecostal Church,… opposes to its members participating in warfare in any capacity. But in case our government is drawn into a struggle with an enemy threatening or making an invasion on our country, we stand for loyalty to our government and our flag. We would ask for non-combatant service in some capacity that does not require the Christian to bear arms, which would force him to participate in shedding blood and taking human life.”

Writing in 1919 as a leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), McClain likely knew about the treatment of conscientious objectors (those who refused to fight) in WWI America. Numerous Oneness-Pentecostal pastors and elders served time behind bars for their pacifist position.  One record shows that out of nineteen conscientious objectors detained at Disciplinary Barracks, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas (1919), all identified as “Pentecostals.” Among them were members of the Pentecostals Assemblies of the World, the antecedent of the UPCI. Here are a few of the many specific examples of how earnestly our founders were willing to stand up for their belief in pacifism: Elder Morton of the Detroit area was incarcerated at Kingston Penitentiary; according to the roster of U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, William Smith of Illinois was sentenced to 10 years behind bars; according to the Sacramento Bee, upon the apprehension of Pastor William Reid of Sacramento California for charges of “acts unbecoming of an American” and “remarks that were of seditious nature” the Sacramento Chief of Police spitefully upbraided Reid, “you should be lined up against a wall and shot.” Even worse than all these cases, many were sent to federal penitentiaries where they met a firing squad who had hoped to change the minds of pacifists. When some refused to recant they were fired upon with empty guns in an act of intimidation and violation of their 1st Amendment rights to coerce them to recant”. Others were tarred and feathered, run out of town; and most despicably, viewed as expendable and thus used as cannon fodder. Dr. Talmadge French has shown how Bureau of Investigation (now called the FBI) authorities even covertly joined churches, and were baptized in Jesus’ name, in order to investigate the PAW’s stance on War. In that same church in Santa Fe, NM, federal authorities arrested two preachers. Later, because of his pacifist stance, federal authorities sought to ban Garfield T. Haywood’s theological publication, The Voice in the Wilderness, but accidently banned another publication by a similar title A Voice in the Wilderness instead.

Why would Oneness Pentecostals have taken such a stance knowing that their members had suffered such persecution? I propose that their holiness convictions remained stronger than their political convictions. These holiness-minded pioneers believed that shedding blood on behalf of their country was unholy, unjust, and unlike Jesus.

Holiness minded pioneers took holiness seriously. The divine injunction, “Be ye holy for I am holy” took precedence over political or national affiliation. When will we like Paul understand that our citizenship (Politeuma) is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), and it is that citizenship that should take precedence citizenship to any country, U.S., Canada, or otherwise? Are the principles of peace in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount an example of cowardly theology? If we move to sanction the killing of individuals, even if in the name of the nation-state, we choose to not only reject the words of the founding fathers of Oneness-Pentecostalism, but also the words of Jesus, our Heavenly Father.

Why this gradual loss of our founders’ beliefs in sticking to the words of Jesus? Historians have noted that the reason leaders of Assemblies of God largely caved in to bearing arms in war and later changed its articles of faith was due to the participation of their boys in the military and their desire to gain acceptance among the rising National Association of Evangelicals. In other words, being Pentecostal took the back seat to being American and accepted by Evangelicals. Are we giving in to the same social pressure? Is our theology of non-violence now weaker because we love America so much? Do we not owe it to our much-vaunted non-U.S. constituencies and sister churches throughout the world to stay the hand of U.S. military power that may result in their destruction and loss of life. Lest we find ourselves on the same moral trajectory as other American church groups who feel at ease in Zion, let us reevaluate the motion at hand.

While it is not unknown to the UPCI to reverse and revise the positions of our earliest founders with regards to salient doctrinal issues, by hastily voting for this new article we nevertheless run the risk of being carried about by every wind of patriotic doctrine. Our Pentecostal history offers us a rich understanding of how Holy-Ghost-filled people ought to view and maintain their relationship to their country. It is my belief that if we do not look closely enough at this issue because of being blinded by our political convictions that we should march in lock-step with, we run the risk of putting something before our God. Thus, putting the commandment of America before the commandment of God Almighty is nothing short of (patriotic) idolatry. Finally, consider how would we respond to this issue if it were being discussed in our churches around the world, especially in communist countries? What makes it permissible to shed blood for one country but not for another? Last time I checked, God’s commandments transcend every people, kindred, tongue, and NATION.

L. Danny Barba

“…those who serve according to their conscience…”

The appeal of Resolution #6 to conscience is a powerful one, and resonates with our fundamental belief that the individual always knows what’s best for his own life. “My conscience directs me, and when I follow the dictates of my conscience I live free of guilt and shame.” In other words, my conscience is clear. Trouble is, conscience varies quite a bit from person to person. What may offend my conscience may not affect yours in the least, and vice versa. Trouble is, conscience is a fickle guide; it must be informed by spiritual and ethical instruction. Without them, conscience serves its own pleasure. The pool into which conscience initially looks for direction will be the morality formed through having been taught a particular view of right from wrong. If one has been taught an idea or an action is right, his conscience will likely approve of the idea or action. Conversely, if one has been taught an idea or an action is wrong, his conscience will likely disapprove of the idea or action.

The authors of Resolution #6 allow for conscience to work equally in diametric directions, and for the two extremes to be morally relative. They say that my Christian conscience may allow for taking the life of another human being, while your Christian conscience may not allow for the same action. And somehow, according to the wording of Resolution #6, both of these choices of conscience are completely acceptable. Though these two represent completely opposite outcomes and not simply degrees of variation, somehow both are right. Though these two represent ultimate conclusions so drastically different from one another that no greater difference can be imagined, somehow both are correct. It’s a matter of life and death…poles apart…and they’re telling us that either choice is suitable? They’re really telling us that whether the choice to deal death is good or evil is relative to the conscience of the decision maker? Are you kidding me? We’re really going to sing along with Jiminy Cricket on this one, “Let yer conscience be your guide?”

You may as well follow the bouncing ball and sing along, because if you’re looking for logic you won’t find it in Resolution #6.

It seems to me that we’ve been more influenced by pluralism than we may have realized; that we’ve been subtly warped to the point that all thought systems are equally valid and that all outcomes are correct. Or, we’ve never been taught to think in a straight line. I’m not sure which it is. And I’m not sure which is worse.

I wonder, though, how far this “conscience as our guide” idea extends in this particular application. If we’re willing to allow conscience to be the ultimate arbiter of our actions when serving secular governments, can that mean that all actions in service to secular government and allowed by conscience are permissible? After all, if one can kill with clear conscience in service to secular government wouldn’t everything else seem to be small potatoes? I assume then that one can lie in service to secular government, that one can manipulate in service to secular government, that one can deceive in service to secular government, that one can steal in service to secular government, and that one can maim in service to secular government; it would seem that all would be approved by Resolution #6…if one’s conscience allows.

If an Apostolic may serve as a combatant in uniform as long as his conscience allows, may he serve as a combatant out of uniform? May a Christian be involved in black-ops? May a Christian carry out assassinations? May he engage in torture in service to his government? May he kill civilians in such service? May a Christian serve secular governments as a spy? And if so, are the actions he engages in as a spy morally absolved as long as he acts with clear conscience? And what about those warriors we occasionally hear of who actually enjoy war? Is a Christian allowed to enjoy killing in service to his government?

Seems we may be at risk of confusing legality with morality.

It’s clear to see that using conscience as a guide in our service to the state can be a very slippery slope, and I’m puzzled that the authors of Resolution #6 didn’t think of that. Or perhaps they thought of it…and ignored it. The conscience must be informed. It must be taught. It must be guided. Conscience functions well as a fail-safe, as the mind’s court of last resort when there is simply no other way to know what’s right. But it cannot, it must not, be treated as the general adjudicator of morality. Not even for a Christian.

Taking human life violates the spirit of the New Covenant, as well as the letter. Our current Article of Faith regarding conscientious scruples accurately reflects that. We simply cannot alter this stand to suit those who may serve as combatants, whatever their individual consciences may tell them. We cannot engage in moral retrenchment because “we want those who serve to know we believe in them.” (Seriously?  That’s supposed to be reasoning?) We cannot leave such a fundamentally moral issue to personal discretion simply because we have church members who are officers of the law. The weight of the New Testament is clear, abundantly clear, on this issue.

We cannot condone the taking of human life…whatever conscience may say.

I’ve been waiting, you know…waiting for someone to make a good case for changing our current Articles of Faith regarding conscientious scruples. I’ve been waiting for someone to make a good Scriptural and spiritual case for Apostolics serving as military combatants, at the ready to abruptly propel other human beings into eternity. I’m still waiting.

The only Scriptural support anyone has expressed to me for Resolution #6 has been half-hearted at best, as if the one trying to buoy the pro-choice argument wasn’t really convinced of the Scriptural validity of his position. The most strongly worded statement I’ve seen in favour of the idea was patriotic and political, which would seem to indicate that even the issuer realized his Biblical position wasn’t strong. My best guess is that since evidently very little thought went into the development and writing of Resolution #6, that very little thought will go into supporting it. My prediction is that Resolution #6 will continue to be borne along by tepid waves of indifference.

The only Scriptural support presented to me so far for Apostolic believers serving as military combatants is drawn entirely from the Old Testament, and references the battles of the Israelites. Essentially the argument goes thusly, “Well, God commanded the Israelites to go to war! And since obviously war means taking human life, God must be okay with His people taking human lives in war.” Hardly. It seems a good time for our ministerial constituency to refresh their knowledge of the New Testament book of Hebrews, the theme of which (as any student in any of our Bible Schools could tell you) is “something better.”

Better. It’s a matter of degree, you know, that reflects an improvement on what was before. We have a better hope, a better covenant, better promises, a better sacrifice, a better high priest, and a better inheritance. Better! Do we get that? What we have is better. What we’re promised is better. Where we’re going is better. Our covenant (agreement, law, rule) is better. We’re supposed to be better, too, and transcend what was before. We don’t stone rebellious sons, we intercede for them in prayer…because we’re better. We don’t burn witches at the stake, we live in the authority of the Holy Ghost and pray in the Spirit…because we’re better. We don’t execute adulterers, we pray for conviction, repentance, and restoration…because we’re better. We don’t engage in ethnic cleansing, we send missionaries who preach the Good News of our Saviour…because we’re better.

We’re not the contemporary manifestation of ancient Israel; we’re better. We’re an improvement on what was before. It doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch that the idea of the Church and her Covenant as better lends itself rather neatly to the idea that Christians should not “shed blood nor take human life.” That the ancient Israelites were instruments of God’s wrath upon the vile occupants of Canaan shouldn’t be misconstrued as God’s blessing for Apostolics to serve as combatants in the wars of contemporary nations. The Church isn’t the “sword of the Lord” upon the world, and neither are her members; we are ambassadors of grace. We are not the visitation of God’s justice upon evildoers, either as a Body or as individuals; we are ministers of mercy.

As a church more or less committed to dispensationalist theology, don’t we recognize ourselves as part of a different dispensation? And isn’t that different dispensation called “grace” or something? Yes…yes…I think that’s actually what it’s called; the Dispensation of Grace. At least, that’s what it was called in the old Search for Truth home Bible study. But it’s been awhile since I’ve used Search for Truth. Maybe a resolution or something was passed on the quiet, and it’s been changed. Maybe now it’s called the Dispensation of Taking Human Life If Your Conscience Allows.

Look, even the most cursory of glances through the New Testament reveals a lexicon of peace that demonstrates how much better the Church Age is designed to be. Ideas like grace, joy, love, mercy, forgiveness, and reconciliation leap from the pages. The Spirit, we’re told, produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, good behaviour, faith, and self control. All will know we’re His disciples by our love, we’re told. Do good to all, we’re commanded, especially to the Family of God. The world will glorify God when they see our good works, it says. Know what’s clearly missing? What’s missing is the idea that, for a Christian, violence is an accepted method of resolving anything. There’s not a shred, not a hint, not the tiniest indication, that for a child of God an accepted way to deal with enemies of the secular state is to kill them.  Wrath, anger, and malice are presented as works of the flesh. Even mere local church disputes are presented as the result of a lack of inner peace.

I find it hard to imagine the Apostles of the Lamb engaged as combatants, swinging the sword in the name of the Lord against the enemies of Rome. But maybe I’ve missed something. I’ve got to admit the possibility that all those years I was teaching about patience, turning the other cheek, and manifesting the nature and Spirit of Christ in a troubled world, that some energetic Pentecostal scholar parsed a rare Greek verb form that directly translated into English means “shoot to kill.” Hey, it could happen! After all, who would have ever guessed that Apostolic believers would granted authority by our ministerial constituency to issue passports to hell (or heaven, perhaps?) from the muzzle of an M4A1 assault rifle? (If their consciences allow, of course.) My goodness! How far we’ve come! How advanced philosophically! It’s wonderfully spiritually pragmatic of us to make this allowance, don’t you think?

Yeah. Somehow I doubt this is the kind of “better” that the writer of Hebrews had in mind.

Compartmentalization: that’s the process of dividing your life into tidy little sections, and of dividing your moral/ethical code right along with them. In doing this you wind up with many different manifestations of yourself, each with a particular subset of ‘rules to live by’.

There’s Business You. While in this particular compartment you may engage in behaviour that, while maybe not technically immoral or illegal, may skirt the edge of the honesty/dishonesty continuum. And you’ll explain it to yourself and others by saying, “Well, it’s just business.”

There’s Work You. In this compartment you may say or do things that you find morally/ethically questionable…even offensive. But, you’ll do them because the job requires them…and, after all, a job’s a job!

There’s Church You. This is the smiling, well put-together you that may represent you at your best…at the pinnacle of your possible human perfection. (Good job it’s only once a week, eh? Trying to maintain this any length of time might precipitate an utter emotional breakdown.)

There’s Family You. This is more authentically you than all the rest. Its likely here that your deepest feelings, beliefs, and most complete moral/ethical code is given full voice.

There are many more compartments than the ones listed here, and as you read those written above you probably started making your own list…one that’s much longer than four. The point of that little list is simply to illustrate in print what you already know in fact; that you and I compartmentalize our lives, and apply different sets of rules at different times. I’m not sure that compartmentalization is necessarily a bad thing. For instance, I recognize that Pastor Me and Family Me have some differences, and that my conduct in the pastorate will be dissimilar in some regards from my behaviour as a family man. And I don’t think that anyone would find that unreasonable.

However…

Any one of us Apostolics also recognize that overarching all of the various compartments of our lives and permeating every aspect of our living is the reality of redemption. We are Christians, and that state of faith is the grand rule of life for us. Each compartment and every moral/ethical subset that may govern it must flow from and be in accord with the Apostolic Faith. The Business, Work, Church, Family, and other compartments of our lives cannot be exempt from the rule of Faith. We are Christians first…we are Christians foremost. Before business, work, church, and family, we are Christians. Above business, work, church, and family, we are Christians. Every aspect of life must be governed by the rule of Faith made real in our lives by the Word and the Spirit. Above all, before all, through all…Christian…little Christs…followers of the Anointed One.

If the role I play in this life calls for me to manifest a nature other than Christ’s, then I must find another role. As a Christian, I should not…I cannot…willingly place myself in a position that calls for me to act in a way that will not represent my Saviour as anything other than He represented Himself. Butcher, baker, candlestick maker… if I cannot demonstrate the grace of redemption, I cannot be it. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy…if it causes me to violate the nature and Spirit of Jesus, I cannot be it.

How did we ever form the idea that the Rule of Faith can adapt itself to every secular profession? How did we ever form the idea that we may participate fully in all this world’s ventures while living as Christ’s? Have we narrowed our definition of Apostolic to the point that “come out from among them and be separate” only refers to a code of dress or whether we go to movies or not? Perhaps we have.

Are you ready for this?

Above and before nationality, we are Christian. Above and before politics, we are Christian. Above and before economics, we are Christian. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions on behalf of nation, party, or policy must be formed and influenced by the faith of Christ…and not the other way around. Our love of Christ and the presence of His Spirit must be evident in all. Christ doesn’t allow us to love nation, party, or policy more than we love Him. And He doesn’t allow us to make the manifestation of His love and nature subservient to our patriotic feelings.

Americans have made love of country and patriotic feeling into practically Christian virtues, and the propagation of American values into a sort of evangelistic endeavour. But I think we’ve forgotten that one can love and honour one’s earthly country without for a moment sacrificing one’s integrity as an ambassador of Christ. We must remind ourselves that we have been birthed in another Country by another Spirit, and that we represent that Country…and the Spirit of that Country. Know what I think? I think we’ve forgotten that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world. I think we’ve forgotten that we are foreigners here…that here we have no “continuing city.” I think we’ve forgotten where our primary citizenship lies; the Kingdom of God.

I think we’ve forgotten that there is an eternity…a real eternity…and that the end of this life only serves as the gateway to the life that never ends. I think we’ve forgotten that in the Apostolic Faith there are only two possible destinies; heaven or hell. I think we’ve forgotten that our business is to go into all the world, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them how to live the life of Christ…not to invade, kill, and conquer. I think in our passage of Resolution #6 at our 2011 General Conference, we’ve forgotten that we have been commissioned to a higher purpose…and that our mission is not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them…that we are sent to prepare men for heaven, not send them rapidly and efficiently to hell.

The recent passage of Resolution #6 at the 2011 General Conference of the United Pentecostal Church International leaves me asking many questions. Trouble is, I don’t know who to ask them of. I don’t know who wrote Resolution #6, so I can’t ask them. I don’t know anyone who really supports it, though maybe that says more about my choice of friends than it does the resolution. So, I’m left asking myself though I may or may not provide myself good answers. I suppose I must ask anyway.

Here’s one.

If taking human life is morally justified when sanctioned by government and approved by conscience, does that rule apply to any government, anywhere, at any time?

Here’s another.

The last phrase of Resolution #6 says, “We also encourage those who serve according to their conscience, in any and all capacities, to express courageous loyalty to country while serving in appropriate roles working ‘heartily, as to the Lord”‘ (Colossians 3:23).’ Are the authors actually saying that Christians can kill their fellow human beings “heartily, as to the Lord”?

I hope not.

Resolution #6 assumes that the only appropriate taking of human life is in government action, executed by government servants. Of course, coupled with the idea that death can only be legally dealt upon orders of government by government servants is the very important proviso that said government servants act according to conscience. May I boil this down? (Thanks, I will.) Essentially this resolution is saying that if government approves it and conscience allows it, then fire away. That is so…so…liberating! All that is necessary to destroy human life is a government order and a clear conscience!

I assume, though, that this only counts for Americans; that what we’re talking about in this resolution is granting moral indulgence to American Christians who with clear conscience engage and kill the enemies of the United States. But maybe not. Maybe I’m wrong in making that assumption. Maybe the framers of Resolution #6 really thought this through, and feel it applies to all Christians serving in any country’s military. Maybe what it means is that any Christian serving any country in a military capacity is free to kill if his conscience allows.

Hmmmm…this could get interesting if we make it specific.

Let’s imagine that one of our saints in Pakistan (where we are said to have a healthy and sizable constituency) decides to serve his country of Pakistan by joining the military. We can suppose, in the interest of fairness, that this resolution would grant him justification to serve in the Pakistani military “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord” as a combatant. And if his conscience is clear, then no harm, no foul. So.  There is our wonderful Pakistani brother, Ahmed, popping heartily away at the enemies of Pakistan, with full approval of his church and conscience.

Well, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine further that the day may arise when our beloved United States is no longer on good terms with the government of Pakistan, for whatever reason.

Enter George, a young American boy, who like his Pakistani brother Ahmed was baptized in Jesus’ name and filled with the Holy Ghost. And like Ahmed, he too has decided to serve his country by joining the military. And like Ahmed, he’s been granted justification by his church to serve “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord” as a combatant. So, in our imaginary scenario, when things sour between the United States and Pakistan, George may be dispatched to pop away heartily at the enemies of the United States, who strangely enough, just happen to be popping away heartily at the enemies of Pakistan. There they are then, Ahmed and George, two imaginary Christian brothers in an imaginary conflict, serving “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord” as combatants, popping away at each other…each trying their best “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord” to kill the other.

But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Maybe. Maybe not

I doubt those who authored Resolution #6, or those who passed it, thought any further than the borders of their own country. They didn’t think for a moment that the same logic they used to justify this folly could just as well be used by any Christian anywhere in the world. They didn’t think for a moment that there might be Christians serving in the militaries of countries not friendly to the United States. They didn’t think for a moment that any one of those Christians may be just as willing to kill for their country as the authors for theirs. They didn’t think for a moment about the possibility of Christians killing one another, all in the name of serving their country “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord.”

This resolution is authored by Americans for Americans. It seeks to grant moral liberty to American Christians to serve in combat, and “terminate with extreme prejudice” the enemies of the United States. There’s absolutely no intention here that the same reason could and should apply anywhere else. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, isn’t it?

I know I’ve used an unlikely scenario. Sometimes though, the ludicrous must be met with the ridiculous. Sometimes absurdity must be dealt with by farce. The idea that Christians may serve “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord” as combatants, that they may “with courageous loyalty…heartily as to the Lord” kill other human beings simply because their government condones and their consciences approve, is both ludicrous and absurd.

(Many thanks to EH…the LitNazi…for editing this post…and for reining in my liberal use of…ellipses.)

I’m Apostolic. And by that I mean ‘apostolic’ in the pre-charismatic sense, before the term was hijacked by weirdos professing to be ‘prophets’ and such like. It’s a good, old, solid adjective descriptive of a belief system grounded in the teachings of Christ and His Apostles. I like it. In fact, I love it. I love it not only because it describes what I believe doctrinally, but because it’s anchored to the birth of our movement. While I’m a minister with the United Pentecostal Church International, the term ‘apostolic’ predates that affiliation; there were apostolics long before the UPCI existed. I love the history of the word, love that it was being used by holiness people before the Topeka outpouring, and I love what it has stood for…what it has represented.

There is a rich heritage of faith and ideas in the old Apostolic movement. While never recognized as a haven for intellectuals and progressives, there was nonetheless in the old Apostolic movement a development of thought…apparently Spirit led…that was in many ways ahead of its time. Racial integration, women in ministry, compassionate ministry to the poor; it wasn’t all about healing, signs, wonders, and miracles, you know. What an amazing work the Holy Spirit began among us! Amazing that just as the world plunged headlong into a devastating, bloody ‘War to End All Wars’, there arose a peoples movement of faith that would eventually sweep the world.

Movements are products of their times. Or perhaps they are necessary for their times. Maybe both. In any case, there was yet another somewhat progressive distinctive of the old Apostolic movement…something that set it apart as much as tongues, racial integration, women in ministry, and inner city missions did. And that something was that the Apostolic movement was firmly on the side of life. Born and bred in a time of cataclysmic war, there was a strong tradition of peace among early Apostolics. It’s a fine tradition…one that I value and honour as much as any other fine old tradition of the fine old Apostolic movement.

That fine, old Apostolic prejudice for life is reflected in the United Pentecostal Church International’s current Articles of Faith. That should be no surprise. After all, many of our founders were themselves first generation children of that fine, old Apostolic movement…so it’s no wonder that the UPCI’s Articles of Faith would reflect that foundation. A bias for life was natural to people born of the Spirit of Life, and it was so naturally supported in the New Testament…how could it be otherwise? When our elders wrote the current Article concerning conscientious scruples, they saw to it that it was so chock-a-block full of Scripture as to be indisputable. And it was clear, easy to understand, and consistent…that “Christians shall not shed blood nor take human life.” I love that Apostolic distinctive. It’s as original, foundational, and Scripturally supported as Spirit baptism evidenced by speaking in other tongues and water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ.

My colleagues are no doubt aware that lately the leaders of our fellowship have been issuing strident warnings about leaving the ‘old paths’, about compromising holiness, about watering down worship, challenging us to continue to be distinctively Apostolic. But it seems that for all of these warnings, the paths they are a changin’. (Apologies to Bob Dylan) At our 2011 General Conference…still underway as of this writing…a resolution has been accepted that has the real potential of significantly altering our fine, old Apostolic tradition of having a bias for life. Armed (pardon the pun) with a handful of miscellaneous Old Testament verses that are used to demonstrate that the “taking of human life is complicated with a wide variety of complexities” (ummmm…come again?) someone has presented our body with a tepid and certainly not Apostolic modification of our Articles of Faith. And the assembled body of ministers went for it. Now our clear, consistent, heavily New Testament, fine, old, Apostolic view that Christians shall not shed blood nor take human life, is in danger of being overturned.

And for what reasons? For a handful of ‘wheras’-es that could all be reduced to two sentences; ‘We don’t want our members who serve in combatant roles to feel bad. And when they ask us as their spiritual leaders what they should do, we don’t want to have to deal with it.’ And with no better support than that, ignoring the weight of the New Testament, ignoring our history, ignoring the vaunted ‘old paths’, the assembled ministers passed Resolution #6.

I wouldn’t be as disturbed if our brethren had commissioned a serious study of Christian ethics regarding war and the taking of human life in combat. I wouldn’t be as disturbed if such a study had returned a well balanced, clearly reasoned view that opposes mine. At least such an effort would have demonstrated a serious desire to understand the said “complicated…variety of complexities.” But no. We’ve passed a paragraph…a paragraph…a lackadaisical, weakly reasoned, paragraph…that eliminates our general body’s long-time stand on conscientious scruples, and leaves such a weighty decision to the discretion of the individual. ‘If your conscience will allow you to kill, then kill. If it won’t, then don’t. It’s all up to you.’

So much for the “old paths”.

I’ve an idea! Why don’t we place a proviso on all of the Articles of Faith that the individual’s conscience is the ultimate arbiter of their behaviour? Smoking? Drinking? Television? Worldly entertainments? Secret societies? Holiness? Godhead? Water baptism? Hey, let’s leave it all to the discretion of the individual’s conscience! After all, if taking human life can be left to the discretion of one’s conscience, doesn’t everything else become discretionary by default?  Can owning a television or smoking somehow be more significant than taking a human life?  Is attending a football game morally reprehensible, while taking a human life is not?

Resolution #6 will now be returned to the District Conferences of the United Pentecostal Church International, where it must receive the support of 2/3rds of said districts in order for the Articles to be altered. If Resolution #6 passes this test, then it will demonstrate just how far off the rails we are. It will say something about us…about our values…about our priorities…if we would split our fellowship over such an issue as advertising on television, but calmly vote away such a fundamentally Apostolic principle as “Christians shall not shed blood nor take human life”.

At least, that’s what I think.

More to come…