Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Brethren and the Modern State

The opening session of the 1958 Annual Conference celebrating the church's 250th Anniversary was on June 17 with Dan West speaking on "The Brethren and the Modern State.

The Annual Conference of 1908, celebrating the bicentennial of the Church of the Brethren, began with thinking about the problem of government. The first address then had to do with church polity or government within the church. ... But this time the thought is to be government outside the church - the relation of the Brethren to the modern state.

Brethren always live under tension. The more we try to live our doctrines in the modern world, the more the tensions increase and the heavier they become. ...one of the heaviest for the Church of the Brethren comes in relation to the American nation-state. We Brethren always love our country, respect many of its customs, and obey its laws. But we have some doubts about the actual state. (For present thinking, the word
state refers chiefly to government officials - persons who are authorized to act for the state.)

  1. We Brethren believe in government as a matter of principle. We have Scripture for it: "The powers that be are ordained of God" And Brethren have always accepted the governments they find - sometimes too well. We have never been political revolutionaries.
  2. The State is a wonderful servant, but a very hard master. And the tendency is alaways too much control and too little real responsibility. ...every decade will bring Brethren and all other Christian groups under more controls and into heavier tension with the state.
  3. With the prospect of present tensions increasing and newer and greater ones developing in the future, it may be helpful to look at all possible ways of meeting them. There are two main types - running away or staying by. ... Brethren must help make America a state with which God can be pleased. ... This means living in the modern state, but keeping spiritually clean. ... whenever it comes to the choice between transforming the state and keeping the conscience unspotted from the world, "we must obey God rather than man." This is the major responsibility of Brethren in the modern state.
  4. State and church should recognize that both are needed in a good society. ... It is the church's job to hold the state's head up - on honesty, on religious liberty, and on world planning for human welfare. ... We Brethren have a long way to go ourselves, but we have the task of doing more than our share to keep tension on the state toward Christian brotherhood as the highest form of order. ... It is the duty of the Brethren and all churches to keep at this unfinished task until "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ."
Source: The Adventurous Future, chapter 18