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An Open Letter To My Pentecostal Brothers and Sisters Regarding the Issue of War

Written by Casey Ochs : February 12, 2008

peacebullets.jpgLet me preface this letter by stating that my faith has been formed by my experiences in the Charismatic Renewal movement and traditional Pentecostalism. I came to the Lord among Catholic Charismatics back in 1982, spent a number of years fellowshipping with non-denominational charismatic Christians and almost ten years in the Assemblies of God. I believe the gifts of the Spirit are for today, and yes that includes tongues. I relate this just to let you know where I’m coming from. The purpose of this letter is not create an autobiography, but to simply ask my Pentecostal brethren to re-examine the history and roots of their faith, especially as it relates to the issue of war.

20th Century Pentecostalism, the movement that started with the 1906 Azusa Street Revivals, was, in its nascent stage, anti-war. In 1917, at start of America’s involvement in World War I (“The War to End All Wars”) the General Council of the Assemblies of God sent a letter to President Woodrow Wilson outlining their position against armed conflict. The letter made reference to Jesus’ teaching on loving your enemies and ended with this summary statement:

Therefore we as a body of Christians, while purposing to fulfill all the obligations of loyal citizenship, are nevertheless constrained to declare we cannot conscientiously participate in war and armed resistance which involves the actual destruction of human life, since this is contrary to our view of the clear teachings of the Inspired Word of God, which is the sole basis of our faith.

What I find most interesting about the statement is that they based their anti-war stance uniquely upon what they considered were the “clear teachings” of Scripture. There was no equivocation in their statement. Moreover, they did not limit their dissent simply to our engagement in WWI, but declared the universality of their position. They could not “participate in war and armed resistance”, period.

The Assemblies of God were not the only early Pentecostals to oppose war during that period. C.H. Mason, (1866-1961) founder of the Church of God in Christ, the nation’s largest contemporary pentecostal denomination, was himself imprisoned because of his pacifist stance. Mason stated: “We believe the shedding of human blood or taking of human life to be contrary to the teaching of our Lord and Savior, and as a body are adverse to war in all its various forms.” This declaration even appears in some COGIC doctrinal statements today. Early Pentecostals who also opposed war included A.J. Tomlinson, Frank Bartleman, and Arthur Sidney Booth-Clibborn among others.

The Pentecostal movement which traces its roots back to the Azusa Street revival had, in its early years, strong anti-war and pacifist currents. Chronologically, the further away from Azusa Street American Pentecostalism finds itself, the more accepting it has become of state- sponsored war. I ask my Pentecostal brethren to re-examine this issue of war and rediscover what our predecessors had to say. Early Pentecostals understood that war was part of the world’s kingdoms, not part of the Kingdom of God.

Author Bio:: Casey Ochs is a husband and father. He is a member of Missio Dei.

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Comments

11 Responses to “An Open Letter To My Pentecostal Brothers and Sisters Regarding the Issue of War”

  1. Michael Cline on February 12th, 2008 1:56 pm

    It’s hard to find a denominational stream of the Christian religion that at its roots was ever “pro-war.” Oh, Augustine, what did you do!?

  2. Mark Van Steenwyk on February 12th, 2008 2:01 pm

    Ahh…American soil does strange things to theology!
    It saps the blood from our veins
    replacing it with oil and gunpowder
    it melts our plows
    into weapons of mass destruction.
    Revivalism exchanged for commercialism.
    Eucharist for McDonalds.

  3. Daniel Tidwell on February 12th, 2008 4:10 pm

    Thanks Casey,

    I also grew up in Pentecostalism. I appreciate much about the movement, and have also come to see the ways in which it has run far from what was good about its roots. As I have come to articulate a conviction of our role as non-violent peacemakers I have run up against many, including relatives and pastors, who refuse to engage scriptures on this matter. Sadly, I had one peer who was training for ministry at a pentecostal university who said essentially that he understood what the Gospel had to say about it, but he was not willing to live his life that way.

    I ache for my sisters and brothers in this tradition who have taken this stance in so many ways.

    Peace

  4. HEDY on February 13th, 2008 2:18 am

    I want to tell you about a new website. http://www.forgivenet.com is a one-stop web site where you can: Ask for forgiveness from anyone who was ever hurt by you in the past, Send Your Prayers to God- We’ll print out copies of these letters and place them among the holy stones of the “Western Wall” in the Holy Land and Post a Confession to tell what you had never told before. The concept: A social international network for a virtual request for forgiveness. The web site in English: http://www.forgivenet.com. The web site in Spanish: http://www.perdonet.com. All the letters could be posted anonymously and sent by email. The goal is to create a social change for a more peaceful life by creating a new and unique method of requesting for forgiveness. This solution appeals to the entire population regardless of gender, religion or race. There is a possibility of asking for forgiveness anonymously and send it through the site by mail. It is also possible to respond to other requests for forgiveness. The site also enables one to tell a friend that he or she has been hurt by him or her and that therefore expects a request for forgiveness. The site enables the renewal of old relationships between friends, family members and divorcees etc. The website is a virtual tool that serves as an active social communication network and provides an elegant and effective solution for relieving the stress and the burden that sometimes remain locked inside for a long time. The request for forgiveness can be accompanied by a nice gesture of compensation via the site, such as sending flowers, a gift and the like.

  5. Christian on February 13th, 2008 7:26 am

    Thank u for your blog. :) God Bless you

  6. JoshuaEllens on February 14th, 2008 3:00 am

    haha, nice short-poem there Markus. You definitely have a sharp tongue on you.

    Casey, i think this article is important enough that i’m going to send a link to my family and friends. This is a very concise, loving-chalenge that i think can apply to most traditions. Thank you Brother.

  7. jurisnaturalist on February 17th, 2008 3:03 pm

    I wonder how Zionism affected the charasmatic shift toward statism? For example, Derek Prince had a strong influence during the Shepherding Movement, and also was very supportive of the State of Israel and militarism. I love much of his teaching, and was embroiled in the Messianic movement for a long time, but my turn from statism allowed me to move away from Zionism and toward a different eschatology.
    Nathanael Snow

  8. Casey Ochs on February 17th, 2008 9:50 pm

    Nathanael, I think the Charismatic and Pentecostal Churches’ drift toward statism/militarism has been a result of its embrace of dominionism. (its theological bedmate). Your question is a sensitive one and probably needs to be dealt with in a separate article.

    thanks for your comment

  9. John on February 21st, 2008 11:59 pm

    Casey - very interesting to read your mini-bio here. I came up in a very similar experience: influenced by the charismatic Catholic renewal, joined the AG (now an ordained minister). I have a hunch that, based on our similar experiences, want to throw out at you - that the Spirit could very well be developing an alignment between pentecostalism and neo-monasticism, as if this deeply intimate encounter with the Holy Spirit characterized by pentecostalism can provide a missing link in an otherwise cerebral approach to faith? I’m committed to being an intelligent pentecostal, who retains his liberty to be reasoned as freely as he yields to the unexplainable.

  10. John on February 22nd, 2008 12:00 am

    and, for the record, I am also gravely concerned with the shift in my denomination’s relationship with government.

  11. Casey Ochs on February 25th, 2008 8:21 am

    John, I share the exact same sentiments. Pentecost is the key to manifesting God’s Kingdom in power, but faith in the power of God must be demonstrated by love. “New Monasticism” (although the idea of Christians living in commnunity is nothing new) is a way of demonstrating that love in a tangible way. We have to be the embodiment of Christ’s love and His gifts must flow thru us. This is the Church. The Gifts of the Spirit without love demonstrate our hypocrisy and attempting to do the work of the Spirit without the Spirit demonstrates lack of faith.

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