Humanistic Tendencies in the Peace Churches

September/October, 1979
Volume 14, Number 5

About a year ago I compared a list of activities planned by a social arm of the Federal Government, and the agenda of an organized body of the Church of the Brethren. To my dismay the two lists followed an almost similar pattern! This serves to uplift one of the primary concerns of the Brethren Revival Fellowship for the Church of the Brethren. There has been a marked switch from an emphasis on evangelistic fervor to a program of social-political action that will supposedly issue in a proper World Order.

In the past fifteen years several prominent social issues have had the focus. In the early sixties it was the issue of racism. The latter sixties were taken up by the Vietnam War. The seventies are being marked by a combination of disarmament, world peace, and justice issues. In the same period, the Church of the Brethren membership rolls have been reduced by one-tenth, or 20,000 members. I know that some of this is excused because congregations did some housecleaning of membership rolls. But today when we compare average attendance in worship with the total membership of many congregations, it looks like we could re-houseclean those rolls again–and we would strike off another large number of members! The fact is–we can never build strong churches on social-action and humanitarian issues. We build strong churches through evangelism and nurture. If we continue to loud-mouth ‘ humanitarian issues to the neglect of spiritual issues (and as a result strike off a thousand members per year), we are headed on a death course.

The life of Jesus Christ is the all-time best pattern for the church to use when designing its program. The golden text of the Bible clearly tells us why Jesus came. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3: 16). While God saw the complexities of the needs of the whole world, Christ’s primary purpose was to provide a way for people to enter into everlasting life! It is true that Jesus also fed the hungry multitudes with natural bread, and restored some blind physical eyes, and rebuked some hypocritical religious leaders for their clever treatment of widows and lack of concern for the poor — but frequently these events became object lessons on a physical level to convey great spiritual truths. In fact, Jesus rebuked the multitudes when He saw they were only coming to Him for food.

We observe two common errors that are widespread in many church circles. One is that some are so zealous in getting souls saved that there seems to be little concern for the needs of the bodies that house those souls. On the other hand, some labor for social change and fail to give the message that changes the heart and meets the spiritual needs of the human family. The proper balance seems to be that the Church should primarily be involved in spiritual ministries with a fervent readiness to be a Good Samaritan too. After all, if the Church is only involved in giving people soup, sandwiches, and social status who is going to tell them how to become saved — or isn’t that important anymore?


Humanistic Tendencies in the Peace Churches

by Harold S. Martin

During the past few decades some alarming new directions have been observed within the peace churches, The Brethren and Mennonites have become increasingly concerned, not about abstaining from participation in war, but about joining with various movements and societies in their efforts to prevent war through social action. A bulletin mailed to Church of the Brethren pastors, says: “Building a world community is the essential challenge before our leaders and citizens. We believe the United States should lead in creating the global political process which can reduce world problems and resolve international conflicts. Without adequate political processes, the world is left with the insecurity of expanding military systems, and without the means to alleviate hunger, secure human rights, preserve the environment, and prevent war. These global problems threaten the. ..continuance of human life, and will be solved politically and internationally, or not at all” (The Peace Platform Committee, Chicago, Illinois).

There definitely has been a changing concept of peace in the peace churches. The former emphasis on nonresistance (the faith and life of those who refuse to participate in war because of loyalty to the teachings of Jesus and obedience to the commandments of Scripture) — has been replaced by a pacifism which attempts to bring peace and harmony among nations by working through political influence. The new pacifist calls for an end to unjust political systems, the world arms race, the nuclear threat, and militarism. A basic concept that lies behind the change can be explained with one word — the word “humanism.”

Humanism is the philosophy which says that man has the potential within himself for solving his own problems, if he is given enough time and enough education. Humanism is a non-theistic, rationalist movement which holds that man is capable of solving his problems through his own accomplishments, and without recourse to supernaturalism, The “Humanist Manifesto” drawn up in 1933 says that the goal of humanism is a free and universal society in which people voluntarily and intelligently cooperate for the common good. For the humanist, the function of guiding history (which had previously been accepted as belonging to deity), is now unequivocally the responsibility of humanity.

The writers of the New Testament warn about the infiltration of humanism. Colossians 2:8 says, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” “Philosophy” is man’s explanation of the origin and purpose and destiny of the universe. It is the effort of the human mind to solve the mysteries of life. It is really a frustrating study, because apart from God’s revelation in the Bible, man has no real answers.

The Christian by way of contrast is a supernaturalist. He believes there is more to the universe than what can be seen and handled and analyzed. To the Christian, God is real and heaven is real and angels are real and the Bible is true. The loyal disciple of Christ believes there is much in life that he will never understand, and that in the Bible, God has revealed all that needs to be known about life here and life hereafter, One of the results of humanism’s penetration into the church is that the church has turned from preaching the Gospel of reconciliation of man to God through the atonement of Jesus Christ, to a man-centered program of secular involvement. In the peace churches, even “the peace stand” has become generally humanistic rather than Biblical in its basic outlook. Present day pacifism aims at reform through human effort rather than regeneration through the grace and power of God. Many of our church leaders prefer to place their hopes in their own “peace machinery” (the United Nations, a World Court, sophisticated diplomacy). The method of changing hearts (that then become “a salt to the earth”) is considered antiquated. The UN becomes a kind of substitute for God and becomes the primary hope for peace.

In a recent article entitled “Moving Toward A Disarmed World,” one writer tells about the special session on disarmament scheduled for the United Nations, and says, “The positive image of a secure, disarmed world can become the most important mobilizing agent in creating a movement for a more just and peaceful world system” (Elgin, Illinois, Messenger, April, 1978). In the same issue of Messenger, another writer assures readers that the activities of the World Council of Churches, the Historic Peace Churches “New Call to Peacemaking,” and The War Resisters International — are giving priority to disarmament, and these groups see the Special Session on Disarmament held at the United Nations Headquarters in May, 1978, as “a helpful steppingstone on the road to disarmament.”

The following paragraphs are descriptions of major themes that emerged from interviews with individuals from Brethren, Mennonite, and Quaker affiliated peace churches (as reported in “Conflict Viewed From The Peace Position,” Elgin, Illinois, Brethren Life and Thought, Spring, 1978). The following colleges participated in the study: Bridgewater, Elizabethtown, Manchester, McPherson, Bethany Seminary, Eastern Mennonite, Goshen, Tabor, Associated Mennonite Seminaries, Earlham College.

“The pacifist must work to change violence, such as institutional racism, imperialism, economic oppression, and psychological violence. The pacifist needs to support nonviolent liberation movements that promote human rights. The use of some forms of coercion, short of killing, is accepted.”

“One needs to go beyond simply not returning evil (nonresistance), and confront those who live a middle class life in the United States and allow systemic violence to prosper.” “The pacifist needs to work through world organizations in an attempt to reduce armaments and to increase international control,”

“Humanists, theologians, and atheists are articulating a similar theme — the present course of humankind is insane and must be quickly altered. Nonviolent peacemaking appears to be the most viable hope for an endangered species.”

“Granted, conflict will never be eliminated, but hopefully war will become obsolete. Possibly, as nations become more dependent on each other for resources, goods, and services — a recognition of the world’s interdependence will make war seem even more destructive and insane. Thus, the nonviolent peacemaker affirms the hope and faith of Tielhard de Chardin in the eventual growth of a global consciousness and a caring world community.”

These statements illustrate where the advocates of peace in “the peace churches” stand on some major ideas related to war and peace.

The following quotes from the Church of the Brethren Messenger, give some indication of the kinds of concepts that have been promoted during the past decade in one of the “Peace Churches.”

“Man has learned, step by painful step, to realize the dream of the Old Testament prophets. We are slowly achieving disarmament under law. The progress is not always forward. Sometimes we take one step forward and two steps backward but across the centuries, there has been a discernible movement toward the dream of the prophet Isaiah” (about “beating swords into plowshares”) 2/18/65.

“There must be a united effort to stop all wars and create a new world climate free from the threat of violence. I expect the Church of the Brethren to participate in this future advance toward a peaceful world, where war is unknown and children can be born and reared with opportunities for rich and fruitful lives” 11/21/68.

“In a recent conference, a United Nations population official was asked what could be done to help him succeed in his goal. He responded,’You must help keep the dream alive that a new humanity may arise, (a humanity) that is not motivated by power or profit.’ I remember supporting that dream in a college bull session seventeen years ago, defending the argument that human nature can and does change for the better. The dream is still alive for me” 8/74,

Probably some of the most frustrated church leaders today are those who try to promote the kingdom of God by preaching peace to the nations. These efforts may do some good, but it is basically a misplaced eschatological hope. Jesus predicts in creasing confusion and perplexity as we approach the end times (Luke 21:25-26), and speaks of “wars and rumors of wars” as we come to the end of the age (Matthew 24:3-7). Thus, the good intentions of many peace advocates are futile. They are based on man’s concept of the way things ought to be.

Most articles on world peace and disarmament use lots of non-biblical words, often speaking about “feeling safe” and “avoiding nuclear war.” But would our world be any “safer” if suddenly all arms and wars the world over would stop? Suppose people could be educated to the point where a disarmed world became possible — would human nature be changed so that crime and drinking would cease? (After all, drinking alcoholic beverages kills as many people as war does).

Would drivers of automobiles slow down? (More Americans have been killed in highway accidents since the turn of the Century, than have been killed in all the wars the U. S. has ever fought).

Our views of the future must be based squarely on the Word of God, rather than on an idealistic global humanist approach. One of the fascinating lessons of the Book of Revelation is that even after a “thousand years of peace,” the end result is another war (Revelation 20:7-8) — the Battle of Gog and Magog. It seems that man refuses to admit that the cause of all his problems is still the unregenerated human heart.

Many espouse the pacifist cause because they believe in “the doctrine of human progress.” They believe the universe is constituted in such a way that mankind will eventually move toward perfection, and the elimination of war through men’s efforts is one more step in the evolutionary surge forward. Others espouse the new pacifist cause because they believe in the innate goodness of man. One group said “We believe there is a divine power in man that can save the world from war and from destruction.” Still others espouse the cause because they have a strong desire for human survival. They have a fear of death and destruction in this gruesome atomic age. Each of these motives is an evidence that humanism has made its inroads into the “Historic Peace Churches.” Humanism takes the divine Christ from the center, and puts man in His place. Man has come of age and is capable of building a kind of heaven on earth. Thus–the urging of world disarmament, the promotion of welfare programs, the call for ecological controls, the empowerment of ethnic groups, the liberation of minorities, the acceptance of deviant sexual life
styles — have become the order of the day.

There are at least three basic errors in the humanist philosophy.

(1) Humanism affirms the self-sufficiency of man. The Gospel says that man can find sufficiency only in God (John 15:15; Philippians 4:13).

(2) Humanism says man is essentially good. The Gospel says man is a sinner before God and in need of salvation (Mark 7:21; Romans 3:23).

(3) Humanism generally implies that this life is the only one. The Gospel asserts that there is life beyond the grave, and that there will be a final judgment (Matthew 25:46; John 5:28-29).

In humanism, man becomes his own saviour, and all the old talk about sin, repentance, and judgment is out of date. The world has grown beyond that kind of religion, and no church is relevant if it keeps harping about personal salvation. Man needs to save the human family by getting involved with a total commitment to massive humanitarian projects.

The early Anabaptists believed in “the doctrine of two kingdoms” (John 18:36). The Anabaptists held that there are two classes of people in society — the Christian and the nonchristian. The state embraces all the population; the church is made up exclusively of believers in Jesus Christ. The primary function of those who belong to the kingdom of Christ, is to preach the Gospel of salvation, and to evangelize the lost. The primary function of the kingdoms of the world, is to maintain law and order in a society that ignores God. The kingdom of Christ lives according to the ethic of love; the kingdoms of the world use the threat of force. The Anabaptists looked upon the state as necessary for the punishment of evildoers (and for maintaining law and order), but the church was a separate kingdom, apart from the state. Early Mennonites and Brethren would not participate in armed resistance because Christians were members of Christ’s kingdom, which was not of this world. They had no dream of preventing war through social action. Harold S. Bender says that they “saw the whole of history (from the fall of the first Adam, down to the Second- Coming of Christ), as a great battle between God and His enemies. There was no humanistic vision of getting rid of war in history.” The true follower of Christ today does not expect that economic justice and political cooperation are going to be ushered in by the efforts of unrighteous men. Our hope for changing the world lies ultimately in the coming of Jesus Christ, who will “judge among the nations,” and usher in a kingdom of peace.

It is our prayer that the Historic Peace Churches will re-discover the heritage which made them great. Whether or not this will happen is not at all clear.