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One of the earliest comments regarding the Christian attitude to war was given by Charles Taze Russell, the first President of the IBSA in the 1st January 1896 issue of Zions Watch Tower and Herald of Christs Presence: Should we favour war and bloodshed in a good cause, or a peace that would leave fellow creatures exposed to such atrocities? What would our Lord do or say on this question? We believe that he would repeat his former words, --"They that take to the sword shall perish by the sword." "Do good to them that hate you and persecute you." "If ye suffer for well doing, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth on you." "My kingdom is not of this world, else would my servants fight." These instructions, however, are not for the world individually or nationally, but for [those] who would walk in their Lord's footsteps.

Charles Taze Russell

Following the onset of World War 1, in April 1915 The Watch Tower and Herald of Christs Presence noted that in all the Continental armies of Europe, Bible Students are to be found not willingly, but by conscription. They were following earlier advice given prior to the war that if drafted they should request non-combatant positions in either the hospital service or supplies whereas, if they were ordered to the firing line, they would not be obliged to shoot to kill. The same article noted that we have exhorted the brethren to strict neutrality so far as the combatants are concerned, whatever might be their natural inclination through accident of birth or association.

As the storm clouds of World War 1 engulfed Europe further, additional clarification was provided. In September 1915, The Watch Tower and Herald of Christs Presence article Christian Duty and the War referred to the earlier advice candidly acknowledging: "We have been wondering since if the course we have suggested is the best one. We wonder if such a course would not mean compromise. We reflect that to become a member of the army and to put on the military uniform implies the duties and obligations of a soldier as recognised and accepted. A protest to an officer would be insignificant the public in general would not know of it. Would not the Christian be really out of place under such conditions?"

Russell then addressed the question of what would happen if a person refused the uniform and military service and was shot as a result. Russell commented: "If the presentation were properly made there might be some kind of exoneration: but if not, would it be any worse to be shot because of loyalty to the Prince of Peace and refusal to disobey his order than to be shot while under the banner of these earthly kings and apparently giving them support and, in appearance at least, compromising the teaching of our heavenly King. Certainly the one dying for his loyalty to the principles of the Lords teachings would accomplish far more by his death than would the one dying in the trenches. We cannot tell how great the influence would be for peace, for righteousness, for God, if a few hundred of the Lords faithful were to follow the course of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and refuse to bow down to the god of war."

The same issue of the magazine later commented: "Does God give scriptural direction to this class of His spirit begotten children in respect of war, or are they in this matter subject to the powers that be? We reply that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (2 Corinthians 10:4) There is no commission anywhere in the Bible for Gods consecrated people to war, to fight, to kill, to take from others either life or property. The present great war is merely a demonstration of the fact that if any considerable number of those participating in it ever were Christians, they have been merely babes in Christ and did not understand the teachings of the Lord."

Such was timely advice especially for Bible Students in Britain where the issue of Military conscription would soon be enacted calling into question the integrity of a few hundred Bible Students who would be asked to bow before the god of war.


The Bible Students reasons for not fighting were as follows:
  • They saw war as an obvious dereliction of Christs command for Christians to show love to fellow Christians and those considered by some to be ones enemies (Matthew 5:43-48, John 13:34,35)

  • They belonged to an International brotherhood who considered themselves citizens not of any particular nation but of one Government, Gods Kingdom (John 18:36, 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 3:13)

  • As individuals they had dedicated themselves to and owed their primary allegiance to their God, whose commands took priority over any commands given by human governments (Acts 5:29)