In 1909 David Lipscomb received a note from Nankin, Ohio, describing how Allen county voted “wet” by 36 votes when 800 “dry” Mennonites refused to vote. The angry author laid the “responsibility of the result” at the feet of the Mennonites. The writer noted that since the “supreme power in our government is lodged with the people,” everyone must participate or else responsibility for negative results lies with them (the non-voters).
Lipscomb responded in a classic article entitled “Mennonites” (Gospel Advocate. February 18, 1909, pp. 204-205). He defends Mennonite practice and says the idea of non-participation “did not originate with” Menno Simons. When “Jesus refused [Satan’s] offer” of the kingdoms of his world, he set an example for his disciples.
Others followed that example. Lipscomb cites Justin Martyr, Tertullian and Origen. He depends on Edward Gibbon, Johan Lorenz Mosheim and George Herbert Orchard for his history. “Nothing in history is surer,” he writes, “than that the churches for the first three centuries held firmly to the doctrine that Christians should not take part in civil institutions. After the conversion of Constantine they were encouraged to engage in political affairs, and many fell from their steadfastness in the faith.” But not all, including the “Waldenses, the Wickliffites, and the Husstites” (quoting Mosheim). And the Mennonites.
Lipscomb then offers his own theological comment on the practice of the Mennonites. He concludes his brief article with the following three paragraphs. They are a succinct statement of his convictions.
These are only a few extracts showing the ancient and divine origin of the doctrine held on tis subject by the Mennonites. I believe this the teaching of the Bible, and the true end of the reign of God on earth will never be realized until the children of God work in God’s church. The kingdoms of this world are nowhere recognized as the kingdoms of God, but as the kingdoms of the evil one. They are to be borne and treated with as necessitated by the sinfulness of man, to be overruled by God for the punishment of evil doers, and essential to the well-being and government of the world until the rule of Christ is established. We are to pay our taxes and submit in all things that do not lead away from God into fellowship with these. We should always gratefully accept all favors and laws promoting morality and virtue. But we cannot take part in the human governments.
I think no greater evil can befall the churches of Jesus Christ than for them to enter the field of politics, drink into the spirit of the civil powers, and look to them for help in enforcing morality and in carrying out the law and the righteousness of the Bible. The more widely the church and the State can be kept apart in their operations, the better for both. The reason of this is, they are diverse in nature and character, and must be run on different and antagonistic principles. For a man, as a Christian, to enforce a principle of morality or righteousness on his fellow-man by civil law is persecution. The church of God is the embodiment of spiritual influences that conquer through love and self-sacrifice; the civil government is the embodiment of material influence and forces that conquer by physical power. The two cannot be moved by the same spirit or work harmoniously in the same hands. The civil ruler that would be moved by the spirit of Christ, that would die to save a victim from death, would not be a successful civil ruler. While the church and the civil government cannot work harmoniously in the same hands and in the same channel, and while some men are wicked and corrupt and all are weak and short-sighted, under the laws of God they may both be in the world, and yet his people be not of the world, and they may be helpful to each other. The church doing its duty must keep a moral sentiment alive that will help the world and afford a standard of right on which the civil government will rest, and the government can afford protection and help to the Christian. For this latter protection the Christian should pay his taxes and submit to all laws of the government not conflicting with the laws of God.
I am always sorry to see Christians engage in politics.I am sorry to see them become interested in working to put others in office. I ams sorry to see them seek office; sorry to see them given office, for it demoralizes them and leads others wrong. I am glad to see Christians stand for God and his truth even when the opposite course seems to bring good. Much good of an earthly character, moral and temporal, is offered to lead away from God. Men must learn to stand like these Mennonites for the truth against temporal good.
“Thus, endeth the lesson. “