Five years after World War II Mennonite Central Committee Peace Section called for a study conference on nonresistance, held at Winona Lake, Indiana , November 9-12, 1950. J. Harold Sherk, a Canadian, served as Executive Secretary of the Peace section at the time.
Delegates from fourteen participating Amish and Mennonite conferences attended from both the United States and Canada. Bishop E. J. Swalm, a Brethren in Christ leader from Canada, chaired the meeting. Other Canadian leaders who participated included John G. Rempel, Jesse B. Martin, David P. Reimer, C. J. Rempel, John A. Harder and David Schulz. John G. Rempel served on the committee that developed the declaration.
The declaration was remarkable for its attempt to create a unified Mennonite statement on peace when some groups were dropping the Mennonite name (Mennonite Brethren in Christ) and others had seen a significant percentage of their young men join the military during World War II. In 1970 John A. Lapp said the Winona Lake statement was "the only extensive inter-Mennonite theological document ever produced." While he said the statement was "not a notably profound document, this better than any prior ... statement shows the essential unity of Mennonite/Brethren in Christ faith and concern." The Winona Lake declaration served MCC Peace Section as an umbrella theological statement for many years. In 1993, Mennonite Central Committee approved a new peace statement, entitled "A Commitment to Christ's Way of Peace."
A Declaration of Christian Faith and Commitment
The Message of the Mennonite Study Conference on Nonresistance
Winona Lake, Indiana, November 9-12, 1950
At this mid-point of the 20th century, at a critical time in a generation marked by widespread and disastrous wars and shadowed by the threat of still more ruinous warfare, this conference of delegated representatives from the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches of the United States and Canada unites in a renewed declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, in His Gospel, and in His power to redeem and transform in life and in human society all those who receive Him as Saviour and Lord and are thus born anew by the Spirit of God. It also unites in a deeper commitment to follow Christ in full discipleship in the way of peace and love, the way of nonresistance and peacemaking. In this conference we have seen anew the high calling of the sons of God, having been confronted with the absolute claims which Christ makes upon us. We acknowledge these claims in full, and have sought to trace the meaning of His Lordship and the consequences of our commitment in earnest and informed conversation together and in urgent prayer to God for grace end light, seeking to know His will for us in this day.
In our common consideration we have come to certain united convictions expressed in the following declarations which we now humbly send as our message to all our churches both in America and throughout the world as well as to all others who own Christ as Lord. To our brethren we say, this is the day for us to take a clear and unwavering stand on the great essentials of the Gospel and Christian discipleship. It is a day in which to demonstrate and proclaim courageously end unflinchingly this redemptive Gospel and this life of love end service in its fullness and its glory. Let us do so in united purpose with one heart and voice, trusting in the power of our God and the companionship of our Lord who has promised to be with us always.
- It is our faith that one is our Master, even Christ, to whom alone supreme loyalty and obedience is due, who is our only Saviour and Lord.
- It is our faith that by the renewing grace of God which makes us new creatures in Christ, and alone thereby, we can through the power of the indwelling Spirit live the life of holy obedience and discipleship to which all the sons of God are called, for His grace does forgive and heal the penitent sinner and brings us to a new life of fellowship with Him and with one another.
- It is our faith that redeeming love is at the heart of the Gospel, coming from God and into us to constrain us to love Him and our neighbor, and that such love must henceforth be at the centre of every thought and act.
- It is our faith that Christ has established in His church a universal community and brotherhood within which the fullness of Christ's reign must be practiced, into which the redeemed must be brought, and from which must go out into all human society the saving and healing ministry of the Gospel.
- It is our faith that the life of love and peace is God's plan for the individual and the race, and that therefore discipleship means the abandonment of hatred, strife and violence in all human relations, both individual and social.
These declarations of faith give no blueprint for peace nor do they assume that human endeavor alone can bring about a warless world within history, for only when men come under the Lordship of Christ can they make peace and fulfill the prayer of our Lord, "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as in heaven." They do, however, require certain attitudes, duties and ministries of us, to which we do here by God's grace declare our adherence and our determination to undertake in His name.
- Our love and ministry must go out to all men regardless of race or condition, within or without the brotherhood, whether friend or foe, and must seek to bring the Gospel and all its benefits to every one. Race or class prejudice must never be found among us.
- We do recognize fully that God has set the state in its place of power and ministry. But, recognizing the relative and conditional validity of any particular form of government and of concrete legislative, executive, and judicial acts, we hold that we must judge all things in the light of God's Word and see that our responses to the relativities of the state and its workings are always conformed to the absolutes of Christian discipleship and love. We acknowledge our obligation to witness to the powers that be of the righteousness which God requires of all men, even in government, and beyond this to continue in earnest intercession to God on their behalf.
- We do have the responsibility to bring to the total social order of which we are a part, and from which we receive so much, the utmost of which we are capable in Christian love and service. Seeking for all men first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we must hold together in one united ministry the evangelism which brings men to Christ and the creative application of the Gospel to cultural, social and material needs; for we find that the true and ultimate goal of evangelism is the Christianization of the whole of life and the creation of the fully Christian community within the fellowship of faith. For this reason the social order, including our own segment of it, must be constantly brought under the judgment of Christ.
- We cannot be satisfied to retain for ourselves and our communities alone, in any kind of self-centered and isolated enjoyment, the great spiritual and material goods which God has bestowed upon us, but are bound in loving outreach to all to bear witness and to serve, summoning men everywhere to the life of full discipleship and to the pursuit of peace and love without limit. Separately and together we must use every feasible way and facility for this ministry: the spoken and written word; the demonstration of holiness and love in family, church, and community; relief work and social service; and all other ways. We must enlist many more of our people in such witness and service, both as a major purpose of their life and for specific projects and terms. Especially now must Christian love and redemptive action find expression in our ministry of service, when men are turning more and more to the use of force and war in futile attempts to solve the urgent problems of our world. In this service our youth can play a great part. They should give themselves to it in large numbers, both for shorter terms and in lifetime dedication.
- Parallel with this we must practice an increasingly sharper Christian control of our economic, social, and cultural practices among ourselves and toward others, to make certain that love truly operates to work no ill to our neighbor, either short-range or long-range. Knowing how much the selfishness, pride and greed of individuals , groups, and nations, which economic systems often encourage, help to cause carnal strife and warfare, we must see to it that we do not contribute thereto, whether for the goals of direct military operations or to anything which destroys property or causes hurt or loss of human life.
- While rejecting any social system or ideology such as atheistic communism, which opposes the Gospel and would destroy the true Christian faith end way of life, we cannot take any attitude or commit any act contrary to Christian love against those who hold or promote such views or practices, but must seek to overcome their evil end win them through the Gospel.
- We cannot compromise with war in any form. In case of renewed compulsion by the state in any form of conscription of service or labor, money or goods, including industrial plants, we must find ways to serve our countries and the needs of men elsewhere, in ways which will give significant and necessary benefits, which will keep our Christian testimony uncompromised, particularly with respect to war , and which will make possible a faithful representation of Christ and His love. We cannot therefore participate in military service in any form. We cannot have any part in financing war operations or preparations through war bonds. We cannot knowingly participate in the manufacture of munitions, weapons, and instruments of war or destruction. We cannot take part in scientific, educational, or cultural programs designed to contribute to war, or in any propaganda or activity that tends to promote ill-will or hatred among men or nations. We must rather foster good will, understanding, and mutual regard and help among all nations, races, and classes. And we cannot as churches lend ourselves to the direct administration of conscription or state compulsion, seeking rather to find voluntary patterns of service through which the demands of the state may be both satisfied and transcended, and going with our men in whatever civilian service they give.
- If war does come with its possible serious devastation from bombings or other forms of destruction, such as atomic blasts, germ warfare, poison gas, etc., we will willingly render every help which conscience permits, sacrificially and without thought of personal safety, so long as we thereby help to preserve and restore life end not to destroy it.
While we are deeply grateful to God for the precious heritage of faith including the principle of love and nonresistance,* which our Swiss, Dutch, and German Anabaptist-Mennonite forefathers purchased for us by their faith, obedience, and sacrifice, and which we believe is again expressed in the above declarations and commitments, we are convinced that this faith must be repossessed personally by each one out of his own reading and obeying of God's Word, and must ever be spelled out in life practice anew. Hence, we summon our brotherhood to a deeper mastery of the Scriptures as the infallible revelation of God's will for us, and to a finding afresh under Holy Spirit guidance of its total message regarding Christ's way and its application in our present world.
We humbly confess our inadequacies and failures both in understanding and in following this way, knowing well that we have come short both in demonstration and proclamation of Christian love. As we renew our commitment of discipleship and ambassadorship for Christ, we know how much we need God's grace and each other's help in the fellowship of His body in learning and obeying. Let us therefore stand together and go on together in His name and for His cause.
*A faith universally held by the Mennonites of all lands for the first three centuries of our history and continuously confessed by all groups in North America until this day.