John Walker on “Bearing Arms”

Hello All:

John Walker, Fellow of Trinity College and founder of the “Walkerites,” a Glasite sect in Dublin, Ireland, was asked by a “Mr. P. C——-.” about his position regarding the carrying of weapons by Christians.  Unlike many of current conversations regarding Christians, weapons, and the use of violence, Walker’s statement is nuanced. His political theology is clear: Christians are not allowed to swear oaths, nor are they allowed to carry arms or serve as soldiers or executioners.   True to his primitivist, restorationist heritage, he stays close to the text of the New Testament. However, at the end of his exposition of scripture, he can’t seem to resist inserting a small statement of his personal leanings, independent of his religious beliefs, about the carrying of weapons or the use of violence.

I must despatch (sic) very briefly two remaining topics which you propose. You ask whether I am “decidedly against a disciple’s bearing arms in every case.”  If I mistake not, I wrote my mind upon that subject lately to my brother, J. L————, whom, I hope, you will soon known, if you do not already. The substance of what I can reply to the question, is this.  I cannot conceive a disciple walking in the truth, and taking upon him the profession of arms.  Indeed, in this country, that is put blessedly beyond controversy, as no man can become a solider without being attested, or sworn before a magistrate, i.e. without directly violating the express command of Christ.  But a man who is in the army—(or who is a public hangman)—may be called to the knowledge of the truth : and in that case I find myself without warrant in the word for dealing with him as an offender against the law of Christ, even though he continue in the profession of arms ;—while I should, without hesitation, urge him, on the grounds of Christian expediency, to quite it if he can. I find a military officer at Caesarea received as a disciple by an apostle, and no intimation given of any injection to him to lay aside the use of arms.  As to the abstract question, whether I would, in any case, think myself justified in resorting to the private use of arms—(even so far as the taking away of life)—in self-defense,—I am not fond of debating it.  I think disciples may peacefully look to their heavenly father, never to place them in any such circumstances as alone could justify it.  But if pressed for an opinion on the abstract question, I must frankly say that I can contemplate cases in which I think that I would, without an scruple, shoot a ruffian, and consider myself in doing so, only as the executioner of the laws: just on the same ground as — if I were in the office of Sheriff—I might be legally bound to hang a criminal with my own hands. But really I should rather decline arguing the point, if any though differently from me : and I do not conceive that a difference of theory on such a question could bar our Christian fellowship for a moment, till it came into practice.

William Burton, ed., Essays and Correspondence Chiefly On Scriptural Subjects by the Late John Walker, Some Time a Fellow of Trinity College, Dublin, and a Clergyman in the Establishment (Dublin: E. Madden, & R.M. Tims, 1838), 385-86.  You can find this pericope and its larger context, along with the full works of John Walker, at the Glasite Digital Archive.


Day 15: Bournville, Springdale College, and the Fellowship of the Churches of Christ in the United Kingdom and Ireland

Springdale-opaqueHello all:

I am again behind in posting to the blog.  As soon as I got home from the UK, I hoped on a plane for a last minute, unexpected trip to Portland, Oregon.  Once I got home, I then had the Christian Scholar’s Conference to attend.  Things have been quite busy.

After my time in London, I went to Bournville, near Birmingham, at the invitation of Andy Vail, the Administrator of the Fellowship of the Churches of Christ in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Andy takes care of the daily needs and operations of the (inter)national manifestation of the Stone-Campbell Movement there.  The movement looks quite different in the UK and Ireland than it does in the United States.  While the U.S. witnessed three main splits in the movement, and dozes of smaller schisms within the three major streams of the movement, the movement in the United Kingdom and Ireland has only split once.  That split is between the Old Paths Churches of Christ, and the Fellowship of Churches of Christ.   The Old Paths congregations are conservative in nature.  They maintain acapella worship, practice mutual edification (and reject located ministers), and are fully autonomous. There are approximately 74 congregations located throughout Britian, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The Fellowship of the Churches of Christ, on the other hand, does employ instrumental music in its services.  These congregations often employ mutual edification, but not all congregations that affiliate with the fellowship at ME congregations.  While each congregation in the fellowship is autonomous, they do all pledge to cooperate together through a national office.

Through this national office, the church supports Springdale College.  Springdale is the only remaining school of higher education associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement remaining in the United Kingdom.  It shares offices with the Fellowship, on the second floor of the congregation that meets in Bournville, the Pavilion Christian Community.    Interestingly, the church operates the only establishment in Bournville licensed to sell alcohol.  Bournville, home to Cadburry’s national offices, was founded by Quakers as a dry town.

Andy and I met for several hours and discussed the condition of the Stone-Campbell Movement in the United Kingdom, as well as the history of the Movement in the UK and Ireland, the split with the Old Paths Churches, and the formation of the United Reformed Church out of UK Churches of Christ, British Presbyterians, and UK-wide Congregational Churches.  Andy introduced me to a number of books on the history of the Stone-Campbell Movement in the United Kingdom that I was unaware of, as well as acquainted me with archival resources on the larger movement located in the UK.

Finally, Andy walked me through his dissertation, which he will defend soon at the University of Birmingham. Andy’s research is on pacifism during World War I among evangelical churches, including the churches of the Stone-Campbell Movement, in the area of Birmingham.  Since much of my own research is on Stone-Campbell Pacifism during World War I in the United States, I was happy to learn much about pacifism in our movement in the UK.  I was happy to learn that while pacifism is generally weak in our movement in the United States, it is alive and well in our churches in the UK.