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Reviews | The Captive Conscience

The Captive Conscience

John Botten

Paperback or e-book (ePub)

144 pages

The Captive Conscience

The Christadelphian review (from July 2003)

An Issue of Loyalty

THE Christadelphian Community finds itself in circumstances it has not experienced for many years: it now comprises two generations who have seen neither widespread armed conflict, nor the strengthening effect of this on the brotherhood. So just as in the days following the death of Joshua, with the passing away of those who had seen all the great works of God for His people (Judges 2:10), there is a real danger of us forgetting the principles of conscientious objection to military service which have kept us firmly in line with Bible teaching, and consequently united as a body. The publication of Brother John Botten’s book The Captive Conscience has therefore been particularly timely, coinciding not only with a time of war for the Western world, but also with a new generation of younger believers who may not be aware of these principles – and the difference they should make to our lives – as earlier brethren and sisters certainly were.

A Matter of Conscience

The Captive Conscience was commissioned by the UK Military Service Committee (evidence of the important work this body continues to perform on our behalf). The result is an excellent book which ably achieves its objective of reminding all Christadelphians of where we ought to stand in matters of conscience. It is a slim volume, not claiming to be exhaustive, yet in its 121 pages it sets out in a clear and straightforward way the consistency with which the brotherhood’s understanding of scripture has always been applied. Best of all, it provides ample biblical evidence that separateness, refusing to join in conflict on behalf of the powers of the present age, truly reflects God’s will for His children while we await His kingdom.

Brother John begins by reminding us that the very name “Christadelphian” was coined (during the American Civil War) to allow us to register with the authorities as conscientious objectors. He then takes us chronologically through the centuries, from the time of Christ, demonstrating how the Lord’s teaching has been applied in the lives of his followers. Certain periods of history are inevitably covered only briefly, contemporary information being scarce – thanks largely to the religious systems under which earlier disciples laboured. Thus, approximately 40% of the book covers the war years of the 20th Century, and there is a similar emphasis on the experiences of the brotherhood in the English-speaking world. The balance is redressed to some extent by a later chapter recounting more recent hardships in other lands. This not only brings us right up to date, but reminds us that the provisions for conscientious objection which God has often allowed in Western countries are not always available elsewhere.

A Personal Stand

The book is far from a mere history lesson, however. Using an uncomplicated style and vocabulary, the narrative is frequently interspersed with relevant accounts of events concerning “real” brethren and sisters. This illustrates powerfully that conscientious objection is the outcome of the influence of God’s word on the mind of the individual believer. There can be no hiding behind the collective stance of a community when we are in prison on a starvation diet, or in front of a firing squad, as some have found themselves. It is only a robust personal faith and a genuine conscience before God which have allowed brethren and sisters to endure such suffering in the past. Hence, perhaps the greatest strength of this book is to demonstrate, in almost every chapter, the three key principles which have always characterised the Christadelphian position:

  • The biblical basis for our stance against involvement in military service;
  • The consistent application of these beliefs in all areas of life (not just at times of national crisis);
  • A willingness to undergo personal hardship as a result, in hope of a better and more lasting reward at Christ’s return.

A Unique Position

These things have always been noticed (sometimes admired) by the authorities, and they have even distinguished us from others claiming exemption on grounds of conscience. As Brother John shows, it is therefore no exaggeration to say that the Christadelphian position is unique – and that disaster for us has been averted only by refusing to compromise our stance. The combined exhortation and warning could hardly be more relevant.

The position of a conscientious objector has never been an easy option. Throughout the last 2,000 years it has brought suffering and even death for many brethren and sisters, and the pressure to conform to the world’s opinions has at times been intense. But as this book well shows, a firm individual grounding in what the Bible teaches and a conviction that Christ will return soon are what equip us to “bear [Christ’s] reproach”. “Here we have no continuing city” (Hebrews 13:13,14), and the book challenges us to demonstrate this belief in all aspects of life, including the jobs we do and how we spend our time.

A Life of Faithfulness

Methods of warfare and attitudes towards them change, but the word of God does not. In a time of rapid change, all of us – brothers and sisters alike – need to be personally prepared to face the consequences of belief in Christ, whatever they might be. The message of Bro. John’s book can perhaps best be summed up by a remark in chapter 8: “the issue was one of loyalties”. Will the brotherhood always maintain its faithfulness to the Master’s teaching? And how strong is our individual love for him, who laid down his life for us?

It is appropriate that such a thought-provoking book ends, as it begins, with an uplifting exhortational chapter on the biblical principles which dictate our conscience. Warmly recommended, this book would make an ideal gift for a newly-baptized brother or sister, or for a Sunday School or Youth Circle member – who may not be aware that youth groups themselves, like our name, owe their existence largely to our stance as conscientious objectors.

JEREMY THOMAS

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