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The Christadelphian | March 2015

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial The God of Israel
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Take up thy cross” | Grahame A. Cooper
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 15 – Dreams | John Benson
  • Thanks & blessings | Ian Coates
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 13 – Conclusion | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • 100 years ago
  • I believe in creation because … | Robert Talbot
  • Reflections on the Great War 3 – The War and everyday ecclesial life | John Botten
  • Eastern Winter Study December 26-29, 2014 | Mary Benson
  • Faith Alive! Internet: rules of engagement | David Nightingale
  • Signs of the times Libya: a country in crisis | Roger Long
  • Israel and their Land Border clashes | Roger Long
  • Epilogue “A night of watching” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Reflections on the Great War

3 – The War and everyday ecclesial life

As 1914 ended, the impact of the First World War began to be felt to a surprising degree amongst both Central and Suffolk Street ecclesias, as the pages of The Christadelphian and Fraternal Visitor magazines show …

THE editorial of the Fraternal Visitor for January 1915 observed: “The year 1915 has opened gloomily”. A month later the same magazine commented that the War was everywhere: “It is with us in the morning, during the day and in the evening.”

When the War had begun the expectation was that it might be “over by Christmas”. With the notable exception of the Boer War, other wars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had tended to be fairly brief. The Austro-Prussian War in 1866 only lasted seven weeks, whilst the French were all but defeated in around three months when they tackled the Prussians in 1870. No one realised at the outset of the War that it would last over four years. In addition, most wars involving Britain had been fought a long way away from home and so had little impact on the civilian population.

Thus, by the early months of 1915, the possibility of a long war with implications reaching far beyond the battlefields was only just beginning to sink in; and ecclesias were as much affected as those around them.

Patriotism and prudence

The pages of The Christadelphian recorded with an enthusiasm which seems a little uncomfortable in retrospect the successes of the Allies in the War. The “Signs of the Times” for January 1915 reported substantial German losses, including a supposed German defeat in a naval battle off Chile with the loss of four warships (the Battle of Coronel was actually a defeat for the British, losing their flagship and Admiral Craddock in the process), a British air raid on a German Zeppelin airship base and a visit of King George V to the Front at the beginning of December. At the same time a letter had been received by the Editor advising brethren to be cautious in what they said and wrote with regard to recruiting:

“‘The London Gazette’ recently contains the following regulations … ‘No person shall by word of mouth, or in writing … spread … reports … likely to cause disaffection to his Majesty, or to interfere with the success of his Majesty’s forces by land or sea, or to … make statements likely to prejudice the recruiting … of any of his Majesty’s forces’ … Our own speakers and writers may well take warning … we have heard many very indiscreet speeches by some whose godly zeal needs tempering with discretion, and we have before us a certain ‘printed publication’ which speaks of ‘the rapacious jaws of this modern Moloch’; ‘soldiering in the devil’s ranks’; and so on.” (The Christadelphian, January 1915, page 28)

The impact on brethren and sisters

Soon after the start of the War anyone with a German name was regarded as a possible German spy and a number of brethren were interned. In Manchester a Brother Heinke was arrested, as were Brother Oscar Britzius and Brother Sticht elsewhere. The Britzius family followed the example of the Royal Family and changed their family name to a British surname, Brandon, whilst the Sticht family left the UK for the USA.

Some others also felt the effects directly. Whitby and other Yorkshire seaside towns had already been shelled leading to one brother’s house being destroyed and his family moving to York for safety, whilst some of the first air raids by Zeppelins on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn caused Spalding Ecclesia to report that they and one other church had been the only places to hold services just after the raid – which however led to about forty more visitors (then commonly referred to as “strangers”) than normal at their meeting. A little later the fear of Zeppelin raids led to the beginning of black-out regulations in London, and Balham Ecclesia reported in March 1915 that this had caused problems with lighting the entrance to their hall for the evening meetings.

An unexpected and unwelcome result of the very rapid expansion of the British Army was the billeting of troops awaiting training and shipment to the Front in public halls and private homes. The Northampton Ecclesia reported that soldiers had been quartered in the houses of brethren and sisters, whilst in Blackpool, “the town is full of troops”. A number of ecclesias which met in hired halls now found them requisitioned by the Army. In January 2015 the Fraternal Visitor report for Cambridge read:

“We have been turned out of our hall by the military authorities … practically every place is filled with [troops] as there are about 20,000 billeted here. Under these circumstances we are compelled to meet for the breaking of bread at the houses of the brethren.”

Dover Ecclesia witnessed some of the worst effects, with –

“… thousands of wounded soldiers … and refugees that continue to flock into Dover … 8,000 wounded are coming in now from Antwerp … Their condition and wounds are beyond description. Dover people are very uneasy, as we are within 40 miles of the enemy’s front … These are dark days, but we have confidence.” (The Christadelphian, November 1914, page 519)

This must have been a testing time for a community committed to conscientious objection. Standing up for a faith opposed to military action in towns full of enthusiastic new recruits put additional pressure on our young brethren – pressure which was intensified by the growing habit amongst ‘patriotic’ young women of challenging young men not in uniform and castigating those who would not join up. Some employers gave their eligible workers the choice of joining up or being dismissed, which must also have caused some hardship. It was perhaps for this reason that the Suffolk Street ecclesias set up the Christadelphian War Distress Fund, which had a balance of £52, 9 shillings and 7 pence in January 1915 and which acknowledged very generous donations of over £35 from Australia, New Zealand and the USA. At the time prices were rising quite rapidly, with income tax increasing from 9 pence in the pound in 1913-14 to 1 shilling and 6 pence in 1914‑15 as the costs of the War rose, and with active discussions concerning bringing 12-14-year-old boys and girls out of school to work in the fields to compensate for the loss of young men to the Army. All of these things affected the brotherhood as well as the wider public.

“They preached the word with boldness …”

Against the backdrop of rampant patriotism in British society, it is perhaps surprising to read of an upsurge in preaching during the early stages of the war, with ecclesias frequently being assisted by the ALS and the Glad Tidings magazine, which printed and distributed 75,000 copies in 1914.

The subjects which most commonly appeared in the early months of the War were variations on the theme: “The European War; is this Armageddon?” A more Biblically-versed public than today’s not unnaturally looked at the huge armies criss-crossing Europe and the steady extension of hostilities across the world and thought of the words of Revelation 16:

“For they [the three foul spirits] are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty … And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” (verses 14-16)

The anxieties caused by the War brought large audiences to hear the Gospel. Cannock Ecclesia reported in January 1915 that lectures on this subject had brought good results:

“We had very good meetings, attentive and intelligent audiences of nearly 100, and over on the last lecture. Suitable literature was distributed and a goodly number of ‘Signs of the Times’ and ‘Armageddon’ pamphlets were sold; also one Christendom Astray sold, and one lent.”

Erdington reported:

“The stirring times through which we are passing has caused much interest to be manifested in the meetings.”

In Glasgow “the hall was packed to overflowing, approximately 200 being present”; in Oxford “about 100 strangers were attracted” to a lecture by Brother Ernest Tipping (who wrote the hymn “The days are quickly flying …”) whilst in Aberdare over 700 attended a lecture regarding the significance of the recent entry of Turkey into the War in the light of Bible prophecy. Another subject of great interest, due to the public attention attracted to the champion of spiritualism Sir Oliver Lodge, was whether the spirits of the dead continued to exist – an understandable interest to all those who mourned the mounting number of soldiers and sailors killed in action. So the subject of what happens at death also featured at this time.

It was, as one ecclesia reported, “A time of special blessing in the proclamation of the Truth”, even if the interest of the public seems to have waned a little as the Spring of 1915 wore on. The number of baptisms reported in the last months of 1914 and early months of 1915 were very remarkable: there were sixty-three reported in The Christadelphian in December, forty-five more in January and 118 in February and March, with new brethren and sisters drawn from all age-groups and backgrounds.

The War and the Hope of Israel

In the early days of the War, the Jews who had begun to return to Palestine and those in some other parts of Europe had a difficult time. When Turkey entered the War on the side of the Germans and Austrians, some of the Jewish settlers were evicted from their lands and it was estimated that some 5,000 fled to the relative safety of Egypt which was effectively under British control. From Russia, which seemed an uncomfortable and unlikely ally for Britain to many brethren and sisters (since for much of the nineteenth century Russia had been seen as the main threat, especially with regard to the Middle East) came stories of the mistreatment of Jewish settlements.

However, there was much excitement concerning the entry of Turkey into the War, since the long-perceived weakness of the Ottoman Empire made it likely that Ottoman rule over Palestine would come to an end. In a regular series entitled “What of the dawn?” in The Christadelphian of January 1915, Brother Henry Sulley discussed at length the possible outcomes for Jerusalem and the advance of God’s purpose with Israel. The suggestion of whether Russia would achieve its long-held ambition to rule in Constantinople was also discussed in the magazines. In the same issue of The Christadelphian a regular feature on “The Jews and Zionism” began with the exciting suggestion that –

“Speculation is rife throughout Christendom as to the fate of the Jews and Zionism … hopes run high … that we shall shortly see very material progress towards the restoration of Israel … ‘The suggestion has been made’, says the Daily Telegraph, ‘that the important Jewish settlements in Palestine should be granted autonomous rights, so that the Jewish people may once more have a national centre in its ancient fatherland.’”

There was also a report of a conservative Russian newspaper recommending the founding of a Jewish state, although not necessarily in Palestine, to solve the Jewish Question. So two years before the Balfour Declaration, God’s purpose was seen to be moving forward significantly by faithful brethren and sisters praying for the peace of Jerusalem.

Petitions and principles

Less happily there continued to be a lack of unanimity concerning the issues around conscientious objection. We have already seen that, as the numbers of men volunteering to join the Army grew with the insatiable demands of trench warfare, so those who refused to volunteer became more conspicuous. A “Wayside Letter” in The Christadelphian of December 1914 commented at length:

“Some young brethren have already been subjected to … outbursts of petty persecution …[which could] be extended if any form of compulsory military training were adopted … It would be possible for the authorities to brand the [conscientious] objector in such a way that the public would do the rest.” (page 543)

A report from Northampton, reporting the loss of two young brethren to the Army, commented:

“It has been very hard for young brethren in many towns; dismissal or enlistment has been the order of the day … Many of our brethren are keenly feeling the pressure of the times, on account of having soldiers quartered in their houses …”

Somewhat surprisingly, both Birmingham Central and Suffolk Street refused to endorse the sending of a petition to parliament, although 154 other ecclesias had signed it by December 1914 and in the Spring of 1915 it was presented to Parliament by the Quaker MP for York, Arnold Rowntree, apparently with little comment. There was some disagreement about the proper course to take. In December 1914 the Fraternal Visitor published a letter from a sister which argued that the War was a just one and it would be wrong to stand aside, quoting the phrase from Luke 22:16: “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” and citing a number of Old Testament passages and heroes of faith referred to in Hebrews 11 to justify military action (pages 354,355). This was balanced by another letter from a brother setting out the substantial teaching of the Lord Jesus in opposition to the use of force. Further articles in early 1915 show a stiffening of resolve to uphold our position as conscientious objectors, although there were still accounts of a brother in uniform attending Edinburgh meeting before going off with his regiment and some questions elsewhere over what a member of the Territorial Army should do after he had been immersed, with the rather worrying response that he should “continue to do his duty”. However, as time went on the basic issue of whether to fight or not was settled conclusively, with an article in The Christadelphian of February 1915 pointing out the inconsistency of the Military Oath with citizenship in Christ, and another article in the March edition entitled, “Avenge not yourselves” which commented: “The armies of the world are no place for a brother of Christ”, and adding:

“It is important that sisters should have clear and right views in the matter of military service, for they can strengthen or weaken the hands of the brethren …”

The issue of whether brethren should serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps also continued to arouse debate.

Lessons for our day

The War had a much greater impact on the civilian population than any previous war had done, bringing both challenges and opportunities. We cannot but admire the resolute way in which the Gospel of peace and hope was preached in the face of the fierce patriotism of the first six months of the War and recognise the enthusiasm of the large number of special efforts, which raises the question of how far we are prepared to go in bold preaching in a world in turmoil.

The eagerness with which the brethren and sisters of that time watched for any sign of the restoration of Israel and scanned the prophetic scriptures to make sense of the events around them also compares very favourably with our sometimes anaemic commitment to the hope of Israel. What they saw was a world in turmoil which made their longing for the return of the Lord Jesus very urgent – as ours should be.

Finally, it took longer than it should have done in 1914 and early 1915 for the principles of our position on conscientious objection to be accepted by all and put into practice. The patriotic fervour in the newspapers and in society made some waver and fall away and led others to question our stand, whilst the lack of a central point of advice and a failure to anticipate the pressures and issues of war seem to have contributed to muddled thinking about what to do when hard decisions concerning employment arose – what we should render to Caesar and how far we could support the War without fighting in it. There is a good reason for the existence of the Military Service Committee and we need to be aware of new challenges to conscience as they arise and be ready to answer for our faith with conviction. Serving the Lord Jesus has never been easy and will not get any easier as we await his return – a return that a world still stricken by many wars so desperately needs!

John Botton

 

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