Anabaptists and the State

In America today, the professing church has sought to change society

through government in many ways. Evangelicals have sought to impact

America through anti-abortion legislation, traditional marriage

legislation, as well as other laws that would reflect conservative

values. On the other end of the political spectrum, many liberal

churches have sought to promote legislation that protects America’s

poor. Many on both sides are well-meaning. Yet what did Jesus have to

say about politics while he walked the earth as a man? And how

important was the arm of the state to the church when it began?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ longest sermon recorded in the

Scriptures, Jesus spoke freely of the kingdom of heaven. This kingdom

did not have earthly borders, and did not have an earthly king. The

Sermon on the Mount lists the laws of this kingdom, which are

different and loftier than those of the Old Testament Israelites,

dealing with issues such as riches, divorce and remarriage, judging,

swearing of oaths, and other things. In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus commands

His followers to love and pray for their enemies and not to resist

evil, but rather turn the other cheek. Jesus’ life was a beautiful

example of these commandments.


Conservative Anabaptists throughout the last 500 years have believed

that Jesus’ commandments are to be taken literally and radically.

Because of this, they do not participate in the affairs of government,

including war, running for office, and even voting. Because after all,

government is powerless without the use of force (or the threat of



Instead, Anabaptists believe that God calls the church to be soldiers

in His heavenly army, which does not fight with earthly weapons. “For

the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for

pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing

that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every

thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”. (2 Corinthians



In the book of Acts, the church did not seek after political power.

Instead, the church considered themselves strangers and pilgrims in

the earthly kingdom that they happened to reside in, and sought to

shine the light of Christ while living in an evil society. They fed

the poor. They lived pure and holy lives. They loved and cared for

each other. They called sinners to repentance. They raised godly

families and considered marriage a lifelong covenant. They loved their

enemies, and though they at times were severely persecuted, they did

not fight back.


Also, it’s important to understand that though they considered

themselves citizens of another kingdom, they recognized that God

instituted earthly authority (Romans 13:1-7) were subject to the

earthly authorities that ruled over them. The apostle Peter commanded

the church to obey every law imposed on them by earthly governments (I

Peter 2:13-17). The only exception to this is when obeying earthly

laws makes it impossible to obey the laws of their King, Jesus



Jesus’ life on earth was a glorious example of this doctrine.

Instead of fighting back, Jesus loved and prayed for the very men that

ended his life (Luke 23:34). He rebuked Peter for attacking those who

would capture Him, stating that “all they that take the sword shall

perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). He refused to be made an

earthly king (John 6:15).


For the first three centuries, history indicates that the Christian

church stayed out of politics and did not allow its members to

participate in war. Both church history and secular history, also

indicates that the testimony of the church was impressive during this

time. While they were persecuted ruthlessly by the Roman Empire, they

grew in number, yet still held to Jesus’ commandments to love their

enemies and not to resist evil. However, when the church joined forces

with the Roman Empire in the fourth century, it took up the sword and,

over the next several centuries, committed many vicious and shameful

crimes which are an embarrassment to Christianity even to this day.

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