Adventists and War: Reflecting on 100 Years since Armistice Day

It was called “the war to end all wars.” Sadly, history tells another tale. Despite the World War I (WWI) deaths of 17 million soldiers, with the injury of 21 million more, the Imperial War Museum in London records that war has taken place every single year since, killing an estimated 187 million people.

This week the world looks back 100 years to Armistice Day 1918 and the end of WWI. Yet reflecting — and looking forwards — provides a paradox for Seventh-day Adventist Christians.

As Christians we recognize that war and rumors of war is one of the signs of the end of the age, and whether WWI, Syria, or Yemen, we still struggle with the horror of man’s inhumanity to man. We long for the time when war will be no more, for the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan will be over, when God, as promised in Revelation 21, will make all things new.

But until then, how do we react?

In keeping with our being people of peace, Adventists have generally, although far from totally, held a pacifist position. Four years ago, at the commencement of centenary memories of WWI, Pastor Ted Wilson, President of the Seventh-day Adventist World Church, wrote an article in Adventist World, “The Battle: Should Adventists serve in the military?”

“As with other difficult questions, the pioneer leaders studied the issues using the Bible as their guide, and concluded that the position most consistent with biblical principles was noncombatancy (the conscientious objection to bearing arms). The primary reason for this position was that Adventists serving in the U.S. military would be forced to compromise their loyalty to God if they obeyed the commands of their officers. The two Bible commandments most directly involved were the fourth—to keep the Sabbath holy, and the sixth—not to kill.”

British Adventists added another primary reason when they were called to active service during WWI. William George Chappell worked selling Christian literature. He was called to a tribunal in Brynmawr, South Wales on March 25, 1916. In his notice of appeal, he stated that “as I am a Seventh-day Adventist [I] am opposed to war.” Noting Bible verses that supported a pacifist stance he stated that he felt it more important for him to “go preach the Gospel” than to be involved in the war. Unsurprisingly, the tribunal disagreed stating that his work was “not of national importance” and only exempting him from combatant service.

Chappell's Tribunal appeal cites biblical prophecy as a reason for him to sell Christian books rather than fight.

How can you kill people that you should be sharing the Gospel with? That was the almost unanimous view of the British Adventist church.

In some other parts of Europe, Conscientious Objection was not an option. For them, life was more difficult and Adventists, Quakers, and other groups with traditionally pacifist traditions often found themselves in the army, though many sought roles that did not necessitate bearing arms. [For a fuller discussion on Adventists in WWI see Denis Kaiser, Love Your Enemy, Adventist World, August 2014, p 24.]

Some 130 British Adventists became conscientious objectors during WWI. Some served in non-combatant units, others ended up in prison. All took what opportunity they could to witness.

Elizabeth Yap writes about her Methodist grandfather, Gilmour Dando, incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison as a CO:

“Whilst he was there he became acquainted with another prisoner who was an SDA. They were not allowed to speak to each other, I gather, but both 'happened' to clean the others cell. As a result, my grandfather was able to leave 'notes' of chalky stone written on the brick walls in this man's cell. This arrangement enabled grandfather to ask questions about the Sabbath, which his friend was free to answer in the same way, in my grandfather’s cell. As a result, grandfather became convicted of the Sabbath and, once the war was over, became Seventh-day Adventist.” [for more read here]

At least 19 Adventist men spent time at the Princetown Home Office Work Centre (Dartmoor Prison).

Witnessing activities were sometimes reported in the Missionary worker magazine with CO’s witnessing while on service in France and elsewhere. Other accounts shared their Sabbath Keeping experiences, with answers to prayer.

Not all prayers were answered as expected and the documentary film, A Matter of Conscience, tells the story of 14 young men harshly punished to ‘within an inch of their lives’ for their refusal as CO’s to work on Sabbath. After the war, many in that group went on to become leaders in the Adventist Church both in the UK and across the world.

Their experience in WWI, and their consistent testimony, bore fruit as the UK government prepared for WWII. Discussions with the war office gave Adventists exemptions from military service so long as they were involved in work of national importance. Pastor H. W. Lowe states, “Through the years I have reflected often on the trials of life that seem so inexplicable at the moment. It is in those moments that acts of loyalty are the seeds sown for another to reap.” [See Valiant for Truth. Messenger, 28 December 1973, p4]

Such experiences can, no doubt, be recounted, in many different places. Sakari Vehkavuori tells how, during the 1918 civil war in Finland, his great-grandfather, Viktor Ståhlberg, pleaded to save the lives of prisoners who were going to be shot as revenge killings for the unlawful death of his son and nine other youth from the opposing army. He broke a cycle of revenge by preaching the gospel and challenging them, “Now this slaughtering is enough; you cannot kill any Reds for my son’s lost life, not one.” [See, Forgiveness Stronger than revenge]

Ståhlberg put into practice the words of Peter: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” [1 Peter 3:9 NIV]

Viktor Ståhlberg

After one hundred years of constant war somewhere in the world, perhaps our only full hope is the one provided by Scripture, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” [Luke 21:28 NIV]

Yet while we wait for that great day, we also have a mission of peace, a mission to share the Good News, and a mission to provide hope. Instead of a war memorial, British Adventists planted a Peace Garden, to remember those Conscientious Objectors of 100 years ago. The peace garden, at a deeper level, also has the potential to help visitors focus on the peace that Christ can bring into our hearts, even in times of suffering and difficulty.

British Union President, Pastor Ian Sweeney, states that, “while we are citizens of two kingdoms, when those kingdoms clash, the kingdom of God must take priority.” The commitment of those “alternative heroes” of 100 years ago, may be the inspiration for us, in our lives, to honor further the words of Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” [John 14:27]

Further reading:

Visit the Adventist Peace Fellowship George Knight: The Great Disappearance: Adventism and noncombatancy Symposium on the Impact of WWI on Adventism Francis McLellan Wilcox: Seventh-day Adventists in time of war A large range of sources, photos and information on WWI and the Adventist Church in the UK

This article was written by Victor Hulbert and originally appeared on the TED News Network, the official news service of the Trans-European Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

Main image by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash. In-line images courtesy of TED.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thanks Victor.

I honour the Conscientious Objectors you have talked about. Your reflections are a true reminder of the importance of being vigilant about guarding the true freedom of liberty of conscience in what ever matter.

We Adventists forget these lessons at our peril. As contemporary issues among us have proved.

Adventist leaders must again capture the importance of this matter of liberty of conscience.

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I was drafted 1-A-O but I scored on the aptitude test the highest received at Fort Custer Michigan. Thus the assignment officer thought best to send me to infantry basic and then on to the University of Ohio to take a degree in engineering. Imagine the fury of the corporal when I refused the rifle et al. It took ten weeks to get me transferred to the Medics. The mess up prevented me from entering dental school. so 16 Months in the South Pacific with an end of war discharge with a 30 percent disability I entered Dental School and began a career in Academics in three different universities. I am in great debt to those who struggled in WWI.


I remember, growing up hearing stories around the campfire on Pathfinder camps. Stories from our leaders who had been conscripted to fight the Korean War. One in particular refused to carry a gun because of his CO status. He still had to appear on parade, and do drills with the other soldiers. In place of a gun he was given a pickaxe-handle. His officers thought that “humiliating” him with the pickaxe-handle would make him want to pick up a gun. Instead, he became very proud of his pickaxe-handle, polishing it the same as a soldier would a gun. He spent many hours parading around the grounds on his own, with his pickaxe-handle, because he refused to carry a gun.
Another leader had fortuitously learned how to type at a speed better than most secretaries. He spent his conscription in the typing pool instead of a battlefield.
God expects us to do our duty to our country, but in doing so He gives us opportunities to witness to others.

The first World War was truly ghastly — the trenches, the poison gas and the millions of Europe’s finest “cannon fodder” in the poppy fields of Picardie and Flanders.

Almost simultaneously was the horrific Armenian genocide.— a religious genocide with Christians being slaughtered by Islamic Turks.

Then followed Stalin’s Gulag killing millions.

The London blitz, Nagasaki, Hiroshima and the horrors of the Holocaust,
were disasters without precedent.

Were all these horrors “live streamed “ to the “universe”.
, who EGW informs us are the ultimate jurors in the ”Great Controversy” ?

How did the “Good Angels” react to these atrocities??

Why was the entire universe not clamoring for God to end the carnage?.

Why was God Himself not FAST FORWARDING the Second Coming to avert / abort these atrocities??

IMHO God Himself is complicit in these events, because He foresaw them and did absolutely nothing to stop them. He has His hand on the trigger button for the Second Coming and He can activate it at any time!

He claims to be omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent.

Was He omnipresent in the Nazi concentration camps ?

Or does He sadistically await the Time of Trouble such as Never Was
gloating over further mayhem??

Where is His compassion .??

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Tom, I speak as a US citizen. I suggest all Americans and many other nations should be thankful to US soldiers who have served in many capacities in our dangerous world. I consider the military to be an extension of Rom.13:1-7.
The fact that it is sometimes misused does not negate it’s necessity. How grateful many Jews are for their military release from the horrors of the German holocaust. I know Filipinos who are extremely grateful for their release from Japanese occupation which you were a part of. My view is that all should seek peace, which doesn’t always happen, but not pacifism at all cost.


At wars end a Physician Major and I were several points short of returning to the states…So we were sent as a medical unit to Korea to disarm the Jaoanese. We operated as a medical unit. with occasional surgeries. burns, broken bones etc… The Major was war weary and so occasionally he would call me as non com head of surgery and say. I I have to hang one on. you are in charge until you get me sober. That was a far cry from the piny woods of Fort Benning Ga.,

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Funny story… I was a Capt. USAF (DC) from 70-72 during the Vietnam war. I was stationed stateside at Pope AFB in NC . We did the airlift for the 82nd Airborne soldiers at Bragg. War is never pleasant as you have well elucidated in the past.
My now deceased Filipino father-in law was a guerrilla in the mountains when you were there in WW2. He loved me and Americans for the defeat of occupying Japan.

Where does our Christian responsibility lie, reading Bible verses to the guys with weapons; or, saving the lives of helpless people terrorized by the guys with weapons?

I suggest both according to our gifts and conscience.
I.e Did David and Moses and the priest do both? Christ on earth did not kill but, …at His coming he is portrayed in Rev.19 as a conquering King with a sword in His Mouth.

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Blessings upon pacifist and non-pacifist. If it were not for those willing to take up arms, would the pacifist be free to follow their own beliefs?

Did not Jesus state that the Roman Centurion exhibited the highest level of faith? If your home is being invaded do you call an officer that you know carries a deadly weapon? When a mass shooter strikes, should we call in those with high powered firearms to stop the horror? Or, do we sit back in our snug homes and await others to protect us while we soothe ourselves with here a little and there a little Bible quotes?

Did God order the Israelites to war? We don’t live yet in the world where the lion will rest peacefully next to the lamb.

I have no problem with those that take up arms for honorable reasons or those who choose not too. Let’s just not be too self-assured regarding the topic.


The bottom line - when an assailant crashes through your back door, you call 911 and hope they show up with fire power. It seems disingenuous to rely on people, not respected by our belief system, to keep us safe and able to live another day.


There is the story of the Amish farmer who was trimming his horses hoofs. Every time he attempted to repair the rear hoof the horse kicked him. This went on repeatedly and finally the exasperated farmer spoke to the horse. You know I am pious and a pacifist and do not choose to harm thee. But, I have a Calvinist neighbor I can sell thee to and he will beat the living hell out of you. Same message to the invader? :slight_smile:


But Robin,
If he stopped it we wouldn’t have “free will” now, would we? Which do you want? it’s kinda “dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.” There are continuing lessons for successive generations of humanity. One is we are sinners and we can’t save ourselves. Another is all of us need to be made whole again.
We need a King who makes all the rules…and the ability and desire to keep them for the benefit of all.
2 Peter 3:9…a time of grace before there is no forgiveness.

PS. The 2nd coming begins events that are just not “good” for all.
“40 So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.41 The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.” Mt. 13: 40-43.

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Compared with the other nations, WW1 is the forgotten war in the US. The Doughboys hardly get a mention and while the fallen of Vietnam War are magnificently honoured on the Washington Mall, last time I looked the poor old lost, unloved and small WW1 memorial would be hard for most to find in the trees off to the side.

Ijust have to tell one more war story. Our medical Bn was attached to the 40th Infantry Div.a Calif National guard unit. Every low in Mac’s eyes. But we were assigned the center on the invasion of Luzon. We were not told but the center was sandy beach and difficult to defend so the Japanese withdrew three miles in land behind a bend in the river. So landing was a cake walk. However, as we were loaded on the Higgins boat, the guys pushed me to the front left. next to me was a Medical Major just about five feet tall. I was six feet. As we headed in he turned to me and said— We might hit a sand bar and the ramp will go down and we will be in deep water. if so please pull me up.The fellow to the left and I agreed. sure enough The ramp went down and we jumped off into Water more than five feet deep. we looked and no major. we reached down and grabbed his shoulders.He came up spitting salt water and said thanks. we carried him about 50feet and he said, I can feel sand you can let go now. We really didn’t get war until 2 Days later. the first night one broken arm and one death shot through the spine by friendly fire.

[quote=“ezbord, post:5, topic:17330, full:true”]
Were all these horrors “live streamed “ to the universe?
How did the “Good Angels” react to these atrocities??
Why was the entire universe not demanding an end to the carnage?.
Why was God Himself not fast forwarding the Second Coming to avert / abort these atrocities??
…does He sadistically await the Time of Trouble such as Never Was
gloating over further mayhem??
Where is His compassion .??
IMHO God Himself is complicit in these events, because He foresaw them and did absolutely nothing to stop them. He has His hand on the trigger button for the Second Coming.

Robin, you ask excruciating questions!! Questions, or similar ones, that have been asked thousands of
years ago by many, including Job, the Psalmist and Solomon.
You are wanting an answer (NOW! Explain God!) to the question,
“Why Evil and how much more of it?”
In reaching a conclusion we all have to be careful not to take the “H” out of IMHO,
as you MAY have been tempted to do. Perhaps Job, David and Solomon have a
partial answer for you, if you care to read their experiences.
Importantly, psychologists on this website could provide you with a/some likely reason/s for,
and the source of your intense personal anger directed at (a non-interventionist) God.
Also, would it surprise you to know that, paradoxically, many atheists are angry at God?

It is a world-wide sober day of honour and thanks. Americans should also be thankful that they were equally saved by their allies from what was also a threat to them.

Sorry but Europe was defeated. Great Britain would have been. But, still it was good to have Great Britain to help on the European Front. Likewise on the Pacific front, Australia was on the ropes. God’s grace and blessings to the USA as a “peace” keeper against fascism & dictatorships in this dangerous and humanist/progressive perceived perfectible world envisioned by the “League of Nations!”

PS. Thank goodness Hitler WAS “DECEIVED” to invade Russia.

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VOL. 122, NO. 19 TAKOMA PARK, WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. MAY 10, 1945
Pp 18, 19
A Story of Deliverances in the Philippines
by Elbridge M. Adams