Away From Compromise and Shadow

by Eberhard Arnold

(Note: First published in the periodical, Wegwarte, 1925, No. 10/11, as "Fort von Kompromis und Schatten"; printed in Salt & Light (Plough 1998). This article closed a controversy which had been represented in several issues. The little community at Sannerz stood for a life of love, peace, and nonviolence, making no compromise with evil; this was attacked as impossibility and madness by the Protestant direction of the German Youth Movement. Heinrich Euler of the Youth Movement in Baptist circles, and others representing this point of view, had made statements such as the following in previous articles in the Wegwarte: "Body and spirit are in opposition and can never be brought into harmony." "It is absurd to speak of a life of nonviolence in this age." "Our conscience, which comes from the light, is shadowed by guilt." And, "Never yet has any man leaped over his own shadow."

The opponents of Sannerz spoke of non-compromise as "self-delusion, foolishness, and madness," citing as examples that, while it may be possible to avoid holding public office or resorting to law, everyone must pay taxes or work for an employer who pays taxes; must eat food on whose ingredients duties and taxes are levied by the state; and must use money minted by the government. It is only a matter of more or less compromise. The taking of life is justified "to save perhaps thousands of fellowmen"; such action is called "responsible sinning."

A certain Max Dressler had taken part in discussions at Sannerz and had also written in Wegwarte. While stressing forgiveness as the help needed to renew life in God, he had stated that "the demands of Jesus are not really demands in the actual sense of the word," and "one cannot speak of discipleship without compromise."

Eberhard Arnold bases his answer to these claims on the Sermon on the Mount and the First Letter of John. For Bible references see: Luke 7:47; 1 John 4:20, 1:10, 2:1-2, 3:6, 5:19, 1:5; Hebrews 12:4.

We must wrestle with the question of compromise because it comes up everywhere and concerns serious-minded people again and again. Behind it the fundamental problem of life lies dormant: the question of evil and death. Evil and death are so oppressive that goodness and life are constantly threatened with falling victim to them. But it is frightening to see an increasing apathy and compromise with darkness—an avoidance of the either-or of life and death.

There can be no compromise with evil! The word compromise has its origin in the language of law: a mutual settlement between contending parties. It belongs as the only settlement between opposing parties where there is legal conflict. The court of arbitration must insist on compromise.

The question is whether one can replace this highest legal justice with a better justice—the justice of Jesus’ heart, as revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. This means that when faced with the threat of a legal battle, the one who wants the way of life and love must give up everything rather than compromise, and must allow the opponent to take everything away. If we do this we will be met, not by hard demands on our futile efforts, but by opportunities for overflowing love and joy.

This is news of the new life: bringing joy excludes murder; love hates no man; truth strikes no compromise with lying; the heart remains pure only by making no concessions; the Father of Jesus who gives everything makes no settlement with mammon. Joy in life and love for all tolerates no compromise with evil, no concession to loveless indifference or murderous injustice, because love touches all things and changes all relationships. This is the message of the kingdom, the character of Jesus’ words. Here is his heart.

Every movement that stems from God points to this way. Whenever a living movement of heart dies, Christ’s way is forsaken. The process of dying reaches its final stage when there is no more wrestling with death, when the struggle for life is deserted and people surrender unresisting to the shadow of death. This includes the natural dying that threatens every movement, when materialism and mediocrity gain a foothold and we avoid the struggle to which Jesus has called us.

Today people try to live simultaneously on the basis of law and of grace. A life of nonviolence is called absurd even though Jesus lived such a life. People oppose an uncompromising stand, calling it legalism and fanaticism. They say an unqualified yes to materialism, are infatuated with sin, and take pains to show that one can never get rid of it. It basically makes no difference to them whether there is more compromise or less, which all shows how far they are from the way.

Only love as experienced in the full forgiveness of sin can bring healing. In this atmosphere the legalistic "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" cease to exist. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. Yet it is not convincing if the experience of this love does not lead to consequences in practical life. He who is forgiven much loves much. How can we love God, whom we do not see, if we do not love the brother or sister whom we do see?

There is only one way—the way of love—that comes from forgiveness and has its essence in forgiveness. This way is absolute discipleship of Jesus. It makes no compromises with our cold and loveless age. This does not mean that the person gripped by love never makes compromises; rather, the love that has gripped him or her can make no compromises. If evil deeds are done, they come from depravity and weakness of character. But when love takes hold again, the highest goal reappears and the heart lives again—full and glowing. The words of Jesus bring back the power of perfect love.

The first letter of John describes this uncompromising attitude: whoever claims to be without sin is a liar. We are told this so that we may not sin. But if we do sin, we have an advocate who expiates the sin of the whole world. Whoever abides in him does not sin. If any one sins, then in this sin he has not seen and known him. "We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of evil."

Those who defend sin show that they have gone astray and lost sight of Jesus. They neither see nor recognize him. There is a great deal of difference between doing evil, or turning our backs on it and forgetting it. For Paul it was essential to leave everything behind and to race single-minded toward the goal. Certainly it was always clear to him—and he testified to it strongly—that this did not mean he had no guilt. But the forgiveness that Christ brings means liberation from wrong and evil. Paul was a fighter in full armor who fought against all evil and even against death itself.

It is significant that uncompromising love has nothing to do with softness or indecision in the face of battle. On the contrary, those who are resolute have to carry on a spiritual fight against all spiritual powers that oppose peace and love. In this fight it is out of the question to injure or kill one’s fellow men. No human judgment can declare them as evil, rejected, or condemned to death. Therefore, this spiritual fight must be waged all the more sharply in each person and against everything that is injurious to life, hostile to fellowship, and against God.

Whoever is full of life and gripped by love is a fighter to the point of death. He is never hard toward others, though it may be felt as hardness when he struggles with glowing and passionate love against the evil in himself, in others, and in public affairs. This fight is not only a private matter between him and God; it must be also a public striving against the evil in all human and social conditions.

Those who fight for love in this way will be wrongly seen as moralistic or even legalistic. Their conduct toward people and all human works and institutions is defined by the goal of God’s kingdom. Their ethics will be determined by the character of the Son of Man and his followers, by the truth of love, and by the will of God’s heart. They must live a life of love in the attitude of the future world and in the perfection of God, because there is no other life.

This brings us to an age-old topic: perfection. Certainly as we are there is no state of sinlessness. Today people even speak about the necessity of evil and humanity’s common bondage in guilt; this leads to consent to involvement in guilt. Ironically, people dismiss the world peace to which the prophets witness. They reject the elimination of government proclaimed in John’s Revelation, and the transformation of the present social order through church community. They dismiss the communal life which has repeatedly been the self-evident expression of true love. The irony with which people try to dismiss these things shows that they no longer take a stand against evil. They avoid the decisive choice that Jesus represented: God or mammon.

People have turned away from the clarity of Jesus, who challenged us to say either yes or no and not something in between. People turn from the way of Jesus, weakly accepting a paradoxical situation in relation to God; all they can say in their vanity is "yes and no" or "no and yes" simultaneously. We must fight against this.

We were once challenged, "Surely you don’t want to wage a general campaign against all evil?" Yes, this is exactly what it is all about. That is why Jesus came into the world; he called us and sent us out to take up this campaign against all evil in all things. He came to destroy the works of the devil. "God is light and in him there is no darkness."