Mennonite Articles of Faith (1766) - Article 30
XXX. Of Oaths.
In the question of taking oaths we believe that though it is possible to take an oath with a devout purpose, as did the holy patriarchs at times (Genesis 14:22, 23; 21:30, 31) and as it was permitted under the Mosaic dispensation, God Himself being often represented as speaking in this human manner (Hebrews 6:13-17; Psalms 89:35; 95:11; 110:4), yet such a practice is nowhere enjoined by a command of God (Exodus 20:7; Leviticus 19:12) but simply defined and restrained. Exodus 22:11. Thus it is evident that swearing, like divorce and some other practices, was in reality permitted because of the want of love and of the prevailing mistrust, and the increasing degeneracy among mankind. Wherefore the Lord Jesus, in order to correct also this violation of and deviation from the original purpose of God, entirely prohibited the use of oaths in His spiritual and heavenly kingdom, when He said: "But I say unto you, Swear not at all," etc. Matthew 5:34-37.
The reason why we cannot regard these words as a prohibition simply of the frivolous and notorious habit of profane swearing, or of swearing in things of minor importance, but consider it far safer to regard them as doing away entirely with all swearing are, besides those already mentioned and others, the following: First, because the Lord Jesus is evidently not speaking against trivial swearing but refers to the legal use of the oath, as it was said to them of old time, "Thou shalt not forswear thyself but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths" (obviously the Lord here refers to Exodus 20:7 and Leviticus 19:12). Further because the Lord says, -- "But I say unto you, Swear not at all -- but let your speech be Yea, yea; Nay, nay, and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one." Further, because James, repeating the same words, adds: "But above all things, my brethren, swear not -- neither by any other oath -- that ye fall not under judgment." James 5:12. Again, because such a view does not forbid an earnest assertion of the truth of our statements, when the honor of God and the love of the truth calls for it -- such as the Lord Jesus often made (John 14:12) likewise the Apostle Paul, now and then (Romans 1:9; 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8), since Christ does not mean to say that one shall use no words except Yea and Nay, but that our Yea shall be yea, and since we cannot regard such manner of emphasis as in reality an oath but an intense effort, proceeding from a holy motive, to awaken attention and deepen the impression; and even if in a few instances (like 1 Thessalonians 5:27) this should be found to have taken the form of an oath (which, however, is not conceded) it is well to observe that this was done by persons of unimpeachable truthfulness, and probably in the spirit of forbearance, but not to serve us as a pattern. Again, because it is far more commendable to keep our yea and nay as faithfully as though we had sworn to it; and this confidence in one's given word is in harmony with the kingdom of Jesus. Further, because by reason of the depravity of human nature it is to be feared that the very practice of making oath is taken by godless men as a cause for attaching no weight to simple assurances and making light of lying. Revelation 21:27; 22:15. Further, because the Christians of the first centuries in general seem to have understood these words thus, and we have on record the testimonies of almost all the old teachers of the church against the use of oaths.* Finally, because a look at civil life and the requirements of a well-regulated state does not seem to reveal the need of swearing, since godless and faithless men are not to be trusted even though they swear (Jeremiah 5:2) and such persons have often so little fear of an oath that it is known full well beforehand and afterwards established that false oaths are sworn without number, a fact that causes godly rulers as well as true Christians in general to sigh, and which makes it necessary in spite of the use of the oath, to provide civil punishment for the untruthful.
As for ourselves, we hold that if under our solemn affirmation of the truth, which is put in place of the oath, we should deal faithlessly or fail to come up to our word, we are just as guilty and subject to just punishment as though we had sworn the heaviest oaths.
It behooves us indeed to excel in this respect and thus to confirm our testimony with our acts, and it is therefore not to be feared that through our abstaining from the oath good order and fidelity shall suffer even in the least.
*We find in the early church widespread disapprobation of the oath based on the declaration of Jesus and of James. One of the oldest testimonies is that of Justin Martyr. In the early part of the third century Basilides dies a martyr's death for refusing to swear. Irenaeus gives a similar testimony. Basilius is very emphatic in his prohibition of the oath, but above all Chrysostom. Likewise Isidore Pelusius, also Theophylact and Euthymius, Hilarius and Hieronymus. In modern times Olshausen and Stirus.
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