IV. The World Well Lost

B. Oath-Swearing

We hold the Holy Scriptures in high honor.
When e.g. an oath is to be particularly solemn
we swear by laying the hand upon the Holy Scripture
which forbids swearing.

S.K. and the Brethren were in agreement on some specific items of nonconformity which, although in one sense rather minor, or at least subsidiary, are striking enough in their coincidence to he worthy of notice. One such regards the swear-of legal oaths.

From the beginning the Brethren had understood the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:33-37) as forbidding oath-swearing, and Brethren nonconformity in this matter is attested as early as Mack Senior's Rights and Ordinances.2

Further attestation is found in Michael Frantz3 and in Sauer Junior, whose persecution during the Revolutionary War was brought on, at least in part, by his refusal to swear the oath of allegiance required by the new government.4 The church's position was stated officially in an Annual Meeting minute of 1785: "And as to the swearing of oaths, we believe the word of Christ, that in all things which we are to testify, we shall testify what is yea, or what is true with yea, and what is nay, or not true with nay; for whatever is more than these cometh of evil."5

S.K. did not give major attention to the matter of oath-swearing--as he hardly would have had occasion to do--and it is impossible to say whether he would have gone as far as the Brethren in actually refusing to take an oath. However, his passing references indicate that he viewed the problem as did the Brethren, and in fact did his viewing from the same perspective, a literal application of the Sermon on the Mount. In addition to the aside quoted as our headnote, S.K. elsewhere made the same point in another aside, saying that it is a contradiction to make "a man swear by laying his hand upon the New Testament, where it is written, Thou shalt not swear."6

These statements from S.K.'s religious phase align him with the Brethren in their reading of the New Testament, but just as significant, and even more interesting, are the earlier sentiments of the nonreligious pseudonym Climacus. Again merely in passing, as illustrative of another point (but for that very reason quite revealing), Climacus said: "But when a man has indulged in oaths for a long time, he returns at last to simple utterance, because all swearing is self-nugatory."7 And one hundred pages later Climacus returned to give the theme a more extended, and now self-conscious, treatment:

Only over-precipitate people, clouds without water and storm-driven mists, are quick to take an oath; because the fact is that they are unable to keep it, and therefore must perpetually be taking it. I, for my part, am of the opinion that 'never to forget this impression,' is something quite different from saying once in a solemn moment: 'I will never forget it.' The first is inwardness, the second is perhaps only a momentary inwardness.... Flighty and easily excitable souls are more prone to nothing than to the taking of a sacred promise, because the inner weakness needs the strong stimulus of the moment. To administer a sacred pledge to such a person is a very dubious thing.8

As in the previous statements S.K. related oath-swearing to a sectarian view of scriptural obedience, he here relates it to a sectarian view of inwardness.

The evidence is not extensive, but the very fact that S.K. identified himself even this far with a specific belief that is almost uniquely that of classic Protestant sectarianism--this fact is of some significance.

Copyright (c) 1968