SWEARING . . . Appealing to the Highest Authority

“When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” (Reference: Hebrews 6:13-16 )

One of the oaths that has the potential to cause problems for Anabaptists/Mennonites is the oath taken in legal court when offering evidence or testimony. Now, I have never heard of any Anabaptist/Mennonite who has been presented with this dilemma, but it makes good fodder for discussion. “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God” sworn on a black covered bible. According to the historic Anabaptists just saying yes or no should be enough. As a youth, I would what I would do if I ever had to give such an oath, being a good Mennonite girl and all. The situation never arose.

Menno Simons gave teaching on this point, saying “We confess and heartily believe that no emperor or king may rule as superior, nor command contrary to [God’s] Word, since He is the Head of all princes, and is the King of all kings, and unto Him every knee shall bow which is in heaven, in earth, or under the earth. He has plainly forbidden us to swear, and pointed us to yea and nay alone. Therefore it is that through fear of God we do not swear, nor dare to swear, though we must hear and suffer much on that account from the world. . . . I will by the grace of God show the sympathetic reader from the Word of God what the holy Scriptures at given times teach and imply concerning the swearing of oaths.”

It’s funny the way some teachings come down from adult to child. I can tell you positively and emphatically that I was taught as a child never to take an oath or make any promise beyond saying “Yes, I will.” But I cannot tell you why it had to be that way. I can also tell you that when I was a child and something was promised to me but for some reason or another it could not be fulfilled I had the rage and anger that only a young thwarted child could have. “You promised!” was my scream. And all the adults around seemed to think it was perfectly all right to break a promise to a child. After all, they had not said “so help me God.”

It is as important, beloved, who we promise things to as much as it is what we promise. And we should not take making or breaking those promises lightly. We only need look to the example of God to know how serious promises and oath taking is. The promises that God made to humanity goes beyond promises and oaths; God establishes a covenant with humanity. God made a covenant with Abraham and in the fullness of time fulfilled that covenant. Any promise that is any less than that should not be based on God, but on our own human ability to follow through.

May you, beloved, honor all the promises that you make. And may our Lord make a covenant with you to keep you in God’s holy will. Selah!