In last week’s bulletin I briefly mentioned that we as Christians should not be overly concerned with whether or not the government permits us to own a gun. By this I meant that we should not believe this world is coming to an end because we can’t own assault weapons. Another question that has often been raised in recent weeks among Christians is whether or not we as Christians have a right use weapons to defend our family from attackers. After watching what has happened over the last several months and the sheer volume of copy cat incidents it is no surprise that one’s right to defend their family has often come into discussion, and rightfully so.
To begin, let me 1st explain that this is a decision I have come to based upon my studies into the scriptures. Ultimately if you cannot do something with faith, then to you it would be sin (Rom. 14:23). My faith has led me to this conclusion. As always, if you see something differently please correct me.
The biggest issue I have against no form of protection is found in the teachings of John the Baptist. Soldiers came to him asking him what they should be doing to be right with God. John replied, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages (Luke 3:14).” Not once did John tell them to cease being soldiers. He never told them to put down their swords and never harm another person. He told them to not extort, lie, or complain (good advice no matter what your profession). If there was ever a time in which it would have been prudent to tell a soldier to cease being a soldier it was then. Furthermore, we find other illustrations of soldiers interacting with teachers of God’s word and none of them were ever told that they were living in sin as a soldier. A centurion came to Christ hoping that He would help the servant in his home. During this encounter Christ actually praised him for his faith (Matt. 8:1-12). Peter baptized Cornelius and no one objected to Peter not teaching Cornelius the sin of bearing arms (Acts 10-11). Being a soldier and defending others seems to be an honest job during the 1st century.
Now, I realize that there is a leap between a soldier doing his job and you and I protecting ourselves or our families from an intruder. The point here is that defense of others was not considered sinful behavior, even if it meant using arms against the enemy.
There are some passages that speak of pacification that must be put under consideration. Christ taught that we were to turn the other cheek (Matt. 5:39). Did Jesus mean that we were never to defend ourselves? To answer this question we must first understand why Jesus told us to turn the other cheek in the 1st place. Jesus was in the middle of a discourse on what was meant when God had issued the decree an eye for an eye. Some during Christ’s day had taken this to mean that we should desire vengeance or that we were at the very least given permission to extract that vengeance on our own. However, the Law never permitted private vengeance at all. It actually taught that the elders of the city (or judges) were to hear the case and extract the punishment due. So, when Jesus said turn the other cheek he was telling us to no look for personal vengeance, just as Paul did in Rom. 12:19. We also need to understand what a smite is. A smite was a strike with a hand or rod. While these certainly can be painful they are not life threatening. In such instances, we turn the other cheek realizing that no harm is really being done. So, this passage does not really address whether or not it is wrong to take up a sword (or gun) and defend ourselves from intruders.
Another passage that needs to be considered is Matt. 26:52. Peter had just took a swipe with his sword and tried to kill Malchus. He only succeeded in cutting off his ear. Jesus told Peter, “Put up again thy sword into it's place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” This is often misquoted as he that lives by the sword dies by the sword. And while that is an incorrect quote the premise is the same. Jesus had just told Peter that if he takes up his sword, he ought to expect to die by it. Was Jesus then teaching that being pacifists is the godly way? Keep in mind that just a few hours prior to this event Jesus had told them to sell his garment and by a sword (Luke 22:36). Why would Jesus tell him to buy a sword if it was wrong for him to have it in the 1st place. Consider what is going on. No one’s life was technically threatened at this time. Jesus was being placed under arrest. Peter was resisting the government. I am convinced that it was in this context that Christ’s comments must be understood. We rise up with a sword against the government, we will die by that same sword. Incidentally, when Rome assaulted Jerusalem many zealots who took up swords in rebellion died. Every Christian who did not take up a sword, but rather fled the city lived. Therefore, I do not think that Jesus was saying it was always wrong to defend oneself.
Because Jesus told his disciples to buy a sword (Luke 22:36), the best weapon to defend oneself, I have to conclude that it was not wrong to defend oneself from evil doers. Again, this does not mean rise up against government officials. This does not mean we are justified to play the role of vigilante, nor does it mean we can use these to “gain advantage” over others and take what they have, extort, etc. I am convinced it simply means if someone tries to shoot you, you can shoot back. -WTK
Grinnell church of Christ
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Do I Have a Right to Protect Myself?
Volume 4 Issue 11 February 17, 2013