In my last blog, we discussed this statement concerning the persecuted church in Syria, “This is what it means to be a Christian in Syria”. Syrian Christians relay that being persecuted, even unto death, is what being a Christian in Syria is about. The implication for all Christians is that since being persecuted in Syria defines them as believers, is that not which should define all believers everywhere? Scripture as we have found answers that question with an overwhelming yes in II Timothy 3:12, where it declares “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”. Although we understand what the scriptures say, it is very human to have fear and anxiety over the potential pain persecution brings with it. We understand that we are not to be controlled by fear, but by the Holy Spirit (II Timothy 1:7). In light of recent events, it is important we grasp the Word of God calls us to in the face of a violent storm of persecution on the horizon.
After the specific targeting of Christians in Roseburg Oregon in October, the Lt. Governor of Tennessee announced that Christians who are serious about their faith should arm themselves. Following the recent shootings in San Bernadino California, this past week by Islamic terrorists, Jerry Falwell Jr. urged students and faculty during Friday’s convocation at Liberty to arm themselves in order to prevent attacks by terrorists intending to do harm on their cmapus. He went on to say, “I’ve always thought if more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in”. As he continued to cheers and applause, he went further to encourage students to get a permit to carry a weapon and finishing with “We offer a free course. Lets teach them a lesson (referring to terrorists) if they ever show up”. Some may applaud his bluster, but we should all be troubled to hear such rhetoric coming from the president of the largest Christian University in America.
The question for followers of Jesus in the US is, if we are called to live in persecution, and if we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (even giving our lives unto death), where does the right to defends oneself fit into our faith? I think it fair to assume that most redeemed folk ought to know that God’s will super-cedes any natural or governmental law, when it conflicts with the will of God. Once more we will look today into how we are called to respond in the face of persecution and threats against our lives. Determining God’s legitimate commands are essential to our living the Christ life. As we begin a little history of the the issue of self defense as it pertains to the church of Jesus Christ.
Let me clearly state that the overwhelming weight of the New Testament evidence says nothing in favor of protecting ourselves from persecution. And although the N. T. is clear on our call to deny ourselves even to the point of separation from family, provision and our own lives if that is His will, it also does not overtly with a “Thou Shalt Not” declare self-defense as a sin. It is important to understand that of the arguments in favor of justifying self-defense, the most honest admit, that the early church fathers (those) who directly were disciples of the apostles and the generation after, never speak of self-defense as an option for the follower of Christ. The web sites attribute this to the fact that they were converted into the same persecution of the apostles, so they would have only known the instruction of the Word of God and the apostles themselves, who all died for Christ except for John. Interestingly this idea of civil rights for Christians began when persecution ended in earnest in year 325 in the Roman Empire.
Arguments for Self-Defense: The O.T. Gives us the Right
Since most of the arguments for a biblical justification for the self-defense come almost entirely from O.T. passages, we will begin there. Our faith is not founded on only the N.T., nor is the O.T. the obsolete testament. There are many things in the OT that are every bit as relevant and applicable for us today as they were when written. That being said we must remember that the basis for any continuation for a N.T. practice from the O.T. must have explicit corroboration in the N.T.
For example, many proponents in favor of homosexuality declare that the O.T. declares a prohibition on eating shell fish, therefore Christians should not eat such food if they want to discriminate against those who are gay. Yet this argument holds no validity as the New Testament specifically declares we are free to eat all things unless offered to idols. Homosexuality on the other hand is lumped in with N.T. prohibitions on sexual immorality.
When dealing with O.T. passages used to justify self-defense, they usually center on what the Old Testament Law had to say about what happens when attacked, mistreated, or harmed unintentionally through recklessness. Most of the statements attributed to justification of self-defense, deal with issues between Israelite’s, governed by the O.T. law. When looking further we notice that most of, if not all of the statements deal with what happens after an offense. This means the statements are for a measured legal response after the fact. They were not statements of stopping something that occurred at the moment. Perhaps the most tangible statement concerning this line of argument comes from Exodus 22:2-3.
Herein we find that if a thief is accidentally struck while breaking in during a home invasion (in the dark) and dies no guilt falls on the home owner; When happening in the day, the homeowner is guilty of the blood of the intruder. This may appear to be justification, but it is not a blanket justification for self-defense, but a limit on a response to an intrusion. It must be clearly stated that this passage is not repeated or alluded to in the New Testament.
Another passage used is Psalm 82:4. Although in appropriately used as justification for taking up arms to protect the weak, it does not essentially deal with the wicked physically harming the poor and needy. This passage deals with those being enslaved beyond what is required by the law in bond-servitude. Proverbs 24:11 is also used because it appears to call us to defend those being slaughtered, but this deals with those who are following sin that is leading to their death. We must remember that Romans 8:36 is a quote from the OT that deals with God’s people (OT. And NT) being killed for His sake, it says nothing about stopping the circumstance with force. We must also regard in the Old Testament Psalms that they are filled with imprecatory prayers, which call God to rise up against the enemies that are coming against Israel and the psalmist himself. In these passages we see God as the one who acts to stop the onslaught of persecution. This lines up with the N.T. statement in Romans 12:16-21, where the Word of God declares “Vengeance is mine I will repay”. This is an OT quote that comes from Deuteronomy 32:35-36.
Arguments for Self-Defense: What About Esther?
Perhaps the best attempt to justify self-defense would be in the O.T. book of Esther. The Jewish people were in exile from the land of Israel. The king of Persia had been deceived into making a decree that would essentially eliminate the Jewish people. For such a time as this, God raised up Esther and Mordecai, who arranged a series of meetings, where the king learns of the wicked deception. The King summarily executes the deceiver.
The only problem is that Persian law did not allow the revocation of any decree of the king. Therefore, he crafted a counter decree that would give the Jewish folks the right to defend themselves (Esther 8-9). They did and they were not harmed but destroyed their enemies. We must assume that the Jews would have not defended themselves without the decree, and history would show that this has been the case, unless they were told otherwise by God or a civil decree. Many cite this as a clear indication of the Christians right to self-defense from a New Testament perspective because of Romans 13, where it declares that we are to be subject to higher powers, and in the United States there is no higher power than the constitution. In the constitution we have the right to keep and bear arms. Therefore, does not this event justify self-defense for the Christian? Not necessarily.
Arguments for Self-Defense: The Second Amendment
Once more we must be very careful in using the events of the OT as foundation for a blanket justification for N.T. doctrine. The closest thing we have to this would be the second Amendment which states… A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. In the first place we must understand that the right to keep and bear arms was not based on what is considered a natural right for self-defense. The U.S. declaration of Independence refers to natural rights as those endowed by our Creator… Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The U.S. second Amendment had very little to do with defense of personal property or natural self-defense. The right to keep and bear arms was for common national defense, as the nation had not the reach or resources to defend all its borders. Secondarily it was for the defense of an individual state’s sovereignty should the federal government become oppressive.
The point is, although personal self-defense is an assumed provision of the amendment it is not the intention of it. Could a Christian justify self-defense from Romans 13:1-10 which discusses us being subject unto higher powers, where that higher power gives them a right to use a weapon in self-defense? Actually U.S court history does not even use the second amendment to prove justifiable self-defense. This is where the problem begins for this line of argument, but it only become more problematic as we examine Romans 13, in relation to the reason for its writing. In order to understand the warning and admonition of Romans 13, we must first examine Romans 12:16-21.
Remember that there are no chapters’ headings of divisions in the original writings of the scriptures, so we must be careful not to define the intent of Chapter 13 outside of chapter 12. What is the intent of the passage? How to live in subjection when the ruling powers become antagonistic to believers. Even though in Rome, where the government was becoming more adversarial towards Christians, Paul exhorts them to be in submission to the government. God’s wisdom entails that even if the ruling powers had gone rouge from their intended purpose under God, His intent could still be fulfilled if we as believers follow Christ. In order to gain a full appreciation for Romans 12 and 13 one must prayerfully consider I Peter 2:13-25; 3:13-17, 4:1-3, which can be summed up I Peter 2:20-21; 3:14-17.
Yet we can probe a bit further on this point. Let us assume self-defense a natural right is as bonafide civil right in America, does this give us a justification biblically? That depends read I Corinthians 6:20; 7:22-23. Our rights are not dictated by the constitution but our master Jesus. Whether we invoke a civil right has nothing to do with having it, but if it God’s will for us to exercise it, and if it is in the best interest of the Kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:12; I Corinthians 10:23-24).
No Justification for Self-Defense in the New Testament Most who desire to justify self-defense for believers cite Luke 22:35-38, as sufficient New Testament evidence, being that they are the words of Jesus. If Jesus had meant this as a justification for self-defense or defending the defenseless, we need to consider a few things. The disciples said they had two swords and Jesus said “it is enough”. If Jesus words were a clear command and justification for self-defense, why did He say “it is enough”, when He just said prior “And he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and by one”. It would seem Jesus was speaking of something other than self-defense.
Further still, if Jesus intended His words to be justify self-protection or defending the helpless with the force of human strength, why would he later rebuke Peter for using one of the two swords, and then say “They that live by the sword, shall die by the sword” (Mathew 26:51)? Quite simply, Jesus was not speaking of His followers girding their person with a sword. He was warning them of the perilous nature of the world from the moment of His arrest until His second coming; Times which would scare even the strongest of men into arming themselves. If we plum the depth of New Testament instruction on what to do in persecution would see the opposite of self-preservation and protection (See “What it means to be a Christian #1” http://dfygrvty.blogspot.com/2015/12/what-it-means-to-be-christian.html). The Entirety of the counsel of God’s word does not give disciples of Christ justification to exercise self-defense.
What About Random and Senseless Acts of Violence?
Still some would say, “I will die for Jesus if that’s what He wants, but what about random acts of violence, I am not simply going allow the slaughter of those I love”, “I won’t let someone treat me as a door mat, for no reason”. This line of thinking is often employed when a person finds no justification for self-defense in the Bible, it is linked to our primal responsibility to protect our loved ones. Having five children and a wife, which I love more than any persons on this planet, I understand this urge as well. The problem is we are not to be led, by our flesh, our anxieties or our fears. In fact, there is to be no human relationship we hold higher than our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. We may use the above justification even implying it is biblical, but for the one who is in Christ, nothing about our life is random or outside the scope of His power, even our suffering.
If you and I are truly loved by God, if He never leaves us or forsakes, if we believe Christ is in us the hope of glory, than we cannot believe in random acts of pointless violence against us. Could He who knows all things not thwart any attack before it happens, could He not give us wings to fly away? If you are in Him and evil befalls you He has either ordained you walk in it or allowed it for His glory and your good (Psalm 139:1-17; Romans 8:28).
Recently a pastor’s wife was killed in home invasion. Many would use this event as a reason to bolster their position on gun control, or look at it as a sad waste of life, like it was a random act of senseless violence. As we have now heard from her surviving husband, there was a purpose for the church in her death, a purpose for him in her death, and a purpose for even her attackers. This was not a random event. Was it ordered specifically by God, or was it allowed by God for His purpose? I have no idea. What I do know is that, “all things work together for the good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose”.
The conclusion of the matter is that we are to follow the clear teaching of the New Testament, which leads us to I Peter 2:20-21. In every situation we are to seek to submit to Jesus clear practice and clear instructions in the face of evil on His behalf. Resist not the evil man, turn the other cheek, go the second mile, give up more than is taken, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them who hate you and pray for them which despite-fully abuse you. Our biggest problem should not be preparing for the “what if” and what am I allowed to do if the “what if comes”. We should be living in the day (for sufficient is the evil of today), waiting and listening for His leading knowing that He is with us. Our heart is not to protect, but to love, for the one who declared “if any man come after me, let Him deny Himself, take up His cross and follow me”, lived those words perfectly; that we would have an example to follow in His steps.