To Tote or not to Tote. That is the Question.
The age-old question is again before us. With the horrible events of recent weeks, legitimate concerns arise about defense against such senseless killings as took place in Charleston, South Carolina (in a church of all places) and now a movie theater in nearby Lafayette, Louisiana. So, what does the Bible say?
Since the days of early church persecution by Rome this has always been an issue in the Christian Church. There are actually Bible verses on both sides of the discussion.
The Pacifist Position
“But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him, also (Matt. 5:39).”
A few verses later, He says,
“love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:44).”
As an illustration of this very principle, in Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, when the Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus and his disciples, Peter drew out his sword and began fighting (incidentally, that means Peter was already carrying a weapon!). Jesus reprimanded him saying,
“Put your sword in its place…for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matt. 26:52)” (Gandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. oft quoted this passage in favor of non-violent resistance).
Jesus then ascribed to the higher power of angelic protection should that be needed.
Historically, this position has been taken the form of CHRISTIAN PACIFISM which states that any form of violence is incompatible with Christian faith. Such groups as the Amish, the Quakers, Mennonites, and the Seventh-Day Adventists are vivid examples of this position.
But We are Supposed to Defend Our Homes!
Then there is the other side of the coin. Particularly in the Old Testament, Scripture abounds about resisting evil. There are even laws about defending your home against thieves.
“If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed (Ex. 22:2).”
Jesus seems to confirm this right to defend by describing what strong men do for their homes.
“When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe (Luke 11:21).”
Did you notice the words “fully armed?” Add to this the admonition of Paul,
“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (I Tim. 5:8).”
Finally, Jesus’ own words again. There was a spiritual kind of violence about Jesus that we find in words like those found in Matt. 10:34.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Underscoring this, He even calls for arming yourself.
“But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one (Luke 22:36).”
When is it Just?
So, here’s the picture. Under certain circumstances, Jesus calls us to NOT defend ourselves and under others He calls to TO do so. He never says DO NOT ARM YOURSELVES. Rather he warns and instructs about the situations in which you should or should not USE those weapons.
Just War Theory helps us here. This much discussed topic of Christian doctrine asks the question, “When is it just for a nation to go to war?” The short answer to this complicated discussion is “It is just to go to war when you are invaded by an evil aggressor.” In other words, we have the right to defend ourselves.
So, if Peter was carrying a sword in Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Go buy a sword,” it must be OK for a Christian to carry a gun. That takes us, however, in another direction altogether. I cannot now delve further into this, but questions must be asked about motive. If it is for DEFENSE, I think we are fine. But, what about suppressed ANGER? What about growing resentment about INJUSTICES in our world that can boil over into taking justice in your own hands. What about PRIDE or MACHISMO. Are we putting our confidence in our side arms or in the arms of God?
Weapons should be a deterrence against evil, not a means of evil. And therein is the heated debate.