Monday, December 28, 2015

God, Guts and Guns

Sorry, but Christians only have the right to bare arms.

Matthew 5:44

I was watching James White's Dividing Line on Youtube the other day. At fifty-one minutes in, White started talking about a John Piper article on guns written the day before (23/12/15) that several of his listeners were urging him to respond to. Back in '08, in response to another, shorter Piper post on Christians and self-defence, White had written an equally brief retort on his website, outlining his contrary blow-em away theology. White's vlog comments were more or less a repeat of what he'd said back in 2008 because, as he noted, he hadn't had time to read Piper's latest article in its entirety. Consequently, White's comments and Piper's article were focused on different aspects of the larger issue of Christian Pacifism.

Right up front I want to make it clear that I completely disagree with White on household-defence, for all the reasons that Piper enumerates in his article, the thrust of which he explains like so:

"The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, 'I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me'? My answer is, No." - John Piper

To me, the issue is a no-brainer. If nothing else, the defining Christian characteristic is non-violence. The martyrs of the Early Church did not attack the Roman soldiers who dragged them and their families to the lions. There is no recorded instance of any Christian violently opposing oppression prior to the Imperial Church. Were they all mad? Should they have stabbed Saul of Tarsus to death when he was persecuting the church and hauling families away? Did they all simply misunderstand the words of Christ?

I find it particularly surprising that Reformers like White, who are supposed to believe in the complete sovereignty of God, whereby nothing happens without His permission, can't see the lack of trust they're showing in the Lord when they buy a handgun with the express intention of defending themselves against the future evil acts of evil men. Why does he think Jesus told us to ask the Father to "deliver us from evil" (Matt 6:13b), if we're supposed to do it ourselves? I also can't understand how White can disregard all the explicit scriptural prohibitions against killing by appealing to a single verse that might indirectly sanction armed defence (Luke 22:36) and an argument from silence regarding a minor plot detail--not the point--of the Parable of the Strongman (Matthew 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21).

Of course this position of White’s is perfectly understandable. The desire to protect one’s property and family are natural; and that’s the problem for the Christian. It is all too natural, too carnal; it’s what all the unbelievers would do. The Christian response, to turn the other cheek, to suffer ignimony, injury and death, is counter-intuitive. It goes against our animal instincts, it runs counter to commonsense…just like the gospel itself!

It also appears unmanly. There is no quicker way for a man to be thought of as a coward by others than to refuse to defend his wife and kids against attackers. It’s what heroes do—kill the blackhats when they mess with their womenfolk—they don’t cower in a corner and DO NOTHING!
But, of course, noone who is advocating pacifism is promoting cowardice. The refusal to use lethal force or retaliate violently does not rule out invervention; pacificsm is not synonymous with passivity. Christians are not taught to do nothing in the face of attack (or evil), but rather to respond without anger, vengeance or malice. Under attack, it would be perfectly consistent with biblical Christianity to shield others with your body, in order to bear the brunt of the attack, while attempting to ward off the attacker non-violently. Even subduing an attacker would be fine, providing one takes reasonable pains not to injure them unduly in the process, much like we handle a child throwing a violent tantrum, or a mentally ill family member who has little to no control over their behavior. The main point is to make your response one of concern for the safety of everyone involved, not just the people close to you. And yes, sometimes (as in serious persecution) this means that Christians will have to die instead of retaliating, but nowhere is this mortal self-sacrifice proscribed in the Bible or called cowardice. In fact, when it’s made for the sake of friends, it’s called the greatest love (John 15:13).

In White's defence (ahem), it must be said that his promotion of cowboy justice is by no means uncommon among his countrymen. Many American Christians have a glaring theological blind-spot where nationalism and gun issues are concerned; especially about the US military. Time and again I've encountered their unconscious conflating of military service with Christian service. I wrote about this on my old blog here (unfortunately, the embedded Youtube vid has been removed). As well, I'll never forget being in a Baptist church in Fairbanks, Alaska, where they prayed for "fallen heroes"; which I also wrote about on my old blog at the time:
During one service we attended, they spent about 10 minutes running through a slideshow of the week’s fallen heroes and asked the congregation to pray and thank God for their “sacrifice”. I thought it was a memorial for the members of the church who had been killed in Iraq, but Sandy informed me later that they were all the U.S. military casualties of the past week. I was shocked. Praying for dead Christians is bad enough, but memorializing people who could’ve been anything—atheist, Muslim, Satanists, whatever—just because they were killed while wearing an American uniform is outrageous!
The comments section of Bob Thune’s blog post reply to Piper, tellingly entitled "Why I Disagree with John Piper on Christians and Concealed Weapons," further reinforces the ethnocentric nature of the pro-killing side. If you’re a non-American Christian, read those comments and try to imagine the same opinions coming from the majority of Christians in your country. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that only South Africans and a handful of conservative Canadians and Australians would be able to claim that a majority of their local church members hold the same pro-killing opinions—South Africans because of their uniquely (unbiblical) violence-excusing church culture; conservative Canucks and Aussies because of the strong political affinity that has developed between them and conservative, pro-gun Americans. Here’s a sadly typical post, coming from purported Christian “Daryl,” that perfectly illustrates the lack of self-awareness and theological understanding of the gun-lover. Daryl is reacting to another commenter’s suggestion that displaying a firearm is often a good way of deterring a would-be attacker:
The first indication an attacker should have that you are armed is the muzzle flash. Brandishing a weapon only provides time for unfavorable escalation, introduction of uncertainty to the defender, or provides an opportunity to lose it. Wisdom in deciding the use of deadly force should be sought over a long period through regular focused prayer and arms training. Jesus loves life. it is a very serious matter to take it and that resolve should be had before any incident. Showing your gun to halt potentially lethal aggression is a bad idea.
After reading so many wrong-headed responses I was relieved to read this from “Rick:”
No, no, no, no! I mean no offense but only an immature Christian makes an argument that justifies arming themselves in case something tragic happens. That’s not who we are. We don’t condition ourselves to condone killing another person no matter what is going on around us. Such ideology has no place in the life of a Christian. We need to model our lives after Christ so ask yourself this – would Jesus or the apostles arm themselves to protect themselves from the Romans? No! And what happened when Peter cut off a mans ear in a confrontation? “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” It is hard to accept the idea of turning the other cheek but God is in control of all. If someone dies in confrontation it doesn’t come as a surprise to God. He will take care of them. It’s hard for us to accept such a thought but our lives here are but a vapor. Don’t give in to paranoia. Be single minded about what you can do to honor God. Stop watching the news – the world has chosen its path and its path is not ours. Give to Ceaser what is Ceasers and not a penny more. Lose your grip on the world and refocus on Jesus.
To which I responded, with my signature heavy-handed bombast:
Rick, amen! Finally a sane and mature Christian perspective.

To all you cowboy Christians, Christ never commanded you to kill to save your family. Christians die for their wives, they don’t kill for them. Jesus never says your wife or child is more important (or less evil) than a rapist or murderer. Your feelings are lying to you, as is your Hollywood history. In order to justify training yourselves to kill, you have turned the text of the NT on its head! Time to wake up from your ethnocentric trance and give up your star-spangled saviour and your Democratic Kingdom of God Guts and Guns.
Bob Thune replied to me with, “Well…thanks for your understated and winsome reply.” (I see now that the comments have thankfully become much more balanced and scholarly. Lots of really good stuff; well worth a look!)

Oh well, I'm sure that nothing I say will change the minds of any conservative Christians like White and Thune, but maybe these unabashedly pacifist words form their beloved "Prince of Preachers" might at least give some of them pause:

“We are up to the hilt advocates of peace, and we earnestly war against war. I wish that Christian men would insist more and more on the unrighteousness of war, believing that Christianity means no sword, no cannon, no bloodshed, and that, if a nation is driven to fight in its own defence, Christianity stands by to weep and to intervene as soon as possible, and not to join in the cruel shouts which celebrate an enemy's slaughter. Let us always be on the side of right.”

- Charles H. Spurgeon, “An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students”, Ch. 5.


  1. Hi Jim, I'm a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and I surely wouldn't watch the sons of the devil devouring my wife and children.

    Yes I surely would show them a little bit of what a man who is filled with the Spirit of the living God can do.

    Well, just look at Samson and all the mighty men of God, they were not useless cowards with no backbone.
    And neither were they like to days Christians, halve baked and lukewarm, men who are ashamed to mention the only Name of the living God 'JESUS'.
    Yes, such cowards would not defend their families with their lives, they would not even defend the truth.

  2. Paul, was Jesus a coward for not defending John the Baptist from "the sons of the devil"?

  3. Well Jim, I think that the Lord Jesus has raised up John the Baptist for that very purpose and to receive the martyrs crown which not many of us will receive, only those whom the Lord Jesus has prepared beforehand.

    John the Baptist did not have to defend his wife and his children. What do you think he would have done to those religious vipers if they would have threatened his family?
    Brother John was a wild man and full of the Spirit of the Lord.

    I know and understand that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. But that is in the realm of the spirit, and in the natural I surely wouldn't let my wife defend me and my children from worthless animals who walk on two legs.

    Not even my wife would turn the other cheek and watch those devils defiling and murdering our children and us, and as the head of the house I am supposed to protect my family, what do you think I would do, turn the other cheek?

    Look in the Old Testament, those men of God were mighty men and not cowards, and keep in mind that the Lord our God Jesus Christ does not change, He is the same yesterday (O.T.) today (N.T.) and forever.
    Of course that is my opinion.
    Because I am walking closely with my Lord, therefore He will tell me what to do in any given circumstances.

    By turning the other cheek, the Lord Jesus does not mean that we ought to be cowards. If someone punches us on one cheek, should we should turn the other cheek to be punched? No my brother.

    I think that the Lord Jesus teaches us, that when someone insults us, that we should not insult in return. Or when cheated, not to cheat in return, when accused not to accuse in return etc. etc. or basically we should not retaliate every time.

    1. I’ll take that as a “no”…

      I will also infer from your comment about “martyrs,” that you will summarily dismiss any historical or biblical example of non-resistance to evil as irrelevant to the issue of defending one’s family today where there is no persecutory intent on the evil doers. Therefore, I will take issue with your idiosyncratic exegesis.

      Ephesians 6:10-20. The Apostle Paul begins this passage by telling us to “be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might” (ἐνδυναμοῦσθε ἐν κυρίῳ καὶ ἐν τῷ κράτει τῆς ἰσχύος αὐτοῦ) and then tells us to wear “the whole armour of God” (τὴν πανοπλίαν τοῦ θεοῦ). He does not say to depend on our own material strength or armour. He explains that this is because the real enemy behind any existential threat is spiritual and that we cannot defeat it by defeating its material, earthly agent. Paul is explaining that we should look beyond the material to the spiritual, he is not, as you suggest, setting up one rule for spiritual behaviour while expecting us to do something else in the natural.

      Furthermore, it is in light of this principle that Peter says, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling (“or insult for insult” in the NIV), but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” (1 Pet 3:9. μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἢ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας, τοὐναντίον δὲ εὐλογοῦντες, ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο ἐκλήθητε). It is also the principle behind the Apostle Paul’s command to “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (Rom 12:19. μὴ ἑαυτοὺς ἐκδικοῦντες, ἀλλὰ δότε τόπον τῇ ὀργῇ) and “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21. μὴ νικῶ ὑπὸ τοῦ κακοῦ ἀλλὰ νίκα ἐν τῷ ἀγαθῷ τὸ κακόν). This is the Lord’s principle expressed in Matthew 5:39, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (μὴ ἀντιστῆναι τῷ πονηρῷ· ἀλλʼ ὅστις σε ῥαπίζει εἰς τὴν δεξιὰν σιαγόνα [σου], στρέψον αὐτῷ καὶ τὴν ἄλλην). This commandment is given as a direct corollary to the concept of violent reciprocity in the face of violence (“a tooth for a tooth”), it is not limited to insults and fraud. It is explicitly countering the idea that one can reclaim his dignity—of being thought of as weak or cowardly—by hitting back at his abuser. By what hermeneutic do you limit this principle and injunction to non-violent abuse to you? Or, in other words, why is violence not meant and why does the injunction against retaliation not extend to your retaliation on behalf of your family?

  4. Yes Jim I accept that, I understand that we are wrestling against spiritual forces as you say and not against flesh and blood.
    The armor of Ephesians is a spiritual armor for spiritual warfare, and the weapons of our warfare are not carnal or natural, but they are only operating in the realm of the spirit and sometimes it filters down to the natural.
    Yes I have said 'sometimes', because not all of us are mighty spiritual warriors and towers of faith.
    We need to act in the spirit and also in the natural.

    You said, "He does not say to depend on our own material strength or armor. He explains that this is because the real enemy behind any existential threat is spiritual and that we cannot defeat it by defeating its material, earthly agent."

    Yes, Ephesians is the spiritual side and battle, but we need NOT to neglect the natural side.
    Evil spirits are housing in a natural body (earthly agent).
    If we can defeat the spiritual side, we don't need to defeat the natural person (earthly agent).
    But if we cannot defeat the spiritual, surely we can and will defeat the natural earthly agent.
    Those who want to destroy my family are natural agents with evil spirits living in them, that's why I call them devils.
    Yes we look beyond the natural as you have said, but that doesn't always solve our immediate threat.

    Look brother Jim, there are many PASSIVE passage in the Scriptures just as you have quoted, but they are not necessarily only one sided.
    Jesus said that, if your hand causes you to sin cut it off.
    Well brother, I haven't seen anyone yet who has cut off their hands.
    All though, I have seen a girl in the northern New South Wales (Australia) who has tried to cut off her hand because the Bible said so.

    You said, and I quote "Matthew 5:39, “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also"

    'Do not resist the one who is evil'. What does that mean?
    Does that mean that, if some worthless animals rape your wife, that you should give them your daughters also?

    No no my brother, we ought to resit the evil one in the Spirit first and then in the natural also.
    Jesus said, RESIST the devil and he will flee from you. That means that, if we resist all those devils in the Spirit of the Lord with all authority then all those cowards will run away, that's the nature of a coward, if someone resists them, they take the easy option and run.
    Every coward knows when you have authority over them, I'm talking about naturally (physically).

    Jim, my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is NOT passive but active and I listen to the Lord Jesus when I ought to be passive and turn the other cheek and when not.

    1. Two things, Paul. First, you are confusing pacifism with passivity. Please reread the post you are commenting under to find out the difference.

      Secondly, you did not answer my questions. I am trying to find out what exegetical principles you are using to interpret Scripture. So far all you’ve given me is the result of subjective sentimentalism and personal inspiration. I’m sorry, but your feelings for your family don’t trump the clear scriptural commands of the Lord to not kill. And, forgive my bluntness, but if the “voice” you are “listening” to is contradicting any of those commands, then it does not belong to the Lord.

  5. May I share a short story of a friend and a brother in Christ Wally Boots.
    Wally Boots was a missionary from Australia to Papua New Guinea.

    He is well known among the natives of Papua New Guinea, and a whole tribe had converted to Christianity and they were eager to serve the Lord and do all the things the Scriptures commanded.
    However, there was a threat from a neighboring tribe would come and utterly destroy that Christian tribe.
    All the men and women of the whole tribe were looking to Wally for spiritual guideline, and they searched the Scriptures and decided that they would lay down their arms and trust in the Lord with no resistance.
    Then the time for the slaughter had arrived, Wally's wife and his children were in Australia at that time.
    Then all the men from the neighboring tribe attacked the village with bows and arrows, spears and axes etc. while all the men including Wally were passive in their dwellings and trusting the Lord the enemies murdered the men and raped the woman and children, killed some of the women and children and cut off some of the fingers of others.
    Only few of the men eventually escaped into the forest. My friend Wally got shot with an arrow and missed his heart about two centimeters.
    After they have ravished the whole tribe they took the few woman and children who were left with them back to their own village as slaves.
    After that, the New Guinea's authorities found my friend barely alive and transported him to an Australian Hospital.
    After a long time of recovery, Wally shared his experience in details with me and and with some other brothers and sisters.
    Wally's testimony is that he nearly lost his faith in God, and he agreed with all of us that if a next time he would use the weapons and fight to save all the people.

    1. You cannot fight great evil with greater evil! Paul, what monstrous anger in your heart makes you teach contrary to the Apostle Paul? He said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). You say, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with stronger evil!”

      Brother, all those Christian villagers were—as per “The End of the Spear” (please watch)—able to go to heaven because they knew the Lord of Heaven; the invaders were not. Do you imagine God would not sacrifice the earthly bodies of an entire tribe of his people to save a single soul from another tribe?

      You’ve got to start thinking beyond your emotions and pride, Paul, and start living by biblical principles.

  6. Jim, you said, 'you are confusing pacifism with passivity'.

    No I don't, I'm old enough to know the difference.
    You and I are not in opposition, I know what you are talking about and I agree with you.
    You are presenting one side of the coin and I present the other side of the coin.

    You said, 'I am trying to find out what exegetical principles you are using to interpret Scripture.'

    Common sense by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. The Scriptures is not for private interpretation and no one has the monopoly on the interpretation of Scriptures.
    If someone thinks that they know the Scriptures, so do I. Perhaps I can do better than that, I personally know the author of the Scriptures.

    You said, 'I'm sorry, but your feelings for your family don’t trump the clear scriptural commands of the Lord to not kill.'

    The commandment of the Lord does not say, you shall not kill, it clearly says "You shall not MURDER".
    There is a big difference between kill and murder.

    You said, 'but if the “voice” you are “listening” to is contradicting any of those commands, then it does not belong to the Lord.'

    Yes that would be right, but I belong to the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth and listen to His voice. He said, that His sheep hear His voice and when anyone else speaks they do not go after them.
    Yes I love my family and I would do anything necessarily to protect and defend them just as the Lord Jesus does with all of His sheep, because He is the good Shepherd and not a coward, He is not afraid of the wolf.

    You said, 'You cannot fight great evil with greater evil! Paul, what monstrous anger in your heart makes you teach contrary to the Apostle Paul?'

    What is evil and a greater evil?
    Is it evil to protect and defend your family with all authority against some worthless devils?
    I don't think that it is evil, I think it is the right and godly thing to do, anything else is an evil and coward thing to do.
    And how can you judge what is in my heart? I do not teach contrary to the Scriptures just as I have said above. Because one quotes a passage of the Scriptures without a reasonable explanation does not nullify the rest of the Scriptures.
    You should know Jim, numerous denominations are fighting about the correct interpretation of the written word.
    And everyone thinks that their interpretation is the only one who is right. And anyone who doesn't agree with them, they call them heretics.
    Well brother, that's the religious world and I do not belong to them. I belong to the Lord Jesus who has redeemed me with His blood.

    You said,'He said, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). You say, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with stronger evil!”

    I have explained that above. Obviously Paul is not talking about protecting and defending my family.

    You said, 'Brother, all those Christian villagers were—as per “The End of the Spear” (please watch)—able to go to heaven because they knew the Lord of Heaven; the invaders were not.'

    How do you know, are you judging rightly?

    You said, 'Do you imagine God would not sacrifice the earthly bodies of an entire tribe of his people to save a single soul from another tribe?'

    Well brother, that might sound nice, but that is certainly not true. As I have said, I know my God and He would never do such a wicked thing.
    The Lord Jesus did not command me to live with biblical principles, but to walk by the Spirit.
    And you might think that I'm full of pride, but the Lord Jesus doesn't. Pride goes before destruction, but the Lord Jesus Christ has saved me from destruction.

  7. Paul, we’re just talking past each another now, so I’m going to end our “discussion” right here. Feel free to comment further, just know that what you write will probably not be published.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your views.