Two caveats before proceeding, which I regrettably find necessary to make. The first is this: after some 40 years of being a Christian, one ominous trend I have observed seems to be getting worse with the passage of time. I refer to the growing levels of biblical illiteracy amongst so many Christians – and I am referring to those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians.
Evangelicals pride themselves in being people who put Scripture first, but basic knowledge of the Bible seems to be getting less and less all the time. Indeed, just try this simple test: the next time you are with a bunch of your Christian friends, ask them if they have ever read the entire Bible through, cover to cover. The results may surprise you.
If we don’t even have a basic grasp of our own scriptures, then no wonder so much of the church is ineffective at best, and sliding into heresy and apostasy at worst. The enemy has managed to render far too many believers null and void by simply keeping them from the Word of God. He keeps them busy with all sorts of worldly amusements and entertainments – even church ones as well.
Secondly, I have always experienced my fair share of abuse and hostile reactions for standing up for truth. I of course expect it from angry atheists or militant secularists. But what has been a real concern to be honest is how this increasingly comes from people who call themselves Christians.
There are some issues which seem to trigger an incredibly hostile response. Indeed, it is almost as if some psychological disorder occurs: the mind shuts down, the emotional reaction spirals out of control, and the abuse gets hurled. Sadly, rational, evidence-based discussion comes to a screeching halt, and the emotional invective begins to fly freely.
Indeed, so often all that I seem to get from such folks is a visceral reaction, devoid of any argument, facts, data or evidence. Their hot button has obviously been pressed big time, and they will unleash a torrent of emotional or ideological abuse, all because I dare to discuss some controversial issue.
And the really odd and ironic part of all this is that most of these fellow believers who unleash their anger and emotional road rage on me will justify their rants by claiming that I am somehow being “un-Christlike” for what I am discussing or advocating. And they want me to emulate their Christlikeness?!
Christians of all people should be concerned about the truth, first and foremost. Indeed, they should not be afraid of the truth, and should love and serve God with all their minds. They should engage with the facts and data, not ignore them or berate them or claim they are not worthwhile. Any controversial issue should be calmly assessed in a prayerful and rational manner. But sadly this seldom occurs, and emotional blasts become the only form of “argument” that seems to come forth.
So, having said that, let me get back to the topic at hand. There has been so much fuzzy thinking on this topic coming from some believers that it is worth giving a brief overview of the biblical data on this. After all, it is the Word of God which should be guiding our thinking here, not emotion, not ideology, not political correctness, and not the sentimental secular mush of the surrounding culture.
This may well be the first of many more such articles on this issue. And in this case I am happy to defer to another writer. Sometimes a Christian thinker presents such a good short and sweet summary piece on a topic, that it would be foolish of me to ignore it and to reinvent the wheel. So in this case I simply want to reprint an entire article by Joseph Farah.
It originally appeared on November 26, 2001, just weeks after September 11. But its relevance for today remains unchanged. It is a good, albeit brief, introduction to this topic, and well worth considering. Please give it careful and prayerful thought. Let your Spirit-sanctified mind, not your emotions, be your guide here. Here then is the article:
The Bible and Self-Defense
After my plea to Americans last week to buy firearms as a first step to fighting terrorism, a number of Christians wrote challenging my prescription as unbiblical, unscriptural and ungodly. Wrong. The Bible couldn’t be clearer on the right – even the duty – we have as believers to self-defense. Let’s start in the Old Testament.
“If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him,” we are told in Exodus 22:2. The next verse says, “If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”
In other words, it was perfectly OK to kill a thief breaking into your house. That’s the ultimate expression of self-defense. It doesn’t matter whether the thief is threatening your life or not. You have the right to protect your home, your family and your property, the Bible says.
The Israelites were expected to have their own personal weapons. Every man would be summoned to arms when the nation confronted an enemy. They didn’t send in the Marines. The people defended themselves.
In 1 Samuel 25:13, we read: “And David said unto his men, Gird ye on every man his sword. And they girded on every man his sword; and David also girded on his sword: and there went up after David about four hundred men; and two hundred abode by the stuff.” Every man had a sword and every man picked it up when it was required.
Judges 5:8 reminds us of what happens to a foolish nation that chooses to disarm: “They chose new gods; then was war in the gates: was there a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel?” The answer to the rhetorical question is clear: No. The people had rebelled against God and put away their weapons of self-defense. “Blessed be the LORD my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight,” David writes in Psalms 144:1.
Clearly, this is not a pacifist God we serve. It’s God who teaches our hands to war and our fingers to fight. Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, His people are commanded to fight with the best weapons available to them at that time.
And what were those weapons? Swords. They didn’t have firearms, but they had sidearms. In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus commanded His disciples to buy them and strap them on. Don’t believe me? Check it out. Luke 22:36: “Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”
I know. I know. You biblically literate skeptics are going to cite Matthew 26:52-54 – how Jesus responded when Peter used his sword to cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest: “Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?”
Read those verses in context and they support my position. Jesus told Peter he would be committing suicide to choose a fight in this situation – as well as undermining God’s plan to allow Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection. Jesus told Peter to put his sword in its place – at his side. He didn’t say throw it away. After all, He had just ordered the disciples to arm themselves. The reason for the arms was obviously to protect the lives of the disciples, not the life of the Son of God. What Jesus was saying was: “Peter, this is not the right time for a fight.”
In the context of America’s current battle – as we make plans to rebuild after the devastation of Sept. 11 and defend ourselves at the same time – we should recall Nehemiah, who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon,” we’re told in Nehemiah 4:17-18. “For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded.” Any more questions, skeptics?
There is of course much more that needs to be said on a topic like this. Not all the bases can be covered in a short post like this, whether by me or Farah. So before my many critics unleash their concerns, let me at least offer a few more provisos and supplements here.
One, there is of course a place for lawful and morally acceptable killing. The Bible is absolutely clear on this. The Sixth Commandment actually says, “Thou shall not commit murder”. There is a huge difference between licit killing and illicit murder. Indeed any court of law in the West makes these elementary distinctions all the time. This is basic Christianity 101, and I am surprised that so many believers do not seem to have a grasp of these elementary matters. But for more on this, please see here: billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/11/is-it-ever-right-to-kill/
Two, a tad more discussion on weapons. If God was fully opposed to all weapons and all such use of force, then of course he never would have commanded the Israelites to use them, and Jesus would never have told his disciples to go get them. But they did, as Farah has already discussed. One could also mention the fact that Jesus actually took time and effort to fashion a weapon. Yes you heard me right; he made a whip which he actually used as he cleansed the temple (see John 2:14-16). And please try reading the book of Revelation. There we read about how Jesus will fiercely judge his enemies, with his sword and garments dripping in blood. No pacifist Jesus there.
Three, even if you are a Catholic, and perhaps prefer to hear what the Church’s social teachings say on this, the same truths apply. The Catholic Church has never opposed morally licit killing, such as the death penalty or just war. Yet I am amazed at how many Catholics do not even seem to be aware of what their own Church teachings are on this issue. For those wanting a refresher course on all this, please see here: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/05/05/killing-and-catholic-social-teaching/
Finally, the gun control crowd will happily latch on to Mathew 5:39, as if it were the only passage in Scripture on this topic, and will use it as some kind of trump card to silence all other considerations. But I have in fact spent a fair amount of time on this text, carefully seeking to explain what it is teaching. For those interested, you are welcome to read this: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/20/difficult-bible-passages-matthew-539/
In sum, as I often say, in areas like this Christians are certainly free to agree to disagree. If you don’t like what I or Farah have said, fine. But please respond rationally and calmly, and leave all the emotions at home. Please read the three articles I have just mentioned first, as that may well answer many of your questions, and save me a lot of time repeating myself in replies.
As we are told in Scripture, we must test all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). And as the noble Bereans regularly did, taking Paul’s teachings and comparing them to the word of God (Acts 17:11), I of course invite you to do the same.