It’s the mantra of many Christians in the face of highly publicized gun violence in America – “More guns!” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. highlighted this reality when he called all of his students, faculty and staff to arm themselves.
The Second Amendment is simple and direct. In fact, the very existence of this nation is founded upon the value of average citizens arming themselves in revolt against a tyrannical government. Without an armed citizenry, the American Revolution wouldn’t have happened. But under what circumstances would it be wise for Christians to publicly promote exercising this fundamental American right?
I’m a guy that values critical thinking. This requires me to ask hard questions, and hold loosely to preconceived notions. If you’re willing to join me in that exercise regarding guns, keep reading.
Full disclosure: I’m not a pacifist or a peace monger. My wife and I own both a handgun and a shotgun. I’m also not a theologian, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I believe God’s Word is accessible to all, and advanced degrees aren’t required for thoughtful discourse.
With all of that said, let’s dive in.
- God’s Word trumps the Constitution. In our system of government, Federal law trumps State law. In our faith, God’s Word trumps everything. A healthy conversation about Christians and guns requires believers to temporarily set aside the Second Amendment. We can’t let ourselves view Scripture through the lens of the Constitution.
- Government Authority. Romans 13 makes it pretty clear. God gave government the role of enacting justice in society. In so doing, vigilante justice is not a Christian ethic. We’re supposed to submit to government laws and authorities. Why? It’s the government’s job to catch and punish the bad guys. That’s why we have police, courts, military, etc.
- Carry a sword, and turn the other cheek. As far as I can tell, American Christians base their public advocacy of gun possession and usage primarily on one passage. Just before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his disciples, “…But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36) While many see this as an endorsement for everyone to carry a gun, a plain reading of this passage leaves me with more questions than answers. Particularly when compared to other commands throughout the Bible, because we know Jesus wouldn’t contradict himself. Here’s a few that come to mind:
- “But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:39)
- “But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest’s slave, slashing off his ear. “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” – Jesus (Matthew 26:51-52)
- “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:43-45)
- “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – Jesus (John 15:13)
- “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Paul (Romans 12:18)
- “You shall not murder.” – God (Exodus 20:13)
- The wider context. It’s always a bad idea to grab a verse from the middle of a passage, and create an entire theology out of it. We need to be sure we look at the wider context. From this perspective, the sword passage may not be as clear as you think. Don’t believe me? A quick Google search shows that there are a variety of interpretations of this passage. From my vantage point, it looks like the swords have more to do with the prophesy Jesus mentioned than something I’m supposed to do in 2015. Why else would only two be enough for eleven men? Take a look at the larger passage for yourself:
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied. (Luke 22:35-38)
- The Silence of History. I haven’t been able to find one instance in the Bible of any Christian using a sword after Jesus talked about buying one. Nothing in Acts. Nothing in the Epistles. Take a look at Paul’s life. When attacked on multiple occasions, he either submits to it or flees. As far as we know, he never fought with a sword. I’m also not aware of any instance in the first few centuries of the church of any Christian using a sword to hurt or kill anyone. Instead, we have stories of fellowship, community, church politics, caring for the oppressed and martyrdom. I know one can’t draw definitive conclusions from the absence of evidence, but in this case the silence is deafening.
- The eleven who were given the directive. Did they go down swinging a sword in self defense? Do we have gallant tales of them journeying with swords on their belts, chopping criminals and oppressors to bits? Nope. Of the eleven people present when Jesus talked about buying a sword, only John died of old age. The rest were martyred for their faith.
- Saul of Tarsus. By the time Saul appears in Acts, there’s at least three thousand Christians living nearby (see Acts 2). He was essentially hunting and persecuting this group of new believers. Surely this small army of three thousand Christians could grab their swords and hunt down their enemy Saul. Or maybe form a band of their best swordsman to slice him in half while he sleeps. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Saul of Tarsus became a beautiful and powerful illustration of what happens when you love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you and turn the other cheek. He became the most radical example of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.
- The Christian objective. Our primary mission is to make disciples and teach them to follow Jesus (See Matthew 28). We’re called to introduce people to the love, forgiveness, grace and mercy offered to all who would accept the free gift of salvation through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. So, how well do we support that cause by loudly advocating for average Christians to use lethal violence against their enemies?
At best, an unfiltered examination of these concepts should create tension in the mind of followers of Jesus. I don’t see room for easy answers about Christians and guns. Instead, it makes more sense to lean heavily on what we know to be true. If God clearly gives government the authority to enact justice on earth (See Romans 13), shouldn’t we more logically publicly advocate for the expansion of their ability to protect us?
I don’t see anything wrong with gun ownership. The Bible seems to indicate it’s permissible. That’s why I’m comfortable owning two myself. But perhaps our advocacy of it should be much quieter. Or even unspoken. And our call for government to better exercise their Biblical authority should be much louder.
In the end, I don’t want people to know me for my position on the Second Amendment, or for advocating Christians shooting people. I want them to know me for loving Jesus, loving my neighbor and loving my enemy.
18 thoughts on “More Guns?”
I had an image flash through my head when I read this statement by the younger Jerry of a Christian brand of ammunition which has the words “Jesus Loves You” laser etched on the brass of each round in the brick. Of course a certain percentage of the price of the ammo would go to various ministry efforts, centering on outreach to Muslims so that in the future we might not need to hurt our attackers in Jesus’ name… It’s amazing, the garbage that ends up in my head.
Any worthwhile answers come from long, awkward consideration of the matter and not shoot from the hip (sorry) commentary. Thanks for making us think.
Oh, and how has Marshall recovered?
You’re right – “worthwhile answers come from long, awkward consideration of the matter…” I like that!
Thanks for asking about my son Marshall. I’m pleased to report that he’s doing very well! Lord willing, his seizure was an isolated incident. For now, we simply watch and pray.
I agree with your blog. I’m not a pacifist and am personally debating acquiring a conceal and carry. But I don’t think I am mentally prepared for this fight.
One thing I think it does when a Christian leader (well known or local)advocates getting a weapon is to take the trust and emphasis off the care of God and the “prime directive”; which is to share the good news of new life in Christ. In fact, it is not our job to LIVE at all costs. It is our job to make disciples.
Seems like the last time “Christians”took up arms, we ended up with a little something called the Crusades. That was not the apex of our religious history; it still haunts us today.
I don’t think my pastor, deacon or Christian leader should use a pulpit to promote getting a gun. There is an only sing we sang as kids that goes; “if you want to see that devil run, just shoot him down with the Gospel gun….”
My personal debate will rage on about this with prayer and good consel.
I’m with you! Thanks for the great comments. Well said.
Brian, you’ve confused two issues: Defending one’s self and property vs. vigilante justice.
Your post makes it sound like the only reason Christians want to own a firearm is to go on a rampage of vigilante killing, which is absurd.
Christians who are asking for free exercise of the Second Amendment are doing so for DEFENSE, not offense. Without a firearm, you have no chance of defending yourself against an armed perpetrator. But keep in mind, this is someone perpetrating something on you, not you “hunting bad guys” in a fit of blood lust.
And any Christian message that doesn’t include caring for one’s own, and defending the life of others from harm and evil is a weak and watered down message, and not “good news” for anybody.
Ask the Jews in Germany if it was a good idea to give up their firearms when the Nazis knocked on their door and rounded them up into ghettos. Without the means to defend themselves against an evil, tyrannical regime, they were slaughtered to the tune of six million.
So, again, a discourse on vigilante justice is one thing, and gun ownership for defense of family is one thing, but they’re definitely not the same thing in a vast, VAST majority of cases and shouldn’t be treated as such.
Thanks for the comment. I’m surprised to hear you felt the tone of my piece was that the only reason a Christian would want to use a firearm is for vigilante killing. Particularly in light of the fact that I’m a gun owner. Many people own guns for sport, and for hunting. Others own them for self defense. My piece is really only dealing with whether it’s wise for Christians to be public advocates for arming ourselves.
And we likely agree on more than you realize. As I wrote, I’m not a pacifist or a peace monger. God clearly calls us to defend the oppressed, and to hunger and thirst for Justice. I just think we’re fully capable of doing those two things in a wide variety of ways without taking someone’s life. After all, we’re supposed to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I think this is primarily so that these individuals can come to saving faith.
One question…. Are the Ten Commandments not relevant for us Christians today? What part of thou shalt not kill. Do people not understand? Yes, the Jesus I know taught love comes first, like those verses you quoted, turn the other cheek and show mercy… I know, there’s room for self defense and I don’t know exactly where that line is, but I would rather err on the side of dying showing love n compassion for the murderer than in a shootout taking lives that are not ready to meet God.
Well said! Thanks for the honest and insightful comment.
Thank you, Brian.
My pleasure! Thanks for reading an commenting.
A weapon carried for self defense is never deployed for the purpose of killing someone, but to STOP a threat of great bodily injury or death.
Thanks for the comment. I’m sure what you said is true for many people. But “never” is a strong word. In addition, my post didn’t deal with that issue. I was exploring whether it’s wise for Christians to publicly promote the use of guns. I’m surprised to see how many seem unwilling to spend time seriously considering that question.
How about love and compassion for the lives that are not ready to meet Jesus that are being murdered by hate filled enemies? If I as a believer stand idly by while a hate filled murderer kills unarmed innocent people because they don’t agree with their radical ideology, I don’t think I could live with myself.
I plan to err on the side of trying to protect the innocent and pray that the murderer will ask for forgiveness in their dying breath like the thief on the cross. I also pray the Holy Spirit will give me clear direction if and when I am put into a situation of defending innocent lives.
If we aren’t proactive in defending our families then expect more of the same and worse. Do you think Israel would be as safe as it is if their government didn’t encourage their citizens to defend themselves?
I don’t fault Mr. Falwell for being proactive. The media as always have distorted what he said and the context.
As far as I know, Mr. Falwell’s comments weren’t taken out of context. They seem to be fairly self-explanatory. Ultimately, my post didn’t deal with many of the issues you addressed. Instead, I was exploring whether it’s wise for Christians to publicly promote the use of guns.
Great article. Appreciate the last paragraph. Am reminded of 2 American historical examples of men who chose not to carry a firearm. One is the famous Federal “Hanging Judge,” Isaac Parker, who though he possessed a stern view of the Law & lived in a most savage part of the west, refused to carry a gun while out & about. The other is Simon Kenton. He fled home after beating another young man to death (actually the guy lived) and eventually immersed himself into the extremely violent life of frontiersman in Kentucky & Ohio. There came a point in time when, after becoming married & yet still quite violent, he was led to the Lord by a traveling preacher. From that moment on, and with a host of enemies still alive, Simon retired his rifle and went about with a walking stick, dying at the ripe old age of 81 in 1836.
Thanks for the kind words, Charles! Great stories as well!
I really appreciate the points you brought out. We may quietly vote for laws and persons who support the second amendment in office. However being a voice for in the world as a Bible believeing Christian aught to always point toward Jesus Christ and the gospel not to how guns are any form of salvation.
Well said. Thanks!