I remember a business meeting that I attended in Chicago about ten years ago. One evening a few business colleagues and I went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. As we finished and began our trek back to the hotel, the other three guys were in deep conversation about guns and firing ranges.
Since I didn’t have much to offer to the conversation I spaced out and started thinking about other things. That was until one of the guys started talking about how he carries a concealed weapon to church service each week. He went on to say that his church had recently implemented security measures for their church services. At any one time there were at least three people on their security team with concealed weapons during their church services.
I had several thoughts about this mindset and approach at the time, but believed it was unique to that church and not necessarily a widespread phenomenon among other churches. But with the recent violence that has occurred within a few churches in the United States, the issue of securing churches with deadly weapons is more relevant now than ever.
I have a feeling that I am going to be a lone voice in the wilderness on this issue, but I believe a different voice is desperately needed right now.
Listen to me.
A church is supposed to be a gathering of those who have professed their allegiance and given their lives to the way, life, and teachings of Jesus. A church is supposed to be the body, the physical manifestation, of the Spirit of Christ in the world. A church is supposed to be comprised of those who are citizens of an alternative, upside-down kingdom that defies every convention of worldly wisdom.
So how have Jesus followers determined so easily to defy the way, life, and teachings of Jesus by deciding to take up arms when they gather together?
How have Jesus followers given up so easily their identity as the body of Christ in the world by concealing deadly weapons when they gather together?
How have Jesus followers abandoned so easily their citizenship of a kingdom that is characterized by the values of their king by choosing instead a thoroughly human way of responding violence?
There is no argument one can make for Jesus condoning the use of violence by his followers, without taking Jesus out of context and manipulating his meaning.
Jesus is the full and perfect revelation of the Father. When you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. When you have seen the way of Jesus, you have seen the way of the Father. When you have seen the values of Jesus, you have seen the values of the Father. And to that end, the full revelation of God through Christ is a self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, other-oriented love.
Even further, the disposition and character of those who follow Jesus, who are given the Spirit of Christ in and through their lives, looks exactly like the Jesus they profess to follow by embodying and demonstrating the self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, other-oriented love of Christ to both friend and enemy.
And no matter how many times a person tries to twist or contort Jesus into a violence-condoning, weapon-encouraging, enemy-killing, blood thirsty Savior, it simply can not be done without ignoring the clear and concise words of Jesus and the heart of the Father.
Whipping animals into a frenzy and overturning tables in the temple does not condone or justify the killing of an enemy.
Telling his disciples to buy swords, which was unambiguously mentioned in Scripture to fulfill a prophecy and which Jesus later rebuked Peter for using on an aggressor, does not overturn the entire ministry and life and command of Jesus to love your enemies.
Riding symbolically on a horse in Revelation with a sword coming out of his mouth, which clearly symbolizes the “sword of Truth,” does not somehow make the task of those who follow Jesus an enemy-killing affair. Besides, who fights with a sword in their mouth, anyway?
If those manipulations of Scripture are your basis for overturning and ignoring the overwhelmingly obvious foundation of the self-sacrificing, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, and other-oriented love of Jesus to justify your carrying of weapons to kill an enemy, then you have been misguided and have missed the heart of God for all people, including those you view as enemies.
Even more, if those are the proof texts for Jesus condoning the arming, violence, and killing by his followers, then we have a wildly contradictory Messiah, because they would absolute contradict his entire life, ministry, and mission.
For the Jesus I know and follow took up a cross to demonstrate how God loves despite accusation, insult, violence, and impending death. For the Jesus I know and follow said to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and to give food to our enemy if he is hungry. For the Jesus I know and follow taught us to repay evil with good, to not resist an evil doer, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, and to give the shirt off our back. For the Jesus I know and follow instructed us to pray for those who persecute us, to forgive others because they do not know what they are doing, and not be afraid of those who kill the body. For the Jesus I know and follow said that anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, that anyone who lives by the sword will die by the sword, that we should not avenge ourselves, and implored us to live at peace with everyone.
If his Kingdom was of this world, then his followers would fight and aggress and retaliate like those in this world. For though we live in the world, we do not fight as the world does. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of this dark world. And the weapons we bear are not of this world. Our belt is truth. Our breastplate is righteousness. Our shield is faith. Our helmet is salvation. Our sword is the Spirit of Christ.
And this Kingdom, the Kingdom in which we are citizens, is not of this world. Nor does it operate like the world.
For we are peacemakers. We are those who choose to bless. We are those who are meek and gentle. We are those who forgive and forgive and forgive. We are those who are self-sacrificial, enemy-loving, cross-bearing, and other-oriented. And we are those who always choose to love, even in the face of impending death, because it is the way demonstrated by our Savior and Lord.
Only and always peace and love…