Jesus Got A Gun

This post is a response to an article written by Reverend John Armstrong that rebutted my original post entitled Should We Arm Our Churches? 


Over the last couple of months, I have been told by Christians that I had “better watch out” with what I am saying, that I need to “be careful” or that I “need to be more sensitive.” Even more, I have had Christians tell me that I am “dangerous,” and that my positions on nonviolence, in general, and guns in churches, specifically are “dangerous” and “divisive.”

Let me first say that just because I hold a different view on Christian nonviolence and guns in the church, and have initiated a conversation about the issue, does not make me insensitive, dangerous, or divisive. Conversations such as these are absolutely necessary, lest the Church become a self-reinforcing, homogeneous, echo-chamber, which I am afraid is largely becoming the case.

I do find it curious though, that the one who is taking the words and life of Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, the Early Church Fathers, and the pre-Constantinian Early Church seriously and at face-value around the issue of nonviolence, is the one regarded as out-of-line and divisive. One might think that those who stray from, or explain away, the words of Jesus, the New Testament writings, and the Early Church ought to be regarded as the unorthodox position. For the weight of evidence in support of Christian nonviolence far outweighs the opposing, unorthodox position of Christian violence.

When the actual words of Jesus implores his followers to “love [their] enemies,” that ought to be sufficient. For there is no greater enemy than oneattempting to kill or inflict harm. And it is exactly that enemy the follower of Jesus is instructed to love.

The Dictionary of New Testament Theology says the word enemy, which is the Greek word exthrós, is “a person resolved to inflict harm.”  In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are instructed to be of such heart that we will love a person who is resolved to inflict harm upon us.

When one chooses to find gray areas in this, I wonder how one then determines who is one’s enemy and who is not. Even more, what words of Jesus, the author and perfecter of this faith, specify who is to be regarded as an enemy and who isn’t? There are not any distinctions to be made. An enemy is an enemy. And Jesus told his followers to love them. That certainly does not mean one ought not try to escape or think of other creative ways to preempt or diffuse the situation, but a follower of Jesus ought to love the enemy.

Even more, when Jesus tells his followers to not resist an evil-doer, which in Greek is mé anthistémi hé ponéros, it literally means “do not take a stand against, oppose, resist an evil man who injures you.” Jesus understands quite clearly what he is asking of his followers. And the Early Church understood quite clearly what Jesus meant. When violence comes upon a gathering of those who follow Jesus, it quite literally means for us to not stand up against it or oppose it or resist it.

So when one says that a Christian should “speak where Scripture speaks,” there then is no other choice than to say boldly that a follower of Jesus must love his enemy. Hard stop. And by virtue of this single declaration of Christ, one need not labor to recite all the other words of Jesus that support this one single verse.

Additionally, the argument that a Christian ought only “speak where Scripture speaks” misses the entire heart of the Gospel. For if that is the basis by which a follower of Jesus must move forth in the world, then one must be pro-slavery, pro-human cloning, pro-pornography, pro-illegal drugs and so forth.

But of course this is ludicrous.

The Spirit of God births within us a love that allows us to speak to contemporary issues and work toward peace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restorative (not retributive) means of justice. So while guns did not exist in the first century, one need only ask, “Since we share the same Spirit as Jesus Christ, would Jesus carry a gun to kill an enemy, even if it is done in self-defense or on behalf of another?” From the words and life of Jesus, I only find that we ought not kill an enemy. But you, as a follower of Jesus, can read his words in the Gospels and answer that for yourself.

Many Christians take the peaceable non-violence and enemy-love of Jesus to be only his divine calling and something divorced from his followers in the present. However, we never read Jesus saying, “This is my calling alone. It is not for you.”

Every single word of Jesus indicates that we, as his followers, have the exact same calling as Christ. So where would one find evidence of Jesus making peaceable non-violence and enemy-love his unique calling and something separate from the calling of his followers? There is absolutely no evidence for it. In fact, the evidence points significantly to the opposite. To follow Jesus is to follow the narrow way. To follow Jesus is to pick up one’s own cross daily. To follow Jesus means to turn away from all supposed worldly wisdom. To follow Jesus means one will be reviled and hated for their radical love and grace. To follow Jesus will mean one’s life because we no longer live in enmity with others, we no longer repay evil for evil. As followers of Jesus, our only disposition is love. And that may make me naive, stupid, crazy, radical, and divisive, but I take the enemy-loving words of Jesus at face value, just like his disciples and the Early Church.

Because when one considers that eleven of the twelve disciples died at the hands of an enemy, one must wonder why they did not self-defend. Or, when the Apostle Paul was killed at the hands of an enemy, why he did not self-defend. Or, why the Early Church was killed regularly at the hands of their enemies, but did not self-defend. The answer is that they practiced a peaceful non-violence rooted in the radical, enemy-love of Christ. And they believed others would see this radical love of Christ and be drawn to it.

Peace always…

Brandon

Read More

Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 1
Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 2

10 thoughts on “Jesus Got A Gun

  1. Your recognition of the difference between pre-Constitinian and post-Constitinian Christianity is significant and often overlooked.
    As I understand your position, you oppose having armed guards in church, but you don’t oppose police protecting the public in public venues. This is a legitimate distinction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Correct. Governments will do what governments need to do to maintain order and civility. Paul makes the distinction beautifully in detailing what governments do (Roman 13: 1-7) and then follows it immediately up by reminding every follower of Jesus what our unique calling is to be in the midst of that (Romans 13: 8-10). Most people cite the former, to the neglect of the latter.

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  2. Hi Brandon,

    Love your spouse, love your neighbor, love your enemy… is there any point where some of these direct commands come into conflict with one another? Can they all be carried out simultaneously in every circumstance?

    How do I show love for spouse and love for enemy when my enemy is attacking my spouse? What if my spouse does not know the Lord yet? Mr. Armstrong makes an interesting distinction between not defending ourselves (as Jesus taught) and not defending our neighbors or our family (a specific point that Jesus may not have been as clear about).

    Can we honestly say there is nothing troubling about the notion of allowing one’s spouse to be killed rather than resisting her attacker? Even if my resistance is non-lethal, it’s still resisting. Is it possible we are missing some unspoken distinction here… a nuance that is not apparent in the general command given by Jesus?

    Do we know for certain that the universal practice of early Christians was always non-resistance, in every circumstance? Or was it simply that there was no point in resisting since resistance was futile – the force of the Roman empire could not be successfully resisted? Did early Christians actually believe that it was better to let one’s family be killed by robbers along the road than to resist? Are we possibly missing something here?

    I can’t help but get a little hypothetical, if you’ll indulge me. If Jesus and his entourage had come upon some men assaulting a woman by the side of the road, would they have physically intervened, or simply shouted at the men to stop? If men invaded Peter’s home and began assaulting his mother, would he (or Jesus) have stepped in to defend her? If so, to what degree of force would they limit themselves? If not… honestly, that doesn’t seem possible.

    Let me offer this: There are certain other “unambiguous” teachings in the Bible that, after much prayer and seeking of the Lord, I have been led to perceive some unspoken nuances, in certain circumstances, that are not part of the general teaching. Because these are specific exceptions or deviations, they are not necessarily to be taught to other Christians, but they are for the one who needs to know in an actual circumstance – not hypothetical, and not out of mere curiosity.

    I am inclined to believe that non-resistance is one of those commands, although I have not been in personal need enough to seek it out diligently. I think there is a very broad-spectrum application that is valid for every believer, in most circumstances, but that there are nuanced exceptions that are – for lack of a better term – approved by the Lord.

    Whether that allows for armed guards at church gatherings, I cannot say, but I do think there are appropriate times for resistance of one sort or another. “Do not resist an evil person” was followed by several common, non-lethal examples – someone slaps you, someone steals from you, someone forces you to do work… no one’s life is at stake here. Jesus did care about people’s physical lives, that’s why he healed and set free, rather than simply telling folks that all would be cured at the resurrection. Human life is sacred to God, human suffering is a concern to God, injustice and evil are hated by God.

    Despite the evidence you have amassed supporting total non-resistance, I’m just wondering if there isn’t yet more to the story.

    Respectfully as always,

    Don

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    1. Hey Don, thanks so much for your thoughts and myriad hypotheticals. I suppose I could make more convincing arguments, but after laying out the larger theological framework, the mountains of verses and quotes from Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, and the Early Church Fathers, the Greek breakdown of “loving one’s enemy” and “not resisting an evil doer,” the anecdotal evidence that Jesus, Paul, the Apostles, and the Early Church were all killed without any evidence of retaliating, I wonder if the burden of proof isn’t so much on me as it is those who reject or push back against loving one’s enemy and not retaliating. Peace and love friend.

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  3. Well stated, Brandon. Those who push back strongly against a non-violent position find it hard to recognise that their aversion to it is more a product of an American cultural upbringing (with its value of ‘heroic force’) than of any honest reading of Jesus’ words. We all struggle to see past our cultural bubble. Anyway, I appreciate your difficult stand here. Peace to you.

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  4. Great article, Brandon! Good comments as well!
    For starters, let’s not assume any motives someone might have for a certain way they parse Scripture. I tend to follow a more “generous” orthodoxy in matters of Scripture that seem unclear. Especially those which could have been cleared up rather easily, given the nature of these words being “Godlbreathed”.
    I do see Don’s point both via Scripture and via hypotheticals and want to explore it further…
    Is Jesus preparing His people for Everyday Living or
    Is Jesus preparing His people for the weight of Rome that is about to fall upon them?
    I think that is a legitimate question.
    Being somewhat of an expert on the subject of Rome (and by expert, I mean that I have watched HBO/BBC Rome (TV series) TWICE) I wonder if they had lived a life of total non-resistance there would have been anything left of them by the time Rome moved against them? They lived in a time where that sort of non-resistance would have been like chum in shark infested waters!
    Is there a difference between me making a decision to suffer persecution for the cause of Christ as opposed to deciding NOT to resist a burglar, carjacker, or mugger?
    Is there a difference between me facing off with an active shooter and having to decide to engage (resist) them to protect ME vs me having to decide to engage (resist) them to protect a classroom of children?

    “Even more, when Jesus tells his followers to not resist an evil-doer, which in Greek is mé anthistémi hé ponéros, it literally means “do not take a stand against, oppose, resist an evil man who injures you.”

    Again “you” not them. I think you are talking YOU and Don brings up the notion of “THEM”

    I do not know. But thank you Brandon, for making me think.
    I do not know. But thank you Don for making me think, more.

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    1. Great posts and great hypotheticals. I want to make sure that I am not dismissive of the hypotheticals, as surely others wonder the same things.

      Here is the fundamental issue that I almost exclusively witness. It is the American Evangelical propensity to look at the overwhelming evidence of peaceable non-resistance to evil and then try to find ways of short-circuiting it with every reason why the words of Jesus “don’t really mean what he says,” followed by the “the context isn’t right or that it indicates something differently,” and then “his words are only meant for us as individuals and not when someone else is being attacked.”

      And to be honest, it feels like the heart of the American Evangelical Christian is set only on ways to get out of a peaceable non-resistance than trying to use energy, effort, brainpower, creativity, prayer, and the Spirit to make violence the last ditch effort and love the outflow of our being.

      Do you know what I am saying?

      A posture that begins in love for all goes to every possible preemptive and interventional means to honor the value and worth of all people and to work toward some sort of reconciliation and healing, even toward a violent offender. But we just don’t see that guys. I do not want to make this a “law” that Christians have to follow as some sort of new legalism, but where in the world are the “pro-life” Christians who are going to extraordinary lengths to find peaceable ways at prevention and intervention, without immediately going to carrying guns in church?

      A resource/document that I really appreciate for its prayerfulness and forethought is from the Mennonite Seminary and their work on asking “What really is our responsibility – from a Peace Church perspective?” I appreciate the “real world” perspective and wrestling, while maintaining their identity as a Peace Church. (https://www.theologie.uni-hamburg.de/einrichtungen/arbeitsstellen/friedenskirche/bienenberg-tagung.pdf)

      My posts are not for the sake of me being right and others wrong. It is for the sake of us trying to be the peaceable little Christ’s we are suppose to be.

      Peace…

      Brandon

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  5. You are right. But to think of it they are persecuted because of their faith. Why would Jesus allow Peter to carry a sword in which he used to cut someone’s ear in which Christ intervened. I got your point about non resistance. I am saying this not because I advocate violence or harm someone. Everyone should be save just like how Christ intended to. A lot of the churches are arming themselves as a matter of self defense not the intention to harm but rather to stop that harm. Yes, it is a tough choice one that must be decided at an individual level. What would you do if some individual with a criminal intent and you have the means to stop it solely by the means of firearm. It would be really hard on each individuals conscience.

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  6. Thank you for your thorough articles and replies. It is good to have these discussions, because it makes us think.

    I, too, struggle with some of these same issues. I do think, however, that guarding churches with guns could tend to cause us to put our faith (trust) in the guns to protect us, instead of God Himself. That comes from fear, and fear doesn’t come from God.

    Thoughts that come to me. I died with Christ, so I’m already dead. Thus, I don’t have to protect my physical life. Christ dwells/lives in me, and I live by His life. I know we’re not all perfect yet (especially me), but it is Christ’s life in me that should be being expressed, not my own.

    Maybe what we (Christians as a whole) should focus more on is having such a close relationship with Christ that in situations, such as the hypothetical situations that were mentioned, we would be able to hear His voice as to what we are supposed to do at the moment. The only hard and fast “rule” He gave us is to love (with His love because we sure can’t do it with our own). It is difficult to take that and come up with every possible scenario we might ever face and say this is how I should react at that time. How He wants me to act in a certain situation today may be completely different from how He wants me to respond in the same situation a different day. And just because He wants me to respond one way, doesn’t mean he wants another person to respond the same.

    How we love comes from His life in us, His strength, and His power (not our own intellect, reasoning and emotions). We need to know Him in such a close, intimate, moment-by-moment way that we will be able hear His voice and trust Him enough to follow what He says at any given time in any given situation.

    Blessings in Christ!

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