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

the (you fill in the blank) News…

It was the prayer of my six year old that got me thinking.  It was a prayer that she has been praying for awhile now.  First…let me say that when my daughter prays, one can hardly keep from smiling at how simple, beautiful, and thankful she is for things adults fail to see or that they take for granted.  It was a new line she inserted into her prayer that peaked my curiosity.  Within that simple prayer she said, “God, thank you for Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.”

 

It was curious because neither my wife nor I tell our children what to pray.  I believe that God takes pleasure in hearing the unadulterated hearts and prayers of little children, and it is through children that adults may learn better how to enter the Kingdom of God, as we become more like them in our faith.

 

Did my daughter thank God for Jesus dying on the cross for her sins on her own, or had someone told her that?

 

This all was happening at the same time I had been studying and asking questions about suffering in the New Testament.  Why did Jesus suffer and die?  Why did the disciples and the earliest followers of Jesus suffer and die?  Why did they consider their suffering something that was joyful and ought to be celebrated?  Why did they thank God that they were considered “worthy” of suffering for Jesus?

 

These questions puzzled and bothered me.

 

I continued to find an interesting pattern throughout my study.  There was an inextricable link between suffering and proclaiming the “Good News.”  This discovery sent me reeling.

 

What was so good about this Good News that anyone and everyone HAD to hear it?  What news was so good that people were willing to sacrifice life and limb (literally) to get it out?   And then, if I knew this Good News, what would it mean for me and how I orient my life?  Would I be ready and willing to suffer just so people could hear this Good News?  And if the Church knew of this Good News, would it change how we invest our time, money, energy, and effort?

 

Was this Good News as simple as my daughter had stated it?  Was it simply that Jesus died for our sins?  Was that the Good News?

 

To be honest, it sounds like OK news…for a cynic like me…and especially for the cynical 21st culture that we live in.  What is really so good about that?  And why ought I care?  I look around and I don’t see any real difference in our country between those whose “sins have been forgiven” and everyone else.  A guy “dying on a cross for my sins” is worthless to me…if that is where it ends.

 

But maybe it was just me. 

 

I asked over 100 of my friends, “What is the Good News and why does it matter?”  Of the nearly 30 responses I received, all but one essentially said the same thing, “The Good News is that Jesus died for our sins and those who believe in him will be forgiven.”

 

It wasn’t just my daughter…it is Christians in general.  The most important thing we ought to know…we don’t.

 

Ought we not know that the Good News is both that Christ died for our sins and was buried and raised to life?  Is not the Good News that we can join Christ in his death and resurrection by dying to our old selves and being made new each day?  Is not the Good News that sin and death have been defeated once and for all and that we will share the same bodily resurrection as Christ that will never experience death again?  Is not the Good News that the creation, which has been subjected to frustration and decay, will be liberated from this bondage to decay and renewed as God intended?  Is not the Good News that Jesus is Lord over every authority and system and will one day bring justice and mercy as he rules his people with love and compassion?

 

This is good news!  This is something we can get excited about!  This is something I would suffer for to tell the world about!

 

But somehow…the Church must be introduced to this Good News AND it must inform, change, and shape who we are, what we do, how we think, and how we live.  One of the best expositions on the Good News (or gospel) is 1 Corinthians 15…check it!

 

 

I guess the ongoing conversation that we need to have…or what I will be focusing on in a future blog…is why do we not know this Good News that we claim to believe in and how has not knowing it influenced how we think, act, and behave as Christians and the Church…and finally…how would the perception of the Church by the world actually change if this Good News actually permeated our thoughts, words, and actions.

I would appreciate hearing from all of you on this!  I have many thoughts on this matter.

 

 

peace…love…grace…

 

brandon