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…


Read More

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

Should We Arm Our Churches?

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.

Click here for Should We Arm Our Churches, Part 2

Only and always peace and love…