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…

Brandon

Parable of the New Car and Salvage Yard

A certain man was walking through a salvage yard and discovered an expensive, one-of-a-kind car sitting in a field of broken, busted, and forgotten cars.

The salvage yard manager approached the man, who was now inspecting the new car with intrigue and delight. “What are you looking for?” quizzed the manager.

Still mesmerized by such a conspicuous diamond-in-the-rough, the man hardly even heard the question but responded, “I have been searching for this exact car for years! Imagine my shock and surprise when I stumbled upon it in the least likely of locations!”

“It’s a real beauty and it runs like no other,” the manager retorted with his hands in his pockets and his chest puffed out, “but we’re using her for parts.”

Incredulous, the man immediately broke his gaze and sneered at the manager in disbelief.

“You’re doing what?!”

The manager continued, “Look it son, we’re a salvage yard. Everything around here is wrecked and discarded. It’s junk. Just look around. Honestly, I was thinking that when people walk through this broken mess looking for parts, it might be a nice thing to help the people out and give them a shiny, new part that they could put on their damaged cars. Make them feel good about themselves, if you know what I mean. So if you need a part yourself…”

Reeling in disbelief, the man interjected in a fit of rage, “But you don’t use a one-of-a-kind car, that’s hard to find, mind you, for only the parts! You just don’t do that! The parts, by themselves, are worthless on other cars! They won’t even fit any other car and they certainly won’t fix anyone’s problems!”

The manager stood there, hands still in his pockets, but now not so puffed up. In fact, he was quite deflated. He had invested so much time and money into this plan, for what he believed would be a nice gesture and benefit to others.

Almost under his breath, the manager whispered, “I could tell you all about the parts of this car, if you like.”

But the man, unrelenting, continued, now even more animated and exasperated, “This is one of the most ridiculous, cockamamie plans I have ever seen in my entire life. Who in the world will benefit from windshield wipers that are customized only for this car? Who will benefit from brakes that are uniquely made for only this car? Please tell me, who will benefit from this engine, this engine that was made specifically to fit only this car?”

The manager was utterly speechless.

For all of his good intentions, he realized the folly, the foolishness, of his plan.

The value of the car is not in it’s individual parts, but rather, in how the individuals parts come together to comprise something incredibly unique that is extraordinarily beautiful and invaluable.

And it is for this diamond-in-the-rough that one would be willing to sell everything in order to attain, not the individual parts, but the extraordinarily beautiful and invaluable whole.

For the Good News of the Kingdom of God is like an expensive, one-of-a-kind car in the broken and busted salvage yard of the world. And while there are so many in the world who are seeking and searching, there are those, like the manager, who have reduced the beautiful and invaluable whole of the Kingdom of God into individual parts that have no value when apart from the larger Good News message of the Kingdom of God.

Some “managers” give a sermon about the muffler this week or the windshield wiper another week. And, just about every week one can hear the engine of salvation message. But, week after week, maybe even year after year, those seeking and searching fail to hear how the individual parts fit together to comprise the beautiful and invaluable Good News message of the Kingdom of God.

Rather, the focus is on the muffler message of relationships, which is very important and needs to be taught, but it is an individual component of something so much larger, something so much deeper.

The focus is on the windshield wipers of worship, a fantastic individual component in which one can learn and participate, but there is a larger narrative that it fits within.

And most importantly, the focus is on the engine of salvation that so many obsess over in our churches, which is, “You are a sinner and need a Savior. Give your life to Jesus so your sins can be forgiven.”

And while the engine of salvation is an essential part, no one is talking about the beautiful, invaluable car in which this engine runs.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God has been dismantled and used for parts.

Again, the engine is extraordinarily important and makes the entire car run quite well, but it is still only one part of the larger whole. And, if we only talk about, and fixate on, any one component, like the engine, we will never discover the beauty and value of the larger car.

For the beauty and value of the Kingdom of God is not in individual parts, but rather, in how the individuals parts are embodied and expressed that make it extraordinarily beautiful and valuable.

The Good News of the Kingdom of God is not one of the many things.  It is the thing.

The Kingdom of God is the thing through which all things come together- all things in heaven and earth- and through which all things flow and manifest, first in Christ and then through each of us.

And it is for the Good News of the Kingdom of God that one would be willing to sell everything in order to attain, not the individual parts, but the beautiful and invaluable whole.

“I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other towns, too, because that is why I was sent.” – Jesus

Seeking first the Kingdom…

Brandon

The Bible Says It. I Believe It. That Settles It (Except for Loving My Enemies)

I have found over the years that it is easy for Christians to disregard the teachings of Jesus that make them especially uneasy or that contradict what they believe to be right. There is no greater example of this than the Christian’s complete disregard for, and opposition to, Christ’s teachings on enemy-love and non-retaliation to evil.

For every time I have had a conversation with a Christian about how we are implored by Christ to be peacemakers, to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to not repay evil with evil, I am met with sharp disagreement and quick rebuttals. This is so much the case that I have found it easier to gain agreement from those who are NOT CHRISTIANS than those who have professed to be disciples of Jesus.

In many ways it seems as if those who have been invited to the banquet have refused to sit at the table and fully feast, while those on the street corners and in the alleyways are more eager for an invitation to taste and see.

It is a very, very bizarre phenomenon.

Despite clear and overwhelming evidence that Jesus wants his followers to be peacemakers, to be those who love our enemies, and to be those who do not repay evil with evil, the vast majority of Christians in the United States are pro-capital punishment and pro-war. Even more, the vast majority of Christians in the United States applaud and celebrate when young men and women in our churches go in to military service.

I realize that last paragraph may be confusing for you and maybe even hard to swallow. I remember my confusion when I was first confronted with the fact that much of what I believed and stood for actually contradicted and opposed the way of Jesus. For over three decades, I had somehow been able to compartmentalize my faith and justify my thinking so that my misaligned core beliefs never had to face the cross of Christ.

In my mind, I could follow Jesus on the things he and I already agreed upon, while keeping hidden those things that opposed him.

With that kind of division in my faith, I did not ever have to face the uncomfortable fact that my support of killing enemies contradicted and opposed the same Christ to whom I had given my life and to whom I had professed to follow. I was able to follow Jesus on my own terms without ever needing to change my heart toward those I opposed, or even hated. Even worse, there was not one single Christian I knew who would question or challenge my thinking on this, because they all believed the same exact thing.

And being that our country is so patriotic and so militarily-minded, very few outside of the Quaker, Mennonite, or Anabaptist traditions are brave enough to stand up and say that American churches have erroneously strayed and abandoned Christ’s teaching and example of loving our enemies. In fact, the position of many American churches more closely mirrors the position of the American government than that of Jesus.  These churches would rather have enemies killed than to love and pray for them.

While I don’t have any expectation of the American government to follow Jesus, it should not be too much to expect the Church to follow Jesus in how we love our enemies.  One has to wonder if Jesus would agree with Christian support for capital punishment and war, when it is so far from what he intended for his followers.

There is no question that there are assumptions we make about this life from the time we are born into it. Our hearts and minds are shaped and formed by the families in which we were born, the cultures in which we are shaped, and the countries in which we live. The ideas and beliefs we accumulate over the years can become so ingrained into our core being that they become our only reality, the only way we see the world. And we are all in the same boat. That is why there should never be an ounce of judgment among us.

But if we, as followers of Jesus, have fundamental beliefs and foundational positions that stand completely opposed, even antagonistic, to Jesus, ought we not wrestle with these apparent contradictions? 

Even if it challenges us to the very core of our being, is it not incumbent upon each of us, as his followers, to ask very simple questions as to why we can so easily ignore the great breadth of clear and unambiguous teachings of Jesus on loving our enemies and not retaliating to evil?

Maybe this outrageous point will demonstrate the degree to which Christians have ignored the enemy-loving, non-retaliatory message of Jesus.

The majority of Christians who are pro-capital punishment, pro-war, and pro-military also believe that homosexuality is a sin.

Please, please, please hang with me here.

While Jesus never directly mentions homosexuality as sinful, many Christians believe it is an absolute abomination, and as a result, actively and vocally oppose homosexuality.

Yet, when there is a GIANT MOUNTAIN of evidence from the mouth of Jesus instructing his followers to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to not resist an evil-doer, to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to give the shirt off our backs, to feed our enemies, to give drink to our enemies, to be peacemakers, to forgive and forgive and forgive, to pray for those who persecute us, to do good to those who hate us, those same Christians do not just ignore his words, they actively oppose them.*

Do you understand what I am saying?

This isn’t a post trying to change anyone’s position or view on homosexuality. I understand how each side has arrived at their position and that is not the intention of this particular post. Hopefully, we can talk about that issue another day.

But for the sake of today, and don’t miss this absolutely essential point- On an issue Jesus never directly mentions (homosexuality) many Christians stand so strongly and so resolutely. Yet, on the issue that is the very foundation of Jesus’ life, teaching, and ministry (loving our enemies), the same Christians completely ignore and oppose it in their support of capital punishment and war.

I hope you can see the problem here.

To me, it is mind-boggling.

I hear so many of my Christian brothers and sisters who are pro-capital punishment, pro-war, and pro-military say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” But I am going to have to challenge you on that assertion.  The Bible says those who follow Christ should love their enemies, not repay evil with evil, and not resist the evil-doer, yet you actively support their killing. And if you truly believed those words, you would surely not oppose the enemy-loving words and non-violent way of Jesus.

I would like to make a reasonable proposition so that we, as followers of Christ, may begin to move forward differently than we have in the past. I would like to honor and thank each and every service man and woman for their past and present service.  For surely our churches and church leaders in both the past and present did nothing but present military service as your Christian duty and obligation. And to that end, we hold absolutely no ill-will toward anyone who served in the past, or who is serving presently.

But, beginning today, may we draw a line in the sand and move forward into a future where the followers of Christ are those who pursue peace, those who love our enemies, and those who never repay evil-for-evil?

Can we begin instructing our children that the killing of our enemies, or any life, is contradictory and oppositional to the teaching, life, and ministry of Jesus?

Can we not move forward differently in our churches as a movement of peacemakers who offer a continual invitation into the peaceable, loving, forgiving, and merciful kingdom of Christ to both friends and enemies?

We are the physical body of Christ in the world and we have been given the task of looking beyond lines of division, relinquishing all ideologies of hatred, and inviting all image-bearers of God (friends and enemies alike) into the saving, life-transforming kingdom of God.

Peace is the only way…

Brandon

You may want to challenge my position based on some of the arguments below. I have provided links for further consideration. If you are interested in further discussion, let’s have coffee.

*You may want to bring up the violent God imagery of the Old Testament, I already wrote about that in another post, Out of Context.

*You may want to bring up the justification for killing your enemies by Jesus clearing out the temple with whips and by Jesus telling his disciples to bring two knives with them when he was getting ready to be arrested. Those misunderstood arguments hardly overturn the mountains of teachings from the peaceful, enemy-loving, cross bearing Christ. Here is an article about clearing the temple and one about the two swords for further reflection on the issue.

*You may want to support the killing of enemies by using the Just War Theory. The problem is that the Just War Theory is a theory for countries and governments, but not a theory offered by Jesus to his followers. Governments will always act as governments will act, but we are citizens of a different kingdom with a leader whose law is love for friend and enemy alike. And it is this leader and this kingdom to whom we have pledged our allegiance. We will not support or partake in any action that forces us to do anything less than love every human being, even the vilest offender. For even the vilest offender is a son or daughter of God, made in God’s very own image, and worth redeeming to the very end. Here is a great article refuting the Christian justification for killing enemies by using the Just War Theory.

*If we needed to go beyond the words of Jesus to make the case for loving our enemies, we can look at the letters of Paul and the lives of the Early Church. Paul echoes all the words of Jesus throughout his letters to the Early Church. He even says that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of evil. That means our battle isn’t against other humans. And the war we wage is one waged differently- not against flesh, but against the powers of evil. Killing people does not extinguish this evil power. Additionally, Paul says that evil is God’s “to avenge,” not ours.

*The Early Christians were so committed to the peaceable, enemy-loving way of Jesus that they were regularly martyred without any attempt at repaying evil for evil. It should also be noted that the biggest explosion of the Jesus movement occurred at a time when Christians were actively laying their lives down in love and in their commitment to non-retaliation to evil.