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 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.

Out of Context

I got an email the other day asking about certain Old Testament passages that seem to contradict a few of my most recent posts I have written about how Christians ought to view politics and the government.  Below is my response, which has been slightly edited from the original.

When discussing how Christians ought to understand and view their role and responsibility toward politics and government, it is absolutely essential to understand the larger narrative and movement of the Bible. For without backing up and taking a more broad look at the progression of the larger story, there is a real risk of reading the text myopically and out of context. It would be akin to focusing so narrowly on the individual notes of a song that one might actually miss the appreciation and beauty of the song as a whole. 

There is a direction in which the biblical narrative is heading that culminates in the full revelation of God in Jesus, that then helps us understand everything else leading up to that point. That is why picking and choosing verses or chapters of the Bible piecemeal is so unhelpful, because when they are not seen or understood as a progression toward the full revelation in Jesus, they can be narrowly understood and applied significantly out of context to support virtually any argument.

And in my best estimation, that is why Christians are so all-over-the-board when it comes to virtually every issue, but specifically politics and government, because we simply do not approach the heart of the biblical text uniformly. Many pick and choose verses to validate their positions, even if those positions stray significantly from the full revelation of God in Jesus.

There is a more complete and uniform way to read the biblical narrative, that culminates in Jesus, which then becomes the template through which we see all things and by which we live our lives.

The starting point is reading the Bible as a narrative in which God partners with mankind to successively and progressively reveal what it looks like to be a human in perfect relationship with God and other human beings. That is the larger song, if you will.

But how would you, as God, begin the process of writing this song? Where would you even begin? If your starting point is amongst a pagan and barbaric people thousands of years BC, it’s not like you can skip over the introductory notes or the notes that comprise the verses and chorus. For there would not be any appreciation or understanding of how amazing the grand finale in Jesus really is. It would not make any sense to insert Jesus into that context and be like, “Hey, follow and be like this guy.” The primitive heart, mind, and soul would have no appreciation, understanding, or context to understand why loving enemies, forgiving others, going the extra mile, or turning the other cheek is the essential heart of God and God’s deepest longing for humanity.

So how do you meet them where they are at and walk with them, while also preparing them in such a way that when God’s heart and character are fully revealed in Jesus… they will understand it and see the need for God’s heart and character in their lives?  

The answer is slowly, progressively, successively. And that is exactly how we see God working through history up to and culminating in Jesus.

The Old Testament is a step-by-step forward progression toward Jesus. What we see from the beginning is human rebellion, which is a turning from God, and then as a result, people turning against one another. We see steps throughout the OT in which God met the people where they were at in their primitive, barbaric thinking and lifestyle and began to take steps with them to a higher ethic, or higher, more godly consciousness.  

One step in this progression was with Abraham. At a time when a primitive, barbaric people were sacrificing humans for the blessing or approval of their deities, we find that Yahweh instructs Abraham to do the same thing… but then provides a ram for sacrifice instead of his son. In a culture where human sacrifice was the norm, God helped a people take a step away from that kind of barbarism, and a successive step toward valuing human life. Was all human conduct and relationships perfect after that step? No, far from it. But it was a step toward the true heart and character of God. 

Another progressive step was with Moses. In the midst of terrible oppression and slavery, God moved on behalf of the Hebrew people to deliver them out of slavery and bondage… and then, for 40 years in the desert, stripped away the pagan beliefs and practices they had acquired from the Egyptians. And then, meeting them where they were at morally and ethically, God helped them take another successive step by giving them a higher ethic and morality in the 10 Commandments (and the rest of the Law of Moses). This was certainly not the end, but just another step to help a people develop morally and ethically and then to begin to see the “how they fall short” of the Law. 

So while there was another step taken toward helping people begin to see God’s true heart, God’s full revelation had not yet been revealed. But despite God meeting humanity where they were at, at specific moments in history, people still operated in ways that were broken. And we see this all throughout the OT. God wanted to be their only King, but the people wanted a human King and this grieved God. People still offered animal and food sacrifices to God, but all God ever wanted was their hearts. And it goes on like that throughout the entire OT.  

But also scattered throughout the OT, we hear the voices of prophets saying that there will be one who comes who will end all division, who will establish a different kind government, who will be called the King of Kings, whose reign will go out throughout the land and bring together all people, who will lead his people into peace, righteousness, and freedom, who will write the law on our hearts rather than on stone, and who will establish the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

And in Jesus, God took yet another progressive, successive moral and ethical step… from written laws to God’s own Spirit demonstrated in flesh. 

Demonstrating that his character is not one that demands people offer sacrifices to him, but that his character is self-sacrificial in nature. Showing his people the profound limitations and evil that can come from human kings, politics, and governments, and then inviting everyone into a kingdom in which he again is the King of his people. And revealing that, in all the ways humanity has misunderstood his character, the full revelation of God looks exactly like the self-sacrificial, enemy-loving, peaceable, and forgiving Jesus. And it is this step in Jesus, in which God was moving people from hierarchies, dividing lines, social stratification, oppositional thinking… and making a new people, of a new kingdom, with a higher law and ethic of the Spirit, who would become the body of Christ in the world.

That is why Jesus’ primary message of the Kingdom of God is so important, because it is the full revelation of God’s character in human flesh and the perfect union with God and others. It is an invitation away from divisive politics, inferior governmental systems, and tribal thinking and into a new Kingdom in which Jesus is the Lord and King and the values and ethics of this “new country” is the values and ethics of God demonstrated and taught by Jesus (i.e. The Sermon on the Mount). And we, as those who give our pledge and allegiance to this King only, continue the present work of inviting people out of inferior systems and inferior vales into something more fulfilling, more beautiful, and fully of God. In a very real way, we get to experience “a foretaste of what’s to come” or “the first fruits of new creation.”

So the issue with how most Christians read the Bible is this- they do not read or understand it as a gradual, successive, progressive revelation of God culminating in the highest moral, ethical, and transcendent values of God demonstrated in Jesus… but rather as a patchwork in which pieces can be picked at and used when it fits a particular agenda or issue. That’s why it is not justifiable to use the OT as a proof source for how Christians ought to deal with governments or politics or war … because God met those people where they were at with what they could understand at a specific moment in time to help them take another step … but the full revelation of God through Jesus had not yet come to humanity. 

At just the right time in history, humanity had moved enough from an ethical perspective (but still far from perfect) for God to demonstrate what the final step looks like. It’s Jesus. That is God’s full revelation to us! We do not regress into old ways of thinking or old ways of living. The pattern and template for a new humanity has been given to us who are ready to receive it. But unfortunately, many in the Church still want to reside in the old conception of life… the tribal and barbarian way, rather than the way of new creation, the way of the new humanity. And it is difficult to help people understand that in the Church.  

Please understand. If your positions, stances, or beliefs are not rooted in, and do not look like, the full revelation of God in Jesus, then your positions, stances, or beliefs are resting in the old, inferior, animal or social conception of life.  It is time for the you, as a follower of Christ, and your church to take a step forward into the divine conception of life, the life of the Spirit, the life of new creation, the life of the new humanity, which always looks like the full revelation of God in Jesus.

“The whole historic existence of mankind is nothing else than the gradual transition from the personal, animal conception of life to the social conception of life, and from the social conception of life to the divine conception of life. The whole history of ancient peoples, lasting through thousands of years and ending with the history of Rome, is the history of the transition from the animal, personal view of life to the social view of life. The whole of history from the time of the Roman empire and the appearance of Christianity is the history of the transition, through which we are still passing now, from the social view of life to the divine view of life. This view of life is the last, and founded upon it is the Christian teaching, which is a guide for the whole of our life and lies at the root of all of our activity, practical and theoretical.” Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You