SHOULD CHRISTIANS buy guns to defend themselves?
That’s the topic for the Question of the Week, raised by David H. Hagan…who wins a free book for his trouble.
Here’s his question:
“I’m considering buying a firearm for home protection but as a Christian I have conflicting thoughts on being prepared to protect my family and trusting God will not allow anyone to harm us. How does the Bible direct followers of Christ to act on the topic of self-defense?”
Short version of the answer
- Don’t buy the gun.
- Don’t trust God to protect your family from violence.
That has got to be hard to read. It was hard to write.
Longer version of the answer
On the trusting God thing, trust this: everyone in your family will die.
Some may die violently.
Why God would allow this is a question for another day. But it’s a fact: many of God’s people die violently.
The Bible does say, however, that we can trust God to help us through whatever we have to face in this life.
On the gun thing, let’s start by removing the Old Testament from the equation. Lots of self-defense going on there.
We’ll operate under the rules of engagement in the New Covenant. Lots of dying going on there.
The people were dying because they weren’t defending themselves with anything but words.
I think many Christians would be surprised to hear what most church history scholars report on the matter:
Christianity was a pacifist movement for the first 300 years—until their leaders got some power under their belt.
Once Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in AD 313, turning it into Rome’s preferred religion, Christian theologians started arguing that the Christian empire needs to protect its people.
The pacifist movement in Christianity started with a literal read of something Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye must be put out for an eye. A tooth must be knocked out for a tooth.’ But here is what I tell you. Do not fight against an evil person. Suppose someone hits you on your right cheek. Turn your other cheek to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39, NIRV).
Jesus practiced what he preached.
When temple officers arrested him, Peter tried to stop them. He defended Jesus by hacking off the ear of a temple servant.
“Put your sword away!” (John 18:11, NIRV). That’s what Jesus told Peter.
Then Jesus healed the servant. Instead of drawing blood, Jesus stopped the bleeding.
“When Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed every soldier.”
—That’s a paraphrase of something taught by Tertullian (about AD 160-220), an influential Christian writer from Carthage, in northern Africa.
“We no longer arm ourselves to fight a nation. We don’t study the art of war, either. We are soldiers of peace, led by our commander: Jesus.”
—That’s my paraphrase of Origen (about 185-254), another notable theologian.
Early church rulebooks such as the Apostolic Tradition (AD 200s) went so far as to prohibit military service. Three rules:
- Christians could not join the army.
- Christians already in the army could not fight.
- Christian military officers had to resign.
Once Christianity gained acceptance and power, a new wave of influential theologians invented the “Just War” theory.
Among them, Augustine, probably history’s most influential theologian.
Martin Luther, founder of the Protestant movement, rationalized self-defense another way, with the same bloody result. He said that we Christians live outside Christ’s perfect spiritual world. And in our world, sometimes we have to fight to restore order.
German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer is praised throughout modern Christianity for taking part in a failed plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler during World War II. Bonhoeffer got executed for it, and is treated as a martyr instead of as an attempted murderer.
The topic of self-defense is a tough one for Christians.
Our God-given survival instinct seems to tell us to do one thing.
But Jesus, the New Testament martyrs (James, Paul, and Stephen to name a few), along with the first three centuries of Christianity seem to point us in the opposite direction.
Away from the survival instinct.
Away from common sense.
There’s another biblical option, perhaps.
Consult a Counselor. The Holy Spirit. God within us.
“I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true” (John 14:16-17, CEV).
As we ask the Spirit’s guidance about whether or not to pack steel so we can shoot a person if need be, we could express our sense of anticipation with this closing to our prayer:
“Go ahead. Make my day.”
Just a couple of thoughts – Jesus lived in a relatively peaceful period in history. If he had appeared in Israel in the 1950’s or ’60’s, and persuaded Israeli’s of the time to disarm and turn the other cheek to the Arab armies, there would be no Israel and no Jews in the Middle East.
As a practical matter today, there are many people who have no business owning a firearm, and I would suggest that anyone who’s thinking about acquiring one should consider whether they’re willing to take the time and put forth the effort to become a safe and responsible gun owner. Note that no one can depend upon police or sheriff’s deputies for assistance in a critical situation, due to response times and the fact that authorities are not required to protect individuals, or their families.
When seconds count, the police are just minutes away. In an emergency the police will most likely not be there to protect me or anyone I care about. We live in violent times & we all should have the right for self protection. Just as Jesus says in Luke 22:36.
I am about as liberal and progressive as they come, but on the issue of owning firearms, I tend to be pretty conservative. I don’t take issue with the NRA, I certainly do not villianize them when horrific gun-related tragedies take place, and I think that each person DOES have a right to own a firearm if they so choose (provided they aren’t certifiable). I personally would like to own a 12 gauge shotgun, but cannot afford the time and expense of the gun, gun cabinet, safety, shooting lessons, etc, and I also have a kid and three step kids. So maybe when I am older? To comment on the topic today – no where in the Bible does it say that to be a good Christian you have to be a whipping post or a doormat. Perhaps God gave us the good sense of knowing and learning how to defend ourselves…
Stephen M. Miller
Sometimes it feels like it’s common sense vs. the teachings of Jesus, because if you take Jesus literally, “turn the other cheek” sounds like an excellent description of a whipping post.
If we really trust God, we won’t lock our doors or fasten our seatbelts. We certainly won’t encourage our daughters to carry pepper spray.
Stephen M. Miller
Greg, they could carry a big-print edition of the King James Version of the Bible?
When Jesus told us to ‘turn the other cheek’ He was probably addressing the issue of pride. I’ve been slapped in the face before. It tends to make you want to react to protect you pride. As a Christian I did not strike back. (In my case I probably would have got the tar beat out of me anyway.) However, as a man, God appointed me to be the protector of my family, the innocent and my country. If someone shoots my child God’s answer is not to offer him another child. The instinct that God puts in us to protect is not from the carnal nature it is to preserve the good that God has created.
Stephen M. Miller
Thanks, Tom. I agree that it doesn’t feel right to drop all defenses. But that does seem to be what Christians did for much of the first 300 years of Christian history. The long-term effect seemed to win over the world. But a lot of Christian blood flowed first.
Thank you, Stephen. Many of Christ’s teachings are tough to swallow. It should come as no surprise that this is no exception.
Stephen M. Miller
Your ma and pa taught you well. Hope life is treating you kindly, Tim.
Kathy A. LaMaster
Thanks for another thought provoking and insightful blog! I agree wholeheartedly, being raised in a small Brethren church, where we were known as “conscientous objectors” because we did not believe in war.