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.”