On Packing Heat …Rev Jerry Falwell Jr., Chancellor of Liberty Univ. vs. Rev. John Piper, Chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.
Should Christians be advised to carry gun for “self-defense”? This is a controversial question that all of us are currently confronted with in this era of terrorist violence. Two major leaders of the Christian Community spoke out on this issue using the Bible as basis, albeit, opposing views. Being stalwarts of biblical teachings, does this make sense, using the same source, yet comes out with different take? How come? Or are they just like Peter and Paul or Barnabas, etc. having honest differences in understanding and processing of facts, much like all of us?
Rev Falwell Jr. on Dec 4, 2015 said, “I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit (to carry gun). We offer a free course. And let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” This “teach them a lesson” comment may not be his intention, for which he was questioned and criticism extended against “packing heat” for self-defense. While Rev Falwell Jr. of Liberty University expressed his preference to have gun for self-defense, he sounded off on his extended message and assumed motive by saying, “let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” While “teach them a lesson” may actually come out as a consequence, this comment may conjure up an entirely different motive and was interpreted as “vengeance”.
Rather, the goal should actually be “proximate self-defense” in “packing heat”; not pro-active use of a weapon without one’s life in “proximate or imminent danger”. This controversy maybe resolved depending upon when to use a weapon in self-defense and how this is defined. In my view, it is perfectly reasonable as self-defense to discharge his/her gun if a person comes into a place actually shooting people; a perfect example of “proximate” self-defense and defense of others. In this scenario, there is no doubt about the evil person’s motive to kill and the “proximate” or imminent need to use a weapon for defensive purpose. In this setting, clearly we should defend ourselves and others. This is not vengeance nor proactive use of weapon sans “proximate” jeopardy of one’s life. Our death in the hands of an evil person should not be a “teaching moment” to witness for Christ which can be more effective with us alive. There is a time to die for our beliefs, but not in this particular setting. There will be plenty of time within our short lifetime. This position is not in anyway to cast aspersion to those who may prefer otherwise and “die for the gospel”.
Rev Piper’s position, on the other hand, is summarized in:
“8. A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?”. In my humble view, if one’s motive to use lethal means is to inflict an “eye for an eye” judgment to your wife’s assailant when your own/or other’s life is not at “proximate risk”, then this response is wrong and falls under “yourself being judge and jury” to convict. We have secular laws where this scenario belongs and can adequately serve justice. Also, Rev. Piper took Rev. Falwell’s comment to mean “revenge”, although this may not necessarily what he meant. See Dec 22, 2015 http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves
Continuing to quote on Rev Piper’s position:
“Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.”
Does “proximate self-defense” necessarily mean revenge or self-preservation, as in preferring life over death, no matter what?
As critique of Rev. Falwell Jr.’s position is in order, and so it is for Rev. Piper’s. Let us then analyze the biblical references the latter quoted:
Rom 12:1-21 In this whole Chapter, Paul was referring to how Christians should respond to evil and summarized in, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” This verse has nothing whatsoever referring to self-defense in a situation of “proximate loss of life”. We certainly should not use any weapon for “vengeance”. Proximate self-defense is not synonymous with vengeance.
Romans 13:1–4:”Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Again, this has nothing to do with “proximate self-defense” but for us to understand that God uses “governing authorities”(certainly not ISIL?) on “wrongdoers” and “rulers are not a terror to good conduct”.
True, the apostle Peter “teaches us that Christians will often find themselves in societies where we should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without retaliation.” But, the following verses in I Peter are not an interdiction against “proximate self-defense”.
“This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (2:19)”. Endurance and suffering suggest being alive, not being dead in the hands of terrorists; nothing to do with self-defense.
“If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2:20)” Suffer and endure here again suggest being alive.
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. (3:9). Again repay and reviling suggest being alive.
“If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (3:14)”. Suffer here again suggests being alive.
“It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (3:17)”. Suffer here again suggests being alive as dead people do not suffer.
“Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (4:12).” Note: a surprise and test, suggestive of being alive.
“Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (4:13)”. Share is being alive.
“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. (4:14).” Insulted not death.
“If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:16)”. Suffer here again suggests being alive, as well as ashamed and glorify.
“Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19).” Suffer and doing good here, again suggest being alive.
Also, not about proximate self-defense on Luke 21:12–19, “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Here, they would be taken prisoners, opportunity to bear witness, alive and not dead, to be witnesses.
According to Rev. Piper, “This article is about the people whom the Bible calls “refugees and exiles” on earth; namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our weapons are not material, but spiritual (2 Corinthians 10:4). It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.” On the preceding quote, certainly, no one should shoot “the wolves”, just because we carry weapons or because they are wolves. Rather, when our life is in “actual, not assumed jeopardy” from these wolves already attacking us, then there is no prohibition to “proximate self-defense”.
On the commentary regarding Jesus’ rebuke of the use of a sword:
1. Against the high priest’s servant (Luke 22:49–51). Jesus correctly rebuked his disciples because the Roman soldiers were not there to kill anyone but to merely take or apprehend Jesus to be delivered to the Sanhedrin and subsequently to Pilate; otherwise there would be no formal charge against Jesus of blasphemy, conviction and sentence to death. There was no “proximate” risk to anyone’s life in the garden of Gethsemane and use of sword was not “proximate self-defense”.
2. The church’s nonviolent response to persecution:
Acts 4:25–31 “Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together † against the Lord, and against his Christ. For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done. And now, Lord, behold † their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.”
The setting here in the whole Chapter 4 (and starting in Chapter 3) was Peter and John were preaching about Jesus, his death/resurrection and healed a man known to everyone as lame from birth. About 5,000 people believed them. They were then taken or apprehended by religious authorities and “threatened” to be harmed (or killed?) unless they refrain from preaching the gospel. A lot of people knew what happened and if they were harmed at all, the Sanhedrin authorities would be blamed. It is obvious that those were “empty threats” and eventually they were released. In all of this story, there life was never in “proximate jeopardy of losing”. Nowhere in the whole narrative was there an indictment of self-defense and the element that qualifies “proximate self-defense” was never present.
Acts 8:1–3: Here, it was about Paul taking Jesus followers “to prison”. Again, absence of situation that qualifies for “proximate self-defense” nor any interdiction against it.
Acts9:1–2:”And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.”
The preceding verses show “breathing out” (not actual killing) and “bring them bound”, all of which did not qualify the element of “proximate self-defense”and therefore could not be invoked as self-defense by the disciples.
Acts 12:1–5: Here, the setting was Peter was delivered in a miraculous way from prison and death. Again, absence of situation that qualifies for “proximate self-defense” nor any interdiction against it. As to the death of James, there are no details of the story behind his death and no need to speculate.
Regarding these quotes …
“In fact, Acts 4:25–31 shows the church armed only with prayer and faith in God. Luke 22:36 sees the sword as only a symbol of preparation for pressure, since Jesus’ rebuke of a literal interpretation (22:38) shows that a symbol is meant (Fitzmyer 1985: 1432; Marshall 1978: 825). It points to readiness and self-sufficiency, not revenge (Nolland 1993b: 1076). (Luke, volume 2, page 1747″…
There is nothing wrong “with prayer and faith in God” nor about “readiness and self-sufficiency”. And certainly, “revenge” should not be the initiating force to use a weapon. There has to be present a situation of “proximate danger to life” as in a terrorist gunning down people around you, to invoke “proximate self-defense”.
Rev. Piper accepts the principles that “God ordains the use of the sword by the state in upholding justice (1 Peter 2:13–17; Romans 13:1–4)” but denies “packing heat” ourselves. The following narrative clears this up:
[Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough [that’s plenty].” (Luke 22:35–38).
Notice, the disciples were allowed to have swords but not necessarily to be used for revenge nor proactively discharging a weapon without “proximate risk to one’s life”. This was why Peter who cut the ear of the soldier was refrained by Jesus because there was no “proximate risk to anyone’s life” at that time. Events that followed proved this to be so; no one died immediately.
However, I tend to agree with Rev. Piper in these quotes:
1. “The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.”
2. “My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.”
3.”For example, any claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation”.
4.”…the unique calling of the church is to live in such reliance on heavenly protection and heavenly reward that the world will ask about our hope (1 Peter 3:15), not about the ingenuity of our armed defenses”.
Indeed, according to Rev Piper, “there are ambiguities in the way Christian mercy and civic justice intersect.” , but hopefully, either can be absorbed into the other, by defining what is self-defense and when it is so, i.e, when the element of “proximate” is “clear and present danger”.
Unfortunately, the position of Rev. Piper exposes himself and his followers as “soft targets” for terrorists bent on killing them. Our hope and prayer is for this position not be taken as an “enabler” to put them in “crosshairs” of Jihadists.
In summary, let us not put any additional burden of guilt on Christians as regards packing heat for “proximate self defense” or against such, as there are compelling arguments either way. If anyone wants to “pack heat”, let him do so; if not, so be it. This issue should not divide Christians but to realize that even well-meaning followers of Christ, like Peter vs Paul and Paul vs Barnabas, can have differences in the way facts are processed. Let the “spirit of wisdom” bear fruit in all of us.