As chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, I want to send a different message to our students, and to the readers of Desiring God, than Jerry Falwell, Jr. sent to the students of Liberty University in a campus chapel service on December 4.
For the sake of the safety of his campus, and in view of terrorist activity, President Falwell encouraged the students to get permits to carry guns. After implying that he had a gun in his back pocket, he said, “I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. And let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” He clarified on December 9 that the policy at Liberty now includes permission to carry guns in the dormitories.
Falwell and I exchanged several emails, and he was gracious enough to talk to me on the phone so I could get as much clarity as possible. I want it to be clear that our disagreement is between Christian brothers who are able to express appreciation for each other’s ministries person to person.
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.
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.
Here are nine considerations that lead me to this conclusion.
1. The Apostle Paul called Christians not to avenge themselves, but to leave it to the wrath of God.
Piper writes that the Apostle Paul called on Christians to “return good for evil” and added that God gave the sword to government rulers so that they could pursue the wrath of justice for the world.
Piper cites passages in Romans where the rights and duties of the government were laid out and where it was explains how Christians should treat their enemies.
“[A]ny 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,” Piper writes. “When Paul says, ‘The ruler does not bear the sword in vain’ (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.”
2. Peter teaches us that Christians should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without retaliation.
Piper cites nine verses in 1 Peter to explain that it is honorable in the eyes of God to be persecuted and not retaliate.
“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),” Piper notes. “His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.”
3. The whole tenor of Jesus’ counsel was to show how to handle hostility with suffering.
Piper argues that teaching students to carry guns will make students less willing to become martyrs and lay down their lives in the name of Christ if given the opportunity.
“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,” Piper cites Luke 21. “This will be your opportunity to bear witness.”
4. ‘For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’
Piper cites Matthew 26:25 when Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”
Piper adds that Christians are supposed to be secure in Christ, not secure in knowing that they have a gun to defend themselves.
“I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us,” Piper wrote. “They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.”
5. ‘Turn the other cheek’
Piper cites Matthew 5:38–39, which states “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
“Jesus strikes the note that the dominant (not the only) way Christians will show the supreme value of our treasure in heaven is by being so freed from the love of this world and so satisfied with the hope of glory that we are able to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, even as we expect to be wronged in this world,” Pipe wrote.
6. The early church faced persecution without violent resistance.
Piper asserts that in the book of Acts, there was never any indication that Paul ever even thought about using a weapon to defend himself against his adversaries.
“He was willing to appeal to the authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:37) and Jerusalem (Acts 22:25),” Piper wrote. “But he never used a weapon to defend himself against persecution.”
7. Jesus did not tell apostles to buy swords so they could escape persecution.
Although Jesus tells his followers in Luke to go buy swords, Piper argues that Jesus did not intend for his apostles to have swords in order to use them to violently defend against persecution.
“Jerry Falwell Jr. said in his clarifying remarks on Dec. 9: ‘It just boggles my mind that anybody would be against what Jesus told his disciples in Luke 22:36,'” Piper recalled. “If that is the correct interpretation of this text, my question is, ‘Why did none of his disciples in the New Testament ever do that — or commend that?’ The probable answer is that Jesus did not mean for them to think in terms of armed defense for the rest of their ministry.”
8. The unique calling of the church is to live in reliance on heavenly protection.
“This 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),” Piper wrote. “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).”
9. Even though the Lord ordains for us to use ordinary means of providing for life (work to earn; plant and harvest; take food, drink, sleep, and medicine; save for future needs; provide governments with police and military forces for society), nevertheless, 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.
God is our refuge and strength. (Psalm 46:1)
My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:17–18)
Once more let me say that God ordains the use of the sword by the state in upholding justice (1 Peter 2:13–17; Romans 13:1–4). Therefore, this article is not a position paper on governmental policy regarding ISIS. Nor is it about the policies of how police should be enlisted to protect private institutions.
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.
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