THE PLACE FOR THE SWORD

I believe that Christian pacifism contradicts the teaching of the New Testament. As I begin I will state that I don’t own a gun, and I helped a man in my congregation get out of the army in 1990 (before the first Gulf War). His commanding officer also argued on his behalf for his release from military service. He was/is a pacifist, but I am not.

Some Christians embrace a pacifist position on defending their person, family, community and country. I ask that you consider evidence from the New Testament. I know Jesus said that we are to “turn the other cheek,” but there is much more evidence in the New Testament that must be considered. I believe Christ’s words pertain to defending and establishing the Christian faith. The point is that we cannot use the world’s methods to advance Christ’s kingdom. For example, John Calvin’s burning of Michael Servetus as a heretic at the stake was totally inconsistent with New Testament teaching. By the way, a conservative estimate would be that 99% of the Christians who fought in the Crusades never read the Bible—the printing press wasn’t invented for two to three hundred years after the Crusades.

Salem police search for a gunman in a South Salem residential neighborhood.

A thief broke into a home in my neighborhood on December 11. The thief shot the homeowner. (Statesman Journal Photo.)

Here are some facts that demonstrate that the teaching of the New Testament distinguishes between personal safety and defending and advancing the Christian faith. Yes Jesus laid down His life when the time for His sacrifice arrived. But on several occasions prior to the Crucifixion, he withdrew and took evasive action when he was threatened. John 8:59 states, “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself….” In Luke 4:29 Jesus was led out of out of the city, and His enemies were taking steps to kill Him. In verse 30 it states that: “…but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” These are only a couple of examples where Jesus didn’t just turn the other cheek. (Hang on I am only getting started.)

JESUS TOLD HIS DISCIPLES TO BUY TWO SWORDS

If the Christian faith is inconsistent with the premise that it is necessary at times to bear arms then why did Jesus tell his disciples to buy swords. Luke 22:36 states: “Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” Yes, shortly there after Jesus told Peter to lay aside his sword, but that was because the time had come for Jesus to lay down His life. Jesus wasn’t giving contradictory commands to His disciples. His kingdom could not be established through violence but in the years to come his disciples would face many dangers.

Remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits….” (2 Corinthians 11:26, NIV.)

If being a follower of Christ in our day requires that we do not take steps to protect our person, family, community and country, then why isn’t soldiering, and why aren’t soldiers, seen in the New Testament in a negative light? John the Baptist didn’t tell soldiers to repent of their sin of soldiering. Again we turn to the book of Luke, “Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, ‘And what shall we do?’ So he said to them, ‘Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages’” (Luke 3:14).

We can use force to promote Christ.

“Tell me more about this Christianity of yours. I’m terribly interested.”

TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS CHRISTIANITY OF YOURS

I heard of some Christians witnessing to Jihadists by capturing them, pretending to prepare to execute the Jihadists by beheading them. Just before the victims thought they were to have their throat’s slit their captors stopped, released them and witnessed to them. I question this strategy for the advancement of Christianity.

In America many Christians try to perpetuate a macho image one way or another as a means of attracting people to Christ. Jesus didn’t project a tough guy image. This can be a variation on the same theme of using toughness, intimidation, violence, and even the practice of religious genocide—to promote Christianity. Jesus was meek and humble. Christianity is most attractive when we imitate Christ and humble ourselves to help the helpless.

ROMAN SOLDIERS WERE SOME OF THE MOST COURAGEOUS SAINTS

Consider this important fact: Cornelius as a Roman soldier was a Centurion. He was not just another centurion. He was an officer serving in Rome’s regional capital in Palestine, Caesarea. Acts 10:2 states that he was: “a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” Roman soldiers didn’t just project an image of toughness—they were tough—they were the real thing. And yet, it is Cornelius who is the one upon whom the Lord Jesus chose to pour out the Holy Spirit. If defending one’s country, participating in executing the application of Roman law was evil, then Jesus’ choice of Cornelius was evil. But Jesus’ choice of a soldier/policeman wasn’t evil. Our failure to use discernment in applying Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” is wrong. We must recognize that the Scriptures allow us to protect ourselves from thieves, robbers, and any who would destroy our community and country.

Later in Roman history there were many soldiers who were Christians. In fact in the third century many of them laid down their lives for their faith. They fought as Roman soldiers, but when commanded to offer sacrifices to the emperor they refused. They fought for the Roman empire, but died for Christ’s kingdom.

But you better think twice about pulling out your gun. Recently, I read of a woman who pulled out her gun when she witnessed a robbery underway. She wasn’t robbed but watched the gunmen run out of a store. She shot at the fleeing assailants. She didn’t hit anyone, but she left several bullet holes in the robber’s car.  Our “good Samaritan” of sorts is now facing prosecution for use of a handgun. She was heard to muse, “I’ll never get involved ever again.” If you use a handgun, you better be prepared to get “lawyered up.”

WHAT ABOUT A WOMAN AND CHILDREN FACING ABUSE?

One final thought: those who insist that Christians must turn the other cheek in all situations need to think of the implications of their premise carefully. What about a Christian woman in an abusive marriage? She is under the threat of death. Is she supposed to just turn the other cheek? This is the kind of advice that some preachers in a bygone era erroneously offered. What about a mother who knows her children have a father who has sexually abused them, is she to turn the other cheek? We would make exceptions in these cases and have made laws that are to be followed in order to protect our families.

I am not suggesting a woman or anyone use a weapon to defend herself or her children. I am suggesting that she doesn’t have to stand there and take the abuse. Jesus withdrew and at times hid himself. You don’t always turn the other cheek.

There is much more to be said on this topic. I don’t think I have produced the final word on this subject. I am just defending my understanding that as an American I have the right to protect myself, my home, my community, and my country. As I close I am reminded of the words of Senator Sam Ervin from the Watergate hearing: “An interpretation must not only be consistent with one text; it must not be inconsistent with other texts.” (Quoted by Chairman Samuel Ervin at the U.S. Senate Watergate Investigation, Washington, D.C., June, 1973.) When the whole of the New Testament Scriptures and Christian history are considered, I believe I have a duty to protect myself, my family, and my country. I can lock the doors to my house and have an alarm system—I don’t have to let everybody in. I also reserve the right to call 911 if I need to.

(Copyright, Keith Churilla, 2016.)

 

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