November 6, 2017 Matthew

Is it Time to Return to ‘Church Militant’? A Response to The Church Massacres

“And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.” – Jesus

Church massacres are on a sharp rise like female suicide is on a sharp rise and I don’t think anyone is doubting that right now. Before the last decade such atrocities were hardly heard of. Most of the time they were coming from other parts of the world. Not America. I remember being brought to my knees at the unfathomable massacre of over 334 adults and mostly children that happened at a Russian school in 2004.

That sort of thing couldn’t happen here.

There was the slaughter of 7 at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, TX in 1999 but such a thing was far from the norm…then there was the Micronesian church shooting in Missouri in 2007…YWAM in Arvada, CO in 2007…the Unitarian church in Tennessee in 2008…a pastor shot in an Illinois church in 2009…a California church in 2010…an Aurora, CO church in 2012..

The people prayed, the pastors asked for healing… But the attacks grew darker. Dylan Roof kills 9 at a Charleston church in 2015…and today Devin Kelley killed some 26 worshipers at a Baptist church. These are just the Church massacres that have happened in the last decade.

While I wish not to downplay prayer at any level, I am reminded of the 17th century Christian colonialists who had no choice but arm themselves if they wanted to survive.  The text detailing the ‘norm’ of church life in the 17th century is found in the following book written in 1891:

It’s a startling fact that Jesus had actually suggested his disciples sell their cloak and buy a weapon. For one, for them to be told to sell something in order to buy one seems to mean it was really important. Not having enough money shouldn’t be an obstacle. Secondly, Jesus wasn’t asking them to do anything illegal. The disciples carried their swords and Peter tried to attack an occupying Roman soldier in defense of Jesus. No punishments were enacted on the disciples for having ‘carried openly’. At this time (33 AD) Jerusalem had not been overthrown by Rome yet. They were forced to pay taxes to Ceasar (Matthew the tax-collector, et. al) but Israel was still under the jurisdiction of Jewish Law.

Jewish law, the books of Moses, certainly allowed for self defense and did not forbid having a sword, spear, or bow.

In Ecclesiastes 3:3 the great wise teacher taught, “there is a time to kill [Hebrew harag]”
That is an interesting verse to juxtapose with Exodus 20:13 which says, “thou shalt not murder [Hebrew ratsach].”

The idea of priests or pastors having to abstain from killing and fighting in battles is typically supported by passages such as 1 Chronicles 28:3 where David was told he was not allowed to build the temple on account of his bloodshed even though God commanded him to fight those wars: “But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war [Hebrew ish milchamah] and have shed blood.’ This is an interesting verse to juxtapose with Isaiah 42:13,

“The LORD goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war [Hebrew ish milchamah] he stirs up his zeal; he cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against his foes.

Also Exodus 15:3,

“The LORD is a man of war [Hebrew ish milchamah]; the LORD is his name.”

So, God is an ish milchamah but David cannot build his temple because David is an ish milchamah? How does that work? I think the explanation can only be found in one thing: Jesus. Remember that Jesus is the builder of his temple, the Church: “I will build my church…” Matt. 16:18. Jesus was a non-violent man who didn’t lift a finger against a single person while he walked the earth. He would have forfeited his Church-plant if he lifted a finger, not because he would have been wrong to—he would have be right to open up the ground beneath every single one of his opponents and see them swallowed up and destroyed—but because he had to provide no occasion whatsoever for anyone to bring an accusation against him. There was only one accusation that anyone could bring against him in the end: his claim of being equal with God. For all his followers however, there is no such thing as personal innocence, for they are already done for, and their claim to righteousness and innocence is based solely on Christ, the innocent. Even if they should be forced to raise the sword against a monster to spare the lives of potential victims and shed blood…they will still be accounted righteous by their faith in Christ.

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” 1 Cor. 10:23

Before we can judge a follower of Jesus by how much said follower mirrors the life of Jesus in the Gospels, we have to understand that Jesus told his followers to do things he himself never did, i.e. take up swords. Just more interesting food for thought. Following Jesus isn’t necessarily mimicking the gospel stories. No one of us is ever going to be crucified on a cross for people’s sins. Or transfigured. Or walk on water. His story is absolutely and entirely special and 100% set apart from the entire human race. A human like no other human. Following him should instead be looked at from the angle of…those who followed him, his disciples. True followers of Jesus will reflect the transformation and habits of Jesus’ own disciples. Peter, James, John, Paul…they were all quite far from replicating Jesus. Quite far, indeed. But they held fast to his teachings. “Imitate Christ as I do,” said Paul. As you do, Paul?

“And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.”

These are serious times that demand serious men. Men today are weak, afraid, and as soft as they’ve ever been. Effeminacy (Greek malakoi) is actually considered sinful behavior in scripture, a study for another post. We can no longer afford to put off the difficult decisions that demand nobility. Make your decision now how you will act.

I always pose the question to people, upon descending into the issue of Christianity and owning weapons, “Is it loving your neighbor if you refuse to defend them?” Or “If one neighbor attempts to murder other neighbors, which one do you attempt to love? In a short article, Dr. Joel McDurman of The American Vision sheds more light on the old America Puritan way of bringing guns to church. Of course he does not address the views held by the Quaker Christians (the other side) who were also settlers with their own colonies such as Philadelphia. Quakers typically did not defend themselves. They left their safety and that of others to “the will of God.” The subtle conundrum is that both worldviews seems to hold an annoying tinge of unlovingness toward somebody.  Because in a critical life-and-death situation, under both worldviews, somebody dies. This is the world we live in and the life we live. It has been well said that life is a landscape of intense moral struggles and decisions to make. A journey that is not easy. Period. Happiness is not the meaning. Noble living is. But, do you know what noble living is? When a deranged man enters your sanctuary with a loaded AR-15, do you know at that very instant, what noble living is? The arguments around these issues have always had the more difficult, and heretofore unlikely, scenarios in mind. I found that pacifist-leaning Christians often excused themselves on the notion that such awful scenarios were simply too unlikely, too rare to affect their opinion. Well, society has changed and these once-thought-impossible scenarios are now kind of a norm. So the question remains, what will you do?

 

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