October Links

Here are some of the more interesting, intriguing, thoughtful, or just plain funny items on teh intertubes this month. Last month’s links can be found here.

This is a pretty large list of links, but it has been a busy month of interesting stuff! I love it when friends share articles and videos with me that make me think or laugh, so I want to pass along the joy for anyone else. Enjoy wasting an hour laughing, thinking, and being challenged.

Theological/biblical stuff:

This is a HUGE movement from the Roman Catholic Church. The thing that is largest is allowing Episcopalians who come back into communion to bring their priest with them, even if he is married.

This is a great discussion on how to reconcile the biblical witness on marriage with the culture we live in today. If there is one issue that has cost me more strife and more anger as a pastor than any other, it is weddings (specifically who will I officiate for and who I will not) and issues like the one Michael addresses here.

A great article on the balance between academics and practical pastoral care.

My favorite iMonk post this month. We must remember to keep the main thing the main thing.

Loved this video. It was given at a TD Jakes conference. He brings the house down.

Economics, family, and political stuff:

Churches are feeling the economic pinch. This is a good reminder to me to make sure that I am supporting my church financially.

This cartoon was made in 1948…scary. How far we have come!

A fascinating article concerning economics in National Affairs magazine. Check out the applications of the study and see if you come to the same conclusion I did: “Well, duh!”

Don’t forget to report bribes and drug money on your taxes. And remember, the IRS knows everything. (Santa Claus works for them apparently)

The unintended consequences of “Cash For Clunkers.” Who would have thought that there would be a “hangover” from the bailout, and that the small used car dealers would be affected the most?

A great article in Wired magazine on parents talking to their kids…about math and science. It’s easier for parents to talk to their kids about drugs than about science and math because they feel incompetent in science and math. Wait, does that mean they feel competent in drugs?

This should be posted everywhere as a deterrent to crime.

An excellent op-ed piece that touches on how each part of the Bill of Rights affects the others. Whatever side of this debate you’re on, it’s worth noting that infringing on one area impacts others.

Looks like the stem cell debate may be won on practical rather than ethical grounds. Economics says we go with what works!

I can’t believe that the Governator had this much guts. (CAUTION: there is a bad word…the mother of all bad words in fact) This could be posted in the “just plain funny” section in my opinion. I don’t agree with everything Schwartzenegger does, but this is hilarious.

Encouraging stuff:

If Tara Reed doesn’t challenge your idea of what it means to trust God, you’re not trying. This was the first post in her series as she recovers in Romania from a long fall. Click the next post on the bottom of this post and read through the next several. Incredible reading. This is what happened to her from a witnesses’ perspective. (you might want to start there)

An amazing video on kids emulation of parents. Hopefully you can see it; I only found it on facebook.

Why are these only rules for traveling? Shouldn’t they be general rules for all the time?

Just plain funny stuff:

One gutsy little bird. Hang on for dear life little buddy!

(I already posted this video on a blog post, but it’s worth seeing again) We all need more fun in life, right?

Om nom nom nom.

Good Samaritan for the win! I wonder if the robber told all his peeps in jail what really happened.

The greatest worship song of all time! Watch at your own risk, I promise you that you will sing this song for a week if you do. I am trying to convince our worship pastor to add this to our repertoire.

If you’ve seen anything amazing on the ‘net, send me a link and if it’s awesome I will include it in the next links post!

I Hate Halloween…But Probably Not For the Reasons You Think

I hate Halloween. I really do.

I was going to write a post about my take on the biblical facets of participating in Halloween, but this post on CARM’s website lays out my understanding of the biblical underpinnings of this event more eloquently than I could. (CARM is really good btw)

So if that is my view on Halloween (mainly that in a 1 Cor 10 or Romans 14 sense that it is a matter of conscience), why would I say that I hate it?

Let me say that I have no vehement objection to trick or treating or dressing up. Personally I think that it can conceivably be participated in without the participants immediately holding a séance to contact Beelzebub. I even played D&D as a kid, and never once sacrificed a goat to Samhain!

Let me also say that the concept of allowing my children to wander the streets after dark begging candy from strangers seems a tad bit counterintuitive to me. I also don’t like the advertising I see for Halloween. Boys pretty much dress up as characters from horror movies, or as hippies if they got to Savers late. Girls dress up as any kind of slut that they would like to be: pirate slut, witch slut, cheerleader slut, US Marine slut (yes, it’s true…check it here if you don’t believe me), nurse slut…

I hate Halloween because it causes division among well-meaning Christians. This is one of those issues that generates a lot of heat but not a lot of light, because rather than taking Paul’s advice in Romans 14 we get the idea that we have to defend our position and make every other Christian feel the same.

Some of us want to find every Frankenstein and Harry Potter in their neighborhood and make sure they know the love of Jesus. That is Michael Patton’s take, and he is certainly a thoughtful Christian thinker. On the other hand there are Christians who associate the practice very closely with Satanism and feel like we’ve been duped into worshipping Satan with this holiday.

We try to provide a middle ground at church. We have a party every year on October 31st as an alternative to trick or treating. We called it “trunk or treat” two years ago. Last year it was a “harvest festival.” This year it is a “fall family festival,” if only because “safe alternative to begging candy from strangers without any occultish stuff” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. We have carnival games with candy as prizes, a jumper for the kids, and food. It’s part outreach, part inreach.

The problem is that the entire event seems to create division. Last year some passionate (if not too respectful) Christian left tracts on the windshields of the cars in the church parking lot that we were in league with Satan by having the carnival. Some (I think most…not sure though) like having something fun to do and are grateful for providing an alternative to trick or treating. Others head to parties dressed as a zombie (or if a girl, a zombie slut) and wonder why we’re so worked up.

If we could all live out our conscience in the spirit of what Paul said in 1 Cor 10 and even more Romans 14:5-6 I would be delighted.

5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

Let those who participate do so with a clear conscience and remember not to look down on those who do not have that clarity of conscience. Likewise the one who does not participate should not judge the one who does. (that’s Romans 14:3 for those keeping score at home)

Unfortunately we have a hard time with that, because instead of focusing on following Christ and allowing others to do the same, we get too caught up in being right and making sure others know that we are. I see this from both sides; as the pastor of my church, I hear it both ways every year. And it seems that this day is the one that invites the most heated debate. No one gets upset at me for allowing a Christmas tree in the sanctuary in December, though evergreen trees were an ancient fertility symbol and therefore in ancient times associated with pagan gods. But pumpkins are different! (unless they are part of a Thanksgiving display…there must be a cornucopia involved to avoid spiritual warfare)

I don’t hate Halloween for itself, but for what it causes. Once I get past Saturday I don’t have problems with holidays until we break out the Easter eggs for the kids on Easter Sunday. 🙂 From November 1st through the end of the year I am golden, so I am really looking forward to Sunday. Because then we get to indulge in state-sponsored and church approved gluttony! (I love turkey)

Be safe on Saturday everyone.

Self Defense and Christianity Part 4: Application

Please begin your reading of this thread, if you have not already done so, by reading Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

While the Scriptures indicate that absolute pacifism is not in agreement with the whole counsel of God, we must still use discernment and wisdom in the application of that understanding. Just because we can defend ourselves and others in some instances does not give Christians a blank check to use violence to achieve our own ends.

The Word of God in review does not prohibit self-defense and in fact commands us to take precautions to protect innocent life and liberty. However, we must always temper our response to line up with the biblical witness of wisdom in application. Knowing how to apply truth to life is every bit as important as knowing the truth as an abstract concept!

  1. The most obvious way to win a fight is not to be there. We must be, in Jesus’ words, “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) The wise Christian seeks to avoid physical confrontation and the need to defend themselves or others by practicing Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:18.
  2. It is perfectly acceptable for a Christian to study self-defense and martial arts. However, Christians should avoid those arts that deal with idolatry such as ancestor worship or practices that come into conflict with a biblical worldview. Martial arts training can add to our awareness and understanding of how to avoid potentially dangerous situations and can therefore prevent situations in which physical self-defense is necessary. They can also increase our ability to effectively end a conflict when it arises.
  3. We must obey the command to “be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and understand that while a particular instance may be defensible biblically it may not be defensible under the laws of our state. (and vice versa) In such instances we must be prepared to incur the penalty that our state’s laws mandate for our actions.
  4. As we learn in Exodus 22:2-3, deadly force is biblically authorized when an intruder threatens our lives or the life of someone else. In Arizona[1], the standard that is applied is the test of a “reasonable person.” In other words, would a reasonable person resort to self-defense in the situation in which you did? The standard of “reasonableness” is sound and should guide us as we seek to apply truth to life. Other states use different standards, but biblically it appears that Castle Doctrine is sound.
  5. We are authorized to use force to prevent assault on another person (such as rape, violence, or murder) as if they were ourselves. We must always heed the biblical injunction to use wisdom in our dealings and respond properly to the situation at hand. Unless a loss of life or grievous bodily harm is imminent, it is not biblically defensible to use deadly force to defend property. From a personal perspective, my attitude is that I am not willing to escalate a conflict to a deadly force scenario to save my insurance company a claim!
  6. Arizona is considered an “open carry” state and a “shall issue” state, meaning that it is permissible to private citizens without violent criminal convictions to carry a firearm as long as that firearm is holstered and visible to a casual observer[2]. It is also possible to be permitted by the state to carry a firearm concealed. Each state has unique firearms laws (access your state’s laws here), so YMMV. It is not biblically defensible to violate the laws of your jurisdiction and carry a firearm or other defensive tool illegally. Also, each individual must assess their own comfort level with tools such as firearms and whether it is wise (not merely acceptable) for them to use such tools.
  7. As Christians we must live in subjection to our authority. If a person wants to take martial arts training or other unarmed defense that is fine. A person who wishes to carry a weapon should have the consent of their authorities when doing so. That means that if a person wanted to carry a firearm at work they should have the approval of their supervisor or manager; if someone wanted to carry a firearm at church they should seek the approval of their church leadership to do so. (in states where this is legal) While I know a lot of people who carry concealed who decide that they need no approval from anyone, in light of the touchy nature of firearms usage it would seem wise to be under authority in cases such as this.

At the end of the day, we must remember that the world is a fallen place and we may be called on to stop evil when we see it. We must be wise in application of the biblical ability to defend ourselves, but we must also remember that James 4:17 tells us that if we know what we should do and do not do it, then we have sinned. Since our calling as Christians is to a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16), sinning by commission or omission is never our desire.

It’s a dangerous world; be safe out there!

[1] This is not to be construed in any way as legal advice or binding upon any person. It is my understanding and application of the Arizona Revised Statutes regarding the criminal code, which may be found online at http://www.azleg.state.az.us/arizonarevisedstatutes.asp?title=13 (accessed 10/28/09). In particular, misconduct involving firearms in AZ may be found in ARS 13-3102.

[2] There are restrictions on this in terms of where a firearm may be brought; see ARS for more.

Self Defense and Christianity, Part 3: An Evaluation of Christian Pacifism

Please read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series before reading this post.

While the evidence for Christian pacifism initially seems strong, further exploration of the biblical text shows that Christian pacifism has a difficult time understanding several significant texts in both Old and New Testament. It is true that Jesus taught His disciples to “turn the other cheek,” but many if not most evangelical scholars do not believe that pacifism or nonresistance is the central point of Jesus’ words.[1] Rather, to the point that Jesus is making here is continued reaching out in the face of insult. The Hebrew concept of the insult is contained in Job 16:10:

“They have gaped at me with their mouth,

They have slapped me on the cheek with contempt;

They have massed themselves against me. (Job 16:10)

Part of Job’s lament is that his adversary (v. 9) slaps him on the cheek with contempt. This was commonly associated with expulsion from the synagogue in Jesus’ day[2] and pictured far more of a social and personal insult than a physical assault. To a Jew in Jesus’ day being slapped in the face was a grave insult akin to someone spitting in our face today. Any physical damage is almost incidental to the insult. Jesus’ intent, then, is to command his disciples to continue to reach out to their enemies, even in the face of grave personal insult. In its historical and cultural context the command to “turn the other cheek” does not command nonresistance or pacifism in the face of criminal assault but rather continued outreach to enemies despite insult. When Christians are insulted or slandered we must continue to reach out to those who insult us. This ethic has no bearing upon our response to rapists or armed robbers, however.

Pacifism’s understanding of Isaiah 2:4 is also suspect. Certainly the text tells us that when the Lord reigns He will bring an unprecedented time of peace. However, that time of peace appears to be awaiting Christ’s Second Coming. We must keep verses like Luke 12:51 in mind when looking at descriptions of the reign of the King of Kings, which says, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division…”. The fault of the interpretation in pacifism can be called an “overly realized eschatology,” where the “already” of the kingdom of God is focused on so much that the “not yet” is completely obscured. Christ will bring amazing peace to the nations when He comes again, but in the interim between His comings we will not have peace between nations. Jesus says as much in Matthew 24:7, when He prophesies that “nation will rise against nation” before He comes again.

The command of Exodus 20:13 deserves careful consideration, but at the end of the day does not prohibit all taking of human life. The command “You shall not murder” is clearly a command designed to protect the sanctity of human life. However, by looking at its use throughout Scripture it becomes apparent that it is not a universal command with no limits. The verb translated “murder” is found twenty times in Numbers 35[3], and these uses prove helpful in understanding the limits of the command. Numbers 35 discusses the “cities of refuge” of the Levites and lays out appropriate punishments for those who take life without authorization. Particularly important are Numbers 35:27 and Numbers 35:30, which both make mention of the taking of human life without any guilt before God. Clearly, then, all taking of human life cannot be sin. These are not coordinated actions of a national army, but individuals taking the life of another person.

It is very instructive in Matthew 26:52 that Jesus did not command Peter to rid himself of his sword. Instead Jesus told Peter to put it away in light of Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s plan. Christ’s nonresistance to His crucifixion is a manifestation of His unique mission to die for the sins of the world. Even with this in mind there are clearly instances in Scripture of Jesus using physical violence; in John 2:15 Jesus used a “scourge of cords” to drive the sellers and moneychangers out of the temple. All violence cannot be evil if Jesus used violence to protect the holiness of the temple.

It would seem, therefore, that though Christian pacifism is correct in upholding the sanctity of human life there is not a universally binding command to pacifism in Scripture. There are clearly times in Scripture that God allows the taking of life without guilt, and even times when He commands one person to take the life of another. Pacifism does not adequately address these issues in Scripture.

The Biblical Case for Self-Defense

The Bible does present evidence that self-defense is acceptable within the guidelines of wisdom. One of the titles of God in the Old Testament, “The LORD of hosts” (Exodus 12:41) pictures God as the omnipotent Warrior at the head of His army. The author of Hebrews commends many Old Testament saints for their military acts of faith in Hebrews 11:30-40. Gideon, Deborah, and others were anointed by God to lead others into battle and conduct war.

We are commanded not to murder (Exodus 20:13), which may be defined as the unauthorized taking of human life. Not all loss of life can be defined as murder, though, as evidenced by God’s command of the Israelites to go to war. (Numbers 21:1-3) That command against murder must be seen in light of some expansion on the topic of the taking of life given in Exodus 22:2-3:

2“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. “3But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. (Exodus 22:2-3)

In context the Lord is authorizing the death of a thief that is caught in the act of thievery. However, if he gets away with his thievery only to be apprehended later then he cannot be killed without incurring guilt. The death of this thief is authorized, presumably because he represents a threat to the owner of the home and his family such that deadly force is justified. Once the thief leaves the threat is removed and therefore deadly force is not authorized.

Perhaps one of the most significant passage with respect to self-defense is Nehemiah 4:14:

When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:14)

Nehemiah was authorized by Artaxerxes I to perform his work, but because of the criminal activity of Sanballat and Tobiah was in danger of assault and attack. His response is a rousing call to defense of the walls of Jerusalem. After the immediate attack was averted the men maintained their armed state (verses 16-18) and readiness to defend themselves if necessary.

In the New Testament we see examples of the same ethic.

36And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37“For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38)

In Luke 22:36 Jesus commands his disciples who do not own a sword to go and sell their outer garment to buy one. Jesus is preparing His disciples here for ministry and evangelism after He has departed, and in verse 38 when they reply that they are armed Jesus approves of their ownership of the swords. The Greek word here for sword (μάχαιρα, machaira) referred to a relatively short sword that was used by the people of Palestine to defend themselves while travelling from robbers and wild animals. Jesus commanded His disciples to have such an implement for their own defense.

While Jesus commands the disciples to have some form of defense, we also see that wisdom and discernment are vital to the application of self-defense. In Matthew 26:52-54 Jesus rebukes Peter for cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. In the context of Jesus’ fulfillment of His mission He is rebuking Peter for his failure to discern the true nature of the situation as necessary in God’s plan. Likewise, in Exodus 22:2-3 God tells us that discernment must be used; if the thief is caught in the act he may be considered hostile, but capture after the fact removes the threat of injury and thus the need for deadly force.

In the final post in this series we will consider applications of a biblical theology of self defense, including a discussion of the consequences of both acting and failing to act in defense of ourselves or others.

[1] See Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994), 592. See also Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke : A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New international Greek testament commentary. (Exeter [Eng.]: Paternoster Press, 1978), 260; Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 207; Nolland,: Luke 1:1-9:20. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 35a. (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 296.

[2] See 1 Esdras 4:30 and Didache 1:4

[3] For a more thorough analysis, see Keith Essex, “Euthenasia” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000), 205.

Self Defense and Christianity, Part 2: Christian Pacifism

Don’t start here; read Part 1 of this series first (it can be found here).

If we are going to have an honest discussion of the compatibility of self defense and Christian discipleship, we must understand the opposing positions. The discussion of self defense and Christian discipleship tends to generate a lot of heat and not a lot of light. One of the greatest challenges we face with the discussion is working hard not to create “straw man” arguments that don’t really interact with the arguments of those we disagree with.

These straw man arguments are common in this discussion. Christian Pacifists are often painted as sissies or weenies who aren’t willing to get behind the Lion of Judah, and believers in just war theory are sometimes painted as hate mongering war hawks. Neither of those descriptions are accurate.

In the spirit of understanding, then, we first turn to a discussion of the biblical underpinnings of Christian pacifism.

Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Prominent American thinkers such as the great 19th Century evangelist D.L. Moody (of Moody Bible Institute fame) and Martin Luther King, Jr. have advocated one form or another of Christian pacifism.

John Howard Yoder presents a modern adaptation to the classic Mennonite view of passive nonresistance in his book The Politics of Jesus.[1] He argues that Jesus is interested in social and political issues, but His strategy is to stay away from the game of socio-political control and instead adopt the practice of nonresistance. Yoder believes that Christians must reject the world’s system of violence and follow their Savior to the cross.

Though there is much debate on the passage, a central issue is the sixth commandment contained in Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.” There is some debate over whether the prohibition here is best translated “Thou shalt not kill” (as the KJV has it) or “you shall not murder” as all modern English translations render it.[2] The ESV translation notes that the Hebrew verb used here[3] refers to any unauthorized taking of human life, whether intentional or through carelessness or neglect. The taking of human life, then, is specifically disallowed by God and a violation of His command. Because of that, self defense should be avoided as a matter of obedience to the revealed will of God.

Another influential verse for pacifists is Isaiah 2:4, which says,

4 And He will judge between the nations,

And will render decisions for many peoples;

And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And never again will they learn war.

This verse teaches the peace of the reign of Messiah. He will be the judge between people, and Isaiah prophecies of the tranquility that will reign when Messiah comes. His reign will be one of peace, as nations “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” In other words, Messiah (i.e. Jesus) brings with Him peace for His people. To break that peace by means of violence, even violence toward those who are violent to us, is a breaking of the peace that He sought to bring and is sin.

Proponents of this position also point to Matthew 26:47-52 in support for the idea of Christian pacifism:

47While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” 49Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 50And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. 51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:47-52)

Verse 52 is very important to advocates of nonresistance, as Jesus rebukes Peter’s violence and commands him to put his sword away. Thus within the view of nonresistance Jesus does not allow for self-defense, instead commanding Christians to suffer wrong rather than retaliate with violence against violence. The other passage that nonresistance advocates view as central to their position is Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek”:

27“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29“Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:27-31; cf. Matthew 5:38-42)

This is the main passage that advocates nonresistance in the eyes of Christian pacifists. Even in the face of physical assault Jesus commands his disciples to “turn the other cheek” and forego self-defense. Whether the offense is physical (a strike to the cheek) or financial (the taking of the outer garment) the response of the disciple must be nonresistance. In this way the Christian follows Christ’s example of nonresistance in the face of rejection and assault, emulating their Savior.

There are more really good discussions of Christian pacifism out there on the web. David Hoekema presents a well written article in Religion Online, and Myron Augsburger also penned a nice discussion for Intervarsity shortly after 9/11. They are worth reading if you want a more in depth presentation of Christian pacifism.

There is some biblical evidence, then, that points Christians toward an ethic of nonviolence. At the very least it is apparent that when searching the Scriptures we find that violence must not be the priority nor the desired option in dealing with conflict from a biblical perspective.

Next post we will consider the evidence for Christian self defense.

[1] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1994)

[2] The author consulted the ESV, HCSB, NET, NASB, NCV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, and NRSV. RSV and ASV, both older translations, had “kill” rather than “murder.”

[3] The Hebrew verb is רָצַח (ratsach)