Self Defense and Christianity, Part 1

The issue of self-defense is a pressing one for Christians today. It is not an issue that we can ignore or sidestep. American Christians view physical persecution as a problem faced by the church in countries like Sudan and the Philippines, but the reality is that violence against Christians is increasing here in the United States as well:

  • On December 8 and 9, 2007, a young man killed two people at a Youth With a Mission center and two more at New Life Community Church in Colorado Springs, CO.[1] His stated motive on his MySpace page was “to kill and injure as many of you…as I can especially Christians…”
  • On August 12, 2007 a gunman entered First Congregational Church (a Micronesian church), killed three people and injured five others.[2]
  • In March 2005 a gunman in Milwaukee murdered seven people attending church services at a hotel before taking his own life.[3]
  • On March 8, 2009 a pastor was shot and killed in his pulpit during morning services at First Baptist Church in Maryville, IL. [4]

These are just a few of the many examples that have made national headlines over the last couple of years. These were attacks on Christians gathered in their places of worship on Sunday mornings and do not include all of the violent acts against individual Christians that are not connected to their worship services. There number of attacks such as these are clearly increasing.

In 2005 Arizona ranked 13th in the nation in violent crimes[5] and first for overall crime in 2003. Clearly this is a major issue for all Arizonans (other states are also included, of course), and as Christians we are not immune to violence simply because of our allegiance to Christ.

Christians have faced the threat of assault from the beginning of the church. Many examples from the New Testament can be shown of Christians being the subject of physical assault, but perhaps none better than the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:25-27:

25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Corinthians 11:25-27)[5]

The issue we must consider as Christians is how we should respond to violence done against us. What does the Word of God (our standard for faith and practice) have to say about the subject? Should we adopt a passive stance of non-resistance or preach the gospel of “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition”?

This issue is hotly debated among Bible-believing Christians and therefore we must approach the subject with humility and with caution. We must seek to understand the view of other Christians to refrain from making incorrect caricaturizations of their position. In order to interact with Christian pacifism as well as with views that espouse just war and strike first doctrines we must know what they teach.

Over the next several posts I will open this big ol’ can of worms to discuss it. Obviously I am not without bias, but the goal of the next several posts is to encourage discussion of the issue of the proper role of resistance to violence for a Christian.

What are your initial thoughts and ideas? Would you categorize yourself as “kill them all and let God sort them out” type or do you believe in nonresistance at all costs as a matter of discipleship? Is there a particular view of this that you were raised with, or that your background leads you to?

As a mea culpa, perhaps having two USMC grandfathers, 8 years of active duty Navy experience, and growing up around tough guys and construction workers colors my vision more than a little. This is all the more reason to consider the issue biblically, because when we allow our background and biases to guide our understanding of life and Scripture it can lead to disaster.

So post a comment with your thoughts and opinions (remembering to be respectful of others, please!). I will post my understanding of the biblical witness over at least 2, if not 3 more posts over the next several days.

You can keep reading in part 2 of this series here.


[1] http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,316387,00.html (accessed 10/15/09)

[2] http://www.yokwe.net/index.php?name=News&file=article&sid=1882 (accessed 10/15/09)

[3] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/12/national/main679761.shtml (accessed 10/15/09)

[4] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/08/national/main4852326.shtml (accessed 10/16/09)

[5] http://azcjc.gov/pubs/home/Crime_Trends_2005.pdf (accessed 10/16/09) This document was compiled by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission using data from the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data, making it a valuable statistical tool.

Does Christianity Have to be Boring?

A friend of mine shared this video on Facebook today, and it really got me thinking. It’s only 1:48 long, so watch it!

It doesn’t necessarily make me want to buy a VW, but the “fun theory” makes sense. People’s lives are so boring and mundane. What would happen if we injected a little fun into them? Would we take the stairs more? (apparently yes…ever run up the down escalator and laugh when you got to the top?)

What about with our walk with God? I think that we can focus so much on the “boundaries” of Christian discipleship and forget about the fabulous fun that we can have within those boundaries. Maybe we think that we can’t get drunk like we used to, so Christianity is no fun. We get caught up in the day-to-day grind of devotions, mealtime prayers, and so on that we forget to see God in the fun in our lives.

Have we forgotten how to laugh? Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there is a season to laugh; Jesus tells us that those who weep will be given laughter in the kingdom of God. Heck, in Deuteronomy 28:47-48 God tells Israel that they will serve their enemies because they chose not to serve God with joy and a glad heart!

When our discipleship is fun, it is more enjoyable and therefore we are more likely to come back for more. On Thursday night I got to experience this firsthand. We had a family night on Thursday; it was the first time we had nothing on the schedule for a whole evening in a couple of weeks. (I know, I know…you want to lecture me about boundaries, about my schedule…) We played Life (the board game) as a family and had a great time. We laughed so hard my sides hurt! We made jokes, cracked up at the foibles of life, and had a blast. We built memories as a family and guess what? We want to do it again this week. It’s amazing how fun makes it more likely to happen again.

I had something similar this morning on my way to school. I ride a motorcycle (this one, though mine doesn’t look quite so nice), and this morning I simply enjoyed the ride. The air was cool, the sun was shining, and I simply enjoyed the feel of acceleration as I rolled on the throttle. I thanked God for bringing joy into my daily commute and the feeling of freedom that riding brings.

How about you? Where is your walk with Christ becoming a total drag? Go find some fun with God; just make sure it is good, clean fun! 🙂

If you came through the doldrums and made your life with God fun again, how did you do it?

When Conflict Goes…Right!

God made us to live in community. John Donne said it famously:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…

This is how God made us from the beginning. In Genesis 2:18 God said it was not good for Adam to be alone, and because of that Woman (Genesis 2:23; she isn’t called Eve until Genesis 3:20) was made to complete him. This is, in my opinion, a reflection of the Trinity and is a good thing. Just as God, the infinite Three-In-One, lives in perfect community He has made us to live in community.

That sounds all well and good. God lives in perfect harmony within Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit and we are called to live in harmony too. The problem is that life seldom is so simple. Humans are fallen (Genesis 3 tells the story), and because of the Fall we have conflict. We see this from very close to the beginning too, as Cain and his little brother Abel have the first family squabble in Genesis 4. That family squabble turns into the first murder!

Though Christians admit that we are flawed, imperfect, sinful, and prone to doing wrong (Romans 7:14-24) in a general sense we have a hard time admitting that to others in particular issues and with specifics. We expect our Christian lives to be lives of perfect harmony and unity, always getting along and always reflecting the amazing standard of the church in Acts 2:42-47:

42 They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

We don’t think about Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 lying to the church and causing problems, or the issue of racism that crept into the church in Acts 6. We seldom consider the major problems the church in Corinth faced, which Paul addressed in 1 Cor 5 and 6. (heck, the whole letter is written to a church that had a bad case of disunity and bickering, backstabbing and sin!)

Wherever there is community there is bound to be conflict, even among good and godly people. We miscommunicate, take things the wrong way, have differing priorities and perspectives on life and ministry. Since life is seldom simple there are often several ways to see a given issue, and that means that well-meaning Christians will disagree on how to deal with them. This leads to conflict within the body. Add to this our “flesh” or sinful nature, and the fact that we can and do offend one another and sin against one another, and it can make a deadly brew of disunity and fighting.

The past couple of weeks have had a bunch of conflict in my life. I had a student ask for prayer because she had to confront her pastor and his wife over an issue of a promise that was not kept. I sent out notices to several other students that they were failing my class and that we needed to talk about their performance. I offended a family in our church unintentionally through some miscommunication. (and was told of this by one of my elders who heard about it from them) I had to participate in a conflict between two people in ministry where a lot of hurt had built up and emotions ran strong. (take a moment and write your pastor a quick thank-you email…this is the stuff you pay him to do!) I also had to talk with a family member about the movie they wanted my son to watch with them that Laura and I were uncomfortable with.

You might be thinking that this is where the blog post turns into me venting about not being understood, lamenting people leaving church or talking bad about me. (plaintiff’s exhibit one, your honor) Not this time! This week I taught in Gospels class in Matthew 18:15-17,

15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

God has really been working on me in this area. He has brought to mind Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as depends on you, be at peace with all men” as I have worked through these disagreements. In Acts 5 and 6, I see the church maintaining unity and joy through their internal conflicts by focusing on God’s priorities and talking them out, loving each other and fighting fair. (and, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, a little divine discipline)

I also have been hearing in my head a statement that I believe is from God for me at this time*: “Sheep bite, but only when they are hurt.” Most people that I know are not wolves; they are not predators looking to make a meal out of me. As a shepherd I seek to help the flock by grazing, guarding, and guiding them. A shepherd checks his sheep, and occasionally touches a sore spot for one of them. If a shepherd is bit by a sheep it is not because the sheep is looking for a meal but as a defense against the pain. That perspective has made all the difference.

The student who needed prayer had the talk with her pastor and his wife (not me, btw) and came away with a profound respect for them as people. I talked with the students who I sent emails to, and every one was thankful for the communication and grateful that I took time to help them see how they could improve their performance and pass my class. I sent an email and then called the family I had offended. They accepted my apology and we cleared up the miscommunication. I had several emails back and forth with the folks who were involved in the ministry conflict and was amazingly blessed by watching God salve wounds and lead people toward peace and blessing in ministry.**

I must say it is amazingly cool to watch God’s people do things God’s way and see Him bring the type of healing and resolution that we see in the book of Acts. It really encouraged me as I saw God heal hearts and reconcile relationships that had some resentment between them. It doesn’t always work this way (I have had people call me the worst excuse for a pastor ever and leave our church without even giving me the time of day), but when it does it is a reminder that God’s way is always best. Even though I loathe confrontation and get ill when I have to confront, I have seen God work through it enough that I am committed to His way in this.

I can’t encourage you enough to try it His way and see what happens. Pray a bunch, make sure that you try to see it from their perspective and admit more than your share of the fault. Seek reconciliation rather than admission of how right you are and see what He does. Maybe, just maybe He will bring similar results in your life.

*I am not normally a “God told me something” kind of guy. He speaks directly to me seldom. In August, though, I believe He really asked me if my ministry was about my kingdom or His. (that was painful!) In September this thought came in prayer about sheep biting and has been very helpful in ministry and perspective. Who am I to put God in a box that He cannot speak directly to my heart?

**The family issue is still hanging a little. I know God can and will bring resolution, but this one is not necessarily between Christians. Thanks for praying with me over it that Laura and I would be the parents we need to be while obeying Exodus 20:12.

Using and Abusing Scripture

Did you know that the word “politics” is a combination of two terms with great significance? It’s true… “poly” means “many” and “ticks” are blood sucking parasites. (ba-dum…CHA!)

The garbage and mudslinging that I simply can’t stand about American politics comes from both sides. From 2000-2008 George Bush was called a lot of dirty names by liberals, and since the election Barack Obama has been the target of conservatives for vitriol. I get just as frustrated when it comes from those who agree with me politically as when it comes from those I disagree with—wait, that’s not true. I get way more frustrated when it comes from those who lean the same way I do, because it brings me guilt by association.

When politicking intersects with people trying to bolster their disagreements with a political ideology by means of making shady biblical arguments, then my blood really gets boiling. See, God made me to be a shepherd and when someone is hacking the biblical text for a political agenda it REALLY chaps my hide.

Today’s case in point, a ridiculous video purporting to show that Jesus told us the name of the Antichrist in Luke 10:18. Want to guess what name that is? You got it, Barack Obama! This was sent to me by a friend for verification of the use of the biblical text. A few thoughts:

  1. There is plenty of evidence that Jesus spoke in Greek (look here on page 188 for some introductory discussion), so saying that Jesus spoke Aramaic in Luke 10:18 is speculation. We know Jesus spoke some Aramaic, but it is likely that He spoke Greek in significant ways and I think likely that what we have recorded of Jesus’ words are original Greek statements He made.
  2. Speaking of Aramaic, it was not “the most ancient Hebrew.” It was a modern language in the first century, while Hebrew was an ancient one. The two might be compared to modern English and Shakespearean English, alike in a lot of ways and not in others.
  3. Even granting that Jesus might have spoke Aramaic, He wasn’t speaking Hebrew for this quote. No one spoke Hebrew in everyday life in Jesus’ culture, not even the Pharisees. So using translations of Hebrew words would be wrong on multiple levels.
  4. Word order is different in Hebrew than in English, so it would not sound like this video purports it would.

This type of argument is ridiculous, and normally I would not even think about interacting with it. This is the realm of conspiracy theorists and whack jobs. However, the frustrating thing for me is that this type of argument is pretty clearly politically motivated.

This person does not like President Obama and that is okay. As historian Howard Zinn (not Thomas Jefferson, as has been misattributed) has said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” Anyone who knows me knows that the President and I see differently on a lot of issues. However, taking a biblical text and translating it back into Hebrew, which Jesus wouldn’t be speaking, and choosing which Hebrew words He would have spoken and in what order without any evidence, is poisoning the well plain and simple.

Let me state plainly that ANY biblical Christian should be obedient to what the Bible says about how to relate to government:

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Whatever the dislike, whatever the disagreement, please do not throw rocks. Pray for your elected leaders whether you like them or not. Pray for God to show them His face, to give them wisdom in honoring Him with their decisions and the courage to choose to do so. Don’t snipe at them from the bushes; dialog and understand and consider, then respectfully disagree. Vote your conscience and take Christ with you into the voting booth.

But please, don’t fall for this type of mudslinging. Be more thoughtful and careful than that. I am pretty sure that when the Antichrist actually appears there will not be any discussion within the Christian community about his identity, whether Tim LaHaye likes it or not. He will be evident to everyone, not just some guy with his Hebrew concordance. And I don’t think that Jesus hid his name in a Greek translation about Satan from a Hebrew original saying.

Never forget what Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:43-48:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

I’m pretty sure calling someone the Antichrist is breaking this command…just sayin’.

The Importance of Reality Checks

Note: This post comes from Alice Shoaf. Alice led worship at the church I pastored in Maricopa for 3 1/2 years and is a good friend. This post made me think and my hope is that it leads you to reflection as well.

I am a singer, first and foremost. I love poetry, I love to worship, I strive to live a life that honors God in every way that I can. I also love animals and sports and rock-climbing and being incredibly competitive. It can be an interesting mix! But singing is in my soul; and whenever my soul is out of sorts it is singing that brings me back where I need to be. So it’s not surprising that there are some really special songs that wrap me up. Here is one of those special songs:

The things that I love and hold dear to my heart

Are just borrowed, they’re not mine at all.

Jesus only let me use them to brighten my life –

So remind me, remind me, dear Lord.

Nothing good have I done to deserve God’s only Son

I’m not worthy of the scars on His hands.

Yet He chose the road to Calvary to die in my stead

Why He loves me I can’t understand.

Roll back the curtain of memory now and then

Show me what I used to be, and where I might have been

Remember, I’m human, and humans forget

So remind me, remind me dear Lord.

When I am doing pretty well, doing God’s will and striving to live a holy life, it is so easy to look around at other folks and be pleased with my performance. That’s where the trouble starts; for as long as I am really doing well, it’s not a performance. It’s a life choice, and it honors God. Even when I mess it up, which is often, it still honors God because my heart is right.

As soon as I start comparing myself to someone else, though, it becomes a performance. It is no longer God-honoring, it is self-serving. I am now honoring me. God may still be able to use what I do for good, but a lot of my effort is lost because my heart is not right at all. So now, not only am I self-serving, I am also ineffective. I’m just another busy person with nothing good to show for it.

That is why I love this song. There are times when God rolls back that curtain of memory; when I see, in my own life or someone else’s, where I used to be – or could have been – before God started changing me and making me the person He sees in me. I don’t much like that person any more, and have no wish to go down that road. Reality checks are more than good. They are necessary to continued growth. They keep us focused on where we are and who got us here. They keep life in perspective.

Next time things are going a little awry, just ask yourself: Is this a reality check? Read this song aloud, and see if your perspective comes back into line. Then thank God for rolling back the curtain of memory now and then.

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