..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Violence in The Church: Should Churches Have Armed Guards? Part 1

In the wake of the recent Colorado
Springs shootings in the church,
and nearby YWAM missionary society,
I have been thinking much about how
Christians should respond to
violence both on an an individual
and a congregational level.

This is the first of two articles
on my musings.

I have talked with a wide
variety of Christians about
this issue and have received
nothing but thoughtful, prayerful
answers. The answers do not come
to the same conclusions and I
am not saying that the conclusion
that I have come to is the conclusive
one. I urge you to take this matter
to the Lord, and if you are a
pastor or Christian leader, I
ask you to take it to the Lord
on behalf of your congregation.

I am here in Colorado Springs
for the holidays. My somewhat
uneducated opinion of Colorado
is that it still retains a bit
of the wild, wild West in it.
I sense that Coloradians value
their individual and corporate
rights and that many would be
willing to fight for those
rights. In this respect Coloradians
are like most Americans.

The church that experienced
the shootings in Colorado was
Ted Haggard's church. It already
had a history of controversy and
being such a large congregation
decided that it needed
armed guards for the safety of
its members and guests. Many
other churches, no doubt,
have decided the same thing.

The question is, is this what
Christ would have us to do?
Is our duty to protect the
people who come into our churches
or to uphold the high standards
of the gospel which might ask us
to respond in a different manner?
Does resorting to violence or
even the potential of
violence violate the spirit
of what Christ calls us to?

Today, large gatherings of people are
typically protected by armed
guards. If we go into a stadium
or a music event etc., there are
armed guards who are there to
protect us. Should the church
follow suit or are we different?

When the Amish school children were
murdered a few years ago, that
community held up a high testimony
to the world in how it handled
the violence. It forgave the murderer
and reached out the family of
the person who committed the crime.

Part of the calling of the Church
is to be set apart from the world
and to show the world that Christians
live by a different standard. We
should know and testify to the fact
that we are in God's hands, no
matter what.

If we use the world's methods to
protect the church, then how are
we different from the world?
What message are we sending--
that we need to help God out
in defending people? Or, because
the world is fallen, do we need
to have "common sense" about violence?

Even implicit in that last idea
is the idea that love is not
strong enough to meet with
violence and win. I ask you,
what is "winning"? If the church
resembles the world in all its
undertaking, then how is it still
the church?

Do you want your church to resort
to armed guards to protect you?
Do you want these guards to be members
of your own church or outside
agents? How would you or they
feel if a member of your church
had to shoot someone to protect
you? Or are you content to
put yourself in God's hands no
matter where you are, church
included, and simply trust God?

In the book of Daniel, when Daniel
and his three friends are faced
with the possibility of death
they respond thus, "God is able
to deliver us from the fiery
furnace,...but if not, let it
be known that we do not serve
your gods" (Daniel 3:17, 18).
When does there come a time
when the standard we uphold
is greater than life itself?
What exactly is the standard?

Is there a point that we as
the salt of the earth lose
our savor? Does a pastor have
a moral duty to protect
people, especially children,
or is that duty, in some
cases, superseded by a
higher standard? Do I have
the right to take another's
life even if he does me or
my family or congregation

Can we, and should we, be
employing non-violent means
to counter-attack violence?
What would these means be?
What are the weapons of
our warfare? Prayer?
Love? The Name of Jesus?

A couple of the people I
discussed this with had
had their lives threatened
in very real ways (both by
knives). Both felt they
used the authority that
God has given believers
to disarm the situation
(i.e. commanding them in
Christ's name to put down
the knife). Do we walk in
the authority that God has
given us or do we resort
to worldly tactics in the
heat of battle?

There is a highly debated
passage in the gospel of
Luke (22: 35-38). When
Jesus was nearing the
end of His earthly ministry
He revamps what He tells
His disciples. He asks them
if they ever lacked anything
when He sent them out without
purse or money or swords.
They said they had not lacked.
Then he tells them that now
it is time to get a purse,
and a knapsack, and "he who
has no sword, let him sell
his garment and buy one' (vs. 36).
He also makes this rather
interesting comment:

"For I say to you that this
which is written must still be
accomplished in Me": "and He was
numbered with the transgressors"
(vs. 37). Now I am sure that
Jesus is not just saying that
so that He can manipulate
the prophecy into being fulfilled!

Is he actually telling them that
they will need a sword? And why
does it seem that He is connecting
the getting of the swords with
being numbered with the transgressors?

Jesus is, no doubt telling them
that their lives are about to get
more turbulent and the possibility
of violence administered against them
greater. Until now, Jesus' presence
protected His disciples when He was
on earth, but the Bridegroom
was leaving and the protected season
was ending. Now the disciples would
find themselves in a hostile world
and must be prepared for persecution.
But must they defend themselves with
a sword? When the disciples started
to pick up on what Jesus was saying
they produced two swords and Jesus
told them, "It is enough" (vs. 38).

Jesus never transgressed the Law.
He never sinned. Yet this twisted
world "numbered him with the sinners."
If they would do this to Jesus, then
what could the disciples expect?
And yet, Jesus way is not the way
of violence. Shortly after this,
Peter lops off the ear of the
high priest and Jesus patches it back on.

There is no evidence that the disciples
used violent force to preserve their
lives. There is no account of the
early disciples killing others to save
their own lives. Stephen is the first
martyr, and he offers no resistance.
All the other disciples, except John,
end their lives as martyrs. Either they
were lousy at swordfights or they did
not use arms to defend themselves.

So what is Jesus saying? It is not
easy to answer. It certainly does
not appear that He is advocating
violence but making us aware of
what life will be like. It is possible
that He is not legislating the higher law
of Love, but letting His followers
find it for themselves. If He had told
them, "never fight back" it might turn
into a legalistic pronouncement
rather than the radical relationship
to Himself. The coming Agency
of the Holy Spirit would soon completely
catapult their thinking and behavior
into a new realm. There is grace like
no other grace when we are faced with
our own death. To surrender to Christ,
and to choose to love at the moment of
our death, even, or especially, at the
hands of violent men, is such a high
calling that it cannot be demanded, but
must be a free offering of the heart.

No-one wants to die, but faced with
death we can become more like Christ
than at any other moments because
the stakes are so high: our life!
Jesus said, "No-one takes My life from
Me, I lay it down (John 10:18)," In one
sense we cannot make that claim, but in
another sense, no-one takes our life from
us, even if we are killed, because
we are in God's hands and we have
a larger kind of life: eternal life.

Jesus said, "He who lives by the
sword, dies by the sword" (Mat. 26:52)
as Peter tries to defend Him when
He is taken in the garden. Jesus
appeals to this line of thought:
"Don't you think I can pray to the
Father and have Him send more than
12 legions of angels to aid Me, but
then how would the scriptures be
fulfilled? (v. 53,54). Christ is
content to do the Father's will,
even if it means violence coming
against Him. He knows the violence
can only take so much from Him, only go
so far, only be so victorious, in
fact, not victorious at all.

Ultimate victory and vindication
lay in doing the will of God and
letting God take care of things.
So how much, if at all, do we
put our hands to things?

(Part Two continues this topic)
(your prayerful comments are welcome)

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