And 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. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH TRANSGRESSORS’ [Isaiah 53:12] for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough”… When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Stop! No more of this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. - Luke 22:36-38, 49-52
Our nation is currently in the midst of a furious debate over the problem of gun violence. There were over 38,000 gun deaths in 2016 which was an increase from around 36,000 in 2015, according to a CDC report that came out at the end of last year. Between 2011 and 2014 that rate averaged around 33,500. We have far and away the largest number of gun deaths and injuries, per capita, among developed nations. Almost two-thirds of gun deaths annually are due to suicide. The remaining gun deaths are, of course, homicides or accidents. Non-fatal injuries from guns run about twice the number of fatal gun injuries each year. The last three terrible mass shootings in Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and, most recently, Parkland, have led to renewed calls for a variety of measures to restrict the availability and potency of guns. While the policy issues are very important and we should become informed on them, one question before Christians is whether it is according to God’s will for them to own guns and, if so, for what purposes?
This is a relevant question for a number of reasons but one of these is that some Christians are calling on their fellow believers to arm themselves in order to thwart those threatening violence to the innocent. Some churches have hired armed guards to be present during church services or are offering gun training to their members. This is no doubt in part because churches were the scenes of several mass shootings in recent years. For some of us who regard ourselves as Evangelical Christians, the growing public perception that Bible-believing and Jesus-loving are synonymous with gun-toting is troublesome. It does not seem to square with the Scriptural Jesus we do indeed love and it is certainly not good that this misunderstanding has been given credence by the public statements and actions of a number of our fellow Evangelicals. We would ask, as the Christian evangelist and apologist Michael Brown did in a Charisma magazine article, “When did Jesus get connected to guns?”
In that article and a follow-up response to the many heated responses he got from Charisma readers, Michael Brown quoted and commented on the passage from Luke’s Gospel with which this article begins. He points out that Jesus’ words are clearly meant in an ironic sense. The disciples took it, as usual and as all too many Christians still understand it, in a literal way. When the disciples enthusiastically responded with “Lord, look, here are two swords…” Jesus said, “It is enough.” Taken literally, it would mean that two swords were enough to take on the Romans! What Jesus obviously meant, however, is that since, in accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah He was soon to be “numbered with the transgressors”, they might as well look the part! Jesus did have a wry sense of humor, as Elton Trueblood pointed out in his book The Humor of Christ. And then when one of them (Peter, as we know from John’s Gospel) did use his sword to defend the most innocent man who ever lived, Jesus said, “Stop! No more of this!” Of course Jesus had to go to the cross to die for our sins and salvation, as the Scriptures foretold (especially in Isaiah 53), but did the disciples thereafter arm and defend themselves against unjust persecution, including mob violence? No, they did not. Apparently, after receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit they had a clearer understanding of what Jesus really meant and how to apply His teaching and example to the challenges they faced, including the threat of violence.
The way the early Christian movement grew and defended itself was not through the sword, as was true of Islam, but by faithful example and fervent proclamation that the Lord who is love made Himself a servant and pleaded with His enemies to repent and with His heavenly Father for their forgiveness. While some of His early followers did indeed include soldiers (who actually functioned more like policemen than soldiers) whose usual equipment would include a sword, civilian Christians were not known for being well-armed! Quite the opposite was true. They were known instead as peace-loving and gentle, though strong when called to testify for their Lord and live by His teachings. As Justin Martyr, the 2nd century Christian apologist wrote, “We used to be filled with war, mutual slaughter, and every kind of wickedness. However, now all of us have, throughout the whole earth, changed our warlike weapons. We have changed our swords into plowshares, and our spears into farming implements.” Here, Justin is paraphrasing one of the most oft-quoted prophetic passages found among the writings of the Christians of the first three centuries – Isaiah 2:2-4 (and its almost identical Micah 4:1-4). They believed that those and similar prophecies concerning the coming kingdom of God were fulfilled by Jesus and His followers. As more and more people flocked to the banner of Christ, they left behind their weapons and hostile responses to the wrong-doing of others.
Now, without going into the question of what the government should do about guns, what should Christians do at the personal level? This is an especially important question for Americans because we are still a nation in which the majority of its citizens profess the Christian faith. So why, if that is so, does the United States have the largest number of guns in the hands of civilians, per capita, of any developed nation on earth? There is an average of one gun for every woman, man and child! Some would argue it is because of the 2nd Amendment to our constitution and because we need guns to protect our property, persons and freedoms, even from our own government! Too many Evangelical Christians have chimed in with this chorus.
The sheer number of guns in our country guarantees we will have large number of deaths and injuries due to guns.The incentive to use guns, whether by civilians or police, is all the greater because of this. The more guns there are, the more we feel the need for them.Despite this, only about a quarter to a third of Americans own guns.Less than half have guns in their homes.In fact, only 3% of adults own 50% of the guns in America.I don’t know the percentage of Bible-believing, Evangelical Christians who own guns but a fair guess would be that it is above the average, especially in light of the call by some Evangelical leaders for Christians to arm themselves. If so, it should not be, at least in regard to guns obtained for protection.Hunters do not need assault-style rifles with large magazines.Christians should be divesting themselves of weapons, not acquiring more of them.By so doing we can, without even passing a law, lead our nation to a more peaceful and less threatening social climate.(Feel free to reply to me if you want to discuss this issue further!) - Jim