Paris, France. San Bernardino, California. Charleston, South Carolina. The recent mass shootings, especially the shooting in Charleston Church, have caused some Christians to challenge the idea that self-defense is consistent with Christianity. In fact, popular pastor and theologian, John Piper, wrote an article questioning if Christians should defend themselves. Additionally, Pastor Rob Schenck penned an article claiming that one cannot be consistently pro-life and pro-gun. These teachings contrast with Liberty University President Jerry Falwell’s comments, which encouraged students to be armed. With major leaders in the Christian movement so divided on this issue, what is the correct position? An examination of Christ’s teachings will determine that self-defense is indeed consistent with Christianity.
Many people, including some Christians, conclude that Christ taught pacifism. Those who hold this position are quick to bring up passages like Matthew 5:38-39 which state: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” As with any critical examination of biblical text, the context of a certain passage is crucial to a proper understanding of the writing. This passage, which is taken out of the Sermon on the Mount, where Christ is addressing personal conduct. Previously, Christ addressed divorce and oath taking. In verse 38 where Christ says, “you have heard it said…” he was clearing up a confusion of a common Pharisee teaching of the time. The Pharisees were teaching that vengeance was proper for and individual. However, the Bible has clearly laid out distinctions of what is proper for an individual and the government. With passages like Exodus 22 in mind, the government is responsible for administering justice, but individuals are still responsible for defending themselves.
A second objection to self-defense and Christianity is Peter’s actions in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus was approached to be arrested, Peter proceeded to remove an ear of one servants with a small sword. Jesus later replied to Peter in Matthew 26:52: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” A quick reading of this passage could lead to a misunderstanding for those who try defend themselves would perish in vain. However, Reverend John Lathrop (a pastor during the American Revolution) in a remarkable sermon on this passage, had this to say about taking the sword:
For a man to take the sword, is to draw it when it is not put into his hands by the laws; therefore he who offers unjust violence, takes the sword: But on the other hand, he who uses a just defence [sic] does not take the sword, but he draws a sword which the laws put into his hands.
Reverend Lathrop is making a distinction between unlawful and righteous actions. Using a sword for an unjust act is taking the sword, but using the sword in a lawful manner (such as self-defense) is not taking the sword. While Peter’s actions may not have been appropriate for the situation, this verse does not conflict with self-defense.
A third objection to Christians being armed is the matter of trusting God. One could suppose that since God is omnipotent, He can always secure the safety of a believer if he chooses to do so. One might bring up a passage such as Matthew 6:26: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” If God will take care of the birds, He will surely take care of His Children. Again, context is crucial when examining Scripture. Yes, this verse ensures that God will provide for Christians, this does not mean that Christians should not have a way to provide for themselves. Verses such as 1 Timothy 5:8 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10 support the principle of having the means to provide for oneself, but trusting God with the outcome. This same principle can be applied to personal protection. While Christians are encouraged to trust God with their protection, they should also take the necessary steps to protect themselves. Christ himself even encouraged his disciples to be armed in Luke 22:36:
“But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a sack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.”
In the following verses, the disciples say they have two and move on with the ministry. Christ clearly wanted the disciples to be armed for protection.
While whatever is not of faith is sin, Christians should seriously take into consideration how they would protect themselves. With a critical examination of the Christ’s teachings, keeping the context of verses in mind, it can
be concluded that self-defense is not only compatible, but encouraged within a Christian worldview. Modern Christians should be encouraged to take the necessary steps to protect themselves. This could range from not walking down a dark alley at night … to carrying a firearm … to having a home defense plan. Whatever measure a Christian is comfortable with, he or she should respect the right of other Christians who choose to defend themselves with firearms.
Self-defense is a right that comes from God. Perhaps United States fifth Vice President Elbridge Gerry summed up this point best when he said, “[Self-defense is] a primary law of nature, which . . . is the immediate gift of the Creator.”