Brother Benjamin asks for some clarity on the issue of weapons and self-defense:
My own pastor claims to be for gun ownership, but when asked about carrying concealed in church he used a verse from Psalms about trusting not in chariots but in the name of the Lord to defend his stance against it. Could you generally speak to when self-defense makes sense and when it doesn’t, and whether being in a church building has a bearing on that? I find myself less reliant on Doctors and the medical system compared to my pastor (trusting rather in God). But when it comes to personal self defense, I see that as part of providing shelter for my family and not as a lack of faith in God. Plus I think using the verse he does is applying it out of context. Also, in the same vein of discussion, can you explain Jesus reasoning behind telling his disciples to buy swords?
I’m guessing your pastor is a typical American Protestant Christian in the sense he supports the popular ideals about church and government and the mainstream view of American History. Thus, for him it’s one thing to favor the 2nd Amendment as a civic virtue. That’s our duty to our nation, to be ready to defend against invasion, terror attacks, civil disorder and so forth. He probably sees it differently when it comes to defending the church as a physical entity, and perhaps defending life and safety while there. If you ask him, he would probably agree with the notion “this is God’s house” and He doesn’t need the standard human methods to protect His property and His people.
He does take that passage out of context. The issue for Israel was a matter of direct command from God not to use cavalry, but to rely entirely upon infantry tactics. We can guess at why God put that in the Covenant of Moses, and I agree with the scholars who note this is preventing pagan associations. It’s not simply clinging to some pure ancient ways versus a “sinful” technical innovation. God did not forbid using iron weapons, for example. So far as we can tell from ancient literature, every single nation employing chariots and horses in that part of the world welded their use to pagan worship. It was no possible to see them simply as good equipment and tactics. No one could imagine a separation between the thing itself and the pagan associations. All horses were dedicated to some deity; all chariots were places of pagan ritual, even with Rome. Our rarefied secularism would be wholly objectionable and silly to the ancients.
You have to understand how humanity as a whole viewed warfare in that historical context. It was always a battle between the respective gods of the warring nations. One entered into battle with the spirit of your particular war god. When you lost your courage, you lost your spirit, you lost your sense of your god’s presence. When the whole army turned tail and ran, it was said their god was not with them in the battle. Jehovah used this same language when He warned Israel, if they sinned by developing a cavalry, He would not be with them in battle. Literal superiority of forces meant nothing, because His Presence was necessary for the troops to hold their formations. He would abandon them to their own petty human passions and the resulting chaos, and they could not win in battle if they didn’t obey His Law. He meant it in a rather literal sense; it was not simply a quaint figure of speech from ancient times.
This is precisely the point when we discuss issues of human behavior under the Laws of God. The Nation of Israel was dedicated to One God, His personal divine property. Every other nation was shared among various other deities. The notable elements of daily life were covered by this or that deity. Most nations did have a chief deity, their national god, the one which was their own particular god who owned them under all circumstances. While this particular god might also be known for this or that particular area of concern, there were also deities of places, even types of places (mountains or valleys), and various critical functions of nature (weather, crops, etc.). It was considered necessary for the nomad nations to be aware of which god owned which place they passed through, and whether the perceived politics between these various deities made any difference. All religion was politics, and all politics had an underlying religious motive. There was no such thing as “secular.”
Granted, there is plenty in life where all humans do pretty much the same things. God didn’t command Israel to be utterly alien, but to be very circumspect when some particular issue was simply unjust, or if it smacked too much of honoring other gods. Frankly, a great many details of the Levitical Law (rituals) were a close echo, when not precisely the same as, accepted rituals for Baal and Astarte. That’s part of the reason it was so easy for Israel to slip into local cult worship; it was quite familiar. They could rationalize it was the same God one way or another. Could not a woman’s husband be many different men, as it were? That it required a form of muddled thinking we find repugnant simply shows we don’t get it, not that they were so messed up and primitive. God chose to reveal Himself in this context, so there is something fundamental we must grasp here. Who’s to say whether Jehovah might masquerade as some Baal? The name “Baal” was simply a word for “lord” or even “husband” — the head man of a particular household. In a world where the pagan Balaam can get it right, and God speaks to him, it requires we study things from that ancient intellectual context to understand the subtle blending and differences presumed by Scripture. But one thing is obvious to even us: It made things peaceful with the natives to join their pagan feasts, made for good business. Again, business, politics and religion are impossible to separate in that historical context.
The Israelis were no different. When a prophet said to them, “There is no other god but God,” it simply did not register as monotheism in their minds. Such a concept was simply out of bounds, not possible. To them it registered in the mind as, “Jehovah won’t share you with other deities.” Those other gods were very certainly real and had powers in the minds of Hebrew people. It was for them a question of whether their own God could protect them from the consequences of angering some other god. This problem with polytheism and idolatry did not go away until the Exile in Babylon. Even then, it came at the awful cost of corrupting their pure Hebrew Mystical intellectual heritage, setting them up for being suckers to Hellenistic rationalism. That in itself was a form of idolatry, but not so overt. It was easy for the self-rationalization hamster to run that wheel as if accomplishing something, when they were still in the cage of idolatry. The problem with pagan idolatry, whether characterized as a named god with rituals, or whether it was simply the sublime delight of letting the intellect overrule the spirit, it drew on the same moral weakness which permitted someone to stray from their marital vows.
We struggle with this because we are intellectually unwilling to take the risks God commanded we take. The very warm loving context of a strong church family is precisely the same setting in which adultery is so very easy, because we struggle with separating one kind of warmth from another. We’d rather build all sorts of artificial barriers with formal social rules to prevent warmth itself because we imagine it prevents unseemly fraternization. It also kills marriage. It’s not for nothing Christ and the Apostles kept using the marriage covenant as a close parallel and parable of Covenant of Grace. Dismissing the mystical element of this world as primitive and barbaric is simply inserting an artificial construct which prevents the necessary spiritual warmth to understand God. If we can’t get comfortable with mysticism and all the spooky stuff men like Daniel had to wrestle with serving in the Babylonian Imperial Court, which required a PhD in Chaldean pagan literature, then we can’t ever see God’s truth from with the same depth of understanding which makes Daniel’s writing clear. Instead, we twist and pervert his prophecies to suit our frankly pagan fascination with literalism, and come up with some of the goofiest notions about modern Israel. We end up supporting some truly hideous injustices, even to the point of kissing the Devil, as it were, because we just have to make sure Israel gets whatever it is she wants. You and I might get it, but almost everyone we encounter in American churches will not get it.
Of course, in another sense, your pastor could be right to use that passage from Psalms if he were consistent about not doing things the way the world does them. The whole point in God demanding Israel stay with pure infantry tactics was to avoid anything which required an association with idolatry. To be holy means dedicated to a higher purpose, but is cast in terms of dedicated to God alone, not shared with other-and-lesser deities. Under the Law of Moses, the Temple was sacred ground. It was not to be treated as real estate elsewhere, to be bought and sold and used to keep you alive in one way or another. Other land was under human control, to do with as they liked (within certain limits established in other parts of the Law), but the Temple was not like that. You had to treat it differently. Almost everyone in Christian churches in the West tends to think that way about their facilities. It’s a temple of sorts. The problem comes in whether those same facilities are then used for purposes which were not ritually pure.
Is your pastor under Law or under Grace? If you ask him, he’ll surely say “under grace” even as he insists on certain matters of Laws. I seriously doubt he properly distinguishes between the two. I’ll be willing to bet he has no clear grasp of the concept of Two Realms, of the Spirit Realm versus the Fallen Realm, and how they properly overlap and interact. Is there an American flag in the auditorium? Then by that moral standard he has to allow concealed carry to be consistent. If the god of civic duty and virtue has a place in the sanctuary, then so does the civic virtue of gun ownership and gun-toting. I cannot possibly regard any part of American civic religion to be consistent with Scripture. It is a different thing entirely, and either the place is holy unto Christ, or it’s holy unto the civic religion. There’s nothing wrong with holding to a distinctly Christian lawfulness drawn from Scripture, because all tangible property is under God’s Laws, and church organizations must conduct themselves according to those Laws of God. I seriously doubt your pastor realizes what he’s mixing in together there.
Under the Laws of God, whether you are a mystic or not, you do have the burden of responsibility for guarding and guiding those God places under your authority. We bear a duty to all those who are weak and defenseless, and to the degree they are so. Your wife can negotiate as an adult something which you both agree is logically consistent in terms of what you will do to defend each other. Children are born utterly defenseless, and only as they mature and take responsibility under God’s Laws are they permitted to negotiate more and more of their own wishes. Other family relations will bring their own level of negotiation, and all of this within the context of the moment. And in a broader sense, I am my brother’s keeper on some level simply because he is a fellow human.
A pistol-packing mama who knows karate needs little help from me. A woman stupid enough to take a swing at me deserves whatever response I might give a man under the same circumstances. A kid who gets violent with me will be handled according to the actual level of threat I perceive coming from their hands. In the same way, I may or may not offer to defend others from various attacks. However, I am less likely to defend myself than I am to defend others. I can choose for myself how much suffering I will bear, but I am not so free when it involves others. It’s all a matter of my duty to God, but refusing to defend myself is not precisely the same as refusing to defend my own children.
My children are now adults, and my wife knows I am reluctant to use violence as a matter of conscience. She also knows I am trained and somewhat experienced, and we have weapons here at home. She knows how I am likely to react under various imaginable situations, and says she is at peace with that. Your choice for concealed carry is entirely a matter between you and God. The government wants a say in the matter, and you’ll have to work it out with God how much you will comply with those laws. Your pastor may or may not have the authority to say what happens on church property; that’s a matter of church by-laws and such. As you describe it, he’s wrong on several levels, but what you do about it is between you and God, particularly in evaluating the validity of the pastor’s objections and the church’s rules.
It’s the same thing you do with medical treatment, even as you know the state claims an interest, and could conceivably view your faith as a threat to their “mandate” for child welfare. Particularly dark on our horizon is the increasingly intrusive claims they make over our very own bodies. You might need that gun to deter some attacks from the state, just as much as you might need one to protect from car-jacking thugs. What is in the Kingdom’s interest? The matter of child custody is one of the few issues where I openly promote violent resistance against civil governments, but I also promote smart tactics and strategy. On the basic question I take a nearly absolute stand that no human authority is permitted by God’s Laws to interfere with parental custody, unless that authority is directly related by blood or covenant. Covenant is on a different level from contract and civil law. Even then, I place limits on what blood/covenant authority can do. You’ll have to work out for yourself how such things apply in your situation.