Lex, Rex

Christians and Self-Defense

Monday, February 25, 2019 • Gary Fox • Violence
Is Violence Ever OK?
Christians and Self-Defense

"Jesus said to turn the other cheek…" that is, of course, the most common reason given as to why Christians should restrain themselves from physical self-defense. Another reason given is taken from the life of Jesus Christ Himself, who like a lamb led to the slaughter, never resisted His unjustified arrest and certainly didn't use force to prevent it. Peter, in fact, did use violence to defend the Lord (and himself), and he didn't just strike out, he attempted to unleash deadly force! Try to picture the scene in you mind. Peter knew what this midnight arrest was all about, the whole thing was a sham and was only intended to thinly veil the conspiracy to kill Jesus...and Peter got brave. Peter got very brave, pulled out his sword and swung violently at the head of a nearby soldier, barely missing him yet coming close enough to hack the man's ear off! Think about how close of a shave that swing was!

And Jesus rebuked Peter for it. Jesus then healed his captor and followed them willingly to His fraudulent show-trial.

There are other examples we could mention as well. Take the life and behavior of the Apostles, almost all of them were martyred and none of them took up arms in self-defense (at least we have no record of them doing that if they did). None of them organized militias, none of them had security forces and none of them even suggested such a thing. They were persecuted people writing to and serving a persecuted people and no such measures were ever instructed.

It is not at all hard to understand how a Christian can assume a "soft" pacifism at the very least, if not hard and fast pacifism.

To further buttress that argument, take the character and life of the Christian who is being led by the Spirit. He is peaceful. He is forgiving. He is gracious. He is slow to anger. He is not quarrelsome .

Unlike Islam, Christianity was spread peacefully by preachers and teachers who by grace convinced others to willingly follow Jesus.

I think I'm about to convince myself that I should be a pacifist! It is truly hard to argue with, especially upfront. Christians are peacemakers!

But does this really mean Christians are to never take up arms to defend themselves or others? No, the Bible nowhere commands a totally pacifistic ethic. In fact, it commands otherwise. Take the time Jesus commanded His disciples to walk around in undergarments if need be in order to buy themselves swords. Also think of all the many commands in the OT regarding defending the weak. There is only one way to do that and that is to be prepared to get physically violent, if not lethal. Nowhere in the NT are these commands and expectations lifted off of God's people. We are still to defend against oppressors, and that includes those who would oppress us.

So, what are we supposed to do and when are we supposed to do it? I'll share with you what I believe are the best ways to think about the use of violence and how to harmonize it all with those passages calling us to peace. These principles have been commonly accepted throughout Church history and are related in some ways to what has become known as the Just War Theory.

First, our disposition must always be peaceful. Christians are never to look for physical confrontations and certainly never start them. It is never appropriate to return an insult with a punch. It is never appropriate to seek out vengeance (physical or otherwise). It is never appropriate to threaten force as a means to intimidate others into complying with our wishes. It is never appropriate to lose self-control in outrage.

Second, commands for God's people to use force have a high threshold to meet before they can be justified. Certainly, violence to fend of oppression, rape, murder, maiming, serious bodily harm and even theft of vital/valuable property all fall within the Scriptural bounds, in fact, we are commanded to defend against such actions. The threat, however, should be imminent, clear, direct and serious, otherwise the Christian should restrain himself. Every idle threat does not justify a physical confrontation. And there is never a justification to retaliate with physical force or threats of physical force to verbal insults, mocking, unfair treatment, or discrimination. The only Christlike way to respond to nonviolent persecution is to turn the other cheek. In fact, unless one can reasonably conclude that a particular slap to the face has created a real and imminent possibility of oppression or may lead to serious harm, even a physical slap in the face should not only be tolerated, but the other cheek should be offered as well. There is nothing in the context of that passage or related passages to suggest Jesus was simply being metaphorical. He was being very literal. Unless life, health or liberty is in peril we should not retaliate with violence. The Christian threshold for justifiable violence is HIGH.

Third, while the use of violence may be Biblically justified in certain (rather extreme) situations, the means and degree used may or may not be justified. The Christian ethic is always to use the least of amount of violence necessary to stop an immediate or imminent assault. There is never room for retribution, payback, punishment or vengeance within the Christian worldview. Once the assault has stopped and the assaulter is neutralized the justification for further violence instantly evaporates. Of course, lethal force may be justified in order to stop an assault, no doubt about it, but that would mean nothing short of lethal force could have been reasonably attempted to stop it (or that non-lethal efforts already failed). These lethal decisions are not always provided much time to contemplate and weigh. Hesitation in an out of control and dangerous situation could end with someone including yourself getting killed, so when lethal force is used we need to keep that in mind when evaluating the situation after the heat is off. The bottom line is this: The Christian is not out to personally punish anyone, that's why we have courts. If violence is necessary, it is only justified up to the point when the assault is stopped, anything beyond that point is sin (and should be lawfully punished).

Lastly, go back up and read the first principle. Christians pray for peace, long for peace, and seek out peace. It is no secret that liberals in this country are constantly pressuring the people to disarm and such pressure can cause many of us to overact with emotion. Certainly, we should react to such charges, we should just avoid emotional overreactions. We absolutely should tell them in very clear tones to forget it, disarming is a nonstarter for Americans. However, without really noticing the heart-change, we can become calloused to the use of violent force. I think the reason for this is our not wanting to in ANY way validate the stated concerns of the left (thereby, the fear would imply, validating their solutions). The truth is that the left expresses many concerns which we ought to share with them! We should all hope for a more safe and peaceful society, as far as that goes we do agree with the left. It seems as if in an effort to convince ourselves how right we are about the need to defend ourselves, we can find ourselves admiring the use of force instead of regretting the need for it. Glorifying violence as we talk about it instead of lamenting that a situation required it. We can even get into fantasizing if not hoping for the chance to employ it rather than praying no such requirement in our lives ever arises. I need to hear these reminders as much as most of you do. Many of us need to check our hearts and remember who we are. We're Christians. We follow Jesus who it the Prince of Peace.

Scriptures: Isaiah 9:6

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