Jerry Falwell Jr. of Liberty University has started a debate when he announced during chapel that Christians should arm themselves. John Piper has weighed in against him. Although he has presented numerous arguments against gun ownership and self-defense I will address only one of them. (Actually, it is unclear what Piper is arguing against. On the one hand, he claims that he is only arguing against the attitude that a gun-carrier might cop, but he also seems to be arguing against self-defense.) Piper argues that:
- “The apostle Peter teaches us that Christians will often find themselves in societies where we should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without retaliation.”
Certainly, we should not retaliate or seek revenge. However, Piper argues that our calling to suffer for Christ argues against self-defense and offers these verses in support:
- This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (1 Peter 2:19)
- When you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2:20)
- Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. (3:9)
- If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (3:14)
While it is true that we must suffer for Christ’s sake, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t alleviate suffering in others or even in ourselves. We correctly ask others to pray for us and even go to doctors. If we take steps to remedy suffering in this way, why shouldn’t we also try to remedy rape and murder by carrying a gun?
However, 1 Peter 3:9 instructs us to “not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but … bless.” Nevertheless, this should not rule out reporting a crime to the authorities and seeking prosecution. Doing this certainly is not a matter of evil. Instead, it is a matter of seeking justice:
- Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent-- the LORD detests them both. (Proverbs 17:15)
It is a mistake to conclude that seeking justice is somehow in contradiction to blessing and loving our enemy. In fact, Piper’s first argument recognizes this fact. He cites Romans 12:14-21 (loving our enemies) followed by Romans 13:1-4 (leaving room for the governing authorities to exercise God’s vengeance). By doing this, he acknowledges that we can bless and also bring criminal charges at the same time. (However, based upon this distinction, Piper argues that we should not have to resort to using a gun in self-defense. However, when an assailant breaks into our home, we do not have a chance to call the police. The Hebrew Scriptures also recognize this critical exception – Exodus 22:2)
Certainly, the New Testament isn’t adverse to punitive measures. It contains many teachings about church discipline and its “harsh” treatment of the unrepentant. Even the One who instructed us to turn-the-other-cheek instituted excommunication:
- If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:17)
Clearly, loving the offender is not contrary to church punishment, as Paul indicates:
- When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)
Paul’s reasoning would go like this: If we love we may have to discipline.
- Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:19-20)
Excommunication might seem harsh, but it is also loving, not only for the church but also for the unrepentant. The health of the church depended on it:
- I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. (Romans 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 2 John 10-11)
It is therefore understandable that some would want to safeguard the church by carrying firearms, especially in view of Islamic threats to kill Christians.