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Responding to Violence

Post 13 of 198

Throughout Christian history, a theological struggle continues: Is the church to be pacifist? The overwhelming evidence in the New Testament tells us yes. Love your enemies, and turn the other cheek, our Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Overcome evil with good, and heap kindness upon the heads of your enemies, the apostle Paul said in Romans. In Revelation, when the conquering hero is revealed in chapter 5, it’s a gentle Lamb, not a warrior. It’s pretty hard to find anything but pacifism as the Christian way of life in the New Testament.

But of course there is the Old Testament, which we also honor as the word of God. And though it has plenty of foundation for pacifism (think “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” in Deuteronomy 32 and “Come let us reason together” in Isaiah 1), there is a lot of violence against enemies seemingly condoned in the Old Testament.  So the debate continues. Some Christians have continued to take a purist pacifist stance, which is in keeping with the earliest Christians. Other sincere Christians, starting with the reign of Constantine in the 4th century, developed  beliefs which allow violence in certain instances only, such as the Just War doctrine. Their belief is that though violence may be necessary in our broken world, it must be controlled and used reasonably.

What is important to me as your pastor is not what side you lean towards- pacifist or limited violence intended to repel violence. What I care about is that you are thinking biblically and theologically and historically about it! Today I received  an email urging me as a pastor to use a bullet proof vest and carry a weapon to protect my flock. Aside from being offended that this opportunistic company is trying to make pastors afraid, and wondering how they got my email address, I am prompted to ask essential questions.

  1. Do I think gun violence is a realistic concern for me or my flock?  As one who years ago was confronted with a gun at church (a story for another time), I do not take lightly the safety of my congregation or myself. In my best assessment, however, there is not a credible threat to churches or Christians in general at this time. So my personal answer would be that it is not a realistic concern. However if I thought it was, my next questions would be:
  2. What does the Bible tell me to do? What would Jesus do? What have my foreparents in the faith done before me? What do I believe about God and about how I am to treat my enemies? And how do these foundational elements of my faith lead me in how I will live my life and lead my flock in this situation?

In every generation, the Christian faith has had witnesses who assessed the dangers, challenges, and opportunities for witness in their day, and chose to walk in Christ’s ways of courage and wisdom. It is our turn in this generation. So think, think, think, and pray, pray, pray. Don’t let the pressures of this fear or that fad keep you from the ancient paths laid before us. Know why you choose to live as you do. And may the peace of Christ, which passes all worldly understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus!