Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Bible & Self Defense 5

In the Old Testament, self-defense is assumed in the laws that were given for Israelite civil law. But what about the topic of self defense in the New Testament?

It is true that just before His arrest Jesus tells His disciples that they should make sure they are armed with swords - and the disciples take his words literally and show him that two of them have swords.
(Luke 22:35-38) ¶ And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” ¶ So they said, “Nothing.”
36 ¶ Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.
37 For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.”
38 ¶ So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” ¶ And He said to them, “It is enough.”

The big question is, what did Jesus mean by this?

In context, he seems to be saying that the situation is changing for the disciples, from a time of relative ease and safety during his earthly ministry, to a time of mortal danger. In the past he had sent them out to minister without any supplies and they had been cared for through God's supernatural supply. But now that Jesus is going to be rejected and killed, the disciples will face persecution.

Does this mean that the disciples will no longer received God's supernatural provision and protection in their continued ministries? Do they now need to answer force with force in the pursuit of God's kingdom?

Evidently not.

A few hours later Jesus is arrested by the officers sent by the high priest and led by Judas. This crowd has swords and clubs, and the disciples who have swords are anxious to use them in defense of Jesus. Peter goes so far as to draw his sword and take a swing at the high priest's servant, Malchus.
(Luke 22:49-51) ¶ When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?”
50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear.

But what does Jesus say?
(Luke 22:51) ¶ But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him.
(John 18:11) ¶ So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?”
(Matthew 26:52-53) ¶ But Jesus said to him, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
53 Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?
When Jesus appears before Pilate, he also talks about the use of force.
(John 18:36) ¶ Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

So what have we observed about self defense from these scriptures? It is fair to say that Jesus did not object to his disciples arming themselves with the weapons of their day. But it is also important to point out, that force of arms was clearly NOT the means by which the disciples were to defend the cause of Christ, even when enemies came against Christ with similar weapons.

Subsequently, in the book of Acts, Peter and John would be arrested and beaten by Jewish authorities, Stephen (and others) would be stoned to death by Jews who hated his Gospel, others would be driven from their homes, arrested and imprisoned. James was executed by Herod as a political favor for the Jews and Peter was scheduled for the same fate until God miraculously released him. The apostle Paul faces stoning, beatings, imprisonments and several plots against his life because of his testimony for Jesus.

Sometimes they were delivered supernaturally. Sometimes they escaped by other means, including hiding, moving out of town, government troops rescuing them, their legal standing, etc. Sometimes they did not escape, but died at the hands of their persecutors.

But in spite of all of this violence against the Christians, there is no suggestion that they ever answered the aggressors with force.

So what is the lesson here? The right to arms for self defense still seems to be a presumption, but they are not to be used in the cause of Christ.

So, please comment with your questions and observations. I will get back to this later in the week.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Bible & Self Defense 4

In my last blog I explained why "turn the other cheek" is about vengeance rather than about self defense.

The Bible assumes self defense as the right and responsibility of human beings. Your life is a stewardship from God. Do you have a responsibility to preserve it from people who would steal it away? Should husbands defend their wives? Should parents defend their children?

There are certainly times and places where self defense is sacrificed to a higher cause (e.g., Jesus' death on the cross to save men from their sins, martyrs dying in witness of their faith in a resurrected Savior, etc.) But generally, in day to day living, the Bible assumes people have a right to defend themselves.

Modern law limits the use of deadly force to situations where you are facing imminent death or serious bodily harm. You cannot shoot someone just for stealing something. The Biblical assumption is similar: that killing in self defense is justified if the crime being perpetrated against you is an immediate threat that would be punishable by death.

For example:
  • The punishment for murder was death. (Numbers 35:16-21)
  • The punishment for rape was death. (Deuteronomy 22:25)
  • The punishment for kidnapping was death. (Deuteronomy 24:7)
Since death was the just punishment for the crime, a person who defended against the crime by killing his or her attacker could not be considered guilty of murder. (Imagine the judge saying, "You killed this man who was trying to murder you, so you must die, but if he had murdered you, then we would have killed him." WHAT?)

But what about the modern "Castle Doctrine" in many states? According to this modern law a person does not have a duty to retreat from his own home, but can use deadly force against an intruder even if it turns out that the intruder did not have a weapon. But if the intruder is outside your home and trying to get away, you cannot use deadly force.

The Bible has a similar law.
(Exodus 22:2-3) If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed.
3 If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.
If someone was in your home in the dark of night, you could use deadly force. After all, you couldn't be sure what he was there for. But in the daylight you should recognize that he was just a thief and not use deadly force. There were less severe penalties for theft, including restitution.

More later. Send me questions.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Bible & Self Defense 3

I will refrain (for now) from recounting more of my boyhood experiences and try contribute to a better understanding of the biblical texts.
(Matthew 5:38-39) ¶ “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
The key to understanding this passage is what God intended by the original commandment of "An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth." The Old Testament repeated the principle several times. These were instructions to the judges who would pronounce sentence on people found guilty of harming others.
(Leviticus 24:19-20) ¶ “If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him—
20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.

(Exodus 21:23-25) But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

(Deuteronomy 19:21) Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
Why were these guidelines given? It seems pretty obvious that these establish a standard of justice. Since this is the rule of civil law, everyone is warned that if they injure someone they will suffer the same injury from the authorities. It is easy to see how such a law should help restrain evil behavior.

Consider the wisdom of God in this law. If justice is served by "an eye for an eye" then the matter should be dropped after the punishment is implemented. By giving such a law God is not only warning evildoers that there will be consequences for their actions, but is also saying that revenge cannot go beyond the injury suffered.

So far, so good, but by Jesus' day people took the "eye for an eye" texts to justify personal retribution for every slight. In our depravity we are likely to hold grudges and carry out vendettas. In some times and places whole families have been wiped out in feuds that were sparked by some small incident years earlier. Guess what proof text was used by the combatants to justify such a feud? "An eye for an eye," of course.

Jesus is not now giving us a conflicting ethic. His instruction is in the same direction as the original scriptures. God is still a just God. Justice should still be served. But, as God always intended, justice was not to be in the hands of the individuals involved, but in the hands of the civil authority. Jesus is not negating the Old Testament teaching. In verses 17 and 18 Jesus has just said that He did not come to destroy the law and prophets, but to fulfill them. Instead, Jesus is correcting the WRONG interpretation that had been used to justify personal revenge.

Jesus is teaching that true followers of God are not to be vengeful people who are constantly striking out at others over every perceived slight. The slap on the cheek was not a life threatening blow, but an insult.

The other examples Jesus gives reinforce the point. If the true follower of God is found guilty in a court and sentenced to relinquish his shirt, he should not be resentful, but willing to give up even more to show his regret over his own guilt. (v.40) If you were compelled to carry a Roman soldier's pack one mile, you should not be angry and hostile, but kind and thoughtful so you would carry it even farther than required by the law. (v.41)

The true believer has a different perspective on the whole of his existence. He is focused on a heavenly goal - not earthly. He has bigger fish to fry than the petty matters that occupy most men in their pride. His ethic is to always make God (his heavenly Master) look good.

So what does this teach us about self defense? Matt. 5:38-39 is not addressing self defense, but matters of justice and retribution. We certainly should not be striking back at every perceived insult or slight.

But what if our lives or the lives of our children are under immediate threat? How should we respond if confronted by a murderer, rapist or robber? What should we do then? Is self defense justifiable from the Bible?

Please write to me with your ideas and I will write some more later in the week.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Bible & Self Defense 2

So, back to the same question... "Do Christians have any Biblical support for self defense? How can we reconcile the idea of self defense with Jesus' teaching about "turning the other cheek" and loving our enemies?"

Our understanding changes with time. One year I was a pacifist, being rescued by my pint sized sister. The next...

In fifth grade I was in a different state and in a different school in a rural community. I was physically small. The sixth graders here were big, and Chase in particular was a bully. His mom was a teacher, so he had political protection as well as the physical assistance of the sycophants who joined him in his search for trouble.

One day early in the school year, as I was hurrying from the door of the school to the line of school buses, Chase tripped me. He and a friend were loitering there near the path. Chase would ride home with his mom later. The other guy lived in town.

So, he caught me perfectly by one ankle and sent me sprawling forward. My books and papers scattered on the ground. My hands were scraped on the little stones of the path. Chase and his bodyguard were laughing hilariously as I stood up and brushed gravel off my bleeding palms. They were so engrossed in the humor, that they didn't notice I had made a fist until I drove it hard into Chase's stomach.

This time I caught HIM perfectly and knocked the wind out of him completely. He doubled over gasping for air. I expected his friend to jump me, but he looked with wide eyed surprise at Chase, then began laughing even harder than before. It felt like an eternity when I turned my back on them to gather my books. I didn't look back while I walked slowly and deliberately to the corner of the building. I expected that they would come after me at any moment, but I didn't look.

When I got around the corner I ran like a rabbit to the safety of my bus.

Chase never bothered me again. In fact, he treated me with something like respect and good humor. But had I done the right thing? Should I have slugged him or just accepted his violence toward me?
(Romans 12:17-19) Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.
18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
Was it more Christian to take a beating without resistance like I believed in fourth grade or was it reasonable for me to stand up to a bully like I did in fifth grade?

Tell me what you think, and I will continue this thought in a few days.

The Bible & Self Defense

(Matthew 5:38-39) “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.
Do Christians have any Biblical support for self defense? How can we reconcile the idea of self defense with Jesus' teaching about "turning the other cheek" and loving our enemies?
(Matthew 5:43-44) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
When I was a child, I believed that these texts meant I should not fight back against an attacker. I was in the fourth grade and had a "friend," Greg, who was a spoiled bully. At the bus stop after school one day, Greg attacked me. My books and papers were scattered on the ground and Greg was sitting on my stomach pounding on me as I tried to protect my face from his blows.

My sister, Cindy, who was two years younger than I, did not have my religious compunction for pacifism. Coming upon this scene, she yelled like a viking warrior in curls and swung her metal lunch box like a medieval mace. Greg looked up just in time to catch the lunchbox with his nose, which began bleeding immediately.

Greg ran off. I was mortified. Taking a beating was (at least in my mind) my Christian duty, but my little sister had interfered! She came to my rescue and defended me with force. She saved my bacon, but damaged my pride and contradicted my simple Christian philosophy.

What should I have done?

Tell me what you think and I will continue this thought in a few days.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ten Shekels & A Shirt: A Review

"Ten Shekels & A Shirt" is a sermon preached by Paris Reidhead some 40 years ago. His text is Judges 17:1-18:6, the story of Micah, a man from Mt. Ephraim who built himself a worship center including a graven image and a molded image, and who ultimately hired a Levite to be his priest for the princely sum of "ten shekels and a shirt."

This is a great message that is more relevant today than when it was originally preached. Reidhead decries the humanism that marks so much of what claims to be Christianity. He points out that while liberal Christianity is humanistic because it focuses on human happiness in the present world, fundamental Christianity can be just as humanistic in the way it focuses on human happiness in the next world.

The Gospel is not about man's happiness, but God's glory. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about man's satisfaction, but God's. Reidhead says that any Gospel presentation that implies that by simple mental assent a person can avoid hell's torment and attain heaven's bliss, is as humanistic as two men planning to rob a gas station. It is a something for nothing scheme built around and motivated by the happiness of men.

The true Gospel is centered on the goodness and glory of God. The true Gospel recognizes that human beings are "Monsters of Iniquity" who love their sin and hate God. (Romans 3:10-19) The true Gospel affirms the justice of God in assigning all men to eternal hell because of their wickedness and rebellion against their great Creator.

The invitation of the true Gospel is not a cold calculation about the benefits for human beings, but a passionate call to repentance because God is worthy of all glory and we have wronged Him horribly. This is not a message of cheap grace or easy believism. As Jesus preached, those who follow Him must count the cost, deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him. We follow Jesus, not for what we can get, but because He is worthy.
(Revelation 5:9) And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, And to open its seals; For You were slain, And have redeemed us to God by Your blood Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
(Revelation 5:12-13) saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain To receive power and riches and wisdom, And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 ¶ And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”
How dare we presume on God's grace by substituting humanism as the motivation for the Gospel?

The sermon, "Ten Shekels and a Shirt" can be found at http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/mydownloads/singlefile.php?lid=282.