Wednesday, December 19, 2007

security in the church

I participate in an online discussion group of folk who play guitar in church. We've been having a heated, but good, discussion about the role of security in the church. It began with the tragedy in Colorado which raised the question - is it proper to have armed guards in churches? It extended to whether or not it is proper for Christians to use violence to protect others.

I think I'll blog more about my observations of the process of the discussion another time. For now, I'd like to address the question. No. and No.

I guess I should say more than that, right?

Here's a list of verses cited by Greg Boyd in his blog

* love our enemies (Lk 6:27, 35; Mt 5:44) (and remember, love is defined in the New Testament by pointing us to the example of Jesus dying for his enemies, [I Jn 3:16])
* follow Jesus' example by being willing to suffer unjustly at the hands of enemies, even when we have the power to crush them (1 Pet 2:18-23, 3:15-16; Eph 5:1-2, cf. Rom. 5:10)
* do good to our enemies (LK 6:27, 34-35)
* bless our enemies instead of curse them (LK 6:28; Rom. 12:14)
* pray for our enemies (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:28)
* forgive our enemies and ask God to forgive them (Lk 6:37; 11:4; 23:34)
* give to our enemies without expecting anything in return (Mt 5:44; Lk 6: 30, 34)
* feed our enemies when they need food (Rom. 12:20)
* give drink to our enemies when they need water (Rom. 12:20
* never resist evil with force (Mt 5:38-39)
* treat enemies as we wish they'd treat us (Lk 6:31)
* never return evil with evil but always return evil with good (Rom. 12:17, 19; I Thess 5:15; 1 Pet 3:9)
* never exact vengeance against our enemies, trusting God to do this instead (Rom. 12:17-19)
* turn the other cheek when struck (Mt 5:39; Lk 6:29)
* pray for the healing of our enemies rather than seek to injure them (Mt 26:51-53)
* humbly serve our enemies (Jn 13:1-5)
* respond gently when interrogated under persecution by enemies (1 Pet 3:15)
* consider our sin to be worse than those of our enemies (Mt 7:1-3; I Tim. 1:15-16)

The weight of those verses all point to non-violent response as the only appropriate response fr Christians. If that is so, then having armed guards as representatives of the gospel in a church, who are only effective if the threat of violence is real, is not acceptable.


Adam Gonnerman said...

It's a sticky wicket. I'd hate to think about the damage that guy could have done had everyone been sheeple. On the other hand, armed conflict does seem to conflict with many basic points of the New Covenant faith. Jesus was clearly against armed rebellion, but I'm not clear on the issue of self-defense and national security, and further wonder if it is wise to have large churches and no security.

roy said...

Hey Adam. I don't think it is a sticky wicket. I think the scriptures are pretty clear as is church history during the early years.
As for self defense... think of Mt. 5:38-39 - do not resist an evildoer...
and as for national defense, whether a government has a right to defend itself is one question... whether Christians should participate in that activity is another. Consider this quote from an article by Myron Augsburger (granted a Mennonite so his theological bent is clear)
"E. Stanley Jones wrote that we search in vain during the early years of church history to find Christian people engaged in warfare. He states that Christians did not become soldiers. If they were in the army when converted, they resigned. Jones describes the early believers as saying, "we will match our power to suffer against your ability to inflict suffering, we will wear you down by our spirit, by soul force against physical force, by going the second mile, by turning the other cheek," until Rome finally stopped torturing Christians"

roy said...

oops... I forgot to address security in large churches. Having security doesn't necessarily equal armed guards.

Adam Gonnerman said...

...except that the passage in Matthew 5 wasn't talking about self-defense or defense of others in the same context we face today. Jesus was speaking to a situation of Roman and even Jewish oppression (wealthy Jews oppressing their fellows) and how they could engage in non-violent action, rather than abject passivity. There aren't only two options: Fight or Flight. As Walter Wink has put it, there is the "third way" of Jesus.

fernando said...

Isn't there a deep irony here. Those who would want to argue most vociferously for armed self-defence seem to also be those most ready to call other people names (like liberal) for "bending" scripture to suit their modern and pragmatic outlook?

There's a pretty clear and unwavering witness available to us from both the early church and the persecuted (or underground) church of the 20th century. Don't arm yourself for defence with anything more than truth and prayer.

It isn't just a point of doctrine or biblical theology, it's also a question of spirituality and discipleship - or to put it another way, our basic stance and attitude to the world.

Adam Gonnerman said...


Sounds like you are responding to an article by some hawkish evangelical pastor or scholar. Could you provide a link to the original article? I have a series in the works for my blog in January on Jesus' Third Way, and a pro-war, pro-Augustinian article would give me points to interact with.

I agree wholeheartedly with you in the attempt to recover the perspective of the first centuries, and have myself been surprised by the meaning of Jesus' words (and even his death) when placed back into the original historical and cultural context.

All the best!

roy said...

Adam, I think Wink is right on target with his work on these verses but I don't think that changes their application to other situations. Jesus was saying, as I read Wink, that we use other methods, non-violent, to subvert the power of the world.

Fernando, there is third unwavering witness - this one in the western church - the Anabaptist movement.

I keep going back to the Quaker bumper sticker we used to see in Pennsylvania, "loving your enemies probably begins with not killing them"