I know that, typically, I tend to post things here with either allegorical or metaphorical significance, trying to address one issue by using a parallel topic. Or even an off-the-wall topic, perhaps, to make a point.
That is not my intention with this post. If you see a connection to Calvinism/Traditionalism/Pro-Gospel Project/Anti-Gospel Project, or the CR, or the GCR, or the Great Name Change Committee, or anything else, my first response to you is that you really might need to take a blog break. My goal here is to put this conundrum to us all for consideration.
Over the past few years, we have seen in the United States a growing amount of violence geared toward houses of worship. This is the case whether they have been Christian or not-Christian. Violence also came against a pro-Christian lobbying group in D.C. this year. The question that sits before us is: What can we do about this?
(Admittedly, violence against people of faith is a global problem. Christians face violence in many places around the globe and we need to constantly keep that mind. However, I live in this country, preach in this country, and am more familiar with here than I am elsewhere. So, there will be more of an American focus.)
Now, when we face an issue like violence against churches, there is a tendency to answer What can we do about this? from the wrong perspective. We will tend to start by asking What does the law allow? and follow that with How many security guards can we afford? These are, however, not the right first questions.
The first question we should ask is this: What would God have us do about this? Being a firm believer that the Bible is itself the Word of God, and the only infallible Word from God that we have, that question drives us to the text. What do we find there?
1. I doubt we can have this discussion without starting with the command of Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) It is hard to imagine that someone who wishes to harm us by violence is not our enemy. That is not to say that we have done anything particularly to agitate this person. In fact, often the enmity is one-sided and potentially unknown. It is still just as real, and potentially more dangerous: often a church does not know they have an enemy until the shooting starts.
How do we handle these situations in light of this text? First, let us acknowledge that if we are going to love our enemies, that automatically increases our risk. We should be in contact with the world outside of the church and that contact leads to greater risk that we will have enemies. Second, we need acknowledge that any steps toward security we take must be based not simply in defense but in love. This does not require that the person “feel” loved, but showing true love must be part of our goal. Even toward the enemy.
Additionally, one must consider the intent of the Word here. When Jesus is preaching the Sermon on the Mount, He is preaching to the crowd about their individual lives. While there is application into the life of the church, there are further concerns about how this applies when you gather a group of people. If, for example, I have an enemy personally, does loving him and praying for him require that I allow him to shoot my children? Or do I have a responsibility to protect them?
Which leads to another passage of Scripture:
2. In Nehemiah 4, we see that the people of Jerusalem are rebuilding the wall around the city. They are threatened by their enemies. These enemies plan to come in, fight and kill, and end the work that God has commanded. Nehemiah’s solution is twofold. First, he arms the people that are doing the work. Second, he keeps working. Nehemiah 4:9 expresses his heart on the matter: “We prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard.”
For Nehemiah, there is no cognitive dissonance between posting a guard and trusting God for protection. Instead, he sees the two actions as linked. The guard is useless without prayer, but prayer without action is similarly not helpful. It was necessary to do both things for the people to continue to do that which God had commanded.
Taking a look at the narrative and striving for the principles expressed, one is left with the conclusion that sometimes it is necessary to fight your enemies and not hug them. This principle is not nullified by any point in the New Testament–neither, though, is it restated. One must note that Nehemiah’s actual experience connects to building a city to be ruled by God rather than God’s people living among others and living life without that separating wall.
3. Then, of course, there’s pesky Romans 13 that puts us constrained by the governing authorities unless, as in Acts 5, those authorities are directing us contrary to the Word of God. The options we consider must take into account the laws governing meetings and such wherever we are. Many of those laws are there for our good: one too many times tragedy has struck those whose buildings do not meet fire codes for exits or building capacities. That’s a law you should follow, almost without hesitation. Cramming too many people in too small a space with only one exit is not a “spiritual experience.” It’s reckless endangerment.
It is not until we reach this passage that we consider What is legal? for our decision-making process. What is legal only matters if Scripture says so. Which Scripture does say: unless obeying the law contravenes obeying the Lord, then obey the law. (This is a summation, not a verse.) It is because the Word of God gives credence to the laws of the land that we give them credence.
With these three factors in mind, what are our options?
We could, as churches, do the following:
A: The Ostrich Method: Stick our heads in the ground and hope it never happens here. That’s an option. I do not believe it is a smart option, even in nice, calm, quiet communities. After all, most of the time you hear “We never thought it would happen here!” in the wake of these tragedies. Rarely do you hear “Yep, it’s a war zone here in the suburbs and we figured the Great Commission Baptists were due for a hit.” Taking this view is naive at best, and negligent at worst. When people are harmed by our negligence, we are responsible.
There is a difference between being an ostrich, though, and prayerfully determining that you will take no action. If you are convinced that the Lord God requires you to take no physical action, that is your business to take up with Him. Be certain, though, that you are truly reaching that conclusion through Scripture and not by default.
B: The Duck Method: Multiply, spread out, and trust that some of you will get through. This is actually what you see having to happen in many countries with a truly persecuted church. There are no other options open for them to defend themselves on the temporal front, and so they diversify leadership, spread out meetings, and carry on. The hope being that since governmental violence against one portion of the body is unavoidable, the survival of the message cannot be dependent on that one group. It must be spread out.
This may be where we are in another generation in America. We are not there now, and we ought to fight with all legal methods to keep from going there. It is also not a wrong method: I would classify the Early Church as having been ducks. Including that they migrated and found some better grounds for multiplication, then went back, often through danger, and carry the message. And it’s a better message than just “Quack.”
C. The Hawk Method: Sharpen the claws, ready the beak, and attack. This is probably the most “Southern” of responses. It also seems to be Nehemiah-like in arming those doing the work to defend themselves or in designating a guard to handle any situation. The questions presented here, though, are numerous: is it right to spend church resources to hire guards? Do we really need a congregation carrying firearms or TASERs?
Additionally, this method gets dicey if we are not careful as we deal with political issues. If the church becomes an armed mini-camp, then do we become a physical threat to a government that we should only be a spiritual force to? Is there not a risk that someone will see arming themselves for church as the backwards step into violence? There is the secondary idea of employing security forces for a church, but that leads to the question: is that really the right use of church funds? Should I cut the missions funding in the budget by one-third to free up enough to hire a security guard for Sundays?
In all, we have to consider these issues. We also have to consider them, here in America, in the broader context of life. If you want the freedom to have a dozen deacons with rifles in the lobby, you must also allow that the mosque down the road should have the same freedom. (That is, by the way, something I would be okay with, but I think it would hamper outreach.)
Obviously, in an ideal situation, our demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit and our witness to the love of Christ would overwhelm all enemies and prevent all violence. Yet is that really what is going to happen? If you think so, then your allegation is that any church which suffers violence is deficient compared to you. Is it not more likely that our lives in this sin-soaked world are not completely in our control?
What solutions do you see? Is the best option just to hope nothing bad happens? Or are their solutions you can see to this?