Rebutting a Christian Pacifist

Reverend John Piper recently wrote an essay advocating Christian pacifism in the face of mortal threats to life and limb. The following is a detailed rebuttal.

"As chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary, I want to send a different message to our students, and to the readers of Desiring God, than Jerry Falwell, Jr. sent to the students of Liberty University in a campus chapel service on December 4... The apostle Paul called Christians not to avenge ourselves, but to leave it to the wrath of God, and instead to return good for evil." (All quotes from Reverend John Piper)

It is not possible, nor does it depend on us, to live peaceably with Sharia-loving totalitarian Muslim jihadists, or with totalitarian Marxists or Fascists, because totalitarian control of the great mass of people by a small self-serving oligarchy, religious or secular, requires destruction of the people's God-given unalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It is not evil to oppose, resist, and destroy evil, and will not be confused with repaying evil for evil in the minds of right-minded American Christians.

Reverend Jerry Falwell, Jr. has not called for Christians to arm themselves in order to enact vengeance against Muslim jihadists, or other murderers, rather he has expressed the intuitive, natural, God-given human instinct for self-defense and survival. Reverend John Piper has thus constructed a nonexistent straw man, named it Jerry Falwell, Jr., and then attempted to rhetorically take him down.

"And then he [the Apostle Paul] said that God gave the sword (the gun) into the hand of governmental rulers to express that wrath in the pursuit of justice in this world..."  

Unlike the tyrannies of ancient times, and unlike modern Fascist or Marxist Dictatorships or Islamo-Fascist dictatorships, as stated in our Declaration of Independence, the United States was founded on the God-given rights of His created people. The Apostle Paul correctly tells us to obey good government, but it is self-evident from both ancient and modern history that many governments become tyrannical and evil as they destroy the people's human rights, and thus their God-given human dignity and value. Evil tyrannical governments are a terror to good conduct, are not instituted by God -- as with Pharaoh of Exodus -- and become God's enemy, not God's servant. Resistance to evil tyrannical government will not incur God's judgment, rather the opposite, evil tyrannical government will incur God's judgment.

"Any claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, '[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain' (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas." 

The American Republic, properly administered, does in fact deliver power to the people who, through their amendable Constitution, are the government. Therefore, We the People do assume the role of sword-bearing ruler as in Romans 13, thus bringing just political power into compliance with Biblical revelation.

It is irrational, and I would add immoral, to assert that our American Government has an obligation to wield the sword in defense of its people, but not the people themselves.

"The apostle Peter teaches us that Christians will often find themselves in societies where we should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without retaliation... Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation." 

Yes, of course, if we suffer injustice and sorrow because of our Christian faith, we will be rewarded in Heaven, but that is not the same as passively allowing others, particularly those people comprising an evil government, to physically maim or kill us our families or our neighbors without exercising self-defense for self-preservation. We should rejoice if we must suffer or die as Christians, but we are not commanded by the Apostle Peter that we must suffer and die, or to passively allow the suffering and death of our children or neighbors at the hands of evil people such as murderers, Islamic Jihadists, other terrorists or evil government. Peter's aim is not that we should suffer well, but that we should suffer well if there is no way out -- as always occurs under tyrannical governments devoid of a Second Amendment. The cure for suffering unjustly, whenever possible, is the overthrow of injustice and the establishment of justice, as occurred in our American Revolution.

"Jesus promised that violent hostility will come; and the whole tenor of his counsel was how to handle it with suffering and testimony, not with armed defense... If we teach our students that they should carry guns, and then challenge them, 'Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,' do we really think that when the opportunity to lay down their lives comes, they will do what Jim Elliott and his friends did in Ecuador, and refuse to fire their pistols at their killers, while the spears plunged through their chests? 

Jesus was warning the twelve Apostles in Luke 21 that they would be persecuted and that some would be put to death for speaking His gospel, and that they should make the best of their opportunities to speak, and be prepared for the worst, but Jesus' last word on the subject follows in Luke 22 where he instructed the Apostles to buy swords for self-defense.

Reverend Piper expects the Christian students at Liberty University to lay down their lives when the time comes, i.e.: when a Muslim Jihadist or other terrorist starts shooting, stabbing, or bombing, rather than exercise self-defense, and he has perverted the Word of God in so doing.

"When Jesus told the apostles to buy a sword, he was not telling them to use it to escape the very thing he promised they should endure to the death... I do not think that Jesus meant in verse 36 that his disciples were to henceforth be an armed band of preachers ready to use violence to defend themselves from persecution."  

Jesus knew that after his time on earth was done the Apostles and other followers would be placed in harm's way, and Jesus did not want them to die at the hands of their enemies prior to an effective spreading of His Gospel. Luke 22, 35-36 is the Christian 2nd Amendment. Jesus expected His Apostles to carry swords in self-defense so they could carry out their God-ordained mission. I believe likewise that Jesus does not want us to die at the hands of the enemies of our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness today prior to our own God-ordained mission to live and love, and to speak the Gospel of Christ in our own day. Jesus was Himself a pacifist, but, despite the assertions of Reverend Piper, Jesus did not order us to be pacifists.

Jesus did not admonish Peter to get rid of his sword after cutting off the ear of a solder sent to arrest Jesus. He told Peter to resheath his sword, which means Jesus told Peter to keep his sword for its proper use of self-defense. Peter's mistake was to use the sword in an act of aggression when Jesus was arrested by the legal authorities. Peter was not using it in self-defense while someone was trying to murder him or Jesus. The legal officers who arrested Jesus carried swords too, but they did not strike Peter or Jesus with their swords, so it was Peter who used the sword in a wrong way, and Jesus called him on it, but Jesus did not tell Peter to get rid of his sword.

"I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket." 

As Christians we have hope in eternal life thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but that is no reason to abandon hope for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness in this world. Our hope for the former is in Jesus, and for the latter in our love of life, family, and neighbors, and in our creative labor, and in our God-given ability and responsibility to defend these precious gifts from God.

Jesus warned Peter against using his sword in aggression rather than in self-defense. Those who live by the sword through aggression often die violently, and justly so, but those who use the sword only in self-defense are known as our courageous heroes.

"Christians are freed to rejoice in persecution because our hearts have been so changed that we are more satisfied in the hope of heaven than in the hope of self-defense. This is the root of turning the other cheek and loving the enemy...  A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?... This instinct is understandable. But it seems to me that the New Testament resists this kind of ethical reduction, and does not satisfy our demand for a yes or no on that question." 

When Jesus instructed us to not resist an evil person and turn the other cheek, it is clear from the text that He was referencing social conflict, not life-threatening mortal conflict. Some Christians may be called to self-sacrificing pacifism -- okay by me for them -- but the vast majority of us are called to physically defend our own lives, and the lives of our families and neighbors. As Christians, we are obliged to love our enemy, yet at the same time we are obliged to hate and if necessary destroy evil as it confronts us.

It is one thing for a Christian clergyman to advocate self-sacrificing pacifism for himself in the face of mortal danger, but quite another to advocate or force pacifism on others against their natural God-given will to live. No one on Earth has the authority to tolerate, through pacifism, maiming injury or death to their own family or neighbor at the hands of murderers, terrorists, Muslim jihadists or tyrannical government; that is not only cowardly and un-Christian, it is evil. As Christians we are under Divine obligation to provide, not only food and shelter for our families, without which physical harm would ensue, but also to provide safety from violent physical harm. Both the New and Old Testaments provide us with a resounding "yes" to the question posed by Reverend Piper: "Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?"

As Christians we are obliged by God to physically and courageously defend our families and thereby eschew the cowardice of un-Godly pacifism. Do not allow the Christian church to be perverted into the pacifist suicide cult advocated by Reverend Piper.

"The early church, as we see her in Acts, expected and endured persecution without armed resistance, but rather with joyful suffering, prayer, and the word of God... In all the dangers Paul faced in the book of Acts, there is not a hint that he ever planned to carry or use a weapon for his defense against his adversaries. He was willing to appeal to the authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:37) and Jerusalem (Acts 22:25). But he never used a weapon to defend himself against persecution." 

There is more than a hint that the Apostle Paul carried a sword for self-defense since Jesus, setting a precedent, commanded the other twelve Apostles to do so the night before His crucifixion. Unlike Peter, we have no indication that Paul, after his conversion, used his sword unjustly outside of self-defense.
Early Christians were mostly helpless and disarmed subjects of a totalitarian Roman emperor, not free men and women living in a Constitutional Republic dedicated to securing the people's life, liberty, and creative pursuit of happiness, so we should not use the example of early Christian martyrs as a blueprint for present-day America. The early Christians were defenseless serfs born with Roman saddles on their backs, but we are not. The injustice, persecution and tyranny of old Rome, and of Medieval kings, has been overthrown by our Founding Fathers, and we now have the protection of our Declaration, Constitution and Bill of Rights by the grace of God.

"This article is about the people whom the Bible calls “refugees and exiles” on earth; namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our weapons are not material, but spiritual... It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world... “as lambs in the midst of wolves”... And that exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ." 

Reverend Piper's article is about un-Godly Christian pacifism where the soul-saving words of Jesus Christ have been perverted into suicidal agitprop which enables the triumph of evil.

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