CHRIST AND THE SWORD
It is clear to me and has been most of my life that if one wants to live an animal existence with a modicum of amenities, he must compromise morally; and if he wants to live a princely animal existence, he must not only compromise but he must prostitute himself and sell wholesale his principles. On the other hand, if one wants to attain Christ’s heights of morality and live as morally uncompromising as Christ did, he must be prepared to be crucified. No state, church or any other entity can long endure a man or woman preaching, acting and living as he did, because Christ’s teachings if implemented economically and politically would totally undermine the very foundations of the modern state and reduce the rich and the poor to a common level.
So I decided long ago that there was no way that I could imitate Christ, because I just didn’t have the moral courage to do so. I decided that I would try to cap my compromising at a level with which I could live, that I would admit to myself that relative to Christ’s standards I was a weakling and that I would therefore ask forgiveness and understanding of my fellowman. Self preservation in the face of Christ’s example won out and so it is with every one who has escaped the cross.
The inducement for this article is an essay on faith written by a man who was trying to resolve the moral dilemma of being a Christian and being ready, willing and able to kill another in his defense; that is, he is an elder in the Presbyterian church and presumably a rabid member of the NRA. He relates that governing bodies of some mainstream churches have passed resolutions asking members to remove firearms, especially handguns, from their homes and to work to remove them from their communities and that some Christians say that it is immoral for one to defend himself if his defense could take the life of another, even the life of a criminal threatening deadly force. He poses this question: “Should Christians do nothing to defend their lives or the lives of their family and neighbors?”
If one reads Christ closely, he will answer, indubitably, yes. The short argument is that that is precisely what Jesus did; and if he had done otherwise, if he had armed himself and fought to the death with his enemies taking with him a goodly number, it is unlikely that he would have inspired millions of mankind to consider him God’s son, for he would have, by arming and defending himself, acted as an ordinary human. Further, twice in Matthew’s Gospel, Christ makes clear that one should not let loyalty to family be an excuse for not following and believing in him. In summary, he said that one’s chief foe shall be his own household; that one who loves family more than him is not worthy of him; and one who forsakes everything including family for his name’s sake shall have his reward.
Then, the elder makes reference to Luke 22:36-38, to which scripture Christian gun-lovers have made reference for at least 500 years. I know that they have because Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), the Intellectual Father of the Reformation, in his classic The Praise of Folly takes to task a doctor of theology who cited the scripture for the very reason all others do: To make a case that Christ advised his disciples to sell all they had in order to buy swords, presumably to defend themselves. Erasmus devotes two and three-quarter pages in counter argument that in my estimation should inhibit forever Christian gun-lovers from citing it again for the purpose of arguing that Christ , were he here today, would be a member of the NRA or a least have a deadly weapon close at hand. The good doctor’s construction of the scripture, said Erasmus, is as “agreeable to the mind of Christ as are Fire and Water to one another.”
The elder admits that later, when Peter cuts off the ear of an officer who came to arrest Jesus, Jesus reprimanded Peter and told him to sheath his sword, for he who lives by it dies by it. But he concludes that “the swords must have been for the protection of the disciples when He was no longer with them.” Erasmus addresses this point: “Nor does he [the doctor] take the least notice of this, that he [Christ] that so willed the sword to be bought, reprehends it a little after and commands it to be sheathed; and that it was never heard that the Apostles ever used swords or bucklers against the Gentiles, though it is likely that they would have, if Christ had ever intended, as this Doctor interprets.”
And this from him who is a church elder and wants to defend himself and family with a gun: “Our gift of life comes from God, a life heavy with instinct for self-preservation and a God-given free will. Should we recognize God’s gift by letting evil take control of it?” In answer, one can confidently reply that nothing could be clearer than Jesus’ exhortations from the Mount: Resist not evil, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, give to him that asketh, love your enemies, bless them that curse you and do good to them that hate you.
Self-preservation is the source of much evil. It is an instinct that denies free will. It is the source of selfishness and all of its wicked manifestations. In fact, being born again is to lose the life of the animal in order to gain the life of the spirit. And no one who is dominated by his spiritual being is in the market for a handgun to kill whoever threatens his animal being.
I suggest that the elder, gun-lovers and Christians ponder the following excerpt from The Meaning of the City by Jacques Ellul: “Judgment has been rendered once and for all: ‘The light came into the world, and the world did not receive it.’ There is no use trying again. And if you see the powers of the world so well disposed , when you see the state, money, cities, accepting your word, it is because your word, whether you are only a man of good will or an evangelist, has become false. For it is only to the extent that you are a traitor that the world can put up with you.”
If a man looks honestly upon his livelihood, particularly if it awards him power and wealth, he cannot escape Ellul’s indictment that he is a traitor. A man that arms himself with a deadly weapon to protect his life, family and property is even more a traitor to Christ’s spirit. And a person intimate with Christ through the study of his words and acts cannot seriously believe Christ would carry a sword, or pack a pistol, in his defense.