Confusing Vengeance with Just Defense: A Response to John Piper's Discouragement of Armed Christians
"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."
However, in a recent post, he has made a terrible mistake in regards to advocating an unbiblical view of Christian ethics in the social sphere. This has been responded to greatly by several people (most notably for me was Dr. Joel McDurmon's response: A biblical response to John Piper’s denial of the Right to bear Arms.)
And while I've written on this issue before, since the Washington Post has now also picked up Piper's discouragement for armed Christians, I feel the need to reach people in my own sphere of influence (however small that may be) in pointing out some of Piper's inconsistencies that must not go unnoticed.
I love John Piper - but when a man whose theological system abrogates the Old Testament and posits that the New Testament doesn't speak to issues of social ethics, and then that man decides to speak on social ethics, we can only expect one result: confusion.
While Piper illustrates in 9 points (and almost 4,000 words) why he thinks Christians ought not to be armed, he seems to make the same error over and over again: confusing revenge/vengeance with self-defense and protection of loved ones.
It is true that we Christians are called not to avenge ourselves (Rom. 12:19) but to leave it to the wrath of God (that is, through the civil magistrate, cf. Rom. 13:3, 4). Also true, as Piper points out, we Christians are called to endure certain hardships when personally suffering unjustly (1 Pet. 2:19, 20, 3:9, 14, 17, 4:13, 14, 16, 19).
But vengeance is something that happens after the fact. If someone comes and murders my neighbor, I don't have the right to go seek that person out and end his life. That is truly the job of the civil magistrate (Rom. 13:1-7).
However, I do have not only the right but also the moral duty to protect myself and my neighbor when a crime (such as murder or rape) is in progress. The man Job did this himself (Job 29:11, 12, 13). Furthermore, Scripture assumes that when a woman being attacked calls out for help, if someone hears, that person would (and should) come to her rescue (Deut. 22:25-26, 27). Regarding these matters let us not forget that "whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (Jas. 4:17).
Speaking against Jerry Falwell Jr.'s comments on encouraging his students to take the free course on concealed carry (that they offer at Liberty University) ending with: "And let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here," Piper seems perplexed that this kind of attitude espouses any part of the gospel. He seems confused that the gospel can have an aspect of protecting others by force.
Falwell was not talking about vigilante "justice", but talking of terrorists coming into the school with the purpose of killing the innocent. He's speaking about stopping crime in progress - or at least reducing it (which allowing Christian students to carry concealed would do).
Are these not Christian virtues (Prv. 24:11; Ps. 82:4)?
After a crime has been committed and the perpetrator has been apprehended, no, it is neither our right nor our duty to "bring justice" to a person without a proper trial. However, there is nowhere in Scripture where bringing aid to our neighbor (even with force) in a crime in progress is prohibited. As a matter of fact, according to the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms (documents with which I know Piper is familiar), it is seen as being outright commanded in Scripture:
Q. 134. Which is the sixth commandment?
Where my most beloved John Piper gets this idea that protecting the innocent even with violent force - during a crime in progress - is unloving or contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ is beyond my understanding.
Is it truly an act of loving my neighbor to stand by as as he gets slaughtered (Prv. 24:11)?
Is it truly an act of loving my family to let a man break into my house at night, steal from me, and maybe even take my own life, leaving my wife a widow and my children fatherless - if not killing us all (Ex. 22:2)?
No and No!
Piper seems to indicate throughout his article that the only ones authorized to carry the sword (guns) should be the government. It is true that Romans 13:1-7 says the government is authorized to bear the sword. But this is for carrying out just sentences of just laws (after just trials) and/or protecting the entire nation against aggressive acts of war from other nations. In other words, the civil magistrate has the right to execute (and/or punish in other just ways) criminals, and regulate a militia in times of war.
But nowhere in this context can you get the idea that only the government has the right to own or bear arms. It is precisely because the citizens for whom Saul and Jonathan fought, were, by law, unarmed, that they were living under the despotic tyranny of the Philistines (1 Sam. 13:19, 22).
Again, I would think someone so well versed in Puritan theology would understand that.
The Puritans and Pilgrims who first colonized this country sure did. Here is an example:
Notice anything about these Pilgrims? They're all armed to protect themselves and their loved ones from danger - and this all on their way to church!
Yes our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21), and yes, as pertains to the gospel and our spreading it, our weapons are not material in nature (2 Cor. 10:4, 5) - we are never to spread the gospel by force.
But regarding our love for our neighbor and stopping or reducing the violence of terrorism or any other violent threat against ourselves and/or our neighbors, we are most certainly permitted and called upon to preserve our lives and the lives of others.
Consider that the same Abraham who "was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10) is the very same Abraham who was blessed by Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God, on his return from "the slaughter of the kings" (Heb. 7:1; cf. Gen. 14:14-20 - pay special attention to v. 20 where part of the blessing is that God delivered Abraham's enemies into his hand).
Take into account that the same Moses who "considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward" (Heb. 11:26) is the very same Moses who struck down an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew (Ex. 2:11, 12) - with no apology. For as Stephen, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, said regarding the matter: "He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand," (Acts 7:24, 25).
The lesson Falwell's students would teach to the terrorists is that they - the students - are committed to carrying out the most quoted summary commandment of the New Testament: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt. 22:39; Mk. 12:31; Rom. 13:8, 9-10; Gal. 5:14). They can do this by preventing their neighbors' needless deaths at the hands of ungodly men.
Should Christians be encouraged to arm themselves? For spreading the gospel by force - absolutely not! But for protecting themselves, their families, and their neighbors? Absolutely - Biblically and theologically - yes!
They say everyone's allowed to have one wrong belief (tongue-in-cheek here). Perhaps this is John Piper's. But how I hope he pays more attention to the difference in Scripture between personal vengeance and enduring hardship, and justly protecting ourselves and our families.
Furthermore, how I hope Falwell's message doesn't merely stop at schools and universities, but that even pastors and churches would more and more encourage concealed carry in their congregations - to protect their flock by those who would kill them. For this also truly is our calling:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
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