Precious in the sight of the LORD
In addition to that, clearly something does need to be done to help prevent such tragedies from being so frequent. I think we would be hard pressed to disagree with the idea that ultimately what will reduce or eliminate these tragedies is the mass conversion of individuals to becoming Christians through the power of the Holy Spirit, which He will use by the preaching of the gospel to the unsaved, and then training Christians in full-orbed discipleship in our churches.
In the meantime, I wish to express the following thoughts on what it means to be a Christian in the face of these types of situations.
Yes, I'm a Christian
It was really hard to hear that the shooter was seemingly targeting Christians out for marked death in his rampage. What was also hard to hear - and at the same time very sobering - was that even after it was evident that he was targeting Christians, there were still people willing to affirm their belief in Christ, even in the face of death, which inspired the hashtag: #YesImAChristian.
Sobering indeed. And it’s something on which we need to reflect.
There are times when being a Christian calls for death.
While we always hope it's rare, and though it's a very hard thing to think about, it seems clear in Scripture that the possibility of being killed for our faith should not be thought of as foreign.
After all, Jesus said, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. ... If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (Jn. 15:18, 20). And Paul goes so far as saying, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
There are several other verses that speak to this point, along with a sizable portion of church history. However, this doesn’t mean we should expect this to be the norm. Yes, the world system hates Christ and consequently His disciples; however, the same Christ who was raised from the dead and has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Mt. 28:18) has commissioned us to go forth and disciple all nations (Mt. 28:19) and has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18).
In other words, we should expect to see the world system that hates Christ to be reduced in number and influence as the gospel and Christ’s commandments along with the gospel (Mt. 28:20) reach all nations. As that happens, there will certainly be causalities (deaths) for the sake of Christ. But we should expect to see these being reduced in number over the spectrum of time.
To that effect, there may be times in seemingly life-and-death situations where instead of dying for Christ we are expected to preserve our lives.
There are times when being a Christian calls for escape.
There is no doubt that the apostle Paul was ready at any moment to give his life for the sake of the gospel (Acts 20:24, 21:13; Phil. 1:20; 2 Tim. 4:6). Yet at the same time, there were times when wisdom called for him not to deliver himself up to death but rather to escape. Listen to what he says concerning a situation he encountered in Damascus:
“At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands” -2 Corinthians 11:32-33
Compare this to the account in Acts 9:23, 24, 25.
Just because being a Christian can get you killed, doesn’t mean it has to in all circumstances. There are times when it is better to hide from someone who is clearly wanting to kill you because of your faith, rather than stand your ground and die.
I’m certainly not calling anyone to renounce their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ by any means; but I am saying that there is no shame in hiding or trying to find a way of escape. And I would, in fact, encourage that to be your first impulse if you’re not able to defend yourself: “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it” (Prv. 27:12).
What do I mean, though, about “If you’re not able to defend yourself”? This brings me to another Christian response to situations like these.
Yes, I'm Armed
There are times when being a Christian calls for self-defense.
There is a misunderstanding out there that Christians are not really allowed to fight back when being assaulted. This comes from misinterpretations to texts like “turn the other cheek” (Mt. 5:39), “bless those who persecute you” (Rom. 12:14), “do not repay evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17), etc.
While we don’t have time to get into the details of these texts (I recommend just getting a good commentary on them), it’s clear in the context that in any of these situations neither your life nor the life of your neighbors are being threatened here. On the contrary, God does give us permission to protect both ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors, even to the point of death.
For instance, if a man discovers someone breaking into his house at night (when he can’t ascertain his intentions due to the darkness) he is permitted to protect himself and his family even if it comes to killing the intruder. And this is not seen as murder but as self-defense (Ex. 22:2).
Likewise, in Luke when Jesus is about to be arrested and He knows that when this takes place the disciples will scatter (Mt. 26:31; Jn. 16:32), He tells his disciples to acquire a sword (Lk. 22:36, 37), which is certainly for their own protection (not his – Jn. 18:10, 11; cf. Mt. 26:53). But self-defense is not the only thing in which the Christian is permitted to use appropriate force in deterring a life-threatening villain.
There are times when being a Christian calls for defending and protecting others.
In speaking of a case of rape (which is and should be punishable by capital punishment – Deut. 22:25, 26), the case law example gives an account of a woman (whose perpetrator is tried and executed) who cried for help and there was none to rescue her (Deut. 22:27). This implies that had someone heard her cry, that man had an obligation to come to her rescue!
This is certainly in accordance with other Scriptures with which we should be familiar:
Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
But here is the thing. How are we to rescue those who are being taken away to death or deliver them from the hand of the wicked, if only the wicked are armed?
Remember the reason given in Scripture as to why the citizens of Israel were powerless to liberate themselves from the tyranny of the Philistines under Saul’s rule? The government had taken all the weapons of the citizens. They were a disarmed citizenry and had no way of liberating themselves (1 Sam. 13:19, 22).
So yes, we must be armed, in one way or another, as part of our Christian obligation to defend the lives of our family and selves and to rescue others who are in danger of unjust death.
So far this has all been talking about defensive reasons to be armed. But is there ever a time for Christians to go on the offensive? In a word, yes.
There are many times when being a Christian calls for offensive strategy.
But hear me clearly on this. We go on the offensive only with spiritual weapons.
We are certainly commanded as the church to make disciples of all nations. But we do not make disciples by coercion. Rather we preach the gospel and teach Christians to obey all that the Lord has commanded. Our weapons in this realm are not violent. Rather, as Paul says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5).
It is through the preaching and defense of the gospel and ongoing discipleship in the church that we are to be on the offensive for Christ’s kingdom. But be assured, though, He has guaranteed victory for this offensive measure. There is another common misunderstanding regarding the Scripture where Christ has assured us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church (Mt. 16:18). Many seem to see this as the gates of hell advancing on the church, but we won’t ultimately be defeated.
The problem with this view is, the gates of a city were not offensive. The gates of a city were the last standing defense before a city was taken over, which means if the gates of hell are in view here it is Christ’s church that is on the offensive with the powerful preaching of the gospel and accompanying discipleship. It’s no wonder Paul concludes his prayer in the letter to the Ephesians (a city that ended up burning massive amounts of occult books because of their response to the gospel – Acts 19:18, 19, 20) with the following words:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Let us go forth, then, armed with physical weapons in order to protect and defend our loved ones from wicked men who would seek to take our lives; and armed with the offensive spiritual weapons of warfare in order to destroy strongholds of every argument and lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5), and in the power of the Spirit preach the gospel and disciple the nations – to His glory both now and forever!