Back when I was in seminary, one of my professors used to warn us seminarians to be neither “more pious than Paul” nor “more Christian than Christ.” Such a stance might win us halos on earth, but no crowns in glory. This instruction was never more vivid to me than when I read John Piper’s pacifist critique of the Second Amendment.
Piper makes a few helpful points. For instance,
- He rightly encourages believers not to develop a disposition of violence. Christians should not be a pugnacious people who rabidly seek multiplied occasions for legal expressions of force.
- He reminds us most helpfully that believers should not be in the revenge business, a point made throughout both testaments of Scripture.
- He also affirms that the Christian message must never be advanced by means of the sword, noting the damage to the Gospel that has been caused by error in this regard.
- Finally, Piper makes an excellent case for submitting to religious persecution without violent retaliation.
All good. But here’s the thing. There are other reasons than these for carrying and using a gun—reasons that are biblically commendable. In addition to just war (which is not really the point of the article—Piper allows, it seems, for governments and their duly constituted armies to bear the sword), there is the matter of self defense. To make preparations to defend my life or my family’s in the face of assault or physical threat is not to adopt a “disposition of violence.” Nor is it to sanction revenge. Nor is it an attempt to advance the Gospel by means of the sword. Nor is it an attempt to meet religious persecution with violence. It is the exercise of my God-given obligation to function responsibly in civil society as a good husband, father, neighbor, and citizen. As such, I would argue that almost none of the passages cited by Piper has any bearing at all on our exercise of the constitutional right to bear arms.
One passage, however, Luke 22:35–38, does speak immediately to the issue. It suggests that believers, even in the broad exercise of religious duties, should take necessary precautions to use capital force (a sword) to meet personal violence. In fact, it was Christ’s explicit command that they do so! Christ does add qualifiers: (1) self-defense shouldn’t be an obsession (two swords are fine for a dozen apostles) and (2) capital force in the face of legalized persecution is inappropriate (so vv. 49–51). But for what other reason than self-defense would Christ command his disciples to carry swords, pray tell? To pare their fingernails? I think not.
The problem, I believe, lies in a failure to discern God’s multiplex purpose for the present age—a failure to recognize Calvin’s “two governments of God” (or Luther’s “two kingdoms”)–in lieu of a Neo-Kuyperian merger of all God’s purposes into one monolithic monstrosity. Piper makes clear that there is but one goal for believers in the present age—to advance the Gospel. Anything we do that impedes the Gospel (e.g., in Piper’s article, killing a violent man who is raping my wife and thus cutting off his opportunity to repent and embrace the Gospel) is therefore wrong. This is absurd. The Gospel may be the Church’s mission, but it is not the whole of God’s plan for the universe. God is also concerned for the civil advance of justice, order, peace, and civil society—causes that quite often are achieved only with a sword.
There is “a time to kill and a time to heal,” so says the Preacher. It is impossible, in the name of Christian piety, to eliminate the former and cling only to the latter. The complexity of this issue is much too great for such a simple solution.