Do Christians have the right and duty to defend themselves and others?
With the recent church shootings, the question has often arisen as to whether Christians have the right and duty to defend themselves and others and even to take lives to save lives when such becomes necessary. Numerous editorial pieces have been written on the subject, many of which would make it appear that being a Christian and carrying a gun for self-defense is totally incompatible. And carrying a weapon inside a church has been viewed as totally incongruous with the Gospel. But what is God’s answer?
Perhaps, first and foremost in arguments against Christians bearing arms, the commandment against murder is cited: “Thou shalt not kill” — often translated “You shall not murder” — (Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17). While it is clear that this commandment of God forbids murder, does it forbid all taking of human life, including doing so in an effort to defend life and property? A deeper look into the Scriptures provides the answer.
• Genesis 9:6 commands taking the life of murderers: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” This passage makes clear that murder is wrong but makes provision for the punishment of murderers with death to prevent further murders.
• Abraham and his servants were trained to bear arms and fought to deliver his nephew Lot and Lot’s family when they were taken captive by invading kings from the north (cf. Genesis 14).
• God said no blood should be shed (no penalty for murder) if a man catches a thief in the act of breaking into his house and kills him. Exodus 22:2 says: “If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.” If, however, he later hunts down the thief and kills him, he is subject to being put to death for killing a person rather than turning him over to the judges to pay restitution (cf. Exodus 22:3).
• David and his armed men defended the people and cities of Judah from invading marauders and even pursued them to rescue those taken captive (cf. 1 Samuel 25 and 30).
• When Haman’s plot would have allowed the Jews to be killed and plundered, “the king granted the Jews which were in every city to gather themselves together, and to stand for their life, to destroy, to slay and to cause to perish, all the power of the people and province that would assault them, both little ones and women, and to take the spoil of them for a prey…” (Esther 8:11).
• Nehemiah commanded the people of Israel who were building the walls of Jerusalem to be armed and defend themselves and their brethren that the work might go forward (Nehemiah 4:1618): “And it came to pass from that time forth, that the half of my servants wrought in the work, and the other half of them held both the spears, the shields, and the bows, and the habergeons; and the rulers were behind all the house of Judah. They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.”
• Jesus told His disciples to carry a sword for self-defense as they traveled to spread the Gospel of the kingdom: “He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
Thus, we learn from the Word of God that murder is prohibited but bearing arms and even using arms to protect human life and property is enjoined.
Making it clear that Christians have a duty to defend the lives of others, Proverbs 24:10-12 states: “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small. If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain; If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?”
While it speaks about much more than just risking one’s life to defend another, Jesus also said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
And, though we have been blessed for generations to be safe in our houses of worship, it was not always so in America and bringing guns to church was not an uncommon practice.
In 1623, a Virginia statute forbade anyone to travel unless he was well armed and required all men working in fields likewise to be armed. And 1631 laws repeated the same requirements and added to them the requirement that all able men should bear arms and engage in practice with their arms on holy days. The law specifically required that all men fit to bear arms bring their guns to the church. And, there were fines and penalties for those who failed to do so.
Following the Civil War, Rev. Andrew Jackson Potter, a former cowboy and Confederate soldier turned Methodist minister and circuit rider, preached in numerous towns and villages of the old West. He was known to lay his Colt revolvers across the pulpit and preach, or to preach with a Bible in one hand and a pistol in the other. He maintained order and security at his services and encouraged an atmosphere of respect.
So, in light of God’s Word, do Christians sin if they are armed and use those arms in defense of life and property? No. Do they sin if they use arms to commit murder or other criminal acts? Yes. Do they sin if they are able and do nothing to defend themselves, their families, fellow Christians or others when evil men would inflict great bodily harm or death? The answer of God’s Word most certainly appears to be “Yes!”
One of God’s 10 Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill,” but does this commandment forbid using lethal force to defend the life of one’s self, family or others? Can God and guns go together?