Posted in self-defense

Is it Lawful or Appropriate? A Question of Governance Regarding Self-Defense and the Loss of Life

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning; from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen 9.5-6; ESV).

The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my mountain where I seek refuge. My shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold, my refuge, and my Savior, You save me from violence. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was saved from my enemies…He trains my hands for war; my arms can bend a bow of bronze…I pursue my enemies and destroy them; I do not turn back until they are wiped out. I wipe them out and crush them, and they do not rise; they fall beneath my feet. You have clothed me with strength for battle; You subdue my adversaries beneath me” (2Sam 22.2b-4, 35, 38-40; HCSB).

INTRODUCTION:

Today we return to the subject of self-defense. In particular, we return to the one caveat that gives people fits regarding it…the taking of the life of another. The sixth commandment: “Thou shall not kill [i.e., murder]” (Exod 20.13) is fairly straightforward in the minds of many. I noted this in my previous post. Taken at face value it appears to mean that “all killing” is wrong or unlawful in the eyes of the Lord. But taking things at face value instead of investigating deeper is what children do, not adults.

There are times when killing is appropriate (cf. Eccl 3.3a). Knowing our biblical history reveals that a lot of killing has been accomplished by the time God writes this commandment on the tablet of stone with His finger (an anthropomorphic expression which means, by His power; comp. Exod 8.19; 24.12; 31.18). A clear indicator that not all killing is deemed unholy.

I’m not sure exactly why this teaching is so offensive to our generation of Christian men and women? Don’t get me wrong I have my suspicions about why this is the case. But let us just state at the outset that I believe the reason is related to our modern generations (perhaps, the last few generations) inability or unwillingness to see the Bible as a unified, cohesive whole. Just like our corporate media here in the US cherry-picks their narratives, many professing Christians cherry-pick their Bibles. On some level, we can’t fault them. They have been taught and in many churches across this nation (at least these are my limited observations) are still be instructed to see the Bible all chopped up in verses. And so, favorite verses are chosen as representative of biblical truth, and yet, unfortunately, they have been ripped out of context. The result is a very shallow comprehension of biblical truth.

To illustrate this to the church I pastor I gave them a test where they were given various biblical terms and they had to choose whether these key-word concepts were “good, evil (bad), or both.” I will admit that Gary DeMar’s book Myths, Lies & Half-Truths gave me the idea. So I can’t claim originality. But, I did develop it further than what he did in his work and I went in a slightly different direction.1 The reactions when the tests were publicly graded and discussed were all across the board. Some were delighted to learn their thinking was in error (an eager student wants to learn and so is not discouraged by a gentle correction) but others were angered and attempted to argue the point.

What I have found is that the same is true when it comes to the matter of self-defense, specifically, when the defense in question leads to the loss of human life. However, if Christians would take the time (and put forth the effort) to study what the Bible actually teaches regarding a specific topic there would be fewer negative knee-jerk reactions to contend with. We must allow God’s Word to determine our thinking in this matter. This is why I pointed out at the closing of my last article that there are exceptions to the rule as seen in Exodus 22:2-3 (pertaining to the thief who breaks in), Exodus 21:12 (when civil authorities are authorized to kill murderers), and in Nehemiah 4:11-14 (when war is justified to protect life and property from another nation/people).

Necessary Safeguard…2

That being said, God does not allow us to wantonly take the life of a fellow creature. His law on this matter pertains to all creatures made by Him. Similarly, He protects animal life from being taken without justification. In short, no one is allowed to kill just because they feel like it.

"And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image" (Gen 9.5-6; ESV).

What do these verses suggest? That whoever takes life without cause, their life will be forfeit. Whether it be a man or an animal. Have you ever wondered why, when a pet kills someone, they put it down? This is why. The Lord God deems it necessary to put a dangerous animal down…just like He does dangerous human beings.3 Though there are many, I will cite two laws to sate the appetite of the curious mind.

"Now if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall certainly be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death" (Exod 21:28-29).
"He who strikes someone so that he dies shall certainly be put to death. Yet if he did not lie in wait for him, but God caused him to fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which you may flee. If, however, someone is enraged against his neighbor, so as to kill him in a cunning way, you are to take him even from my altar, to be put to death" (Exod 21.12.14).

A brief explanation of cited texts:

The first text deals with an animal4, in this case, livestock which was common in Israel at this time as a beast of burden. If the animal proved to be aggressive to the point of causing the death of a human being, then it was necessary to put that animal down. The owner was innocent of the animal’s aggression unless there had been prior cause to warn the owner to be cautious. An animal that had evidenced an aggressive nature in the past was to be put under guard. It was the owner’s responsibility to guard the lives of his neighbor and his animal. Failing to do this, if the animal killed another, would result in the owner’s life being forfeit as well; for he refused to do what was right and was therefore liable.

The only exception to this is found in Exodus 21:30,

If instead a ransom is demanded of him, he can pay a redemption price for his life in the full amount demanded from him” (HCSB).

This is a case of the victims’ desire to be merciful, something God allowed for. Please note it was not the judges’ decision but the decision of the victimized party whether or not mercy was to be shown to the guilty party. The imposition of a fine was what they deemed worthy, rather than the individual’s life, and in this case, a lawful exception was made.

The second text (Exod 21.12, 14) deals with two types of killing. The first we would recognize as murder, the other, from our understanding, would label it manslaughter. Murder is a crime against another human being where they purposefully strike to kill.5 However, as the text points out a person who takes the life of another accidentally (i.e., manslaughter) is not considered a murderer. They were allowed to flee to a city of refugee if the preceding investigation proved that they were not guilty of premeditation (cf. Num 35.24; Deut 13.14; 17.4; 19.18).

But what about accidental death due to negligence? Texts dealing with loose ax heads or not putting a fence up around a dangerous structure on one’s property make you liable if someone was injured or hurt because of your negligence (cf. Deut 19.4-5; 22.8 respectively). Even getting in an altercation where a pregnant woman gets hit and it causes her to prematurely go into labor if that baby is injured or killed whatever happened to the child was required of the attacker who hit her: accident or not doesn’t matter (See: Exod 21:22-24).

Life is sacred. It is a gift from our Creator. Therefore, it is to be protected at all times. This is the meaning of the prohibition announced after the Flood. God was declaring through Noah to the rest of the human race that whoever treated lightly the life of mankind, be it another man or beast, their life was (is) forfeit. To shed the blood of another, which is a figurative way of saying—“ending their life” is to give up the right to life. For God authorizes and requires the use of lethal force against the perpetrator.

And, no, that’s not a contradiction, for as we have seen in just these few examples not all circumstances are equal. The goal of the death penalty (another form of defense in the civil sphere of governance) is the protection of life.6 The sentences were to be carried out swiftly once the court of law had convened and determined the situation appropriately, according to the evidence. Why? Two reasons are given in Scripture. First, so that evil might be purged from the surrounding society. Second, the death penalty served as a deterrent to the other wicked in the community who might be inclined to perpetrate evil. As it is written,

"So you shall eliminate the evil among you. And the rest of the people will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such an evil thing among you. So you shall not show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot" (Deut 19.19b-21; also see: Deut 13.11; 17.13; 21:21).

Wrapping things up…

The question of defense is a governmental one. An unfortunate reality, however, is the average understanding of government is a narrow one. The majority of the passages cited in this article are taken from the case laws of the Pentateuch. They served as instructions for how the civil sphere was to respond to the behaviors of some to protect society as a whole. In this fashion then, we see the application of the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:4,

...be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a servant of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (NASB).

But is the civil government the only form of government? No. Think about this. To whom were the laws of God written? A nation or a people? A group or the individual? Both. God’s law first applies to the man or woman who is made in His image, and then, it applies to the nation as a whole. Personal government is the sphere where the individual is charged with performing the Law of God in their life. When a person’s behavior is shown to be in rebellion to this standard of holiness all sorts of vile actions are produced. Murder, the wanton taking of the life of another, is one such violation. To strike against another, to end their life without justification is a criminal offense one that aims for the Creator who gave life. One punishable by death.7

Is that the same thing when a person defends their life or the life of another and a loss of life occurs? Is that act of self-defense the same thing as murder? Another related question is this: “Is the civil government the only governing agency authorized to use the sword?” Let us make this a little more relevant to our time: “Is the civil government the only governing agency authorized to bear arms?”

I want to be careful here because it is easy to be misunderstood. I am only speaking about extreme cases. Self-defense may be a daily reality but it is only exercised on rare occasions. But on those rare occasions, as I’ve put it, is it the right of the individual to use such force in the protection of life? Not as an aggressor, but as a defender?

The text of 2Samuel 22 (and others like it) seems to suggest this is correct. Notice in vv. 3-4 that David states the Lord protects him from violence and saves him from his enemies, but later on, in the same Psalm, David also explains that it is God who “trains my hands for war” (v. 35; HCSB). And those later verses explain that David showed no mercy to those who sought his life. What are we to do with this biblical teaching? Do we ignore it? Do we pass it over? Do we rationalize this passage (and others like it) in an effort to delegitimize it? Essentially, placing it on the proverbial shelf, calling it Old, and thus, not worthy of the New?

When next we meet we shall look at a couple of Scriptural passages that have caused no small amount of confusion for Christian commentators, where Jesus offers insight into the questions I’ve been asking.

ENDNOTES:

1For example, Gary DeMar, wrote in his Introduction, “When I was very young, I remember seeing a western on television where a dispute was settled by the answer to a simple Bible question. I can’t tell you anything else about the movie, but that one scene is etched in my mind. Here’s the question: ‘Who cut off Samson’s hair?’ A smile appeared on the man’s face as he confidently responded, ‘Delilah.’ No doubt the majority of people would have given the same answer, and they like the man in the long-forgotten western, would be wrong [it was a man: Judges 16:19].” DeMar continues, “While the Samson and Delilah hair removal story is not a central doctrine of the Christian faith, it does demonstrate that if a misreading of the Bible is passed on as fact, with few people ever checking the text for accuracy, then misinformation or worse (myths, lies and half-truths) becomes a part of the biblical record.” Myths, Lies & Half-Truths: How Misreading the Bible Neutralizes Christians (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2004), xv.

2The reason why safeguards are necessary for the protection of life (both animal and human) is that human beings are violent creatures that love death (cf. Prov 8.36). We live in a fallen world where the wanton taking of a life, be it a human or animal, is a reality. But the warning is given to God’s stewards so that the faithful protect life (sometimes in its preservation, at other times in its removal).

3On this point Gary North writes, “There are no exceptions based on idiocy, temporary insanity, temporary anger, or anything else. Unless it can be proved that the death came as a result of an accident—no premeditation—the criminal is to be executed. The willful shedding of man’s blood must be punished by the civil government by execution.” The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), 116, PDF E-book.

4The application would go beyond livestock, for the principle in the law is in regards to an animal, even though “ox” is mentioned. Being able to draw the applying principle from the cultural consideration of the period, in which, the text was originally written to a specific audience, is of paramount importance.

5This would likewise apply to those who desired the outcome, participated in some way (like paying for an assassin), or refused to offer aid in the preservation of life (cf. Prov 24.11-12; Lev 19.17; Rom 1.32). Thus, the malicious witness falls under the category of “worthy of death” if they are testifying about a crime supposedly committed where the death penalty is applicable. Say, for example, accusing a man of rape when no rape has been committed. The penalty for rape is death, and so the malicious witness in such a scenario would, when they are found guilty through investigation, be applied to them (cf. Deut 19.16-19).

6In light of Genesis 9:5-6 North explains, “[This passage] explains the nature of the [murder] violation: man’s life is uniquely important to God, since man is made in God’s image. An assault on man is an assault on the image of God. [Moreover,] the clause explains why men, by means of the civil government, are required to execute bloody judgment on murderers. Man is made in the image of God; therefore, as God’s image, mankind can bring judgment in the name of God, the supreme Judge who executes final judgment. Man is God’s agent who exercises God’s delegated authority. He is an agent of the King. He is to exercise dominion over the earth… [as] a royal agent, and as such, he deserves protection.” Ibid., 117.

7This is why Kyle Rittenhouse’s use of a firearm had to be investigated. If he wantonly took the life of another, then he’d have been guilty of murder. However, if it could be proved that he was provoked, fearing for his safety with no other recourse, and was therefore justified in his killing, then he’d be found innocent. Which he was.

Posted in self-defense

Stepping Along a Path of Contention: Further Musings on Self-Defense and the Key Issue that Drives the Debate–The Taking of Another’s Life

Thou shall not kill” (Exod 20:13; KJV).

In the letters the king granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill, and eliminate the entire army of people or province which was going to attack them…” (Esther 8:11; NASB).1

INTRODUCTION:

For years, we have been conditioned to think that religion and politics are separate issues. People on both sides of the aisle get nervous, aggravated, and, sometimes, downright disgusted that you dare try to mingle the two supposedly unrelated subjects. In the past, I have found this amusing. There is nothing wrong with being ignorant—to lack knowledge in a given subject. We all fall in that category somewhere along the intellectual line. But it is absolutely disheartening when one refuses to listen, preferring their ignorant bliss over being teachable.

I am soon closing in on nearly two decades of serving in Christian ministry. I have had the privilege of pastoring two rural churches in southeastern Ohio. And so, I have had my fair share of encounters with persons who prefer not to know the truth of a matter. Such individuals dislike having cherished narratives that they hold challenged. They refuse to investigate matters thoroughly, even though it is their responsibility as representatives of Christ.

You may be correct on a given issue but you will never truly know until that issue has been challenged. It used to be taught in scientific inquiry that the goal of the scientific method was the disapproval of a supposed concept. Within a generation, this standard has been removed.

The goal of sciences…

Are you aware that there was a time in the past when Christian theology was called the “queen of the sciences?” Just like most people offhandedly dismiss the idea that politics and faith are interrelated issues, so too is their disdain for the idea that the study of God is truly a scientific endeavor. No, not science in the sense of empirical data gathering. But science in the sense of pursuing knowledge and wisdom. Empirical science is a tool that seeks to gain knowledge and wisdom about the material world. The same is true of theological inquiry, it is the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom about the Maker of heaven and earth and all therein.

Answer to a troubling question…

In case you are wondering where in the heck I’m headed, I’ll let you in on the big reveal. For a few weeks now I have been speaking on issues pertaining to the 2nd Amendment; the right to bear arms, the right to self-defense. Previously I have stated that this is a religious issue. Some may wonder at this: “How is that possible when it is surely a political issue?” This is an important question. One that needs to be carefully weighed and responded to. In particular, it is a question that Christians need to wrestle with and come down on the right side of.

You see, my primary goal is to reach professing Christians—that is my target audience. I’m not opposed to others reading my work, but as a pastor, my goal is the edification of the body of Christ. Many Christians do not see the connection between politics and their faith. Some believe that our citizenship in heaven prevents us from getting entangled in the affairs of this earth. Politics is focused on societal behaviors. However, you need to ask yourself, “What is the governing principle behind one’s political views or the policies that may be enacted upon a society?” Two things need to be understood.

Two things: Politics and Faith…

First, while it is true that we are citizens of heaven, if we are in Christ, another equal truth is established from our faith: we are citizens of this earth. Christians have dual citizenship: in heaven and on earth. And so, since our faith is not meant to be lived under a basket, we need to be concerned about this world (for our children, our children’s children, our children’s children’s children sake, etc., etc.). Furthermore, as Christians it is our responsibility to have concerns about the welfare of others, even beyond the welfare of our families and churches, for we are commanded to love our neighbors; even our enemies. Thus, politics which deals with society, which affects society either positively or negatively, ought to be a Christian’s concern. We are not permitted to say to our neighbors, “Oh, you’re cold…be warm” but give them nothing to warm themselves. Or, “Oh, you’re thirsty…be quenched” but give them nothing to drink. Or, “Oh you’re being robbed, assaulted, infringed upon through unjust taxation (among a list of others things)…” but do nothing to help alleviate the harm being done to them.

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not just hearers who deceive themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who has looked intently at the perfect law, the law of freedom, and has continued in it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an active doer, this person will be blessed in what he does… What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?…if [faith] does not have works, [it] is dead” (James 1.22-25; 2.14, 17).

This leads to the second principle that ought to be carefully considered. What is the foundation or cornerstone—i.e., the governing principle—behind political views and policies that are enacted upon a society? Think about this. What do the various policies meant to curb a society’s behavior entail? They attempt to establish a parameter of right and wrong. Politics seeks to answer ethical questions about life, about the inner workings of a given society. Therefore, politics is never neutral. How can it be, when people are not? Consequently, politics is likewise a religious issue.

We read in Scripture that,

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14.1a).

Does this mean that the fool does not worship anything? Is the fool without religious convictions? No, that is not what the Holy Spirit says. The fool’s denial of God is not a denial of an object of worship or a god to serve, but as seen in the case of atheism (no-god), they worship themselves for they are their own object of worship. Their mind is the determiner of truth, the arbitrator of right and wrong.

So Christian what sort of leader should you prefer to govern the policies of society? One that is founded upon the Word of God, held under the conviction that Christ is Lord over all; or another who pretends that they speak as gods and that they are the messiah of the masses? The Christian faith demands that we defend against all manner of wrong, once it has been sought out and properly identified. Moreover, our faith established the groundwork for self-defense.

Stepping along the path of contention…

How will a father protect his children, the very heritage that the Lord from above has granted him if he lays down his arms of self-defense? Do you not know that a mother bear will, without shame, protect her young cubs from harm? Even when the enemy in question is much larger and stronger than she is, like a male bear?

I pointed out last time that David, the young shepherd, stood against a mighty foe named Goliath as an act of self-defense. He defended himself, his family, his king, and his nation. More importantly, David fought to protect the sacred name of God. A testimony to all the nations that God alone is God:

You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a saber,” says David, “but I come to you in the name of the Lord of armies, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defiled. This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I will strike you and remove your head from you. Then I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that this entire assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will hand you over to us!” (1Samuel 17.45-47; emphasis added).

Remember that self-defense properly defined is “the act of defending oneself, one’s property, or a close relative.”2 A defender protects, he does not instigate or provoke. While this concept is difficult for some to accept, what seems to be the decisive point of contention is that self-defense sometimes leads to the taking of another human life.

Humanitarian hearts…

Human life is sacred. Do you believe this? Do you think that human lives are precious? Though I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment, you need to understand that the ONLY reason this is the case is that life is a gift from God. If you believe that life sprung up as a result of random processes (chance) due to some, as of yet unexplained, series of evolutionary actions, then you have no legitimate justification to argue about the dignity of life. Either life is an accident or life is purposeful. The Christian worldview alone accounts for this truth, the only way someone who denies biblical truth can attempt to argue in such a way is to adopt (borrow or steal) from a system of faith that is not their own. However, since all human creatures have been created in the image of God, a common belief will no doubt be held that life is sacred, precious and is worth preserving and protecting.3 Such intellectual schizophrenia is to be expected by rebellious sinners who deny their Creator.

This schizophrenia is visible in many of the arguments surrounding the 2nd Amendment. People on both sides of the aisle will argue that life is precious and must be protected. To do this, it is argued, is to avoid self-defense in the sense of taking another life regardless of the circumstances. It is believed that if dangerous weapons like guns were removed from the public’s grasp, then life would be properly guarded. David Barton highlights this popular attitude. He writes,

“…there is also the subjective, emotional argument. That is, since every individual with any sense of humanity detests seeing families destroyed, innocent children sacrificed, and promising lives snuffed out as a result of gun violence, the argument is advanced that the reducing the number of guns will produce a safer society.”4

The key issue in the debate over self-defense is whether or not an individual has the right to take the life of another. Period. Christians wonder, “If the taking of life is ever right within the confines of the biblical worldview?” Pacifist pastors like John Piper say, “no.” Progressive Christian scholars like David P. Gushee seem to share similar thoughts. Gushee, in his book entitled The Sacredness of Human Life argues,

“Jesus never blessed killing. He died for God’s kingdom but did not kill for it. His disciples understood the centrality of his radical nonviolence and became a nonviolent movement in a violent context of imperial oppression and domination. They rejected and recoiled from every form of killing, from abortion to infanticide to the gladiator games to war to the death penalty. They could not bear to see anyone killed, ‘though justly.’”5

Earlier in the same text, Gushee opined what he evidently believed was an inescapable truth:

“Let us grant that no simple appeal to life’s sacredness can resolve the question whether Christians can support or participate in war… Just-war theory has been pristine only in theory, not where the bodies pile up.”6

If we were to classify the three arguments against taking life under the guise of self-defense they would be as follows: no weapons, no just-killing, no just-war. All three are interrelated in the sense that they desire the preservation of life. Yet, all three fail to discern the nature of reality as it truly is:

“…the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” (Gen 8.21; cf. Gen 6.5).

When Killing Ain’t Wrong, and When it is…

Almost every person that visited a Sunday school at some point in their life (or at least had friends that did?) has heard this biblical text cited. Don’t worry, even if you didn’t go to Sunday school or at least had friends that did, odds are you’ve heard this commandment before. You may have even recited it yourself:

"Thou shall not kill" (Exod 20.13; KJV).

The one who understands this commandment as saying that all forms of killing are wrong will then proceed to explain why the death penalty is wrong, eating animals is not the way to go. To be a Christian and then argue that there are times, in certain situations, where killing is justified is from their point-of-view groundless, hypocritical dribble. Thus, leading to a divided camp in Christendom (that’s Christ’s kingdom for the uninitiated)8 regarding the use of firearms or the self-defense claim.9

But is that what Exodus 20:13 says? “Come on man, can’t you read,” decries the critic, “that’s exactly what it says!” While there is nothing wrong with the King James rendering of the verse, murder would have been a more accurate translation of the Hebrew text for not all killing is unjustified. As the writer of Ecclesiastes explains, there is

"A time to kill…" (Eccl 3.3a).

And a few verses later the writer even says there is

"A time to love and a time to hate; A time for war and a time for peace" (Eccl 3.8).

Mark that! Not all killing is unjustified. In some cases, you would be unjustified in not killing.

So that Bible says that you shouldn’t kill, but then you should kill. O’ how some people love a supposed contradiction. Yeah, that’s right, I said supposed. I say that because it’s true. There is no contradiction here. For, the biblical witness describes and defines when killing is appropriate and when it is not. Scripturally speaking, killing another is justified when practicing self-defense (Exodus 22:2)10; when the civil authorities find one guilty of a crime worthy of death and they have them executed (Exodus 21.12; cf. Lev 24.16); when warring with another nation (people) is justified (Esther 8.11 cited above; cf. 2Samuel 10:12; Nehemiah 4.11-14 ).

This seems to be a good place to stop. We shall investigate the matter further before we move on, and in so doing, we shall see what necessary safeguards the Lord has put in place to prevent the wanton taking of life….

ENDNOTES:

1Unless otherwise noted all scriptural references shall be of the New American Standard Bible, 2020 update (NASB).

2Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary & Thesaurus, 2008 Desktop edition, s.v., “self-defense” def. 2.

3Due to different objects of faith there will be variances in how this is to be understood. A case in point is seen in the argument over abortion (the murder of unborn babies). Both Pro-Choice and Pro-Life advocates will argue that life is precious but the former will not be as consistent as to when life is a truly precious life worth preserving and protecting. For the Pro-Choicer the woman’s autonomy is the most precious aspect of life and it needs to be protected at all costs. The Pro-Lifer believes that both the woman and the child are precious but not at the expense of one or the other; absolute autonomy is therefore rightly rejected.

4David Barton, The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Protection (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 2000), Kindle Edition, loc 305-313.

5David P. Gushee, The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision is Key to the World’s Future, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013), 370-371.

6Ibid., 166. Allow me to put those citations provided by Gushee into context. The first quote above (p. 370-371) is in light of Gushee’s discussion regarding the death penalty. The second quote (p. 166) is in the sixth chapter of his book “Christendom divided against itself: Three Case Studies” where he argues against “war” in a Christian context. To the reader, I will add my thoughts regarding both issues.

8And yes, I am one of those guys that says Christ reigns supreme from heaven on earth and anything in creation—seen or unseen—that fall in between. He is Lord, King, of it all, for ALL authority in heaven and on earth is His by divine right, through sacrificial love, via the power of the Holy Spirit. That is Christ Jesus is the earthly representative of the invisible God. He alone can reveal God for He alone is God, was with God, and shares in the glory of God something no mere creature could do.

9John Piper once said that if a man were assailing his wife rather than violently intervening, he’d call the police and wait. See: John Piper, “Should Christians be Encouraged to Arm Themselves,” Desiring God, December 22, 2015, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves. (Reference point in the article is under heading #8). In a forthcoming post, I will be arguing against the various points Piper uses to substantiate his claim. For it is my conviction that such pacifism while sounding holy, is as unholy as turning a stone into bread so that a hungry man might have a bite to eat. Such pacifism encourages violence, rather than dissuading it. Rather the godly man should play the part of Phineas and run that devil through (cf. Num 25.7-11)!

10The next verse adds further clarity on the intention here. It states, “[But] if the sun has risen on him, there will be guilt for bloodshed on his account” (Exod 22.3a). The idea seems to be that in a more vulnerable state (like in the night) you are not to be held accountable for acting in self-defense; however, if the sun has arisen (meaning you are able to assess the situation more accurately) then you will be held accountable for killing unnecessarily. Restraint should always be used in defense, unless no other option is available.

Posted in Uncategorized

Clarity of Thought in a Day of Muddy Waters

INTRODUCTION:

In Scripture God speaks with clarity, but those marred by sin have difficulty seeing the truth in its proper light. Sin separates, it muddies, it clouds the perception, it makes straight lines appear crooked and crooked lines straight. An overarching assumption that I believe, sometimes gains some headway among those who profess the name of Christ, is articulated in this fashion: “it is only sinners that truly struggle with the plainness of the biblical text, but not I, for I have the Spirit to guide me into all truth.”

And yet, and honest reading of the Bible reveals that even those who were considered people of the book, men and women of faith, erred in seeing the truth as God intended it.

Muddy vision…

One such example is found in the Gospels where the Lord Jesus warns His disciples to “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt 16.6; ESV).1 This statement is on the heels of Jesus interaction with the so-called leaders (false shepherds) of Israel, where He rebukes them for not seeing the clearness of the revelation before them. They wanted a sign from Jesus to prove who He was claiming to be. He had healed all sorts of illness. He had cast out demonic forces. He had fed multitudes with scraps. And, He had taught with undeniable authority from the Scriptures. But…they wanted more proof. Jesus tells them,

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”

MattHEW 16:3

And, in similar fashion He says to His disciples,

O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets were gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven [the doctrine] of the Pharisees and Sadducees”

MattHEW 16:8-11

Jesus was warning His own to beware of false teaching (Matt 16.12). For the unwary allow it to stay and fester and grow, rather than throw out the lump that has been corrupted by it (e.g., 1Cor 5.1-7). The point I am making is that though biblical teaching has a perspicuity to it (a clarity/clearness), it is not just the wicked that fail to see the truth when it is smack dab in front of their face, but so too does the righteous wrestle with it.

Notice Jesus does not say to the disciples that they have “no faith,” but “little faith.” Unlike the so-called religious leaders of their generation they at least followed Jesus. They knew to some degree that hope rested in Jesus and no one else. But, they struggled with seeing things as clearly as they were revealed. Their vision was somewhat muddied.

Possible objection or excuse…

I suppose some might attempt to argue that this was before the Holy Spirit had been poured out. After which, they would be able to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh. This type of response is given when one looks at the episode in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of Jesus arrest. Just as Jesus foretold, when “the Shepherd is struck the flock would be scattered” (Matt 26.31; Zech 13.7). They fled because they did not have the boldness of the Spirit yet (cf. Acts 2), it is offered. I disagree.

The Holy Spirit does lead us into truth as we follow His Word; with this sort of statement I will agree. The Holy Spirit also gives us boldness to testify before all that Jesus Christ is Lord and that salvation is found in no other but Him; with this statement I too find agreement. But the reception of the Holy Spirit into the lives of the believer does not make the person in question impervious to faults or frailties. Or else why do we still struggle from time-to-time with sin (cf. 1John 1.8-9)? Or else, why are we still sometimes prone to gross errors that in fact malign the clear teaching of Scripture (cf. Gal 2.11-14; 2Pet 3.16)? Why do believers at times, for a season, temporarily adopt teaching that has demonic roots: meaning, it is not rooted in the mind of God, but instead, is found, in the heart of the creature (e.g., Matt 16.23)?

As clear as the Scriptures are, our minds are so affected by the curse of the Fall, that it is a lifelong process of “rebuke, correction and teaching” that slowly trains us to think and live righteously (2Tim 3.14-17). And so, God rightly disciplines those whom He loves, like a good father will do to his own children, so that we might learn to live by every word that proceeds from His mouth rather than falling prey to leaning on our own understanding.

Personal-Pastoral study…

I have been studying the book of Daniel now for the better part of a year. Being an expositional preacher, I attempt, to the best of my ability, to teach accurately the Word of Truth as it is written. This requires much labor on my part, as it does any legitimate student of Scripture. Currently I am working through the 9th chapter of this book. Much has been spoken about this area of the Bible during the course of the societal/political upheaval we have been witnessing here in the United States (think 2020-2021). So-called prophecy experts are using their influence to muddy the waters further about our present circumstances.

Cultural Reflection…

Take our current cultural climate as a living example. Why are we seeing what we are seeing here in the West? Why are so many things so sharply divided? Why has panic found a comfortable seat in the heart of so many? Why is evil and wickedness promoted by those inside and outside of Christ’s Body (i.e., His congregation)? Why is the civil government flexing its metaphorical muscle against a large portion of the populace? Why is “Big-Eva’s” leadership (the so-called Evangelical arm of the Christian Church) so quick to adopt the language of today, to synchronize itself with current cultural trends (i.e., syncretism) so as to appear relevant, accepting, peaceful and fully woke? What is the root of the problem. Who is the desolater and who is bringing forth the desolation that we are now witnessing?

Brief lesson…

To the learning the term “desolate” can be taken in either its adjectival sense as an illustrative, describing word; or, “desolate” can be understood as the action (verb) of making desolate. From a biblical standpoint God is the author of the desolation.

He is the one that removes, or strips bare, the inhabitants of the land. Seen in various, interrelated forms of judgment: drought, famine, pestilence and war (this violence against life is either through beasts or the sword). This is a visual representation of what enslavement to sin (i.e., rebellion towards our Maker’s Law) looks like, and so, we should not be surprised that God in the past has used the enemies of His people to wage war, and to drag them off into captivity (cf. Book of Judges).

From the same viewpoint, mankind is the cause of the desolation. They are the ones responsible for bringing about God’s retributive action on this earth.2 As Nebuchadnezzar wisely opined,

[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34b-35

False assumptions…

Just as the king of Babylon said in his own heart, “Is not this greatness before me all that which I have built and established by my own power?” (Dan 4.30; paraphrased).3 Our current generation, here in the West, has assumed that our powers that be, our wealth, were wrought by ourselves without anything from God above. Moreover, this attitude the permeates unbelieving thought has infiltrated Christ’s covenantal body and has led those that bear the name of Jesus to withdrawal and abandon their high calling of loving Him in every area of life. They have played the role of the desolater, apostatizing from the faith along various veins of thought. How so? By adopting that which God hates and declaring it good. By not only being unaware of the leaven in our society, but eagerly setting down such leavened bread at the table, reserving those various lumps of dough in storage to be worked into more flour.

The prophet’s who cried for “peace, peace” in Jeremiah’s day find a kindred spirit with various Christian leaders in our own. They wanted peace as they married their hearts to the demagoguery of the political/societal forces that promoted every form of idolatry imaginable, and many of our own leaders are guilty of the same. But just as peace did not come when Daniel was a young man, neither will peace be given to our generation. Desolations are decreed. As our nation has moved further and further along the trail of abandoning the True God of All Creation, we have invited Him to wet His sword and sharpen His arrows, to train the string of His bow against us (Psa 7.12-13). And when our wealth is taken from us, when we lose all that is treasured above our Great God—who so many fail to acknowledge until it is too late—can anyone of us say, “How dare ye God? On what grounds? By what right have you waged war against us?”

The answer is this:

“It is you who have thought to strike at me by refusing to kiss the Son in whom I am well pleased. No mercy, no quarter is to be given until this rabble is done away with, and this that you have treasured is made desolate. For all My Son’s enemies shall be put beneath His feet, before the end, the final one being death!”4

Daniel, the Lord’s prophet, understood with clarity the reason for the state of things; in what brought them into being and what would bring them to their end:

As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth. Therefore hath the Lord watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the Lord our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice…we have sinned, we have done wickedly.”

Daniel 9:13-14, 15b; KJV

Responsibilities…

Our refusal to obey God’s voice has ushered in His wrathful judgment against a nation that slaughters her young, abuses them, perverts the doctrine of marriage and the family, has no respect for personal property and endorses theft at the national level, celebrates slander and hate based on superficial characteristics, promotes slothfulness, and every form of perversion that the human mind can imagine.

Now the prophecy speculators will tell you that this means that the writing is on the wall and that the end is near. This is true, in part. There is an end in sight and we are witnessing it with the increasing speed in which our cultural decay is made evident (the proverbial writing on the wall), but this is not the first end that has occurred. Neither will it be the last. Things are being shaken, so that what cannot be shaken will be left standing (Heb 12.27-28).

What we ought to be doing…

Rather than hope for an escape hatch to open up, let us with boldness and courage proclaim our Lord’s greatness. For He is in fact the one orchestrating this end that we are witnessing for His glory and for the benefit of the people whom He loves. Like Paul we need to learn what it means to rejoice in persecution. We need to be better students of the Word of God, so that we can see with clarity “what is good and acceptable and perfect” to Him (Rom 12.2), by applying them.

This means rather than abandoning the culture we being accepting the responsibility to change the culture from the bottom up. By leading godly family, training our children up in righteousness, giving them the means to stand against a culture that attempts to sway them towards lies, rather than the truth, and getting involved in our communities where we live. Understanding that when we declare Jesus Christ as Lord that we are saying His authority permeates every facet of life, in heaven and in earth, and so we seek to reform this world after His image; in politics, in science, in music, movies, as tradesmen, as businessmen, in education, in art, in architecture, etc., etc. If its on this earth, Christ owns it and we need to start making it known that all the earth is His, for He has made it for His glory.

We need clarity of thought, so that our works will properly reflect “our God, our Lord!” (John 20.28).

ENDNOTES:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

2There is a sense where one can attribute the designation “desolater” to both God and mankind. The image bearer (mankind) who refuses to listen to the voice of His Maker obeying His Law-Word is the desolater in a causal sense. The sinner causes God to act in response to the desolater’s rebellion. In this fashion, then God is also a desolater, but one that serves as the effect. The apostle Paul writes that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin brings about the desolation of the desolater for God’s righteous judgment is against those acts of desolation (i.e., abandonment of God’s Holy standard). In acting God acts in removing the sinner from His life, which in an ultimate sense is the experience for destined to hell for their willful rebellion. Like God drove Adam and Eve from the garden, God drives the sinner from the wealth of His creation and ultimately from His presence, if the sinner continues in his or her rebellion. Thus, the cause and effect relationship between the two is intrinsically tied. Man’s sin (the cause of desolation) identifies the man as a desolater (the one who acts in rebellion against God), and yet, God’s retributive judgment of righteousness (the effectual act of desolation) against the reprobate identifies God as the desolater—i.e., the one who makes desolate. Knowing who is being referred to requires attention to the flow of thought given by the writer. Hopefully, you have been able to follow my own. If not, feel free to ask a question.

3Notice the warning that God gives to such thinking in Deuteronomy 8:17-20. Since all people are without excuse, one cannot claim that they were ignorant to the fact that they owed thankfulness to another besides themselves who made all things and gave to them the things which they now possess (see Rom 1.18-25).

4This statement is a smattering of verses that tie in a general concept revealed in Scripture. Either we submit to God so that His goodness might be poured out upon us, according to His Namesake and Glory—nothing of which is owed to us. Or, we rebel against Him, refusing to listen to His Word and enjoy the consequences of such tyranny on our part. See: Psalm 2; Matthew 17:5; Leviticus 26.31; 1Corinthians 15.26-27.

Posted in Romans 13:1-7

The Difficulty of Romans 13:1-7

There is no question that we are living in some strange times. Just twenty years ago…just twenty years ago…things looked much different here in the United States than they do now. I’m not speaking about the technological changes, but the overall mindset of our society in general. It is as if someone has turned on the spotlight in a very dark room and now all the little creepy crawlies, that we were blissfully unaware of, are seen scurrying this way and that. That is to say, things that were once considered gross or vile are now being paraded by the highest levels of our society. Our civil government not only applauds such behaviors, but now seeks to make them legitimate.

At the moment one begins to suggest it is the right and responsibility of the believer in Jesus Christ (a.k.a., Christians) to stand against those violations, those perversions of justice found committed in the civil arena, numerous objections are raised. These objections find their footing in light of a particular understanding of Romans 13:1-7. The difficulty here is that there is an air of truth to the initial claims being made.

First, you have the famed, “You cannot legislate morality” argument. Second, you run into the, “It is wrong to disobey or rebel against the authorities over you.” It is the latter that appears to be the stronger of the two, because of what is stated in Romans 13:1-2:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”1

The apostle’s argument is pretty straightforward. All governments exist because God, the sovereign Creator, established them. Thus, to refuse to be humble before your leaders in the civil arena is to invite God’s negative judgment against you. The only caveat forthcoming from this second objection is whether or not the ruling government in question commands something that might be deemed sinful. In other words, humble Christians that are truly striving to serve the Lord in their day-to-day life are not permitted to rebel, unless it may be proved that the edict in question is antagonist to the worship of our Lord.

A requested consideration…

In what follows, I will offer a response to each objection offered.

You Cannot Legislate Morality

All law, stated and established, is a legislation of someone’s morality. To say, “this is good and that is not,” and then to codify those beliefs into law is a form of legislative morality. Any comment and commitment to right or wrong, regardless of the source claimed, is an attempt to curb the thinking and behavior of the populace in question. In short, all codified law is legislation of a particular moral bent. There is no way to avoid this conclusion.

Obedience is Required to Civil Government; unless, Sin is being Commanded

The preferred thesis “obey…unless sin is being commanded” is a loose and narrowly focused interpretation of Scripture. Rather than observe all that the Bible has to say on the given topic, only a few choice passages are chosen for consideration. For example, when the question of civil disobedience is entertained by various Christians a reference will be made to the apostles response in the book of Acts when they were commanded to stop speaking in Jesus’ name (cf. Acts 4.18-20; 5.27-29). Is this all that the Bible has to say regarding “civil disobedience?” Have we reached the limitation on where and when a man or woman of God might disregard and even challenge those that rule over them in the civil sphere?

I realize that this, in and of itself, does not prove that the person who offers this second objection is wrong, it does highlight the fact that only a small portion of God’s Word is being utilized in order to draw such a conclusion. In light of this, a few things need to be considered.

  • (1) What constitutes sin?
  • (2) Is civil government an unlimited power, unregulated by God who ordained it?

In reference to Question 1…

Scripture explains that all sin is a violation of God’s revealed law. To sin is to strike out in rebellion against the two tables of the Law (i.e., the Decalogue; ten words). And so, for any governing body to assume to deface God’s Name (1st table) or to assault His creatures (2nd table), is a clear violation of this principle. While this generalized statement is true, it does not bring with it much clarity in the form of understanding without fleshing out the specifics.

For example, “Thou shall not steal,” or “murder,” or “bear false witness,” or “commit adultery” are on the surface fairly clear statements of right or wrong.

If I rob my neighbor, then I am liable for my actions. After I am found guilty in a court of law, I will be held accountable and punished accordingly. The same would be true for any other violation of the previously stated laws above. In this fashion, the civil governing authorities bear the sword (a symbol of punitive justice) “to carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Rom 13.4).

Worldview perspectives…

On the surface such truths will suffice to illustrate my point, but I believe it is necessary to point out to the reader that a person’s conviction on what constitutes theft, murder, lying and adultery will vary. Such things are determined by the worldview held by the individual(s) in question. Thus, the reason why people argue over the nature of killing an unborn baby in the womb:

Some call it choicenot really murder; others, call it murdera wicked choice.

And yet, there will others who acknowledge that a young life has been snuffed out, but steer clear of designating it murder perpetrated by a mother’s whim.

All law making is an identification of a particular acts morality. In a sense then, laws label things sin if the act violates what has been established as a moral good.

In reference to Question 2…

Which, brings us to the second question: Is the civil government an unlimited power, unregulated by God who ordained it? Earlier I mentioned that sin is defined by the two tables of the Law of God. From that point, I then spent a little time focusing on the 2nd table. There was a reason for this. We shall address it now.

You see, those that claim that we must obey civil authorities because they are established by God, except in the case of those leaders commanding us to sin, tend to forget the 1st table of God’s Law. Some who attempt to teach in light of God’s law are really ignorant of it. This ignorance may be in total—not knowing the 7th from the 1st commandment. Or, this ignorance may be partial—knowing the material aspects of the law (i.e., their content), but not the depth to which it applies (cf. 1Tim 1.6-7).

Dear reader,

You may have heard and bought into the idea that it is wrong to legislate morality. Or, you may be convinced that it is morally wrong to oppose civil government unless it may be proved that what the government commands is sinful—i.e., opposing the worship of God. Perhaps, you have stated and attempted to defend one or both of these positions. In what follows, I offer my challenge for you to thoughtfully consider.

The Challenge Given

You say, “you cannot legislate morality,” but what you mean (at least in part) is that “you can’t make people holy, good, acceptable before God, just because you legislate against this or that sin as illegal.

I agree. But, the Law of God was never given to make people holy, good or acceptable. The Law of God is given to expose, curb and eliminate evil (bad behavior) from our society. Good laws are written to give society peace from the wicked, for it will be the wicked that will be purged from society (driven to the shadows) if we enact and uphold just laws.

You say, “We must obey all governing authorities over us unless they command us to sin.” What you mean to say, however, is that “you cannot resist the authorities over you unless they command you not to worship God” (e.g., Acts 4.12).

I agree (in principle), but I also disagree (in the particulars). Any government that neglects their purpose—whether acknowledged by others or not—is to serve God’s ends (1st) and then their citizens (2nd). All governing officials are servants of their Creator and their people. To ignore this truth leads to tyranny, the rule of despots as seen in socialistic and communistic countries. History stands as a witness against anyone who would deny this truth!

Moreover, the fact that Christians will cite Romans 13 as a rule of thumb to say “You must obey them, for God has ordained them,” they prove their case too far. You are right in that you say “they exist because of God,” but in so doing you (perhaps unknowingly) help my case when I argue that they should not always be obeyed.

How so? Because to be “ordained by God” means that they are “bound to God.” To what end? To serve His purpose and not their own. They do not represent themselves, they represent Him. To fail to do so is a clear violation of the 1st table of the Law.

Any government (regardless of its size and scope) that refuses to acknowledge God above them, preferring their own subjective standard of morality—declaring good what the Creator has deemed bad and vice-versa—as a means of legislating the activities (and thoughts) of their citizens, is in clear violation of crossing the boundary of their prescribed domain.

For such a tyrant government calls themselves god, erecting an idol to be bowed down to by the populace, and in so doing blasphemy the sovereign name of God, pretending they alone can give the people rest. Such a government is not only guilty of sin, but also legislating (legalizing) sin, and therefore, must be resisted at all costs. Lest, you as a populace are intent on inviting God’s wrath not only upon your nation, but upon your person.

This is the strangeness of the times in which we live. Not that governments grow corrupt, but that God’s people are blind to their own responsibilities. For it is not only the government that is called to represent God, but the citizens that make up the nation in question. If the citizenry fails to do what is right (in the eyes of their Creator), then the civil government is authorized the use of the sword; “a terror…to bad [conduct]” (Rom 13.3). But if the government is the one who fails to “do what is good…for he is God’s servant for your good” (Rom 13.4), then we are commanded to give what is owed (Rom 13.7). Obedience? Nay, civil disobedience. We are not only to stand on the truth in our personal lives, but we are called to speak the truth into the lives who refuse to do it. For, we represent God, our Creator, through Jesus Christ our Lord first and foremost. How well do you suppose you represent Him when you give approval (through your silence) to what you know is evil (Rom 1.32)? Hmmm….

The difficulty of Romans 13: 1-7 is not the passage, but our failure to make the necessary connections from God’s Word on what our actual calling and responsibility is.

Endnote:

1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).