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Should Christians fight or ‘turn the other cheek’?

January 28, 2013

Pacifism is the idea that Christians, despite the harsh treatment they receive, are never to retaliate. Verses such as 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’  39 “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  40 “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  41 “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  42 “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Mat 5:38-42 NAU) But are theses verses an absolute prohibition against any form of self defense? If not, what self defense is valid under what circumstances?

Christ was warning against personal vengeneance. The eye for eye passage had originally been given to governing authorities to carry out justice (Exodus 24:21). Many had used the original passage as justification to settle personal vendettas. God’s intention for giving the legislation was different. God honoring government will be part of God’s temporal wrath against wickedness. This is stated by: “19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.   (Rom 12:19 NAU) What’s interesting about this passage of leaving room for the wrath of God is the next verses (Romans13:1-7)  which talk about the only proper roles of government: to reward good and punish evil. These concepts are connected. Again, Romans reiterates on the personal level what the believer is to do: 20 “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  (Rom 12:20-21 NAU) So the ‘eye for eye’ concept is for the State, and the overcoming evil with good’ is for the individual Christian. If a Christian experiences evil, they are to both seek for the State to bring about justice and yet seek to show love towards their enemy. These are complimentary responses of the Christian: one he is to give to the state, and the other he is personally responsible for carrying out.

But what about war? What if the government is the tyrant?  Does this change of circumstance mitigate a different response to the governing authorities? Or do Christians simply submit and passively die at the hands of a bloodthirsty state? I think this is where the Bible makes a distinction that has been lost by many. The answer to “Can Christians take up arms?” is ‘it depends’.

If the government takes up persecution against Christians BECAUSE they are Christians, then I would say no. Scripture often speaks of Christians being persecuted on ACCOUNT OF their faith. At this point, Christians need to love their enemies however they can. If it means they love their enemies by fleeing the area so their enemies are not guilty of committing further crimes against Christians, then Christians should flee. (The Apostle Paul did this.) If it means stay so they can lay down their lives so others can hear of Christ, then stay. If it means Christians have any opportunity of petitioning for a redress of grievances against the government and are possibly able to get the government to change, then perhaps that’s what they should do.

But is there any place for armed resistance? Yes, I think very much so. Again it depends on the situation. What if the State is warring against all its citizens without just cause? Then Christians should love their neighbors and take up arms to defend. This is one of the reasons the bible makes a clear moral and legal distinction between killing and murder (Even our judicial system recognizes the difference.) There is no moral justification for allowing another Aushwitz to take place in front of our eyes if all means of possible government petition have failed. This self defense is just that: self defense. Again, for the Christian it is no consequence of whether they die or not. But it is of consequence for our neighbors. Loving my neighbor means I’m willing to lay down my life for them and even for other Christians to protect them. Christ’s instruction undercuts the tendency for self protection for the Christian. My defense for my neighbor is not self protection, but self sacrifice for the preservation of the good of my neighbor and the stop of the encroaching evil.

So should Christians take up arms? Yes, if my neighbor’s welfare is at stake I’m to love him by protecting him. Self defense becomes more of self-less defense because it’s neighbor focused. No, if it’s for stopping persecution against me on account of me being an individual believer. Love for my enemy may look very different depending on the circumstances and possibility of responses. In all things, love directs us.

**This blog article doesn’t deal w/ self defense of the nature if someone invades your home and poses a threat to you and your family. The bible allows such self defense whether a believer or not. — Exodus 22:2 If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him. See also Ezekiel 33:6 for the right for self defense.

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