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Guns? or No Guns?

Gun? or No Gun?

A Few Thoughts

I'm guessing that by now you have seen the response by John Piper to Jerry Falwell and the idea of Christians arming themselves (assuming you have some connection to social media). If you haven't, I would encourage you to go read it—not because I agree with it, but because it is nice to hear an opposing side occasionally so that you can make a better defense for your own beliefs.

Over the years, we have endorsed much of John Piper's teaching at GfBC because, in the main, he is very biblical and irenic in his teaching. For that, I have always been grateful. Much of my own leaning to reformed theology can be attributed to Piper and the influence he had on those around me during my college days.

However, in this case, I am troubled by what comes off as just short of Christian pacifism. Although leaving room for the government (including police) to defend those who are in danger, he cast doubt on the right of Christians to defend themselves, their families, or neighbors. And, as has been pointed out in other articles linked below, Piper neglects the Old Testament teaching in this area.

I want to first comment on where I think Piper is correct. Too often today, there is a callousness to our view of life. The point that Piper is commenting on that I believe is correct is the statements made by Dr. Falwell that says "And let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” That kind of bravado is, frankly, unfitting of a Christian (and this is coming from a true Texan who has spoken that way on a number of occasions—shame on me). One of the things that Scripture points out is that it is a breach of the sixth command to rejoice at the death of others (Job.31:29). If anything, that statement takes a very cold stance towards those who would be "taught a lesson." I believe that is what draws the concern of Piper in this case. And it is something with which any of us should be concerned. Our desire in self-defense is not to "teach someone a lesson", but to glorify God by preserving the lives of those entrusted to our care.

However, that is where my agreement with Piper ends.

So why am I writing this? I want to remind you of a very useful tool for helping us to understand these topics: catechisms! Although Piper has a link to a modified version of the Baptist Catechism on his site, it seems he fails to take it into consideration in his article. The catechism, as posted on the Desiring God website reads:

Question 73: What is the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment is, "Thou shalt not kill."

Scripture: Exodus 20:13.

Question 74: What is required in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment requires all lawful efforts to preserve our own life and the life of others.

Scripture: Ephesians 5:29, 30; Psalm 82:3, 4; Proverbs 24:11, 12; Acts 16:28.

Question 75: What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?
Answer: The sixth commandment forbids the taking of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, including whatever acts tend to this loss. (emphasis mine)

Scripture: Genesis 4:10, 11; 9:6; Matthew 5:21-26.

Notice that the catechism asserts that scripture forbids the taking of the life of a neighbor "unjustly". I think Piper would assert that the use of military force or authorized government action of some kind (i.e. police) would be the instances where that case is justified. However, the historical Baptist position goes further than simply allowing for the government to defend us. In this case there is a positive assertion assertion that goes along with this that there is a "just" cause for someone to take a life (even going so far as to quote Psalm 82:4 which says that we are to deliver the week and the needy from the hand of the wicked).

Benjamin Beddome, a prominent early 18th century Baptist wrote a Scriptural Exposition of the Baptist Catechism that is extremely helpful in this case. In his exposition of the question "What is forbidden in the sixth commandment?", he writes:

Is it a breach of this command... for one man to kill another in...his own defense?
A. No. For if a thief be found breaking up and be smitten that he die, then shall no blood be shed for him, Exodus 22:2.

It is clear from this and also from the Westminster Larger Catechism (which gives a much more full answer in questions 135 & 136) that defense of ourselves, friends, and neighbors is in no way forbidden by the scriptures. In fact, I believe it can be argued rather easily that the Word actually commands us to be prepared to defend ourselves and those closest to us.

Luke 22:36b "And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one."

For further study on this topic, I would encourage you to read James White's response, and Dr. Joel McDurmon's response to Dr. Piper. They are both very well written.