Should Church arm themselves? : A Pentecostal response to Sutherland Springs shooting
When there is a shooting, especially in a church, people including pastors jump into fear mode and start talking about ways to better arm themselves. Pastors start declaring they people are in the church that are concealing and carrying. Signs like the ones that appears at Rodney Howard-Browne’s church in Tampa go up. It is wisdom but is it the message we want to send to the world. Are living from faith or from fear?
Understand I am a gun owner and I do open carry at times. I am not against weapons at all. I have hunted and competed in firearms tournaments at regional levels. However, I think turning our churches in small military camps is misplaced.
Yes, I get the wisdom discussion. However, one thing that I know is fear can look a lot like wisdom to be Pentecostal. Wisdom tends to make safe when God has called us to walk on the water. It was wisdom to stay in that boat.
I firmly believe the cause of Christ is demanding an inquiry. The questions of shootings in America, especially in churches, is more an indictment against the Pentecostal church for its failure to be salt and light than it is about “how bad them darn sinners are.”
What is the Pentecostal response to Sutherland Springs?
There is a passage in the gospel that talk to use about rage and violence and how Jesus confronted it in his day. I am sorry to tell you that I am NOT talking about when the Lord took the wimp to the street vendors at the Temple. While everyone loves to be angry in times like this, Jesus was not when it happened.
As the story does, a law enforcement officer had to came to arrest Jesus so He could stand trail for the charges laid by the Pharisees. As they came to get him, they came in contact with violence. What happened was probably that day’s version of a mass shooting.
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) (John 18:10)
In those days, the sword was consider a pretty deadly weapon that could end another’s life. What we have is Peter, acting in anger using a weapon that he was trained to use for a purpose he should have used it for to cause serious harm to someone he had extreme dislike for. Does that sound at all like we are seeing in today’s culture across the United States?
This is the perfect place for Jesus to be angry at the government, law enforcement and just society in general. He is facing false arrest and there has just been an act of terror against police right in front of him by someone that He knew. The problem is the response is not angry and revenge.
According to Luke 22, we read
…He touched the man’s ear and healed him…
The response to the violence was manifestation of hope, Christ Jesus, has formed an official response that including healing and restoration. It was not a question of how to “use wisdom” and He was not telling his disciplines to arm themselves through the teeth lest the Romans will abuse their power (more on that later). He simply reached down and heal the wounds of act of rage. This should be the missional response of the church, not self-preservation and protection against the actions of the wicked. We stop the killings by starting the healing.
What about government over reach?
We can not talk about violence against humanity without discussing the insane government interference into people’s lives. We live in a culture that police no longer exist to serve and to protect the citizenry but are a light infantry unit much like the National Guard.
Jesus confronted this as well in Luke 22:53-53,
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard,and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”
While that last statement is not calling law enforcement workers of darkness, the emphasis is on Jesus confronting the overuse of swords and clubs. He did not see a need for them to the arresting party to be so well armed for a peaceful protester who the Pharisee saw as mainly a threat to the religious control than any form of violent criminal (less they were still upset about the day at the temple with the whip!)
This is speaking to us to day of law enforcement that treat our youth as “guilty until proven innocent.” I am regularly amazed at how equipped we want local police to be. The fact of the matter is that our police in America are better trained and have better weapons that most military units around the world. I believe this is a factor in today’s violence cycle.
What is the Spirit saying to the churches?
Back over in Matthew 26:52-53, we read the same event as was in Luke 22:52-53 but it gives us even more information,
for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?
The emphasis here is if we live by the sword (anger and cries for judgement) then we will die by our very desire for it all in the name of wisdom. Living by the sword is not a good place for the Pentecostal churches to be. Our missiology does not allow for private security personel that look like they are Delta Force.
A growing trend among churches is to hire off duty police officers to work security at churches in uniform. This is alarming in many ways. One of this goes against everything Pentecostal churches profess to value: soul winning. People who have ill feeling of police or have petty warrants will not come to hear the gospel if they know someone from the police force is there watching them. The very people we are wanting to reach are pushed away by their very presence.
What is at stake in this discussion about responding to Sutherland Springs is our Pentecostal missiology being put on the altar of fear that pretends to be wisdom. It is a dangerous place to be as a movement.
I want to leave you with what King Solomon said about wise people,
He who wins soul is wise. (Proverbs 11:30)