Guns and churches

Published 9:52 pm Tuesday, September 24, 2019

By Ross Reitz

We call the meeting place of our churches a “sanctuary” because the word sanctuary means “a place of safety or refuge.” Throughout Christian history, a fugitive could come to the church and find protection there. Even today, when the government’s rules for deportation contradict the Bible’s teachings, multiple churches have offered sanctuary and opened their doors to immigrants facing deportation.

Of course, a church could only become a “sanctuary” or “safe place” because weapons were not allowed inside the church. This church practice comes from the life and teachings of Jesus himself. When Jesus was being arrested, His disciple Peter decided to protect Him, took out a sword, and cut off the ear of one of the arresting officers. Jesus rebuked Peter, healed the officer’s ear, and then reminded his followers, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:52).

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The early Christians refused to arm themselves. The early church father Tertullian looked at this story of Jesus and Peter and said, “Christ, in disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.” The book of Acts, which is the history of the start of the church after Jesus, does not record a single incident or teaching of Jesus’ disciples indicating that we should arm ourselves. Instead, the disciples lived out Jesus’ words to turn the other cheek and to pray for their enemies.

The apostle Paul makes an interesting observation about arming ourselves in 2 Corinthians. Paul says, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.”

Paul’s argument is interesting. As Christians, we use different weapons than the world uses because our weapons are more powerful. Our weapons have the power of God and can break down barriers that guns and tanks and bombs and swords cannot.

Every weapon of the world kills. While it is popular to say, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” we need to be honest that the purpose of a gun, whether properly used in hunting or improperly used in a mass shooting, is death. That is a gun’s only real purpose.

But God’s weapons bring life. Prayer can change our leaders’ decisions. Speaking truth can bring hope and peace. And love can slowly chip away anger, fear and hatred until the loving person God created can break free and live with joy. We can only bring salvation through living out and proclaiming the words of Jesus Christ; we cannot bring salvation by a gun.

As Christians, we are called to be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). We are called to be a proactive army, fearless in our ability to love even those no one else can love. We are called to advance the word of God, and we are promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against us (Matt. 16:18).

Gates and walls are not offensive weapons that advance a kingdom. A country only builds a gate or a wall when it is closing itself in and is afraid to fight. When Jesus promises that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church, he is painting a picture that the church is the one going out in victory, not that the church is the one hiding behind gates and walls. Yet, the decision to arm a church is a decision to hide behind a wall. It is a decision that changes us from a group that can welcome strangers to a group that no longer can engage the world. It is a decision that turns us from the most revered Christian value, love, to the greatest disability known to man, fear.

To make the church a “sanctuary,” we do have to have a place of safety. Yes, we train our security team in practices of how to spot potential threats. Yes, maybe we install cameras if we need to. But we never allow ourselves to give up the weapons that bring life for the weapons that can only bring death.

Ross Reitz has been a Suffolk resident since 2009. Prior to that, he taught the Bible in Africa for two years and spent six years as a teacher at a Christian school in Philadelphia, Pa.