Can a Christian defend home and family with force?

This question is especially pertinent in the United States, where the Second Amendment to our nation’s constitution speaks directly to the matter, prohibiting the government from infringing upon the right of individual Americans to own and maintain (“keep”), and carry (“bear”) weapons (“arms”):

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Such a constitutional provision seems rare in the world, creating a possibly unique situation in the United States. How should Christians view this, in light of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 5:38-41? (This is the second-series Gospel lesson for tomorrow in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.”

I was doing a little reading in a treatise Luther wrote on a closely-related subject called Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed. It’s actually quite helpful. Luther highlights some important biblical distinctions, one being the distinction between the two kingdoms we find on earth. The spiritual kingdom is ruled through the Gospel and faith, and will last longer than this world. Temporal authority, on the other hand, rules through Law and the sword. The United States government is an example of the latter.

Hopefully, that’s enough context for you to read one of Luther’s points quite salient to our question. It’s quoted from LW-AE 45:95. (Please excuse any typos. I don’t have an electronic copy of Luther’s Works yet, because the Logos library software is confined to run in a Windows environment, which I stubbornly refuse to use. I’ve successfully run Logos under Wine, but would prefer to have full and native functionality in Linux.)

Sixth. You ask whether a Christian too may bear the temproal sword and punish the wicked, since Christ’s words, “Do not resist evil,” are so clear and definite that the sophists have had to make of them a “counsel.” Answer: You have now heard two propositions. One is that the sword can have no place among Christians; therefore you cannot bear it among Christians or hold it over them, for they do not need it. The question, therefore, must be referred to the other group, the non-Christians, whether you may bear it there in a Christian manner. Here the other proposition applies, that you are under obligation to serve and assist the sword by whatever means you can, with body, goods, honor, and soul. For it is something which you do not need, but which is very beneficial and essential for the whole world and for your neighbor. Therefore, if you see that there is a lack of hangmen, constables, judges, lords or princes, and you find that you are qualified, you should offer your services and seek the position, that the essential governmental authority may not be despised and become enfeebled or perish. The world cannot and dare not dispense with it.

So it seems that Luther would advise American Christians to make use of the Second Amendment as they are able. If an armed Christian finds himself in a place where he can hinder or prevent an evil and unlawful deed, and the authorities cannot do so themselves (perhaps because it takes 10 or 15 minutes for them to respond to a 911 call), then the armed Christian is free to do what is necessary for the benefit of his neighbors. This would also apply in the home, where a Christian might have to defend his family and their well-being. But what if you are the only one whose life, health, property, or honor is at risk? Luther continues, referring to the previous quotation above:

Here is the reason why you should do this: In such a case you would be entering entirely into the service and work of others, which would be of advantage neither to yourself nor your property or honor, but only to your neighbor and to others. You would be doing it not with the purpose of avenging yourself or returning evil for evil, but for the good of your neighbor and for the maintenance of the safety and peace of others. For yourself, you would abide by the gospel and govern yourself according to Christ’s word [Matt. 5:39-40], gladly turning the other cheek and letting the cloak go with the coat when the matter concerned you and your cause.

Fair enough. Thanks, Dr. Luther. There is still room for us to discuss whether a Christian parent ought to defend his own life for the sake of his young children, when only his own life is threatened. I think he should, because it’s a tragic evil when young children are deprived of their father or mother.

If you have any differing thoughts on this subject, fire away.

Wolf Time available as a free e-book

The publisher Baen, which publishes science fiction, makes certain titles available as free e-books. This was begun to combat the problem of piracy, which I suppose happens when someone buys an e-book and shares it with others by giving them a copy. (There’s an unfortunate limitation for e-books, since sharing your printed copies of the same books is not piracy.)

Anyway, one of their freebies is Lars Walker’s Wolf Time. If you haven’t read any of his writing yet, this would be a good way to try it out. I found Wolf Time to be provocative and entertaining, but you have to like a dark plot. I enjoyed Walker’s The Year of the Warrior more than Wolf Time, and have been trying to buy a copy to send as a gift to my dad, but so far it hasn’t worked. Amazon can’t seem to find a copy. Next, I’ll try Powell’s.

The Shorter Memorial

The shorter memorial sent in by both of my congregations and Our Savior’s in Bagley, Minnesota, came up on the floor of the convention today. It had been assigned to the “miscellaneous” floor committee as part of their work. Their report did not contain very much in response to the memorial. Really, it was just one line: “Be it resolved that the memorial be declined.” There was no further description of the issue raised by the memorial, or reason for declining it.

When the floor committee’s resolution was read, and the chairman called for discussion, I kept an eye out over the whole floor for anyone raising their hands. There were none in the first few seconds, so I stood and raised my hand.

In my speech, I wanted to point out a reason for declining the memorial, while also telling how it had been written to address a genuine problem. I spoke in favor of declining the memorial, but said that the convention really ought to know the background behind it. Then I described the need for the memorial, and how the synod president had addressed it at the West Coast Pastoral Conference. He explained that the only floor committee not appointed by the president is given the task of reviewing his message and report. This committee has the important responsibility of reviewing his actions, and responding to them as they see fit. This was news to quite a few of us at the West Coast Conference, so we should be sure that the synod is aware of it. That was the essence of my speech. Then things got interesting. (Not because of my speech, but maybe even partly in spite of it.)

The pastor of Our Savior’s (a co-sponsor of the memorial) moved that the resolution be referred to the Synod Review Committee. Lively discussion followed in which I did not participate by speaking. In the end, this motion passed, so that instead of declining the memorial, the synod referred the issue to the Synod Review Committee, so that it might examine the issue and perhaps suggest an improvement to the synodical guidelines.

So let me recap the results of these two memorials. In each case, the issues they raised were referred to an appropriate standing board/committee, where they will be examined with the possibility of finding a solution. Wow. The congregations sponsoring these memorials have every reason to be happy with the results. I honestly expected both memorials to be declined without much explanation.

I’ll note one comment made on the floor about the shorter memorial. One of the speakers was deeply concerned about the wording of the “whereas” parts. If you read the text of that memorial (posted here first), you will see that three of the four “whereas” parts are really simple statements of fact that no reasonable person would argue against. The fourth (third in the order they were written) says something to which particular people might object. The speaker today said that it was “inflammatory,” stating that the synod president was guilty of some wrongdoing. I disagree. I think it was worded rather objectively and dispassionately. I admit that there were some provocative adverbs in it (“permanently and unilaterally”), but I do not think they were inflammatory.

Judge for yourself. If you think some of the words are too provocative, consider their accuracy. Do they describe what has been demonstrated in the ELS? You may want to refresh your understanding of their meaning, but I think they do. If something is inflammatory here, I don’t think it’s the memorial, but perhaps the synod’s experience to which it refers.

WHEREAS it has proven possible that both congregations and individuals may be permanently and unilaterally removed from membership in the synod by a single act of the synod administration, without explicit ratification by the synod, and,

Memorial Referred to Standing Doctrine Committee

The resolutions I reported earlier, as well as the memorials to which they respond, have been referred to the standing doctrine committee. This is a good thing, because it removes the discussion from the convention floor, where it could as easily be more divisive to our synod. It’s also good because the Doctrine Committee will now (hopefully) address the serious concerns raised by the memorials. The resolutions addressed some, but not all of the concerns.

I should note that the memorials in question came from four different congregations:

  • Bethany in The Dalles, Oregon

  • Concordia in Hood River, Oregon

  • Our Saviors in Bagley, Minnesota

  • Christ the King in Green Bay, Wisconsin (sent the other memorial)

Update on the response to our longer memorial

The floor committee has produced the following resolutions in response to the longer memorial from my congregations and to a similar memorial from our church in Green Bay.

WHEREAS, The synod adopted the Public Ministry of the Word (PMW) in 2005, and,

WHEREAS, The synod reaffirmed the PMW in 2006, encouraging “continued study and discussion of the doctrine of the public ministry ‘with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:2, 3 NKJV), in order to bring about greater unity in the synod and greater understanding of the doctrine of the public ministry, and,

WHEREAS, The synod uses the PMW for colloquies and its official teaching for inter-church relations, and,

WHEREAS, The synod adopted, “that while the public Ministry of the Word is being clarified for these congregations, that, in the interest of promoting fraternal unity, they be encouraged to refrain from publicly teaching against or making charges opposed to the Public Ministry of the Word” (Synodical Membership, 2006, p. 83), therefore,

A. BE IT RESOLVED, That the synod reaffirm the PMW, as well as the brotherly admonitions and encouragements quoted, as the answer to the memorials on pp. 55–56, and,

B. BE IT RESOLVED, That the synod encourage the pastors and congregations who have broken fellowship with the synod to reconsider their actions with a fervent hope that fellowship may be reestablished.

This resolution has not yet been brought to the floor of the convention for discussion.

Another Memorial that Wasn’t Sent In

I don’t know how well this formatting will come through, but it’s worth a try anyway. This is an educational memorial. I’ve seen several like it. A large part of the purpose is to educate the delegates and pastors at convention about various things. In this case, it’s about events beginning with the untimely adoption of the PMW. Thanks, Harry, for your permission to post your words.

Continue reading “Another Memorial that Wasn’t Sent In”

Preliminary Report on Memorial

The longer memorial sent in by my congregations has reportedly been discussed by the floor committee for doctrine. The discussion lasted a couple of hours, which was how long the same discussion took last year.

I was asked by a fellow traveler what I thought would happen with these memorials. My realistic/pessimistic prediction for this memorial was that the floor committee would basically say “We already have a doctrinal statement on the ministry, and are unwilling to change that. Let this be the answer to any memorials that challenge it.” This prediction has reportedly come true. The good news in this was that the discussion was cordial, with deep concern for unity in the synod on this doctrine. The floor committee also spoke of a resolution promoting continued patience and study. So the memorial was not a complete failure.

The problem remains that there is basic disagreement on the meaning of our doctrinal statement. As I have pointed out, a fine paper was delivered at our last General Pastoral Conference on how the PMW might be “parsed,” or how we should read it. This “parsing” is not far from my own understanding of the PMW, and I could possibly subscribe to the PMW on that basis. Yet quite a few of the pastors who heard that paper voiced deep concerns, and even basic disagreement. A majority of the PCM (the committee that drafted the PMW) has privately expressed agreement with the “parsing ” paper, but there has been no public endorsement of any particular understanding of the PMW.

So if the floor committee’s work is adopted by the synod convention, then a serious problem remains to challenge the unity of our synod. Instead of basing our unity upon the teaching of scripture, we will be basing our unity upon the mutual acceptance of a human document that apparently allows for a variety of interpretations. This is dangerously close to “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” It’s the basis of unity in church bodies that have departed from the historic Christian faith — the faith founded upon the unambiguous doctrine of holy scripture alone.

The Laity in the Church

Some might say that the laity are the Church, but that’s not true. The Church consists of three estates, three realms in which God rules and blesses us all. We have grown accustomed to thinking of laity and clergy in the church. The clergy are the ministers; narrow or wide sense, I do not know. The laity are the rest, and the majority by far. What we call the clergy approximates the old “ecclesiastical estate,” though our term “clergy” may be more restrictive. What we call laity encompasses both the “domestic estate” and the “political estate.”

Continue reading “The Laity in the Church”

Unpacking Cause and Effect

I need to clarify some things I wrote in the Cause and Effect article. It’s a little densely written.

Stemming from the PMW document

The first problem that comes to mind is the disagreement and confusion we saw from the time it was introduced, through the time it was adopted, and even to the present. There is disagreement about what it says between those who are sure about it. There is confusion among the rest, because they’re not sure what it says. This situation could have been avoided with the right kind of public study and discourse before the adoption of the statement, but that’s now water over the dam. Instead of containing that water, our job is now to evacuate the villages downstream.

The Dalles

Continue reading “Unpacking Cause and Effect”

A Correction/Adjustment/Clarification

In the post about bright spots in the president’s report, I wrote about the issues addressed at the circuit visitor’s conference. These issues were reportedly related to the 2006 General Pastoral Conference. I wrote:

I can only guess exactly what those issues were. One guess relates to the paper that Pastor Jay Webber delivered on parsing the PMW in an objective way. At the time, that paper was not received with much enthusiasm. If I recall correctly, only one of the PCM (the initial drafters of the PMW document) offered an endorsement of Pastor Webber’s parsing. The president also demurred.

This might mislead one into thinking that the PCM and the president actually disapproved of Pastor Webber’s paper. They expressed no disapproval. Most also expressed no approval, at the time (as I recall — please correct me if necessary). Reportedly, the majority of the PCM members have expressed individual approval of the paper, but to my knowledge there have been no public statements to that effect.