(Part Two here)
(Part Three here)
Christian pacifism, as sincere as it is, stems from a fragmentary theology. At various points in the history of the church there has been elevated debate on this issue, debates which I believe, by majority, sprung from unrefined theological development by its proponents. This is not to say, however, that all those objecting and affirming personal and national militancy, at some level, were always with well-formulated rebuttals in hand.
Recently, the ever imprecise, sometimes contradictory, regularly ambiguous and oft novel Charismatic/Neo-Calvinist/Neo-Evangelical Bible teacher, John Piper, stated about a Christian owning guns, as widely reported (in response to Liberty University’s, Jerry Falwell Jr., who advocated that his student’s possess firearms for protection, and here I quote - The Calvinist International blog):
“My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.My aim here is not to rebut Piper’s statements directly but to provide a theological construct for my readers in order to enhance their understanding and arguments for the basis of the Biblical right and duty to self-defense for all humans - Christian and non-Christian - which God incorporated into his founding of his divine institutions for mankind as the means for our perpetuity which has in view our protection and prosperity.
The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question. The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.”
1. John Piper, in my view and that of others as I have observed, has repeatedly demonstrated a very poor hermeneutic which is evident in his theological products. While he is sincere he is very misguided in a number of critical ways. His ministry will be judged by Christ, that is not my objective nor attempt rather, it is to evaluate his products and their ingredients, not formalize a judgment on that for which he will account to Christ, alone. And as to my assessment, it rests extensively on his theology which appears to be borrowed from a number of sources but ultimately takes the form of a Charismatic approving, Neo-Calvinist and Neo-Evangelical one in its articulation, substantially enabled by his handicapped hermeneutic, while attempting to jump back and forth from this location to the side of historical or traditional Evangelicalism.These two observations, in my view, weigh in greatly with respect to what regulates John Piper’s theological approach both in what he attempts to originate and how he reacts to views foreign to his. So with this out of the way I want to begin my treatment of the issue at hand by examining what Luther identified as the two kingdoms which I believe has stood the test of time with regard to its validity as a sound theological construct (this does not mean I agree with all of Luther’s theology, by any means).
2. In the quoted material below (taken from the previous larger quoted text), Piper’s construction of a straw man is rather revealing. When referencing something Jerry Falwell asserted in his position of students owning fire arms, Piper interprets then reformulates Falwell’s words and retorts:
“Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No.”Why is this so revealing? It tells us of John Piper’s unwillingness to view, in its proper context, the statement by Falwell or any of the theology behind Falwell’s position (I am not arguing for Falwell’s theology, per se, but for fairness in representing others in theological tussles). It simply lowers Falwell and anyone sharing Falwell’s view, to a person guilty of suspicious motives, uncharitable attitudes and an undeveloped personal theology never mind a deliberately hostile and aggressive attitude toward the world. Unfortunately, the occasion is not rare where John Piper creates convenient savages by misinterpreting and restating in a grotesque form, the words of others, for his rebuttals from which he might profit by giving such phantoms a theological beat down. It is lazy, at best, and gravely immodest from a man of his alleged spiritual and theological stature.
The Left and Right Kingdoms
Coming with man’s inauguration, God provided protocols for his existence. These protocols can be viewed as being divided into two realms:
- One is for all mankind, believer and non-believer, with respect to his civil relationship to one another. This is what Luther identified as the Kingdom on the Left which are the governments of the world.
- The other is for those who believe God’s gospel of salvation and engage in a subsequent relationship with God (though it also involves a context of believer to believer but that sub-text is not germane to the formation of the two categories on the whole). For this realm God provided distinct and specific protocols for man to relate to God in what Luther refers to as the Kingdom on the Right which is the spiritual kingdom or as Luther qualifies it, the church (a little more on their possible distinction, later).
On the left is/are the government(s) of the world and on the right, the government of God’s Kingdom/the spiritual kingdom, i.e. the church, which is guarded, governed and advanced through the church, herself.Luther was aware that protocols for one kingdom did not transfer nor could be imposed upon the other (if we could only master that concept with so many social justice Gospel Coalition types today!). Though civil/establishment codes from God for human civilization were, indeed, from God, they were not as a means for establishing nor perpetuating a relationship with God. They were for man’s welfare with and among himself, his earthly perpetuity.
Philipp Melanchthon further elaborated on this theological view in stating that not only are there two kingdoms but the church should not rule civic/worldly governments and civic/worldly governments should not rule the church, specifically saying they (governments of the world) should “not have anything to do with the salvation of souls.” Of course this was in challenge to Rome’s view and practice that a Christian theocracy was justifiable and righteous.
They understood the Biblical divide.
This is not to assert that Luther or The Book of Concord viewed government as emancipated from Scripture. They made it clear that governments of this world are obliged to reign with the moral guardianship of its citizens in view and that the ultimate source of just rule stemmed from the Scripture, whether Sovereigns were aware of this or not so long as they established justice, they were righteous in their civil administration (i.e., they acted as clients of the divine). But even at that, Luther and company understood, much of civil justice was deliberately relative to those communities and with broad liberty regarding what forms of government may exist and how nations may formulate their citizenship per the Scriptures. What these theologians forwarded was that while governments policed their constituency and should seek its welfare, it was not to be ruled by the church and vice versa. And this is because each had separate and distinct protocols based on their unique context.