At this very moment, Christians around the world are being severely persecuted for their faith. They are being forced into exile, abducted, raped, tortured and slaughtered.
Is it right for them to fight back? Is it right for them to take up arms to ward off or kill their attackers?
There are strong arguments against Christians taking up the sword to defend themselves for the cause of the gospel. Here are just a few:
1) The example of Jesus is against it. He went to the cross willingly and instructed His followers not to fight for Him (John 18:36). And He calls all of us to take up our own cross and follow in His footsteps (Matthew 16:21-26).
2) The example of the apostles and Christian history is against it. According to tradition, all but one or two of the apostles died as martyrs, and none of them resisted crucifixion or beheading or stoning or drowning. This has been the pattern of church history, to the point that Tertullian famously remarked that the blood of martyrs was the seed of the church. Could you imagine Paul leading an armed revolt against Rome to stop the killing of the followers of Jesus, many of whom were burned alive as torches to entertain the emperor?
3) Jesus explicitly taught against fighting back. In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before His crucifixion, He told Peter to put down his sword, explaining that all who lived by the sword would die by the sword (Matthew 26:51-54).
4) The entire testimony of the New Testament is against us violently fighting against our persecutors. Instead, we are called to pray for them (Matthew 5:43-48), we are described as lambs going to the slaughter (Romans 8:35-39; 1 Peter 2:21-23), we are promised persecution (2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-20), and only those who suffer with Jesus will reign with Him (Romans 8:16-18). Great is their reward in heaven (Matthew 5:10-12).
5) Jesus told His disciples that if they were persecuted in one city, they should flee to another (Matthew 10:22-25). He could have given military alternatives as well, but He did not.
6) If you do fight back, where do you draw the line? We still have not lived down the bad reputation of the Crusades (even if some of the infamy is exaggerated), and once you get into the military mindset, it’s very hard to know where to draw the line. Perhaps pre-emptive strikes are needed? Perhaps an offensive campaign is called for to offset the next campaign against us? Perhaps our violence will end up being no better than the violence that was used against us?
Yet there are strong arguments that have been raised for Christians taking up the sword to defend themselves.
1) Simple humanitarian sense calls for it. If you were the father of three young daughters and Muslim terrorists demanded that you give them up to be raped, tortured and sold into sex slavery, how could you not fight for their lives if you had the power to do so?
2) There are times when we can’t flee. It is true that Jesus gave us instructions to flee from persecution, but sometimes that is not an option. What do we do then?
3) In the New Testament, this was a purely spiritual issue, whereas today, this is also a geo-political issue. This means that today we’re not just talking about individuals Christians being targeted for persecution and martyrdom. We’re talking about an invading Islamic army taking over another country, with Christians caught in the middle. Christians should take up arms to defend themselves just as anyone else in their shoes would fight against an invading army.
4) It is the proper role of government to use the sword to fight against evil and uphold good (see Romans 13:1-4). Some terrorist groups, like Boko Haram, are in complete violation of their country’s laws, so for Christians to fight against them is no different than a Christian homeowner using physical force to stop a dangerous intruder.
5) The Scriptures call us to rescue those who are perishing (Proverbs 24:11-12). We remain deeply appreciative of the sacrifices made by American soldiers and their allies in their battle against the Nazis, and without those efforts, many more innocent lives would have been taken. And today, who among us doesn’t want to see murderous groups like the Islamic State bombed and stopped in their tracks as they behead Christian children and slaughter others in the most gruesome ways? If it’s OK for a distant country like America to bomb them, so why isn’t it OK for local Christians to fight them?
6) Immediately before His betrayal, Jesus told His disciples that in the days to come, they would need swords for self-defense because of the dangers they would face. This is how many interpreters understand His words in Luke 22:35-38, and if it applied to the disciples then, all the more does it apply to persecuted Christians today.
So, what is your take on this? Is it ever right for persecuted Christians to take up the sword in self-defense? Please weigh in the comment section here.
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