Monday, December 19, 2011

Defend yourself from a killer or turn the other cheek?

That's the issue dividing Christians in Nigeria where scores have been killed and nearly 100 church buildings burned down by radical Muslims. Is it legitimate for Christians to defend themselves or must they "turn the other cheek" even if it means they or their children will be murdered? Lord, help us to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters as they wrestle with these life and death questions for themselves and their family. Would to God we would take obedience to the Scriptures so seriously.

Before I comment on the question of self-defence, let me say that the issues Christians "fight" and leave churches over in the USA are in a radically different category than this issue which is dividing Nigerian believers. Recently a long-term Christian wrote that she was leaving our church and mentioned the reasons: issues such as musical style, how people dress on the platform, whether the American flag was appropriately displayed (we have 18 permanently displayed in our buidling including a giant one on the FLC wall -- just not one in "the right place" on the platform), and whether we engaged in certain nationalistic/patriotic practices in our gatherings to worship King Jesus, whose kingdom is "not from this world." While I readily understand the emotions that change-issues elicit, and feel the pain of those for whom such issues are difficult, I cannot help but grieve (1)that the American Christians divide over such triviality compared to the persecuted church in places like Nigeria, and (2) that Christians take strong and divisive stands over issues that are so out-of-sync with Biblical truth. We should be more mature and know better!

Back to the question of self defense: I pray for wisdom for my Nigerian family members because I can comprehend, at least a little, the horrible possibilities if they "turn the other cheek" rather than defending themselves or their families. This is certainly a potentially valid application of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5:39. However, it may be important to note that Jesus specifically said, "If someone strikes you on the RIGHT cheek . . ." Because I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, I must take seriously that Jesus specified the "right" cheek. Most people are right handed. If a right-handed person throws a PUNCH, it would land on the other person's LEFT cheek. Being struck on the "right" cheek suggests a backhand -- that is, a personal insult, not a murderous assault. I also remember in the book of Esther that the Jews, apparently with God's approval, defended themselves against the attacks of their enemies as a result of Haman's wicked law. The book of Esther records the number of their enemies killed while the Jews defended themselves. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told His disciples to be armed with swords -- although He did not allow their use to rescue Him from the cross.

All of that said, I hope that this remains an "academic" exercise for me, because if such persecution came to America, I would need to consider more seriously the possibility that the Jesus' way, the way of the cross, might call on me to lay down my life for Him -- or to see my loved ones do the same. It's always easy to interpret difficult Scriptures in ways that have the most comfortable application in my life. May God protect us from such selfishness.

And may God protect His church in America from tragic, preference-oriented, self-centered triviality.

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