Onward Christian Soldier?

Last week I read a very provocative piece written by PCA pastor, Lance Lewis, entitled “Pro-Life and Pro-Glock?” Lewis called for Christians to “lay down our weapons” arguing that it is our Christian duty to do so. Naturally Lewis’ arguments set off a small firestorm, something I’m sure he did not anticipate. Easily the best response to the arguments and questions raised by Lewis was provided by PCA RE Bob Mattes. Mattes systematically dismembered and destroyed Lewis’ arguments from a practical, and more importantly, from a biblical perspective. Mattes demonstration that gun ownership is both warranted and permissible according to the Scriptures was simply unassailable. And, why wouldn’t it be? Drawing valid inferences from biblical propositions is precisely what we’re called to do, especially when correcting the false premises of others, including the false premises of those in the pulpit. The teaching of Scripture alone, which includes those things validly and soundly inferred from them, are what all Christians are called to believe and obey. That is our Christian duty. No Christian is obligated to submit to the opinions of men, including the opinions of church leaders and pastors on nothing more than their own authority and say so, no matter how sincerely believed or well intentioned.

What I found particularly disturbing by Lewis’ piece was his assertion that he is “convinced by scripture that all of humanity has a duty to protect and preserve life and that those who believe in Jesus Christ should especially take care to do all within our power to see that no harm comes to anyone.” Lewis offered no biblical argument in support of this supposed biblical principle, yet on the basis of this principle he felt warranted to call Christian’s everywhere

. . . to promote the cause of life by laying down our weapons and refusing to support those who insist on filling our society with instruments designed for the sole reason of ending the life of one who bears the image of God.

Instead of guns, specifically handguns, Lewis advocates disarmament and claims it is our Christian duty to adopt “non-lethal” means to protect ourselves, our families and our property. But where does this obligation and duty to “do all without our power to see that no harm comes to anyone” come from? When pressed on where this imagined biblical imperative might be found, Lewis offered no argument and instead claimed I was being “ungracious” and “disrespectful” evidently for even asking the question.  It didn’t take long before he complained about my “tone” suggesting I had sinned against him for even calling him to account for his doctrine of Christian disarmament. I admit, I was surprised that Lewis played the “tone” card so quickly seeing he’s from West Philly. Being a fellow Northerner I thought his skin was a bit thicker. Evidently not. The problem is, if Scripture has convinced him of this principle, shouldn’t he use Scripture to try and convince others concerning the truth of his position? And, even if he didn’t want to take the time to walk me and others through those passages of Scripture which lead him to the conclusion that we should take special care that no harm come to anyone, couldn’t he at least appeal to the exegetical positions already provided in the Westminster Confession including the catechisms?

The problem for Lewis here is that the Confession provides no support for the idea that “those who believe in Jesus Christ should especially take care to do all within our power to see that no harm comes to anyone.” Quite the reverse.  There are times when causing harm to others, including the lawful taking of human life, is not only permissible but required. Consider just a portion of the answer to LC 136 and the question, What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?

The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense . . . .”

Notice the exceptions to the commandment not to kill include capitol punishment, lawful war and necessary defense. LC 135 provides a similar answer to the question, What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?

The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others . . .by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God . . . readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

While the unjust taking of human life, along with all associated passions affecting thought, word or deed are forbidden and sinful, the just taking of human life is no sin and may even be required in defending against the threat of violence against ourselves or others along with “protecting and defending the innocent.” Clearly the principle that Christians are to “do all within our power to see that no harm comes to anyone” is at odds with the teaching of the Confession. So when Lewis asked me “what rights are we willing to kill someone over?” I responded, “The right to life, obviously.” There are occasions where inflicting harm, even lethal harm, is both required and permissible in order to preserve life. Those are the realities of living in a fallen and sinful world and not the fantasy world of Sarah Brady, Handgun Control Inc., and evidently Pastor Lewis.  Lewis’ position is in direct contradiction to the position of the Confession, the one he vowed to uphold in his ordination when he swore in the affirmative to the question:

Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures; and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative, make known to your Presbytery the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of this ordination vow?

Opposition to the Standards, particularly concerning the sixth commandment, is certainly nothing new. Chuck Baynard of the Christian Observer writes in his commentary on LC 136:

While not in any disagreement with the Westminster Divines as to content, I believe they open a door that isn’t ours to open. This commandment in Scripture is short and clear, “Thou shalt not kill.” I disagree with those who would try and rationalize away or justify some taking of human life. Rather I believe that such an action should weigh heavily upon the conscience as a violation of this commandment, and the knowledge that one walks justified only by the grace of God, not in any case because the deed was beforehand justified of God by some intervening circumstance.

Of course, and contrary to his claim, Baynard is in nearly complete disagreement with the Westminster Divines as to the content of the Confession at this point and considers “Thou shalt no kill” to be a prohibition which the Confession writers have “rationalize away” by differentiating between the just and unjust taking of a human life in the cases of just wars and the lawful taking of life (i.e., as in cases of self defense). Baynard argues:

I find more agreement in the ending of this question “… whatsoever else tends to the destruction of the life of any.” For even the reprobate was created in the image of God and to God alone it remains to take restitution fit for the sin . . . In the three questions concerning the sixth commandment, the Westminster divines have done perhaps the greatest treatment of bringing all applicable Scriptures to bear on a topic. Their systematic summary shines here perhaps brighter than anywhere else in the standards. So much so I would think it a toilsome chore indeed to deny the words here set before us. Nonetheless, I will hold the door shut on the permission for just wars, and lawful taking of life.

Notice that for Baynard the “Westminster divines have done perhaps the greatest treatment of bringing all applicable Scriptures to bear” in their handling of the sixth commandment. Yet, in spite of what he calls a shining and systematic summary of this commandment he rejects their conclusions allowing for exceptions in the case of just wars and the lawful taking of life. Baynard’s aversion to these exceptions stems from the belief in human depravity and the idea that it is impossible to judge any taking of life as being free from sin. He argues since “we make no righteous decisions as men” drawing a line between the just and unjust taking of human life cannot be done. Frankly, it’s hard to disagree with Baynard concerning the extent of human depravity and our own inherent sinfulness even in our imagined righteousness (Is. 64:6). I even sympathize with his arguments which stem from his own struggles and experiences after having taken the lives of others during war.

Perhaps pragmatic more than pedagogical, but I have walked this path and know the depth of evil and rationalization that lies within the heart of the created. While in the eyes of man and the Westminster standards I acted “holy” being in a “just” war, I deny this with all my being, and stand upright only by the grace of God bestowed after the fact in confession, not the meeting of some standard set by man to declare the action “justified.” The first life I took brought a deep sadness of soul, and I spent several days deathly ill, unable to eat properly, nor retain what I did force down. The second caused a sense of dread and darkness, but was of short duration. By number three I could kill a human being with no second thoughts whatsoever, even as I thanked God for letting them die in my stead. In war you have to make the person on the other side less than human in your mind and their life worthless compared to your own, or you don’t survive very long. How easy it is to cross that line and become something less than human.

The problem with Baynard’s arguments is that they are inconsistent especially when he concedes, “I am not saying we should not have capital punishment, for indeed it seems the Word of God demands the same at places.” One would have thought the arguments against capital punishment would be even stronger since courts have erred and men innocent of capital offenses, our Lord Jesus Christ included, have been put to death for crimes they did not commit. In his willingness to accept the lawful taking of human life in the case of the death penalty in accordance with light of Scripture, one wonders why he failed to interact with the proof texts the Confession uses in support of lawful wars and necessary defense ( Jer. 48:10; Deut. ch. 20, Exod. 22:2-3)? This is why the sixth commandment has been better understood as forbidding murder and not prohibiting killing per se and is why the Confession writers were correct in differentiating the lawful from the unlawful taking of human life. Baynard’s personal struggles and experiences during a time of war simply are no replacement for sound biblical argument and exegesis.

Despite obvious problems with Baynard’s position, at least he clearly states his reasons for his exceptions to the Standards and in a way that one can certainly sympathize with, even if not agree.  On the other hand, Pastor Lewis doesn’t even claim his position is an exception to the Confession and instead took offense when I pointed out that it was. Lewis asked:

Could you tell me how my position which advocates using non-lethal force violates this question [LC 136]? In my post and subsequent responses have I ever said that all killing is always murder and thus always sinful? Did I write that men do not have the right to take life if defending themselves or families?

Notice first how Lewis changed the question under debate. Advocating non-lethal force (Mattes argues there is no such thing as “non-lethal” only “less-lethal” force) was never the issue. What was at issue is the idea that doing others harm to others – even someone who would do violence to ourselves or our families – is somehow sinful and contrary to our duty as Christians. Recall, Lewis said that he was “convinced by scripture that all of humanity has a duty to protect and preserve life and that those who believe in Jesus Christ should especially take care to do all within our power to see that no harm comes to anyone.” So, in answer to his last question, he did indeed write that men do not have the right to take life in defending themselves or their families. The duty of Christians is to do no harm to anyone, which would include those who would seek to harm us or our families (after all, even would be murderers and rapists fall in the class of “anyone”).

The obvious danger of Lewis’s argument is that it could cause those confronted with a serious threat to themselves, their families, or others to hesitate and think twice before taking appropriate, warranted, sufficient, and lawful action.  Action designed to protect and preserve life. Ironically, Lewis’ call for  Christians to lay down their weapons “designed for the sole reason of ending the life of one who bears the image of God”  has been positively harmful to the preservation of human life as the recent Virginia Tech case so graphically illustrates. The Tech case provided another horrible reminder of what can happen to a disarmed populace left open to the murderous whims of a deranged madman. Of course liberals running that institution and those in our government (in both Parties) haven’t learned the lesson and still blindly call for more gun control. Their answer is to increasingly limit and curtail individual liberty while they continue to suppress our biblical and constitutional rights.

Admittedly, Lewis could have argued as Chuck Baynard has above and that the line between the just and unjust taking of human life is too fine and as depraved human beings we are incapable of making such distinctions. Instead Lewis asked:

Once again please tell me how advocating for non-lethal forms of defense violates this point of the catechism?

The answer by now should be obvious. “The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any . . . .” It is our duty to avoid the “unjust taking of life.” Notice, there is nothing about those who believe in Jesus Christ being required to “especially take care to do all within our power to see that no harm comes to anyone.” Unjust taking of life is forbidden which necessarily implies that the just taking of life “in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense” is permissible and may at times even be necessary. Regardless, Lewis’ position, like that of Baynard, is in direct contradiction with the Confession. However, when I first pointed this out Lewis replied:

I did not put forth my view as the Reformed or Presbyterian view on this subject. I wrote that ‘as a Christian’, not as a reformed or Presbyterian Christian.

Lewis clams that when calling for the disarming of Christians he was writing “as a Christian” and that this is somehow qualitatively different from being Reformed or Presbyterian or even a minister in the PCA, as if there were two separate standards for each requiring the wearing of two different hats. Further, he even at one point seemed willing to concede he was taking an exception to the Confession here, but instead argued that such exceptions are essentially meaningless in the PCA. Lewis writes:

and speaking of the pca, a few years ago we made the decision to officially allow ordinates to take exceptions to the wcf and ordain them as long as they held to the system of doctrine taught in the confession and their exceptions didn’t strike at the vitals of the faith. consequently we have good, God fearing men in the pca who hold to a literal six day creation and those who hold to a day age view of creation. if i were to share my position on that issue in this forum i would not be speaking for the pca, presbyterians or all reformed believers. and if someone decided to take it that way then he’d be wrong since good brothers differ on the issue. i am not being hypocritical or trying to hide from you or anyone else.

Lewis is correct. When PCA pastors and officers are ordained and publicly vow that they “receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures” they don’t really have to mean it. One can teach and publicly express any number of exceptions to the Confession with complete impunity and this dishonesty is covered by a so-called “hermeneutic of trust” that now dominates ersatz-Reformed denominations like the PCA. Along with multiple interpretations of the doctrine of creation, virtually all other doctrines are open to similar mutations all of which contradict the confessional doctrine of Scripture which asserts that the meaning of Scripture is “not manifold but one.” Even the imagined impermissible exceptions concerning those things that are supposed to “strike at the vitals of the faith” are laughable, given that those promoting the false gospel of the Federal Vision remain free to publicly express and teach their exceptions to the doctrine of justification and the covenant with similar impunity within the PCA.

For what it’s worth (and probably not much), when I was ordained an officer in the PCA I was asked to make the same public vow as pastor Lewis. Prior to that time, I along with a handful of other men struggled through months of officer training which, I thought, was to weed out those of us who might take exceptions to the Confession as containing the system of doctrine taught in Scripture. It took me a few years before I realize the joke was on me and that the rules, if there ever really were any, had changed. I was sadly naive and only recently realize how silly I was for taking the whole process and the Confession so seriously. The fact is, despite the likely chest thumping and howls of protest by some, the Confession is a virtual dead letter in the PCA. It is just taking more time for many still in the PCA to realize it. Admittedly, some are starting to catch on which is why I think Bob Mattes nailed it when he wrote:

I’d like to say that Lance Lewis’ post is unbelievable, but after Federal Vision and people wanting to ordain or commission women as deacons I guess I can’t say anything is unbelievable anymore in the PCA.

Now he knows why.

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3 Comments on “Onward Christian Soldier?”

  1. Benjamin P. Glaser Says:

    Excellent Article. Especially the last paragraph.

  2. gusg Says:

    You are about 10 years behind Canada. Up here the “Christians” are nothing more than religious fascists. When I met my CRC brother-in-law for the first time, because I defended the right to own guns, he just about tore my head off. Sean, after reading drivel like this for 33 years–not recognizing for 25 of them that it was drivel–I came to a very radical conclusion. When supposed “men of God”, supposed “stewards of the Oracles of God” say such blatant nonsense, there is only one appropriate response
    (Pro 15:7) The lips of the righteous send forth knowledge, but the heart of the foolish is not so.

  3. Diana Yovanovich Says:

    Thank you so much for this post. We need the whole counsel of God and not bits and pieces.

    Diana Yovanovich

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