Guns, Commandments, and a paper Caesar.
Gun control seems to be a big topic politically in our nation. Among the fallout from the horrid shooting in Newtown, politicians have set their cross-hairs on guns again. This is certainly a topic by which people can very passionately disagree, but I have been trying to think of some theological things in regards to the ownership and use of firearms.
You can see in the graphic to the right, others have already started to mine the depths of Scripture to find answers. In this case Luke 22:36 is cited.
He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one.
The next verse could just as well be the one where Jesus tells Peter that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. And then we could talk about the good and godly work of soldiers and agents of the state who keep order (more on that in a bit).
The Fifth Commandment commends firearms for our use…
A few weeks back I was reading Luther (if you haven’t already, “like” us on Facebook to receive daily Luther quotes) and stumbled across this quote:
“the fifth commandment merely forbids one to kill, but at the same time permits weapons and arms. Yes, it commands having weapons and arms in order that murder may be prevented. ” LW 34:43
This quote certainly shows that Luther viewed the ownership of weapons (private property is a seventh commandment issue) as a fifth commandment issue. A weapon (such as a firearm) is permitted (even commanded) in order to prevent murder. This certainly would fit with some of the modern arguments for gun rights. The Fifth Commandment does command that we do help our neighbor in his bodily needs (the right to life being the first and foremost of those needs) and defending their life by using a firearm may just be what is necessary in some situations. The Fifth Commandment also forbids murder, something that needs to be kept in mind at all times as well.
The Fourth Commandment, Romans 13, and who rules here anyways?
The Fourth Commandment asserts that all authorities are to be honored as being from God. Paul in Romans 13 describes the purpose of government, to punish wicked and reward good. It is very simple, but how nations lose track of this very simple purpose! But who is the God-given ruler in the United States? Most everyone you ask on the street would answer that the President is the ruler, which of course is a very natural way to answer. But who (or better yet what) did eventually replace the King of England as the ruler of this nation? In a very odd development in history, the founding fathers of the nation set out to have a document rule the land, a document which gave certain authorities to certain people elected/appointed to act. So, at first the Articles of Confederation were used, but found lacking – so the citizens of the country through their constituent assemblies ratified a new document to rule the land, the U.S. Constitution. Now, this is not the gleaming “city on a hill” type of praise to the U.S., but the fact is that the Constitution (including the amendments) is what governs our land.
As an example of this, I will quote from the U.S. Constitution, article II, clause 8:
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
The President is bound to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This makes him to be a subordinate, not the ruler. Compare this to the oath of office for the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (where the monarchy once held by King George III still reigns).
I, (name), do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in the office of (office). So help me God.
One more oath of office probably common and even swore by some of our readers would be the military oath of office for officers:
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
Again, the Constitution is affirmed as the one being supported and defended by the agents of authority vested in our country by the Fourth Commandment. So which Ruler would apply according to Romans 13 – the U.S Constitution is the ruler.
the Second Amendment, …
That being said, the God-given rule of the Constitution spells out a way to amend itself, and that was first used to add the Bill of Rights. These amendments were properly ratified according to the rule of the U.S. Constitution. These were developed by the States “in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its [the Constitution’s] powers” (see the Preamble to the Bill of Rights). The Constitution allows for the limitation of even its own authority, which is a very peculiar thing, but within the authority of its rule. Here is the text of the Second Amendment:
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.
This is plain about the people’s right to keep and bear arms as a necessary thing for the security of a free State. Keeping and bearing arms is preventative to evils which would take away the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (see the Declaration of Independence). This Amendment by stating the word “keep” ensures that gun ownership is necessary in this country, something that then would garner support theologically from the Seventh Commandment’s granting of private property. It is also bolstered by the Fourth Commandment and the God-ordained rule by the Constitution (and its Amendments).
Also notable about this security is that it rested in the people’s right to bear arms. The citizens of this country were originally viewed as tools in the nation’s security. Each citizen is given authority by the ruler of this land to provide security in the place where they live and where their service may be necessary.
So what is a Christian to think on these things?
It is important to realize just who is the authority in this nation. It is important to realize that the ruler allows for itself to be changed and corrected. The fourth and seventh commandments both support this ruler right now in the right to keep and bear arms. But what if an amendment is amended? We still have one more theological footing which is not so easily taken away, even in a country which doesn’t care about the murder of people (see statistics on abortion for proof) – the footing of the Fifth Commandment and its command to help our neighbor in their bodily needs. This is as Luther describes this as a commandment to keep and bear arms so that murder may be prevented (again, never to murder, but to defend and prevent). For the Christian, this commandment from God is to be held even in the face of differing laws of men. This is of course not a call to vigilante action or mob rule or the violation of the Fifth Commandment in taking actions to murder another person, but instead a defense of one of the ways in which the other side of that Commandment is kept.