The morality of arming and organizing

Memorize: "He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'" Jesus Christ (Luke 22:36)

1.1.1 Biblical inspiration and authority

Before we can rightly consider arming and organizing ourselves as a militia, we must consider whether or not doing so is the right thing to do. Later on we will see that we have the historical and constitutional right to form a militia. But ultimately, right and wrong is determined by God's will, and God's will is determined from the Bible. Why turn to the Bible to answer our questions about right and wrong?

If you are a Bible believer, you must be committed to following its moral standards. If you do not believe the Bible, you should still know and weigh what it says and use it to justify your actions to Bible believers.

To answer this question we will briefly look at what the Bible says about its own inspiration, inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority.

First, look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is God- breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Here the apostle Paul is teaching us that the Bible (or Scriptures) are inspired by God or God-breathed. Take careful note of two things that Paul says are God-breathed or inspired. He says that "all Scripture is God-breathed." Notice here that it is the actual Scriptures themselves, the words of the Bible, that are inspired (God-breathed) and not simply the authors. God gave us the precise wording of the Bible in its original Hebrew and Greek, not just the main ideas. Paul also says that "all Scripture is God-breathed." It is not just portions of the Bible that are inspired but all of it. We therefore say that the Bible is the word of God! This testimony that the Bible is the word of God runs throughout the whole Bible. (See, for example, Exodus 34:27, 2 Samuel 23:2, Jeremiah 26:2, John 12:49, John 17:8, 1 Corinthians 14:37, and Revelation 2:18.)

Now to say that the entire Bible is equally inspired word-for- word does not necessarily mean that it is all of equal value or interest to us. It simply means that word-for-word it all came from God.

The Bible is word-for-word the word of God. Therefore it is completely true or without any errors. This is what we mean by "inerrancy." Think about it. If God knows everything (1 John 3:20) and cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18), and if the Bible's words are God's words, then there cannot be any mistakes in the Bible. Otherwise, God would either have to be wrong himself or lying to us.

While this line of reasoning is undeniable, the Bible does not leave us to make our own conclusions about its truthfulness. The concept of infallibility or inerrancy is clearly the Bible's own teaching about itself. Jesus said, "Not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law" (Matthew 5:18). In other words, the Bible must be fulfilled in the smallest detail. He also taught that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35) and praying to the Father stated, "Your word is truth" (John 17:17). God's word can only be truth if it is free from errors. Remember in school when true or false questions on tests were false if any part of them were wrong? Luke wrote his gospel "so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught" (Luke 1:4). Peter wrote, "We have the word of the prophets made more certain" (2 Peter 1:19). More certain than what? Read 2 Peter 1:16-18. Peters says that the word of the prophets is more certain than his own eyewitness experience of Jesus Christ.

Now the fact that the Bible doesn't have any mistakes is not simply "academic" truth. It is of immense practical importance. Only if it is all true can we know for sure that any particular part of it is true. Do you want to do right by obeying a command in the Bible only to find out later that you were wrong to do what you did? Of course not. We need a Bible that is true throughout to have any real hope of pleasing God.

There is still more you need to know about the Bible. Not only is it God's word, not only is it true, but it contains everything you need to know about God and your relationship with him. The fact that it is everything we need to know is summed up by the word "sufficient" and is clearly taught by Paul the apostle in 2 Timothy 3:15-17. It tells us everything we need to know for salvation (2 Timothy 3:15), truth (2 Timothy 3:16), and good works (2 Timothy 3:17). This is why the Bible tells us over and over again never to add to it or to take away from it (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18).

Now when we say that the Bible tells us everything we need to know, we need to realize that some things are stated directly and some indirectly. A good algebra textbook, for instance, may not give answers to every algebra problem. Yet is does fully define the rules and principles by which every algebra problem may be solved. The Bible likewise contains all that we need for our relationship with God even if it does not provide direct answers for every problem or question we face. On such indirect issues we must draw valid conclusions based on what Scripture does say.

This leads us to the final point which needs to be made about the Bible: the Bible alone is authoritative meaning that it, and only it, must be completely believed and obeyed. Since all of the Bible is God's word we cannot pick and choose what we want to obey. Since it is all true we cannot neglect a portion of it by raising doubts about its reliability. Since it contains all we need for our Christian walks we cannot appeal to something or someone besides the Bible as our final authority on some issue.

We cannot argue with any part of the Bible any more than we can argue with God himself! God has "laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed" (Psalm 119:4). If we disobey, we will surely fail (Matthew 7:24-25).

We must make sure that whatever we do in any department of life, including the use of force, conforms to the truth and moral principles of the Bible.

1.1.2 The continuity of the Old and New Testaments

If the Bible is the word of God, is it a self-consistent message? Yes! Some sincere Christians believe that the New Testament overturned the Old Testament rendering the Old Testament obsolete. But this is false.

The New Testament did not change or overturn the moral principles of the Old Testament. It simply clarified, developed, added to, or fulfilled them.

Look at what Jesus Christ said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, unto heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18). Several things should be noted about these two verses.

First, Jesus did not abolish what the Old Testament said. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did not contradict anything said by the Old Testament. Rather than abolishing the law against murder, he went beyond it to prohibit hatred (Matthew 5:21-22). He did not abolish the law against adultery but went beyond it to prohibit lust (Matthew 5:27-28). He did not abolish the principle that punishment by the state should be limited to "an eye for an eye" but simply corrected the abuse of this legal principle of justice by forbidding personal vengeance (Matthew 5:38-39) which the Old Testament also forbids (Deuteronomy 32:35). And he did not negate any Old Testament law by telling us not to hate our enemy because this was a tradition of the scribes found nowhere in the Old Testament (Matthew 5:43-44).

Whenever Jesus wanted to justify his actions or establish a truth, he did it by quoting the Old Testament, not by denying it. Even when he said that loving God and loving our neighbor are the greatest commandments, he was quoting Old Testament commandments that were still in effect. The fact is, the law is still in effect and binding today. "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it" (James 2:10).

Second, Jesus did come to fulfill the Old Testament. In Colossians 2:16-17 the apostle Paul says, "Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however is found in Christ." So it is true that some things in the Old Testament no longer apply to us because Jesus has fulfilled them. But it is only ceremonial aspects of the law that were changed, not the moral aspects. And whatever was finally fulfilled by Jesus Christ was replaced by something better.

The religious festivals of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 5:7). The Old Testament priesthood was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who is our High Priest and replaced by the priesthood of all believers (Hebrews 7:23-24). The Old Testament physical temple was fulled in Jesus Christ and replaced by the spiritual temple of the church. The Old Testament sacrificed were fulfilled once and for all by the death of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 7:27). There is no such thing as something in the Old Testament which was abolished without being substituted by something better in Jesus Christ.

Third, the whole law remains binding until the end of the world. Nowhere did Jesus or the apostles ever change or do away with any moral law or principle of the Old Testament. We have already seen that Jesus based his morals on the Old Testament. Furthermore, the New Testament emphasis on love is not instead of the law but the essence of it.

Paul wrote, "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not covet,' and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:8-10). Just because we are filled with Christian love does not mean that we can now sleep around, murder, steal, and covet. Indeed, our love makes us do what the Old Testament law commands.

The relationship of the Old Testament law to salvation

This brings us to the question of why Paul deprecates the law and good works (Roman 3:20, Galatians 24, Ephesians 2:8-10, etc.). Nowhere does Paul deny the validity of the moral laws for determining what is right and wrong and for guiding our everyday lives. Like Jesus, his arguments and teaching were always based on the Old Testament itself (Acts 17:2-3, Romans 1:17, Romans 3:10-18, etc.). What Paul denies is the validity of the view that obedience to God's laws can save us. As sinners, we are incapable of full obedience to the law and therefore cannot please God (Romans 3:20, Romans 8:6-8). So we must depend upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ to be forgiven (Romans 6:23).

But this was nothing new! Obeying God's laws did not save anyone in the Old Testament anymore than in the New Testament, and grace did not save anyone any less. No one in the Old Testament was forgiven or saved because they obeyed the law; the law simply made them aware of their sin just as in the New Testament (Romans 3:20, Romans 7:7-8, Galatians 3:24).

  • The Lord looked with favor or grace on Abel (Genesis 4:4) who made his offering in faith (Hebrews 11:4).
  • Noah found favor (grace) in the eyes of God (Genesis 6:8) because of his faith (Hebrews 11:7).
  • Abraham was saved by faith (Genesis 15:6) in the gospel of Jesus (Galatians 3:8) and is a pattern for our faith (Romans 4:1-10).
  • Moses found favor in the eyes of the Lord because God is gracious, not because Moses obeyed the law (Exodus 34:6-9, Psalm 103:7-8).
  • David depended on God's mercy for forgiveness (Psalm 51:1-5).

The point of all this is that the Old and New Testaments are equally valid and totally consistent in teaching what is right and wrong. Anyone reading the Old Testament will easily recognize the fact that it does not condemn violence or war when it is justified by biblical principles. Abraham rightly fought to rescue his nephew Lot from invaders (Genesis 14). God gave ground rules for conducting warfare (Deuteronomy 20). The book of Judges is basically a history of heroes and patriots who fought against the tyranny of invading armies and ungodly rulers. David was the greatest king of Israel as well as one of its best soldiers (1 and 2 Samuel). Nothing in the New Testament changes any of these facts.

1.1.3 Jesus Christ was not a pacifist

Of course, Christ's emphasis on love is sometimes perceived to imply that he was a pacifist who condemned all violence and war. But this is a misunderstanding.

A close look at the Bible will show that Jesus Christ was not a pacifist and will demonstrate that he approved of the justified use of deadly force.

Neither John the Baptist, nor Jesus, nor the apostles condemned soldiering.

"Then some soldiers asked him, 'And what should we do?' He replied, 'Don't exhort money and don't accuse people falsely be content with your pay'" (Luke 3:14). John the Baptist did not tell soldiers that being soldiers was immoral per se, but simply condemned the abuse of their position as soldiers.

Jesus did not rebuke the centurion for being a soldier, but commended him for the faith that came from his understanding of authority in the military (Matthew 8:5-13; see also Acts 10:1-48).

Jesus Christ both permitted and commanded his followers to be armed.

"He said to them, 'But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one'" (Luke 22:36). Now that the apostles had learned the lesson of trusting in God (Luke 10:4), they were to be prepared to defend themselves as they travelled through dangerous areas to take the gospel to the whole world.

"Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his right ear. Jesus commanded Peter, 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'" (John 18:10-11). Notice that Jesus allowed Peter to have the sword both before and after this incident. The problem was not that defending someone is wrong; the problem was that it was inappropriate at this time since Jesus wanted to die for our sins (Mark 10:45).

"'Put your sword back in its place,' Jesus said to him, 'for all who draw the sword will die by the sword'" (Matthew 26:52). Again, Jesus did not necessarily condemn using the sword. He told Peter to put it back in its scabbard, not to get rid of it. What Jesus is saying is that anyone who fights risks his life in doing so. This is a matter of fact, not of ethics.

Jesus Christ used just force.

"Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of money changers and the benches of those selling doves" (Matthew 21:12).

"So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables" (John 2:15).

"When Jesus said, 'I am he,' they drew back and fell to the ground." He used his divine power against aggressors (John 18:6).

Jesus Christ would have been justified in defending himself.

On several occasions Jesus Christ evaded an angry crowd rather than giving in to their intent to kill him (Luke 4:28-30, John 8:58-59, John 10:35-39). It was not yet the time for him to sacrifice himself for the sins of many. When the time did come, and his disciples tried to defend him, Jesus said, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?'" (Matthew 26:53). Jesus was quite capable of taking care of himself if he wanted to be defended. And his statement that he could call on the Father did not only mean that he had the ability to defend himself, but that he was morally justified in doing so as well. He was under no inherent obligation to die, although he and the Father did plan for him to die.

Jesus Christ will someday use deadly force on a wide scale.

All through the Bible we read of the day when Jesus will return to set things straight. At his second coming he will throw the wicked into the fiery furnace (Matthew 13:41-43). He will separate the righteous from the wicked and send the latter into the eternal fire (Matthew 25:41). He will bring destruction upon unbelievers (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10). He will lay waste to the present heavens and the earth (2 Peter 3:10). And with justice he will judge and make war on the evildoers of the earth (Revelation 19:11-21). This all demonstrates that Jesus is not absolutely opposed to the deadly punishment of wrongdoers. Indeed, there will come a day when he brings it about on a universal scale. But for now, he is delaying his just wrath while giving mankind a chance to repent of their wicked deeds (2 Peter 3:9).

Jesus taught that force was a last resort.

Of course, it is true that violence is not always indeed rarely justified. "Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place'" (John 18:36). So Christians should not use force to establish or maintain the kingdom of God or impose their religious beliefs on others. But this does not mean that Christians should never use force. Jesus implies that if the situation was different, if his kingdom was an earthly kingdom, then force would be acceptable.

Jesus also said, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9) showering that our goal should always be to seek peaceful resolutions if at all possible (see also Romans 12:17-19). Later he said, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). Slapping the right cheek was not a life-threatening attack, but a personal insult similar to spitting on someone. So Jesus was teaching that we should not resort to force when we face minor personal insults and mistreatment. But he was not condemning self-defense when our very lives are threatened as we have already seen.

Finally, Christ tells us, "But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:44-45). How can we love our enemies and kill them at the same time? Clearly Jesus is saying we should harbor no hatred towards anyone. Our actions should never be motivated by hatred or vengeance but only by justice. Judges can and do justly sentence criminals to prison while having compassion on them. God can and does desire a sinner's repentance as he condemns him forever. So also it is possible and necessary for us to love our mortal enemies, to pray for their souls and seek to change their minds and behavior, even when we are forced to take up arms against them.

1.1.4 Principles of just war

As we have seen, Jesus Christ was not a pacifist and it is sometimes necessary to respond to evil with force. But why and when is force right and when is it wrong? Through the Bible there are several key principles to answer this question.

The right to life. All through the Bible it is assumed that individuals have the right to life. For instance, Exodus 20:13 says, "You shall not murder." The reasons we cannot murder is because God says so. But the reason he says so is because he has given us the right to live. This right to life implies the right to self-defense. If we should not be murdered, then we are justified in preventing someone from killing us. This is shown throughout the Bible.

Capital punishment. For various terrible crimes and sins, only death is a sufficient punishment. God himself instituted capital punishment. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man" (Genesis 9:6). "Anyone who strikes a man and kill shim shall surely be put to death" (Exodus 21:12). Consistent with the principle of "an eye for an eye" (Exodus 23-25), only a murderer's death can satisfy the demands of justice for murder. Capital punishment is also the just penalty for despising authority (Deuteronomy 17:12), rebellion (Deuteronomy 21:21), and kidnapping (Deuteronomy 24:7). It makes no difference in principle whether an individual, or an army, or political leaders are guilty. If a man is guilty of a capital crime, he should die at the hands of an executioner. If any army is guilty of a wide-scale crime, they too should die, at the hands of an opposing army if necessary. If our leaders are corrupted to the extent of imposing tyranny upon the people, then they should be forcefully overthrown and replaced by a legitimate government.

Resisting tyranny. This idea of resisting tyranny is common in the Bible. Clearly we should not resort to force when mere possessions are at stake. High taxes and the like can be endured and do warrant taking lives. But when leaders are responsible for murder, deny civil liberties, and generally impose a draconian regime upon the people, then we should disobey, resist, and rise up to fight. In Exodus 1:15-22 the king of Egypt ordered that all newborn boys be killed. But the Hebrew midwives did right by disobeying and sparing the innocent babies. As we said previously, the book of Judges is full of accounts of leaders raised up by God for express purpose of delivering Israel from the hands of tyranny. Read about Ehud (Judges 3), Deborah (Judges 4), Gideon (Judges 6- 7), and Samson (Judges 13-16). These people are commended for their faith in the New Testament because they responded to God's calling to fight against tyranny (Hebrews 11:32-34).

Justice not revenge, collective not personal. Paul the apostle wrote, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody" (Romans 12:17). We must always be motivated to do what is right. "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Romans 12:18). By all means we must seek peaceful resolutions. "Do not take revenge my friends" (Romans 12:19). We are not to get even with an evildoer nor are we to take justice into our own hands. But it is not evil or vengeful for people to individually defend themselves or to collectively exact just punishment.

Obeying authority. Since the Bible is the inspired word of God, we must follow its commands and principles. We must take seriously the concept of just war taught explicitly in the Old Testament and implicitly in the New since the Bible is consistent in its moral precepts. Since Jesus was not a pacifist, we cannot say that christians renounce all armed conflict. And while force should be a last resort it is sometimes necessary for self-defense and to resist tyranny.

This leads us to the all important idea of authority. Who is in charge. What must we obey? When is resistance justified? "Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me'" (Matthew 28:18). All legitimate authority rests in the Lord Jesus Christ. All earthly authority is therefore derived and limited authority. Christ gives parents the authority to raise children according to his principles (Ephesians 6:1-4). But we have no authority to abuse our children or lead them astray. He gives ordained leaders of the church authority within the church, but they are accountable to Christ (Hebrews 13:17). They also have no authority to abuse or lead astray Christians. Likewise, he gives authority to governments to maintain law and order, not to abuse citizens or to perpetrate evil.

Consider Romans 13:1-5 which is perhaps the most important biblical passage about the authority of governments. "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God" (Romans 13:1). In America, the highest governing authority is the Constitution, not elected officials who are sworn to uphold and defend it.

"Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves" (Romans 13:2). Violating Constitutional liberties is rebelling against God, whether it is done by a criminal or the politicians. Thus,

When elected officials break their oath to uphold the Constitution, it is not the patriotic citizen who is in rebellion, but the governing official!

"For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you" (Romans 13:3). If you do what is Constitutionally right by forming a militia and the government accuses you of wrongdoing, then in fact they have lost all authority because they have turned away from the very thing which legitimizes them.

"For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, and agent of wrath to bring punishment to the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:4). God intends the government to do you good by maintaining law, order, and justice. When the government systematically punishes the upright citizen and commends wrongdoing, it is no longer serving God's purpose.

"Therefore , it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience" (Romans 13:5). Jesus Christ is the ultimate authority and the Constitution is the real governing authority. If we are submitted to Jesus Christ and committed to Constitutional liberties, then our conscience demands the resistance of unconstitutional authority which is no authority at all.

1.1.5 Discussion questions

To determine what is right and wrong in ethical matters, should we follow public opinion, existing laws, our own opinion, or the Bible? Why?

Do you believe that there is any inconsistency in what the Bible has to say about the morality of self-defense and war waged against tyranny? If not, why not? If so, please specify what "inconsistency" you perceive. Is there any way you can see these "inconsistencies" can be reconciled?

Do you believe that Jesus was, or Christians should be, complete pacifists? Why or why not?

How is the idea of just war consistent or inconsistent with loving God? With loving our neighbor? With loving our enemy?

Describe the general continuity of principle among capital punishment, law enforcement by the police, personal self-defense, and just war.

Can you describe the difference between acting out of revenge and acting in behalf of justice? Why is the one right and the other wrong?

What is your definition of authority that must be obeyed?

What are some examples of usurped or illegitimate authority that do not justify armed resistance? Why isn't fighting right in such cases?

What are some examples of usurped or illegitimate authority that do justify armed resistance? Why is fighting right in such cases?

Main ideas of this section

We must make sure that whatever we do in any department of life, including the use of force, conforms to the truth and moral principles of the Bible.

The New Testament did not change or overturn the moral principles of the Old Testament. It simply clarified, developed, added to, or fulfilled them.

A close look at the Bible will show that Jesus Christ was not a pacifist, and will demonstrate that he approved of the justified use of deadly force.

When elected officials break their oath to uphold the Constitution, it is not the patriotic citizen who is in rebellion, but the governing official!

Further reading

If you desire to read and study these issues in more depth, I recommend the following books available from the Free Militia.

On the inspiration and authority of the Bible

Custer, Stewart. Does Inspiration Demand Inerrancy? (Nutley, New Jersey, The Craig Press, 1968), 120pp.

Garrett, Duanne A. and Melick, Richard R., Jr. (editors). Authority and Interpretation: A Baptist Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House, 1987), 220pp.

Giesler, Norman (editor). Inerrancy (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1980), 516pp.

Young, Edward J. Thy Word Is Truth (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Banner of Truth, 1957), 274pp.

On the morality and ethics of just war

Boettner, Loraine. The Christian Attitude Toward War (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1940/1985), 91pp.

Davis, John Jefferson. Evangelical Ethics: Issues Facing the Church Today (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1985), 299pp.

Morey, Robert A. When Is It Right to Fight? (Minneapolis, Minnesota, Bethany House Publishers, 1985), 143pp.

Murray, John. Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishers, 1957), 272pp.


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