11 May 2017

Police Protection for the Church: Evangelicals, America and Guns

A Church, a Church-affiliated campus, with a police force? Why the controversy?
This move by an Alabama PCA is hardly surprising and will even be praised by many. Not a few Evangelicals are confused as to why this would even be an issue. It's normal for colleges and universities to have police forces, so what's the big deal? Why are people so bothered by this?


Many a lost person just finds some incongruity with the notion of a 'Church' having a police force. They're right though probably for muddled and misunderstood reasons.
Christians are the ones who should be most disturbed by this and yet it's unlikely that very many Conservative Bible-focused voices will speak out. A lot could be said but for starters I will raise just a few issues for consideration.
1. There is a great deal of confusion with regard to Christianity and American narratives regarding guns and violence.
To many Christians, guns are as American as Apple Pie. This troublesome simile is exacerbated by its synthesis with Christianity and Biblical ethics.
The thinking goes something like this. Guns are an essential part of American culture. American culture is Christian. Therefore gun culture is part and parcel compatible with Christian culture.
Few actually put forward such a syllogism but if you read between the lines, it's actually quite common.
This reasoning can be dismantled on various levels. No doubt guns are a big part of American history and identity and no doubt much of American culture has been interspersed with, wed to and syncretised with Christianity. But it doesn't mean that any of it is right.
The reason this question can't be honestly addressed by most Americans is that they are unwilling to face several realities.
American Christianity has largely been heretical and something less than reflective of New Testament doctrine.
It is often guilty of idolatry with regard to its culture, the state, its history and wars. This has led to revisionism and an almost endless whitewashing of its history and many crimes.
If gun culture is to be rejected it implies there is something defective, something less than Christian about America and its understanding of and manifestation of Christianity.
Each of these points is worthy of considerable elaboration and yet very few American Christians we even get past the first sentences or paragraphs of such a debate. Traditional America is so equated with Chosen Nation/Kingdom/Holy status that it is unassailable. To question America is akin to questioning one's faith.
That is at the very heart of what idolatry is. It's an allegiance and worship of something other than the True God. For many an Evangelical their 'faith' is not in the Christ of Scripture, but the Christ of America.
2. There is great confusion with regard to the Church's posture vis-à-vis the world.
This point is related to the previous but I mean it here in the larger context of concepts such a citizenship. The first category addresses nationalism and the narratives that surround it. Here I'm speaking of our relationship to the world at large as far as 'rights' and property. Classical Liberalism has sowed confusion and many Christians think they find modern political theory within Scripture. Confused and even deceived they actually come to a point that they think it's their 'duty' to fight, to strike back, to use the courts, to wage war etc...
Ironically the New Testament raises many of these points and comes to the exact opposite conclusion. Having rejected the pilgrim and exile teaching of the New Testament they believe that we're in the world to fight the forces of evil, and stand for truth wielding the sword.
It's true that we're called to combat, but the fight we fight is not carnal, the sword we bear is not made of steel. And this point pains them the most, the fight is often won by bearing witness in the face of suffering. It is Christ's example that we are called to follow. That's how we 'win'. Our victory all too often comes in a form that the world thinks is defeat. This is the wisdom of heaven that is foolishness to the world... and they have not understood it.
They are like the rich young ruler. When confronted with the truth, when their hearts are exposed, they turn away in disappointment. This message of New Testament Christianity is not one they want to hear.
Filled with pride, their hubris will not allow them to say their works, their lands and money, the things they have laboured for and poured their lives into... are but dust and dung. They don't matter.
And it would be better to let them be stolen by gangs of thieves (wearing badges or not) than to use violence, let alone use violence in the name of righteousness and thus commit blasphemy.
The New Testament has no concern (or time) for the modern Christian Right's focus on rights, guns, property, wealth and all the things that go with protecting it. Consider the latter point. How much of the struggle is really about securing wealth? How much ink is spilled in developing corrupt and false theologies that justify its accumulation and protection? They whisper lies to themselves over and over again about stewardship, legacies, aiding the Church etc...
Read the New Testament again. You've misunderstood.
Money is nothing. It's not important. It's not even something we're supposed to give much time to. A roof, clothes and food are all we need and all that we should want. If there's extra, enjoy it, give it away, use it to help others. You can't take it with you. It belongs to the world. It belongs to Caesar and bears his image. We can take it or leave it. It serves a purpose but we must not be enslaved to it. Do not love it.
The idea of building financial empires, gathering lands and investments... it's all a waste and a trap. It's bondage as we then obsess over these things and dream up ways to protect what we have. The world whispers endless lies about money and how we should think about it. The Church and a myriad of false financial 'worldview' teachers promote not what Scripture teaches, but the values and attitudes of the world.
This leads to the following point.
3. There is a great deal of confusion with regard to the state, the police, the violence they represent and how we are to think of these things.
Paul identifies the state as that which bears the sword. That's what the state is. It's a sword. Whether we base its legitimacy on the vote of a Senate, the choice of Praetorians, the consent of the governed, noble blood or some other bureaucratic procedure is largely irrelevant.
Always a pilgrim-remnant the Church doesn't play a part in selecting who is in control. Providence takes care of that and practically speaking it may prove boon or bane. We're not told, nor are we to worry excessively about such questions. We're positioned in a time and place and called to bear witness in that setting. The state will generally speaking, leave well-behaved people alone and may even reward them. So be it. That doesn't mean that it's holy or that 'the good' it represents is somehow related to the Redemptive Spirit-applied Covenant. Its 'ministry' is that of Rome in Romans 13 and Assyria and Persia as mentioned in Isaiah.
The state wields the sword to suppress evil. Will fallen man twist and distort what is good and evil? You can count on it. Will fallen man nevertheless in most situations still retain some rudimentary concept of right and wrong? Yes, though at times it can pretty bleak. And yet as bleak as our culture is, it only requires a little reflection to understand that despite all the embrace of evil there's still a basic sense of right and wrong that everyone agrees on. We may not all agree on the extent of what adultery, murder, theft and lying are, but despite that there are still basic concepts that even most lost people seem to grasp. They will find ways to justify their adultery, murder, theft and lying but the very fact that they wrestle with how to justify these issues and behaviours indicates they still possess something of the basic premise, the moral foundation that makes these questions pertinent.
The state is necessary to keep violence and chaos at bay. That said the state sows plenty of it and the more wicked states have a lot of blood on their hands. Rome was such a state and yet at the same time Rome provided a secure matrix for the growth of Christianity. The Apostles were not going to praise Rome, serve Rome or anything of the sort. And yet Rome, even Bestial Rome was better than anarchy. Unlike many Christians of modern Libertarian inclination, the Apostles had a pretty pessimistic understanding of human nature and what can only be described as a robust doctrine of sin. Sinful and evil government was still better than no government at all. One need only look to Libya, Congo or parts of Syria and Iraq to understand this.
The Wild West of America, so idealised by many was barbaric and brutal and has been grossly romanticised. Of course when the Christian ethic has been perverted and gun-toting swagger and violence are glorified... then I suppose the Wild West can be transformed into a land of freedom of opportunity, a means to live out Christian worldview.
Government, even wicked government is better than nothing. It can pretend to wield its power through mythic majesty, the power of ideas or by forging a social consensus. It doesn't matter. We obey the laws because we understand its purpose and we submit to Providential governance. As pilgrims, it doesn't really matter all that much anyway.
We hold forth a Romans 12 ethic, one of transformation, mercy and faith in God. We know that the Judgment is coming and we live accordingly. We would rather bear witness of God's love and mercy than ever dream of violent retribution... let alone calling on the state to give us justice. What a mockery! The very notion is absurd. But of course when Christians confuse the state with the Covenant-Kingdom such notions seem likely and attractive.
The state and its arm of violent enforcement, the military and police are necessary evils and yet these are not institutions we as Christians should have anything to do with. That's 'them' as Paul so clearly identifies in Romans. We are called to a different calling. Our vocation or calling is to be Christians, to be heavenly citizens in the midst of a dark and demonic world. When we abandon our calling and sanctify the world (ironically through a false doctrine called Vocation) we are in danger of corrupting Christ's Kingdom and are in the process of abandoning it.
The state is violence. It's necessary but to live as Christians every hour and every day of the week we cannot be part of what the state does. As I've stated many times it is the supreme irony that the very people who compromise this point through the false theologies of Vocation and Dominion accuse people like me of being Separatists, of being Sunday-only Christians.
It is they who live as Christians on Sunday and yet on Monday morning put on the tokens of the world, sometimes literally badge and gun, and then live by a different ethic and for a different cause. Their theology allows them to literally put on a mask, to become hypocrites as they serve the idol and yet profess to retain their ethical integrity as individuals.
It's a lie straight from the pit.
4. Finally the Alabama PCA demonstrates that it shares in the almost universal confusion regarding the Church as an institution.
By institution I largely refer to a bureaucracy wed to property, legal standing, bank accounts, offices, titles, accreditation, security and respectability, an organisation invested in the society, part of it, flourishing or flagging, waxing and waning along with the culture and the social order.
The bureaucracy has a pedigree as well. It's part of a tradition wed to the social narrative.
When this sort of thinking is applied to the New Testament Church it creates a brilliant counterfeit, something that looks like the Church, appears to be a plausible outgrowth of it and yet at every point undermines its actual essence and definition.
The Church in the New Testament is a body of believers (and their children) that is called out of the world. They are from every tribe and nation. They are a new tribe as it were, a kingdom of priests. Their allegiance is to no nation. And yet we do not seek to create a geographical or tangible nation in which men will be able to visit. The kingdom is not defined as buildings, campuses, a political boundary, halls of government or courts of law. It's not represented by a distinctive architecture, a mode of dress, diet or some other tangible form.
Spirit-wrought the Kingdom is something that's only accessible to those who live in the Spirit. Its only physical tokens are the water, bread and wine set apart for holy meetings. The said elements revert to common use afterward. Being part of the Church has nothing to do with institutional thinking. Those who engage in such projects do little but deceive themselves. Prestige, pride and honours are in the end all about the same old power and money that the rest of the lost world chases after.
The Church can certainly educate its people but our concerns to this end are not those of the world. Yes, we have to make a living but perhaps that question and its very nature need to be reconsidered. Institutional trappings are not required and the idea that we as Christians require armed men, certified by the state to wield violence in the name of Babylon's laws... is an abomination, a true apostasy. It is the capstone on an edifice to Baal-worship and Babel-confusion.
They're building miniature Tower's of Babel in Alabama. They think it's okay because they've slapped a cross on top of it and it's guarded by America's finest.

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