I ran across a fascinating image today. It’s a picture of a wall-mounted gun cabinet disguised to look just like a rugged wooden cross, advertised as a great way to share your faith while simultaneously protecting yourself with those firearms. (If you want one, the folks at <protectyourshelves.com> make it. I’m not linking it here to avoid driving traffic to their website, but you can figure it out.)
Let’s start by saying that I support the 2nd Amendment rights in our Constitution. If you want to own guns, fine, as long as you know how to use them safely and legally. While it has some downsides, and while I think we Americans tend to worship personal firearms to our detriment, I still do think that overall our society is better off with the 2nd Amendment.
But this juxtaposition of faith and firearms really got me thinking about where we truly place our faith.
I recently read the book “Jesus and John Wayne.” To say the least, it’s a highly controversial book, and has certainly angered a lot of evangelicals, at the same time as it’s validated the concerns of many others. One thing that the book points out is the deeply militarized nature of American faith practices. I think there are both good and bad sides to the book, but if nothing else, it was deeply educational – as I’d expect for being written by a trained historian.
At any rate, one of the reviews of the book included this sentence: “If they take our guns, we won’t be able to worship God.“
That’s an intriguing viewpoint. I could spend some time discussing the extremism language which has fully infused American politics, but I’d just be repeating what I wrote in The Language of Division, so I just refer you back to that post instead.
But I don’t think the alarmist nature of that “if they take our guns” statement is really relevant to my thoughts at the moment.
Instead, I’d like to focus here on three things: where we Christians place our trust; our expectations regarding the advancing of the Kingdom of Heaven; and the meaning of witnessing.
It’s a Control Issue
First is the idea that we somehow have control over our fate or our future. It seems like there’s a “Christianity on my own terms” thing going on in the American church’s psyche. Perhaps it comes from our fiercely independent and self-deterministic streak as Americans, which I think was really baked into our national culture when it started as a separatist fight for independence, and all the resulting language in our founding documents and forefathers’ writings. Ultimately, I think we Americans don’t want anyone else to decide our fate. So (as the thinking here seems to go) if we don’t have guns, we can’t control the world around us, and if we can’t control our world, we can’t be free to worship God as we wish… which somehow gets conflated with “we can’t worship God.”
It’s an Expectations Issue
Second is the idea of our expectations. It strikes me that “We won’t be able to worship God…” usually is shorthand for “…as conveniently as we want to.” I’ve often said that we Americans have a McDonald’s Christianity: we want fast and convenient and inexpensive religion. Anything that requires deep sacrifice is highly distasteful. Now, that’s not surprising, and I sure don’t like pain or sacrifice either, but at the same time, it doesn’t look to me a lot like what I read in the Bible about the sacrifices and persecution of most of the believers. And we’re told of Jesus in Hebrews 5:8 that “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” And in John 15:20, Jesus told His followers “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you as well.” And in 2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes “Indeed, all who want to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” So I wonder why we expect to live a pain-free life.
In fact, it’s particularly striking to me how we American Christians routinely celebrate those persecuted Christians in communist and Islamic nations for their faith and determination, and praise their dramatic faith, and even say that their faith is stronger than most because of the struggles they must endure… but then we don’t want any part of the same struggle in our own lives. I guess we’re content to not have such a dramatic faith, refined through what we suffer.
It’s a Witnessing Issue
One other thing seems worth noting. I’ve heard the argument that our ability to share the Gospel depends on our freedom to talk about God and worship as we wish. On the surface, that makes sense. But maybe it’s not the whole picture. Maybe part of the problem is that we see “sharing the Gospel” as a verbal witnessing or literature-passing or Sunday services or witty saying on the church marquee thing… instead of seeing sharing the Gospel as a “how I live my life steadfast and faithful in the face of opposition” thing, which I think is much more the example that Jesus and the early church set for us.
Perhaps we’re too comfortable to be able to see this struggle clearly. Truly and accurately following Jesus and developing into a living representative of our Heavenly Father is going to inherently be counter-cultural, opposing the “kosmos” kingdom of this world designed and run by the devil. There’s no way to live so deeply opposed to the kosmos without paying a price. Revelations teaches us that the beast, this evil kosmos kingdom of the world, will directly oppose the saints, and even conquer them for a season. In fact, the persecution will be so severe that Jesus said in Matthew 24:22 that “…if those days had not been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.“
What Sets Us Apart
And I really believe that the very process of living out our faith in spite of that persecution – both human and demonic – is the exact thing that shares the Gospel of the Kingdom. It is, in a real sense, a witnessing. It’s not about a gospel of salvation, either salvation from hell or salvation from pain and suffering in this life. Instead, just as we wonder in amazement at the faith of those folks in some hellish countries across the oceans, others will see our lives standing in confident opposition to our foes – even resisting to the point of death if necessary – and THAT will be sharing the Gospel in a totally undeniable way. It’s the very thing that will make men ask “tell me the reason for this hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15) and actually care about the answer, because they’ll also be desperate for that same hope.
So I won’t be buying that cross-shaped hidden gun cabinet for my wall, and I won’t be trusting in any human weapons to protect my rights or abilities to witness. Because at some very real level, I think that defending myself that way is a far less trustworthy way of protecting my ability to worship in a way that shares the Gospel and brings life to the lost, than what the Bible teaches of living a quiet life at peace with men, witnessing and worshiping by serving God and standing firm in the midst of whatever He allows to come my way.
Thanks for joining me on this journey. We’ll talk again soon.