Thou Shalt Not Kill?

What is a Christian response to armed violence? Now that is a charged question for you! As the nation continues to divide itself over various moral issues, inevitably the question comes forward: How should a Christian respond? Normally these sort of ethical discussions are reserved for coffeeshops and pubs, Sunday school classrooms, and even pulpits for those ministers daring enough to talk about current events. However this past Sunday, the discussion became tangible for one church in Texas.

To the great horror of Christians across the nation, there was an active shooter situation at West Freeway Church of Christ. Three people lost their lives that day, and thankfully subsequent violence was stopped by Jack Wilson, a parishioner who was able to end the violence with one round. Many of you have likely already heard of this story, and are keenly aware of it. Various voices have come up to utilize this tragedy in their political discussions concerning gun control, the second amendment, and people’s inalienable right to defend themselves.

I am not here to argue politics. Instead, what I would like to provide is, what I believe to be, a concise answer to that initial question: What is a Christian response to armed violence?

Any question of Christianity and behavior must inevitably find itself in the Ten Commandments. The sixth commandment answers this question, “Thou shalt not kill.” (Exodus 20:13 KJV) That seems to settle the matter altogether quickly. However the people to whom God delivered these words were regularly commanded to kill at God’s command. In addition, we find subsequent laws throughout the Old Testament that demand capital punishment. If all murder is inherently sinful, does that make God an accomplice to sin? Or is God indifferent about sin? Of course not. God is holy, just, wise, and good.

The older translation choice leaves much to be desired. Instead, the modern translation of “You shall not murder” helps to clarify the meaning. The Hebrew word used for “murder” is not the same as that which is used for “kill.” In other words, what God forbids in the sixth commandment is the unlawful intentional taking of a life. In other words, the sixth commandment is not a rejection of all killing indiscriminately. Instead it is a call to value and preserve life by all lawful means.

In the Westminster Larger Catechism, a teaching tool written in 1647, we find an exposition of the sixth commandment. There we read, “The duties required in the sixth commandment are … lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others…” (Q. 135). How are we expected to accomplish that? The catechism explains that it is by “avoiding all occasions … which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; [but also] by just defense thereof against violence…” (Q. 135).

In other words, we honor God’s law in the sixth commandment when we actively put ourselves in harm’s way in order to protect others and halt “the unjust taking” of life. The Westminster shorter catechism says it far better, “The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.” (Q. 68).

As Christians, we are commanded to treat life as sacred. We are commanded to guard the lives of those committed to our charge, both the pre-born, and the post-born. We are to use the lawful means provided unto us to accomplish this task. We are not to be indifferent in the face of evil. We are not to sit idly by. In effect, this course of action admits that evil does exist in the world, and as Christian citizens, we have the duty of guarding life as we are best able.

In this tragedy which occurred at West Freeway Church of Christ, evil was halted by means of a Christian man fulfilling the duty that was required of him. He was willing to guard Christ’s flock, and put down a man committed to breaking the sixth commandment. For this reason alone, the congregation was spared from subsequent violence. I believe this man, Jack Wilson, most honored the sixth commandment in those moments when he saved their lives.

So we return to the original question, “What is a Christian response to armed violence?” It is not apathy. It is certainly not indifference. Cowardice has no room. Fear cannot be present. In fact, what we are called to is provided by God Himself yet again. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 ESV).

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