Christians & Gun Control: What If…

Preston Sprinkle —  June 24, 2013 — 11 Comments

We have the right to own guns. It’s right there in the constitution. As citizens of the United States of America, we have the right to bear arms. Aside from any moral issues with owning a gun (is it a sin to keep a loaded .45 under your 4 year old’s bed?),gun control 2 we have a legal right to hang that shotgun over the mantle.

As Christians, we also have a duty to submit to the government. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” writes Paul. “For there is no authority except from God” (Rom 13:1). And Peter agrees: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution” (1 Pet 2:13).

Notice that neither Peter nor Paul put any qualifications on these commands. We are to submit to the government. Obey its laws, pay its taxes. And Peter and Paul were writing when Caesar Nero was on his throne! (I’ll let you Google around for a character study.) Christians aren’t just to obey good governments (are there any?) or reasonable governments. We are to obey our governing authorities because such undiluted submission looks past our human authorities to the One who established them in the first place. Submission to Rome, or the U.S., is ultimately submission to God.

So what should Christians do if Congress—not that this would ever happen—passed a law that forbids the ownership of guns? Not Uzis and semi-autos. All guns. Rifles, handguns, yes—even your granddaddy’s shotgun hanging over the mantle.

If such a law violates the law of Christ, then we disobey the human law. “We must obey God rather than men,” pronounced the apostles (Acts 5:29). Although the passages above (Rom 13; 1 Pet 2) say that we are to submit to the government, there’s another underlying New Scriptural ethic that tells Christians to disobey the government if the government tells you to do something that isn’t biblical. The book of Daniel is a vivid case in point.

But owning a gun is not a biblical mandate. It’s a legal right that we have as citizens of the U.S. But if this right is taken away by the government, then what should the church do?

Biblically, we turn in our guns. Gladly. Willingly. We should be first in line. If Romans 13 means what it says, then the church should empty its gun cases gun-control 1and “be subject to the governing authorities” since “there is no authority except from God” (Rom 13:1). Eagerly. Joyfully. With hearts greedy for obedience, we turn in our guns because submission to our—sometimes unreasonable and oftentimes quite sinful—governments is only a small picture of our glad, eager, joyous submission to our Creator. Undiluted. Unconditional. Unless we are forced to sin, and since not owning a gun is not a sin—we turn in our guns.

Why do I embark on this fictitious (though…we’ll see) scenario? To make the point, a point that many first century Christians felt in other ways, that allegiance to Christ demands zealous obedience to the government even when, or especially when, the government does something that offends our “rights.”

Our cherished “rights” are not ultimate. God is ultimate, and we are enslaved to His laws, which include submission to a sometimes-unjust government.

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Preston Sprinkle

Preston Sprinkle

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I'm married to a beautiful wife and we have four kids (3 girls and a boy). I've been teaching college level Bible and Theology classes for a few years now (since 2007), and enjoy hanging out with my family, running, surfing, and life in SoCal. Before I became a teacher, I was in school. Lots and lots of school. I did a B.A. and M.Div here in SoCal, and then did a Ph.D. in Scotland in NT studies. Before coming to EBC, I taught at Nottingham University for a semester, and Cedarville University for a couple of years. Along with surfing, I also love to research and write, and I've written a few things on Paul, Early Judaism, and Hell.
  • Alexander Trochez

    Preston,

    I am really enjoying your posts that readdress much thinking in American Christianity. From the non-violence series, this post and others I am truly gelling with your theological trajectory. A few years ago I read “The Cost of Discipleship” by Bonhoeffer and have gone through quite a paradigm shift as I have tried to read the Bible with new and open eyes (and heart). Following Jesus: self-denial and taking up the cross is my focus right now. A cruciform life I guess. I have much to learn. Thanks for your teaching.

    Have you read Moltmann’s “The Crucified God”….thoughts?

    A friend of mine, Doug Jones, just got published at Cascade Books. I think you would enjoy his book: “Dismissing Jesus: How We Evade the Way of the Cross”

    http://www.amazon.com/Dismissing-Jesus-How-Evade-Cross/dp/1620325357/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373327775&sr=8-1&keywords=dismissing+jesus

    • Preston

      Hey Alex, good to hear from you again! Embarrassingly enough, I haven’t read Moltmann’s book, though it’s been on my reading list for years! I’ve enjoyed Bauckham’s book, “God Crucified,” which obviously draws on Moltmann quite a bit.

      Thanks for dropping in. And thanks for the tip about your friend’s book! Looks very interesting.

  • Don

    Thank u for ur point. Act 5; 29, right? If we believe the bible is right then there will be a time when Christian are being killed in America not just every where else. Then how am I by turning in guns obeying God by not being able to defend my kids? How will you defend ur love ones? Its not going to be the gov that stops them they arm the ones killing OUR brothers and sisters. I do not think this fits in to the scriptures you read. But thank you for sharing your opinion.

  • Bryan

    Preston,

    Thank you for addressing an issue I have been trying to think through.

    While I certainly agree with the underlying principles of your argument, I’m still not convinced that your application is accurate as it pertains to your American audience.

    It may be an oversimplification or a misunderstanding of the American government to liken the authority of its currently elected policy makers to that of a Caesar. The current legislature is not autonomous, but, to the contrary, is constrained by those documents upon which it was founded. The pertinent document in this case would be the Bill of Rights which, containing the 2nd amendment, permits an American citizen to bear arms and restricts the government (past, present and future) from infringing upon that right.

    This leads me to think that highest “governing authority” is not as much the present legislature as it is the documents by which they are bound – those guidelines put in place by the founders and protected by the American people.

    If I apply this to your fiction, then I would probably not, “…turn in [my] guns. Gladly. Willingly.” but would instead honor the higher authority.

    Would you consider doing a post on “Christian behavior in light of conflicting authorities?” 🙂

    -Bryan

  • John Bacon

    Dr. Sprinkle,

    I understand this to be your argument: if the government outlaws and confiscates guns, Christians should comply, because gun rights are nowhere to be found in Scripture, although they may be justified legally.

    As I was evaluating this, it occurred to me that I cannot think of one passage of Scripture that outlines rights to owning a Bible. What if the government confiscates Bibles?

    I hope that Christians consider having a copy of Scripture infinitely more valuable than owning a gun, but I think that the comparison does suggest that perhaps our rights stem from our responsibilities. If God gives me children, I am responsible to teach them His Word. If I am charged as a parent to be a strong father and responsible neighbor (and if I am right to believe that this involves having responsible firepower and using it reluctantly on behalf of others in danger), would not be an abdication of responsibility to forfeit that right?

    Romans 13 does demand much more submission than my sinful inclinations want to give, but I do think that there is a balance between responsibilities and rights that should be considered more. I would like to hear your thoughts.

    I appreciate your blogs, scholarship, and example.

    • Preston

      John, your humble demeanor and astute pushback is like a breath of fresh air! I hesitating posting this blog for fear that it would foster unChristian dialogue. You broke the stereotype! Thank you.

      You raise a good point. Let me give two responses:

      First, I would put owning a Bible under the Acts 5:29 umbrella, that we should obey God rather than man. You may be right that there’s no single verse that commands Christians to own Bibles, and few Christians actually owned Bibles (viz. Old Testaments) in the first century. However, Christianity is inseparable from Scripture. Taking Bibles away from churches is like gutted a fish of its innards. So I don’t think the analogy works very well, as you seem to recognize.

      Second, I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “our rights stem from our responsibilities.” Do you mean that we have a responsibility to own Bibles in the same way that we have to responsibility to protect? If so, I would question that second part. Or at least, I would question the Scriptural basis that we have the responsibility to violently protect the innocent. But that’s a whole other issue!

      Again, thanks for solid question! I’ll need to chew on this a bit more.

    • John,

      I gave a lengthy response to your question–and it’s a very good question! Unfortunately, I think it may be lost. Before I rewrite it, let me see if I can find it somewhere.

      In short, 1) I don’t think owning a gun and owning a Bible are close enough to make a helpful comparison. I would put owning a Bible under an Acts 5:29 umbrella. And 2) I don’t believe that the Bible would advocate using a gun to defend the innocent. But that’s a whole other issue!

  • roberth

    But the u.s. constitution is the supreme law of the land. if congress were to pass such a law it would be void and of no effect.

    • Preston

      Perhaps, but that would be like Paul qualifying his statements in Romans 13 with an appeal to Rome’s pristine laws as a republic.

      • Devan Safer

        Preston with all due respect, Romans 13 applies to all laws and all governments and in our constitution it says we not only have the right to bear arms, but the duty to defend our rights for the good of this country. Biblically, an authority has a certain amount of power. I am called to submit to authority. Not someone who goes outside that authority. Romans 13 did not make an exception for laws that benefit us or give us authority. I challenge you to read your constitution and the declaration of independence and ask how those verses apply here because it’s not that simple with our laws. And it’s not man laws vs God’s laws. In this case it’s applying God’s laws to the laws of the land. I challenge you to watch Monumental by Kirk Cameron and understand our brothers and sisters in Christ founded this country. I will submit to biblical and legal authority as the bible prescribes. But I think it’s a dangerous misnomer to just be so casual with the freedoms people died for us to have. In this country the Govt authorities must submit to us bc it applies to all authorities and in this country we have legal authority. I appreciate your intention to speak biblically, but I ask you to study how that applies here. You know the Nazis quoted Romans 13 when they wanted the Lutherans to let Hitler kill everybody, right?

  • Thank you for this, Preston.