Christians have been called by God to change the world.
Indeed, Christianity has radically transformed this world for the better. If anyone doubts this to be the case I highly recommend the book How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt. It is also significant how many atheists are beginning to realize the importance of a biblical worldview for the sake of a civilized culture.
For example, atheist Phil Zuckerman says that when he thinks about Christianity, three things come to mind as its “core elements”:
2. Peace or non-violence
He adds that these three principles are the heart of any civil society and notes:
“Christianity has contributed much to civilization in terms of moral progress, and there’s no question that Christians give more today in terms of charity, volunteering, and service [compared to] secular Americans.”
In the words of the most famous atheist of our day, Richard Dawkins writes:
“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”
Historian (and agnostic) Tom Holland says:
“The West has moved on to shape concepts like international law… concepts like HUMAN RIGHTS — ultimately they don’t go back to Greek philosophers, they don’t go back to Roman empirism, they go back to [the Apostle] Paul. His letters along with the four gospels [are] the most influential, most impactful, the most revolutionary writing that have emerged from the ancient world.”
The Catalyst of Christ
Jesus started the fundamental transformation of the world and handed it off to his followers two thousand years ago (Matthew 28:16-20). This torch has been passed down over the centuries and is now in the hands of those who follow Christ today. Thankfully, Jesus made it clear as to exactly HOW we ought to seek to continue making progress toward the way the world ought to be in an objective sense.
Jesus provided many instructions (see His “Sermon on the Mount” to get started), but thankfully, He summed up the entire Law of Christ — how Christians ought to live — in two simple and easy to remember commands in Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39:
1- Love God first.
2- Everybody love everybody (from your neighbors to your enemies).
Jesus even hammered his second command home by offering the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) as an example of how humans ought to go out of our way to make sure an individual of a different “people group” thrives and flourishes (even though these different ethnic people groups were previously hostile to each other).
The apostle Paul echoes the commands of Jesus in Romans 12:18:
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
And the author of Hebrews commands us to COEXIST with everyone in Hebrews 12:14:
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Living according to the Law of Christ (the teachings of the New Testament) brings glory to God. With these teachings in mind, Paul provides additional clarity in 1 Corinthians 10:31:
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
It doesn’t take a New Testament theologian to reach the conclusion that the “core elements of Christianity” (as Phil Zuckerman noted above) are love, peace/non-violence, and forgiveness.
Christians Opposing Christ
Sadly, today many “Christ followers” have chosen to stop following Christ. Make no mistake: they have not converted to atheism or another world religion. No, these “Christians” still affirm the label, but they choose to live in opposition to the the teachings of Jesus and the “core elements of Christianity.”
I completely understand why those who express their commitment to Christ are struggling. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, an African-American man, was murdered (in my opinion) by a white police officer in Powderhorn, a neighborhood south of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody. Racial tensions due to several reports of police brutality over the years were already quite high. This killing was completely unjustified and caught on video. Almost instantly, this video went viral and for a moment the entire nation — all races — seemed to be united in outrage.
This unification, however, was seemingly short-lived. Although virtually the entire nation was ready to peacefully protest side-by-side to demand change, many people took what should have been a “God-honoring protest” and decided to engage in sinful and violent riots. These riots included the destruction of property, looting, theft, bodily harm, and even murder!
These violent riots have not been anything close to the “core elements” of Christianity which have attracted even non-Christians to the cause of Christ.
The problem, however, is that many Christians have bought into the lie that if one is angry enough, indeed, if one possesses enough “built-up” righteous anger, then it is perfectly acceptable to not love your neighbor, to not be a “good Samaritan,” and to ignore the teachings of Jesus as well as the Law of Christ. In fact, many pastors have seemingly turned a blind eye and not used their platform to condemn this sinful violence.
Perhaps this is because violence is sometimes a good thing.
When Is Violence Justified?
This is not always easy, but it seems the best way to understand when a Christian (or anyone for that matter) is justified in resorting to violence is only when violence is the most loving thing to do at the moment. That response might seem oxymoronic, because it might be hard to think of instances in which violence is actually loving. That’s the point — violence should be extremely rare!
Consider this: It seems properly basic that if a man is in a position to defend his wife or children from the attack of a mountain lion, then a loving husband and father would fight the mountain lion. In fact, a good husband and father is willing to kill the mountain lion if need be — even if the man is an animal lover and does not want to kill the wild animal.
Not only is it good to stop the violent attack against a man’s family, but he should also be willing to die in the process of fighting for the safety of his loved ones. Jesus seems to agree: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). If this is the case when it comes to an attack of a wild animal, why would it no longer be acceptable to violently defend your loved ones from the attack of an evil man acting like a wild animal?
Consider the words of theologians J.P. Moreland and Norman Geisler:
“…to permit murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong. To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil. To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable. In brief, not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Any man who refuses to protect his wife and children against a violent intruder fails them morally.”
And if one really is loving their neighbor as Jesus commanded, then one ought to be willing — as a LAST RESORT — to violently defend others from evil as well. It is all about love.
Bonhoeffer, Hitler, and Tiller the Baby Killer
It is key to focus on the words “last resort.” I remember being a student on the Biola campus and discussing these issues. We were in the classroom discussing the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s plan to assassinate Adolf Hitler. His plan ultimately failed and he was murdered by the Nazis; but nevertheless, his assassination attempt seemed noble and the right thing to do.
With recent history in mind, the following question was raised:
If it was noble for a Christian theologian to assassinate Hitler in an attempt to bring an end to the Nazi Holocaust, then why are the vast majority of Christians opposed to violence against Planned Parenthood workers that would lead to an end of the current holocaust of abortion?
For example, Dr. George Tiller was a leading abortionist in America. He gained national attention as the medical director of Women’s Health Care Services, which was one of only three abortion clinics nationwide at the time which provided late termination of pregnancy. On May 31, 2009, Tiller was fatally shot in the head by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder while Tiller was, ironically, attending a church service.
Christians possess a justified belief that abortion is murder, and the abortion industry in America has been responsible for around 60,000,000 murders (compared to Hitler’s six million murders). Then why is it noble to assassinate Hitler, but Tiller’s execution was condemned by Christians?
The answer simple: it was not the last resort! We live in a great nation that allows its citizens to peacefully advocate for change. Change might not always happen as fast as we would like. Nevertheless, Americans enjoy the freedom of speech and can continually advocate for change. In fact, we have seen a change regarding the holocaust of abortion. Many people are beginning to see that the pro-choice movement is on the wrong side of history, science, and logic. The numbers are slowing.
Moreover, President Trump has already appointed two judges to the Supreme Court who are pro-life. If he wins another term, he will likely appoint more pro-life judges which would fundamentally transform America and reduce the murders of little humans.
Bottom line: All peaceful options had not been exhausted regarding Tiller. When it came to Hitler, Bonhoeffer realized violence was the only option remaining. Indeed, he was right. Although he failed in his attempt, America and company finished the job and defeated the Nazis by means of extreme violence. Indeed, it was the most loving option — the only option — available given the extreme circumstances at the time.
This line of thinking also applies to self-defense situations. I have explained this in my article Love Thy Neighbor & Pack Thy Heat.
What About Now?
Are the violent riots in the streets of America justified today? Surely black Americans are justified in their anger. Indeed, all Americans ought to be outraged when a citizen — criminal or not — is slowly choked to death in front of the nation. Yes, anger is justified. Indeed, if you are not outraged by this injustice then you are probably in sin!
This raises the following questions:
Does this evil action by a despicable police officer justify not loving one’s neighbor as themselves? Does this atrocity justify not being a good Samaritan? Does this murder justify breaking other people’s property? Does the murder of George Floyd justify the murder of other random people?
Let’s make this personal. Would your anger against injustice justify your burning down my house? May I burn down your house?
Does it follow that if one does not love you, then you may throw away the teachings of Christ and not love your neighbors?
When considering these rhetorical questions one can and should see just how crazy it is to behave in the manner that Antifa and Black Lives Matter (the organization) exemplify. Indeed, Antifa is anti-Christ. Christians should have nothing to do with groups that promote evil. The ends do not justify the means.
(And for those Christians comparing violent protests to Jesus cleansing the temple, watch this great response by “Whaddo You Meme??”)
With the Law of Christ in mind, it becomes clear that Christ followers (those who actually follow what Jesus said, taught, and exemplified), ought to go to extremes to be peaceful and seek to continually change the world through love. That is not always possible, but then and only then is violence justified.
According to Romans 12:19, vengeance is never justified:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
According to Ephesians 4:26, no matter how righteously angry we are, Christians must avoid sin:
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…
Bottom line: Given the murder of George Floyd and other evils, God-honoring/peaceful protests are completely justified. I stand with peaceful protestors in righteous anger. We demand change! However, violent and sinful riots are still sinful no matter how righteously angry we have become. I oppose the sinful violence just as Christ does.
One more thing…
Any Christian — especially a Christian influencer — who has a platform to speak out against and condemn the sinful violence (not to be confused with the God-honoring peaceful protests), yet fails to do so should be ashamed.
To Christians who actually support this evil — hoping that the ends justify the means — SHAME ON YOU! You have lost the right to speak of “consistent Christianity” ever again.
Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18) and change the world for God’s glory,