Self-Defense and the Early Church

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I've always been somewhat confused on this question. On the one hand, the WLC says "The duties required in the sixth commandment are...to preserve the life of ourselves and others... by just defense thereof against violence" and that "The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are "the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life", yet when I read the New Testament, I do not see the apostles ever using self defense against their persecutors. Rather, they accept violence against themselves and even death, which seems to go against the command not to neglect the lawful means of preservation of life by resisting with self defense.

I have heard it said that we must accept persecution for our faith, but besides also seeming to against the WLC, it raises a few questions in my mind. To use 2 concrete scenarios here, if a government is persecuting Christians and sends troops into someone's home to kill them, does a father then no longer have the right to protect his children because he is being persecuted specifically for his faith? Or if the Apostle Paul is attacked by Nero's minions, does he then have no right to defend himself, yet he does against random thieves?

Would appreciate any thoughts here. Did any of the early church fathers speak to the issue of self defense in persecution? How did the Reformers think about it?
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Two different issues at play:
1) Self-defense in the sense of hoodlums attacking you is warranted. I don't know of any early church writings for or against on that point.
2) As a general rule, the fathers would have frowned on self-defense against govt agents carrying out the laws.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Two different issues at play:
1) Self-defense in the sense of hoodlums attacking you is warranted. I don't know of any early church writings for or against on that point.
2) As a general rule, the fathers would have frowned on self-defense against govt agents carrying out the laws.
Regarding 2, would they then reply "yes, a father does not have that right" to scenario 1?

Regardless, I am definitely more interested in a biblical answer here; I am just wondering whether the fathers or the Reformers reached it. I certainly cannot see how such an answer would not be contrary to the principle behind 1 Timothy 5:8. It seems to me a father always has the duty to protect his children even if he must use physical violence against the state.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Regarding 2, would they then reply "yes, a father does not have that right" to scenario 1?

Regardless, I am definitely more interested in a biblical answer here; I am just wondering whether the fathers or the Reformers reached it. I certainly cannot see how such an answer would not be contrary to the principle behind 1 Timothy 5:8. It seems to me a father always has the duty to protect his children even if he must use physical violence against the state.

I don't know if they would have couched it in terms of "right." Several more things to consider:
1) Most of the early church had a tendency to seek out martyrdom.
2) The average commoner knew he would have fared poorly against trained soldiers. Even if he believed he had the right, he would lose. He knew it, too.
2*) If thugs came into the house, that's a different story. Of course, we really don't have much evidence of that scenario.
 

RaderSDG00

Puritan Board Freshman
I've always been somewhat confused on this question. On the one hand, the WLC says "The duties required in the sixth commandment are...to preserve the life of ourselves and others... by just defense thereof against violence" and that "The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are "the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life", yet when I read the New Testament, I do not see the apostles ever using self defense against their persecutors. Rather, they accept violence against themselves and even death, which seems to go against the command not to neglect the lawful means of preservation of life by resisting with self defense.

I have heard it said that we must accept persecution for our faith, but besides also seeming to against the WLC, it raises a few questions in my mind. To use 2 concrete scenarios here, if a government is persecuting Christians and sends troops into someone's home to kill them, does a father then no longer have the right to protect his children because he is being persecuted specifically for his faith? Or if the Apostle Paul is attacked by Nero's minions, does he then have no right to defend himself, yet he does against random thieves?

Would appreciate any thoughts here. Did any of the early church fathers speak to the issue of self defense in persecution? How did the Reformers think about it?
Good question. I have been wondering about this same thing too recently. When exactly is self-defense permitted and when is it not?
 

SavedSinner

Puritan Board Freshman
These questions do not sound like they are coming from Americans but all posts are from the US with finally the correct question from Texas. I could understand Asians, Africans and Europeans asking these questions. This just shows again that Americans in the 21st century are very different from Americans up through the 20th century. No wonder the church is so weak.
 

SavedSinner

Puritan Board Freshman
I see your church, Brandon, is just a couple of miles down the road from me. Looks like an independent church (not presbyterian) that teaches the "rapture", so I guess it is dispensationalist?
 

RaderSDG00

Puritan Board Freshman
These questions do not sound like they are coming from Americans but all posts are from the US with finally the correct question from Texas. I could understand Asians, Africans and Europeans asking these questions. This just shows again that Americans in the 21st century are very different from Americans up through the 20th century. No wonder the church is so weak.
huh? That didn't really help..
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I see your church, Brandon, is just a couple of miles down the road from me. Looks like an independent church (not presbyterian) that teaches the "rapture", so I guess it is dispensationalist?
I've been going through the membership process at a 1689 church (which is almost complete!) but just haven't changed my banner yet.

Regardless, can we focus on answering the question at hand? I am trying very hard to hard understand what the correct thing to do in these scenarios are. If grace does not destroy nature, it would seem that a father must always defend his family using violent force (and has a duty to keep himself alive using the provided means), yet when I go to the New Testament (or even the early church such as Polycarp), I do not see this at all; rather, I see many willingly going to death. I find this hard to square with the WLC's insistence upon the duty of self-defense and am seeking a solution.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
I've been going through the membership process at a 1689 church (which is almost complete!) but just haven't changed my banner yet.

Regardless, can we focus on answering the question at hand? I am trying very hard to hard understand what the correct thing to do in these scenarios are. If grace does not destroy nature, it would seem that a father must always defend his family using violent force (and has a duty to keep himself alive using the provided means), yet when I go to the New Testament (or even the early church such as Polycarp), I do not see this at all; rather, I see many willingly going to death. I find this hard to square with the WLC's insistence upon the duty of self-defense and am seeking a solution.

The historic Christian and natural law position said one can use self-defense in all but the most extreme cases. The classic example is state-sponsored persecution. Even then, the only way to use self-defense is by the lesser magistrate.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
The historic Christian and natural law position said one can use self-defense in all but the most extreme cases. The classic example is state-sponsored persecution. Even then, the only way to use self-defense is by the lesser magistrate.
Alright, thanks! So taking that rule, with the 2 scenarios I proposed, self defense cannot be used since it is state-sponsored persecution.

Can you provide a reason for this distinction? On what biblical basis can we say that a father must defend his family from violent attackers –unlesss– such attackers are state-sponsored persecutors?
 

Poimen

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Self-defense is lawful and necessary, especially when it comes to one's family. Personally I would be much more inclined to use force if someone other than myself was being threatened. We do not need a law or statute to defend our loved ones.

Yet not everything lawful is expedient (1 Corinthians 10:23). Even David ran away than directly challenge the Lord's anointed. So it may be possible to act responsibly and protect oneself even from a rogue magistrate but not always wise. Maybe it is better to flee and/or hide. Jesus certainly indicated that (Matthew 10:23). And Psalm 37 calls us to restraint and wait for the Lord to act under a majority of evildoers, as the law promises (Deuteronomy 32:35).

The early church's focus was on the gospel and a peace filled life despite the anger of a world focused on destroying them. To take up arms against Rome as the Jews had would have led to the compromise of the church's mission, if not its very annihilation against overwhelming forces (as Jacob noted). It seems to me that this is very different than a man defending his property and loved ones when the very law of the land upholds his right to do so.
 

Phil D.

Puritan Board Junior
The biblical case for defending oneself and others from common criminal violence is quite clear, as has been outlined in previous PB threads. But I think the Bible also shows forth the general principle that we are not necessarily to resist "official" persecution for our faith, which may well lead to imprisonment and eventual death (Matt. 24:9; Luke 21:16-17; Acts 7:59-60; Heb. 10:33-34: Rev. 2:10).
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
"Someday, when all your civilization and science are likewise swept away, your kind will pray for a man with a sword."

--Conan of Cimmeria, in Robert E. Howard's tale, "Rogues in the House" (1934).
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
The biblical case for defending oneself and others from common criminal violence is quite clear, as has been outlined in previous PB threads. But I think the Bible also shows forth the general principle that we are not necessarily to resist "official" persecution for our faith, which may well lead to imprisonment and eventual death (Matt. 24:9; Luke 21:16-17; Acts 7:59-60; Heb. 10:33-34: Rev. 2:10).
Apart from possibly the stoning of Stephen and Heb. 10:34, the other verses certainly teach the inevitability of persecution, but they do not necessarily teach that one cannot defend oneself in such persecution. Stephen did not defend himself, but we are not necessarily told to do likewise, and it could possibly be argued that Heb. 10:34 means one should accept with joy the outcome of having one's possessions taken away, but this does not mean that one must sit around and let it happen.

I am quite unsure where I would go in order to make the distinction between common invaders (or even common persecutors, think a terrorist who enters a church to shoot it up) and official government persecution, the former of which we are required to use self-defense in and the latter of which we are required not to. I draw a complete blank here and I wonder how the Reformers argued this.
 

Before

Puritan Board Freshman
The biblical case for defending oneself and others from common criminal violence is quite clear, as has been outlined in previous PB threads. But I think the Bible also shows forth the general principle that we are not necessarily to resist "official" persecution for our faith, which may well lead to imprisonment and eventual death (Matt. 24:9; Luke 21:16-17; Acts 7:59-60; Heb. 10:33-34: Rev. 2:10).
I would add a biggie...

John 18:36 (KJV) Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
I would add a biggie...

John 18:36 (KJV) Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
Can you explain how you are applying this verse to this issue?
 

TryingToLearn

Puritan Board Freshman
Let me put the matter more bluntly: a persecuting government sends the police into a man's home in order to execute the family. The police are about to kill the father's kids. Ought the father or ought not the father to use violent, even lethal force, against the police and why? And if he ought not to do so, how does this not run contrary to natural law?
 

Before

Puritan Board Freshman
Let me put the matter more bluntly: a persecuting government sends the police into a man's home in order to execute the family. The police are about to kill the father's kids. Ought the father or ought not the father to use violent, even lethal force, against the police and why? And if he ought not to do so, how does this not run contrary to natural law?
I'm thinking of the verse I quoted (God's standard/not natural law).
What are you going to do? Mow as many down as you can with an Oozie? That would only put off the inevitable intention of the police state.
Put together your own militia? Funded by your own country...have fun with that.

This is the reality we live in...John 18:36 (KJV) Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Let me put the matter more bluntly: a persecuting government sends the police into a man's home in order to execute the family. The police are about to kill the father's kids. Ought the father or ought not the father to use violent, even lethal force, against the police and why? And if he ought not to do so, how does this not run contrary to natural law?

Human instinct would be to resist. Almost certainly you will die (and your kids will probably die, too). It's a tough call. Part of me wants to Braveheart it, but I know that my 30-30 is no match for what the govt will bring.
 

Miss Marple

Puritan Board Junior
If I may venture in here and say yes in my opinion, if godly fathers would resist to the death in this scenario the government would probably quickly stop behaving in this manner.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Junior
I would go out defending my family till the death. If we are all going to die anyway in the situation might as well try and take a few of the tyrant's with me to help the next house they plan on going to. Might make them rethink their evil if they realize there is resistance.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
yet when I go to the New Testament (or even the early church such as Polycarp), I do not see this at all; rather, I see many willingly going to death. I find this hard to square with the WLC's insistence upon the duty of self-defense and am seeking a solution.

I don't think that is really true.

In my study of the early Church, I find that quite a few said openly that they desired martyrdom, and some actually sought to be captured and killed. And others (many others) went to the other extreme and recanted the faith.

In the early centuries of the Church, those who denied their faith in times of persecution were said to have "lapsed." Those who persevered in their faith and refused to recant or to compromise were called "confessors." In other words, they truly held fast the confession of their faith despite imprisonment and torture, sometimes unto death.
This contrast between the "confessors" and the "lapsed" manifested strongly in the first empire-wide persecution against the Church that was launched by the Roman Emperor Decius in AD 250. All citizens of the empire were required to offer a sacrifice to the gods in the presence of a government official. Those who did so were given certificates of compliance. Those who refused could suffer greatly, even to the point of death.
Prior to this, the Church had experienced a generation of relative calm, and many were unprepared for this challenge. Some Christians promptly and voluntarily complied—confessing that "Caesar is Lord" and paying homage to the Roman gods—in order to receive the certificate. Others paid bribes to obtain credentials which falsely indicated they had made the necessary offerings to the Roman gods. Still others denied Christ when threatened or tortured and obtained the necessary document from the government.
The Church has long celebrated its martyrs. This includes those who "loved not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11) and those John saw in his heavenly vision: "the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held" (Revelation 6:9). Jesus himself spoke to the Church at Pergamum of "the days in which Antipas, my faithful martyr… was killed among you" (Revelation 2:13). Tertullian (AD 160-220) spoke of the resilience and tenacity of believers when he declared, "The more often we are mowed down by persecutors, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed."

We are strengthened and inspired by the valor, courage, and grace that enabled countless believers throughout history to hold on to their faith in the midst of horrific pressures and persecution. However, realistically and historically, many Christians did not hold up well under threats. As a pastor, you understand that people are always at different levels of maturity, and while some stand strong, others falter.
If we think that 100% of the early Christians had absolute spiritual resolve and iron-clad convictions, it is very easy to feel disheartened about today's Christians who fail to exhibit the unwavering devotion of the early confessors. We want to see every Christian possessing "faithful unto death" type of consecration and commitment, but during the Decian era, perhaps as many as three-fourths of some congregations "lapsed" when persecution, or the threat of persecution, presented itself.

The Apostle Paul regularly defended himself in court. And once Paul defied the legitimate legal authority.

2 Corinthians 11:32-33​
At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me,
but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands

In the Book of Acts, it seems that the buzzword of Christians, when faced with persecution, was–RUN!

Acts 8:1​
And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the Church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Acts 11:19​
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews.
Acts 13:50​
But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.

It appears that the first martyr, Steven (Acts 6 & 7), was captured by surprise; from then on, he had no chance of escape. So we should not use Steven as an example of someone either desiring or passively submitting to Martyedom.

There's a lot more I could say, but I am out of time. I am a little late for an important meeting with three very important Persons.
 

alexanderjames

Puritan Board Freshman
Without responding specifically to the scenario posed, can we perhaps summarise as mostly seeing the early church;
- fleeing persecution
Or, if this is not an option
- making appeal to the authorities
And if this is not an option
- accepting martyrdom or lesser maltreatment passively?

I really don’t see violence to resist persecution in the examples of the early church. Are there any stories that show this?
 

John Yap

Puritan Board Sophomore
Speculation for the early church but would resistance in certain to die situations lead to widespread persecution where authorities can justify their force due to dangerous resistance?
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Speculation for the early church but would resistance in certain to die situations lead to widespread persecution where authorities can justify their force due to dangerous resistance?

Maybe. It really depends on how much the media today likes you.
 
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