I grew up in the Church. It was my home. It was the place where my biological family and spiritual family came together and loved each other well. This church was full of spare aunts, uncles, and grandparents. For the majority of my life, church was a place filled with love where I felt safe. Even as the congregation grew from fifty to one hundred and fifty, we still remained a tight knit community. We knew each other and trusted each other. This was the over all experience of church for me, from birth to eighteen years old. So speaking of church, have you seen the headlines today?
A man in Charleston sits in a Bible study in an African American church for an hour and then murders all but one woman. He lets her live so that she can tell the world what he did. His act of violence was racially motivated. In the hours since the news broke, I have read one article after another about how churches need better security. I even know people who are considering carrying a concealed weapon to church...just in case. My heart hurts. Since when did we start serving a pistol packing Savior? When in all of Jesus' life on earth, do we see Him answer violence with more violence? Is there a verse somewhere that tells us to defend ourselves? Or, did our Christ stand in silence before His accusers?
What happened in Charleston was racially motivated but there are Christians in churches around the world who experience this regularly simply because of their faith. I have yet to read about the persecuted church taking up swords, spears, or guns to defend themselves. They simply go on worshiping. They continue to be a home, a place of love, a family. This is how they bring God's Kingdom to earth. See, they understand the truth. Church was never meant to be a safe place.
Tell me, what is safe about a place that people enter into one way, and exit completely changed? What is safe about a place where we love instead of judge? What is safe about a place where the chains of alcoholism, drug addiction, and pornography are broken? What is safe about a place where the mentally ill sit in the pew right next to the healthy? Where a murderer is just as forgiven and just as loved as the one who isn't a murderer? What is safe about serving a God who says that in order to save our lives we must lose them? Nothing. Nothing is safe about any of this. Lives are forever changed in the church and the enemy of our souls knows it. He will use whatever means of hatred he can to stop it, or scare it into seeking false security.
So what if we did hire security guards and have metal detectors for our churches? What if that was the lesson we learned from Charleston? Would you want to go to a church where their were security guards present? I wouldn't. There is something about that concept that suggests we are trying to keep certain people out for our own good. Here's the problem with that, those certain people are the very people that Christ came for. They are the people who need the church to invite them in and love them. They are the people who need to be set free, who need the friendship, the family, the home that the church has to offer. They are the thief on the cross that Jesus forgave. They are Saul who became Paul. Paul...who once murdered the people of the church!
It's true, we can all start carrying concealed weapons to church under the false assumption that they will provide us with protection or at the very least a way to defend ourselves. Why? What purpose would it really serve? We wouldn't be any safer. We would be in even more danger. When you carry a weapon to defend or protect yourself, you are putting yourself in the position of possibly choosing whether or not someone else dies. Regardless of who that person is or why you may feel the need to make that choice, you will have to live with that weighty decision for the rest of your life. So, why do it? Why find security in guards or a weapon? Isn't our God the same God who shut the mouths of the lions for Daniel when he was in the lion's den? Is He not the same God who parted the Red Sea as the Israelites fled from the Egyptians? Didn't the very God we say we believe is all powerful, convert one of the church's greatest persecutors- Saul into Paul? Is He not then capable of protecting us? And if He chooses not to....
If He chooses not to then we get to go to heaven sooner than we expected and enjoy His presence. We get to leave this tired, scary, sinful, burdensome world sooner than we planned! Those men and women who died in Charleston would not want the church to cower in fear and have that be the lesson we choose to learn from the sacrifice of their lives. They would want us to remember that "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear." I John 4:18. God is love. There is no fear in love. If we say that we love Him, then why would we be afraid? If we say that we trust Him, then why take matters into our own hands?
If we take matters into our own hands then the church is no longer a home where people are welcomed into the loving family of God just as they are. If we take matters into our own hands, we deny the power of our God to transform the lives of others. We will never know how many times a man or woman has sat in our pew with the same intention as the man in Charleston, and not followed through because God changed their heart before the service was over. This is not the time for the church to react with fear. This is the time for the church to rise up in courage with faith that our God is bigger than our fears, bigger than this scary world we live in, and bigger than the hate. It's time for us to remember that we serve the living God. He has already said, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33
When we forget who our God is we will live in fear. When we forget who our God is, we will take matters into our own hands. When we forget who our God is, we will pack pistols instead of stretching out our arms in love. Let's not forget. Our lives depend on it!