In my second year of college, we had a chapel speaker who fulminated against the students and faculty. He criticized the college for how modern we were and how we had forsaken the humble way that our Christian forefathers had served God. His favorite expression was “Let Us Return to the Apostolic Times!” After the chapel, there was a Q & A session. One of the professors asked the guest speaker how he came to the school from Chicago. His answer was that he drove the 30 miles. The professor reminded him that all the apostles walked wherever they went. He also asked him where he bought his shoes and remarked that sandals were the apostles’ typical footwear. (In some Slavic languages, sandals are called “apostolke,” to reference the shoes of the apostles.) By this time the students were laughing because our speaker had experienced a revelation—it is hard to stay within the confines of apostolic times, even though some people such as the Amish and the Mennonites still try to do it today.

It seems the concept of returning to the apostles that I encountered at Wheaton College was prevalent around that time. When I visited my parents’ church later that year, their pastor (whom I loved and greatly admired) preached a sermon about wanting to go to the apostolic churches.  Since I had a good relationship with him and since I was taught that the future belongs to those who ask questions, I asked him which church he wanted us to return to. I gave him some suggestions, such as the church in Jerusalem that had separation issues between the Jews and Gentiles, the Corinthian Church that had all sorts of sexual problems, or the Philippian Church which had disagreements among the women. He started to smile because he knew that there was no such thing as a perfect church. He, like all of us, had romanticized the churches of the past, but they had problems just like modern churches do.

I find that the people who defend the National Rifle Association (NRA) are like the people who are asking us to go back to apostolic times. The right to bear arms has been established in a constitutional amendment, and I have no problem with it. But I do have a problem when we take a concept from the past and transfer it to today.

Now I have to confess that I come from a family that has participated in many wars in Europe. The Stefans and the Ancas (my father’s maternal family) lost sons in World War I, had sons who fought in World War II, and had sons who were a part of the UN peacekeeping unit in the Suez Canal. I was here in the United States during the Vietnam War, but my draft number was above 300. While I was never called to serve, other young men from our church in Detroit were drafted. I have four children who are married or in a long-term relationship, and only one does not have guns or hunting equipment in their house. Some of my daughters also have friends who are avid bow hunters.

As I reflected on the NRA and its place in American culture, I looked at some homicide statistics. They show that Baltimore had the highest rate in 2018 with 50 murders per 100,000 residents. What was even more frightening was that the ten cities with the highest rates of homicide in the world were all in the United States. The leading city in Europe is London where the homicide rate is 2 people per 100,000.

I think that it behooves the NRA and all of us who live here in the United States to figure out what is happening to us. I do not think that it has a lot to do with us being armed in case the government turns against us or needing to defend ourselves against one another.  It has to do with the ability to purchase all these powerful weapons that are nothing like the muskets they used in the time of Washington. His gun took two minutes to fire one shot, while we have long range weapons that allow people to shoot more than 200 times per minute.

I am also aware that in countries such as Switzerland, every person is required to do military training and they have weapons in their homes. Israeli men and women are both required to serve as in the Israeli Defense Forces, and they know how to handle many types of weapons. There are heavily armed soldiers out in public every day, but they do not have mass shootings like we do in the United States.

When I was working as a pastor, I went to a couple seminars about keeping our churches safe. I felt comfortable with all sorts of security doors and training, and I even felt comfortable knowing that, on occasion, members of our church who worked in law enforcement were armed. But I felt uneasy over the suggestion that churches should hire police officers whose weapons would be visible as the worshippers come to church. Who were we trusting for our protection and safety? There is a Latin dictum that says if you want to have peace, you have to prepare for the war. They believed that military preparation kept the enemy or intruder away, not trust in the Lord. The Psalmist tells us that some trust in their armies and some trust in their horses, but we trust in the Lord. Christians must act differently if we truly believe that God cares for us and protect us.

While our modern weapons may be vastly more powerful than in the 18th century and our churches may look and sound different than the apostolic churches did, some things do not change. God is still present and still watching over us, in our imperfect churches and without guns in our sanctuaries. God is not only the God of the past, but he is also the God of the present and of the future. He promised that he will build the church and it is this complete church that he will present to God the Father in her perfection, purity, and glory.

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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...