December 29th, 2019, at the West Freeway church of Christ in White Settlement, TX on the West side of Forth Worth, TX Keith Kinnunen (43) disguised himself and entered the church building where he ultimately shot and killed two random church members. Hard to believe that was exactly only 3 short months ago; isn’t it?
In the aftermath of this shooting a great debate sprung up around whether or not the church should have members trained and ready to love the church by “defending” the church from such attacks or loving perpetrators like Keith Kinnunen by not shooting/killing them in “self--defense”. (Rightly or Wrongly) By and large, it was the “defend the church” mentality that won in the court of public popular opinion.
“Stop the Gunman!” was the common consensus. “Love demands it!” (Mark 12:31; Matthew 7:12; I John 3:16-17; etc.) Many churches were praised for stepping up their security efforts to protect the church, her visitors, and any unsaved assembled. Some members who had concealed carry permits were called upon to do so at services while others were called upon to take the class and get the permits so that they could do so. Jack Wilson, the deacon in charge of security at the West Freeway church of Christ that ultimately shot and killed Keith Kinnunen, was mostly hailed as a “hero” by many members of the church, politicians and others of both religious and non-religious persuasions.
A gunman can walk into the building in disguise, hiding his motives and intentions, and never broadcasting his actions until the damage is already done… lives are already maimed and/or changed and/or lost... forever. What a terrifying danger that can be if brethren are not aware or are not vigilant! What a fearful situation that can be if brethren are not prepared and ready to “Stop the threat” - “Stop the Gunman!” We see it as heroic, not because of any lives taken, but because of the lives saved with preparation, vigilance, and action (presumably all wrapped up in the godly motives of wisdom and love).
“Stop the Gunman!” - But who is going to stop the gunman if the gunman is you?
“Why I would never…”, you proclaim in self-defense. Would you? At any given church service there are people of all ages and vulnerabilities to contagious disease. If you are not practicing proper hygiene, then to them, you are the gunman! If you are showing signs of illness and are contagious, you are the gunman! Even if you are asymptomatic (if you are carrying the disease though not showing symptoms yet) you are the gunman! You, if you are sick and/or carrying a contagious disease, you are a clear and present danger to both young and old alike (and any who are immuno-compromised). You are like the gunman who (whether intentional or not) can/will do irreparable harm to innocent souls who are assembled together to worship God. (This is not unique to the here and now, but has been the truth since the beginning of the church and applicable universally to all assemblies.)
Maybe by passing on your contagion to a healthy person you just give them a bad headache like hitting them over the head with the gun. Maybe it’s something more serious like shooting them in the leg; oh sure, they’ll survive (after a costly hospital stay and untold pain and misery). Or worse yet, for those who are elderly with underlying health conditions; it could be like putting a gun to their head. Can you imagine? Can you imagine you being the gunman? You being the one that pulls the trigger and ends their life… simply by shaking their hand, or by giving them a hug, or by touching a door handle? For the love of God and His people; if you are sick, stay home.
Who is going to stop the gunman if the gunman is you? It will always be you. There is no one else. It is you. It is your responsibility. If you are sick, stay home. Period. If you are sick, stay home. If you are showing symptoms of illness, stay home. I’m not talking about COVID-19 (although that would certainly be included). I’m talking about every communicable disease. Every contagious illness. Every season. Stay! Home! You are the gunman. You need to stop yourself!
Or perhaps, maybe you are mentally compromised. Maybe the fever or self-pride or self-righteousness has gone to your head and you are sick (or showing symptoms of illness) and you are planning to go to church anyway. (Really there is only one place you should go in such a situation which is the doctor, if you go anywhere at all!) If you aren’t going to the doctor you should stay home. But maybe in your compromised mental state you were planning to go to church anyway; if others tell you to stay home, please understand, they are trying to stop you (the gunman) from shooting up the church! Listen to them. If it’s your wife, listen to her. If it’s your husband, listen to him. If it’s your elders, listen to them. Don’t kill anyone with your pride. Be the hero. Save lives by listening with humility. If you are sick or contagious, stay home.
None of this is to say “Don’t worship”. Absolutely not. This is just saying “Don’t kill other people so you can exercise your freedom to worship”. Yes, worship God! Do it from the safety of your home where you don’t have to endanger the lives of others. If you have come to understand and practice that the only and always way and place to worship God is by an assembling of the “church”, then you have either not read your bible or grossly misunderstood it. I say that neither as flattery or insult, but merely as objective truth. If you are sick, yes, worship God. As you can; sing, pray, study, give, partake, just do it in the safety of your own quarantined place of safety.
Don’t miss the illustration for the trees. Understand what I’m saying and not saying. I’m not saying if someone shows up to church and sneezes to have the church deacon in charge of security shoot them. I’m saying, “You. Stop the gunman if the gunman is you.” Be self-aware. Show humility. Show love. Don’t heedlessly or needlessly endanger the lives of others. Love God (Mark 12:30). Love your neighbor (Mark 12:30). You, stop the gunman.