Tag Archives: religious freedom

Retreat From The Faith or Contend For It?

Some good friends invited me to attend a conference in Orlando, Florida in September. I agreed and went. I’m glad I did.

The conference was a meeting of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Many if not most of the attendees at the conference were licensed professionals with advanced degrees and real-life experience in helping people.

These counselors believe the science of psychology and psychiatry can be useful in guiding people to healing. They have taken the time and made the effort to acquire advanced skills so they can be effective in assisting those who have experienced traumas in life or who struggle with other personal battles.

But there is more. Note the name of this group: American Association of Christian Counselors. They believe that God’s word is the ultimate measure of truth; and they believe that God’s grace in Christ Jesus is the ultimate healing for humanity. While they value scientific understanding and insights, they measure all conclusions by God’s revealed truth in the Bible.

At the conference, the leaders of these Christian Counselors sounded a note of warning. Hostile forces in the academic and professional world of counseling are threatening to silence the voice of Christianity in psychology, psychiatry, mental health, and related disciplines. How? They are threatening to deny accreditation and certification to anyone with biblical convictions, especially about marriage and human sexuality.

Years ago, I noticed that academic institutions were coercing Christians into renouncing the truth revealed in God’s word. In some instances, they were told to change their beliefs or change their profession. They were denied the opportunity to follow their calling, to counsel people in need. Their degrees and certifications were being held hostage.

Unfortunately, attempts to silence Christianity in counseling are only part of the story. Our culture is changing its mind about religious freedom and freedom of speech in general. Any dissent from the dominant political doctrine is now being painted as hateful, violent, and worthy of being cancelled, that is, silenced.

Jude was a Christian. He was also a half-brother of Jesus. He wrote the short letter in our New Testament which bears his name. His message to his original readers was short and simple: Contend for the faith that was once-for-all entrusted to the saints!

Notice he writes the faith. He is calling on God’s people to do more than defend their personal beliefs, more than a generic ‘faith.’ The Christian faith is revealed in the Old and New Testaments. It is God’s revelation that the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ is his Son and our Savior. For this truth, we contend.

Why must we contend for the faith? Because the faith is under fire. False teachers from inside the church, hostile unbelievers from outside the church, forces that are committed to erasing God from public policy and discourse are active on all sides.

How do we contend for the faith? First, we must learn the faith. How can we contend for the faith if we don’t know what it is? The faith is not a matter of personal opinion, general consensus, or clever fabrication. The faith is a revelation from God recorded in the Bible.

Second, we must live the faith. Christianity is not merely a mindset; it is a lifestyle. Knowing about Jesus is insufficient. The faith tells us that we can know Jesus personally and walk with him daily through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts.

Third, we must proclaim the faith. Jesus has given us a mandate to make disciples of all peoples. Living the faith means sharing the faith. Someone told us about Jesus. Now we must tell others.

Once we know the faith, apply the faith, and share the faith, we will be faced with hostility from the enemies of the faith. These encounters require us to defend the faith. Defense of Christianity must not be surly or harsh, but it must be confident and unwavering. We speak the truth in love.

Jude calls this defense of the faith contending for the faith. Those of us who recoil at conflict may think we can simply remain silent. But each of us will eventually be forced to choose. Christianity is personal but it is not private.

Will we retreat or will we contend for the faith?

May God’s Holy Spirit give us the inspiration and the victory,

Brother Richard

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Thinking about Gay Marriage on Independence Day

The Supreme Court of the United States of America legalized same-sex marriage. Will freedom be denied those of us who believe that same-sex relationships are sinful? What about the spiritual future of our culture? Can we get a word from our Lord about how we should respond?

In 1 Peter 3 we read that “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears on their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those doing evil.” This is a quote from Psalm 34, which was written some 1,000 years earlier. Peter applies an ancient and established truth to current circumstances. The passage of time had not diminished the Bible’s truth.

This is a much-needed affirmation about the Bible and about the God of the Bible. Our circumstances will change, but God’s word and his character do not change. His holiness and righteousness, his love and mercy, they are established and they will never alter.

Leviticus 18 has not changed. Romans 1 has not changed. God’s design for human sexuality, for marriage and for family has not changed. God’s design for marriage is still one man and one woman committed to one another for life, raising their children together and enjoying their grandchildren. And more than that, Christian marriage is still meant to be a living parable of the love relationship between Christ and his church. None of this has changed. Nobody, not even the Supreme Court of the United States of America can change these fixed realities.

But our country’s definition of marriage has changed. It has moved sharply away from God’s design. Will those who believe in God’s design for marriage be penalized in this rapidly changing moral storm?

The text from 1 Peter 3 continues: “Who will do you harm if you are zealous for good? But if you suffer because of righteousness, you are blessed.” Jesus agrees with the notion of suffering for doing what is right. In Matthew 5 he says, “Blessed are the ones persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” But do American Christians actually believe that suffering is a blessing? In other countries, China for instance, Christians understand these frequent Scriptural statements about suffering for the truth. Because of our religious freedom, this aspect of the faith is unfamiliar territory in the U.S.

1 Peter 3 continues: “Don’t fear what they fear, nor be upset.” Fear is not the answer. Fear is never to be our master. God has not abandoned his people or his plan. He can still be trusted. Some may fall away, but those who believe will discover the anointing of God’s power enabling them to represent him faithfully regardless the cost.

So what should we do? Next, 1 Peter says, “Set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts, always be ready with an answer to everyone who asks you for a word about the hope which is in you.” Notice that it does not say that we should always be ready to defend our right to speak, but we should be ready to speak.

Christians in America have sometimes been quicker to defend a right than to exercise it. Tell believers that they cannot pray and they will line up for battle, rightly so. But do those same believers take the time to attend a prayer meeting? Instead of fighting for the right to speak, we must speak what we know is right.

But what about religious freedom? Is legal same-sex marriage not a threat to our religious freedom? Should we not fight for our religious freedom? It has become popular to call religious freedom our first freedom. But is this really true? Religious freedom is a great heritage, a right for which many fought and bled and died. Our first freedom as believers, however, is our freedom in Christ, not political liberty but spiritual freedom.

A person can be politically free and spiritually bound. It is also true that one can be politically bound and spiritually free. Given the choice, we would embrace both freedoms simultaneously. Forced to choose, we relinquish our political liberty in order to remain faithful to our Lord.

The kingdom of God has advanced for millennia, often without the benefit of religious freedom. In fact, sometimes religious persecution has spread the fire of the faith more effectively than religious freedom, which sadly seems to produce spiritual complacency.

We are instructed by 1 Peter 3 to be ready to give a word about our hope. What is our great hope? It is not freedom of religion, nor is it freedom of speech. Our great hope is not the Constitution of the U.S.A. Religious leaders who tell followers of Jesus that they should put their hope in freedom of speech, freedom of religion or the Constitution are at best confused and at worst false teachers.

The Bible tells us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, not our political freedoms or our political documents, as helpful and brilliant as these things may be. Our struggle is not a battle for religious freedom but a battle for spiritual truth. What should we do? We must set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts and be prepared to speak about him, nothing less.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist in Camden, AR, July 3, 2015

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Podcast: Freedom of Religion and the Old Testament II

Freedom of Religion in the Old Testament II – Listen

Are our freedoms in the United States of America eroding? If so, in what areas are they eroding? Why? Brother Richard discusses this issue in-depth in this message, “Freedom of Religion in the Old Testament.”

This is the conclusion of a two-part series on freedom of religion and the Old Testament.

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Podcast: Freedom of Religion and the Old Testament

Freedom of Religion and the Old Testament
– Listen

Freedom of Religion in the Old Testament – Watch

Are our freedoms in the United States of America eroding? If so, in what areas are they eroding? Why? Brother Richard discusses this issue in-depth in this message, “Freedom of Religion in the Old Testament.”

This is the first message in a two-message series.

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Is Religious Freedom Still Important?

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has created bewildering confusion about where the line should be drawn between church and state. Sometimes public displays of the Ten Commandments are acceptable and other times they are not. Sometimes prayer is okay and other times it is unconstitutional. Sometimes a cross is legal and other times it must be removed. Nativity scenes are allowed here, but not there.

Why is religious freedom so difficult? Are decades of conflicting legal rulings evidence that religious freedom does not work? Are we in danger of losing a precious liberty for which so many have suffered and died?

After centuries of cruel oppression and harsh violence in the Old World, people came to the New World hoping to build a better life, one with liberty and justice for all. Even so, some people brought Old World ideas with them to America and oppressed their fellow citizens because of their religious differences. And even though we now have an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees our religious freedom, after more than two hundred years we still struggle.

Despite these persistent difficulties, religious freedom in America is truly ground-breaking and not something that we should abandon. Religious freedom is fundamental. Our cherished political liberties rest firmly on the foundation of our religious freedom. Without religious freedom there would be no political freedom.

It is true, Enlightenment philosophers made important contributions to the great American experiment in liberty, but religious freedom was and is the vital underpinning for political liberty. And religious freedom was championed by Christians who built the house of freedom on the firm foundation of God’s word. Specifically, the teachings of Jesus provide the basis for providing religious freedom to everyone.

Jesus revealed two cornerstone principles that undergird a uniquely Christian concept of religious tolerance and freedom. First, Jesus practiced religious freedom by allowing individuals to accept or reject his message without coercion from him, from religious institutions or from the state.

On one occasion a rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus instructed him to go beyond following commandments and to sell his possessions, giving the money to the poor, and becoming his follower. The man could not bring himself to leave his riches and so Jesus, although he loved the man, allowed him to walk away. Jesus respected the man’s God-given freedom to make up his own mind.

Proponents of true religious freedom who came to America insisted on laws that kept religious and state institutions from punishing people for their religious beliefs and practices, or lack thereof. They insisted on laws that protected people from religious and state institutions that would force them to support any particular religious organization. They wanted everyone to have freedom to practice religion, or not, based on their own personal beliefs, not someone else’s.

Jesus’ second cornerstone principle is that two kingdoms co-exist in this age, both endorsed by God: Church and State. Jesus made some powerful enemies who constantly tried to trick him into saying something that would allow them to bring legal charges against him. In one such attempt they questioned him about paying taxes. After asking for a Roman coin and pointing out whose inscription was on the coin, Jesus told them, “Give the things of Caesar to Caesar and the things of God to God” (Matthew 22:21).

When Jesus was on trial he faced Pilate, the local Roman governor. Pilate had been told by Jesus’ enemies that he was a dangerous threat to the government. In his interrogation Pilate asked Jesus if he was a king. Jesus said yes, but of a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that does not fight like this world’s kingdoms; a kingdom that instead relies on proclaiming God’s truth.

Jesus refused to use the power of the state, or any coercion whatsoever, to force people into submitting to his message against their will. After all, forced conversion is not true conversion. But Jesus also recognized the authority of the state to impose and enforce law and order, even to the point of his own execution (unfairly, I might add). He saw a clear division between Caesar and God, the state and the church.

Christians in America fought for religious freedom that is based on Jesus’ understanding of two kingdoms. The state has no God-given right to govern the religious beliefs and practices of its citizens. The church has no God-given mandate to enforce law and order. Or, from a positive perspective, the state should concern itself with law and order and the church should focus on religious beliefs and practices.

The state is allowed the sword of physical coercion in its task of enforcing law and order. The church has a sword, too, but not one of physical violence or political coercion. The sword of the church is the word of God. The power of God’s people is in proclaiming God’s truth.

So, is religious freedom still important? Perhaps for those of us who have never really endured violent religious oppression it is impossible to measure the true value of religious liberty. Perhaps Americans have grown somewhat complacent about the great worth of our freedoms because we have no memory of the stockades, the jail cells, the fines, the bloodshed.

Or, maybe Americans take religious freedom for granted, failing to entertain the notion that it really could be lost. But there are no guarantees that religious freedom gained will be religious freedom retained. The confusing court cases in the U.S. over the past few decades are evidence that our religious freedom is still a work in process, still open to conflicting interpretations by various groups who represent divergent points of view.

Ironically, despite their passionate belief in freedom, followers of Jesus have often referred to themselves as slaves. But the master is not the state, a political leader, or even a religious leader or institution. The Master is Jesus. It may seem counter-intuitive, but true and eternal freedom comes through following and serving the all-powerful and all-good Lord.

Religious freedom is precious, but in reality it has come and gone throughout history and its future is precarious. Nevertheless, a true and lasting personal freedom is available to anyone, whatever the direction of political or legal trends may be. Let’s not give up on protecting our religious freedom, but let’s not forget that our greatest liberty of all comes by God’s grace through our faith in the Crucified One; and no human lawmaker can take that away.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church, August 2013

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