This post will focus on the freedom of religion. Here are some Scriptures to consider:
John 18:36 (HCSB)
36 “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus. “If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.”
Matthew 22:21 (HCSB)
21 Then He said to them, “Therefore give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
John 8:32 (HCSB)
32 “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
John 8:36 (HCSB)
36 “Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.”
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (HCSB)
1 First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, 2 for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
1 Peter 2:13-17 (HCSB)
13 Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority 14 or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. 15 For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. 16 As God’s slaves, ⌊live⌋ as free people, but don’t use your freedom as a way to conceal evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the Emperor.
True freedom comes from Christ. It is not dependent on external circumstances or political structure. For instance, a person could be placed in prison for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ (as the apostle Paul was in the first century) yet still know incredible internal freedom and peace because their personal faith in Jesus Christ.
Notice in the verses of Scripture from 1 Timothy and 1 Peter (above) that we are to pray for our nation so that we might live peaceful, tranquil lives with all godliness and dignity. As God’s people, we are to live as free people.
The Baptist Faith & Message in Article XVII summarizes what the Bible teaches on freedom of religion:
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.
Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 6:6-7,24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1,13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.
Let me suggest three main ideas that we should consider in regards to freedom of religion.
1. We believe in freedom of religion.
- God alone is Lord of the conscience.
- Religious liberty is the right of every person to worship God, or not, as they see fit, without interference from the government, but under the direction of God, to Whom all of us will give an account.
- We do not believe that people should be forced to worship God nor do we believe they should be in any way kept from worshiping God.
- Dr. Jerry Johnson of Criswell College in Dallas writes: “While most of the early American colonies had official denominations, the Baptists worked with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to oppose state churches and to enshrine religious liberty in the Bill of Rights. John Leland was the most outspoken Baptist preacher on religious liberty and exercised considerable influence on Jefferson and Madison.” Pastor Leland said, ‘Religion is a matter between God and individuals: the religious opinions of men not being the objects of civil government, not in any way under its control.’”
2. We believe in the separation of church and state.
- Let’s be clear as to what we mean by this statement. When we say “separation of church and state,” we do NOT mean that the church should be banned from the public arena.
- Here is what we do mean…
- First, it means that the state should protect the church and afford it freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. We have a God-given right to express our religious and moral views, and to worship free from any government interference.
- children can wear Christian t-shirts without being penalized
- teenagers can pray whenever and wherever they desire during their free time
- we can share the good news of Jesus & truths of Scripture freely in the public arena
- we can exert political influence; citizens who happen to be Christians should not be silenced because they speak from a Christian worldview
- government should not persecute Christians through unfair building codes/laws
- government cannot censor our pulpits
- Second, it means that the state should not favor one religious group over another. It does not mean an atheistic state.
- Third, it means Christians should not look to the government to carry on the work of the church.
- We believe God’s work is accomplished by God’s people through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through the enforcement of civil authorities.
- The state/nation should not impose penalties for religious opinions or taxes of any form of religion.
- Jesus, Paul & the apostles did not look to government to advance God’s kingdom
- Fourth, it means that Christians have a responsibility to the state.
- We have a responsibility to submit to laws, pay our taxes, serve when asked to serve, pray for leaders, speak the truth in love when government is wrong on moral issues, and live as model citizens to represent Christ well.
- Now, we recognize that must obey God rather than man (Acts 5). We are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) living on earth for now. When the government seeks to enforce laws that go clearly contrary to God’s law, then peaceful civil disobedience may be necessary. When civil disobedience is needed, but it must be based clearly on God’s Word, not on the opinions of men.
3. We believe that a free church in a free state is the Christian ideal.
- This means that the church should be free from the influence of the state but at the same time, because the members of the church are citizens of the state, they are free to influence the state toward righteousness. As Charles Colson writes, “Christians are the conscience of the culture.”
- So how do you make a difference:
- Vote to support the candidates whose policies and ideas most line up with biblical principles.
- Be involved in political processes as time allows.
- Most importantly, win people to Jesus, one citizen at a time.
As our nation approaches election day in November, through these posts I want to explore what the Bible teaches about important issues that are facing our nation. This is post #1 of 5 on these topics.
PODCAST: Click HERE to listen to the podcast of this message.
I am grateful for a message by Dr. Calvin Wittman on Religious Liberty. In preparing for this post, his message was very helpful.