Monday, August 20, 2012

Being Baptist: Religious Freedom

Baptists believe in complete religious freedom for everyone. Freedom for religion and freedom from religion. This strong belief was born from religious persecution suffered in England and the colonies. State churches tend to use force to uphold a particular set of doctrines and silence dissent.

When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, the emperor took the role of protecting the faith. Both pagans and heretics were persecuted. Over the centuries, many were burned at the stake in an effort to keep the church pure.

The Protestant Reformation enabled many churches break away from the Roman Catholic Church but, rather than bring religious freedom, it only increased persecution. Each ruler decided the religion for their territory. The Protestants became the persecutors and the Catholics retaliated.

Religious refugees came to America seeking religious freedom but only for themselves. The Puritans that founded Massachusetts created a state church supported by taxes. Only members of the church could vote or hold office. Dissidents like Quakers and Baptists were imprisoned and executed. Each colony set its own standards for religious freedom.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all. Nothing in this amendment prevents religion from influencing the government and being a voice for justice and morality in the public square. Jesus said that we are to be salt and light in society and that we are to be His witnesses.

This creates tension and conflict in a society that seems to be increasingly polarized. The recent Chick Fil A confrontation showed that both sides of the gay marriage debate have significant clout. Public debate is good and Christians should be a part of it but we must not confuse politics with the gospel.

Political power is not the way to bring about the type of Kingdom that Jesus describes. Conservative columnist Cal Thomas lamented that 20 years after the Moral Majority helped elect Ronald Reagan, America was pretty much the same. He wrote, “For Christians, the vision of worldly power is not a calling, but a distraction. It is a temptation Jesus rejected, not because it was dangerous, but because it was trivial compared with his mission.”

We need changed hearts NOT changed laws; we need revival NOT revolution. II Chronicles 7:14: “if my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land”.

God does not belong to any political party. Isaiah was discouraged in the year that king Uzziah died. He had ruled for decades and now the future was uncertain. But Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up. Uzziah was dead but God was still on the throne.

God can work through any government. Rome was pagan and hostile to Christianity but Roman roads and laws helped Christianity to spread. The Bible says that all authority comes from God and we should submit to it. This was written particularly about the government of Rome who crucified Christ, persecuted Christians, and had morally bankrupt rulers.

The church must reserve the right to speak the truth to all parties. When church becomes the mouthpiece for any political party it loses its prophetic voice.

So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22:21

1 comment:

Diana Aranda-Curtis said...

I agree that we must change people's hearts before laws will change for the better. We sometimes focus too much on whom to vote for when we should be focusing on bringing others to Christ. If we put the same effort in witnessing as we put in finding faults with our leaders; we would be doing great for the Lord's cause. Therefore, we must work on loving and helping others so that they may see Christ in us.