April 6, 2015

Before We Pray for Religious Freedom

by Clint Archer

burried statue of libertyI’m not trying to be relevant. From my disadvantaged vantage point from the nether side of the globe (South Africa), the snookered view I have of the brouhaha over Indiana’s religious liberty legislation seems a bit like a storm in a tea cup.

I thought that freedom was already well established as a cherished virtue in the USA since the days of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, We the people, send us your huddled masses, and all that.

Nevertheless, it behooves all Christians to be reminded occasionally that religious freedom is, biblically speaking, a privilege to be prayed for, not a right to whine over.

Here are two biblical principles with which I try to brace my prayers for religious liberty…

1. It’s not the government’s job to be godly.

It is not the government’s job to be godly and spread Christianity; that’s our responsibility as God’s salt and light.

It is the government’s job to pack heat and stop bad guys.

Romans 13:3-4 “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

I like that my country used to allow and even encourage Christian prayer in schools. I recall the Jehovah’s Witness kids sitting outside in the cold while the rest of the school met for assembly, complete with Wesley’s hymns, prayers, and teachers who claimed God told them stuff. That was the government school! In retrospect I feel that it wasn’t very governmental to make the JW’s squirm during the annual nativity play. National religious liberty needs to extend to all religions in a heterogeneous nation (just as the Christians in Bhutan if they like their current Buddhist prayer in public schools mandate).

It would be ideal (Utopian) if the rulers of a nation were godly. Most us in Africa would settle for a president who isn’t megalomaniacal, corrupt, and debauched. Or at the very least one who doesn’t have a criminal history. In the USA the standards are marginally higher and they should be. But unless you’re a patient Postmillennialist, you need to resign yourself to the fact that in practice God uses rulers as blunt instruments to keep the peace in a general “riots and potholes are bad, hospitals and libraries are good” kind of way.

 

2. Anything better than the right to worship Jesus, is a bonus.

I love that there are countries on this planet, like America, that value and defend and promote religious freedom. And it is sad that Hollywood is exporting the anti-religious liberal crazy world view, and that the legislature is being populated by leaders, and supported by voters, who are brainwashed by the liberal agenda. But codified religious liberty is not a biblical promise. prayer in school

God has promised some amazing boons for his children, including never forsaking us. But God never said our right to worship him would be protected, encouraged, or even allowed.

That said, God does want us to pray to him for the privilege of worshipping him in peace.

1 Timothy 2:1-4 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

So, we should pray for religious liberty—at least enough of it for us to meet on Sundays, preach the gospel, convert the lost, and perhaps have a Country radio station or two. We should pray that our leaders would be saved, or if not, that they would protect our right to pray for them to be. We should pray for the millions of our brothers and sisters who risk their freedom and/or lives to have a church service, take communion, and share the gospel with a co-worker. And we should thank God every time we meet to worship him without the fear of going to jail.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Warner Aldridge

    Bam! Hit it on the head again brother. Thankful for this reminder. It’s our job to pray for them. 1 Tim 2.

    • Thanks for checking in.

  • Crete

    Thank you for your insightful article. God’s blessing upon you.

  • Archepoimen follower

    Wow, what a balanced biblical approach. Those of us who live in these United States, and particularly like me in Indiana, are often guilty of confusing our Rights under the U.S. Constitution with the promises of God. I forget what a unique privilege it is to worship freely. I need to be more thankful to God and less demanding/expecting of the government.

    Tim

    • I’m thankful the article is so well-received. It’s always tricky to editorialise about issues that I’m not in the middle of. I guess the Bible is sufficient for everything pertaining to life and godliness. 🙂

  • More smoke and mirrors the enemy can use to divert our minds from what is right and true.

    It has been a great grace of God that we have enjoyed “religious freedom” (among much else) in this country-and this through the countless sacrifices of many, many men and woman who’ve served. Now we see a great shift taking place, rather bizarre ones at that.

    God is moving and shaking things up and moving in the hearts of earthly kings according to the plans and purposes of His will just as He always has, but we ‘should not be moved’..other than moving toward people all the more purposefully with the gospel..

    Much needed reminder, and well said, Clint!

    • I agree that the shifts that we are witnessing are quite bizarre.

  • Kipp Soncek

    Clint, thankful for your post. I often find myself asking where in the Scripture do we find the promise that worldly empires will be friendly to the Way? We thank God for His manifold blessings of freedom He has given us in America, but we musn’t think it strange, being students of Scripture, when trials and tribulations directly from the hands of government come upon us. There is only one true Kingdom, and one true King, the King against whom, Psalm 2 tells us, the kings and rulers of this world set themselves against. May we constantly look to, and find our hope in, that good and righteous King, the One who gives His subjects true freedom. Good words, dear brother.

  • Pierre

    Very good piece, Clint. It’s insightful. I’m just waiting for the first guy to show up, and straighten us all out that this is just pessimistic, and withdrawn politically, if we aren’t busy instituting all of the civil law of Moses to our culture. Somehow I think they’ve become kings without us.

    • I agree we should participate in the political process. We should vote and campaign and whatever. But let’s also keep perspective as to what God promises, what God desires, and what is just a massive bonus we are enjoying. Also, keep in mind that changing the government is not the priority of the church, it’s just a distant “nice to have” if you are doing everything else the Bible actually instructs.

  • Jeff Schlottmann

    This is great Clint. Im working my way through Fox’s book of martyrs. Some of the things I read just today left me feeling nauseous, sad, angry, and joyful at the same time. And then I think of the things Americans see as persecution and attacks on our freedom. It’s ridiculous. How do Nativity scenes and wedding cakes get put in the same category as the amazing christians in that book, or even the christians being terrorized in other countries right now? It drives me nuts the things we get worked up over.

    Do you have any thoughts on companies like the ACLJ on csn radio? I’m sure they do good things, but is constantly trying to force the governments hand with petitions the focus Christians should have? I’m not belittling their company. That’s an honest question.

    • Good questions. I believe we may (should?) participate in trying to make improvements in government. I just feel that we need to decide which hills are worth dying on and which aren’t worth a paper cut. If the government is trying to ban evangelism, prayer (as in Daniel was forbidden to pray), or the gathering to worship, then we should mobilize.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        But already, we can see the arguments they will use–and sometimes do use–to ban all three:

        1. They will ban evangelism because it’s “hate speech.” You can’t preach the Gospel without marking out sin, and to do so demonizes those whose lives are thus marked out.

        2. Prayer: It may one day be banned because it could make those who see it uncomfortable, or it creates an environment of exclusion for those who don’t do it.

        3. Gathering to worship: Banned because there may be instances where people are taught to “hate.” It will be seen as subversive and a place where undercurrents that threaten the government are brewing and will have to be thus shut down.

        Already we’ve heard some call christians “terrorists” when we decry abortion or homosexuality–today’s two holy grails that must be protected at all costs. It’s a very short step from now until this is the norm.

  • MR

    I agree with the exception of country music. Country music kills brain cells.

  • Still Waters

    Thanks so much for this. As I commented elsewhere, I have concluded that religious freedom is a gift for which I am thankful to have for the moment, not a right to which I cling for the future.
    I have been pondering how the idea of rights isn’t based so much on Scripture as on Enlightenment philosophy of the likes of such deists as John Locke and Rousseau, and wondering why Christians base so much hope in the systems of men who denied the concept of original sin – their whole idea of a social contract began with the idea that men are good in their natural state. Reading the Bible, one sees that society is able to function when people assume, not their rights, but their responsibilities. Rulers have a responsibility to ensure peace and order are kept, judges have a responsibility to see that justice is done without respect of persons, doctors and nurses have a responsibility to care for the sick. Parents have a responsibility to raise their children. Every citizen has the responsibility to obey the law and respect his neighbour. Every human has the responsibility to respect the lives of their fellow human beings. Rights may have helped build the current Western civilization, but they are the very thing which is pulling it down.

  • rdrift1879

    The use of the word “whine” for faithful Americans standing up to the seeds of oppression is misplaced and ungracious.

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