God's Laws on Religious Freedom--Part 3
Apr 11, 2008
Jesus said in Matt. 28:18, "all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Paul followed up with the statement in Eph. 2:6, "and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus."
Paul was referring to the day of Pentecost, when the Church, as Saul, was crowned king of the earth. In those early days, when the Church was persecuted, it remained relatively pure. Problems were dealt with and largely corrected. Infighting was limited largely to Paul vs. his Jewish opposition which objected to the idea that non-Jews and even women (Gal. 3:28) were equals in the Kingdom of God. Paul claimed that Jesus had torn down that dividing wall in the temple, which had kept non-Jews and women at a distance from God (Eph. 2:14, 15).
In spite of those problems, the Church was young and vibrant, and people were willing to suffer and even die for Christ. Eventually, the Roman Empire had to fall, because Saul was king, and the world must follow the example laid down by the Church.
As the Church assumed temporal power and consolidated under one head in Rome, the leaven of Pentecost began to take over, and the rebellion of Saul began to manifest in a clearer manner. The nations continued to follow Saul's lawless example. The Church, in its obsession for doctrinal unity, refused to allow any freedom of conscience. When the emperors of Rome became "Christian," they began to use legal force against anyone dissenting from the doctrines established by the Church Councils. Many were executed over the years for exercising "freedom of conscience."
The American form of government in the 1700's sought to correct this Church abuse by giving men freedom of religion. The separation of Church and State was directed primarily at the historical relationship between the two that had existed for centuries in the alliances between the kings and the Church of Rome.
The fact established by plain history is that doctrinal unity is achievable only when the Church rules by fear. In the fifth Lateran Church Council (1512-1517), Cardinal A. Pucci took note that no dissenters had dared to attend. He told the pope,
"The whole body of Christendom is now subject to one head, even to thee; no one now opposes, no one now objects." (H. Gratton Guinness, Romanism and the Reformation, p. 37)
The irony of the Cardinal's statement above is that shortly afterward, on Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Church door in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation. There are always some who are fearless, or who fear God more than man.
The Church's attempt to obtain uniformity of doctrine was based on the assumption that this could be done under the authority of King Saul and by the power of Pentecost. They did not seem to realize that Pentecost was leavened, nor did they understand that a mere earnest of the Spirit is insufficient to establish the Kingdom of God. They may have known that the feast of Tabernacles existed, but they had no revelation about it and seem to have made no attempt to understand its prophetic significance.
Under Pentecost, Paul says, we have been given certain ministry gifts "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ." (Eph. 4:13) This assumes that the Church, though given the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, had not yet attained this full maturity in Christ. Full maturity and the fulness of the Spirit come only through the feast of Tabernacles, which has not yet found its historic fulfillment.
America's early intent was to allow freedom of conscience in order to create a level playing field, on which all doctrinal views could compete equally for the hearts and minds of men. It created an atmosphere that replaced coercion with persuasion. But the freedom that allows the truth to be spoken is the same freedom that allows men to speak false doctrine. In America people were free to believe either. They could be wise or foolish, and the government would support their right to follow either path.
But over time the heart of the Church proved to be less tolerant than the American form of government. The Roman Catholic Church, of course, had long opposed such freedom vigorously in Europe. But the Roman Church was forced to appear more tolerant in America, as American Catholics were influenced by their new environment of freedom.
Though American Christians generally subscribed to the idea of freedom of conscience, most of them also consigned other denominational believers to hell, often for the most trivial differences that have nothing to do with justifying faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. Even today I hear ridiculous statements like "If you don't believe in heaven you CAN'T go there," followed by "If you don't believe in hell, then you WILL go there."
Many denominations have lost the simplicity of faith in Christ that brings justification. To justification, they have attached many other doctrinal requirements over and beyond simple faith. In so doing, they have denied the genuine freedom of conscience that ought to be practiced among us. There are core beliefs that cannot be compromised without destroying the foundations of Scripture, but we ought to have some toleration for all the other foolishness that men may espouse. At the same time, we retain the right to debate that foolishness vigorously, as long as we do so in the proper spirit of Love.
The problem is that often, when we lose a debate, we want to impose our "correct" view on the others by legal force and by fear of prosecution.
I believe that the world follows the example of the Church, at least in the long term. When the Church began to seek money and power first, thinking that this was how to establish the Kingdom of God, they ended up agreeing with the world which had always believed that doctrine. So the nations retained that particular standard.
Because the Church continued to abort the Manchild, the world eventually legalized abortion.
Because the Church taught that God tortures people in hell, the political system established prisons, and according to an editorial headline I once read, "Prisons Should Be Sheer Hell." Our modern prison system is merely the result of Church teaching about divine justice. And now we have gone to that final step by actually torturing prisoners with waterboarding and other "harsh interrogation techniques." Who supports such torture? It is primarily Christians, who have already been conditioned to believe in the righteousness of torture in the name of justice.
How much religious freedom should we have? Well, a Christian nation is not the Kingdom of God. A Christian nation is flawed and contains many sinners and many foolish people teaching falsehoods. There is no way to make it perfect, unless we kick out all those who believe false doctrines. In that case, the nation would have a population of one and would still be imperfect.
The Kingdom of God cannot come to earth, apart from the feast of Tabernacles. Its fulfillment will only perfect the overcomers, but the overcomers will have a secondary effect upon the rest of the Church and the world. The New Jerusalem has boundaries called a "wall" (Rev. 21:12). Isaiah 60:18 says that these walls are "salvation." In other words, those who are not saved cannot enter the city, for the walls keep them out. This differs from a Christian nation, where the laws may be Christian, but the people may comply until they can outvote the Christians.
This is the final part of a series titled "God's Laws on Religious Freedom." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones