Religious Freedom vs. Gay Rights

The issue at the core of the controversy created by the religious freedom laws in Arkansas and Indiana is not simply about cakes for gay people. I have lived for extended periods of time in both Arkansas and Indiana and gay people have no trouble purchasing cake or otherwise getting served in places of business in either state.

No, the issue at the core of this whole thing is rooted in the fact that the “gay community” has been trying to force everyone to affirm their lifestyle. Furthermore, they have been trying to utilize the force of the state to do it — with a measure of success…

Arkansas and Indiana simply considered legislation to protect people who have a religious objection to the concept of gay marriage. You know, to keep them from becoming the targets of the kind of intimidation enumerated above.

But the issue has been deftly managed. It’s not portrayed as a protection for religious people. It’s portrayed as an attack on gays. There are Christian business owners in both states who have no problem providing goods and services to gays. It’s really not even an issue. The key difference here is the inclusion of a wedding into the mix. That changes everything.

weddingringsWeddings are inherently theological — to Christians anyway. They are a picture of the ultimate wedding between Jesus Christ and his bride (the church). Scripture speaks in depth on the roles of husbands and wives. It also speaks on the sinful nature of homosexuality. When you are asked to attend or participate in a wedding you are being asked to AFFIRM what is taking place. Your mere presence is tacit approval of the whole thing. So is your participating in peripheral ways… say, baking the cake or taking the pictures.

This is the whole reason weddings have that part about “If anyone knows why these two should not be joined in HOLY matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace.” This is a problem for Christians because we are instructed in Scripture not to approve of sin (Isaiah 5:20, Romans 1:32).

Personally, I hate that the whole thing has blown up the way it has. But, there is only one reason it has… the gay community forced it. Had they not been so bent on forcing anyone and everyone to affirm their lifestyle (regardless of religious convictions) legislators in Arkansas and Indiana probably would not have felt the need to protect those with religious convictions.

This has never been about cake — sorry, that just doesn’t fly. There are way too many talented bakers in both states who would enthusiastically bake a cake for a gay wedding. This has been about intimidating people who do not support gay marriage into silence. It has been about destroying those who would not be silenced.

I saw a protest recently where signs were held up that said, “Jesus loves Gays!” and “What would Jesus do? He would bake a gay wedding cake!”

Jesus definitely loves homosexuals, no doubt about it. But he did so much more than bake a cake for them. He died to pay for their sins — even the sin of homosexuality.

Both sides could get along just fine if they would not try to use government force against the other. I don’t recommend using government force against homosexuals. I don’t think it’s irrational to expect to be treated in kind.

The Modern Good Samaritan

modern_good_samaritan

Liberty depends on the Spirit of the Lord

2 Corinthians 3:17 “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty. Quick question: what do you think of when you think of “liberty”? Most of us think of being free from the unsolicited and unwelcomed use of force against us by others. Take a look at the following short video. It outlines the concepts of liberty in an easy-to-understand way…

Notice that many of the concepts of liberty as outlined in this video are also outlined in Scripture…

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.

2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

6. “You shall not murder.

7. “You shall not commit adultery.

8. “You shall not steal.

9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” — Exodus 20:3-17

Notice how the second half of the 10 Commandments deals exclusively with respecting the rights of others (as outlined in the video). The violation of these rights is a direct assault on liberty. Notice, too, how the key to respecting the second half of the 10 Commandments is contained in the first half. A proper relationship with God will foster a proper relationship with our fellow man. You might say, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

See how that works?

Jesus even condensed these 10 commandments into 2 for us…

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and Prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40

We live in a world where liberty is assaulted daily. Governments and criminals (but I repeat myself) murder, steal and enslave constantly. What is the answer? The Gospel. It is only through the proclamation of the Gospel that men are set free from their sin and enabled by the Holy Spirit to love God and, in turn, love others. Remember…

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Right and Wrong by C.S. Lewis

Government oversight of God’s Kingdom?

First-century Christians were persecuted by Rome as “enemies of the state” — a charge that would have been overlooked if those Christians had just been willing to share the loyalty they had for Christ with Caesar. Rome didn’t mind if you worshipped God, as long as you paid proper respect (i.e. worship) to Caesar, too.

Empire10To their credit, many of those early Christians would have rather died than share one ounce of the adoration, to which only God is entitled, with another. We know this because many of them did exactly that — they died at the hands of a secular government that demanded of them a thing they just could not give…

…their absolute loyalty.

It is a situation that has survived to this very day — Fast forward to the 20th century.

World War I put a fresh emphasis on the loyalty one “owed” to his or her nation state. That loyalty was absolute. You must answer your “nation’s call.” And, if answering that call costs you your life, well, that’s only appropriate — you owe it.

Later, with the rise of more and more totalitarian governments like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Communist China, we see this demand on loyalty increase. And, just like their spiritual forefathers in the Roman Empire, Christians found themselves in a difficult position.

Communist governments closely monitored religion. Sermons were subject to state approval and censorship. Only state-sanctioned churches were allowed. You could participate in your chosen religion only as long as it did not interfere with your first priority — absolute loyalty to the state.

You see, everything was viewed only in light of its value to the state — including people. Christians were particularly dangerous, because they recognized something — someone — as greater than the state. Since that kind of attitude was intolerable, these Christians had to be dealt with. Those who refused government oversight found themselves in prison. Many were tortured. Many died. Just like in Rome.

This should come as no surprise, really. The 20th century theologian and writer, Francis Schaeffer, outlined this quite well…

“We must realize that the Reformation worldview leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist worldview with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.”

Fast forward to the present.

china_church_stifled_1148038826_855986In China Christians are subject to the same kind of scrutiny as the Christians who lived in communist countries in Eastern Europe. There are state-approved churches. Other churches are outlawed because they have no government oversight. Everyone is expected to owe their loyalty first to the state — to Caesar.

At this point, American Christians frequently will say, “I’m so glad that isn’t true here.” Or “I’m glad we live in a free country where that sort of thing couldn’t happen.”

Really?

Please consider…

There are those who will look at evidence like this and say it’s not big deal. After all, we don’t have a state-approved church. We don’t have federal government officials attending services in order to scrutinize the content like they do in China.

No, we don’t. But, in China the Christians are actively resisting the encroachment of the state into the church. In America many of our churches freely and enthusiastically embrace statism in their services — openly glorifying another.

Dave Black, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has cautioned against this kind of thing before…

“Our God is a color blind God. Our God is a dollar blind God. Our God is a status blind God. Our God is a nation blind God. To say or to imply that America is somehow a “holy nation” is, in my humble estimation, blasphemous. The household of God (to which I belong by God’s grace) is the only holy nation on earth. It includes in its membership all Christians of all ages, all nationalities, all levels of social strata, all levels of intelligence. The lesson is clear. From the moment of my conversion to Christ, and from the moment of your conversion to Christ, we have been in fellowship with every other Christian in the world, be they American or Ethiopian or Chinese or Iraqi or Iranian. The Bible tells us “we are all one in Christ Jesus” — and that includes our guest speaker this morning who came to us from southern India.

It is here, on the national level, that we are called upon to demonstrate to a lost world the reality of our fellowship. We are bound together by a unity that goes far beyond mere geography or nationality let alone hobby or personal interest or political affiliation or denomination. Only when we learn to see ourselves as this kind of a holy nation, only when we learn to treasure that kind of fellowship, only when we experience this kind of trans-national love, will we fulfill our vocation as saints.

Beware of the sin of nationalism, my friends. A Christian is a citizen of a heavenly commonwealth because he or she belongs to the holy nation of the people of God. This, and this alone, is the only Christian nation. Other nations may contain Christians, and they may be influenced to one degree or another by Christian principles, but there will never be a Christian nation except the people redeemed by the blood of Christ.”

I pray that God will grant the church in America the ability to recognize the sinfulness of nationalism and the courage to resist it. We are, indeed, citizens of a heavenly commonwealth — one that is NOT subject to the scrutiny of any earthly government.

Let’s act like it.

The Sin of Nationalism on Display

My last two posts have dealt essentially with the sin of nationalism. I find it ironic and providential that I just ran across the latest column of political commentator, Ann Coulter, where she masterfully — and unintentionally — illustrated my point.

Ms Coulter wrote a piece entitled, “Ebola Doc’s Condition Downgraded to ‘Idiotic,’” in which she soundly criticizes Dr. Kent Brantly for going to Liberia to treat Ebola patients in the name of Christ. A couple of her arguments include…

  • The $2 million spent on his care by the missions organizations that sent him overwhelmed any good he did while in Liberia.
  • His time would have been better spent trying to “open the eyes” of the influential in America because that would have done “more good than marinating himself in medieval diseases of the Third World.”

The underlying premise behind Coulter’s column is that American Christians should take care of America first. In fact, Coulter goes on to explain that Dr. Brantly’s primary motivations for going on a mission trip to Liberia were…

  • To avoid the criticism of being a Christian witness in the U.S. — “…American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools [because] They’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists and bigots. So they slink off to Third World Countries, away from American culture to do good works.”
  • To gain the prestige associated with being a foreign missionary — “Right there in Texas, near where Dr. Brantly left his wife and children to fly to Liberia and get Ebola, is one of the poorest countries in the nation, Zavala County, where he wouldn’t have risked making his wife a widow and his children fatherless. But, serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’ We wouldn’t hear all the superlatives about Dr. Brantly’s ‘unusual drive to help the less fortunate’ or his membership in the ‘Gold Humanitarian Honor Society.’ Leaving his family behind in Texas to help the poor 6,000 miles away — that’s the ticket.”

Thid-TatteredFlagAfter this, Coulter goes for the jugular… “Today’s Christians… are strangely timid for people who have been given eternal life. They need to buck up, serve their own country, and remind themselves every day of Christ’s words: ‘If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.’”

All of this is of paramount importance, you understand, because, according to Coulter, “America is the most consequential nation on Earth, and in desperate need of God at the moment. If America fails, it will be a thousand years of darkness for the entire planet.”

Whew!

Allow me to retort…

  1. The $2 million spent on Dr. Brantly’s care did not overwhelm any good he might have done. Everything belongs to God and He supplies us as needed when we are about His business, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:19
  2. God does not need to “open up the eyes” of the influential in America in order to accomplish His goals. He is in complete control, even of the influential… “The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” — Proverbs 21:1
  3. Christians are motivated to action by things much stronger than avoiding criticism and gaining notoriety… “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” — Romans 8:14
  4. Suggesting Dr. Brantly willingly went into a “disease-ridden cesspools” because he was too afraid to face being called names in the U.S. is just (I will censor myself here and use the word “silly”). The man literally risked his very life to treat Ebola patients. Coulter calls that “timid.”
  5. Coulter’s suggestion is for Christians to stop showing that kind of timidity, “buck up,” and “serve their own country” — this is the meat of the issue. Christians who follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit to the far reaches of this earth ARE serving their own country. I may have a U.S. Passport, but the United States is not my country. I belong to God’s Kingdom. Christ said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, them My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” You see, those of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, have our citizenship in heaven.

I do agree with Ms Coulter on one point: America IS in desperate need of God. But never make the mistake of thinking God is in desperate need of America. His kingdom is quite secure.

May I Quote You?

While reading daveblackonline.com, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis in his classic, “The Screwtape Letters.” In this book a senior demon gives advice to his cousin, a junior demon, in the art of tripping up Christians. In this context, the following advice was offered…

CSLewis-PatriotismWhat an effective and time-honored tool of the enemy, indeed.

May I Quote You?

MayhewQuote

The Need for Discernment

We live in a world saturated with messages contrary to Scripture. Some of them are easy to detect. Others are more subtle. So subtle, in fact, that they creep unnoticed into our thoughts and into our churches. Some recent examples include…

  • The New Age spiritualism of Oprah Winfrey being adopted into the theology of many of her fans who claim to be Christians.
  • The Popularity of books like, “The Shack,” and “Heaven is for Real.”

The need for Christians to be biblically discerning is great.

You may be thinking, “Wait! What’s wrong with those things?”

  1. Well, “The Shack” contains things that are just out-and-out heresy.
  2. Oprah began passing herself off as an authority on spiritual matters (see here, here, and here) — so much so that one major news publisher wrote an article about her influence in American culture entitled, “The Divine Miss Winfrey.”
  3. Now, there are plans in the works to make a movie about “The Shack” starring Oprah. Separately these two have had unbelievable (and harmful) influence in the church. I suspect when they are combined in a movie they will be embraced anew. I anticipate churches organizing trips to the theater to see “The Shack” and then incorporating the heresies portrayed on screen into their beliefs.
  4. “Heaven is for Real,” has been embraced by Christians because, they say, it is finally proof positive that heaven exists. And, it has already been made into a movie.

What we forget is we don’t need any further proof of the truth of Scripture. We have the very Word of God. We have the testimony of the Holy Spirit. We have the counsel of mature believers. We have prayer. And, according to Jesus, this is more than enough…

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’” — Luke 16:19-31

We have more than the rich man in this passage. We have the knowledge that the law and the prophets were both pointing to Christ. We have the record of what Christ did. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need other proof and we don’t need the affirmation of the world. But don’t take my word for it, listen to David Platt break this down…

Brothers and sisters we need solid biblical discernment.

A Christian’s Attitude at Tax Time

What would you call it if a person walked up, pointed a gun at you, and demanded your money?

Robbery.

What if three guys did it? Would it be something else?

Of course not, it’s still robbery.

Okay, but suppose you live in a town of 100 people and 75 of them got together and agreed to send three guys to your house with guns to take your possessions. What’s that?

Robbery. C’mon!

Well, how many of them would have to get involved before taking your stuff was justified? 80? 90? 99? What?

That’s silly. It doesn’t matter how many people agree to steal my stuff — it’s still robbery.

What if they gave you a vote?

Doesn’t matter.

But suppose they came and took your possessions and, after pawning it off, took the proceeds and fed some hungry people in the neighborhood. Would that justify their actions?

Of course not, robbery is robbery regardless of what you do with the stolen property.

All of those scenarios were robbery — and easily understood as wrong — yet we blindly accept this kind of robbery in America every day. Many of us enthusiastically support it.

We just call it taxes.

The federal government of the United States — the worst offender — confiscates huge portions of our money every year and gives it away based upon their discretion. And, should we refuse to pay, the “authorities” would eventually show up at our door to take our money or our freedom by force. We are robbed, quite literally, at the point of a gun.

Now, I know what many of you are probably thinking… the Bible tells us to always submit to the government. No. I contend the Bible tells us to render to people what is legitimately theirs and to submit to legitimate authorities. You see, everything that Caesar claims is his is not his. And, when you boil it all down to the basics, most taxation is, in fact, the same thing as theft. A majority vote does not justify it.

So, why draw this comparison at all? Because it’s tax time in America and many of us have become conditioned to think it is our “patriotic duty” to fork over our hard-earned money to the ones holding a gun on us.

It’s really no different than a mob boss sending thugs around the neighborhood collection protection money. The mob boss wants you to pay for services you neither asked for nor needed. And, he is prepared to use force and intimidation to make you “accept” his services.

The federal government is just like this. The Internal Revenue Service is a master at intimidation and is dispatched every year at this time to collect money from us for services we neither asked for nor need. In fact, most of us have voiced our objection to these “services” over and over again — the propagandized “Affordable Care Act” being the most recent and egregious example.

But, this sort of extortion is nothing new. It might be comforting to know that people throughout history have had to deal with this sort of thing.

Augustine of Hippo, a Christian theologian and apologist who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, commented on this very thing in his book, the City of God

“Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a vast scale? What are criminal gangs but petty kingdoms? A gang is a group of men under the command of a leader, bound by a compact of association, in which the plunder is divided according to an agreed convention. If this villainy wins so many recruits from the ranks of the demoralized that it requires territory, establishes a base, captures cities and subdues peoples, it then openly arrogates to itself the title of ‘kingdom,’ which is conferred on it in the eyes of the world, not by the renouncing of aggression but by the attainment of impunity. For it was a witty and a truthful rejoinder, which was given by a captured pirate to Alexander the Great. The king asked the fellow, ‘What is your idea, in infesting the sea?’ And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, ‘The same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate; because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.’”

So, why even bring any of this up? Because, as Christians we need to understand that wicked men will always try to plunder what they can, whether they wear the title, “emperor” or “pirate,” “mob boss” or “president.” From time-to-time all of them step beyond their legitimate authority and engage in criminal behavior. And when they do we need to stop pretending that one is any better than the other. None of them are worthy of our devotion and loyalty.

PiratePistolBut, there is one who is. One who harbors no ulterior motive and no hidden agenda. One who is righteous, holy, and worthy of our loyalty. One whose kingdom is enduring and eternal.

Only One.

And it is to His Kingdom we need to turn our attention.

So, where does this leave us on the question of the proper attitude toward taxes? Should we pay them or not? Should we only obey governments that are legitimate? Should we always resist governments that are illegitimate? What do we do?

It depends on what will bring glory and honor to our King.

Sometimes it honors God to defy the illegitimate laws of men, just as the apostles did when they refused to obey the order of the Sanhedrin to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Sometimes it honors God to comply with an illegitimate law — and Scripture provides the perfect example…

“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’ When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, ‘Crucify him crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘You will not speak to me? Do you now know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.'” — John 19:5-11

If ever there was a situation where a government had zero authority over someone it is when Jesus stood before Pilate. Christ is the supreme lawgiver — holy and righteous. He is the rightful judge of all those who judged him and yet he allowed himself to be placed under their power — subjecting himself to sinners. Why?

Obedience.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” — Philippians 2:5-8

Those men had no right to judge Christ, but Christ was not concerned with his own rights. He was not concerned with the injustice of his situation. He was concerned only with the glory of his Father in heaven.

John recorded an instance where Jesus taught his disciples about his purpose.

“I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” — John 14:30-31

Note that Jesus points out the “ruler of this world” has no claim on him yet he is going to do as the Father has commanded so that “the world may know” that he loves the Father.

Jesus was sent to this earth for a purpose. Not to defend his own rights against an unjust empire, but to accomplish the will of his Father. Likewise, we are saved for a purpose. Not to defend our own rights against a wicked and sinful generation, but to accomplish the will of our Father. Illegitimate governments and the wicked men who run them have no claim on us — but we do as the Father has commanded.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — Ephesians 2:10

We need to remember that God’s will for us is that we always bring glory to Him. And that should be our guiding principle in life.

crownIn fact, we should rarely, if ever, concern ourselves with the legitimacy of earthly laws. If they are legitimate then they will be completely consistent with God’s higher law and our obedience to them will stem from our obedience to God. If they are illegitimate we may or may not be obedient to them — depending on what will glorify our Father in heaven.

 

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