By John Wickey
I’m worried. I can see something coming, and I’m worried. In January, four million people rallied in France against extremism, one of the largest rallies in human history,--larger than VE Day at the end of WWII. 5% of the population of France was in the streets. Forty world leaders marched arm in arm. People all over the world were saying, “I am Charlie,” in solidarity with the magazine that was attacked by radical Islamists. The world’s angry, and the world’s uniting against extremism.
But who does the world consider extremists? We’re on that list. If you quote Mosaic Law on homosexuality, you’re an extremist. If you believe interracial marriage is sin, you’re an extremist. And did you know that Charlie Hebdo magazine also made pornographic attacks on Christianity? It would be offensive to even describe some of their cartoons.
So, think about that. People across the world were standing in solidarity with a pornographic, atheistic, anti-Christ magazine, and they’re angry at a group that could include true Christians. That has me worried. I see Christian persecution coming.
From the book of Revelation chapter 13:12-15: “And he exerciseth all the power of the first Beast before and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he had power to give life unto the image of the Beast, that the image of the Beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the Beast should be killed.”
In the End Times, people across the world will unite behind the Beast. They’ll worship the Beast, and Christians that refuse to worship will be killed. This points to a question: What does it mean to worship the Beast?
I doubt there’s a single person who imagines himself worshipping the Beast of Revelation. No one believes he’ll be one of the people mentioned in this verse. Yet the Bible tells us most of mankind will worship the Beast.
How can that be? When most Christians imagine this part of the End Times, they imagine people bowing down to some type of idol. They imagine worshippers knowing exactly what they’re doing. They think of an openly evil society.
But that’s not the image the Bible implies. Matthew 24:24 says: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”
“If it were possible they shall deceive the very elect.” That’s what has me worried. An openly pagan idol has no chance of deceiving the elect. If idolatry were that obvious, even average Christians would refuse. There wouldn’t be the broad compliance Revelation prophesies, and there certainly wouldn’t be the possibility even the very elect might fall into false worship.
John 16:2 says, ”They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.”
The translators used a capitol “G” in God there. The people worshipping the Beast will think they’re doing service to the true God. Worshipping the Beast is going to be something most Christians won’t realize is false worship. They won’t see anything wrong with it. They’ll think worshipping the Beast is not only compatible with Christianity, but is actually serving God.
People expect a blatant example of false worship. That’s not what they’re going to get.
ISIS is killing people. They’re beheading people, burning people alive, and literally hanging Christians on trees for not believing in their god, Allah. This is an example of what people are expecting. Have you ever stopped to imagine what you would do if faced with that choice, a clear choice: worship a false god, or die?
That’s frightening enough, but there’s something that bothers me a lot more than ISIS. What’s truly frightening is the reaction America and the Western world has to ISIS. ISIS is killing people, but so are we. We’re bombing them. We’re aiding their enemies. We’re considering putting troops on the ground. We’re searching out their followers in our society. People are mad. We want ISIS dead, and we’re willing to do the killing.
Now don’t get me wrong. ISIS is evil. The only solution for ISIS is to kill them. What bothers me is the reason that Americans are willing to kill them. The true reason ISIS is evil is because they serve a false god, but that’s not why America wants to kill them. ISIS is killing people in the name of Allah. Why are we killing ISIS?
Americans think they understand why. We think it’s simple and clear. We’re the good guys in the white hats, innocent and justified. They’re the bad guys in the black hats. Their death is justice. After all, ISIS is brutally murdering innocent people.
But think for a minute. Yes, ISIS is beheading people, but America cuts up 3,400 unborn babies every day of the year with sharp knives and throws their body parts in the trash. That’s one out of every five babies in America, and the babies get no anesthesia. Our nation brutally dismembers the most innocent people there are. Are we at war with abortionists? No, our nation protects abortionists. America isn’t at war with ISIS because they’re brutal. The reason is something different.
Americans think ISIS is immoral. After all, ISIS enslaves people. But who accepts homosexual marriage? Who has no problem with adultery and promiscuity? Who bans our children from praying in school? That’s America, not ISIS, and the Bible’s very clear on the sinfulness of our choices while it has provisions that actually allow slavery. No, America’s not killing ISIS because of immorality. Immorality doesn’t bother us.
Americans will argue it’s self-defense—but that’s a matter of perspective. If you witness a man murder someone and you pull a gun on him, can the murderer kill you and claim self-defense? The murderer might see it that way, but nobody else will. ISIS is a monotheistic religion. They see morality as universal. From their point of view, they’re trying to enforce a moral standard on a nation of criminals just like a cop. Whether America’s actions are self-defense or not isn’t clear. It depends on what god you believe in.
Of course, to us that sounds ridiculous. We’re clearly innocent. They have no right to force their moral code on us. We’re free to believe what we want. They’re attacking us. It’s self-defense. But realize what that implies. If you believe Allah is god, you’ll believe we’re criminals and ISIS is justified. We don’t believe they’re justified because Americans don’t believe in Allah or his moral code. We believe in something else. America believes in a different moral code. America believes in a different god.
The question is, what god? What moral code does America believe in that condemns ISIS but justifies us? Why does beheading outrage us, but abortion doesn’t affect our opinion that our nation is good?
The answer is freedom. ISIS believes in Allah. America believes in freedom.
We see ISIS as bad guys not because they’re brutal, not because they pray to Mecca, not because they dress differently than we do. We see them as evil because they don’t believe in freedom. We see ourselves as the good guys because we do believe in freedom. It doesn’t matter that we kill babies. It doesn’t matter that our streets are filled with gay pride parades and our colleges are filled with atheists. It doesn’t matter that Facebook offered fifty-eight different options for gender until they changed to fill in the blank because that wasn’t enough choice in America.
To us that doesn’t count. It may be bad, but it doesn’t count. We judge America as good. America may have a problem with rampant sin, but we forgive our nation because the sin comes from individual choice. It’s freedom. That’s why we see our nation as good. We judge based on a moral code built entirely on freedom. All that matters is we believe in freedom. Our moral code is freedom.
And that’s what’s truly frightening. America doesn’t fight in the name of Allah, but America doesn’t fight in the name of Jesus either. America fights in the name of freedom. America’s code of morality is freedom. Everything we do is justified by freedom. And we’re ready to kill for freedom. America worships freedom.
Now a lot of people might have a hard time accepting that statement: America worships freedom. People say we believe in freedom, but we don’t worship it.
Realize worship is frequently unintentional, false worship especially so. Most of the time when people are engaged in false worship they don’t realize they are.
Remember Exodus 32 where Aaron made the golden calf? The people said the calf represented the god that brought them out of Egypt. Aaron said they were making a “feast to the Lord.” They thought they were making a representation of the true God, not a false idol.
We can engage in false worship without knowing we are, and the Bible makes it clear in the End Times people worshipping the Beast won’t think they are. They’ll think they’re serving the true God.
The definition of worship is a display of reverence and adoration. Think about what we do when we worship God. When we worship we sing songs of praise. That’s what the book of Psalms is. When we worship we set aside special days and observances and rituals to honor God. That’s what Tabernacles, eating the Passover, and the Sabbath are.
Faith is also part of worship. It’s part of reverence. We trust God. We believe all that’s good comes from God. And all evil comes from something else. Our belief that God is omnipotent and infallible is worship.
Worship is songs, praise, celebrations, rituals, faith, and beliefs. Those are the ways we worship. Those activities, done in relation to something other than God, can be false worship.
They aren’t necessarily false worship. Celebrating a birthday shows reverence, but it’s not false worship. A love song shows adoration, but it’s not inherently false worship. In The Book of Common Prayer the marriage vows say, “With my body I thee worship” in reference to the reverence and adoration that’s appropriate to a married couple. That’s not false worship.
False worship can be shown in all those ways, but it requires one more thing. False worship requires placing something in front of God. False worship is a violation of the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When our reverence and adoration for something is greater than our adoration and reverence for God, we choose it over God. We obey it rather than God.
Anything we place above God is an object of false worship. An example is sports. A lot of ministers describe Americans’ obsession with sports as idolatrous worship, and they’re correct.
Look at the Indy 500. The 500 is an event, a day set aside for celebration just like Passover. Participants observe it with specific rituals like always singing “Back Home Again in Indiana.” There are traditional parties before and after. They always have the victory lane bottle of milk. These have all become rituals of the race.
None of this is inherently wrong by itself. But the 500 is held on Sunday, so almost everyone who attends chooses the race over attending church. Those people believe God asked them to set aside a day each week to honor Him. But they choose to honor their sport instead. Their reverence and adoration for the sport is greater than their reverence and adoration of God. They’re committing false worship.
So do people worship freedom? We sing songs of praise to freedom. We set aside days of celebration like July 4th and special rituals like our flag code to honor freedom. Americans adore and revere freedom, and we show it.
We also have a tremendous amount of faith in it. Ask an American what made our nation great and most answer freedom. What built our economy? Most say freedom. What makes America a good place to live? Freedom. Americans credit everything good to freedom.
And while everything good comes from freedom, ask people where the bad things come from and they’ll say something else. Where does the sin in our nation come from? They’ll point to television or music or the schools. Why is our government messed up? It’s a conspiracy. It’s the Democrats. Freedom is never blamed.
To the average American, freedom is the source of all the good fruits of our nation and none of the bad fruit. Freedom is omnipotent and infallible in their eyes. In fact, most Americans look to freedom for salvation. To save our country, they want to restore freedom, not impose God’s law.
It’s undeniable that Americans adore and revere freedom. We celebrate it. We praise it. We trust it. We have faith in it. We’re even willing to kill to defend it. That fits the definition of worship. But is it false worship? Do Americans place freedom in front of God?
Well, which do we choose? When there’s conflict between our ideal of freedom and the command of God, which does western culture choose to obey?
Western culture believes in an ideal of freedom that’s different from the freedom offered by God’s law.
James 1:25 calls God’s law the “perfect law of liberty.” There’s a natural freedom in God’s law and we all understand how it works. When stealing is outlawed, people are made free. That law protects people’s freedom to enjoy the fruits of their labor. When government punishes murder, people are made free. That law protects people’s freedom to live in peace. God’s law provides freedom. Freedom flows THROUGH God’s law.
But that’s not the kind of freedom we believe in today. Consider Exodus 31:15: “Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever doeth any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” That’s God’s law, and it tells us Sabbath observance was supposed to be enforced in the nation. Moses’ government enforced it, the Judges enforced it, and so did the kings.
That law offers freedom just like the rest of God’s law. A national Sabbath law gives business the freedom to close in obedience to God and worship without worry that competitors will gain advantage by staying open. A Sabbath law gives employees freedom to worship without being forced to work. Freedom to worship flows through the Sabbath law.
But that’s not the freedom America believes in. We believe each individual should be free to worship when and how he thinks is right. In America you’re free to worship on Sunday if you want, or Saturday, or Friday. You’re free to work on any of those days, too, or shop at the mall instead. It’s your choice. That’s what freedom means to us: choice. We actually believe it’s WRONG to establish a Sabbath law that requires obedience. We believe the instructions of Exodus 31 should NOT be the law of the land. We believe in freedom FROM God’s law—not freedom THROUGH God’s law.
Most people would describe this modern version of freedom as freedom of religion. I want to talk about the principle of religious freedom because it’s a principle that’s become dear to us, even the elect. We believe in the original intent of simple Christian tolerance, which is good and noble; but religious freedom does more than that. It changes the purpose of government.
II Chronicles 34:1: “Josiah was eight years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem one and thirty years. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of David his father, and declined neither to the right hand, nor to the left.”
So God says Josiah was a good king, but watch the reason why in verses 3-5: “For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images. And they brake down the altars of Baalim in his presence; and the images, that were on high above them, he cut down; and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images, he brake in pieces, and made dust of them, and strowed it upon the graves of them that had sacrificed unto them. And he burnt the bones of the priests upon their altars, and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem.”
God considered Josiah a good king specifically because he governed religious beliefs. Josiah purged paganism from the nation. He killed the priests and the people who participated in other religions, yet God called that good government. In fact, II Kings 23 says there was no king who ever turned his heart to God as much as Josiah.
Our culture believes government shouldn’t govern religion; but to God, governing beliefs is not only the job of government; it’s the whole purpose of government. You can read all through Kings and Chronicles, where over and over again you’ll see this same yardstick used: God judged the king good if he made the people serve God. He was bad if he allowed other religions. That’s it. Period. Nothing else really mattered. Nowhere will you find a king judged good because he was good with the economy. God never says, “Hezekiah was good because he lowered taxes” or “Manasseh was bad because he was weak on national defense.” The only thing that mattered to God was how the king regulated the religion of the nation.
Deuteronomy 12:8 says, “Ye shall not do … every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes.” God didn’t design a system of self-government where individuals determine right and wrong for themselves. The first judge, Moses, told people when to worship and how to worship. He told them what they were allowed to eat and what altar they had to gather at. And the judges after Moses enforced the same laws. Those laws produce true freedom. Our modern version of freedom didn’t exist under God’s government. God didn’t give us freedom of religion, yet we choose it over what God did give us.
And this choice creates natural conflicts with Christianity. Most people don’t think there’s any conflict between religious freedom and Christianity. We regard them almost as one and the same. We think we’re serving God when we uphold freedom. But freedom of religion creates a number of natural conflicts with God’s law.
One is a division of God’s law. Look at the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not steal.” We expect government to enforce that law. “Thou shalt not kill.” It’s the job of government to arrest and punish murder. But what about “Honor the Sabbath day”? Our culture says government has no business defining and dictating the Sabbath. People should be free to follow their conscience. The government should stay out it.
What about forbidding idols? Religious freedom dictates Catholics are free to have statues of Mary; Lutherans are free to put up Christmas trees; and Seventh Day Adventists are free to complain about it. The government shouldn’t define or enforce idolatry laws. The government stays neutral.
With religious freedom we have parts of God’s law we expect defined and enforced. It doesn’t matter if individuals disagree about what murder is: the government defines murder and enforces it. But other parts of God’s law are considered off limits for enforcement. God’s law is divided into two categories.
Separation of church and state is built into religious freedom. You can’t avoid it. You can’t have religious freedom without separating those parts of God’s law we want enforced from those parts we don’t want enforced.
But of course God didn’t divide His law. It’s all the same set of commandments. There’s no line in God’s word dividing the commandments He wants government to enforce from other commandments He wants left to individuals. Religious freedom creates that division which conflicts with God’s law, yet we choose to divide God’s law.
Western culture adores and reveres our version of freedom, and we choose it over the type of freedom God meant for us to have. We set our version of freedom in front of obedience to God. We’ve made freedom an idol. Western culture worships freedom. But can the world’s reverence for freedom lead to the persecution of true Christians like the Bible prophecies?
It needs to be understood the version of freedom western culture believes in today isn’t actually tolerant: it’s lawless.
We think of freedom of religion as neutral tolerance. For example, Seventh Day Adventists believe in God’s food laws so they don’t eat pork. Mennonites believe Peter’s vision changed that, so they do eat pork. Religious freedom dictates the government stays out of it and allows each to follow their conscience. Neutral, right? Only that isn’t neutral. That means the law allows the nation to eat pork.
This same dynamic happens with every issue. Some people worship on Sunday, some on Saturday, and some don’t worship at all. What does America do? We let people do their own thing, which means the law says you don’t have to worship at all in America. Some people believe in divorce, some don’t. America lets each do what they believe, which means no-fault divorce is the law of the land.
Religious freedom by definition consistently sides with the more permissive choice. In any conflict of values, our version of freedom permits, it doesn’t restrict. Since the natural conflict between the church and the world usually involves the church restricting something the world wants to permit, modern freedom will consistently side with the world against the church.
God’s law says don’t live together outside marriage. Freedom says you have a choice. God’s law says don’t eat pork. Freedom says you have a choice. God’s law says don’t commit adultery. Freedom says that’s your choice. Many people believe separation of church and state was supposed to keep the government out of the affairs of the church while still allowing the church to influence government. The reality is modern religious freedom naturally and consistently excludes the church from imposing law.
And it’s very difficult to limit how far that permission goes. Presbyterians believe the Bible supports gay-marriage. Episcopalians believe abortion is a Christian option. That’s their religious beliefs. Does government have the authority to tell those denominations their religion is wrong and they can’t practice it? Our culture says no.
The authority to limit what is morally acceptable is the authority to govern morality which is what Josiah did and what religious freedom rejects. The irony is this: the tolerance we all want is only possible when government does govern morality.
Tolerance is mercy, or an allowance. A government that governs morality has the choice to be tolerant but choice means it also has the choice to limit. Under religious freedom, government doesn’t have that choice; it can’t say no. There is no tolerance. There’s lawlessness.
Colossians 2:16 tells us not to judge each other over meats or drinks or holy days or the Sabbath. That’s the tolerance we want: mercy on some issues of disagreement. In Colossians, the Apostle Paul was dealing with some of the same divisions we deal with today, differences over food laws, over alcohol, differences over the holy days, and the Sabbath. Paul tells us not to judge each other over these issues. But at the same time, the Apostle Paul told the church to condemn homosexuality. Paul, holding the authority of an Apostle, was able to offer tolerance in one case and define limits in the other.
There are many examples of tolerance in the Bible. In Joshua 22, Phinehas allowed the tribe of Manasseh to keep an altar the rest of Israel thought was an idol and were ready to destroy. Moses allowed people to keep a different day for Passover when they couldn’t keep Passover on the date the law demanded. Jesus forgave and defended the adulteress because a society with rampant promiscuity and divorce is hypocritical in condemning adultery.
Those are all examples of grants of mercy, of tolerance. Deuteronomy 17 says the priests and the judge have authority to decide controversies and their decisions are binding on the people. That’s what these examples of tolerance are in the Bible, a judge deciding to show mercy. But in each case, they’re granted by an authority that also had the power to say no. Without the authority to say no, we don’t have tolerance. We’re left with lawlessness.
Freedom of religion rejects government’s authority to limit and leaves us with blanket permission. With religious freedom, it’s very difficult to avoid permission for things like promiscuity, homosexuality, and even pagan religions because no one holds the authority to define limits on beliefs.