In the Name of Freedom, Part II
By John Wickey
Now, as Americans we’ve been taught religious freedom is necessary because it protects us from persecution. Without it, there’s tyranny. We’ve been taught to trust it for protection. But think for a minute. Was the government of Moses tyranny? Moses didn’t offer freedom of religion, but his government wasn’t tyranny. King David governed religion. You couldn’t attend the church of your choice under David’s rule. But the Kingdom of David wasn’t tyranny. The absence of religious freedom doesn’t automatically mean tyranny.
I’ve been told many times the only reason I’m free to hold the beliefs I do is because of freedom of religion. We believe in religious freedom. We think we need it to be free. But think about the beliefs we hold as Christians. Is it really freedom of religion that gives us the freedom to believe in Christianity?
Think about individual beliefs. As a Christian, I believe homosexuality is sin and shouldn’t be permitted in society. Would I have been free to hold that belief before religious freedom? Yes I would. In fact that belief was law throughout Europe before freedom of religion.
Now compare that to today. Am I free to believe homosexuality should be a crime today? It’s actually a lot harder to hold that belief today under religious freedom than it was before religious freedom. Not only do I face anti-discrimination laws, but someone who holds my beliefs on homosexuality stands no chance of going anywhere in politics. They won’t be able to climb the corporate ladder. And worst of all, they have to fight our culture daily to pass that belief on to their kids.
What about our beliefs on interracial marriage? Again, before religious freedom, for well over a thousand years we wouldn’t have faced any problems at all holding our beliefs. Today, it’s hard to hold our belief and even harder to pass it on. What about modesty, divorce, promiscuity? Same thing. It was easier to hold Christian beliefs before freedom than after. As Christians we were actually freer to hold Christian beliefs before religious freedom than we are today.
Freedom of religion naturally brings with it a “soft” persecution of monotheism. By definition religious freedom means you’re permitted to do things others think are wrong and in turn they’re free to do things you think are wrong. That’s what our version of freedom is. But that situation creates conflict. You can teach your child promiscuity is wrong, but when freedom allows your neighbor to live together with his girlfriend without consequence, that example teaches your child a contradictory lesson. A pastor can preach a sermon on modesty, but when his congregation walks through the mall they learn a different lesson.
The law’s a schoolmaster according to Galatians. And its lessons are louder and more persuasive than a thousand sermons. For example, No-fault divorce became law across the country in the 70s. Before that law most people thought of divorce as sin and for decades after, churches across the nation preached sermons against divorce. Many still do today. Who won that tug-of-war over America’s beliefs? Was it the thousands of sermons or did the law preach louder? Today the majority of people believe no-fault divorce is necessary and acceptable. The law is a far more powerful teacher than any parent or any pastor can hope to be.
II Peter chapter 2 talks about people who despise government, people who are self-directed. It talks about people who promise liberty, but they don’t deliver liberty. They deliver only corruption. That chapter is talking about the ideal we believe in today. Freedom of religion promises liberty. It promises you’ll be free to hold your beliefs and teach them to your children. But what actually happens is our “free” culture reaches into your home and contradicts everything you say, it reaches into your church and drowns out the sermons that are preached.
Before religious freedom, parents didn’t have to say a word about homosexuality and their children grew up knowing it was wrong. They didn’t have to say a word and the culture taught their children marriage was for life and Jesus Christ is Lord. Today we fight a war to pass on those basic Christian beliefs.
It’s hard for us to realize just how much pressure our beliefs are under today. We live with it so we don’t know any other way. But before what we call freedom, people didn’t face the pressure we face every day.
Did you know there were no sermons prior to religious freedom? And there’s a good reason why. If you went to church in the 1500s you would’ve partook in the liturgy, a service like Morning Prayer. But there was no sermon. And it wasn’t just a Catholic thing. There were no sermons under Moses either. There were no sermons because there was very little conflict between the church and society.
We have sermons today because there’s constant conflict between the church and the society around us. The church preaches against promiscuity because there’s a lot of promiscuity. It preaches against divorce because there’s a lot of divorce. It preaches about faith because there are so many people that don’t believe. The church is fighting a war to hold onto its flock. Sermons are battles in a war to keep you from the sinful culture around you. We think religious freedom protects us, but our free culture attacks our faith. We have to constantly fight to hold onto our beliefs. We have to constantly fight to pass on our beliefs. There were no sermons because Christians didn’t have to fight the culture before freedom of religion.
Of course that’s only cultural pressure. Freedom of religion means we have to coexist with conflicting beliefs, but nobody is being killed for their beliefs in America. No one is being forced to change their beliefs. And a lot of people would say that’s a fair trade. If we have to endure the soft persecution of cultural pressure it’s worth it because it protects us from the hard persecution of governmental force.
But it doesn’t actually do that. The problem is it’s impossible to avoid force. The very nature of government is force. As George Washington said, “Government is not eloquence, it is not reason, it is force”. A religiously free government is no different. Freedom still requires government to enforce a moral code just like any other form of government. It will enforce laws against theft. It will enforce laws against murder. It may choose to enforce only some of God’s Law, but freedom still forces law on people. And what many don’t realize is freedom adds a requirement of its own. Religious freedom forces us to honor freedom itself, above all else. And those who don’t will be persecuted.
Let me give you an example. We look back at England and the Puritans and we think freedom would have protected the Puritans from persecution. But that actually isn’t true. Puritans were persecuted by England, but America today would also persecute the Puritans. Let me explain.
Most people don’t really know what happened with the Puritans. The conflict that occurred wasn’t actually over Christian doctrine. It was over the use of force.
The Puritans and the Church of England agreed on every major Christian doctrine. You could go through the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed point by point and Anglicans and Puritans would both have agreed on every point.
Their disagreement arose at the time of the Act of Uniformity which was an English law with two basic requirements: everyone was required to attend weekly church services in the Church of England and all churches were required to use the Book of Common Prayer. But those requirements weren’t the source of disagreement.
The purpose of the Act of Uniformity was to move England away from the Catholic Church to the Protestant Anglican Church. But when Queen Elizabeth wrote the law she knew many Englishmen still sympathized with Catholic traditions so she allowed a few of those traditions to continue.
Some people complained about those traditions. They wanted a “pure” church. That’s why the people who rejected those traditions became known as Puritans. The Puritans condemned ministers wearing white robes. They condemned people kneeling during communion. They condemned allowing churches to have paintings, statues, and stained glass. Now understand, churches didn’t have to have stained glass, but they were allowed to. They didn’t have to have statues and paintings, but they were allowed to.
Those were the Catholic traditions Queen Elizabeth tolerated. The Puritans rejected that tolerance. They wanted those traditions suppressed by force. That was the initial disagreement which created Puritanism. Puritans were born out of a rejection of religious tolerance. It’s ironic most people look to the Puritans for religious freedom when the Puritans actually rejected even simple tolerance, but that’s what happened.
At the beginning there was no persecution. Puritans held many prominent positions in government and the church. Queen Elizabeth was friendly with them and actually appointed several Puritans to her government. But as time went on Queen Elizabeth, followed by King James, continued to allow these traditions. The Puritans grew more discontent. They added a complaint about the use of candles and about how ministers were selected.
When it became clear they weren’t going to get the king to force their restrictions on the nation, the Puritans decided to separate from what they saw as an idolatrous church and form their own congregations. That’s when the persecution started. This put them in violation of the Act of Uniformity which required weekly church attendance. The Puritans faced fines and imprisonment.
What would’ve happened if the Puritans lived in America today? Would religious freedom have protected them from persecution? Would Puritans have been free to practice their religion according to their conscience?
No, they wouldn’t have. Remember, the Puritans didn’t just want to worship freely. The Puritans rejected freedom of religion. They wanted others to worship as they did. They would’ve been disgusted with America society. They fled England, but they also eventually fled Holland as well because they feared losing their children to a sinful world. They would not have been satisfied with our culture.
And think about how our culture would’ve reacted to them. The Puritans came here and set up the Massachusetts Bay Colony. That’s where they lived out their religious beliefs. How would our free society have handled the Massachusetts colony when it exiled Roger Williams for being Baptist? How would America have reacted when the Puritans exiled Anne Hutchinson for antinomianism? What would we have done when they executed four Quakers because they were Quaker? Would freedom have tolerated the Salem witch trials?
No, our free society would’ve used force to stop the Puritans from carrying out their beliefs. If Massachusetts executed people for believing the wrong religion today, our principle of freedom would dictate the army step in and stop it. Our free society would put a stop to the Puritans practicing their religion. The Puritans would be free to practice their religion only so long as their beliefs are compatible with freedom. You see, the Freedom we believe in today requires you to honor freedom above your own beliefs. Freedom comes first. And Freedom will use force to enforce its supremacy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Massachusetts Bay Colony abused their power. Even King Charles forbid them from executing anymore Quakers. The Catholic and Protestant wars were also horrible. The Inquisition against the Waldensies never should’ve happened. There certainly was abuse of power before religious freedom. But religious freedom is capable of the same thing.
If you look back in history religiously free cultures don’t have a good track record when it comes to their treatment of Christianity. Persia publicly proclaimed freedom of religion, yet the book of Esther tells us Persia almost exterminated the Hebrew people. Religious freedom was embedded in Persian law, but Persia threw Daniel in the lion’s den.
Rome also was a free society. Rome invented the republic. Religious freedom was a cornerstone of Roman culture. Yet Rome hunted down Christians and killed them. Have you ever thought about why Rome did that?
Rome killed Christians because they refused to say “Caesar is lord”. It was law in Rome once a year everyone had to burn a pinch of incense and say “Caesar is lord”. Think about that: Rome, which was the fourth Beast of Revelation, literally killed people who refused to worship it. This is important to understand because this is exactly what God prophesies will happen again in the End Times.
Now why did Rome do that? Why would a nation that values religious freedom require people to say “Caesar is lord”? Most people don’t understand what was going on there. Christians refused to say those words because they regarded it as idolatry. But Rome didn’t mean it that way. To Rome it was simply a loyalty oath.
The important thing to understand is that ritual became law because of religious freedom. It was a ritual that came from Roma worship. The Roman people loved their nation every bit as much as we do today. The people didn’t much like the corrupt, abusive government Rome was usually cursed with and most were disgusted by the moral corruption and decadence of Roman culture; but the Roman people adored and revered what Rome was supposed to be. They loved the ideal of Rome, much like many of us hate what America has become, but love what America was supposed to be.
The Roman people loved the ideal of Rome so much, some literally worshipped this image of Rome. History called it Roma worship, complete with temples, idols, and rituals.
As a religiously free society, Rome had to deal with a great deal of conflicting values and beliefs. And these conflicts posed a great threat to the Roman way of life. You were free to believe anything you wanted in Rome, but to hold so many differing beliefs together and to protect the Roman way of life, Rome needed everyone to place Roman law and Roman ideals above personal beliefs. Freedom comes with a requirement. Freedom has to come first. For you to be free, no matter what you believe, you have to honor the freedom of others first.
To enforce that, Rome took a ritual from Roma worship and made it law across the nation. By saying “Caesar is lord” you were saying Caesar, as a symbol of Rome, is first. Rome was asking you to acknowledge the supremacy of Roman law and Roman ideals above personal beliefs.
Now, the central Roman ideal was freedom. Western culture today mirrors Roman culture. The Roman people were free to live pretty much as they please. Homosexuality was legal. Abortion was an option. They had no-fault divorce. Adultery was unpunished by law. Roman law revolved around personal freedom just as ours does today. So swearing loyalty to Roman law by saying “Caesar is lord” boiled down to swearing loyalty to the principle of freedom.
Jews refused to say it because they saw it as idolatry and in the spirit of religious freedom Rome granted them a legal exemption, but when Christians came along the exemption was revoked because Christians were evangelical; and the permissive Roman culture felt threatened by these Christians who told them certain choices were sin. Read Acts 19 and you can see how threatened people felt when the Apostles preached against idolatry.
Well, when the exemption was revoked and Christians refused to say “Caesar is lord” Rome labeled them a threat, hunted them down, and killed them.
Today we feel our way of life threatened too. In fact the Western World faces the exact same set of conflicts Rome faced. Rome feared Parthia. We fear Russia and China. They had to deal with barbarian tribes like the Huns and the Goths. We have ISIS and Al Qaeda. Rome had corrupt, power-hungry politicians just like we do. They faced a moral decline and collapse of the family just like ours. Romans even feared their low-birth rate would lead to foreign immigrants controlling Rome.
We face the exact same threats they did. How are we going to respond? Think about this: what are we going to do about ISIS? Islamic extremism isn’t just going away. Dropping bombs isn’t going to stop them. 42% of the Islamic world agrees with suicide bombing. That’s over 600 million Muslims. We can’t kill a few terrorists in the Middle East and expect it to be over.
And Islam is inside Western countries. 15% of France is Muslim. There are 2 million Muslims in America. What are we going to do about that?
If you look at another conflict we’re dealing with you can see the direction we’ll go. How are we dealing with the conflict between Christians and gay-marriage? We’re trying to reinforce freedom. A law just passed in Indiana called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Christians look to this law to reinforce the freedom of Christians to stay out of gay-weddings. 19 states already have the law and it’s going through the legislatures of several others right now.
The direction we’re moving scares me. The left is up in arms over the law. They’re defending the freedom of gays. The right is defending the freedom of Christians. No one is trying to restore God’s law. Both sides are trying to force freedom. No one is trying to take freedom away from homosexuals. Now, I understand why we passed tis law. Christians really have no other option. It’s the best we can do. But did you know this law was originally written by the Clinton Administration 20 years ago to protect the rights of Indians to smoke Peyote?
Instead of restoring God’s law, Christians are embracing a law that just as easily be used to protect homosexual rights as protect our rights. No one is trying to restore God’s law. Both sides are trying to force freedom. No one is trying to take freedom away from homosexuals. So when I say homosexuality should be a capital offence, everyone, including conservative America, sees me as the threat. True Christians pose a threat to the freedom of homosexuals. We would ban it if we could. A permissive culture feels their freedom threatened by Christians. And our culture is choosing to defend freedom.
We’ll do the same thing with Isis. We’ll defend freedom. We keep hoping Muslims will be nice and get along, but that’s not going to happen. We had a beheading in Oklahoma just last fall. We had that guy shouting “Allah Akbar” when he knifed 2 cops in New York a couple months ago. We had the Fort Hood attack. These aren’t going to stop. They’re likely to increase.
At some point a Muslim is going to walk into the Mall of America with a rifle and start shooting. Or a nuke goes off, or we end up in all-out war like Revelation prophecies, but sooner or later, the threat will be too much and the Western World will react to defend freedom.
At some point our society will haul everyone it views as a threat into court. Our free society won’t single out Islam. You know that’s what the Spanish Inquisition was about. The purpose of the Spanish Inquisition was to remove the threat of Islamic and Jewish religion from Spain.
We won’t single out one religion like they did. But when the threat gets bad enough we’re going to repeat the Inquisition. We’ll haul people into court to test their loyalty. Religious freedom won’t target Islam; it will focus on threats to freedom. And you have to realize a permissive society naturally feels their freedom threatened by Christianity.
Imagine what our society will think about the two witnesses, two men who bring drought, famine, and plague to any nation that refuses the Law of God? The Witnesses won’t honor religious freedom. They’ll tell nations when to worship and how to worship. They’ll bring plagues on nations over homosexuality, abortion, and marriage laws. People who believe in freedom, even Christians, will reject the two witnesses because they believe in freedom. People believe no man has the right to force morality on others. The two witnesses will do exactly that. And anyone who supports the Witnesses will be a threat.
Western culture will defend freedom. If you listen, you can already hear a lot of talk about restoring and defending freedom. We feel threatened and we’ll do exactly what Rome did. It’s the path a free society naturally follows. Thomas Jefferson said, “Perhaps the single thing, which may be required of others before toleration to them, would be an oath that they would allow toleration to others. “ “Caesar is lord” was that oath for Rome. We’re going to demand the same thing.
Imagine being required to say this: “I swear to honor, respect, and obey the principle of freedom ABOVE my personal religious beliefs.” Would you be willing to swear that? Would you be willing to place freedom in front of God? ISIS wouldn’t. It would be an effective oath because extremists would refuse. I don’t think Elijah would swear loyalty to freedom in front of God. But most Christians would because they don’t see any conflict between freedom and Christianity. They don’t see freedom as a competing god.
But freedom was what defined Rome. Freedom was what made Rome what it was. Rome was a decadent, sinful nation; but we get that picture not because every individual Roman was a homosexual. Most weren’t. It was common in Rome to look down on homosexuality. It wasn’t that every Roman was promiscuous. The Roman people worried about divorce and the decline of the family. We see Rome the way we do because Rome offered freedom to do those things. Rome was defined by freedom.
In fact, idolatry is usually defined by freedom. When Israel fell into Baal worship, it wasn’t that every Israelite participated in temple prostitution or every Israelite sacrificed their child to Baal. Most didn’t. Israel’s idolatry was defined by the freedom to practice the traditions of Baal worship. Freedom was the defining principle of all the nations of the Beast. The image of Greece was democratic freedom. Persia was defined by freedom. Read the proclamation of Cyrus. Even Babylon, the first multicultural nation in the history of the world, freely accepted all people as one.
Our modern version of freedom, religious freedom, has been the ideal that set the nations of the Beast apart. It’s the common link between their idolatry. And while we don’t think of freedom as a god, Rome did. At the center of the Roman forum, at the center of Roman government, stood a literal idol, a statue of the goddess of liberty.
We brought that goddess here. In New York harbor stands a copy of that Roman idol, the Statue of Liberty. We literally chose to copy a pagan goddess to symbolize our defining principle. Romans called her “Libertas”. We call her Columbia, but she’s the same goddess. Rome built temples to her. We named our capitol after her, The District of Columbia. We placed her image on our money and on top of our capitol dome. She was the principle Rome was thinking of when they said “Caesar is lord”. They killed for her. And the Western World is ready to kill again in the name of Freedom.
We live in a culture that’s given its love and trust to freedom and it’s appealing to us. But we need to understand that freedom is a counterfeit of Christian liberty. It’s the same freedom that Rome loved, the same freedom that defined all the nations of the Beast. And our culture has elevated that freedom above God. That’s what it means when it says we will worship the Beast.