Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Gospel, Tolerance and Religious Freedom

It's generally agreed upon in our culture that religious freedom is a good thing. I don't know of many people walking around waving signs saying, "Down With Religious Freedom! Repeal the First Amendment!" Right or Left, we all recognize (at least in theory) that religious freedom is a noble principle that ought to be a part of our society

But it's not quite as simple as that. We all have a functional religion that governs our lives, whether we like to admit it or not. Some might prefer to call this a "worldview" or a "philosophy of life" but now we're just splitting hairs. We all have a set of values by which we operate. Likewise, as cultures were have a set of values that governs our nation. In short, there's no such thing as a value-neutral government. Religious freedom does not mean a religionless nation. They don't exist. All governments must operate from a certain value set - a certain religion, if you'll pardon my language.

So, if all governments are, at least in that sense, religious how then can we have religious freedom? Well, it depends on whether the religion governing the land is one that professes salvation through faith or salvation through works. Because works are external actions they can forced up the citizenry. But faith is, by it's very nature, a free, voluntary, internal act. If faith is forced is ceases to be faith.

So, when a works-based religion gains hold over a government, religious freedom dies. Islam, for example, is a works-based religion. You can force people to utter the words, "There is one God and Mohammad is his prophet". Men can be made through coercion to practice the five pillars. If works can be forced than salvation by works can be forced as well. Thus, it's only logical for Islamist governments to bring people into salvation, by the sword if necessary. The Arab Spring is proving that the Islamist mindset cannot produce freedom of religion.

But Biblical Christianity is a faith-based religion. Men cannot be forced into having their hearts changed. They cannot be made by the sword to put their faith in Jesus Christ. Thus, a truly Christian government will not force people to become Christians, for that would ruin the whole point. A biblical State will protect the rights of non-Christians to freely and publicly worship; not because all religions are equally valid but because the State is simply not qualified to make disciples. That is to be done by churches and individual Christians, not by men in dark suits. Thus, a society can only have religious freedom if it understands the Christian Gospel of salvation by grace through faith.

Now, this is the part where someone raises their hand and says, "Um, Josh, I think you need to take world history again. Many Christian governments persecuted unbelievers."

That's only too true. I've been to Lima, Peru, and seen the old Inquisition there, complete with grotesque wax statues of tortured "heretics". It's tragically true that elements of Christendom have opposed religious freedom. But just because a nation has a crucifix on their flag doesn't mean they understand the Gospel. Just like pilgrimages to Mecca can be imposed by the State, so can baptism and saying "hail Mary". Every "Christian" government that has opposed religious freedom was operating from a gospel that had been, in some way, perverted. But if a culture does understand the Gospel it will secure religious rights for all. Therefore, it is not in opposition to religious freedom, but in defense of it, that we must be bold to spread the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Right now, the United States is governed by the Cult of Tolerance. It's is a functional religion with a functional gospel. "Tolerate and be saved." Does this religion allow for religious freedom? Increasingly, we are discovering that the answer is "no". Pastor Louie Giglio was originally supposed to give the benediction at President Obama's inauguration yesterday. However, he was dismissed after a sermon he preached against homosexuality came to light. On the one hand, I don't have a problem with this. It's Obama's gig and he can have whoever he wants give the benediction.

But it does demonstrate that the New Tolerance doesn't really give tolerance to everyone, but only to those who agree with its postmodern presuppositions. How ironic it is when the president talks of equality for his gay brothers while excluding those who disagree with him. The tolerance gospel cannot tolerate anything that disagrees with it because tolerance, unlike faith in Christ, is a work. And works can be enforced by legislation and men with guns. The State can force people to be tolerant. Thus, a tolerance-obsessed culture cannot allow for religious freedom. In contrast, a Christian nation must allow for the freedom of disagreeing religions or it is in some way sub-Christian. That's the paradox. If you say all religions are valid, any religions that disagree with that assertion will be treated as invalid. But if you say that Jesus is the only Way, than all religions will be tolerated.

Thus, may we protect religious freedom for all by insisting on the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, really good points. I've certainly noticed the intolerant gospel of inclusivity, but I've never put words to the opposite aspect: the tolerant Gospel of exclusivity. Thanks for the well-thought post.