In part one of Jesus and the Election I shared that a lot of believers get worked up around this time every four years. The goal of this blog series is to pause, step back and for a few minutes and ask what God says and doesn’t say about these political issues. In part one we talked about God and the Economy. Today let’s talk about Religious Freedom.
There is no doubt that if you surveyed 100 Christians that 100 Christians would say that we want religious freedom. We are all grateful for the fact that we can assemble openly and speak freely the name of Jesus. However, most people would acknowledge that the American church has also become soft. Our greatest concerns often revolve around issues of preference and comfort rather than changing the world. Things have not always been that way. In fact, the early church seemed to have been just the opposite. It doesn’t appear that Christianity began with great religious freedom. We read in Acts 2:47 that early believers had the favor of all the people. However, it did not take long for that to change. God starts doing some amazing things through men like Peter and John and in Acts 4 we see that not everyone was excited about that. The Sanhedrin (the most powerful court in the land) arrests Peter and John for teaching about Jesus. After spending the night in jail Peter and John stand trial before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin commands them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. Look how they respond:
Acts 4:19-20 But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
How many of us as believers currently speak boldly about Jesus? The reality is that far too many of us fail to speak boldly about Jesus, and we have the freedom to do so. Here we see Peter and John being commanded by the highest court in the land to cease speaking His name and they essentially say, “Sorry, we will defer to a higher court. The one who will judge us for eternity.” It reminds me of the passage when Jesus was speaking to these very disciples and He said: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5). It appears that these disciples were listening. Are we?
In next part of chapter 4 they have a powerful prayer meeting (Acts 4:23-31). What would we pray for after an encounter like that? Safety? Protection? Changed government? New laws? Our guy to get elected? They did not pray for any of those things. Do you know what they prayed for? They prayed for boldness (Acts 4:29). Maybe we shouldn’t be praying for religious freedom. Maybe we should be praying for personal boldness with the gospel. God answered that prayer in Acts 4:31. However, in chapter 5 the disciples get arrested again, and again have to appear before the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin wants to kill them, but instead they end up having the disciples flogged. It says in Acts 5:41-42 that they left rejoicing because they were counted worthy of suffering for the Name. They never stopped proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ. Now that is a perspective we do not see very often. They REJOICED that they were counted worthy of suffering for Christ (Phil 3:10).
Many of us fail to proclaim the name of Jesus while having incredible freedom to do so. So the question has to become: Do we NEED persecution? Do we NEED to have our freedoms removed? Would it actually benefit Christianity for us to lose our rights?
Listen, I don’t want persecution. I am very grateful for our freedoms and the men and women who have fought for us to have those freedoms. I just wonder if we have become too soft. I wonder if we would be more effective with fewer rights. I wonder if persecution would shock the church back into focusing less on our comforts and preferences and more on our mission of reaching a dying world with life saving good news. I wonder…