Dr. Paul J. Dean Christian Blog and Commentary

The Strange Days of Waning Freedom


Jim Morrison of The Doors was no prophet nor was he the son of a prophet nor was he even a Christian. And yet, his words are descriptive if not prophetic: "Strange days have found us; strange days have tracked us down. They're going to destroy our casual joys." Indeed, strange days have found us in America and are in danger of destroying all that we know as freedom loving people.


For example, how cavalierly people attack religious liberty. "Does a church have the right to publicly condemn one of its members over an alleged extra-marital affair? That question, now being considered by the Texas Supreme Court, will have national implications, AgapePress reports. The pastor of Crossland Community Bible Church in Fort Worth sent a letter to the congregation after one of its members decided to terminate her marriage and was having what the pastor described as an 'inappropriate relationship' with another man, in violation of church doctrine. The woman sued over what she said was an invasion of her privacy. Hiram Sasser of the Liberty Legal Institute is representing the church. He argues it is essential that churches be able to govern themselves according to scripture without government interference."


Sasser raises the first issue here and is simply expressing what all Americans once knew to be true. That churches must be able to govern themselves without state interference is foundational not only to freedom of religion but to a free society as a whole. Expression of the Christian (and indeed American) ideal concerning this issue was given by John Leland (1754-1841), the Baptist preacher, who exerted not a little influence upon his personal acquaintances: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. He declared, "Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men, than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing."


Let the great doctrine of freedom of religion ring from our pulpits once again; that doctrine grounded in the sublime notion that no man has the right to coerce another man in matters of faith but that each man should be persuaded by the gracious and irresistible overtures of the Holy Spirit through the gospel or be left to himself without Christ. Let that doctrine of liberty ring from the halls of government once again that this nation, built upon the Christian certainty that God-given rights are unalienable, might flourish under gospel influence and not die a slow death under the influence of mere gospel imposters, aberrations, and downright opponents.


The second issue raised here concerns the church itself. That one should refer to church discipline as an invasion of privacy speaks to the dearth of biblical literacy in our day. Dr. Al Mohler, with reference to Baptist history, cites historian Greg Wills: "To an antebellum Baptist, a church without discipline would hardly have counted as a church."


Mohler continues: "churches held regular 'Days of Discipline' when the congregation would gather to heal breaches of fellowship, admonish wayward members, rebuke the obstinate, and, if necessary, excommunicate those who resisted discipline. In so doing, congregations understood themselves to be following a biblical pattern laid down by Christ and the apostles for the protection and correction of disciples. No sphere of life was considered outside the congregation's accountability. Members were to conduct their lives and witness in harmony with the Bible and with established moral principles... Members were disciplined for behavior which violated biblical principles or congregational covenants, but also for violations of doctrine and belief. Members were considered to be under the authority of the congregation and accountable to each other." 


That biblical concept is sadly foreign to contemporary Christians. The notion that a church member's adultery is not the business of the church flows from an astounding ignorance of the Scriptures, an autonomous arrogance before the Lord, and an appalling misapprehension of the nature of the church.


The claim of a right to privacy as it relates to personal autonomy as set against church authority in the wake of church discipline is nothing new. Many Christians claim ignorance of the concept of church discipline when it comes to defending that perceived right. However, if one chooses to associate with a church, is an onus not upon that person to discover that church's policy on such matters? Is it not reasonable to assume that a Christian would know something about the Scripture’s teaching on a matter so foundational? And, if the Christian were truly ignorant of the doctrine and practice for whatever the reason, once the Scriptural support has been brought forth, should that Christian not be expected to submit to the authority of God Himself as revealed in His word? Of course the Scripture declares plainly that those who refuse to submit to that authority are to be put out of the church and treated as unbelievers in the hope that repentance will be forthcoming. Backlash against properly executed church authority actually serves to prove the point.


It is a strange development when Christians want to be free from God's authority while at the same time wanting God's church to be coerced by human authority. Does it not strike you as strange when Christians, influenced by this culture, assert personal freedom but deny religious freedom? No individual is forced to associate with a church. Neither should a church be forced to accept anyone into membership regardless of their belief or behavior.


Only Christ can set us free from our enslavement to sin that we might be pure. How sad it is when the purity of the church is no longer embraced. Her purity has been traded for the idol of independence. And only Christ can set us free from the desire to oppress others that we and they might be free to express our faith. And yes, how sad it is when the land of the free, aptly named in the wake of gaining her independence, is fast becoming a land of oppression. The sad reality is that the clamor for personal freedom and the squelching of religious freedom both generate the same result: death. Indeed, these strange days in which we live destroy genuine pursuit of happiness and joy.


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