Free Religious Debate
In July of 2016 Valdimir Putin approved laws restricting evangelization and missionary activity to only officially registered Church buildings and worship areas, and the Supreme Court in Moscow banned all activity by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country, claiming that this denomination violated anti-extremism law.
When a government starts to tighten the screws against religious groups we don’t agree with, it’s easy to passively and quietly accept what is happening, but when any government starts to use its power to silence public debate and discussion of spiritual issues, it’s an abuse of power.
According to the Bible, God has ultimate authority, yet in the inspired narrative He doesn’t force belief in His Son. He allows each individual the right to decide for themselves. This is the freedom stressed in our first amendment. The roots of this separation of church and state go back to Jesus’ statements about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s and Luke’s account in the Book of Acts.
When Paul’s religious Jewish opposition tried to get Gallio, the Roman proconsul in AD 51, to shut him down, look at what Gallio said were the legitimate concerns of his court and where he refused to step in and take sides.
“But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, ‘Against the Law this man is persuading men to worship God.’ But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of wrongdoing or some serious crime, then I would have reason to bear with you, O Jews; but since it is a dispute about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’ And he drove them away from the tribunal. Then they seized Sosthenes, the synagogue ruler, and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern for these things.” Acts 18:12-17
Gallio got it right about allowing freedom of discussion about religious and theological issues to proceed without government interference. He got it right when he sent the theologians away from his courtroom. He got it wrong when he allowed a mob outside to beat up an innocent man—definitely a serious crime.
LORD, I might not agree with the Jehovah Witnesses on doctrine, but I do pray that you will stop the Russian government’s increasing destruction of religious freedom. Help us to be careful as Christians in America not to use the power of government to force our beliefs on others. Help government to stay out of religious debates but to step in when innocent victims are being beaten up by unruly mobs.
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