RELIGIOUS LIBERTY PART 1
THE BIBLICAL BASIS
Using the Bible as the foundation
THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
In the coming weeks CEC will explore the topic of religious liberty. As Christians, we want the freedom to live quiet and peaceful lives and to make the gospel known. Unfortunately, as our culture moves away from the Bible, the Christian worldview is increasingly rejected as discriminatory and hateful. This has recently come to a head in the case of Israel Folau, in legislation forcing doctors to refer for abortions in NSW, as well as in a number of other cases. How should Christians respond to these issues? Should we contend for religious liberty? What should we say when our non-Christian neighbours ask us about these things?
In this module, we will be looking at the biblical basis for religious liberty, the history and current state of religious liberty in Australia, the different layers of religious liberty and case studies in evangelism, education and the workplace. We are also blessed to welcome Martyn Iles (Director of the Australian Christian Lobby) to St Thomas’ on Sunday 25 August for an open forum on the topic. You can find more information and register here. Our aim is to equip you to provide a faithful case for religious liberty in conversation with your neighbours and, ultimately, to turn those conversations to the gospel.
We think a helpful definition of religious liberty is given by Andrew Walker in his thesis on the topic: ‘Religious liberty is defined as the principle wherein every individual should be free to live out his or her understanding of the conscience’s duty that is owed to God in all areas of life without liability to government penalty or social harassment.’ There are qualifications we could make to this definition, but it is a good start.
In part one we look at the biblical basis for religious liberty. Our authority is the Bible and so we do not want to believe in religious liberty unless it is biblical. Our podcast is a lecture given by Gerard O’Brien (assistant minister at St Thomas’ North Sydney). Also included on this page are an essay on religious liberty through church history from one of our congregation members, articles from Akos Balogh and Douglas Wilson on how religious liberty cannot be value-neutral and a lecture by Martyn Iles on the role of government and why Christians should enter politics.
The Biblical Basis for Religious Liberty
How do we get from blasphemy laws in ancient Israel to arguing for religious freedom today? This video (also the podcast) addresses this question head-on with a lecture given by Gerard O’Brien (Assistant Minister at St Thomas’ North Sydney). In evaluating what the Bible says about religious liberty, he distinguishes the Christian ruler from ordinary Christians subject to authority. The role of a Christian subject is to submit to their rulers except where that would cause them to sin. Life as a Christian ruler is more complex, and Gerard notes that in a liberal democracy we are all rulers to the extent that we vote. He traces biblical history from the ancient kingdom of Israel and gives five biblical principles for Christian rulers today with respect to religious liberty:
- Nobody has religious liberty before God. We will all be held accountable for our sin against him.
- Human rulers are not God and their power is limited. They are subject to God’s authority (whether they recognise it or not) and their biblical role is to punish wrongdoers and reward those who do good.
- Today is not the day of judgment, but the day of salvation. It is not the role of human rulers to punish sin against God during this time of patience.
- The kingdom of God is spread by the sword of the Spirit (the word of God), not the sword of the state. Rulers can not coerce or impose faith in Christ. The role of Christians now is to lovingly and peacefully proclaim salvation so that even the worst sinners may be rescued in Christ. Rulers must seek to make the public square as open as possible for gospel proclamation.
- The only coherent limit to religious liberty is the biblical limit where objective wrong is done to another human being. This wrong is objectively defined by the Bible and is not based on subjective feelings of hurt.
Duration: 28:47Speaker: Gerard O’BrienPublisher: St Thomas’ Anglican Church, North SydneyDate accessed: 30/7/19
The Biblical Basis for Religious Liberty
You can subscribe to the Christians Engaging Culture podcast here (or by searching for it in your favourite podcast app).
Podcast duration: 32:22Speaker: Gerard O’BrienPublisher: St Thomas’ Anglican Church, North Sydney (used with permission)Originally published at: https://youtu.be/EWAZKtpDfZADate accessed: 19/8/19
TWO QUICK THINGS YOU CAN SAY
Government is authorised by God to keep law and order in society. It is ill-equipped to judge the conscience or make decisions about faith.
Liberty always has its limits (e.g. we shouldn’t permit religious ceremonies that include human sacrifice). What standard do you use to decide on those limits?
TWO WAYS TO TURN DISCUSSION TO THE GOSPEL
Religious liberty is important to me because I want everyone to have the opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus. Have you ever had the opportunity to hear about that?
Religious liberty in the West has been shaped by the Bible. Even Jesus didn’t force people to follow him: many turned their backs on him (see John 6:66–67). In the same way, he has granted you the opportunity to receive or reject him. How have you responded to Jesus?
The Biblical Basis for Religious Liberty
Martyn Iles explores the biblical teaching on religious liberty, focusing on the state’s limited role of punishing the evildoer and rewarding those who do good, and the curse it is when a nation swaps good for evil.
We apologise for the low volume of this recording (we can’t change it), but commend it all the same.
Duration: 16:40 (see between 4:12–20:52)Speaker: Martyn IlesPublisher: MountGravattSDA VideosDate accessed: 30/7/19
Religious Liberty through Church History
This article by a member of St Thomas’ traces the Christian understanding of religious liberty down through church history, showing it was part of the teaching of the early church, was lost when Christians ascended in power, and regained after sectarian violence through the Reformation.
Estimated read time: 16:50
Akos Balogh summarises an argument by Jonathan Leeman that ‘modern “religious freedom” may well undermine Christian religious freedom’ because limits on religious liberty are never value-neutral.
‘Defenders quickly assert that, of course, no one advocates religious freedom or conscience “without limits.” But this misses the point. Where will those limits come from? Establishing limits requires some worldview or religion to draw them, which means that someone’s religion must work covertly in the background.’
Estimated Read Time: 5:30Author: Akos BaloghPublisher: http://akosbalogh.comDate accessed: 30/7/19
This is a must-read from Douglas WIlson on why religious liberty is a Christian value and why it cannot survive within a secular worldview.
‘Religious liberty is not a secular value. Religious liberty is a religious value, and not all religions value it equally, or even at all. Those who prize religious liberty must therefore realize that many worldviews cannot or will not support religious liberty. There is only one faith that supports genuine religious liberty, but it does so because we adopted it because we believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and not because we were pursuing the idol of religious liberty. The Christian faith is true, and that is why good things grow there.’
Estimated Read Time: 8:55Author: Douglas WilsonPublisher: Blog & MablogDate accessed: 30/7/19
FOUR BIBLE PASSAGES CONCERNING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Matthew 28:18–20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Romans 13:3–4 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.
1 Timothy 2:1–4 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Thank you for the liberty that we currently enjoy in Australia to come and worship you. It is a blessing for us and provides opportunity to serve and worship you in peace, as well as bring the gospel to our communities. We recognise that our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to you and your message, and this liberty is now under threat. We ask that you will provide wisdom to those in government, that they may act with truth and justice and seek to maintain religious liberty in this country.
We also ask that you would provide wisdom to all those in the church. Firstly for our leaders and those who have a public presence in the media, and secondly to the wider church. May we all act in truth and with grace in all our engagements with those outside your church. Please equip us with a sound understanding of why we should seek to protect this liberty as we seek to share your gospel. May we always remember that, no matter what, you are still enthroned and have overcome the world.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Liberty or License: What Does it Mean to Be Free?
This podcast episode argues that institutions such as the family, businesses and schools flourish when the Bible is the source of right and wrong. As the values of a community become more disparate, then the state needs to step in and legislate, eventually leading to totalitarianism.
In addition, the contributors:
- Explore Greek concepts of tyranny and the way the American Revolution sought to guard against it.
- Trace religious liberty through church history.
- Distinguish between religious liberty and religious freedom. Liberty is a value-loaded term: it is the freedom to do what is good (as opposed to license: the freedom to do what you desire).
- Explore the different spheres of authority (the family, the church and the state).
From Augustine to Kuyper, this episode packs a lot in! We apologise that the sound can be a bit hard to follow (it’s recorded in a bar), but it is definitely worth the listen.
Duration: 52:12Speakers: Dr. Thomas Price, Dr. Glenn Sunshine, and Pr. C. R. WileyPublisher: The Theology PugcastDate accessed: 31/7/19
Jesus Christ: The End and Ground of Tolerance
‘Jesus Christ, the source and ground of all truth, will himself one day bring an end to all tolerance, and he alone will be exalted as the one and only Lord and Savior and Judge of the universe. Therefore, since Jesus Christ alone, the Creator and Lord of history, has the right to wield the tolerance-ending sword, we dare not.’
Estimated read time: 7:15Author: John PiperPublisher: Desiring GodDate accessed: 31/7/19
John Piper writes on how we can live as Christians in a pluralistic society and why we should support pluralism: ‘The fact that God establishes his kingdom through the supernatural miracle of faith, not firearms, means that Christians in this age will not endorse coercive governments — Christian or secular.’
Estimated read time: 3:10Author: John PiperPublisher: Desiring GodDate accessed: 31/7/19
The Greatest Enemy of Freedom is Freedom
Os Guiness traces how the theology of the Reformation gave birth to modern concepts of religious liberty. He argues that the biblical concept of ‘covenant’ produced the blessing of religious liberty in modern America, and he explores the difficulties involved in preserving freedom.
Duration: 44:19Speaker: Os GuinessPublisher: The Centre for Christian LivingDate accessed: 31/7/19
Doctoral Thesis: Religious Liberty in Contemporary Evangelical Social Ethics
For those who want to dig very deep! A doctoral thesis on the biblical basis for religious liberty. Walker covers topics like humanity’s moral agency as creatures in the image of God, the way religious liberty helps the Great Commission and the fact that it is Jesus who ultimately brings the conscience to account.
Estimated read time: 7:20:00Author: Andrew WalkerPublisher: The Southern Baptist Theological SeminaryDate accessed: 31/7/19
This page was posted on: 19/08/2019