Christians Can’t Trust Chariots or Horses


The people of God seem always to struggle with exactly how to relate to powerful governments. Israel hated her slavery in Egypt under Pharaoh, but promptly wanted to go back to Egypt after landing in the wilderness. At least in Egypt she could have melons. This longing to go back to Egypt and trust in her chariots and horses haunted Israel of old. Thus, the prophet Isaiah later warned (Isaiah 30),

Christians Under Pressure Persecution1“Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the LORD,

            “Who execute a plan, but not Mine,

            And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,

            In order to add sin to sin;

      2Who proceed down to Egypt

            Without consulting Me,

            To take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh

            And to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

      3“Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame

            And the shelter in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation.

When the cultural vessel of our existence becomes pressurized by the heat of persecution or political oppression, faith will rise like the steam of boiling water seeking the quickest, most natural outlet. The question for us is what is most natural? Where does our faith rise? What is our outlet under pressure? Two recent responses to the crisis in Mosul, Iraq have me thinking about this question.

On the one hand, there has been a call from the Italian Bishops Conference to pray for the persecuted church.  And, on the other hand, there has been a sizable protest in Australia specifically on behalf of Christians in Iraq. Without being critical or cynical, we might clarify what is our faithful response to the crisis of Christian persecution in Iraq and around the world.

In Italy, the bishops have drafted a plea for the Church throughout Europe to pray on behalf of suffering saints around the world. The statement is powerful in its indictment of slothfulness concerning our suffering sisters and brothers:

‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him ‘(Rom 6:8). These are words that we should also shake the conscience of our Europe, which has become distracted and indifferent, blind and dumb to the persecution which today has claimed hundreds of thousands of Christian victims”.

While the document rightly focuses attention on Christians in Iraq and Nigeria—two of the absolute worst places for Christians right now—it perhaps wrongly appeals for Christian action on the basis of human rights, history, and culture.  From the Italian bishops,

Faced with such an attack on the foundations of civilization, human dignity and human rights, “we cannot remain silent. The West cannot continue to look the other way, under the illusion of being able to ignore a humanitarian tragedy that destroys the values ​​that have shaped it…

This statement is not at all false. In fact, Christians must engage culture and improve (like salt and light) the civilization in which it exists. Yet, Christians must own as first priority the fame of Christ and the spread of His kingdom. Our appeals, then, should first be for Christ’s reputation instead of western values. While we can and should join as cobelligerents with the Italian bishops advocating for aid on the basis of a “humanitarian tragedy,” we must pray for Christ to be exalted through the witness of His faithful saints. We must pray that our suffering sisters and brothers would hold fast to that which has been given to them because Christ is coming quickly and bringing his reward to those whose garments are not stained with the sin of the surrounding society.

While Christians should advocate politically for religious freedom for all, we should also remind each other to recognize the difference between Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreligious freedom and persecution. The Constitution speaks of religious freedom; the New Testament speaks of persecution. One is a human right, the other a divine blessing.

As Christians continue to feel the pressure of persecution in Nigeria and Iraq, the steam of faith should rise up through the prayers of believers to Christ in heaven.  Our hope is anchored there, in Him—not in America’s chariots or the U.N.’s horses—not in Europe’s civilized past nor in the present “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” We must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who lives to make intercession for us.

(To be continued…)

3 Ways to Stand for Religious Liberty without Falling for a Political Agenda 

The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Persecution

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty

Why Hobby Lobby Decision Matters for All American


There are two major stories whose trajectories are coalescing toward a permanent loss of religious liberty in the United States. The first story is the on-going saga known affectionately as Obamacare. The second story is more subtle, under the radar, but perhaps more damaging in its scope. It is the story of code enforcement. Let me explain these in order.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed in June 2010. Certain provisions did

Obama Signing Healthcare Law Obamacare into effect

not take effect immediately. One of those delayed provisions was the Health and Human Services mandate for contraceptive coverage. Now that this mandate is in effect, businesses and other entities nationwide are suing the federal government to demand an exemption on the basis of conscience.

The latest business to join in the lawsuits is Hobby Lobby. They are the first evangelical Christian business to join the fray, but hopefully they will not be the last. In all, there are27 different lawsuits in the courts on this issue.  The objection is to the mandate’s insistence that all companies (and Christian schools) provide insurance coverage (without co-pay) for abortifacient drugs like the morning after pill or the week after pill.

The Obama administration is arguing two basic points germane to religious liberty. First, they argue that Christians must abandon their religious liberty when they choose to enter the commercial marketplace. This argument is based on their second argument, which is that religious liberty extends only to official houses of worship, not to individuals in their diurnal affairs. In other words, religious liberty (according to the Obama administration) means an American can go to a facility on Sunday and do his worship thing there without government interference (except for theaforementioned tax code restrictions), but he mustn’t think his liberty extends beyond the building.

The Obama administration clearly does not believe in religious liberty at all.  Instead, they believe in restricting religious liberty to “houses of worship” only.  Arguing for this view of religious liberty would be like arguing that a prisoner is actually free because he can do whatever he wants (inside his cell).  This is a radical departure from American history and reflects more of a communist view of religious freedom than an American one.

Communist Chinese flagIn China, for example, Christians are “free” to join the public, Three-Self Patriotic Church and worship there—in that “house of worship.”  They are not free to gather in homes or worship elsewhere. They certainly are not free to carry their Christianity into the workplace or the university. The defense of the Health and Human Services mandate of Obamacare rests upon such a demolition of religious liberty.

In addition to the Obamacare drama unfolding, there is a second stream of American stories all pointing to the same enslaving end. There is a rash of code enforcers around the nation taking aim at house church gatherings. We have seen instances of this in Illinois, California, Arizona, and now it has come to Florida as well.

Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, is representing the Florida couple who is being threatened with a $250/day fine for having a small group (6-10) in the home for a Bible study.

Dacus says“They are having a specific problem with this family solely because they are having family and friends over to read the bible and pray.  That may be fine in some tyrannical parts of the world. That is not okay in the United States of America.”

The idea behind the code enforcers is the same as the idea promoted by President Obama: Keep your Christian God in a box. Go to your church building and do the Christian thing, but don’t bring the subject up at your work or your home. This is a Communist view of freedom, which, of course, means this is no freedom at all.

Code by code, insurance plan by insurance plan, America is shutting out its Christian past and killing the concept of liberty and justice for all.

Tyndale Against Tyranny (Again)


English: William Tyndale, Protestant reformer ...

English: William Tyndale, Portrait from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Česky: William Tyndale (portrét ve Foxeově Knize mučedníků) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you own a copy of the Bible in English, you should be thankful for a man named William Tyndale. William Tyndale fought both the government and the established church to give the plowman his own copy of God’s Word. Tyndale held the courage of his convictions firm to the end, translating the New Testament into the language of the people. For his heroic efforts, he was killed. He died as a true martyr for Christ.

Today, the publishing firm that bears his name is also trying to get God’s Word to people in their own language. Tyndale House Publishers was born out of the passion of its founder, Kenneth N. Taylor. Dr. Taylor wanted all people everywhere–including children–to have full access to God’s Word.  In the spirit of the original Tyndale, Taylor’s publishing house has published millions of Bibles starting with The Living Bible and moving in 1996 to publishing the New Living Translation.

In addition to publishing bibles, Tyndale House also publishes Christian literature such as the Left Behind series. Tyndale House has become a standard-bearer for athletes and stars who want to share their positive testimonies of faith. Examples of those who have published through Tyndale include Kurt Warner, Emmit Smith, and Rick Santorum.

Still, the Obama administration does not consider Tyndale House Publishers religious enough to avoid paying for abortifacient drugs in their health insurance plans. As a result, the publishers filed suit against Obama’s Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

Thankfully, a federal judge has awarded a temporary injunction to Tyndale House Publishers so that fines will not accrue against them until after the case has been settled. As I have said before, the HHS mandate as interpreted by the Obama administration is a direct assault on the First Amendment, and, if it is ultimately upheld, Americans will no longer be free to exercise faith convictions in public.  This decision is monumental.

I am very thankful for Mark D. Taylor and Tyndale House publishers for their willingness to fight against the tyrannical imposition of abortion upon Christians in the marketplace. I hope you will join me in praying for their success in this matter of religious freedom.  Specifically, there are 3 ways to pray as the case progresses:

  1. Pray that the courts will see that Tyndale House (and other Christian businesses filing suit against the HHS mandate) are operating by faith with faith-oriented purposes like Bible publishing. Christians (and people of faith)  live public and complete lives of faith.
  2. Pray that the courts will honor the protections inherent in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which protects the right of religious liberty for Tyndale House through its parent organization, the Tyndale House Foundation. It is clear that the Foundation exists for explicitly Christian purposes and that the leaders of the Foundation and the publishing house operate from the standpoint of Christian conviction.
  3. Pray that the Obama administration is not successful in its attempt to restrict religious liberty to activities related to church gatherings. Such a “success” by the administration would be a defeat for all Americans, not to mention it would mean the virtual eradication of Christian witness in the public square. This is significant because it will ensure a systemic persecution of Christians in America, as light cannot help but shine–even when the government says it can’t.

Again, thank you, Mark Taylor and Tyndale House Publishers, for bringing your faith convictions to bear on public policy. May the Lord grant you a success which would keep people free who may not even be aware of this encroaching bondage.

Baptists Join Catholics in Fighting Uncle Sam


Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online has recently conducted an interview with Samuel “Dub” Oliver concerning the recent court filing by East Texas Baptist Samuel Dub Oliver East Tx Bap against obamacare mandateUniversity against the Health and Human Services mandate in Obamacare. I have listed just a snippet from the interview so you can get a feel for the motive behind this Baptist’s actions.  Baptists were too far behind Roman Catholics in the original Roe v. Wade abortion debate.  Now, Baptists seem to be coming on board for the sake of religious liberty–which really should be called Christian liberty, since our concern is actually upholding Christ and His righteousness more than upholding the American rule of law.  Nevertheless, we are Christians in the context of nation with a rule of law. Thus, we ought (as Paul did in Acts 16) to speak out against injustice.  So, I am glad East Texas Baptist has joined this battle against injustice.

Here is an excerpt, but the whole interview is worth your time:

LOPEZ: Should going to court to make political points really be a priority of a university? It’s not like the government is asking you to make abortion services available on campus. What business is it of yours what medical services your employees need or want?

OLIVER: The administration’s mandate covers emergency contraceptives such as Plan B (the morning-after pill) and ella (the week-after pill), which even this administration admits can interfere with a human embryo.

The most recent science tells us that these drugs may cause abortions. But, under the administration’s mandate, our school will be required to buy insurance so that our employees can obtain these drugs for free, as if these drugs were no different from penicillin. We believe that is wrong.

We are going to court to defend religious liberty. We would rather not have to do so. There are many other ways that we would choose to spend our time and resources. However, the administration refuses to listen to our concerns or accommodate our religious views. Frankly, it is hard to believe that a religious institution has to take the Department of Health and Human Services to court to protect something guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

LOPEZ: Do you respect the women you employ? How can you when you’re denying them their freedom — or so was my understanding of the issue from the president?

OLIVER: This issue is not about women’s health. This is about whether the government can get away with trampling on the rights of religious organizations.

It’s ridiculous to claim that organizations like ETBU don’t care about women’s health. As far as I am aware, no religious group objects to most of the preventive services in the mandate. In fact, we already cover preventive services, including contraceptives, under our employee health plan. We simply object to a few drugs, which the government calls contraceptives, because we believe they cause abortions.

Additionally, I’ve heard it suggested that this mandate is necessary to increase access to contraception. The president has said that close to 99 percent of women use contraception. I don’t know if that number is true, but surely if the president is quoting this number, he knows there is no problem accessing these drugs.

This issue is not about women’s health; it is about religious liberty. It is about whether the government will force religious people and organizations to do something they believe is wrong. Good people everywhere want women to have access to quality health care. What we are asking is that our religious views be respected.

Religious Freedom: A Clash of Categories


The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has released its annual report,  detailing the 16 countries which are of particular concern because of their stringent opposition to freedom in matters of religion.  The countries of particular concern this year are Burma, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan (North), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

Nina Shea, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the director of the Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has a helpful critique of the latest report, particularly noting the absence of Afghanistan from the countries of particular concern (CPC) list.

The work done by the USCIRF is good and surely is to be applauded. With a bloated federal government overflowing with agencies, secretaries, and czars of various sorts, it is good to know that there is at least one commission paying attention to the most basic human liberties.  The work done by the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom is even better than the USCIRF work because it is able to explain religious liberty from a single, coherent perspective.  But beyond these two entities, Christians have a steeper challenge when it comes to religious liberty.

Religious liberty, as a category, is not a biblical category; it is a political category.  This is not a criticism of religious liberty; it is a basic fact of clarification.  Talk of religious liberty is political talk.  Though Christians certainly should be on the forefront of engaging in the battle for religious liberty, Christians cannot stop there.  As a Baptist, for instance, I can boast that we Baptists have been champions of religious liberty in America. The reason, of course, is that our denomination was birthed from the pangs of religious intolerance.  Baptists were persecuted in 17th Century England and in 18th Century America (hence, Roger Miller in Rhode Island).  Danbury Baptists, of course, carried on the conversation with Thomas Jefferson which has infamously (and erroneously) led to the notion of a separation of church and state. I could go on, but the point is plain that Baptists support staunchly the concept of religious liberty.

Still, religious liberty is, technically, a political category, and Christians must keep paring down political ideals until they arrive at biblical ones.  Pushing the political square peg into its biblical round hole leads the Christian to the biblical category of persecution. Persecution is the category biblical writers use when speaking of ill treatment on account of following Jesus. Jesus speaks much about persecution.  The gospels, Paul’s letters, Peter’s writings, John’s Revelation—the New Testament is filled with instructions about and explanations of persecution, thus enabling Christians to understand it and respond to it in a manner worthy of the gospel.

To her credit, Nina Shea, in her critique of the USCIRF report, instinctively jumps to the category of persecution. In so doing, she makes this important observation:

“Christians are far from the only religious group persecuted in these countries. But, Christians are the only group persecuted in each and every one of them. This pattern has been found by sources as diverse as the Vatican, Open Doors, Pew Research Center, Newsweek, and The Economist, all of which recently reported that an overwhelming majority of the religiously persecuted around the world are Christians. Globally, this persecution is experienced by all Christian faith traditions from Pentecostal and evangelical to Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox.”

Her comments lead us to an undeniable fact concerning Christian persecution: It happens everywhere. Granted, the report only lists 16 countries on its CPC list and another 9 countries on its watch list; nevertheless, Christians are persecuted in every country which appears on any list. The reason is explained by the biblical instructions on Christian persecution.

Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12 what Jesus had already explained in John 15:18-25.  Anyone who is a follower of Christ will be persecuted because Christ is present with him. Even as the world hated (and thus executed) Christ when he walked among us, so, too, does the world still hate (and persecute) Christ.  There is still animus against God’s messiah. And so, there is still Christian persecution everywhere.

The USCIRF report is helpful in pointing out for us where the persecution is presently most intense, but it cannot specifically say that Christians are persecuted in all countries and in all places on account of Christ. We need the Bible to remind us of that fact.  All Christians will be persecuted on account of Christ. The USCIRF report reminds us that the persecution will sometimes be particularly intense in some places. Persecution differs from country to country in degrees of intensity but not in type of suffering. Christians suffer persecution everywhere they exist.