Paul, Prison, and the President


AN ANCIENT PRINCIPLE

The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

Persecution Prison Theology ChinaStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. The righteousness of God was a primary motivation in Paul’s life (Rom 5:20-21). Possibly, righteousness had something to do with Paul’s extended stay in Philippi, too. God’s justice expects justice from men. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In the face of suffering injustice from the Roman rulers, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a legal wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. Christians will sometimes sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of these early Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

Christians more and more are having occasion to point out injustice. We will benefit from thinking thoroughly about when and how to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

IN AMERICAN PRACTICE

The Obama Administration has sustained a consistent assault on the historic concept ofObama Obamacare Abortion religious liberty. Four years ago, I pointed out how the first amendment was morphing into something less like the constitution and more like the Communists ruling China. More recently, Ed Whelan has listed several examples of the current administration’s active attempts to rewrite the First Amendment and restrict religious activity in the U.S.

  • In the international arena, the administration has reduced religious liberty to a shriveled concept of individual religious worship and has instead aggressively promoted its LGBT initiative at the expense of religious liberty. See, e.g., Thomas F. Farr, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun,” Weekly Standard, July 16, 2012.
  • In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC (2012), the Department of Justice contested the very existence of a “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws, despite the fact that that exception had been uniformly recognized by the federal courts of appeals. According to the Obama Department of Justice, religious organizations, in selecting their faith leaders, are limited to the same freedom-of-association right that labor unions and social clubs have in choosing their leaders. At oral argument, even Justice Kagan called DOJ’s position “amazing,” and in its unanimous ruling the Court emphatically rejected DOJ’s “remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
  • Despite the fact that its own independent review board ranked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops far above other applicants for a grant to assist victims of human trafficking, HHS political appointees denied the grant because USCCB won’t refer trafficking victims for contraceptives and abortion. See Jerry Markon, “Health, abortion issues split Obama administration and Catholic groups,”Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2011.
  • Against the backdrop of an escalating clash between gay rights and religious liberty, the Obama administration irresponsibly abandoned its duty to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. When President Obama finally cast aside his professed opposition to redefining marriage, he opened the way for an intensification of the vitriolic attacks on traditional religious believers (and others) who continue to hold the position that he had so recently claimed to embrace.
    (Ed Whelan, testimony before congress).

Whelan’s list offers a clear testimony to the increasing likelihood that Christians will run afoul of those enforcing the new tolerance.  As with Paul and Silas, Christians today may sense the need to speak up, to take a stand, or take a seat in prison, waiting for justice to arrive. Law professor Richard Epstein has recently written about one such Christian—Barronelle Stutzman.

(to be continued…)

Are Christians Persecuted in America?


Kudos to K.A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies. Her recent article in Christianity Today demonstrates a thoughtful and insightful response to the oft-repeated question of whether Christians in the U.S. are “really” suffering persecution.

persecution-american-flagEllis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, forutheirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my upcoming book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.”

What’s a Christian Response to the New Marriage Culture?


After the Obergfell decision this past year, Christians have tried to cope with a new definition of marriage. What does this new definition mean for church Marriage Retreats? for childcare? or for conversations in youth groups about sexual intercourse?

IMG_3731So many questions have risen since June 26, 2015, when the Supreme Court verdict was released. If two men can be legally married, then why not two men and a woman (bi-sexual marriage)? Why is the number two sacred in marriage? Why not three women? Why not one man and four women who consent? The questions erupt more quickly than do convincing replies.

While the culture rakes through the labyrinth of questions, Christians have an unparalleled opportunity to preach the truth to a world increasingly used and discarded by the sexual revolution. Whatever the law does, the gospel keeps converting sinners by the grace and power of God.

That is essentially the point of a chapter Chris Morgan and I wrote in a new book titled, Ministry in the New Marriage Culture (B & H 2015). The book contains chapters on childcare, youth groups, preaching, counseling, and many other topics. Our chapter pleads for Christians to stay focused on the main thing: Christ and His gospel. I’ll leave you with a quote from the chapter and a link to The Gospel Coalition’s post from our chapter in the book:

The more we’re marked by unity, holiness, and love, the more our lives can ably paint the picture of how life ought to be, and the more our countercultural kingdom community can effect change in one another and in the broader society as salt and light (Matt. 5:3–16).

These gospel realities ground our confidence in all situ­ations. And these realities ground our confidence in a secular age because Christ has defeated the biggest challenge—sin and death (1 Cor. 15). Everything else pales in comparison.

Read the Gospel Coalition post here.

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.

Imagine Living as a Christian in Nigeria


Just this past weekend, my family and I hosted a World Cup party. About 25 people crowded into my living room to enjoy the epic battle in which the U.S. Men’s National team fought against the highly-touted, Ronaldo-led squad from Portugal.

Religious Freedom down Hostility Up

Freedom Down, Hostility Up

Yes, the last-second cross from Ronaldo to the head of Varela sent shockwaves down all 25 spines in the room, causing us—at least momentarily—to lose both our will and our ability to speak.  But, all in all, we enjoyed the football, the food, the fellowship, and the fun of the World Cup event. Many people around the U.S. enjoyed similar parties in similar settings.

But World Cup parties played out differently in Nigeria. Nigerians—including Nigerian Christians—also had World Cup viewing parties. Sadly, in the Mubi area of Adamawa state, Muslim extremists bombed a party of football watchers gathered (just as we were) to enjoy this global spectacle that, by design, hopes to bring the world together.

According to this Reuters report, the attack left 14 people dead and 12 injured, some of those are critically wounded.  Most people suspect Boko Haram, a terrorist group working to rid Nigeria of all but the purist form of Islam. In April of this year, this terrorist group kidnapped 200 schoolgirls possibly to keep as brides for Muslim men. The girls are still being held. And, since the kidnapping, Boko Haram has killed more than 500 innocent civilians in settings similar to World Cup watching parties. The majority of those being targeted by Boko Haram are Christians.

We have taken much for granted in the U.S.  Even while our freedoms are shrinking daily, we still have not come to a place where bombs are expected at “futbol” parties. We can be thankful for that, of course, but we also can be more sober about the world in which we live.

Islam is a force of intolerance with no equal right now. A couple of Islam scholars I have read have argued that groups like Boko Haram spring up in countries where Islam is almost a majority. Their hope is that through violence and intimidation and an appeal to Islamic heritage they can tip the Lady Justice Judge othersscales nationwide toward Islam and Sharia law.

I’m certainly no expert on these matters, but I will say that Nigeria fits that description. Nationwide, they are 50% Muslim and 50% Christian or traditional African religion.  The area targeted in this recent attack is a Fulani area (I think). That would make sense because Boko Haram has been slaughtering Christians and any who don’t appear Muslim enough. The Fulani people, I believe, are mostly Muslim, but they hold to a tradition all their own.

Regardless of the particulars at play in Nigeria, the case is certain that it is not safe to be a Christian there, especially in the northern parts of the country like Adamawa state (where this attack occurred).  Our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria need our continued prayer and support. Our concern for humankind and for individual liberty calls us to care for the fate of the Fulani people in Nigeria, too.

To contemplate the reality that while we were joyfully watching a game for its entertainment value other people were being mercilessly slaughtered in the name of religious conformity is, at the very least, sobering. It is an almost unbearable reality.  We can’t just ignore it for that would make us cold, indifferent, and almost culpable.  We also can’t be debilitated by it. We must continue both to express our own freedom and work so others can enjoy theirs. Both in Nigeria and in California, people should be free to watch the World Cup together without fearing an Islamic invasion.

More thoughts about religious liberty

 

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


In my previous post, I sought to show why it is important for Christians to fight for religious liberty. What are some simple ways Christians can do this without selling out to a political agenda? I thought of 3 simple ways to get the conversation going:

  1. Religious Freedom in America

    Wikimedia Commons

    Learn. Disciples are learners. Primarily, this learning must be focused on learning obedience to Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But Christians have an obligation to be good citizens as well (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2, etc). We must learn first what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God in order then to obey Christ’s command to render unto Caesar that which is his (Matthew 22:21).

    1. One good way to learn is by studying Baptist history. For all our faults, the one truth we Baptists have supported well is religious liberty. Baptists such as the Danbury Baptist Association, John Leland, and Roger Williams, significantly shaped America.
    2. A simple way to learn about religious liberty is to pay attention to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, now headed by Russell Moore. Dr. Moore is gifted and persuasive, and the ERLC is very good at keeping churches and Christians informed about issues of importance. For example, here is a helpful brochure.
  2. Engage. Speak to your friends, family members, and colleagues about the issues which you are studying. Do not be combative or arrogant. Be genuinely concerned and seek the most Christ-exalting, truth-honoring, love-producing position available on issues which the rest of the world invariably must strangle into a political ideology. Denny Burk provides us with this example concerning how to love your trans-gender neighbor.
  3. Bear Witness. Bearing gospel witness is more than throwing out a tract and calling for repentance. Gospel witness is never less than speaking the truth of the gospel for the good of those to hear, but the biblical vision of gospel witness is even more.
    1. According to the Bible, all of life is witness. Jesus, in giving instruction for His followers to become the world’s disciple-makers, told them first, “You are witnesses…” (Luke 24:48).  The same is true of Christ’s followers being “salt” and “light.” This is what we are as much as it is what we do. So we must bear witness by always walking in a manner worthy of the gospel, in truth and love.
    2. Collectively, the church can then become a witness, too. John says that the world will know that we are Christ’s followers by the way we love one another. Be a faithful church member. Share Christ in fellowship with one another as a gospel community. Invite others into that community. Share Christ with those you meet who are trapped by sin’s delusion and bondage. Others do not represent our political enemy. They represent all of us who once were thieves, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, or homosexuals, but we were washed with the water of the Word (1 Cor 6).
    3. See this moving testimony for a way to witness to the “outside” world of unbelievers.

In other words, now is not the time to retreat from society into our Christian enclaves. This is also not the time for Christians to disengage from issues because of not wanting to be owned by a political party. As laudable as it may be to avoid political trappings, such a decision to disengage on controversial issues may simply be nothing more than cowardice, hoping to avoid controversy and persecution by remaining silent where the battle rages. It’s not as though the Bible is silent on issues of sexual morality. We may need a little shot of Jesus to awaken us from our wishful slumber: Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels (Luke 9).

Or, we might be encouraged by this quote, typically assigned to Martin Luther:[1]

“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”

May the Lord grant that we Christians in the USA will not fail to uphold justice and liberty. Our greatest desire may well be that the world would know Christ, the ultimate truth who sets us free, but we should also not forget that as Christians we live in a nation that prides itself on liberty and justice for all. Let us hold our neighbors accountable to God and each other by promoting liberty.

Religious Liberty Important for All Americans

Why Christians Should fight for Religious Liberty

Should Pastors Preach Political Messages?

 

[1] Quote usually ascribed to Luther. But the exact quote is not found in his original writings. The quote, perhaps, originates from a 19th century novel. See this article for more.

Why Christians Must Fight for Religious Liberty in America


Freedom, though given freely by God, isn’t offered freely by Man. It must be fought for and won, sometimes through reasoned debate and cool persuasion, other times through battles with swords or guns. Tyranny is always lurking, scheming to usurp individual liberty. This is as true in America as it is anywhere.

Religious Liberty Persecution America FreedomI am thankful therefore for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC understands freedom. Recently, the ERLC hosted a panel discussion on the Hobby Lobby case and what it means for all Americans. The entire transcript is worth reviewing, but there are two points in particular that I hope you will ponder.

First, ERLC President Russell Moore explains that many people of faith seem to miss that religious liberty IS a gospel issue. Moore—provocatively and persuasively—demonstrates why Christians must oppose persecution and a loss of liberty in America:

So a lot of people assume well, we are standing in the place of Jesus, standing before [Pilate], who cares whether or not we have our rights and our liberties taken away? Jesus went as a sheep to the slaughter and so should we. What people aren’t recognizing there is that they are not only standing in the place of Jesus, they are also standing in the place of [Pilate] because the scripture says, Romans 13, “the God holds Caesar accountable for the use of the sword.” In a Democratic Republic, that means ultimately the people are held accountable so the question is not just are we going to be persecuted? The question is are we going to be persecutors? So if we shrug this off, what we are doing is consigning future generations and we are consigning people’s consciences to a tyranny that we are going to be held accountable for. 

I have spoken to many Christians, young and old, who think that we should go like sheep through the tyrannical slaughter of our religious liberties. But it seems a bit irresponsible and unloving toward our own children, grandchildren, and future generations of the church. As I’ve pointed out before, when we as Americans give up the fight, the situation gets worse for believers all over the world. We may indeed be living through the end of our religious liberty, but let us at least not go down without a fight—for the sake of our spiritual progeny who will suffer more dramatically the ill effects of such loss.

The second significant point in the transcript comes from Saddleback pastor Rick Warren. Pastor Rick clearly and eloquently lays out the case for why religious liberty is the foundation of all other liberty:

The first amendment, religious freedom is called America’s first freedom for intentional reasons. The first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment of the Constitution is freedom of religion. In our constitution, freedom of religion comes before freedom of the press. It comes before freedom of speech. It comes before freedom to assemble. It comes before the right to bear arms. Why? Because if I don’t have the freedom to believe and practice my beliefs, I don’t need the freedom of press. If I don’t have the freedom of conscience to live as I believe God is telling me to live, then I don’t need freedom to assemble. If I don’t have the freedom to think and believe and act on those beliefs, I don’t need freedom of speech or freedom of the press or even any of these other freedoms. This is America’s first freedom because it is fundamental.

As I said, the entire transcript is worth reading. These two points, I think, nail our present situation and identify clearly for us why it is so important that we not abrogate our responsibility to speak up, to preach, to pray, and to serve the church and the world with healthy doses of Christian love.

America, and thus the rest of the world, losing freedom:

Some of the people Obamacare hurts

Another example of a loss of liberty

It’s About to Get Real


The news story from North Korea this week is making its way around the blogosphere and through social media outposts, and I am very glad that folks are realizing more and more that Christians are the most persecuted group of people on planet earth. Thank you, Lori Stanley Roeleveld, for your recent post concerning the execution looming for 33 of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Christian Persecution RealThe Washington Times reported (3/6/14) that Kim Jong Un will execute 33 Christians soon because of their activities on behalf of the underground church in North Korea. On the one hand, it is further confirmation that there are believers in North Korea. On the other hand, of course, it is further confirmation that Christians in North Korea are in grave danger.

Sadly, not enough leaders around the world seem concerned about the persecution of Christians. As I noted months back, when leaders to speak out (see Angela Merkel story), they are mocked and ridiculed. Most leaders choose—as our current White House has done—to remain quiet in the face of atrocities committed against Christians in North Korea. –To be fair, the White House might be conducting a lot of business behind the scenes. We don’t know for sure that they are not; however, the message is clear that standing up for the rights of suffering Christians is not a high priority.

So Christians in North Korea continue to suffer in silence. In many ways, we are rightly shocked by this grotesque display of disregard for human life. In other ways, however, we must admit that this has been normal through human history. Eric Foley, a missions strategist working out of South Korea, makes two great points in response to the situation in North Korea.

First, he clarifies that the actions of North Korea are nothing new. This is no new “war against Christians,” Foley asserts. This is business as usual. The current plan to execute 33 Christians is merely a reflection of the everyday attitude the North Korean government holds against Christians.

This is simply the West being able to see what North Korean underground Christians have always known, which is that the Christian faith is not welcome in any form in North Korea.”

Second, Foley notes that the gospel is a life-or-death matter for North Korea’s Christians. As Foley says it,

There is no back door for the gospel into North Korea. The only way the gospel can advance is at great personal cost.”

What Foley is admitting is what Jesus taught His first followers:

18“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. 19“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you… (John 15:18ff).

What’s new in all of this? Nothing, really. Jesus called those who would be His disciples to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow him

Christian Persecution

Source: Reuters

(Luke 9:27).  Basic discipleship includes a willingness to die—like a grain of wheat—in order to produce a new harvest of gospel fruit. Jesus has never been confused about the cost of discipleship.

But we have lived in privileged conditions in the (formerly) Christian west. We have grown accustomed to protections which, in the future, we likely will not have. The times are changing, and the reality of persecution is looming more severe on our horizon, too. The concept of human rights is no longer rooted in the justice of the God of the Bible. So, what is real today in North Korea is what has been real throughout history. Nero burned Christians to light his garden at night. Bloody Mary burned hundreds who refused her catholic faith. And Kim Jung Un is scheduled to execute dozens in a futile attempt to eradicate Christ’s presence from North Korea.

The persecution of Christians in North Korea is real. And, if history is a reliable indicator, it’s about to get real for us, too.

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.

Religious Liberty Is Important for All Americans


For more than three years now, I have had an unsettling fear that religious liberty in America is on the wane. Turns out, I am not alone. A movement is afoot among state legislatures across the country.  According to Baptist Press, there is a plan in place to have caucuses for religious freedom in every state legislature by the end of 2013.

This movement is significant because every American—including the atheist and the agnostic—will be less free without religious liberty. A look at the history and function of Religious Freedom in Americareligious liberty will demonstrate what I mean.

Historically, it is not arbitrary that Religious Liberty is our first liberty.  The First Amendment to the Constitution (which includes the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and addressing grievances with our government) is anchored in the reality of religious liberty.  The freedom to speak and to call out injustice flows from the freedom to believe in reality beyond the governing authorities.  Religion is all about these greater realities.

Charles C. Haynes and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development have chronicled 29 influences religion had upon the founding of our nation. Their point is that without affirming religion, one cannot understand American history. Ours is a history founded on religious freedom for the individual.  Benjamin Rush (one of our “Founding Fathers”) speaks thus of our history of religious liberty,

The only foundation for a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments. Benjamin Rush Essays, Literary, Moral and Philosophical, 1798.

As important as religious liberty is to our history, it is even more important to our functioning as Americans.  We have all likely heard of the “rugged individualism” which forged a nation from the frozen streams of northern winters to the barren plains and western deserts.  America has been a remarkable experience of entrepreneurs and innovation. From the telephone to the iPhone, America has always sought to excel—each generation outdoing the past in an ever-upward pursuit.  But such individual-inspired accomplishments are not possible without liberty. And liberty is not possible without religious liberty. Here are two reasons religious liberty benefits all Americans (not just Christians).

First, religious liberty empowers individuals.  It is born of the spirit of Luther—a spirit in which one man can stand against his government and against the world on the basis of truth as dictated by his own conscience. One man—through principled conviction (like Martin Luther King) or through the flourish of individual creativity (like Alexander Graham Bell)—one man can change the world. That is the spirit of America grounded in the spirit of religious liberty.  One man following the dictates of his conscience can call all men to a greater tomorrow if he is free. For him to be free, he must be free to obey first his own conscience and not some government mandate or tyrannical dictate.

Second, religious liberty begets excellence. The reason religious liberty is fundamental is that it frees the individual to call the government (and all citizens) to a higher standard of justice and liberty for all. On what grounds would an individual need redress of his grievances with his government except on the grounds of injustice? Such redress means that justice itself is a higher reality than the government. If men are free to believe in God, they are free to call others to a more excellent reality than that which the government prescribes. While the government must enforce basic laws and rules, the government is not the final authority on the highest truths and greatest impulses of America’s citizenry.

Religious freedom liberty America religionEach individual should be free to explore and create and call others to greater truths.  If, instead, the government is able to define reality for its citizens, then freedom in any meaningful sense is lost. The individual becomes free only in the sense that he is free to choose between government-mandated options.  That’s not First Amendment freedom; that’s a Third World loss of freedom—like the freedom of Chinese families who can choose to have a boy or a girl (but not both).

Sadly, government mandates are trumping individual freedom of religion in the Obama administration.  More and more, religion is welcomed less and less. The HHS mandate in Obamacare is exactly the opposite of religious freedom.

Obamacare mandates—against the religious conscience—that employers must provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs.  The freedom of religion that the Obama administration has in view is a freedom restricted to the gathered congregation on Sunday morning—not the freedom of religion necessary for individuals to flourish—not First Amendment freedom.

It may seem to some that the HHS mandate concerning “contraception” for women is just a “Catholic” issue or a “Christian” issue, but it is not. When Christians, Muslims, and Jews are forced as individuals to provide for abortions against their faith and their own consciences, they are being asked to rob America of excellence—to stop calling America to higher truth. In effect, they—we—are being asked to just shut up and do what Uncle Sam says.  And that is neither free nor good.

Christians will likely face intensifying persecution, but all Americans will lose. America will be smaller when religion—especially Christian religion—is muzzled. Don’t take it from me. Listen  to another of the early Americans,

Without morals, a republic cannot subsist any length of time, they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” Charles Carroll to James McHenry November 4, 1800.

Christians Should Fight Obamacare (and the HHS Mandate)


The Family Research Council is calling on Christians to pray for those who are filing lawsuits against the Health and Human Services mandate. The mandate—which is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)–states that all employers must provide “preventative” care to all women.  The word “preventative” must be put in quotes because the Obamacare definition of the word is misleading.

When it comes to providing contraceptives in healthcare, the word preventative is a reference to preventing pregnancy, right?  In Obamacare, the meaning of preventative Obama approve hhs mandate against religious libertyis twisted like a Chinese acrobat to mean preventing children from being born. The HHS mandate in Obamacare calls on all employers (Christian, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Jewish) to provide both contraceptive drugs and abortifacient drugs. Contraceptive drugs prevent babies from being conceived (preventing pregnancy), while abortifacient drugs prevent babies (who have been conceived) from being born. That is an enormous difference and an unbearable burden for the conscientious believer who believes in the sanctity of human life.

Obamacare mandates that all employers fund abortion-inducing drugs.  President Obama’s view on abortion is extremely liberal, even to the point of allowing infanticide (which is killing or “allowing” babies born to die). Sadly, such views are now enshrined in our law and are imposed upon Christians who run businesses.

Thankfully, about thirty Christian employers have filed lawsuits against this injustice. One case (the O’Brien case) has been thrown out by a federal judge who does not believe that providing baby-killing drugs is a substantial burden on the employer.  Hopefully, the other cases (like Hobby Lobby and Tyndale Publishing) will fare better in the courts.

Some Christians would prefer to stay above the fray, as though there is a pristine approach to living Christianity without becoming embroiled in politics. I think such an approach is un-loving and too aloof to be considered gospel-worthy.  We are called to be salt and light. Failing to challenge injustice takes the sting out of our salt and the brightness out of our light. There are three reasons Christians must fight the injustice of Obamacare.

First, this injustice defies God. If anything, God is the God of life. He is the consummate life-giver. Every living thing is God’s personal creation (Genesis 1; John 1).  Every living creature gets his breath from God (Acts 17:28; Hebrews 1:3).  Jesus repeatedly referred to Himself as the life (John 11:25; John 14:6). God is decidedly pro-life. Death is a curse which entered because of sin (Genesis 3); and murder is the work of the evil one himself (John 8:44).  Abortion does not prevent pregnancy; it prevents a conceived human baby from being born. It kills a baby. That is not from God.  Abiding quietly by the practice for the sake of not “being political” is cowardice in the face of innocent children being slaughtered.

Second, Christians must fight this ungodly mandate for the sake of the 3,000 souls which enter eternity every single day through abortion.  Phil Keaggy wrote an apropos song which simply asks, “Who will speak up for the little ones?”  If not Christians, then who?  Those who know the author of life must speak for the little ones who do not yet have a voice.

Third, the view that Christians should not engage in political issues fails to understand the significance of being a Christian in America. Religious liberty is a fundamental (First Amendment) right for Americans, including Christian Americans.  Though Christians are to be first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom, we are also—at the same time—citizens of the USA.  As a result, we serve as standard bearers for freedom in the world. When freedoms are lost in the USA, they are also lost also in Pakistan, Nigeria, Libya, China, and North Korea.  We have a responsibility to the world. If freedom falls here, it will fall everywhere. It is the United States of America which tells the world that people should be free to worship and serve according to dictates of their own consciences. If we stop telling the world that people should be free, then who else will? The U.N? China?

In my opinion, we should be in prayer for those filing lawsuits against Obamacare and its ungodly mandate to fund abortion. We should pray that justice would prevail and that babies would be saved and that Christians around the world would be free to live out the gospel for the sake of humankind.

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.