Let me say from the beginning, I am a proud American citizen. I believe this country to be the greatest on earth, and for as long as I can remember, I have been in awe that God would allow me to be born here, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The framers of our Constitution, men much smarter than I, had incredible foresight as they together forged the most important document in our nation’s history. Shortly after completing the Constitution proper, they laid out the Bill of Rights, to which we cling so dearly. Were it not for the freedom of speech given to me by the first amendment, I would not be able to write these words. Without the freedom of religion, I would not be able to gather with my church family each Sunday. I recognize these rights as gifts, though I know that I have taken them for granted far more often than I have given thanks for them.
A Gift of Grace
Not only have we been given the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, but we, unlike many of our counterparts across the globe, have recourse when the authorities govern in ways with which we disagree. We can petition our senators and congressmen, asking them to vote a certain way regarding a certain bill. We can peaceably assemble to voice our dissension, even against the highest of authorities. And those authorities are not without accountability themselves. Even the occupant of the Oval Office is not above the law; thus, the founding fathers saw fit to include the means of impeachment as they penned the Constitution.
Also, we must realize that the American Church has profoundly impacted believers around the globe because of the freedoms we enjoy on this soil. Books, sermons, study Bibles, commentaries, blogs, podcasts, conferences, music—all these are more readily available to brothers and sisters around the world because of our religious liberty.
Indeed, we have received a rare and unusual gift, and one that is worth fighting for.
Our Course of Action
However, as the events of the past twelve months have unfolded, I’ve had more opportunities than ever before to consider this idea of “fighting for our rights.” On the one hand, it’s pretty simple. God, through the law of the land, has given us courses of action to take to maintain our rights. I believe that Christians are on firm, biblical ground to take any of these courses. We see a biblical example of this in the Apostle Paul when he used his status as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar (Acts 25:11). For the American Christian, this may look like running for public office, signing a petition, sending a letter to a senator, or even simply casting a vote.
In some extreme cases, it may look like civil disobedience. However, I believe that course is reserved for violations of God’s Word. When the government asks its citizens to violate the clear will of God as outlined in Scripture, we must take a stand. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come to mind as well-known examples of this type of civil disobedience (Daniel 3, 6). Peter, when forbidden to preach the Gospel, boldly declares what is to be our battle cry: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
A Course Corrective
In light of all that I have said, I’d like you to ponder with me the need for a course corrective when it comes to some of these issues. The issue is not whether we ought to stand up for our rights. Rather, the issue is why we fight so desperately for them. I fear that we, the American church, are more concerned with fighting for liberty than fighting against Satan. While I cannot reiterate enough how grateful I am for that liberty, I don’t want it to be my greatest treasure.
The New Testament, from beginning to end, is chock-full of instructions for how to suffer well in the midst of persecution. Beginning with Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, the Lord tells His followers that persecution is a mark of the “good life,” a mark of blessing (Matt. 5:11-12). Before His death, Jesus promised His followers that they would be persecuted.
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
The book of Acts, while much more descriptive than prescriptive for the Church, gives one example after another of persecution, martyrdom, attempted martyrdom, and more persecution. Never do the apostles act like this is anything other than what they expected.
Throughout the epistles, we see a theme of encouragement to stand firm despite persecution. Paul, in his time with the Thessalonians, had apparently been very explicit that to follow Christ would mean to suffer persecution. In fact, shortly after the church was started, the brand-new believers experienced an attack from jealous Jews (Acts 17:1-10; 1 Thess. 3:1-5). And don’t forget that the entire epistle of 1 Peter is written to instruct believers regarding how to suffer well.
While we’ve been given all this (and so much more) regarding how to suffer persecution to the glory of God, I find nothing written telling us that if we don’t have religious freedom, the church as we know it will perish. Yet, with the ascension to power of every leader who does not align with our scriptural convictions, our first reaction tends to be despair. “What now?” we think. With every Supreme Court decision or the passage of every bill that rejects the clear teaching of Scripture, we see the gathering of storm clouds on the horizon and begin to panic.
I realize I’m painting with a broad brush, but mostly I’m painting a self-portrait. My knee-jerk reaction to these things to hear a death knell for the American church. While I might be hearing a harbinger of doom for religious liberty, which will undoubtedly separate the sheep from the goats in the American church, it will not bring the Church to her knees.
Of course, not even the gates of hell can accomplish that. However, we must be sure that we’re fighting the “right fight.” Fighting for our rights is good, commendable even at times, but never at the cost of fighting the “good fight.”
Let me tie my rambling thoughts together with some with some resolutions that I hope will help to guide my own thinking in days ahead, whether the sky falls, or the ominous omen turns out to be just an apple.
- To prize God as my most supreme treasure, not my liberty.
- To pursue the greatness and glory of God above all else—even my personal rights.
- To remind myself regularly that my true citizenship lies in heaven.
- When given the choice between defending my rights and pointing to Christ, to choose the latter.
- To remember my status as ambassador for Christ and minister of reconciliation—even if my rights get trampled in the process.