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    Nov 03, 2019

    Religious Freedom is Just Privilege by Another Name

    Passage: 1 Peter 2:11-25

    Preacher: John Huizinga

    Series: What's Wrong With The Church?

    Category: What's Wrong With The Church?

    Keywords: persecution, suffering, conscience, privilege, religious freedom, bill of rights, separation of church and state, christian persecution, equality act, shusaku endo


    We complete our series on What’s Wrong With The Church? We’ve had opportunity to exercise humility and confession in owning the ways in which we miss the mark in living out what we profess. And we have also been encouraged by the grace and truth of Jesus to celebrate the many ways the Spirit has led us to be a holy and saving presence, blessing our communities, neighborhoods, families, friends, and even our enemies. In part 7 we ask the question: Is religious liberty just privilege by another name? Here in North America we may not face persecution for our faith beliefs and practices, but there is no doubt our religious liberty is under attack like it never has been before in our country’s history. From bakeries to valedictorian speeches, from health care and reproductive rights to marriage and family, in public schools and universities and eating fast food chicken sandwiches, and even in the way organizations run and what pastors preach and teach, the freedom to exercise one’s faith is not merely questioned, and not even just attacked, but more and more restricted or even taken away. 1 Peter 2 speaks for and to those who have had such freedoms taken away. It speaks to how Christians follow Jesus in freedom and when that freedom is taken away. We’ll talk about the foundational importance of religious freedom in our country, how it blesses our nation, and how we may find the courage to respond in a Christ-like manner to the one who ‘suffered under Pontius Pilate,’ who died and rose again as Lord over the empire that sought to silence and shackle him.


    I don’t think much about religious freedom

    because I’m so used to it.

    I take for granted that

    even though all my neighbors know

    I belong to Lombard CRC

    and I’m the pastor

    my life or my family is not in any danger.

    On Thursday Joel and I sang hymns

    with residents at Lombard Place

    right out in the open.

    Then we sat in Dunkin Donuts

    and right in public talked about faith in Jesus.

    I can act and vote my as my conscience dictates.

    I can freely support organizations that are pro-life.

    And I am protected from having to act

    in ways that go against my beliefs.


    How different that is from the way

    so many brothers and sisters in Christ

    live from day to day.

    You got a sense of it in the video

    describing a Christian’s life in North Korea,

    and the sacrifice and risk

    just being kind in Jesus’ name

    and having a Bible brings.

    In the classic novel Silence,

    by Shusaku Endo,

    he draws us into the persecution of missionaries

    in Japan in the 17th century.

    At the climax of the story

    the missionary is forced to watch

    as believers are tortured.

    Their torture will end if the missionary

    renounces his faith by stepping on

    an image of Christ, called a fumie.

    As long as he refuses,

    the believers he helped convert

    will be tortured before him.

    The missionary offers this desperate prayer:

    Lord, since long, long ago,

    innumerable times I have thought of your face.

    Whenever I prayed your face appeared before me;

    when I was alone

    I thought your face imparted blessing;

    when I was captured your face

    as it appeared when you carried your cross

    gave me life.

    This face is deeply ingrained in my soul –

    the most beautiful,

    the most precious thing in the world

    has been living in my heart.

    And now with this foot

    I am going to trample on it.


    He is coerced.

    He is beaten down.

    He is forced to step on the image publicly.

    In the silence of his pain and despair,

    Jesus breaks the silence and speaks to his heart:

    Trample! Trample!

    I more than anyone know the pain.


    It was to be trampled on by men

    that I was born into this world.

    It was to share men’s pain

    that I carried my cross.


    Then we read:

    He placed his foot on the fumie.

    Dawn broke.

    And far in the distance the cock crew.


    We feel the pain.

    We can’t imagine being placed in such a situation.

    But the reality is more Christians

    are in danger for faith in Jesus

    today than at any time in history.

    So we pray for our sisters and brothers in the Lord

    as we give thanks for the gift of freedom.

    But even here in our country

    this human right is being challenged.

    Our last question in our series,

    What’s Wrong With the Church?

    asks, Isn’t religious freedom

    just privilege by another name?


    The judgment today is that Christians

    hide behind the Bill of Rights

    and use it as an excuse to discriminate,

    especially against the LGBTQ person,

    community and agenda.

    The passage of the Equality Act

    in the House of Representatives

    is portrayed as the way to answer discrimination.

    It’s advertised as true equality.

    But those in the know call it a fight.

    A fight in which some will win

    and some will lose.


    I looked at basic public school curriculum

    on the Bill of Rights

    and freedom of religion.

    It struck me that overwhelmingly,

    without exception in what I could find,

    examples of Christian use of religious freedom

    were used as negative and improper actions.

    They were used as reasons why

    religious freedom must be limited.


    A recent Barna poll revealed that

    about 55% of Americans strongly agree that

    “True religious freedom means

    that all citizens must have freedom of conscience, which means being able to believe and practice

    the core commitments and values of your faith.”

    Just five years ago, the percentage was 69 percent.

    In TED talks and on public service announcements,

    the 1st amendment is gradually twisted and cast as

    why should religious people have a privilege

    that the rest of us don’t have?


    The 1st amendment has two clauses,

    both directed at Congress,

    not at persons or churches:

    the first clause says,

    “Congress shall make no law

    respecting an establishment of religion.

    The second clause adds:

    “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

    Today, for most people,

    when they think of this amendment, they think:

    separation of church and state.

    And by that they don’t mean,

    Congress has no jurisdiction

    over what people believe

    and how they practice their beliefs.

    They mean instead

    that Christianity should be private.

    Marci Hamilton was law clerk

    for SCJ Sandra Day O’Connor.

    She’s regarded as an expert on the 1st amendment. Listen to what she says,

    But there is only one absolute right in the Constitution, and that is the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to believe anything you want. The government may never prescribe beliefs.”

    In her view, the First Amendment only protects

    your individual, private thoughts.

    That protection ceases

    once those thoughts enter the public square.

    Don Meindertsma, writing from Annandale, Virginia got it just right when he stated:

    “Ms. Hamilton opines that the only absolute right guaranteed by the First Amendment

    is the right to believe anything you want.

    We hardly need a constitution for that.

    I can sit in my house and believe whatever I want,

    whenever I want despite any law

    that instructs otherwise.

    Rather, the First Amendment's protection

    of the exercise of religion

    is what envelops us when we leave the home

    to carry out our calling.”


    And in fact this amendment has been a blessing.

    Because of the first amendment

    Christian institutions, programs, charity, and service

    adds to the welfare and well-being

    of an estimated 70 million people.

    But more,

    Luke Goodrich observes that

    religious freedom allows religion to flourish

    which is the moral virtue necessary

    for self-government.

    You can’t expect a nation to be moral

    without religion,

    said George Washington in his farewell address.

    It also protects the right of dissent

    so minority communities can live differently

    with the majority.

    The implication is that there is something higher

    than government:

    JFK - the rights of man come not from

    the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.


    The Westminster Confession professes:

    God alone is Lord of the conscience –

    echoing that President James Madison said:

    “The Religion then of every man

    must be left to the conviction and conscience

    of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”


    So this is more than an American right.

    It is a fundamental right,

    rooted in our nature as human beings.

    Every person is born with a longing

    for truth, beauty, and goodness –

    ultimately a longing for God, says Luke Goodrich.


    “Everyone should care about religious freedom,

    because you cannot fully respect human beings unless you respect their religious freedom.”

     “This recognition of some source of rights

    outside of and above the government

    is a foundational protection of all other rights –

    free speech, free assembly,

    freedom from unreasonable searches and seizure, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.”


    This right also protects the basic human right

    that we are made for God,

    that we are freed to live for him –

    any coercion goes against human night and dignity.


    We must turn to scripture

    in answer to increasing challenges of our culture.

    That’s what we’ve been doing for two months now.

    We have listened to judgment and accusations against Christians and churches.

    We have responded with confession

    for our failings.

    We are recognizing that the stakes are high.

    I must commit to discipleship

    following Jesus in prayer, worship,

    scripture and service,

    even to the point of sacrifice.

    I must desire to love as Jesus loves.


    God sustains the world, in good times and in bad.

    And because of that hope and wisdom,

    Peter can say the surprising words of 1 Peter 2:


    We don’t read anything about being afraid,

    nothing about feeling forsaken by God,

    no call to rage or anger or protest,

    no resorting to belittling accusers or oppressors.


    remember our identity as aliens, sojourners,

    (this world will hate Jesus and his followers)

    and remember who is Lord

    and remember we are his:

    16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.


    Our reaction and responses to freedom begin here.

    We recognize freedom as a gift,

    and we are called to be good stewards of it.

    This is surprise enough because in Peter’s day

    the church and Christian family of God

    had little freedom.

    But Peter says live as free people,

    this comes from Christ

    who has set us free from sin

    and free for life in his kingdom rule.

    Our freedom only has meaning and power

    and substance when we live as God’s slaves:

    totally devoted to,

    totally mastered by Christ, his Spirit and word,

    totally dependent upon the promises of God.


    So freedom isn’t license:

    11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires,

    which wage war against your soul.

    12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong,

    they may see your good deeds

    and glorify God on the day he visits us.


    Being free from sin doesn’t mean

    we can just do whatever we want.

    The exercise of our freedom begins

    in confession of sin

    and desiring righteousness.

    If freedom is a gift,

    we are called to be good stewards of it.

    So how have you used your freedom in Christ?

    Peter calls us to examine our life choices:

    . . . do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.


    How much of the current debate

    about religious freedom

    is because you and I have not used our freedom

    to grow in faith and give God glory?

    Do we look the same as nonChristians

    in the way we treat our neighbors,

    in the abuse of resources,

    in our devotion to money and material things?

    I go back to something Shusaku Endo said

    in reflecting on all those who endured persecution

    compared to living in times of freedom.

    In describing one character

    he was speaking for our own examination:

    He had been baptized as a child.

    He had gone through life’s ups and downs

    and somehow managed to arrive

    in his forties without rejecting his beliefs.

    But that was not due

    to firm resolve or unshakeable faith.

    He was more than adequately aware

    of his own spiritual sloth and cowardly behavior.


    Our response is to confess our sin to the Lord.

    How many of us

    many times

    have coasted in our faith

    because we are free to do so,

    and we have not used our freedom well,

    for Christ and kingdom sacrifice and service?

    We know now how precious the freedom we have

    but if all we do with it is

    talk, work, play, and spend our money and time

    like everybody else . . .

    if our neighbor doesn’t see Jesus in us,

    we have abused and wasted this gift.

    Confess your sin to the Lord.


    Thankful for forgiveness

    Peter puts what we think are opposites together:

    freedom and submission.

    13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.


    How can submission be a way to exercise freedom?

    Notice that Peter encourages us to act this way.

    This is not something taken from us,

    but something we deliberately do.

    We have the power to submit.

    We are free to act like Jesus

    and suffer as he did for us.


    Remember, he’s talking to fellow believers

    who don’t have any earthly power.

    His church is made up of

    foreigners, exiles, and slaves.

    In the culture of the day they have no say.

    They have no voice at the table.

    No rights or representation.

    By all accounts they are NOT free.


    But Christ has set you free.

    So we look at how Jesus responded

    to the injustice he bore:

    23 When they hurled their insults at him,

    he did not retaliate;

    when he suffered, he made no threats.

    Instead, he entrusted himself

    to him who judges justly.


    Live like Christ:

    he suffered for you,

    he submitted for your salvation.


    The best way to understand submission

    is to remember its positive expression

    is honor.

    When I submit myself to someone

    I am honoring that someone above myself.

    We are used to dishonoring our government.

    We dishonor those in congress, judges,

    the white house, those serving in Springfield,

    and sometimes that’s deserved because

    their behavior is dishonorable.

    But more often, we expect too much of government.

    We look to Washington or Springfield to

    protect us and to save us.

    But only Jesus is Lord of all.

    Our first submission is to God.

    We are God’s slaves.

    We honor the Lord

    when our decisions, behavior, reactions

    and life choices recognize that

    our Heavenly father sustains the world.

    So we obey the laws and dictates of the nation.


    What then, does submission to human authority

    look like when we are pressured

    to go against our beliefs?

    Pray to be slat and light in our land.

    No law can keep you from praying.

    Speak and work for the rights of the poor.

    Have courage and hope to know

    that nothing prevents us from loving our neighbor.

    And also the courage and hope

    to anticipate that Christians will face

    threats to faith.

    Faith will cost us,

    so prepare yourself and your children.


    The verses teach that submitting to the law

    can also look like

    bearing the punishment of disobeying it.

    By bearing the punishment for disobedience,

    we can submit to

    the general authority of the government

    while not obeying it’s every command.


    When the law is just, we can submit gladly,

    as when the law tells us not to murder.

    When the law neutral,

    perhaps one we merely disagree with

    such as paying taxes or obeying the speed limit,

    we can submit for our witness.

    In these cases it is easy for us to – as Peter says –

    live such good lives among the pagans

    that they may see our good deeds and glorify God.


    However, the law is not always just or neutral, sometimes it is evil.

    When the law is evil,

    when it commands us to sin,

    then our higher allegiance is to God.

    Yet even in these instances

    we can still submit to the ruling authorities –

    not by obeying their every law

    and doing the evil it commands –

    but by disobeying, and then bearing the punishment.

    We can bear the punishment for doing good,

    and we can know that this brings glory

    to God’s name,

    19 For it is commendable if someone

    bears up under the pain of unjust suffering

    because they are conscious of God.

    But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.


    Following Jesus in this way

    gives us the wisdom for godly freedom.

    David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock

    encourage deliberate practices

    that are not only witnesses of our freedom

    but add substance to our freedom:

    Use your freedom to grow closer in faith to Jesus.

    You’re free to have a Bible.

    So use it.

    Every day.

    Meditate on it.

    Gather with Christians in worship and apply it.

    25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”

    but now you have returned

    to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

    You saw the video,

    what you didn’t see is how many believers

    don’t have ready access to a Bible.

    You do.

    So honor this gift by spending time with Jesus

    taking to heart his word to you.


    Then use your freedom to love your neighbor.

    Particularly, enter into the suffering of others

    to the measure of the cross of Jesus.

    When we suffer for and with

    those who have been wronged,

    and suffer for being wronged also,

    we witness to the only way of salvation.

    We bring the very presence of Jesus

    and the truth of the cross

    where it was forbidden.


    When Peter speaks of slaves here

    he is not talking about slaves

    like in the American experience.

    These were indentured servants,

    many paying off debts with their service.

    Still, not all household masters were kind or fair.

    Yet Peter calls them to suffer.

    You can feel the crowd stiffening

    in disagreement with the words.

    It was a hard thing to talk about.

    But the only way through would be

    to suffer through it together.


    By his wounds you have been healed,

    Peter quotes Isaiah.

    But we know he’s talking about himself.

    The suffering and sacrifice of Jesus

    changed him for the better, for good.

    There’s a power in that forgiving love

    that no law or right can match.


    So live by that power.

    Elliot Clark reminds us:

    It’s not that the message of Jesus is more believable,

    it’s that it is more desirable.

    We don’t just make a point with our lives,

    we sing praise.

    We aren’t just talking to brains.

    We’re speaking to hearts

    that have desires and eyes that look for beauty. We’re not merely trying to convince people

    that our gospel is true,

    but that our God is good.

    Only by what we do and choose not to do

    can we witness to more than

    why Jesus is needed,

    to why Jesus is wanted

    in every area of life:

    from Sunday morning,

    to Monday’s schoolroom,

    to Tuesday at the doctor’s office,

    and Wednesday at work,

    from the meaning of marriage

    to identity and belonging,

    to what is right and true

    but also beautiful and full of joy.


    So how will you exercise your freedom this week?

    Will you use your freedom in Christ

    to confess the ways

    you have taken your freedom for granted

    and have coasted in your faith?

    Will you pray for those who are persecuted?

    Will you join in the suffering of another?

    Will you love your neighbor?


    Today we recognize

    the culture in which we are called to do that

    is increasingly going to be a hostile one.

    You’ve heard Chicago’s Cardinal George’s

    famous words:

    "I expect to die in bed,

    my successor will die in prison

    and his successor will die a martyr

    in the public square.”

    But he didn’t stop there.

    He added in hope

    remembering that Jesus is Lord of all:

    “His successor will pick up

    the shards of a ruined society

    and slowly help rebuild civilization,

    as the church has done so often in human history."

     For God is the Lord of history,

    and for freedom Christ has set us free.