A Christian’s Response to Religious Liberty
A Christian’s Response to Religious Liberty is the fourth sermon from Matthew 22:15-22 in the series on Counter Culture Christianity about the importance of religious liberty.
Let me share with you two different significant historical figures who shaped the Baptist influence on religious liberty in American history. First, there was Roger Williams:
On a wall in Geneva Switzerland, there stands the Reformation Wall. This wall commemorated the people who extended religious liberty and freedom around the world during a time we call the Protestant Reformation. There are engraved statues of important people who influenced the Protestant Reformation in various parts of the world. The lifespans extend from 1489 to 1684. The last person on that wall, as one walks from left to right, is Roger Williams.
Thank God for Roger Williams, a humble Baptist preacher, who was deeply committed to religious freedom and separation of church and state. The Rhode Island colony was the first political state to allow total religious freedom to all faiths, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, Atheists, pagans, etc. Other colonial leaders vigorously opposed total religious freedom, because they were convinced that without a state religion, anarchy and unbridled crime would lead to a complete break down of society and government. Instead, the Rhode Island colony became a model of efficiency and peacefulness. The example of Rhode Island greatly influenced the development of religious liberty at the beginning of the United States. A favorite quote from Roger Williams is: “If you force people to practice a religion that they don’t believe, you make them into hypocrites, which is worse than no religion at all!”
Second, there was John Leland:
The first amendment to our nation’s constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
In Virginia James Monroe, James Madison and John Leland were candidates for election to the ratifying Congress which was to vote on ratification of the Constitution of the United States. James Monroe opposed the Constitution; James Madison supported it and John Leland, a Baptist preacher, opposed the Constitution without an added “Bill of Rights”. When Madison agreed to support the “Bill of Rights” Leland withdrew and supported Madison, who was then elected.
Dr. Hugh Wamble wrote:
“Religious liberty and separation of church and state are Baptist gifts to the American people.”1
Both of these men are examples of Christians who have a response to religious liberty. They spoke out for religious freedom, which was the basis for this country’s independence. The first amendment protects many liberties, but the first freedom was the freedom to worship God as we choose.
We approach another anniversary of this country’s independence, when we celebrate the freedom we have as Americans. The greatest freedom that we celebrate is religious liberty. As Christians, we have a response to freedom or religious liberty. From this text, I want to share five foundations of religious liberty. These five foundations form the way that we respond to others about our religious liberty or freedom that we have as Christians to worship.
FIVE FOUNDATIONS OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to trap him by what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are truthful and teach truthfully the way of God. You don’t care what anyone thinks nor do you show partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”” (Matthew 22:15–17, CSB)
The first and probably most important foundation of religious liberty for the Christian is civility. Here, we see that two completely different groups of people, political groups who have completely different agendas, have come together against Jesus. With this question, these groups questioned Jesus’ loyalty to Rome, a foreign power. That’s like questioning Obama’s citizenship and Trump’s loyalty to Russia.
Jesus didn’t post on Facebook His hatred of the Scribes and Pharisees. He didn’t question their Jewish citizenship and loyalty to Israel. The problem is this: these were religious people making callous political comments and that’s what Jesus saw as evil. Why? Because it limits the effectiveness of the Gospel. Their evil hearts are a mirror to our own. We live in a country with unparalleled freedom in history. But who complains the worst? Christians…pastors…American religious leaders. Do you see the parallel?
As Christians, sometimes we act like Dr. Bruce Banner. We are nice-mannered. We share how we love Jesus and go to church. But then when it comes to our political beliefs, we turn into The Hulk online. We need to remember that when Christians engage in the political process, we need to be civil with one another.
By the way, this means that when we come together as a church, we are all Christians. I realize that many people here, including myself, have more conservative values. But as church members and as Christians, we can’t demonize people who have different political opinions than ourselves. We know that there will be people who have different views that we do, even if they are Christians, but especially if they are lost. That leads me to the next foundation of religious liberty: courage.
“Perceiving their malicious intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites?” (Matthew 22:18, CSB)
The second foundation of religious liberty for the Christian is courage. Jesus spoke out against who the religious leaders really were: hypocrites.
For the Christian, it is important to have courage, especially with people who have an evil intent. It would take courage for Jesus to speak out. It will take courage for you and me as Christians to speak out.
There are people who have evil intent against other people. They are out there looking for the worst in others. Many use religion to attack other people. They manipulate religion for selfish purposes.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.” They brought him a denarius. “Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked them. “Caesar’s,” they said to him. Then he said to them, “Give, then, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…”” (Matthew 22:19–21, CSB)
The third foundation of religious liberty for the Christian is the contribution. This reflects the importance of participation. Here, the dilemma for Jesus was contrasting loyalties. “Do I ignore the government and only focus on God?” “Do I ignore God and focus on the government?” The difference between Jesus’ day and today is the fact that the people in Jesus’ day didn’t have a say in how their government works. They could protest and put some political pressure. Yet, the Jews were living under Roman rule. They could not elect a new emperor. But they could still participate in their governmental system. They could pay taxes. Jesus made important statements about religious liberty in this exchange:
When a government is allowing religious freedom of any sort for you, you participate in that government. Even though the Roman Empire put restrictions on how the Jews could practice their religion, the Jews could still worship God in their Temple. As a matter of fact, the Roman government paid to expand the Jewish temple. It would be as if the American government helped pay for our church’s expansion. This was one of the benefits of the taxes they paid. The Roman government was helping the Jews in some ways but limiting them in others.
“And for this reason you pay taxes, since the authorities are God’s servants, continually attending to these tasks.” (Romans 13:6, CSB)
In Revelation 13, we have a government that forbids religious freedom.
“The beast was given a mouth to utter boasts and blasphemies. It was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It began to speak blasphemies against God: to blaspheme his name and his dwelling—those who dwell in heaven. And it was permitted to wage war against the saints and to conquer them. It was also given authority over every tribe, people, language, and nation. All those who live on the earth will worship it, everyone whose name was not written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slaughtered.” (Revelation 13:5–8, CSB)
The relationship between religion and government is personal and individual. It is right for the people of God to serve in government (remember Daniel and Joseph). But it is wrong for the government to control the church, or for the church to control government.2
…Then he said to them, “Give, then…to God the things that are God’s.”” (Matthew 22:21, CSB)
Dr. James Montgomery Boice made the following observation:
Jesus asked for a coin. When they produced it, he asked whose portrait was on the coin and whose inscription. “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus said. However, as he continued, I think Jesus must have flipped the coin over, exposing the back on which there would have been a portrait of one of the Roman gods or goddesses, making the contrast, “and to God what is God’s”.3
The fourth foundation of religious liberty for the Christian is conviction. Jesus spoke about the need for conviction. In other words, Jesus said, “Because coins are stamped with the image of Caesar, they belong to Caesar. But because man is made in the image of God, man belongs to God.”4
Jesus was challenging the religious leaders, and everyone else, and even you and me, about our convictions. Religious freedom is not worth having without convictions.
Paval Pozel, who was exiled from Russia in 1987, said the following about Christians:
In Russia, Christians are tested by hardship, but in America you are tested by freedom. And testing by freedom is much harder. “Nobody pressures you about your religion. So you relax and are not so concentrated on Christ, on His teaching, how He wants you to live.”5
“When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” (Matthew 22:22, CSB)
The fifth foundation of religious liberty for the Christian is communication. I have said this many times before and I will say it again: Everyone has the right to hear about Jesus Christ. You have the right as a Christian to speak about Jesus Christ. That is a fundamental understanding of our first amendment right as a Christian in American society. Religious liberty means that every person can believe what they want to believe. I know that some people believe that this country is a Christian nation. I don’t believe that is true. We live in an increasingly post-Christian era. I believe that Christianity as a faith had a fundamental influence on the development of our country. Yet, today, we assume that this nation is consistently Christian.
A quarter of Americans have noted that have no religious preference. They don’t subscribe to any religion. You know what I call them? Lost people. This means that we can’t just assume that just because our evangelical leaders tell us that this is a Christian nation, that we can accept it as true. We can’t just in our pews and assume that people are going to know Jesus Christ because we say we are a Christian nation. Reciting historical evidence of a Christian worldview in our American history is not going to bring people to Jesus.
We have to go away from just spouting off and saying that we are Christians to actually telling others about the Jesus we serve. Arguing in the pews and online about the fate of our Christian heritage will never be effective in sharing the Gospel with others. Instead, we need to communicate the Gospel to those around us. That is our right as Christians and a freedom that should exercise every day.
1 “Religious Liberty Are Baptists Gifts to the American People,” Internet, https://www.facebook.com/bill.dudley.50/posts/10217227525539363, accessed on 29 June 2018.
2 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 80.
3 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 474.
4 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 163.
5 Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations (Biblical Studies Press, 2002), from Moody Monthly, April 1989.