Passive Acceptance of Evil Is Not a Christian Family Value

FRM Monsters

There is an epic war of the ages between darkness and light raging all around us, yet most Christians are content to have a picnic next to the battlefield.

When I first learned about the surreal scene of hundreds of citizens strolling into the countryside to observe a civil war battle near Washington, D.C., I thought “How odd, how strange! Why would anyone want to watch a battle in which they were not engaged?” Now, I understand that this bizarre visage is a rather apt yet tragic symbol of American Christianity today.

There is a very real war of good versus evil being fought in our midst, both spiritual and physical, but we are largely content to sit out the conflict on the sidelines. We should rather to be trained for warfare, arrayed in our armor, standing firm on the field of battle, engaged with our enemy, and advancing against the very gates of hell-but we are not (See Ephesians 6:10-20).

Why not? Well, for the most part, our Christian leaders have not effectively trained us for war. And far too many of us are distracted and ensnared by the worship of a multitude of our American idols-comfort, success, and popularity, to list a few, rather than Christ. We are trained to be passive sheep, lazily grazing on the sidelines, selfishly waiting for heaven to land on earth. Most of us do not know the Bible well enough or have a comprehensive biblical worldview that informs and motivates proactive engagement. And, even if we know what we ought to do, we are not motivated to obey-because it is hard. And “hard” requires sweat, blood, tears and we would rather not sacrifice, bleed, or cry. It is a lot easier to be distracted by the latest Walking Dead episode than fighting real spiritual zombies.

Then, there is the enormous obstacle of desperately wanting people to like us (fear of man) that causes us to stand frozen still when God-warfare opportunities arise.  If we loved and feared God more, we would not shrink back, but would be willing to fight the good fight.

As Charles Spurgeon asked, “Wouldst thou be a feather-bed warrior, instead of bearing the rough fight of love?” Too many of us Christians are content to be arm-chair prophets and feather-bed warriors. As such, we have little to no power or impact on the raging battle at hand. But authentic biblical love is not passive and disengaged when evil rears its ugly head; it is active and engaged with truth, love and all of the weapons of our warfare!

Passive acceptance of evil is actually more of a Buddhist or Hindu value, rather than a biblically Christian aspiration. These Eastern faiths were formed to try to answer the question of how to cope with the problem of human suffering. Their answer was to essentially ignore it and escape it, by putting on blinders to reality, checking out, and by going within for “truth”-a profoundly hollow exercise. The world can appear to be a much safer place when you close your eyes, cover your ears, and harden your heart.

As believers, we are not supposed to escape from evil and suffering but we are rather to escape to evil and suffering-we are to proactively engage and overcome evil with good. I submit that when American Christians are passive in the presence of evil, we are not behaving as authentic robust biblical Christians, but as passive and selfish spiritual weaklings. The sad result is that we end up compromising, capitulating, and even assimilating to the darkness, rather than exposing it, opposing it, fighting it, and destroying it. This weakness it not irrelevant, but has serious negative consequences for our culture and the future of our children and grandchildren.

Authentic biblical Christianity is not passive. The Lord said, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams”(I Samuel 15:22).  We should hate what our Father hates and love what our father loves-and do something about it. And James admonishes us “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).  Jesus still admonishes us today to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

God will hold us morally accountable not only for what we have done (sins of omission), He will also hold us accountable for what we have failed to do (sins of omission).  One of my heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who literally gave his life to stop evil in his generation said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil; God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The famous Christian British parliamentarian Edmund Burke wrote, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

As we are surrounded by evil, now is the time for good men and good women to do something. When we see evil we must boldly speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). When confronted by darkness we must act. We must never passively allow evil to triumph in our land, in our churches, or in our homes.

If you think you are not strong enough on your own to fight the good fight of faith, you are right! But you are not alone! God is with you! “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (II Chronicles 16:9). Step out in faith onto the battlefield and God will meet you there and He will empower you with strength, wisdom, and courage.

There’s a war raging! It is time for fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ to wake up and engage!  Now is the time to work and to fight for His Kingdom and His glory. We can rest in heaven. We fight not out of hate, but motivated by God’s holy-love, passion and power of our Father, who first loved us.

For now, let’s get out of our feather-beds, put on our armor, grab our weapons, and get our butts out on the battlefield! Prepare yourself for war, and fight in faith with the confidence that God wins in the end and we triumph with Him. And someday, though perhaps wounded, scarred, exhausted, and spent from battling many dark foes, you will understand and experience with joy the pleasure of your Father because you have fought a good fight, you will have finished your course, and there is laid up for you a crown of righteousness that does not fade. And on that day, you will hear those truly awesome words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” followed by the biggest party the universe has ever known!

The Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates: Why Federal and State Authorities Ought to Ignore Same-Sex Marriage.

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What should a biblical Christian do when the State commands that which God forbids or forbids that which God commands? Having recently written about principled Christian disobedience (PCCD), we now turn to the doctrine of lesser magistrates for some guidance in this present darkness where, increasingly, good is called “evil,” and evil is called “good.” I humbly submit that we have a duty to obey God rather than man.

Relying on scripture, the protestant reformers developed a political theory to address how Christians may appropriately respond when faced with the tyranny of a rogue emperor or despotic king.  A “lesser magistrate” is a lower government authority, relative to the king or other ultimate authority, charged with guarding the God-given liberties of the people under his care.  The concept here is that the lesser magistrate is imbued with the responsibility and authority to shield citizens by resisting, and when necessary, rebelling against the tyranny of a higher authority.

John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that while individual Christians are generally commanded to submit to ruling authorities (See Romans 13:1-6), “popular magistrates” have “been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings”  when higher authority exceeds its limits and issues decrees that are against God’s instructions. The Lutheran Magdeburg Confession of 1550, argued that “subordinate powers” in a state, faced with a scenario where the “supreme power” is working to destroy true religion, may exceed non-cooperation with the supreme power and actually help the faithful to resist.

John Locke, a committed Christian, explicitly wrote in his Two Treatise on Government that the people had a right of revolution as a check on statist tyranny.  Sir William Blackstone, the eminent English jurist, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England were studied by many of our founders including Thomas Jefferson, wrote “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these. No enactment of man can be considered law unless it conforms to the law of God.” As the Declaration of Independence in 1776 expressed it, natural law taught that the people were “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and could alter or abolish government when the State becomes “destructive” of those rights. Thus, the authority of the lesser magistrate (i.e. colonial governments) to resist tyranny and the power of the people themselves to rise up in revolution when their inalienable rights are trampled by despotic supreme rulers, were the twin philosophical foundations that merged in the American Revolution.

And, just when you may think that the spirit of 1776 is dead and buried, some thought leaders have begun to roar like bold lions against the megalomaniacal tyranny of the freedom-pilfering U.S. Supreme Court.  Earlier this month, a document was crafted and signed by more than 60 constitutional attorneys and legal experts, including Robert George (Princeton University), John Eastman (Fowler School of Law, Chapman University),  Jeffrey Ventrella (Alliance Defending Freedom, Sr. Counsel), and Steven D. Smith (University of San Diego School of Law).

Steven Smith, with whom I participated in a panel discussion regarding religious liberty in the public square in 2014 at USD, and the other signatories, confirmed the line of reasoning embodied in the article I wrote last month titled The Constitution is the Law of the Land, Not Same-Sex Marriage.  After confirming that the U.S. Constitution does not give the federal judiciary the power to redefine marriage, the scholars urged government officials to refuse to acknowledge or enforce Obergefell v. Hodges.  In other words, they are urging lesser magistrates to declare Obergefell a legal nullity and stand against the federal court’s constitutionally abusive power grab:

“Any decision…lacking anything remotely resembling a warrant in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution must be judged anti-constitutional and illegitimate. Obergefell should be declared to be such, and treated as such, by the other branches of government and by citizens of the United States.

Therefore….We call on all federal and state officeholders: To refuse to accept Obergefell as binding precedent for all but the specific plaintiffs in that case. To recognize the authority of states to define marriage, and the right of federal and state officeholders to act in accordance with those definitions. To pledge full and mutual legal and political assistance to anyone who refuses to follow Obergefell for constitutionally protected reasons.”

Last month, Tennessee legislators introduced a bill seeking to nullify Obergefell, declaring that marriage between one man and one woman “remains the law in Tennessee, regardless of any court decision to the contrary. Any court decision purporting to strike down natural marriage, including Obergefell v. Hodges, is unauthoritative, void and of no effect.”  The bill instructs that the state attorney general “shall defend any state or local government official from any lawsuit regarding the official’s recognition of natural marriage.”

By making these courageous stands in the face of strong cultural headwinds, the Tennessee lawmakers and legal scholars do not advocate general legal anarchy; rather they are actually affirming the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.  They have issued a clarion call to all magistrates, both state and federal, to interpose themselves as a buffer between a lawless U.S. Supreme Court, on one hand, and the states and citizens that Obergefell profoundly negatively impacts, on the other. When Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis refused to same-sex “marriage” licenses, I believe that she was exercising principled Christian Civil Disobedience (PCCD) and was acting in the tradition of the doctrine of lesser magistrates, attempting to shield citizens from Obergefell.

This is critically important because if the Obergefell ruling stands, it will decimate the right of the states and we the people to act democratically to define marriage, and by extension place any meaningful limits on absolutist supreme federal power. And, it destroys the right of individuals and religious organizations to freely live, act, and speak according to the dictates of their conscience.  The right to vote and religious freedom are fundamentally important civil liberties we simply cannot afford to lose in America.

Why atheists should mourn the loss of religious freedom

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There was once a dream that was America.  Our early ancestors were willing to suffer great sacrifices, risking everything for a singular goal-freedom.  Victims of spiritually oppressive European regimes endured perilous journeys to our shores with hearts full of liberty’s hope-fleeing discrimination, intolerance, persecution and violence.

Religious Freedom was once the paramount right in the American pantheon of civil liberties.  Now, as Professor Smith accurately points out, religious freedom has fallen out of favor in the culture and the courts having been relegated to a “lesser liberty” status. It is regrettably forced to compete on an equal or lower footing with other rights including new, more recently fabricated, rights which are not explicitly embodied in our Constitution.  These “new rights on the block,” if you will, are concoctions, not of the Creator whose judgments are transcendent and objective to us, but of the fallen, fallible, and subjective human imagination.  The clearest examples of this are the emerging “sexual liberty” rights, which like a massive steamroller are crushing everything in their path, including religious freedom.

Over the past 60 years, a small but growing group of powerful cultural elites have effectively employed the media, the judiciary, and the coercive power of government to systematically suppress and remove religious freedom.  Many welcome this social demotion of religious liberty.  I do not.  I submit, and our current history proves, that if we lose religious freedom, which includes the freedom ofconscience, we undermine virtue and morality and erode the only sure foundation and transcendent and objective basis for all of our civil liberties such as the freedom speech (think speech free zones in Nevada), the freedom of the press (think prosecution of reporters), and the right to be free from unreasonable government searches and seizures (think NSA).

In other words, unless we comprehend and appreciate that our fundamental civil liberties are truly objective to us and independent of us, graced upon us by our benevolent and transcendent Creator, they can easily be immanently trampled upon and destroyed by the subjective biases, feelings, passions, preferences, whims and fancies of whomever happens to be in control of the government at the moment.  I submit that every freedom loving citizen, whether you believe in God or not-yes even the atheist, should highly esteem and with passion join the good fight to promote and defend religious freedom.  It is the fundamental civil right upon which all other civil liberties depend.

Many of our European ancestors came to America to flee religious persecution in Europe where, for centuries, when in control of the government, Protestants had been abusing Catholics, and Catholics had been abusing Protestants.  Needless to say, religious establishments in European nations usually did to turn out very well.

In the American experience, freedom of religion was first applied in the colony of Maryland at its founding by Lord Baltimore, a Catholic, in the form of the 1649 Maryland Toleration Act.  Protestant minister Roger Williams in the colony of Rhode Island, Thomas Hooker a minister in Connecticut, and William Penn, a New Jersey and Pennsylvania Quaker, promoted religious freedom in the colonies they led.  They combined the democratic form of government, which had been developed by the Puritans and the Congregationalists in Massachusetts with religious freedom.   These colonies became sanctuaries for persecuted religious minorities.

Williams, Hooker, and Penn were firmly convinced from the authority of the Holy Scriptures that freedom of conscience was the will of God. Williams believed that because faith is the free work of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be forced on a person.  Some have proposed that religious freedom is the creation of John Locke (1632-1704), the puritan English philosopher.  However, while Locke did write on the subject, he was greatly indebted for his formulation of it to the early American colonial leaders and his belief, based on scripture, that humans are created in God’s image.

Indeed, our founders universally believed that religion and virtue were the indispensable and only solid foundation for true freedom and liberty.  Benjamin Rush asserted, “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion.  Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty.”  John Adams, declared, “[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

All change is not progress–I believe this is especially true when one surveys the decline of religious freedom in America.  Our founders considered religion our first freedom, the bedrock upon which all other rights rest.  There are profound connections between democracy, religious freedom, and other civil rights we cherish.

By “religious freedom,” I mean what James Madison meant when writing in the 1785 “Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

I mean what Thomas Jefferson meant in the Declaration of Independence in 1776:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The transcendent Creator, who is objective to us, grants our civil rights-not the state.  As Sir William Blackstone wrote “The principle aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights, which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature.” Jefferson affirmed these rights flow from our being created in the imago Dei when writing in 1777:”Almighty God hath created the mind free…All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”

Today there is tremendous cultural pressure to stuff faith and conceal its expressions in one’s proverbial closet.  Still the concept of religious liberty of our founders embodied a far broader and more robust idea of freedom than the narrow, meager, and spiritually starved “freedom of worship” promoted by the Obama administration. This anorexic proposition would presumably only include the right to believe and acknowledge God privately in your prayer closet or church, hidden from the public square.

Robust religious liberty, as conceived by our founders, included a vast array of beliefs and actions, including, but not limited to the right to believe, but also practice and express one’s religious faith–both privately and publicly.  Indeed, Madison acknowledged in the Memorial and Remonstrance that religious freedom is an “unalienable” right.  In other words, because it is a right given by the Creator, no man has the right to take it away.

So, when the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, ratified in 1789, prohibits the establishment of religion, it means that the government cannot use its taxing and spending powers to forcibly establish one state church or otherwise establish one religion over and against other religions (e.g., a National Presbyterian Church).  And when the First Amendment states that congress shall make no law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion, it means that the government may not, except in very limited circumstances, infringe upon or burden personal religious beliefs or expressions of those beliefs.  The First Amendment was clearly not intended, nor should it be used, as a spiritually hostile battering ram to silence or cleanse public religious expression or squelch public religious practices, as some organizations, such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, have suggested.

As one who has committed my life to advocate for and defend religious freedom, I am deeply concerned about its deteriorating condition in America over the past 60 years. As we have uncoupled our rights from their only secure, transcendent, objective source, a more robust experience of religious freedom is systematically being pushed out of our public life, including our hilltops, schools, churches, and even our military.  As Dostoevsky wrote, “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.”  “Everything” may include the state sanctioned destruction of the rights of conscience and religious freedom. But my concern is not only that we are “losing our religion,” but also what the loss of our religious freedom may portend for the viability of other civil rights and, ultimately, for the survival of our democratic republic.

In conclusion, the pending demise of religious freedom ought not be celebrated but should rather be mourned. We often foolishly confuse social change with “progress.”  But history teaches the brutal lesion that change is nearly equally likely to proceed in a negative or backwards direction-leading to the loss of freedom, the destruction of civil rights.  That is why I invite you to join me and others in engaging in “the good fight” for the freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.