Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Cost of Freedoms


The Cost of Freedoms

           Where were you born?

           Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia? Or perhaps India, America, China, Britain, Nepal, or Nigeria? Are you a native Canadian or a converted one, like me? Perhaps you still hold a Student Visa or Permanent Resident status in Canada. Where you are born determines your citizenship, does it not? Granted, one can change their country loyalties, or possibly even hold citizenship status in multiple countries simultaneously. But the principle still stands... your country of birth is where you are a citizen.
            Citizens possess rights. I value our freedoms in this nation, and thank God that ours is a country that allows us to have a voice, to have an opinion, to make a choice. I am free to choose what I believe in. I am free to live according to my conscience. I am free to change my mind. I am free to speak my mind. Such freedoms are precious, and it is a priceless treasure we have been given to be part of this nation and era of free thought.

         Yet, I ask you, at what cost are we willing to keep these freedoms? In light of recent developments that effect the freedoms of Alberta home schoolers, what should our response be as Christians living in Canada? To what lengths should we go, and how hard must we to fight to retain those freedoms we so cherish?

         And should we fight?

        I pose a question that has no easy answer. It is one that has been asked for millenia; but as such, we now have two thousand years of church history to look back on in seeking an answer for our world today.
        In the history of Christianity, what are the "blemishes" that are often brought up by those that oppose religion?
         My guess would be that one might think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, or perhaps the Salem witch trials, where unbelief, doctrinal differences, and apparent sins were punishable by death at the hands of the church. All such events were of course wrong, but all were also born out of one main scriptural error. That error, sadly, continues to be prevalent in the church at large today.

         In John 18:36 , Jesus declares to Pilot, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."

         Its a kingdom error.
A kingdom error? Yes. Their error was rooted in their belief that the Kingdom of God was an earthly kingdom that could be ruled by the laws of men in the name of God. 

         In John 18, Jesus is arrested and brought before the High Priests and Roman authorities under the charge that He claimed He was the King of Israel. Peter, who had previously rebuked Jesus for prophesying of His own death, now proves both his loyalty and lack of understanding by striking out with the sword, and cutting off a man's ear. Jesus rebukes him, saying, "Put your sword into the sheath. Shall I not drink the cup which My Father has given Me?" (John 18:11) He echoes this same truth to Pilot, when He says, "If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews." 
          Jesus also said regarding deliverance from the cross, as recorded in Matthew 26:53, "Or do you not think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?" Jesus came to die, not to fight. The disciples, even at this last hour didn't get it. Jesus was the rightful King of Israel, and the rightful ruler of all, as the Creator God Himself! Yet, He came not to rule over the jurisdictions of the earth, but to rule over the hearts of those who would place their trust in Him.
         As New Testament Christians with the perspective of history to clarify the matter, we now know this... or do we?

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

         Have you ever heard of the Puritans? Perhaps you have read about the era of Colonial missions...? Or maybe, you have looked a bit into the history of the Roman Catholic Church... if you have or ever do, you will know that these were all experiments of religious government, vain attempts at moral legislation. What was the end result of all these efforts to expand the Kingdom of God through human government? Failure. Either it fizzled out in the face of legalism within and fruitlessness without, or it became a corrupted and compromised entity with little resemblance to true Christianity. 
         Why? The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom within the hearts of men that will not be realized in the physical realm until Jesus Himself returns to the earth in person. Jesus will someday set up His Kingdom on earth; He has promised to do so. However good intentioned His followers may be in their attempts to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, they are merely falling into the same trap Peter did some two thousand years ago. Christian, put your sword into the sheath! Jesus never commanded or desired His followers to usher in His kingdom through human government, military actions, or cultural transformation. Every time men have taken it upon themselves to do so, disaster and spiritual infertility has been the result.
      Take the missionary efforts to Hawaii in the early 1800's. The queen of Hawaii believed the gospel and began immediately to set up laws to govern the moral lives of her people. Drunkenness, idolatry, and all forms of sexual sin were outlawed, people were commanded to wear clothing, and all were required to stop sacrificing babies to demons. Who could argue with such good laws? The missionaries were thrilled... at first. But, laws cannot change hearts. Soon, so many were the convicted offenders that the queen had a prison constructed to retain all the guilty. Eventually, most of the city was confined in the jail! Clearly this was not working. Sure, there were less incidents of infant sacrifice and public lewdness, but was the mission successful? Had lives been truly transformed, or had they merely legislated morality? Within several decades, the supposed "revival" was all but dead, and this experiment of religious government proved frighteningly ineffective.

"PROP 8"
       In California not long ago there was a highly controversial amendment to the state constitution known as "Prop 8". It states that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Eventually passed on November 5, 2008, it was nonetheless a close vote, with only 52.5% voting "yes" and 47.5% voting "no". Being from California, but not currently residing there, I watched from a distance as friends voted on both sides. I personally hold that marriage is between a man and a woman, as that is how God defined it in Genesis. However, the fruits born of this heated legislative battle are not ones that I believe are commendable.
        In this war of world views, the conservative lobbyists were just as forceful as the homosexual lobbyists, and the result was the alienation of those very people who the church was called to love and minister to. Friends who I have been reaching out to for over a decade now sadly believe that Christians are against them, and have closed their ears to the gospel of grace. Like Peter, these well intentioned Christians "cut off the ears" of those who Jesus would have us rather reach out to with healing hands.
         Rather than accepting the possibility of persecution, California Christians made the public declaration, backed up by their votes, that they will not give up their rights, not even if they have to damage their witness for Christ.*[note at bottom]. The cost of their "freedoms" was high indeed. The church was founded upon the blood of the martyrs, yet our generation seeks to build it on the "blood" of those who oppose the church. Our ways of fighting are perhaps more "sophisticated" now than in the days of the crusaders, but is there much difference in the end result? Are we destroying our witness to the world in the name of liberty?

         Whether with laws or with swords, man's efforts can never build the true Kingdom of God on earth.
         There are many in the church of North America who are seeking to "take the culture back" through activism, whether physical or "spiritual", but miss the whole point! He doesn't want the culture. His kingdom is NOT OF THIS WORLD! If it were, He would have commanded His servants to take it for Him. HE NEVER DID. What did He do? He died. And through His death, salvation came to the whole world!
 
CITIZENS OF HEAVEN

         God's kingdom is built in the hearts of those who are saved out of this world. When we place our trust in Christ, we are born again in the Spirit, citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom. Remember, where we are are born determines our citizenship.
         "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12,13)  
         "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." (Philippians 3:20)
         This world is no longer our home, our identity, our nationality. We are Christians; though we are Canadians,  Americans,  Indians,  Chinese,  Nepalese,  British, or Africans in the flesh... we are citizens of Heaven, with all the rights of citizenship. I have brothers and sisters in every country across the globe, and while our earthly loyalties are different, we truly are citizens of but one Kingdom...God's, and it is to Him that I am ultimately loyal.

THE GREAT COMMISSION

          While sojourning on this earth, our King gave us but one Commission, and that was to make disciples of all nations, teaching and demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ through our witness to the world, (Matthew 28:19,20). We are not to become sidetracked in fighting a war we are not called to fight.
          As earthly citizens of Canada, of course we should fulfill our responsibility to vote according to conscience, in submission to our government, (Romans 13); but as heavenly citizens, our hearts are not to be tied to the outcome, and our time not to be spent in political activism. Do we, here in BC and Alberta, want our witness to the world to be that we "fought for our rights" and won, or that we lay down our lives out of love? When Jesus came, did He concern Himself with affecting Rome's moral legislation, imposing laws against various forms of fornication, or even fighting for His "right" to call fornication a sin? Or did He rather seek out and restore those caught in sexual sin? ...even declaring, "Neither do I condemn you," to a woman found in adultery.
          Would He not have us do the same? Or are we too concerned with avoiding possible persecution to reach out to the lost? Can we in one moment treat people as our enemies, condemning them for their aggressive political agenda, and in the next reach out to them with the grace of God, saying "neither do I condemn you"? What message is our political activism sending to these lost, hurting souls that are obviously seeking justification for their sins, hoping that by gaining legal approval, the nagging feeling of guilt will disappear? These precious people need the gospel of grace, not the stones of conservative activism.         

           It has always been the bold witness of love, forgiveness, and selfless sacrifice of persecuted believers that has seeded the gospel of Jesus Christ unto a harvest of souls in the next generation; whether in the early church, the dark ages, the reformation, or behind the iron curtain of communism. In every age of the Church, it has been the blood of the saints, not the legislation of law, (or the influence of the arts, business, education, media, or even the family for that matter), that has brought revival, transformed the culture, or advanced the Kingdom of God.  It is not that we seek persecution, but we need not fear it, either. The point is that we keep our focus on the gospel, and allow God to raise up and cast down earthly governments according to His sovereign plan. Persecuted or not, it's an issue of focus.

          Our only commission is the Great Commission, and that is the real "hill to die on," so to speak, if there ever was one. If we are going to fight, may it be for the souls of men and women, and not for our own safety and security. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds..." (2 Corinthians 10:3,4) The strongholds are that which bind the hearts and minds of those whom Jesus died to save, not the earthly ordinances that legislate our religious freedoms... they are but the outward evidence of those strongholds. Our society is not becoming more Christian, nor indeed is it likely to; on the contrary, we are on a fast track towards paganism and secularism. If we are to be shining lights in an ever darkening world, we must burn brightly with the true gospel of grace, and not become side tracked by legal wranglings in an attempt to preserve a mere thread of a religious culture that is all but gone.

AT WHAT COST?

             We value our freedoms dearly, and rightly so, but are we willing to pay the cost to our witness of Jesus Christ, just to prolong the inevitable persecution that we will some day face, ...yes, even here in Canada? My personal belief is that our liberties at the expense of the souls of others is simply not worth it.  We cannot legislate spirituality, nor even morality. God has not called us to infiltrate our culture and transform it through influence, but rather to preach the good news of salvation to the world, no matter the personal cost.  This is the cost that we must each count, and be willing to pay; and as we lay down our lives, may it be for the salvation of many. "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain." (John 12:24)

             The question remains: what cost are we willing to pay for our freedoms?

... and at what cost?


*[note from "Prop 8": Had I been in California, I would have voted according to conscience, and do not fault anyone for exercising their right and responsibility to vote. My intention in writing this article is to comment on the Christian's role in political activism. Activism is defined as, "The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change," by Wikipedia].

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