There was a time when "freedom of religion" was a subject we discussed with our religious friends. Now we hear brethren reporting that they "preached for a free church" last Sunday. They talked about "free men," "freedom," and we know where they are coming from - from the same recesses of the mind that causes one to say, "I don't have to belong to the church of Christ, I have religious freedom." While all of us desire liberties, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding and confusion as to what "religious freedom" means. It certainly does not mean that a man can go to heaven believing and practicing anything he wants to believe and practice in religion. It simply means that I do not have the right to force you to believe what I believe, or accept my faith. And one certainly should not work a hardship on or persecute another so as to deprive him of his right to worship as he pleases. It does not mean that his faith is acceptable to God, or that his worship is pleasing just because he has the liberty to do as he pleases. One certainly should make up his own mind about a religious matter, but should remember that God will hold him responsible for the decision he makes. God has given His Word, the Bible (I Cor. 2:7-16). He expects us to read it, study it, and be directed by it alone (2 Tim. 2:15; Eph. 5:17; Matt. 7:21-23).
When one argues that we cannot see the Bible alike, he engages in verbal quibbling. Such will not be tolerated by God. Would God give us something we cannot understand? Did not the Christians of the first century understand the Word of Christ and His Apostles? T hose who refused to walk after the apostles' teaching were considered "disorderly" (Rom. 16:17). They were marked (I Tim. 1:19-20). We have today the same teaching that first century Christians had, and if they could understand it, abide in it, be of one mind regarding it, we can too. Religious freedom, or tolerance does not mean that God will condone anything that men want to do in the name of religion. It does mean that in our dealings with one another, one man should not attempt to force another to do what he does in religion. Force has been exerted in the past, resulting in death and confinement. Even now, some of our own brethren are using force of all shades to make people accept their beliefs. Settlers from the old country set the stage for "religious freedom," but this only means that no ruling power has the right to force a man to worship or serve God a certain way. I repeat, it does not mean that God will accept anything and everything done in the name of religion. Our government may let us do as we please in religion, but God does not grant that same privilege. When we believe that others are violating Scripture in religious practices and attempt to set them right with the Bible, we should not be accused of intolerance. Error should be condemned and persuasion to accept truth should be made. When this is done, no principle of religious freedom is violated.
Some men do not want to be disturbed in their religious practices. They like what they are doing, and they are afraid that if someone proves from the Bible that they are in error, they will have to give it up. So they excuse themselves and ease their consciences on the basis of religious freedom. They think that man ought to let them do as they please and that God will do the same. Can we not see that man tolerates many things in religion that God will not tolerate?
Free To Choose, But Responsible
Man is free to choose what he wants, but God holds him responsible for the decision he makes. Please read carefully Deuteronomy 11:26-28. This is exactly the principle today. God has never forced a man to serve Him, but He has appealed to him and warned of awful consequences for disobedience. Man is free, allowed to make a choice, but he is responsible for the choice he makes, and that before God. If he wants to be a Satanic worshiper and go to hell, that is his choice. If one attempts to turn him away from Satanism, considering the consequences, he should not be accused of intolerance. The only freedom God grants man is the making of a choice as to whom he will serve (Deut. 30:19-20). Life is not promised to the man who serves the devil. The government of the United States permits any man to worship as he pleases. Even though this liberty exists and protection from wicked men who would exert force is granted, God will not tolerate any religious error practiced in our country. It only means that an individual who wants to follow the doctrine of the devil has the freedom to do so without fear of being put in jail. It also means that those who want to follow God's Word only may do so without fear of persecution. But God will judge the man who follows Satan and bless the one who follows His Son. Jesus said, "In vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:9). This is still true today. Our government does not interfere with those who want to worship God after the traditions of men, but before Jehovah their worship is vain. When we attempt to point out the error of those who err we should not be accused of religious intolerance.
Let's face it, there are those who are "religious" for "filthy lucre's sake" (Tit. 1:11; 1 Pet. 5:2). They cry "religious freedom" because they do not want their "trade" to "come into disrepute" (Acts 19:27). We all know that people do not study the Bible as they should and depend on the priest or preacher to give them ready-made answers, consequently false teachers take advantage of their ignorance. Some false teachers are wedded to their false doctrines while others find it an easy route to "big money." There is just enough truth mixed with the error to deceive and they should be exposed. Yes, they will cry, "persecution," under a false concept of religious tolerance. Why do we not see the same thing in politics? When a crooked public figure is exposed, are the exposers charged with intolerance? Why should it be so in religion?
The sentimental, sick idea regarding "religious freedom" has produced a weak and sickly type of preaching all across the land. In turn, it has produced a weak faith in the hearts of the people. The same is true among those who are our brethren who are caught up in the mania of "free men," or "free churches." Faith in the hearts of religious people in denominationalism is all but destroyed. Only a vigorous type of preaching will produce a vigorous faith in the people. Brethren, you can be no stronger than the teaching you receive. Someone said, "like people, like priest," meaning that one is no stronger in faith than the strength of teaching receiving from those who preach.
Do not misunderstand the issue. We should not, even if we could, force a man to worship God according to the truth. But we should not fail to teach mankind the right way, condemn error in every man in the hope that he will correct himself. This is not religious intolerance. Men should not attempt to justify themselves by hiding behind a false concept of "religious freedom." No one in this country will force anyone in religion, by threat of death or imprisonment. Even the infidel may disbelieve and preach his opinions without fear of persecution. But all this does not mean that men may exercise the same privileges with reference to God's Word. Religious freedom does not guarantee that every man is right in what he does in the name of religion. Our only standard of what is right and what is wrong in religion is the Word of God. No man is right who does not follow that Word. If this is not true then we should throw the Bible away, or burn it! If we are not going to respect God's Word as revealed in the Bible, then how will we ever know what is right and what is wrong? Why not stop serving God altogether? This is why so many have gone astray and no longer serve God. This ridiculous, false idea of "religious freedom" will eventually destroy every mite of faith in the heart of mankind. The abuse of "freedom of religion" should be condemned and destroyed by faithful men of God. When people yell for tolerance, what they really want is special privilege. They think more of tolerance than of Truth.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 25, pp. 406-407