Religious Liberty

Woodrow Plyler
Cincinnati, Ohio

Since the writing of the Constitution of the United States. in most quarters, people of this country have had the freedom to worship as they believe will be acceptable with God. However, this freedom is being threatened by two political powers of equal evil. History and current conditions show that where Communism and Catholicism dominate, this freedom is denied the would be worshiper. Communism denies people any freedom in religion whatsoever, while Catholicism allows this freedom only as long as people worship as they dictate. Which of the two presents the greatest threat is hard to tell. It is the opinion of this writer that one presents as great a threat to our civilization as the other.

Religious freedom is one of the greatest blessings that man has ever enjoyed. However, man has rarely enjoyed it from the standpoint of which we speak of religious freedom. Our forefathers came to this country seeking for it. Many have fought and gave their lives for the preservation of this liberty. Man was created a free moral agent with the power to choose whom he will serve without force from a higher power. All down through the ages in God's dealings with men they were given the power to choose whom they would serve. We do not mean that their choice was always acceptable with God, but they were given the right to make the choice. God has given us the same liberty today. God will not accept our choice if it is not according to His will, but we have the power to make that choice without force from any higher power. This is the way God created us and it is His will that we always have that right. Let me point out that God does not leave us free to do as we please without regard for His law and the rights of others without punishment to those who make the wrong choice. The principle we want to emphasize is that God grants us freedom of choice without force. The Communist and Catholics would deny us this freedom. God warns the unbeliever and disobedient of the punishment that will be inflicted upon him, but He does not rob him of his freedom to choose whom he will serve.

America is often called "the land of the free and the home of the brave." But we must ever be mindful of the fact that we enjoy the freedom that America affords only as long as we live in harmony with her laws. Each state has its laws for the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the evil. When such laws are broken the transgressor has this freedom taken from him. For an example, each state has its laws against murder. When this law is broken the freedom of the transgressor is taken from him until the penalty is paid. When any other law is broken, whether by omission or commission, the freedom of the transgressor is taken from him until the penalty is paid. Therefore, though we live in the land of the free we are not at liberty to do as we please without regard for the laws and authority of the land. The freedom that we enjoy in this country is a wonderful blessing and I pray God that no power will ever be able to take it away from us.

The freedom of religion, press, and speech that America provides is a wonderful thing* However, there is a more wonderful and a much greater freedom that can be enjoyed by every person. This freedom is not provided by Catholicism or Americanism. It is granted by God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is freedom from sin and condemnation. "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then ye are my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free . . . If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:31-32, 36). Paul says, "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey; whether sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness" (Rom. 6:16). The liberty that is in Christ involves freedom from sin. Those who live in sin are void of this freedom, being the servants of sin. God has provided an escape from this bondage of sin.- Paul in writing to the Roman church said, "But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which we delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17-18). Paul was not thankful that the Romans were at one time sinners, but he was thankful that they were free from sin and were the servants of righteousness, having obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which we delivered them. The form which they obeyed was the doctrine of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6:1-6). They died to sin, ceased their sin, repented, they were buried in the water of baptism as Christ was buried in the tomb, they were raised from the grave of water as Christ was raised from the dead. They were made free from sin, because the servants of righteousness in this process, are set free from the bondage of sin.

After having been made free from sin there is always the danger of becoming entangled again therein. For this reason God has provided a way, not only to become free from sin, but also a way to remain free from sin. To this end Paul said, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2). Here Paul tells us that we remain free from sin by walking after the Spirit. Again John says, "If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John 1:7). To walk in the light is to walk after the Spirit, to walk after the Spirit is to walk as the Spirit instructs. We are told how to become free from sin and how to retain this freedom.

Religious liberty also involves freedom from the law of Moses. Paul, speaking in Gal. 5:1, says, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." It is through the death of Christ that we were set free from the yoke of bondage or the law of Moses (Rom. 7.4; Col. 2:14). There was a time when the Jews were to listen to Moses and the prophets, but now both Jew and Gentile are to listen to Christ (Matt. 17:5; Acts 3:22-23). To become entangled again with the yoke of bondage is to seek to be justified by the law of Moses. This will forfeit that freedom which is in Christ (Gal. 5:1-4).

Christ also provides freedom from fear. The apostle in writing to the Hebrews said with regards to what Christ has done, "And that such freedom delivered them who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15). Not knowing what awaited them after death those who lived before the coming of Christ lived in fear of death. Christ brought deliverance from that fear through his death and resurrection from the dead, while bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Religious freedom in its true sense provides freedom from sin, freedom from the law, freedom from fear and condemnation, freedom from human opinions and creeds. Such freedom cannot be supplied by Communism, Catholicism nor any other form of human government. It comes only through Christ as we humble ourselves in submission to his Holy will. Let us ever be mindful that such freedom is enjoyed only as we remain in the realm of Divine revelation. This liberty does not allow us to act in matters of faith without Divine authority. Action without Divine authority in matters of religion will forfeit this liberty (Rom. 10:17; 2 John 9; Rev. 22:18-19).

God was not unmindful in warning against the misuse of this liberty. Peter says, "As free, not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God" (1 Pet. 2:16). God warns against using liberty to cover or to justify wicked and hurtful actions. Paul says, "Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). This confines us to the revelation of the Spirit, or to Divine authority. Then again, "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours becomes a stumbling block to them that are weak" (I Cor. 8:9). Though a thing may not be wrong within itself we are not at liberty to do it if it becomes a stumbling block to a weak brother. We cannot take the attitude that we are going to do it without due consideration of the effect it will have upon the weak and the cause we represent. Freedom itself deprives us of this liberty. But again the apostle said, "For, brethren, we have been called unto liberty; use not liberty for an occasion of the flesh, but by love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13). God does not permit us to use our liberty to satisfy or justify any selfish or fleshly motives or desires. To use such liberty without regards to God's authority sets aside every principle of liberty revealed in God's book.

Some liberal brethren take the position that since God has not forbidden a certain thing we are at liberty to do it. This has caused many disturbances in the church of our Lord. To justify their unscriptural practices they will say, "God did not say they shalt not do it, therefore we are at liberty to do it." Some institutional brethren take the position that we are at liberty to build human institutions through which, to do the work God has ordained the church to do. Let us remember that liberty in Christ does not allow us to dethrone Christ nor to impeach the Authority of God as many of our institutional brethren have done in their unscriptural practices. We are free to do only those things which are within the law of God and his Divine authority.

Truth Magazine, V:5, pp. 3-5
February 1961