By Mike Willis
Americans live in a society which provides religious freedom to its citizens which allows us to worship God in any manner we please. We have developed tolerance toward each other’s beliefs; we recognize that each individual has a civil right to his own beliefs and no one has any authority to coerce anyone to believe anything. Most people in American churches believe that there are Christians in all denominations. When discussing the peculiar denominational beliefs of these churches, the members emphasize that each should be allowed to worship God in the manner in which he pleases and believe that God will accept the, worship of those in each denomination.
The fact that our civil government provides for the practice of religious differences should not be understood, however, to mean that God will accept every religious practice and belief. Satan is the author of the concept that God will accept every belief and practice. God has never revealed that he will accept every man’s worship, just so long as he is good, honest and sincere. Rather, he revealed, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20).
The Reason Every Man Does Not Have A Right To His Own Belief Why does one not have the right to his own belief? Because all authority has been given to Jesus (Matt. 28:18). He has the power to command and man has the obligation to obey. God revealed that we should “hear him” (Mk. 9:7). He is the prophet of whom Moses wrote: “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22-23). Those who will be saved are those who obey the Lord (Matt. 7:21; Heb. 5:8,9). The man who does not obey the Lord will not be saved, regardless of how sincere he might be.
The Lord has commanded that men not add to the revelation of God or subtract from it. Paul wrote, “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another” (1 Cor. 4:6). John added, “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son” (2 Jn. 9). As the same apostle closed the book of Revelation, he warned, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19).
We learn what God wants us to do in service to him through the pages of the New Testament. The man who is not content to abide within that revelation has departed from God and is outside the grace of God.
Should someone tell you that “every man has a right to his own belief,” ask yourself, “Does this man have the power to enforce what he has told me?” When I stand before God in judgment and he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41) because I have not believed and obeyed the truth, can the man who told me that God will accept my worship so long as I am sincere step forward and change the judgment of God? Will he have the power to save my soul from damnation? If not, I suggest that you should listen to him who has the power to save your soul from damnation, rather than to him who does not have that power (Matt. 10:28).
Bible Examples Demonstrate That Man Does Not Have The Right To His Own Belief
The record of the rejection of Cain’s worship (Gen. 4:3-5) demonstrates that God will not accept every kind of worship. God had prescribed the worship which Cain and Abel should offer (Heb. 11:4; Rom. 10:17). Abel offered his worship by faith and was pleasing to God. Cain did not act by faith and his worship was rejected by God.
God rejected the worship which Nadab and Abihu offered, demonstrating again that not every kind of worship pleases God (Lev. 10:1-2).
When Jeroboam instituted a system of worship in Bethel, he sinned against God because his worship was not according to the revelation which God had given through Moses (1 Kgs. 12:25-33). He departed from God’s pattern of worship by changing the place where sacrifice could be offered, using idols, using priests who were not descendants of Aaron, and changing the feast days. God rejected the worship which he instituted, demonstrating that Jeroboam did not have a right to his own belief.
Some Things In Which We Have No Personal Right To Our Own Belief
Here are some things about which we do not have a personal right to our own belief:
1. What we think of Jesus. The Lord said, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). If a man plans to be saved in heaven, he does not have the choice not to believe in Jesus. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16). The man who rejects that Jesus was born of a virgin, performed miracles, shed his blood on the cross as the atonement for sins, and was raised from the dead cannot be saved – regardless of how good, honest, and sincere he might be. I cannot choose to believe that Jesus is the illegitimate son of Jewish parents, that he was not crucified on a cross, and that his body rotted in some unknown Judean tomb and still be saved. If I choose to believe this, I will be condemned to hell.
2. To choose to which church we should belong. Jesus did not establish many different churches. He promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18 – “my church” is singular, not plural). Paul said that there is but one body (Eph. 4:4). In the first century, Paul emphasized that all men were reconciled to God in one body (Eph. 2:16). There was not a Jewish church, a Gentile church and a Samaritan church. Rather all of mankind was reconciled to God in one body. Even as there is one Lord, one Spirit, and one God, there is also one body or one church. I do not have the right to establish a church other than the one which Christ established and then choose to be saved in it. I can either be a member of the Lord’s church or not be saved. Those who would tell you that you have the right to choose the church you want – whether it be Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. – reject the Bible statements that all men are reconciled to God in one body (Eph. 2:16). The denominations of men are religious plants which the Lord will root up (Matt. 15:13-14). 1 cannot choose to be a member of a man-made denomination and still be saved. If I choose to be a member of a church which Jesus did not build, I will be lost eternally.
3. To choose what name we shall wear in religion. Some imply that one can choose whether to wear the name Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, or some other name. Jesus did not so teach. The Lord promised to give his children “a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name” (Isa. 62:2). The new name which he gave to his children was “Christian.” The disciples were called Christians first in Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:26). This is the name which God’s children should wear. Paul rejected the idea that men could wear another name and still be saved (1 Cor. 1:10-13). If I choose to wear someone’s name other than Christ’s, the Lord will choose not to save me.
4. To determine what standard of holiness to follow. Some imply that one’s moral standards are a matter of personal preference. Some Christians choose to be “gay” and others choose to be “straight.” Some Christians choose to drink and some choose to be “tee-totalers.” Every man is entitled to his own belief, we are told. Not so! The Lord revealed the standard of holiness which men should follow, condemning the works of the flesh and stating that those who were guilty of the sins of the flesh could not enter the kingdom of heaven (Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Christians cannot choose to go to heaven practicing lascivious behavior (such as immodest dress, dancing, etc.), being gay, being social drinkers, etc.; those who practice immorality cannot go to heaven.
5. To determine how to worship God. God has given men a pattern for worship. He has revealed that men should worship him through singing (Eph. 5:19), prayer (1 Thess. 5:17), observing the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 11: 17-34), giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2), and preaching apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42). Some have the idea that we can change the worship to make it more appealing to the public. Worship services in many denominations include special singing groups to entertain the audience; instrumental music was added to the worship to make it more appealing to man. Athletes and entertainers give their “testimony” to draw a crowd of people. The Lord’s supper is omitted from weekly worship and reserved for special days such as Easter.
We have been told in recent years that every man has his own right to believe what he chooses about using mechanical instruments of music in worship. We are told to recognize our brethren’s right to worship God using instruments of music in worship. We might as well say that we should recognize the right of men to leave the Lord’s supper out of first day of the week worship, to take up contributions anytime they assemble, to burn incense and candles as worship to God, to use a specially-ordained priesthood, etc.
Jesus said that worship must be “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). Worship that rests on the traditions of men is vain (Matt. 15:8-9). Worship designed by the will of men displeases God (Col. 2:21-23). Man does not have the right to choose the kind of worship which pleases him. Rather, he has an obligation to worship like God directed. Otherwise, he cannot be saved from sin.
6. To determine how he will be saved. God has revealed the conditions which men must meet to be saved by the blood of Christ. Man does not have the right to lay down the conditions on which God will wash away his sins. Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Man does not have the choice between being saved (1) “by faith only” and (2) by belief plus baptism. The Lord made the decision of how men would be saved. Those who are “saved” in some other way are not saved at all!
God made us creatures of free moral choice. We can choose to obey or disobey the Lord. However, should we choose to disobey the Lord, we cannot choose to escape the consequences of disobedience. God has chosen to punish eternally those who disobey him.
The man who teaches us that “every man has a right to his own belief” is looking only at this world and one’s civil rights. While I agree with the idea that one should be given the political freedom to worship God as he pleases, I reject the idea that God will accept just any kind of worship, that he will save us on our own conditions, that we can choose our own standard of morality, and believe anything we choose about Jesus. Man does not have the right to his own belief.
While we can agree that our civil government does provide every man the right to his own religious convictions and practices, we do not believe that God is thereby obligated to accept every man’s religious beliefs and practices.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 11, pp. 322, 342-343
June 2, 1988