My topic, if you could not guess from the cryptic title, is religious liberty. Vanity Fair, if you have not guessed, does not celebrate the Fourth of July. That’s a problem.
Lots of Americans still celebrate it, but because we are now governed by non-elected functionaries from Vanity Fair, the celebrations are merely impressive displays of light, noise, and little else. Among our other liberties, we still celebrate our putative religious liberty on the Fourth, but we do this in lieu of actually being able to practice it anymore. It is kind of like religious liberty without the religious part, and without the liberty part either, come to think of it. If we had some ham, we could make a ham and cheese sandwich, if we had some cheese.
Celebrating religious liberty is way easier than defending it, or exercising it. Setting off a squib or a firecracker is much to be preferred, because much easier, than acting like you don’t need permission from the government to live like a free Christian. You don’t, incidentally.
Lest You Think I Overstate . . .
Scarcely a day goes by without some reeking testimony to the official kind of contempt directed at religious liberty by aficionados of the totalitolerant state. Just this last week I read about the Virginia governor vetoing a bill that would allow ministers to opt out of sodomite ceremonies, another story about a judge insisting that Christian Mingles, a Christian dating site, start matching up folks what actually don’t go together because the pieces don’t fit, and I also read some more about that noxious bill in California that would require Christian colleges to abandon their Christian convictions in order to function legally. The secularist commitment to religious liberty resembles the rabbinical commitment to the ham and cheese sandwiches mentioned earlier.
Vanity Fair Has No Tradition of Religious Liberty
“Therefore they took them and beat them, and besmeared them with dirt, and then put them into the Cage, that they might be made a Spectacle to all the men of the Fair” (The Pilgrim’s Progress).
But because Christian and Faithful responded to the persecution with grace, “some men in the Fair that were more observing, and less prejudiced than the rest, began to check and blame the baser sort for their continual abuses done by them to the men.”
Religious liberty comes from intractable Christians, and from some unbelievers who are favorably impressed by those intractable Christians.
So what kind of society produces religious liberty? What are the preconditions of religious liberty? The answer is “not our kind.” The kind of society we have become would be entirely incapable of creating a respect for religious liberty, and is rapidly proving that it is not even capable of sustaining it.
This is because we are Vanity Fair. We are Babylon the great, and so naturally we traffic in the souls of men (Rev. 18:13).
In order to get back to a true respect for religious liberty, we have to recover something. Even the millions of Christians who live here in the Fair have to recover something — I should say especially the Christians have to recover something. The first thing they have to grasp is the realization that they have been had.
The Root of Religious Liberty
The doctrine of religious liberty is itself a religious doctrine. There is no neutrality, and this reality is especially pronounced when it comes to this subject. The doctrines of religious liberty can be derived from the realization that Jesus is Lord. They cannot be derived from the realization that we are all the mindless end product of so many aeons of a blind and groping evolutionary process. They can be derived from the Christian faith, and cannot be derived from secularism.
A society that allows for no transcendent court of appeals is a society that cannot allow for religious liberty. In other words, on its own terms, because a secular state cannot come under judgment from outside it cannot allow for its citizens to act as though it could ever come under judgment from outside.
The living God is the giver of all rights. Man can give certain privileges, but we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights. This includes our right to worship Him as His Word requires. Our right to worship Him includes not only the right to worship Him in weekly religious services, but also to worship Him with our bodies and vocations every day of the week. We are called to present our bodies to Him as a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2), and this is a 24-7 religious obligation. It means that we not only have the religious duty not to engage in sexual uncleanness ourselves, but that we have the corresponding duty not to applaud or celebrate it in others.
And so it is that Christian bakers, florists, and wedding planners have the religious obligation before God and consequent right before man to abstain from any such celebrations. The owners of a Christian dating site have the obligation before God and consequent right before man to refrain from acting as a pimp or procuress. Christian colleges have the obligation before God and consequent right before man to teach foundational Christian morality, and act in their admissions and discipline policies as though they actually believed what they taught.
Without that word consequent, we have no rights whatever.
But if God has bestowed these obligations upon us, as He most certainly has, then it is not possible for any parliament or congress or assembly of men to take the consequent rights away. It is not up to the rulers of men. It is not within their jurisdiction. They have no authority in this whatever. And this leads us to . . .
So the ultimate cause of religious liberty is the will of God. But the proximate, intermediate cause of religious liberty in history has been the firm and cheerful disobedience of Christians. The idolatrous state requires certain things, and Christians, because they know what the will of God is as outlined above, say no.
They do not bow before the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They do not kill the Hebrew children as Pharaoh required. They hide their crops from the Midianites. They ignore the arrest warrant issued by Saul the tyrant. They refuse to bow to Haman. They pray facing Jerusalem with their windows open. King Aretas sets up a roadblock and they run that roadblock. They preach in the name of Jesus. They just say no.
Let me cut to the chase. There can be no religious liberty unless and until certain Christians are hard enough and tough enough simply to disobey. And they will not exhibit that kind of hardness toward tyrants unless and until they are soft toward God. When men recognize the sovereignty of God, they simultaneously realize that man does not possess that sovereignty. Resistance to tyrants is therefore submission to God. And without that submission to God, resistance to tyrants is futile. With it, liberty is inevitable.
Given the nature of the encroachments being made by the secular state, the clash between Christians and the secular state will not be a narrow one. It will extend across the board, touching on every area of life. Of course, when they say we must not preach the gospel, we must continue to preach the gospel. But this is an all-encompassing collision. It involves everything. It is a clash of worlds.
They do not simply say not to preach the gospel. They also say that if we do not take the mark of their beast, wearing it proudly on the forehead or right hand, we cannot buy or sell from any of their federally regulated outlets (Rev. 13:17). What do we do then? Well, we refuse the mark, and head on out to buy and sell from unregulated outlets. We have a religious duty and right to function in the black market.
Christian photographers go underground. They do a wedding “for a friend,” and take a token of gratitude in cash. Wedding cakes are sold out the back door, after hours. Christian colleges become unauthorized study centers, offering online certificates issued from servers located somewhere in the Caribbean. And when I am finally shut down here at Mablog for being an “enemy of mankind,” along with my other bad deeds, you can head on over to the dark web, and try to find me there. Perhaps you might say, “but that’s illegal,” and I would reply by inviting you to ask me if I care. The catacombs were illegal too.
Religious liberty is not something we have to get a permit for. It is not something we possess if they agree to it.
The Theologic of Religious Liberty
The Christian faith is therefore source of religious liberty, and secularism cannot be that source.
“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24–27).
Too many Christian advocates for Christians retaining their religious liberties are actually theologically compromised. They want the secular storm to help prop the house up. But secularism is the storm, not part of the foundation. Christ is the foundation. The words of Christ are the foundation. Without Jesus, we cannot have the house. With Jesus, we can withstand this current storm, not to mention the next one.
When we appeal to the secularists to respect our liberties, they can simply respond with “why should we?” We must either appeal to an ultimate standard that they reject, or to a humanistic standard that we ought to reject. If we apply to their humanistic standard, and they say, “no,” what then?
We need to work it out in our hearts and minds first. We need to be prepared to say to them, along with the friends of Daniel, that our God is able to deliver us. But even if He does not, we are not going to comply. This includes private individuals like Gideon not complying and government officials like Daniel not complying. It includes John Q. Citizen not complying and Chief Justice Roy Moore not complying.
Wherever you are, just say no. Bloom where you are planted.
One Final Thing
These are not new issues. We have been here before. For those Christians who want to read up on these themes, there is a long and inspiring story. I would recommend starting with The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World by Douglas Kelly.
This has all been done before, and it most certainly can be done again.
“In England and America the great struggles for civil and religious liberty were nursed in Calvinism, inspired by Calvinism, and carried out largely by men who were Calvinists” (Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 390).
If you intend to be part of that movement, as you certainly ought to be, then a few anticipatory fireworks tonight would not be out of place at all.