Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Biblical Case for Religious Liberty

I am doggedly committed to the idea of universal religious liberty not because it is American or self-serving but because it is biblical. As a pastor, I am obligated to follow the Word of God even when doing so puts me at odds with contemporary public opinion. When the day comes that I do not have the courage to do so, I will relinquish my pulpit to a better man. The biblical case for religious liberty is not merely some marginal case; it is a case made as nearly invincibly as any found in the biblical text short of such matters as the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Indeed, scripture so plainly declares it that I have not, before now, bothered to articulate it publicly. That has been a mistake on my part, and I write today in order to correct it. In doing so, I have it as my ambition to live up to the words of 2 Timothy 2:22-26.

22So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (ESV)

Specifically, it is my aim to keep my own passions at check. I aim to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace with pure-hearted believers who read my words today. I hope in my writing to be kind to everyone and to adopt the tone of a teacher, not a demagogue. Some of those who read this may be Muslims or people of other non-Christians faiths (some of which I will mention by name below). Toward them, I aspire to act with gentleness (even if that gentleness exposes me to criticism from other believers who may have no desire to live out 2 Timothy 2:22-26 with regard to Muslims and who are determined to speak of and to them in only the harshest of terms), because my heartfelt desire is not to defeat them but to invite them into the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which has come down from heaven to all people.

Of course, I must also consider whether I am disobeying the admonition to avoid foolish, ignorant controversies. The adjectives are important here, I think. From what we know of the Apostle Paul's life (he wrote 2 Timothy), he was a man often embroiled in controversy. Either he often disobeyed his own instructions in this matter (a possibility, since we speak here of imperfect, fallen Paul rather than sinless Jesus) or Paul believed that Christian leaders should indeed sometimes engage in those controversies that are neither foolish nor ignorant. He did participate in controversies where he thought the arguments on the other side were foolish ("O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you…?" Galatians 3:1, ESV), but in those cases the controversy itself—the subject matter under discussion—was very important.

Does the question of whether there will be a Muslim cemetery on the outskirts of Farmersville rise to that level of importance? In and of itself, probably not. If I were a missionary in China and if the Chinese government were banning a Muslim cemetery, I would be less inclined to join the controversy. If I were a missionary to a place where there are fewer Christians than in China—if I were a missionary to upstate New York or Boston—I would be less inclined to join the controversy. But here in Farmersville, Texas, enough Christians are involved in this turmoil that the central question, although it formerly concerned a Muslim cemetery, now concerns the proper way for Christian people to behave toward those who need the gospel. If city government were populated with secularists and if it were atheists spouting Philippics at local meetings, I would let it pass. But as things presently stand, the cause of the gospel is disserved if no one will stand up and place on the record the New Testament point of view. This point of view must gain public attention so that those who need the gospel might know that there are Christians who are prepared to behave toward them with the kind of gentleness demanded of the Lord's servants in 2 Timothy 2.

Thesis: We must not fight false belief by appealing to the government or other forms of coercive force; rather, we must fight it by testifying to the truth.

The Biblical Texts

I take these not in canonical order but in the order that I think makes for the best logical flow.

  1. I will first offer not a text but the absence of a text. Neither Jesus nor any apostle ever did anything that even approximately resembles having a false religion zoned out of town by city government.

  2. John 18:33-37

    33So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" 34Jesus answered, "Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about Me?" 35Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You over to me. What have You done?" 36Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But My kingdom is not from the world." 37Then Pilate said to Him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." (ESV)

    In this statement, Jesus contrasts His kingdom with all of the governments of this world. But it is not just a general contrast; Jesus gave specific application. Because His kingdom is not of this world, His followers do not fight worldly battles for it. Period.

    I'm no pacifist. I'm not saying (nor was Jesus, I don't think) that Christians cannot serve in the military or the police force to use worldly force for worldly obligations. I'm not even saying that a Christian who is a private citizen could not fight against a home-invasion intruder who was trying to harm one of your children. We have obligations detailed in Romans 13:1-7 (ESV) by which part of what we "owe" to the state may be military service or some other form of public service that requires fighting.

    But we are not called to fight SPIRITUAL battles in this way. We are not called to go on the offensive against false belief in this way. Rather, Jesus said that His way of fighting is "to bear witness to the truth."

  3. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

    3For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (ESV)

    This critically important passage reiterates and expands upon Jesus' statement to Pilate that his servants belong to a different kingdom with a different way of fighting. Yes, we "walk in the flesh," but that is no excuse for us to "[wage] war according to the flesh." We shouldn't do so because our weaponry is not suited to that kind of fighting. They are not worldly, fleshly weapons. Rather, they are weapons with "divine power to destroy strongholds." What does that mean? It means destroying "arguments" and "lofty opinion[s]" and "thoughts." The state wields a fleshly sword against bodies. The church wields a gospel sword against ideas.

    Friends, you'll completely miss the point if you conclude that this is about a limitation put upon the church. Not at all; it is about an extra empowering that Christians have that put government coercion in the Little Leagues while Christian soldiers using spiritual weapons are swinging for the fences in the "big show"!

    Because we know this about government: Government can never make a convert; it can only make hypocrites. That's because city zoning ordinances will never change an opinion or take captive a thought. All it can do is send down the police department to say, "You can't bury that person here." If your ambitions are no higher than that, then the Planning & Zoning Commission can help you, but if you want to win people to Christ, then you need to set aside these fleshly weapons, disengage from the zoning battle, and join the spiritual war. It's not that we war BOTH according to the flesh AND with these spiritual weapons; the apostle says that we "are not waging war according to the flesh."

    Now, there is punishment for "every disobedience," so this is not about ignoring the falsehoods and wrongdoing of those who do not know Christ. Those who persist in rejecting Jesus Christ—be they Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic, or just plain lost—will all (I say it in fear and trembling) receive grave, eternal punishment for their disobedience. But the punishment comes "when [our] obedience is complete." When will that happen? At the end of the age (as I'll demonstrate in a later passage).

  4. Luke 9:51-56

    51When the days drew near for Him to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem. 52And He sent messengers ahead of Him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for Him. But the people did not receive Him, because His face was set toward Jerusalem. 54And when His disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" 55But He turned and rebuked them. 56And they went on to another village. (ESV).

    So, a village of people rejected Jesus. James and John were outraged on the Lord's behalf, and they wanted to punish these villagers for their unbelief. Jesus not only declined, but he also rebuked them for this. Then Jesus modeled the appropriate response: He just left the village alone and went on.

    We all need to consider that the very moment when we think we're being the most zealous for Jesus might be the moment when we are earning our largest rebuke from Him. Keeping that in mind would probably make us all a lot more humble, particularly when it comes to the temptation to play the role of enforcer against unbelief or false belief.

  5. Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

    24[Jesus] put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' 28He said to them, 'And enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29But he said, 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, "Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn."'"

    36Then He left the crowds and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." 37He answered, "The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are he sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear (ESV).

    This parable is explicitly, directly about religious liberty.

    I have to admit, I have only rarely heard it preached about religious liberty. I have actually heard it preached against church discipline, or in favor of the corpus permixtum of paedo-baptist churches. But Jesus left us very little latitude in our interpretation of this parable, since He gave us the interpretation Himself.

    The field is not the church; it is the world. The problem in the parable is that the field, which should've had only wheat, regrettably has both wheat and weeds in it. The real-life problem that this parable represents, according to Jesus, is that the world, which should only have in it Christians (the sons of the kingdom), regrettably has both Christians and those who reject Christ (the sons of the evil one). The world is this way because of the work of the devil, just as the field in the parable was in its condition because of the actions of an enemy.

    Dear Farmersville, we live in a world with Muslims in it. That was true a year ago no less than it will be true ten years from now. What will we do about it?

    Well, in the parable, the natural inclination of everyone who loved the owner of the field was to go out and do some weeding. I do not fault you, dear friends, for wishing the world were a pure place where there are no people who reject Christ and follow Mohammed instead. To have an inclination to defend your Christian way of life by using governmental force to drive out the Muslims may be a powerful instinct within you that is difficult to overcome. But I implore you to hear the words of the Master.


    I'll go further, but it really shouldn't be necessary. The answer to all of our impulses to go out weeding the world (or even little sections of it) on the basis of people's religious convictions is simply that Jesus has said no.

    Why not? Is Jesus overly fond of weeds? Not at all. But Jesus is far more protective of the wheat than you or I will ever be. And every time Christians empower the state to punish bad belief, it always, 100% of the time, without a single exception in the history of mankind, winds up with the force of the state punishing people for faithfulness to right belief. That always happens no matter what are the motives of the people who get that particular ball rolling (more on that later).

    Jesus just doesn't trust you with this assignment.

    Instead, Jesus is reserving this task for Himself, and He has told us exactly when He is going to do it. It will happen "at the end of the age." When Jesus comes back, he'll relocate everyone who persists in denying Jesus Christ. He won't do it like you or I will. Some of us, I fear, would gleefully watch the Muslim foreigners slip off to perdition, but what about your Texan neighbor or colleague or even family member who is not a follower of Christ? Some weeds we like better than others. That we treat the two differently shows why we can't be trusted with the weeding. So, at the end of the age, the Righteous Judge Himself will sort out the wheat from the weeds and will consign the weeds to their sad, avoidable fate.

  6. Revelation 6:9-11

    Yeah, but isn't it different if you've got a religion in which some people have done some bad things?

    Well, let's see whether there's anything like that in the New Testament. Would you think that people who had been murdered for following Jesus would have a greater right than anyone in Farmersville has to seek immediate governmental intervention and force used to prevent the opponents of Christianity from moving in? Let's see what the role is for such people while we await the end of the age.

    9When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar [in Heaven] the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10They cried out with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" 11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

    OK, so here's how much differently Heaven sees things than we do. God's plan is to wait and do nothing because they haven't killed enough Christians yet. So, anything in my mind that would reject that idea as totally unreasonable is an idea in my mind that rejects the teaching of Revelation 6:9-11 and the authority of God. It's an attitude of which I need to repent if it is there.

    What are Christians supposed to do between now and the second coming of Jesus? Preach the gospel. Watch and be ready in our own lives. Wait patiently. Leave the judgment of the world to God. That's it. And that's true for you if the unbelievers are friendly to you and it's equally true if they're trying to kill you. It's true if you live in first-century Galatia and it's true if you live in twenty-first-century Texas. It's true with regard to your relationship with the guy who does your taxes who spends his Sundays fishing on the lake and it's true with regard to your relationship with the guy who sells you gasoline who spends his Fridays at a mosque.

    Now, even though the ultimate judgment from God doesn't come until the end of the age, if we're talking about people who have committed a crime, then there's a Romans 13 role for government to bring partial, imperfect, temporary justice into the situation. Of course, no one has even bothered to allege that the Islamic Association of Collin County has committed a crime or is planning to commit a crime, and if they had, the proper people to call would be the police department or the FBI, not the Planning & Zoning Commission.

    But for Christians (of whom those who live in Farmersville have suffered far less than the martyrs, by the way, if we've suffered anything at all) to mobilize in order to invoke the secular sword of government against people just for what they believe or do not believe? That's just the opposite of waiting and leaving this kind of judgment of religious conscience to God alone at the end of the age.

  7. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

    12For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (ESV).

    As a final entry (I could go on, but this is already too long and I think I've made my point), I give you another explicit scriptural command separating out our responsibility as Christians (Hey, if you've got a member of your church who thinks Mohammed may have been onto something with that whole Quran thing, then by all means, kick that person right out of your church!) from God's responsibility as God. We judge matters inside the church. God judges matters of faith for those outside the body of Christ, and He has chosen not to do so until the end of the age. Not the church. Not the preachers. Not the city government. God.

  8. Revelation 12:11

    And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death (ESV).

    OK, so I said the last one would be the final entry, but I couldn't resist doing just this one more. If we really want to win, the way to do that isn't by running to the city council. The way to do that is by testifying to the truth and laying down our lives. That is the way of Jesus.

    When we finally get to Heaven, dear brothers and sisters, the places of honor will not go to Charles Martel and Vlad the Impaler. The places of honor will go to Peter and Paul and James and John, to Perpetua and Polycarp and Hubmaier and Bonhoeffer, to Abedini and Elliot and Saint and Fletcher, and to a thousand nameless unknowns who have faithfully kept the word of their testimony and have laid down their lives for the gospel.

    This way of zoning out the "undesirables" and protesting the burial of the dead is not the way that they have shown us. It is not the way that Christ has shown us. It cannot be supported from the scriptures. It should not be displayed in our lives.

Considering the Old Testament

Someone will now object, "But what about the Old Testament? What about Elijah on Mount Carmel? What about Joshua at Ai? Those are good questions, and if we were Orthodox Jews, you'd have me over quite the barrel. But with a Christian understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old Testament, the competing claims of those who follow a New Testament understanding of the relationship between Christianity and the state on the one hand and those who wish to make the Old Testament a pattern for church-state relations on the other hand are resolved quite decisively.

I give you three points to consider.

  1. These Old Testament stories support none of the positions advocated in the Farmersville debate. Old Testament Israel was expected to be a Theocracy or a Monarchy in which all idolatry was punished severely at the hand of the theological state. When people argue for the demolition of the Buddhist Meditation Center, the eviction of the Mormons, the rounding up and punishment of all of the atheists and agnostics, and the slaughter of all of the leaders of false religious movements, and the replacement of the city council with the ministerial alliance, then someone will be advocating that we follow the examples of Elijah and Joshua. No one is advocating for anything that approaches consistency with the pattern of Old Testament Israel.

    But why is that? Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

    It is a good thing. It is not because Christian leaders in Farmersville lack the courage to seek what the Word of God truly demands. It is not because, as people on the left often claim, the Bible is a muddled mishmash of conflicting rules out of which people can cherry-pick what to follow and what to ignore. No, not at all. The reason why no Christian in this debate is calling for us to return all the way back to the way of Old Testament Israel is because of the fundamental truths that the New Testament teaches us about the way that the coming of Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament and about the way that the second coming of Jesus will fulfill what remains open after His first coming.

  2. The Civil Law of the Old Testament is no longer in force for Christian believers. In saying this, I am depending upon a tripartite division of the Old Testament law that hearkens all the way back to the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth-century. Even if you have never heard anyone speak of the "ceremonial law," the "civil law," or the "moral law," with regard to the Old Testament, you, Christian in Farmersville, are living your life the way you are living based upon this concept. In saying that, I admit that I am making certain assumptions. I am assuming that you eat bacon. I am assuming that you do not stone to death your children if they rebel against your authority. I am assuming that you have not recently built an altar upon which you have sacrificed a lamb to God. I am assuming, however, that you feel obligated not to worship an idol, not to steal, not to kill, not to commit adultery, and to honor your father and mother.

    Perhaps you do not know WHY you pick and choose from the Old Testament in this way, but I am assuming that you do so, whether you understand the reasons behind it or not.

    Well, in a minute you'll know the reasons behind it. As Christians we observe that Jesus and the Apostles dealt with the Old Testament Law in three different ways. First, there are many, many elements of the Old Testament Law that are re-affirmed and continued into the New Testament. The standard of one-man-one-woman marriage was reiterated by Jesus Himself (that post on Facebook you read notwithstanding; Matthew 19:3-12). Jesus not only reiterated but also doubled-down on several Old Testament commands in His Sermon on the Mount, including prohibitions against murder (Matthew 5:21-26, ESV), adultery (Matthew 5:27-30, ESV), wrongful divorce (Matthew 5:31-32, ESV), and false witness (Matthew 5:33-37, ESV).

    These portions of the Old Testament that are enduring guides to Christian behavior, many of them reiterated explicitly in the New Testament, are what we mean when we refer to the "moral law." Jesus fulfilled these portions of the Law completely, to be sure. His death and resurrection thereby secure for us salvation in spite of our failures to live up to the moral law. But nothing about what Jesus did on the cross made it any less of a bad thing for me to murder you. Now, because of Jesus, I can go to Heaven even if I am a murderer, but murder is still bad. The "moral law" consists of those Old Testament laws that remain in force because they have been reiterated in the New Testament.

    Thus, if in spite of all that I have given you above from the New Testament you were able to demonstrate to me that the New Testament anywhere reiterates to us a command to treat unbelievers the way that Samuel the High Priest treated Agag, then it will be my new role not to beseech you to call for less government intervention to keep unbelievers at bay in Farmersville but to lead you to call for more. I do not claim to have perfect knowledge of the New Testament, but in my studies on this topic I have yet to find it.

    Second, there are aspects of the Old Testament Law that were fulfilled completely in the life and work of Jesus. Many items from the Old Testament fall into this category, but the one on the lowest shelf is the entire priestly and sacrificial system of the Old Testament. The sons of Aaron no longer slaughter animals in order to take away our sins because Jesus was the perfect sacrifice when He died on the cross and because Jesus serves now as the ultimate High Priest who intercedes for us (for this, consider pretty much any part of the Book of Hebrews, but especially Hebrews 7:26-28).

    These portions of the Old Testament are what we mean when we refer to the "ceremonial law." Jesus did not set aside these items because anything was wrong with them. It's just that the only purpose these laws ever had was to point people forward to what Jesus was going to do when He came. Once Jesus had come, these laws had been fulfilled completely in Him. Yes, certainly there is a sense in which Jesus in His coming fulfilled all of the Law completely, not just certain parts of it (in that He kept it all completely and demonstrated the purpose for which all of it was given). What's different about the ceremonial law is that after Jesus had ascended back to Heaven, no purpose whatsoever remained for the observance of these points of the Old Testament Law. Why would I sacrifice a goat when I have available to me the sacrifice of the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? The "ceremonial law" consists of those Old Testament laws that have been set aside forever now that Christ has come.

    Third, we observe that there are aspects of the Old Testament Law that are suspended because we have not yet come fully into the Kingdom that Christ will some day establish. It will become clear in my explanation of this that I am a pre-Millennialist, but I think that Christians of any biblically cognizable eschatological persuasion should be able to agree with the basic thrust of what I am saying. Above I have already (OK, not really, but I'm leaving this in here so you can know that this actually was once even longer than it is now) written about that crescendo moment in Revelation 11:15, further immortalized by Handel's "Hallelujah" Chorus, when the seventh angel blew the seventh trumpet and the loud voices of heaven declared, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever" (ESV, pronouns referring to deity capitalized because I like that). Because we are now strangers and aliens inhabiting a kingdom to which we do not rightfully belong, there are aspects of the life of Old Testament Israel which we are not supposed to pursue. The "civil law" consists of those Old Testament laws that have been suspended awaiting the second coming of Christ because they pertain peculiarly to His kingdom, which I think we will see when Christ establishes His Millennial Kingdom on Earth as promised in Revelation 20. I have already covered in the New Testament section above the biblical texts that drive me to view our relationship with the coming kingdom in this way. I think we have been commanded explicitly by Christ to "stand down" in the enforcement of temporal judgment against unbelievers until the coming of Christ.

    This is, for example, why we are permitted to have something like a democratic republic as (we hope) we have in America. There is absolutely no basis in the Old Testament for a government like ours. None. I defy anyone to produce evidence of it. And I guarantee you, my brothers and sisters, there are no polling places awaiting us in the heavenly kingdom. And there will be no religious liberty there, either. The regulations and punishments of the Old Testament will pale in comparison to the perfect standards of Heaven and the infinite torments of Hell. We nevertheless rightfully have our republic and our religious liberty and our comparatively lenient laws because Jesus has not yet restored the kingdom and none of us have the wisdom or power to establish it for Him.

  3. Understood as "our tutor to lead us to Christ" (Galatians 3:24, NASB), I think the Old Testament narratives illustrate quite well why we should prefer religious liberty today over Old-Testament-style theocracy. The governmental system of Old Testament Israel proved to be utterly inept at stopping idolatry (as a citation, I give you the entire Old Testament), but it did manage quite well, as Jesus lamented, to "kill the prophets and stone those sent to [them]" (Luke 13:34, ESV). This is simply because there are no men but Jesus who are sinless enough to wield such power. The Old Testament civil law is good, but "sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment [deceives people] and through it [kills them]. So the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:11-12, ESV).

    This has not only been true for Ancient Israel, but it has also proven true in every last instance in which religious liberty has been set aside in favor of theocracy. There's always some good reason to justify it, but in the end it always ends up powerless to stop the infidels but effective at persecuting the faithful.

    Look no further than Europe, where as early as the eighth and ninth centuries people like Charlemagne were building a Holy Roman Empire, consolidating the spiritual power of Christianity and putting it under the "safe keeping" of the temporal sword of the state. What does Europe look like today? Those churches who were so confident that the government would protect them are the dead state-churches of Europe, mausoleums for and monuments to the hubris and foolishness of man. And what did they get in return for selling their souls? Did they keep out the Muslims? No, Europe is awash with Muslims. And what else happened along the way? The Catholics persecuted the Reformers, the Reformers persecuted the Evangelicals, and eventually our Founding Fathers had to flee Europe for the Americas in order to find liberty from the dungeons and guillotines of other Christians to follow the plain teachings of Jesus Christ.

    Jerusalem killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her. Rome killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her. Paris killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her. London killed the prophets and stoned those sent to her. Such has been the case everywhere—everywhere without exception—where men determined to give sinful men in human government the power to persecute people for wrong belief.

    It always happens this way because true belief will always trouble sinful men. The courageous believer will always have some critique to offer of his society and his leaders. There will always be some Salome somewhere who lusts for the head of a John the Baptist, simply because Christ will always have a John the Baptist somewhere who is ready to stand up and declare the truth. Therefore, every human government will eventually get mad at the true believers, and every human government empowered to do so will eventually use its power to persecute the true faith.

    Has it occurred to you that God has given us this example in the Old Testament to be our tutor to lead us to Christ? Has it occurred to you that these sad and sinful narratives of Old Testament Israel are designed to make us despair of human government and to long for the coming kingdom of Christ? Persuade Jesus to descend and become Mayor of Farmersville, and then I will gladly see city government discriminate among people for their beliefs. I have no such trust in Joe Helmberger, as nice as man as he is.

Every Christian ought to seek a consistent rationale by which he or she understands the relationship between the Old and New Testaments and then seek to live consistently by its implications. I believe that I am doing so, but I welcome and will consider thoughtfully and prayerfully any critique of my position that is based upon the teachings of the New Testament.


If anyone will answer this essay with an expository biblical case that shows where scripture commands me to run to the government to keep the Muslims out of Farmersville, then I will recant publicly, disavow my previous writings on the subject, and give vocal leadership to the other side of this issue. It is my obligation, after all, to be a servant of Christ rather than a stubborn blowhard who is more interested in saving face than serving Christ. It would take courage to change my position, but far less courage than Christ has instilled in the martyrs down through the ages. Would you have me on the other side? Then the task before you is clear: Show me from the scriptures where I am wrong and you are right.


David Rogers said...

Excellent! Thank you so much for your hard work on this and your courage in taking this stand. This is indeed a crucial issue, and you have spoken to it biblically and done so very well.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, David. And congratulations for being among the 0.4% of the American population who would bother to read all the way through to the end. :-)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I disagree with your presuppositions.
1. I am a theonomist...I believe your understanding of the law is not Biblical and is in fact a antinomianian position as defined throughout church history.
2.Iam a postmill ! Your eschatology is driving your theology . Did not Jesus say thy kingdom come ...thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven? I agree that there will be no religious liberty in heaven but I believe that Our God Reigns in every sphere of life including the government of Farmerville.
3. Religous pluralism is dependent on reciprocity.....Islam makes no allowances in any country for true pluralism. Why should we as U.S Citizens open a one way door to Muslims in this foundationally Christian society.
4. We as Baptist need to engage the Strongest, and Best arguments surrounding these issues and they are not coming from our leaders but rather from men like Douglas Wilson, Gary Demar, Joel McDurmon, and Jeff Durbin

Servanthood Dominion even in Farmersville

Robert I Masters

Bart Barber said...

You know, Robert, I don't know that we've all ever heard a good representative Theonomist interpretation of some of these passages. Why don't you favor us with a few? How about the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares? Let's hear that one first.

Christiane said...

Hi Dr. Barber,

if you would like to have some more very strong Scriptural sources for your argument, look at this document and SCROLL DOWN to the references which list many, many Bible verses. I have a feeling you are already very familiar with most of these verses in respect to your position, but there may be some you have overlooked:

I think your argument absolutely shows regard for the dignity of the human person. I admire you for taking this stand.

Unknown said...

Dr. Barber: I agree that we should show the love of Christ to others. I attended the meeting last night. I was most appalled by the actions of some people. While I do not subscribe to Islam, I do agree that our witness had been terrible after seeing the protest here. I have had my own words to address this. They were inadequate. I did get an English translation of the Koran. I saw the details of how Muhammad came to power though mercenaries and violence in Medina and Mecca, then throughout the Arabian peninsula. Recently when these Muslims came here about the cemetery. I naturally felt anger and fear. I have tried to understand their need for a burial place. I feel secure in what the Bible clearly says. I now see and better understand the legal aspects; as well as the religious one's. But as Christian's we must "be and act" more "Christ-like." I did not see much of that last night's town meeting. People can argue syntax and cover what your post correctly said. I am sorry for my earlier posts. I was misinformed. Those folks need a burial ground. I don't have to "like it or agree with it."The facts are: the land is in the unincorporated part of town. They own the land. It really isn't our call to say any anything negative or do anything more. To say more "only digs a hole that you can't escape from." People have tore us to pieces in the TV news, the public, to other news media from London's Daily Mail, and some friends I lost on Facebook. The world is watching. The most important thing: so is God!

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Joe!

Unlike most of what I do on my blog, this post was primarily motivated by and intended for people here in Farmersville. It's especially fulfilling to see a comment here from someone who lives here. I'm glad I happened to see it (usually after a post has been up for a few days I stop monitoring comments).

Doug said...


I applaud your Case for Religious Liberty, but think it is based on many incorrect assumptions. I will try to point out a few.

1. You seem to make no distinction between the duties of Christians and the duties of Government. While I would heartily agree with you that "the weapons of OUR warfare are not of the flesh," nevertheless the same cannot be said of Government: "But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he [the magistrate] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer." Romans 13:4b Note that in the parable of the wheat and tares, Christ is speaking specifically to his ministers of the Gospel, NOT to Government authorities.

2. It appears your attitude toward Government is incorrect. You said, "Has it occurred to you that these sad and sinful narratives of Old Testament Israel are designed to make us despair of human government and to long for the coming kingdom of Christ?" Yet, never in the NT are we instructed to despair of Government. We are instructed to view it as our friend, "a minister of God." Again Romans 13.

3. The God-ordained purpose of government is to be a restraint on evil-doing, not an eradicator of it. Not sure you see this based on your comment, "Now, even though the ultimate judgment from God doesn't come until the end of the age, if we're talking about people who have committed a crime, then there's a Romans 13 role for government to bring partial, imperfect, temporary justice into the situation." You say nothing about Government restraining evil-doing, for which it is very effective by design. False Religion is simply another form of evil-doing that requires this restraint, especially as it involves the attempt to drag others down to Hell.

Bart Barber said...


1. I am writing to Christians, not to non-Christian politicians. That's why I have written so little about the biblical idea of government. To non-Christian politicians I would make an appeal much more akin to that which John Leland or Isaac Backus made—a politico-philosophical one. But ultimately, however government bathes its hands in the blood of true Christians, I'm happy if Christians simple recognize that they are not to invoke the secular sword of government to try to accomplish the spiritual work of the Kingdom.

2. With the martyrs under the throne we can join in despairing of the injustice that we have at the hands of governments who kill the prophets and stone those sent to them (this is, I think, New Testament language). We can do so while simultaneously respecting and obeying government where it does not seek to impose itself in our relationship with Christ.

3. False religion is evil-believing, not evil-doing. Imprisoning those who do not believe in Christ or putting them to the rack or whatever it is that you favor should be done to them will not bring a single, solitary additional soul into Heaven.

Bart Barber said...

Doug, would you identify for us a government in the history of mankind who punished people for their beliefs who did not wind up punishing the followers of Christ? I'll bet I can name ten who persecuted the true church for every one you can name who did not. In fact, I'm not sure you can even name one.

Doug said...

Thanks for your reply.

I ask, is it government authorities that Christ says persecute the saints, or is it not false religious leaders? Notice what Christ said to the scribes and pharisees:

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation."

That said, I believe you misunderstand me in thinking that I advocate government punishing "belief." I do not. What I advocate is government restraint of acting on one's belief to the harm of others. You might let a Muslim friend stay in your home. But I would think if your Muslim friend started trying to convert your little children, you would step in. This restraint is all I advocate for government.

"Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease." Proverbs 22:10

Michael White said...


Each one of the Scriptural passages, you used and referred to, point to the idea that we Christians are not to use secular means to fight a spiritual battle. To that, I think you did a wonderful job pointing out that truth. Thus it would be wrong for us to use secular power [the city council for example] to stop or hinder the spread of any unChristian religion. And that if our motivation is religious in nature, the halls of government is not an appropriate weapon to further the cause of our Lord.

But not a single passage you supplied urged or commanded us, as Christians, to support the freedom of religion for any false religion in a secular way. I see no warrant in those Scriptures that would lead us to fight or promote any freedom of false religion.

To be clear, there are two different concepts here. 1] We are not to use secular means to fight a spiritual battle.
And 2] where in the Word can we find the mandate to support religious liberty for false religions?

We could use the Scripture passages mentioned to admonish and teach our brethren to not discriminate against other religions because [a] such discrimination by using secular means has no warrant in the Word and [b], such discrimination is a violation of federal law.

I am not saying there isn't any Scriptural mandate to promote and fight for freedom of religion for false religions, I am saying the above Scriptures do not. I have not found any Scriptures that do justify believers fighting for the freedom of religion for others to worship false gods.

Finally, our appeal for the freedom to worship the Lord in peace and in freedom is not to any government or power, but only to the Lord. Thus our fight in that arena is a spiritual fight. Should we be using secular power to fight spiritual battles? The Scripture passages you gave us plainly tells us NO.

Michael White said...


You ask:
" it government authorities that Christ says persecute the saints, or is it not false religious leaders? Notice what Christ said to the scribes and pharisees:"

Maybe your understanding of history is different than mine.
Who sentenced Jesus to die? The Roman government.
Who persecuted the Christians in the early centuries of the church? The Romans government.
Who did the bidding of the apostate Catholic Church to persecute believers as they stood against false doctrine for hundreds of years? Secular government.
Who drove the persecuted people out of Europe to seek freedom of religion in the New World? Secular governments.
Who today, even today, is persecuting Christians across the globe for their faith in Christ? Secular governments.
And who is foretold by the Word that will be persecuting the church before the end of the age? A secular government.

Everyone serves a god. Everyone. We as Christians are blessed to have a God who also serves us. But those in secular power who are not us, follow after the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience, "the ruler of this world", and are led by "the rulers, ... the powers, ...the world forces of this darkness, ...the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

As to your use of the proverb.
It seems narrow minded to me that your desire is to drive out a [comparatively] few Muslims when thus country is full of tens of millions who scoff at the Gospel.

As to your example of a Muslim person teaching your children false religion.
Again, you seem quite narrow minded seeing that everyday and in multiple ways the false message that life can be fulfilled in the ways of this world inundates every form of communication including hundreds of pulpits that call claim to be Christian.

What is the color of the sky in your world?

Michael White said...


As to what a broader, more comprehensive view of what the Scriptures say, we read this from Acts 4:

When they had been released, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is You who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Your servant, said,

‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
‘The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’
For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

And note that their was their prayer AFTER they were commanded not to speak in the name of Jesus and were also threatened.
Soon after that [Acts 5] they were flogged for their faith in Jesus and for preaching in His name.

How about Acts12:
"Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also."
King Herod, right?

Or in Acts 16, speaking of Paul and Silas:
"The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks."

There is more, but isn't that enough?
Who imprisoned John on Patmos? or hung Peter in Rome?

Now maybe you are worried a Muslim refugee will be a terrorist and kill.
Probably will happen.
But more Americans will die from auto accidents and be injured falling off ladders than have ever died from terrorist attacks. Should we eradicate the country of cars and ladders?

Doug said...

Michael, thanks for your comments.

Doug said...

Bart, You asked, "Doug, would you identify for us a government in the history of mankind who punished people for their beliefs who did not wind up punishing the followers of Christ?"

I will stress again, I am absolutely NOT advocating that any Government punish people for their beliefs. What I advocate is Government restraint of harmful actions which harm others -- actions that spring from an evil and unbelieving heart, under the color of True Religion. What Paul did in Acts 13:6-11. In no way am I advocating Government try to engender faith. Government's role is specifically to restrain evil doing, not evil believing.

That said, you know how fruitless it can be to try and name an historical Government that is praiseworthy in the area of governing religion as you suggest. Whatever I suggest will be open to endless debate depending on biases inherent in reader and historian alike. I believe there are praiseworthy examples. But even if there were none that would only prove that man is sinful. Let God be true and every man a liar. Legitimacy is to be proved from the Word of God alone. I think you'd agree with that.