Saturday, October 18, 2014

When Rights Are Violated

Should Christians and churches in countries that acknowledge a right to the free exercise of religion diligently and lawfully resist those who would deny that right?
The question has arisen out of recent actions by the City of Houston, which issued subpoenas demanding that certain churches turn over materials related to sermons and private communications on issues involved in a lawsuit to which those churches and individuals were not even parties.
The subpoenas certainly trampled on these churches' First Amendment rights. Under heavy criticism, it appears that the City of Houston is backing down. In any event, it is almost certain that the subpoenas would not have survived a court challenge.
Even so, some well meaning Christians responded that the churches should happily turn over their materials (the focus tended to be more on the sermons than on the private communications).
However, the denial of recognized constitutional protections should not be taken lightly, and New Testament precedent would seem to suggest that Christians are within the parameters of their faith commitments in insisting upon their rights as citizens. The Apostle Paul, while affirming that he was a citizen of a kingdom not of this world, also was a citizen of Rome. As such, on multiple occasions he asserted his rights as a Roman citizen in order to escape the hands of local officials that were acting unjustly.
We should be glad when our nation acknowledges the human right of freedom of conscience, including the free exercise of religion. When those rights are violated, we would do well to exercise our rights to due process.

Wielding the Law

It should be of more than passing interest that in the New Testament the Law is never used with the intention of conforming the behavior of those outside the church (This is partly, but not entirely, due to the fact that the church had no power to require conformity by outsiders). It is used with those outside the church to show guilt in order to then point people to the good news of the gospel, whereby they receive forgiveness through Christ.
This is an important distinction. While the Law provides a guide for conforming behavior to the Word of God within the Church. It functions differently in preaching to those outside. There, it is used to draw people's attention to their need for Christ.
I am struck with the fact that many Christians use the Law in precisely the opposite way of the New Testament prescription. That is to say, they use it as an instrument to require conformity for people outside the church, and they use it as an instrument of condemnation for those inside the church.
This is a grave error. The church taught better when it recognized it had no power.