Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The 4th of July holiday celebrations are over, the American flags have been taken down, most people have returned to work, but the importance of freedom to all of us remains, no matter what day it is!  Probably, the foremost question to ponder is WHERE DOES FREEDOM COME FROM?  As individuals and Christians, there’s an easy answer to that,

“If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (Jn.8:36)  

You’ll find no arguments here from me, but I’d like you to travel with me on this road for a bit. 

The Foundation of Our Freedom

The secret of American freedom is the Bible, God’s Word!  This has some profound implications which I’d like you to consider.  In his quest to change the oppressive regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, President George W. Bush argued that “everyone desires freedom.”  Yes, that’s definitely true; but any genuine or lasting freedom must have some deeper roots, or if will fail.  For instance, everyone also desires a happy marriage, but does this mean that everyone therefore can automatically have one?  Look around at various nations: freedom does not flow from the barrel of a gun, nor does freedom flourish in every country or society. 

Let me ask you a question: why do most American Presidents place their hand on a Bible to take their oath of office?  Some would say that it’s just symbolic or a meaningful tradition, but the tradition exists because the Bible is the secret of America’s freedom!   This great nation was built by an ethic: a spirituality that taught its citizens to work, to earn, to save, to invest, and to use their wealth to help and serve their neighbors.  That ethic is enunciated directly from the pages of Scripture, from God’s Word as the motivating force and intellectual reasoning (i.e. the Protestant work ethic). 

I recently read a review of a book by Vishal Mangalwadi, a native of India, called “The Book That Made Your World” - How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization.  His basic premise is he explores the Bible’s impact, not only in leading the West to unparalleled liberty and prosperity; but also helping India and other nations to share in the West’s success.  He examines the intellectual and spiritual roots of Western concepts such as: human dignity, morality, science, liberty, and self-sacrificial heroism.  Each of these concepts grows out of the Bible, and he contrasts the Biblical view with alternative worldviews like secularism, Islam and Hinduism.  A major point he makes is that false worldviews lead to de-humanizing consequence.  It was very refreshing to read this from a native-born Indian, rather than someone raised in a Bible-belt, fundamentalist Christianity background. 

Think about some of the following “freedom virtues,” starting with human dignity.  A Biblical worldview sees all people as valuable because they are made in God’s image. 
(Gen.2:26, 27) “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” 
Created in the image of God, we are given the freedom to choose, to work to change our lot in life   In contrast, the Hindu worldview of fate or karma leads to little hope for change, self-improvement, and a happy and successful life.  Think about the freedom issues from literacy.  Translating the Bible into the vernacular of the common man brought about a social revolution.  Now, even the poorest peasant had as much right to read and study the Word of God as the priests and nobles.  Another powerful freedom relates to marriage and family life, which emphasized the equal dignity of women, contributing to Western prosperity.  Essentially, Mangalwadi has researched and credits the Bible for everything we value in Western society.  Look no further; these are the Christian roots of religious freedom.

The Corrupting of Freedom

It is accurate to say that “relativism rules” in many sectors of American life.  Relativism denies moral absolutes of objective standards of truth.  To paraphrase, relativism says “Your beliefs are true for you; my beliefs are true for me.”  Unfortunately, this is not the legacy of religious freedom: religious freedom and relativism are not the same thing.  True religious liberty rests on a Biblical foundation.  While relativism denies the very existence of truth, real religious freedom upholds truth as something precious, something powerful, something created by God, which we may freely embrace – or not.  A recent cover story in Newsweek magazine asked, “What Do Teens Believe?”  There is both encouraging and distressing parts of the story.  It is distressing to find that more than half agree with the statement that “all religious faiths teach equally valid truths.”  That is relativism, and ultimately, it undermines our freedom.  Remember that the greatest dangers to any nation or culture are not just the enemies without, but the erosion caused by the enemies within. 

Back to an earlier argument involving marriage and family life.  Almost everyone desires a happy marriage, but without the Bible, America cannot even define, let alone sustain marriage as one man, one woman, in an exclusive and lifelong relationship.  One of the cornerstones of the West’s greatness has been Biblical monogamy, because it harnessed sexual energy to build strong families, men, women, and children.  Human history knows of no other force other than the Bible that has the capacity to dam sexual energy and build powerful families and nations.  Indeed, no non-Biblical culture has ever been able to require husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church” and give them the spiritual resources to do so. 

While giving some powerful and positive insights, Vishal Mangalwadi did issue a sober warning: in abandoning Biblical beliefs and practices, the West has lost its soul and is starting to visibly degenerate.  This is true with all false worldviews: they don’t free people and give them hope, but end up imprisoning them, robbing them of the dynamic of hope and leading to the process of degeneration.  This is why secularism is always a failed experiment.  The Biblical ethic that helped build this nation has been replaced by secularism and an entitlement culture.  This teaches people that they have a right to this, that, and the other without corresponding obligations to work, save, and serve.  This kind of corruption of character is destroying the world’s greatest economy, robbing us of liberty, responsibility and dignity.

Guarding Our Freedom

Many of you no doubt have seen the bumper sticker that says, “QUESTION AUTHORITY.”  Our modern age represents a challenge to authority at every level.  The greatest authority that an anti-authoritarian spirit must topple is the authority of the Bible as the Word of God!   While ours is certainly a changing world, our anchor is God’s unchanging Word! 

There is a trend today of people attempting the impossible: acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ while rejecting the Bible!  The only explanation for this is a spirit of deception powerfully at work in people’s lives.  Jesus spelled out the path of following Him when he said
“If you continue in My Word, you are my disciples indeed, and you shall know the truth, and truth shall make you free.” (Jn.8:31, 32)  
Each and every part of this is critical to a life of freedom and wholeness.   Being a Christ-follower is indispensably connected with obedience to His Word, which is the source of true freedom.  A tragic example of this is the recent decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the 33-year effort to remove all restrictions of homosexuals serving in the church’s ordained ministry.  They recently voted to ordain openly homosexual candidates to its ministry!  This represents the denomination’s tragic surrender to those pushing for the normalization of homosexuality. 

Beyond the specific issue of homosexuality, the church faced two of the most fundamental questions of Christian theology – the authority of the Bible and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  What the church is trying to affirm is that one may submit to Christ’s lordship without submitting to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Can you say, “impossible” or “nonsense?”  We’re talking about the completely implausible position of claiming to believe in the Lordship of Christ, while subverting the authority of Scripture.  Not only has this church denomination capitulated to the spirit of our times, but they’ve engaged in an act of open defiance against the Scriptures.  Here is the church-wide letter to the denomination, PC (USA) where the leaders stated:
“Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum.  Some will rejoice, while others will weep.  Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PCUSA an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office...  Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture.  The feelings of both sides run deep.”
The feelings no doubt run deep, but the injury to this church runs far deeper than feelings.  This is another tragedy in the sad history of mainline Protestantism’s race toward theological disaster. 

The Bible includes so many different metaphors of the Word of God: it is like water, like bread, like a searchlight, like a mirror, like milk, like meat, and like a hammer.  One intriguing metaphor comes from
(Isa.56:10) and has to do with a watchdog!  “For the leaders of my people—the Lord's watchmen, his shepherds—are blind and ignorant.  They are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes. They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming.” 
The purpose of a watchdog is to sound the alarm.  If you are in a building that catches on fire, the most loving thing you can do is to scream, to get people’s attention, to warn them of the potential danger, if they don’t do something.  My job as a Pastor, as a truth-bringer, is to try to do my part to stem the tide of moral relativism, of casual Christianity, of ethical decline; and to challenge you to a life of prayer, a life in the Word, a life of holiness, and a life of victory when Satan tries to “sift you like wheat.”  

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