Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Freedom From is not Freedom To

Benjamin Franklin is probably most famous for his role as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. This fame, among other honors, earned him the placement of his image on the US hundred dollar bill. However, Benjamin Franklin did many other things that made him a major contributing figure on the much broader world stage. For example, what most people don’t know is that he was America’s first Ambassador to France, which was probably our most important ally in the early years of America’s founding. France played a key role in assisting the Colonists in their successful quest for freedom from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. The resulting freedom from Great Britain gave the Colonists the opportunity to restore certain freedoms that Great Britain had denied. But the initial freedom from Great Britain though military victory was not what secured those certain freedoms that were being denied by Great Britain. Only after Franklin and the other Founding Fathers codified those freedoms into the rule of law, were those freedoms ultimately secured. It is important to note that the initial freedom from the rule of Great Britain was very different from the freedoms that were later secured by the rule of law.

This same reality of differing types of “freedom” exists with great confusion in the Church today. There are many preachers and Christians who advocate for a brand of “Christian liberty” that sounds very much like a freedom to lawlessness. Yes, the Bible speaks rather explicitly about our freedom from the law. But, there is a big difference between freedom from something and freedom to something. Our Freedom from the law was meant to secure our salvation apart from the law. God never intended for us to enjoy a freedom to willfully violate that law. After all the law was representative of God's holy nature.

For a great illustration of this difference, let’s return to Benjamin Franklin’s example as an Ambassador to France. An American Ambassador is the person who officially represents the United States of America to the country to which he or she is assigned. For that function, they are relocated to live in the host country of assignment during their term of ambassadorship. The host country typically allows the ambassador control of specific territory called an embassy, whose territory, staff, and vehicles are generally afforded “diplomatic immunity” in the host country. Diplomatic immunity is an exemption/freedom from all of the laws of the host country. The diplomat is granted this protection in exchange for assuming the risk of serving in a foreign land. Therefore, an Ambassador can never be prosecuted in the host country. They have freedom from their law.

But, does an Ambassador’s freedom from the law mean that they have freedom to willfully violate the law? Of course not. An Ambassador has immunity from being prosecuted under the law. But, should they intentionally abuse their immunity, they risk expulsion from the country and/or severe repercussions upon their return to America as a terrible representative. Freedom from the law is not a freedom to intentionally violate it. It is also not a freedom to poorly represent your country. In fact, the freedom granted to Ambassadors is meant to cover unintentional transgressions not necessarily intentional ones. This is probably the clearest picture of what the Bible means by declaring that Christians are free from the righteous law of God. In fact the Bible declares that we, like Franklin, are “ambassadors.” 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” As God’s Ambassadors, we are immune to prosecution under the law, but we must still faithfully represent God in all His righteousness and holiness. That is why we are called to be holy as He is holy. We were never called to be lawless because our King is not lawless.

The Bible speaks about our freedom from the law in several places. However, it never speaks in terms of God-granted permissibility to do anything we desire. Below is a sample of some of those passages. Examine the nature of each of these verses to determine whether they are liberating unto salvation (freedom from) or whether they promote lawlessness (freedom to):

  • Romans 7:6, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
  • Romans 8:1-4, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
  • Galatians 3:23-26, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
  • 1 Peter 2:16, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”
  • Galatians 5:13, 16-18, 24, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another…But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law…And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

On this subject, there is another passage of scripture that is often abused by those who advocate for the lawless brand of Christian liberty. The passage is 1 Corinthians 6:12 which reads, “‘All things are permissible for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything.” Look closely and you will see that the fragment, “All things are permissible for me,” is in quotation marks. Paul is quoting someone else, not himself. Paul is actually exposing this quote/fragment as a destructive cliché. Paul was not proclaiming a new-found ideal of spiritual lawlessness. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church dealt with many pagan behaviors that were being used by the enemy and tolerated by the church that he had planted there. He was warning against their unwise behaviors, not excusing them. He was urging them to stop living by clichés but live by the leading of God’s Spirit. In the very context of the verse, Paul goes on to say that lawlessness is not the standard, but helpfulness and Spirit control are. We exchange our service to the law for our service to God. We are not free radicals untethered from a Holy God. We are servants of the most Holy God. That is a far cry from merely “All things are permissible for me.” Paul exposed that intentionally violating God’s laws and God’s preferences were the root cause of this church’s problems. And, later in chapter 5, Paul advised the Corinthians on how to excommunicate those who refuse to repent from lawlessness. That does not sound like Paul was in favor of the brand of “Christian liberty” unwisely preached today via the twisting of his words.

For those who unwisely advocate for this lawless brand of liberty we must ask a few questions. What limits such liberty? Is unlimited freedom truly freedom? Isn’t unlimited freedom truly anarchy? If all things are permissible, is rape permissible? Is demon worship permissible? Is anything not permissible? Hopefully you see the ungodly slippery slope in this misguided interpretation. Like the Colonists, in order for our freedom to be secured, we must be ruled - ruled by God.

True Christian liberty is simply freedom from the law, not freedom to willfully ignore and violate that law. True Christian liberty means that as God’s Ambassadors to the world, we are immune from prosecution under the law (Romans 8:1). And, since we are His servants and Ambassadors, our King does not approve of any activity that does not represent Him well. God never intended us to be free to do anything that He looks unfavorably upon. For us to do so would make us terrible Ambassadors of the One we call the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Freedom from is not freedom to

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Peaceful Majority Is Irrelevant

For the past several years, we have heard a near ceaseless stream of politicians and celebrities declare that Islam is a peaceful religion and that Muslims are peaceful people. We hear repeatedly that the actions of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, etc. are the actions of a radical few who have hijacked Islam for their political purposes. But, are any of these declarations true? Is Islam a peaceful religion? Are the radicals truly radical? Has Islam been hijacked? Or, is our conscious being hijacked by those leading us to ignore a menacing reality?

Let’s begin this discussion by clearly defining some things starting with the term, “Radical Muslim.” Is a member of ISIS beheading a Christian infidel in the name of Islam truly radical within Islam? Or, is that ISIS member simply following the fundamentals of the Quran, Mohammed and the unrevised dictates of Islam? Is what we call a “Radical Muslim” actually a fundamentalist Muslim? Fundamentalists of any religion strictly obey their holy texts, not disobey them. The term "radical" should only refer to those who are disobeying their holy texts. So, is what we call a “Peaceful Muslim” possibly a radical if he is actually ignoring the violent commands for all Muslims in the Quran? 

The Quran and related Islamic authoritative texts contain at least 109 verses that call Muslims to violently war (Jihad) with nonbelievers for the sake of global Islamic rule.  Some are quite graphic, with commands to chop off heads and fingers and kill innocent infidels wherever they may be hiding.  Muslims who do not join the fight are called “hypocrites” and warned that Allah will send them to Hell if they do not join the battle. These texts have never been revised or superseded. Below are just a few excerpts from them:

  • Quran (2:191-193) - "And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing...”
  • Quran (3:151) - "Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority."
  • Quran (5:33) - "The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement."
  • Quran (8:12) - "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them."
  • Quran (8:39) - "And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah."
  • Bukhari (52:177) - "The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.’"
  • Tabari (9:69) - "Killing Unbelievers is a small matter to us."

And, there are plenty more where those came from including the justification for killing infidel children. The goal of fundamentalist Islam is unapologetically the establishment of a global Caliphate, primarily by means of Jihad. A Caliphate is an Islamic state led by a supreme religious and political leader known as a caliph or "successor" to Muhammad. The various Muslim empires that have existed in the Muslim world are usually described as "caliphates." Iran is a good example since it is an Islamic theocracy ruled by Islamic Mullahs. And, the ultimate Caliphate is global and represents a sovereign and theocratic state of the entire Muslim faithful, ruled by a caliph under Islamic law (sharia). This is the exact opposite of separation of Church and State, and freedom of speech and religion. And, whatever means used to achieve this goal are deemed acceptable as long as they are aligned with the desired result. Remember the term Jihad means holy war not holy peace.

In the face of Islamic atrocities, there are a few reasons why certain Muslims might be "peaceful" or silent. Their reasons are likely one of the following, all of which are grossly unacceptable:
  1. They agree with the violence and/or genuinely lack desire to oppose it, or
  2. They disagree with the violence, but are governed by self-preserving fear, or
  3. They disagree with the violence, but if it results in a global Caliphate, they will ignore the means for now and ultimately rejoice with all the faithful on the other side of it.
Can you think of any other reason to be silent that is even remotely acceptable? Albert Einstein once said, “The world is too dangerous to live in - not because of the people who do evil but because of the people who sit and let it happen.” To this end, it is the “peaceful majority” of Muslims that are the biggest problem, not the fundamentalists.

By most estimates, there are approximately 1.6 billion followers of Islam around the world today. The “radicals” or fundamentalists are estimated to be up to 25% of this total. Therefore, while up to 75% of Muslims are “peaceful,” that means there are approximately 400 million Muslims that are dedicated to the violent and barbaric destruction of Western civilization by any and all vile means. That number rivals the entire population of the United States of America (and far exceeds the population of former Nazi Germany). 

Do you really think that the peacefulness of the 75% is relevant to the fact that 400 million are aggressively deadly? For example, take Germany prior to the World Wars. Most Germans were peaceful, but the Nazis drove the agenda. And, as a result 60 million innocent people were killed (including 14 million in concentration camps). The peaceful majority in Germany was irrelevant. Most Russians were peaceful as well around the time of rising Communism. Yet, its Communist rulers killed 20 million innocent people. The peaceful majority in Russia was irrelevant. Most Chinese were similarly peaceful. Yet, the Chinese Communists killed 70 million innocent people. The peaceful majority in China was irrelevant. In every case in the history of human atrocities, the peaceful majority was irrelevant. Today, the peaceful majority of Muslims is also irrelevant as long as the fundamentalist minority is allowed to violently slaughter the rest of us before the backdrop of the majority's silence. And, in the face of those who preach political correctness to the rest of us, what they preach belongs in the historical garbage heap from which they grabbed it. We must not allow the peaceful majority to distract us from their violent minority.

Sadly, I have encountered some even in the Church who defend such political correctness by pointing to passages in the Old Testament in order to compare Christianity with Islam. This attempt is meant to somewhat equalize the two faiths. First of all, responding to Christians in a form of defense of Islamic Jihad is disgusting - defending the indefensible. Second, this is a distortion of scripture and Christianity. For example, Deuteronomy 13 is often quoted by such defenders. A portion of this passage calls for the stoning of relatives who entice others in the family to worship pagan gods. But, this passage, like other Old Testament passages, is directed strictly towards ancient Jews, not even modern Jews. It is certainly not a passage regarding a current Christian dictate. And, for Jews, the Mosaic Law has long been superseded (for example, Jews no longer worship with animal sacrifices). You won’t find passages like this in the New Testament. Rather, this passage was for ancient Jews in a temporary theocratic state governed by ancient Orthodox Judaism. 

Secondly, this was a temporary measure carried out while the Jews were conquering and occupying the once pagan territory now called Israel (the Promised Land). And, it is important to note that these pagans were not peace-loving by any stretch. In fact, they were much like ISIS, a group of which even our current Muslim-sympathizing President encourages destruction. 

Third, the commands of Jesus Christ are centered on unconditional love towards all people. Neither Christianity nor Judaism then or now are pursuing a global religion that dominates all states with theocratic rule of the Bible. Christianity does pursue the evangelization of any and all, but not by force or by government. Neither Christianity nor Judaism prescribe anything with regards to State except Biblical separation of the Church from it. The comparisons between fundamentalist Islam and Christianity or Judaism are simply false and intellectually bankrupt.

So, what is the appropriate Christian response to Islamic atrocities? The first response is prayer. We should pray for the persecuted and we should pray for the persecutors. We should not unnecessarily or falsely bash another religion. However, we should not be silent in the face of insidious evil. We should call out such evil for what it is and fight that evil with every fiber of our spiritual being. We should not be silent for fear of offending others. We should speak boldly, truthfully, and lovingly just as Jesus spoke. We should not be afraid to discuss the obvious connections between evil behaviors and their unrevised religious texts. Doing so, if legitimate, is not bashing a religion. It is confronting an evil that is ideologically based. In order to confront such evil, it must be addressed at the root of the ideology. And, this evil must be confronted by all.

Islam’s majority of followers have long been afforded the opportunity to confront these evils. But, they have chosen silence over resistance. For us to likewise ignore the worst evil among us is not an option if we unconditionally follow Jesus. Even innocent children are being beheaded probably as you read this. We have a moral obligation to defend them, and a moral obligation to not defend those doing the beheading. Lastly, we should also not verbally defend their colleagues who insist on remaining silent about it. Silence is not is the worst form of appeasement.

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