April 27, 2015

The Gospel and Freedom

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a message of Christ’s lordship, and it is only in submission to that Lord that true freedom is found.

In Acts 17:1-9 we find that Jason and other Christian brothers were dragged before the city authorities because they were accused of harboring Paul and Silas. These men were allegedly criminals because their message was turning the world upside down. What was that message? We read that they had been “acting against the decrees of Caesar saying there is another king, Jesus!” To proclaim another king and kingdom was, in antiquity, a political offense considered to be revolutionary. But for these faithful men the gospel of king Jesus meant freedom – including freedom from the tyrannical claims of Caesar. This is the explicit meaning of Peter’s statement in Acts 4:12 that Christ is the only name given to men under heaven which brings salvation – a statement which constituted a direct rebuttal of Augustus Caesar’s claim to be the saviour of the world. Jesus Christ had made it plain that it is not one’s ethnicity that makes them free, nor a history free from national enslavement, but rather the truth of the gospel, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Freedom in Christ is first a glorious freedom from sin and death and consequently from the power of sin in the lives of men socially as the mustard seed grows. This is made plain in the declaration of Jubilee which defined Christ’s ministry (Luke 4:18-19). This manifesto meant more than forgiveness of personal sins, but the liberation of regenerate man from bondage, just as the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt foreshadowed Christ’s Passover, and the leading of his people to freedom and into their inheritance as the greater Moses. St. Paul therefore tells us that it is “for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Indeed, according to St. Peter, Christians are to “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Pet. 2:13ff).” We do not use our great freedom in Christ for lawless rebellion and evil-doing, but for the extension of Christ’s gospel-freedom everywhere. There is no doubt that this text has reference to socio-political and cultural life, for this is the explicit context of Peter’s teaching in the passage. St. Peter’s gospel is not violent revolution to bring about freedom, but a revolutionary kind of subjection for the Lord’s sake to legitimate authority, to silence the ignorant.

Christians, in their proclamation of Christ’s reign, do not agree with humanists and pagans that the answer to man’s bondage is a socialist revolution to throw off authority and equalise all things. Rather, in subjection first to God and in obedience to His word above all, honor and respect is shown to human institutions as the word is spread, so that the leaven of the gospel might work through the loaf of a whole society! In a social order rebelling against God, we, like the apostles, preach Christ and His lordship, uphold and apply His word, and rather than threatening others as they threaten us, entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly. If we are charged to disobey the gospel and word of God by political authority, our response must be that of St. Peter: “we must obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29). To fail to do so is to deny the gospel and deny the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Since the gospel was declared in the first century to a Greco-Roman world everywhere dominated by slavery, the message of Christ has spelled “freedom” in history for those touched by it. The freedom that the Western world has historically enjoyed is simply unimaginable without the gospel of Christ. The gospel of the kingdom insists on the inherent dignity of every human being made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), the intrinsic value and sanctity of human life (Gen. 9:5-7), the freedom of the family and church from state domination and tyranny (1 Kngs. 21; Mark 12:14-17; Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:16-23; Eph. 3:10; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-20; 2 Cor. 5:20; Rev. 1:4-5), and the liberty of man to serve the triune God (1 Thess. 1: 8-9). This development was possible historically because all people, in biblical faith, are placed under God and His word, from king to commoner, so that there exists, on the one hand, no unaccountable element in society, whilst on the other, a higher authority and source of sovereignty is recognised to which all are subject. This means there is always an appeal beyond states, rulers and kings, to God, making totalitarian power in the hands of man impossible in a gospel order. Only on this understanding can freedom truly exist from the state (whatever its form) and its bureaucratic tentacles. For here, the God-ordained state itself acts as God’s minister (Rom. 13:1-7), not as an agency of total power or as a source of total sovereignty.

This legacy of gospel freedom of which we are privileged heirs is fast being eroded in the West, and those who claim to love the gospel should not only be aware of this ruin coming upon us and our neighbor, but be ready, like the apostles, to stand for Christ and the truth of His lordship. The kingship of Christ is not an optional appendage to the gospel, but rather rests at its heart, and there lies the only true freedom man has ever known. The preservation of freedom is therefore an aspect of the gospel and it is completely logical that as a full-orbed gospel has been steadily abandoned in the West by the church, a progressive loss of freedom has ensued.

We recently saw unfold in Canada a vicious media attack on Vancouver Island MP, James Lunney, a devout Christian, who, as a result left the Conservative caucus to sit as an independent and defend the faith. His crime was daring to question the evolutionary mythology of our time that has become a foundation stone of contemporary pagan politics. In an interview with the Huffington Post he had these sobering words to say:

I am very concerned about freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and academic freedoms that are all under unprecedented attack. For the first time, the college of physicians and surgeons in Ontario and Saskatchewan – and licensing boards are looking to follow in other provinces – are overruling long-standing conscience provisions for doctors who cannot perform certain procedures because their conscience would not allow them. That’s controversial things like abortion and assisted suicide. The college has ruled that they need to perform these things or perhaps they shouldn’t be a family doctor. That is unprecedented….We have Trinity Western University, a Christian University, under unprecedented attack. Why are they being attacked by big corporate interests? Why is the Bank of Montreal leaning on the law society to discredit a faith-based institution? Why does the law society not want people of a Christian world view to practice in Canada? … And academic freedoms – the theory of macroevolution, from the slime to the human being, is no longer defensible. Any biologist today knows that, but they are not allowed to speak about it. I have a background in science. I have a zoology degree from the University of Manitoba. Some of the Twitter trolls want my university to tear up my degree…, why is it only Christians that are allowed to be publicly belittled, demeaned and insulted…? Our rights are under unprecedented assault in the history of Canada [yet]…Canada was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.[1]

In Lunney’s view, it is a shame on us as Christians in the West that we have been too comfortable and compromised and we are therefore reaping the whirlwind. When he tried to put on record in the House of Commons his convictions about the fallibility of scientific theories, he was shut down by the NDP and denied consent to speak. Here is a man who understands that freedom is predicated on the gospel and is one of very few politicians willing to sound the alarm.

There is no question that he is right about the assault on freedom being concurrent with the assault on Christianity. The logic of this is inescapable. It is only biblical faith that has stood for true freedom in history, so the enemies of freedom must attack biblical Christianity in order to deny freedom. The Supreme Court has joined in this assault with relish. As well as overturning a historic ban on physician-assisted suicide, the court has recently ruled that municipal meetings can no longer begin with prayer. In an 8-1 decision, it supported the view of a city council attendee in Saguenay, Quebec, who claimed his freedom of religion was violated by the mayor’s prayer before and after the public meeting that ended, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” A so-called human rights tribunal said the prayer breached the city’s ‘duty of neutrality,’ and ordered city officials not to recite the prayer and to remove religious symbols like the cross from the chambers. They were then ordered to pay the complainant $30,000 in damages. Though this decision was overturned by a saner Court of Appeal (at least a real court) the Supreme Court overruled them in the name of promoting a multicultural Canadian society – Christian prayer is now banned at municipal meetings. The irony is that at another human rights tribunal in Alberta this year, a private school was accused of discriminating against two Muslim students by not allowing them to interrupt school life five times a day to pray on campus. Because the school asked them to perform their prayer rituals off campus, the Alberta Human Rights Commission fined Webber Academy $26,000 for causing distress to these young Muslims. This was supposedly a reminder to Canadians to accommodate religious beliefs which don’t cause undue hardship to others. So Islamic prayers are protected by human rights commissions and the courts in the name of polytheism, but Christian prayers are banished and Christian doctors, lawyers and politicians who want to act with integrity as Christians are ridiculed, censured, punished or denied liberty. Lady Justice has typically been depicted blindfolded to show that true justice is blind to anything but right and wrong. But the philosophy of modern human rights justice denies precisely this rule of law. Their justice cannot be blind to ‘privilege,’ ‘group identity’ and ‘social status;’ a ‘justice’ in which Christianity is seen as the root and source of all evil.

If we truly love Christ and our neighbor, Christians can no longer mew out the gospel like frightened children, but must once again declare it boldly. This gospel not only shares forgiveness of sin and a place in heaven, but the kingship of Jesus Christ and his reign of peace and freedom on earth as it is in heaven. This realm of His dominion stretches from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth (Ps. 72:8). Such a gospel takes courage to declare, for it invades every square inch of life and reality, denying the world’s false claim to a ‘duty of neutrality.’ The duty of all men is not neutrality, which is an impossible myth (Matt. 12:30), but fidelity to the living God. Such a gospel is not likely to win a popularity contest with people in our age, but it gets the applause of heaven (Matt. 10:33). The Canadian commentator, Jonathon van Maren, reminds us:

Because Martin Luther King Jr., and William Wilberforce, and Lewis Hine, are all considered heroes now, we forget that in their day, they were often widely despised and hated. King and the Civil Rights activists endured a level of physical violence that pro-lifers can scarcely imagine. Wilberforce’s abolitionists were regularly threatened, and his right-hand man Thomas Clarkson was once nearly thrown off the docks in Liverpool by angry slave traders. Lewis Hine, the photographer who displayed pictures of child laborers, was opposed by the forces of American industry who despised him for his exposure of their brutal practices.… They suffered much ridicule, hatred, and even violence as the result of that. All of them were warned that their tactics would not succeed because they were controversial, or divisive, or “not nice.” But they recognized that without confronting the culture, they would never change the culture.[2]

Our calling in terms of the gospel is not to avoid controversy, rejection and suffering, and thereby find the favor of the world. Our mission is to be faithful to Christ. His gospel is freedom, and if we would retain it, we must proclaim it.


[1] Althia Raj, “Ex-Tory MP James Lunney: Freedoms under ‘Unprecedented Attack’ in Canada,” Huffington Post, April 3, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/04/03/tory-james-lunney-christianity_n_7002040.html.

[2] Jonathon van Maren, “History’s greatest social reformers weren’t ‘nice.’ Pro-lifers shouldn’t be either,” Lifesite, March 16, 2015, https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/historys-greatest-social-reformers-werent-nice.-pro-lifers-shouldnt-be-eith

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