I hear regularly on the news and online that the Church is under attack.
I think those who say so are right, but I think they have gotten confused about where the battle is coming from. The attacks are not from the people we are often told to fear.
The greatest threat to the Church is not godless liberals or a politically correct government that wants to do away with the 10 Commandments in public places. No, the greatest threat to the Church comes from within our own ranks. It is sitting in our pews and writing our books and blogs and standing behind our pulpits.
The threat is us.
The people who say they have faith in God but who put their faith in other things. The people who will trade most any value for the chance at political power. The people who love to be comfortable and in charge. The people who are infatuated with the concept of religious liberty.
We are a threat because we have let these things distract us from the things Jesus called us to. We are a threat because we sing “the world behind me, the cross before me” and then act as if we are doomed should an election not go our way. We are a threat because we bear false witness by pointing people to a hope that is built on politics and circumstances rather than faith.
Now before you start your rebuttal, know I sincerely believe in religious liberty. I believe in liberty for people of all faiths and creeds and will work for and defend everyone’s right to be here and have the same freedoms I enjoy.
I am thankful for my freedom. I use and probably exploit it. I stand multiple times a week in front of people and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. And if it were outlawed tomorrow, I’d show up on Sunday and do it anyway.
I’m guessing there are many Christians in many churches who would say the same thing.
What then are we after when we say we want religious liberty? What are we chasing? What is our end game? We say we want religious freedom but religious freedom does not make our faith stronger, it does not make our churches come alive, it does not claim that people will come to faith in Jesus.
What we are after is what that freedom brings us: We want comfort. We want control. We want political power.
Take a stroll through the Gospels and show me a place where Jesus is after those things. He lived in an occupied land. He had no votes. He had limited freedom. He couldn’t pass religiously based laws. He had none of the things I see Christians saying were their top priorities this last election cycle.
Never once was he worried about the threat of Caesar showing up and telling him to stop. He never once said the way to be faithful is to hang the Scriptures in City Hall or stamp In God We Trust on our money. He didn’t say, as the people wanted him to, that we need to overthrow the haters and install God’s government.
He didn’t say those things because they simply did not matter to his ministry and work. Not ultimately.
He wasn’t chasing after an earthly kingdom because his Kingdom was not of this world.
Jesus didn’t get his power from government. He didn’t need Rome to give him permission to speak. His freedom was not wrapped up in the laws of the land.
And neither is ours.
The faithful Christian life is lived out regardless of where we find ourselves or what government we happen to be ruled by. This doesn’t mean we don’t work to make our culture and government better, but we certainly don’t put our hope there or take our marching orders from them.
The faithful Christian life has nothing to do with who has political power and instead has everything to do with who has our heart.
I’m telling you right now that religious freedom is one of the biggest idols in the Church today. And idolatry will kill us far sooner than persecution or making room for people of different faiths and practices will.
I’m convinced we are being led away from Jesus. We are giving our heart to things that will not bring us abundant life. Religious liberty has absolutely nothing to offer the Church.
Just like Jesus we do not need political power, comfort, or control. Not only do we not need them, they will ruin us.
Power corrupts. Comfort lulls us to sleep. Control is the antithesis of a love.
We are killing ourselves and the faiths of our children and our witness to the world as we chase after these things. Things that don’t look like Jesus.
I can’t imagine Jesus saying, “What the North American Church really needs is pastors telling people who to vote for.” I can’t imagine him saying, “Christians need special laws and protections so they don’t have to bake cupcakes for so and so” or “Blessed are those who wield the power.”
Jesus invites us to serve, to become uncomfortable, to give up so much control that we’d risk everything to love people unlike us. He invites us to lay down our lives. He invites us to trust him on this journey of faith.
Jesus invites us into a Kingdom. A Kingdom far more beautiful and powerful and life giving than anything democracies or monarchies have to offer. A Kingdom that is not run by coercion or violence or deal making but by sacrificial, extravagant love. A Kingdom where laws give way to grace. A Kingdom that changes hearts and minds. A Kingdom that never ends.
So while I hope our nation will live out its identity as a land of freedom for people of all faiths or no faith, I will not be chasing after or applauding things marketed as Christian religious liberty. I will not be schmoozed by politicians who hope to gain my vote by promising me something that isn’t theirs to give.
Church, the government does not give you your voice. The government does not give you your power. The government does not give you your freedom. It does not give or transform life.
Stop putting your hope there. We must stop clamoring after religious liberty as if only then will we experience the life God wants for us. As if only then will God show up.
God will show up when we assume the posture of Jesus. When we love our neighbors as ourselves. When we live a life of faith. When we eschew power and comfort and control in order to look more like the God we claim.
We are better than this. And our Kingdom is better is than this.
May we never bow down at the feet of religious liberty. May we stop chasing after worldly things only to find that we’ve left Jesus and our neighbors in the dust. May our allegiance be to an eternal Kingdom. And may our free or persecuted lives look just like Jesus.