Religious Freedom Day

By David Closson

An American flag flies outside a church in Queens, N.Y. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A radical idea from the Founding Fathers that still works today

Since 1993, the president has formally recognized January 16th as Religious Freedom Day. The day marks the anniversary of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which cut formal ties between the Church of England and the state of Virginia.

In an age of hyper-partisanship, Religious Freedom Day offers all Americans — religious and nonreligious — an opportunity to celebrate and renew our commitment to safeguarding principles we have historically agreed on: religious liberty and conscience protection.

Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and passed into law in 1786, the Virginia Statute disestablished the state church, abolished parish taxes, and protected the civil rights of citizens to express their religious beliefs without fear of censure or reprisal. A precursor to the First Amendment, the Virginia law recognized the pursuit of religious truth as a basic human good and acknowledged that citizens should be free to live out their faith without imposition from the government. The law also anticipated Article 6 of the Constitution, which states that there “shall be no religious test” for anyone seeking to serve in public office.

Because religious freedom is largely taken for granted today, it is easy to forget the radical nature of Jefferson’s proposal when he first made it 233 years ago. At a time when cuius regio, eius religio (Latin for “whose realm, his religion”) was still the dominant way of conceiving the relationship between church and state, Jefferson argued that religion is inherently an interior matter between an individual and God and that consequently, faith cannot be coerced. The state has no business interfering with man’s quest for religious truth because God, not the state, is Lord of the conscience.

Moreover, true faith requires sincere adherence to specific doctrines. The state cannot force anyone to believe. While people may feign belief to avoid punishment, the state can never effect genuine belief at the level of conscience. Therefore, civil authorities should allow the free flow of religious opinions and use persuasion, not coercion, to encourage belief in God.

Historically, America’s commitment to religious freedom has enjoyed broad support. In fact, in 1993, when the issue was again brought to the nation’s attention by the Supreme Court’s decision in Employment Division v. Smith (1990), Congress responded by passing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) with a bipartisan consensus. Then-Congressman Charles Schumer drafted the House bill. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.). The law passed unanimously in the House of Representatives and by a vote of 97-3 in the U.S. Senate and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Article accessed from http://www.nationalreview.com/2019/01/religious-freedom-day-vital-founding-principle/ on January 16, 2019. Our congregation does not have any affiliation with or endorsement of this news source.

Hymn Notes (3rd to Last Sunday of the Church Year)

LSB 655 Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word is a children’s hymn that Martin Luther composed in 1541-42. At that time, the Evangelical (later called Lutheran) church was under ongoing threat by those loyal to the pope. In addition, the advancement of the Turks into the region of Budapest brought war to the eastern border of the Empire. In the original text of stanza 1, we beseech God to “curb the Turks’ and papists’ sword” (later a more general and mild “by deceit or sword”) so that the Gospel of Christ may be preached and believed in spite of its devilish enemies.

LSB 496 Holy Spirit, Light Divine was written in 1817 by Dr. Andrew Reed in London. During his ministry in the Congregational church, Dr. Reed had a heart for orphans and the mentally ill. This hymn was penned as a prayer to the Holy Spirit, who alone can enlighten the darkness of our guilty hearts and sanctify us to fully know and trust in Jesus Christ.

TLH 650 Joseph Grigg was a Presbyterian pastor in London and composed this hymn in 1765.  Behold, a Stranger at the Door, based on Revelation 3:20 expands on the Lord Jesus’ call for spiritual renewal and perseverance within His Church.  Aware of how easy it is for us sinners to become spiritual indifferent and not pay attention to our Shepherd’s voice, this hymn rather bluntly admonishes us to realize this and repent of it, and then to be forgiven and renewed in devoted serve to our Lord and Savior.

LSB 718 Jesus, Lead Thou On, composed in 1721, has long been a favorite among Lutheran Christians.  Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, its composer, was born of royalty and had strong roots in the Pietist revival movement in Halle, Germany. He zealously left everything to become a missionary and travelled around Europe, the British Isles, and America. Although during his lifetime, von Zinzendorf caused trouble by inserting himself into established congregations, he left a beneficial legacy of several hymns and spiritual songs.

Hymn Notes (All Saints Day)

Jerusalem the Golden, written by Benedictine monk, Bernard of Cluny (France), echoesthe hope of all the faithful. Based on visions from Revelation 21 and 7, “we know not what joys await us there,” but it will be our eternal Sabbath rest andhome with our God.

In Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, we sing of the angel hosts of heaven (Eph. 1:19-21, 6:12; Col. 1:16), whom we are privileged to join in adoration and praise of God. The Lord’s Supper is a foretaste of the Feast in Revelation 19, therefore the preface says, “with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…”

For All the Saints, though a relatively recent hymn (19th century), depicts the great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Heb. 12:1-2).  On earth, the church “feebly struggles; they in glory shine,” but though hidden from our eyes for now, the same hope awaits all who have hoped in Christ in every generation.

Onward Christian Soldiers, an American favorite, emboldens us for the journey and spiritual warfare that still await us in this present world. Our victory over sin, death, and the devil belong to our Lord, and He calls us to follow Him as His cross goes before us. (Exod. 14:13)

Baptized, but Not at Church

24 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25 And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)

 

I mentioned in the sermon on Sunday that it’s dangerous for a person to be baptized without being part of a congregation because it paints a big target on their back for the devil to attack them.  I wanted to elaborate on that more.

 

In Baptism, there is necessarily an exorcism, a casting out of all evil spirit as the Holy Spirit enters in.  Martin Luther’s 1526 baptismal rite actually begins very boldly, “Depart, O unclean spirit, and make room for the Holy Spirit.” In the more familiar rite, this is what’s happening with the threefold renunciation of the devil (“Do you renounce the devil…all his works…all his ways?).

 

Well, once a person has had an evil spirit driven out, it’s necessary for the Holy Spirit to take residence in the heart and create and sustain faith.  But what happens to the person who is baptized, but does not stay in the Christian community around the Word of God?

 

This issue is personal for me, because I was brought to the saving waters of Baptism, but my parents rejected subsequent invitations to worship.  Whatever faith the Holy Spirit had created in my heart[1] eventually died because my discipleship was stunted (remember Jesus commands not only Baptism but also teaching in Matthew 28:19-20).  The result was I became a rank unbeliever and was even adverse toward the Christian faith.  For 23 years, my last state was worse than the first because I had lost the treasure delivered to me in Baptism and Satan sifted me like wheat.

 

Despite the sinful will and the devil’s evil plans for me, my Good Shepherd brought me back to the faith of my Baptism.  But it was rough going and I now bear the scars of a Christian who spent years under the devil’s sway.  The message for parents of baptized children who don’t go to church is get them into the holy ark of the Christian Church at all costs.  I mean, if you will drive them to dance, soccer, and Boy Scouts for their social and physical development, why not on Sunday morning drive them (or have a relative get them) to church for their eternal welfare.  Don’t put the Lord to the test.  Who knows?  You might even be saved along with them.

 

The point which the Lord makes, and which I was trying to convey in the sermon, is how profound Baptism is, and what an enemy the devil is.  It’s not safe out there in the world, and the baptized believer needs a community in which they are regularly renewed and prayed for.  Keep praying for your baptized, yet unchurched relatives.  I had people praying for me and I didn’t even know it.  Remember that Jesus is the Stronger Man who is able to cast out Satan and make room once again for His Holy Spirit.  Thy Kingdom come, Lord. Amen.

[1] Acts 2:38, Ephesians 2:8

February 2018 Newsletter Article – Lead Us Not into Temptation

From the Pastor: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

 

We are familiar with this prayer, because the Lord taught it to us.  But what are we really asking for?  Is there a chance that God actually would carry us into temptation?

 

Luther explained it well in the Small Catechism: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”

 

Jesus teaches us to pray this, because He knows that there will be no shortage of temptation for Christians.  “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!”  “See that you are not led astray!” “Watch and pray!”[1]

 

But these temptations are not always easy to identify.  It’s not like a devil appears with a pitchfork and a pointy tail and sits on your shoulder like in the cartoons.  Satan comes into your day to day life to tempt you.  Most often, he tempts you, not with obvious blasphemy and sin, but with doubts and reasonable-sounding arguments.

 

Each of us has times when Satan will offer a substitute for God’s clear command.  The Word of the Lord says that we should love our enemies and do good to those who abuse us (Luke 6:27-28), but there are so many reasons why some people don’t deserve the time of day from us.  God tells us that we should give back to Him a portion of what He gives us (Malachi 3:8-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-10), but boy if our budgets look tight and it sure is hard to give with so many demands on our limited income.

 

Christian congregations as a whole are also under attack.  Satan would have us exchange the truth of God for what seems to “get results.”  He puts the lie in our heads that church is about the externals: the building, the music, and how many pews are filled.  When Satan is at work, the things which God actually commands—being salt and light to our neighbors (Matt. 5:13-16), giving to missions (2 Cor. 8:1-7), and providing a living for the pastor (Galatians 6:6-8)—are sacrificed in the name of what’s more appealing.  Thus Satan subtly turns our eyes (and our prayers) from God, and worries a congregation about “keeping the doors open.” The devil would have us believe the life of a congregation runs under human power.

 

Pastors, too, are tempted in a variety of ways.  Remember that the devil’s goal is to get them out of the pulpit or make their word ineffectual.  So, Satan attacks pastors’ families and is quick to point out the pastor’s inadequacies.  He points out all the places that their sowing seems to only sprout weeds or die.  He plays the gripes and grumbles of people on repeat in the pastor’s head and is sure to connect every departed member with something the pastor did wrong.

 

Beloved in the Lord, this is honestly what we’re up against.  Satan is an enemy too powerful for any of us, yet One fights for us who holds the victory.  Jesus is our great Deliverer who crushes the Ancient Serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15, Rev. 20:2-3).  Therefore, pray that He would defend you, your congregation, and your pastor against such spiritual assaults.  And the Almighty Lord will come quickly to your aid!

 

“Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.” Amen, Lord!  Yes, yes, it shall be so!

[1] Matthew 18:7; Luke 21:8; Matthew 26:41

Christians United: A Brief Commentary

On August 29 of this year, a group of conservative Christian leaders released a biblical statement about LGBT matters called the Nashville Statement.  A little over a day later, a dissenting group who is strongly in favor of LGBT inclusion in the Christian Church released a statement under the name Christians United.

The Church has but one weapon with which to wage war–the Word of God.  Personal attacks and slander are irrelevant and don’t truly bring people around to a God-fearing understanding (James 1:20).

So, I offer this Scriptural critique of just the preamble to the Christians United statement, to better understand the arguments that are being made in favor of “alternative sexualities and genders” under the Name of God.

Commentary on Christians United Statement

 

A note on the choice of the featured image: Ever since the first temptation in the Garden of Eden, the Word of God has been used as a playing card in people’s agendas.  Greedy televangelists twist it to explain why you should send them money.  Politicians use Bible quotes to give epic weight to their platforms and policy choices.  The LGBT inclusion movement is no exception.  Their agenda is to live the life they want, so they read the Bible insofar as it supports their goals.  This a deeply dishonest way to regard the Word of the Living God.  May the true Holy Spirit who calls us to repentance for our dark deeds and enlightens us to hear the Bible as God’s Word work in their hearts before it is too late.