Human rights, civil rights, environmental rights, women’s rights, the right to equality before the court, the right to life, the right to own and carry a firearm, the right to a fair and speedy trial, the right to chose to join a labor union, the right to rest and leisure, freedom from torture or degrading treatment, freedom of belief and religion, and freedom of the press; all of these and many more are counted, in various places at various times, both ancient and recent, as rights due mankind.
The establishment, protection, and perpetuation of rights is a matter of both personal and national, even international, concern. It is also a matter of particular consequence for believers. Our theology must determine our behavior towards and defense of rights, both natural and human.
Natural VS Human Rights
In a discussion of rights, there must be a distinction made between natural and human rights. These rights have been labeled differently by various philosophers and schools throughout human history. John Locke referred to them in the 17th century as Natural Law and Natural Rights, natural law emanating from the Divine and Natural Rights from the privilege or claims an individual was entitled to. No matter their label, with limited exception, they are recognized as the primary means of understanding our rights.
Natural rights do not come from government, but are endowed upon all humanity by our Creator, no matter ethnicity, sex, ability, or position. This endowment is not the result of a committee-like assignment of carefully selected God-ordained rights, but is the direct result of having been created in the image of God.
The only part government has in the arena of natural rights is the privilege of securing these rights, that is, helping manifest the political conditions that allow one to exercise them. Human rights, as popularly understood, are privileges bestowed upon persons by the state or governing body.
Thomas Jefferson understood this well enough to write in the Declaration of Independence that our rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are “endowed by our Creator.” He added in the next sentence that the purpose of government is to “secure these rights.”
Natural rights are quite limited in number, generally life and liberty are our only rights defensible as endowed by our Creator. The pursuit of happiness, as suggested in the Declaration of Independence, is not a right established by an understanding of our creation being in the image of God. It is, rather, our natural right to liberty that is more broadly delineated into various categories and sub-categories and is the basis for the establishment of many human rights we enjoy; Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of the Press, The Right to own and carry a firearm.
The distinction of these types of rights is of paramount importance when considering a discussion or decision regarding a believers approach to, defense of, or argument for/against these things called rights. The position a believer takes in an argument about religious liberties, gun ownership, free speech, equality in matters of gender or ethnicity, should be the result of careful consideration of whether the right is natural or human. Natural rights, endowed by our creator, must be defended and upheld. Human rights, endowed by human government, are subject to further scrutiny; is it biblical (right to equality before the law) or unbiblical (a woman's right to end her baby’s life), is it moral(freedom from slavery), amoral(right to free movement), or immoral(right of marriage for same-sex couples).
The age of or popular acceptance of a right is not the only, or even the best, determination of whether the church or the believer should defend it or practice it. Many a southern minister will one day be held accountable before Christ for their denial from the pulpit of the humanity of men, women, and children created in the image of God, but not in the image of Anglo-Americans.
I believe every Christian should defend, promote, and exercise their natural rights. So what about human rights? What is the Christian to do when rights, given to us by our government, which are not immoral or biblically unacceptable are threatened?
With an immutable author, natural rights cannot change. Human rights however, can be as fallible as their author or their interpreter.
Richard A. Posner,judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, said recently: “...I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation (across the centuries—well, just a little more than two centuries, and of course less for many of the amendments). Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc., of the 21st century. Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post–Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today.”
This is a judge, a person tasked with defending our human rights which are presumably guaranteed by law, who is stating that the foundational rights of the people of this nation are not worthy of consideration today. While I disagree with him he raises the question we must face, what if by judicial and legislative means we lose our human rights affirmed in the Bill of Rights?
A lesson I learned early in life from my father was that every good Christian will also be a good citizen of the nation into which God has placed them, American or not. This means that as an American I should protect and defend those rights which constitute the foundation of my nation. It also means when my government speaks it does so as the God-ordained authority in my life, and as such I owe it my obedience and respect so long as doing so does not violate God’s eternal moral laws and Biblical instruction. I am a Christian before I am an American, and so my citizenship in heaven does dictate the extent of my devotion to my national identity. If fighting for my rights as an American is accomplished at the expense of my efforts for the cause of Christ then I was in the wrong fight.
Part of the reason that rights change is because perceived new human rights arise, legally canceling the previously held rights. The right to life was abandoned after Roe V. Wade when the courts said women have the right to end their pregnancy. This is an example of a change for the worse. Interestingly, the 14th amendment which was argued as the basis for the Roe V. Wade decision was instituted in response to an understanding of the need for rights of former slaves so that the State could not “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” A right once given to protect life, became the argument for taking life. Human rights cannot be held as immutable or inerrant.
When so called rights that reject God’s authority are advanced we seem to know well our position if not always how to speak the truth in love. It’s when rights we love and promote are threatened that I believe we need to consider our responses. I want to use two recent events that exemplify a threat to our human rights, to provoke you to think through your response as a Christian to a threat to the rights we enjoy as Americans. If your human rights, privileges granted to you by the God-ordained government under which you are called to civil obedience, which you love and promote, were taken from you what would a Christ-centered, God honoring response look like.
Chapter 24 of Russia’s 2016 anti-terrorism law – The Yarovaya Package
On July 20, 2016 Russia’s new anti-terrorism measures went into effect. Part of that provision restricts the previously held rights, secured by Article 28 of Russia’s constitution, of individuals and organizations to “possess and disseminate religious or other beliefs”.
While the expressed intention of the law’s provision was to restrict the spread of radical islam it has garnered criticism for it’s ability, if interpreted strictly, to be an avenue through which the Russian government could persecute the church. Russia does not yet seem keen on widespread persecution of Christians and churches, and the fear with which this measure was met has not yet been fully realized by evangelical Christians, the branch of Christianity in Russia with the most exposure under this new law.
Many Christian organizations within Russia are poised to put force behind their opposition to what they deem a removal of their guaranteed right. There are many already who have vowed legal actions in the highest courts in Russia with the hopes of overturning this provision. Yet, amidst all this turmoil over rights once guaranteed and now seemingly lost, the gospel has lost no power, the church is still present, and God is still in control as He actively calls people unto Himself and redeems them.
The reality of Russia is a possibility greatly feared by many American Christians. Russia’s attempt to squelch Islamic influence in their nation is reasonable. Islam is a false religion perpetrating once unimaginable harm to people and nations. It is unreasonable for any Christian to say Islam has a place at the religious liberties table, because saying so is tantamount to saying Islam is just as legitimate as Christianity. It simply is not. Now this puts the patriotic, God-fearing, “I bleed the red, white, & blue” American in a quandary. Politically speaking, religious liberties must be applied broadly, but how can we defend the right of a Muslim or a Mormon to deceive and lead people into eternal punishment? Would any one of us suppose that Joshua or Caleb would have argued that while they didn’t agree with the Canaanites religious traditions they would defend their rights to practice them?
The first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, contained in the Bill of Rights, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” I am an American Christian, there is no question that I have enjoyed the benefits of religious freedoms secured in the first Amendment. I love my religious liberties. I believe American religious liberties have helped to advance the cause of Christ in America, but they have also aided in the expansion of false religions. So, as a Christian, I do not believe I could, or should, defend my human right to religious liberty if it meant advancing the cause of a false religion. Consequently I can benefit from these temporary, man-given religious liberties while at the same time not come to the defense of those whose practice of religion is in direct opposition to God’s ordained practice of religion.
In May 2016 the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board were joined by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, National Association of Evangelicals, Sikh Coalition, South Asian Bar Association of New York, and Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey in signing an amicus brief in support of the religious liberty rights of a Muslim community to build a mosque in Bernards Township, NJ.
Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, defended the decision to support the building of the mosque during the June 2016 SBC meetings saying: "What it means to be a Baptist is to support soul freedom for everybody. Brothers and sisters, when you have a government that says 'We can decide whether or not a house of worship can be constructed based upon the theological beliefs of that house of worship,' then there are going to be Southern Baptist churches in San Francisco and New York and throughout this country who are not going to be able to build."
Dr Paul Hartog taught me a form of argument in my ethics class at Faith Baptist Bible College. It’s called reductio ad absurdum. It is a form of argument I love. It seeks to demonstrate the failure of a claim by demonstrating the untenable result that follows its acceptance. If we take the argument Dr. Moore makes for signing the amicus brief to its logical end we arrive at an understanding that without religious liberties granted to us by the American Government Christ could not advance His church. That’s simply not true. If we believe that without religious liberties our church will fail, then it has failed already. Historically the church has grown in both maturity and in numbers during times of intense persecution. If this weren’t true then we would be seeing something very different happening in the church in China and Iran and North Korea.
We find no supportive evidence in scripture that would cause us to expect governments to be supportive of the assembly of the church and practice of our Christianity. There is no biblical expectation of religious liberties. Religious liberties weren’t mandated by God and certainly weren’t expected to be the normative experience of any believer. Very easily the opposite was understood to be true.
I say again, I am an American and I love my 1st amendment rights, but not so much that I would willingly forsake the cause of Christ and fight for Satan’s right to establish a stronghold in this world. If I lost my religious liberties in America, much might change for me and the practice of my faith, but I would gladly sacrifice those liberties if it meant suffering with/for Christ.
2nd amendment arguments after Pulse nightclub shooting
The internet very nearly broke after news that in an act of domestic terrorism a Muslim (I think radical Islam is a misnomer because there are either Muslims who follow the teachings of the Koran and behave accordingly, commonly referred to as Radicals, or there are nominal Muslims who dress ceremonially and celebrate feast days but deny the teachings of the Koran and call their religion one of peace) who was being watched by the FBI killed nearly 50 people in a gay nightclub using semi-automatic weapons bought legally in the U.S.
The political opportunity was not missed by those who wish to limit or completely dismantle the 2nd amendment rights of Americans to own or carry firearms. The arguments began soon after the tragedy, as they regularly and predictably do.
What I am about to say I say as an avid hunter, sport shooter, and concealed weapons permit holder and user. Our 2nd amendment rights are not God ordained. While I love the fact that I live in a country that gives me the privilege of taking the defense of myself and my family into my own hands, I must say honestly, “My service to my Savior does not depend upon a 9mm being concealed on my hip.”
The arguments that matter, the arguments we elevate, should be arguments with eternal implications. If my government wanted to take my 2nd amendment rights from me I would argue that as an American, defense against tyranny is my right and the possession of a firearm is part of that right. If my government actually took away my 2nd amendment rights, I would honor Christ’s command to civil obedience and act accordingly. I would never jeopardize the cause of Christ, or diminish my effectiveness as a witness to the power of the gospel over what would amount to a selfish denial of reality. That reality is that human rights change and not always for the better.
The elevation of human rights to a place where we more regularly speak of them than of Christ, where we more aggressively argue for their acceptance than for the acceptance of the Gospel, and where we fear their removal more than we fear the removal of Godliness from our churches is a special form of idolatry cleverly veiled and widely accepted as national pride and patriotism.
Having spent the better part of my life as a student, from 2yrs in kindergarten (an illustration for another day) through to Grad School, I notched 20 consecutive years in school. I believe I’m qualified to speak to issues of the classroom. I had many wonderful teachers and the consistent reality for each was that every year they had to accept a fresh group of kids who were by all accounts, immature, irresponsible, below average, some even troubled, and everyone of them, myself included, thought they were smarter and brighter than they actually were.
These teachers were gracious and kind. They understood we were growing and maturing and learning. In fact, none of my teachers had a problem with any of their students because of how they entered their education. The problem arose when a student was unwilling to learn and grow. When a student was satisfied to remain in the limited knowledge they entered the class in the teacher became frustrated, discouraged, and always disappointed.
Disappointment because of lack of growth did not mean the teachers didn’t care or were being harsh or cruel demanding more of their students. In truth, that expectation demonstrated great care, and some might say love, for their students. The expectation of learning and growth was the direct result of knowledge our teachers had of what was possible and what we were capable of as a result of that learning and growing.
It has become a well rehearsed and widely accepted lie that because God loves all of us and accepts anyone who will come to Him in faith and repentance, He also wants us to be as happy as we can make ourselves by doing whatever we want and remaining as we were before we turned to God by faith in Jesus Christ.
Scripture tells us very clearly that before coming to God, through faith in Christ’s sacrifice at the cross as payment for our sins, we were without true knowledge, ignorant, selfish, confused, ashamed, and loved sin.
It is true that God loves all men and welcomes them to come no matter their attitude, appearance, or past, but it is equally true that He has every desire and intention that we would grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord we now know. Growth as a result of knowledge is equitable to conformity to the image of Christ. That means that no matter who we are when we come to Christ there is an expectation that we would not remain the same.
“Easy Believism” is the identifying name of this grand lie. Easy Believism says to come to God and please Him takes only believing in Jesus as Savior and says nothing of the expectations that God Himself has of those who bear His name, Christians.
Jesus Christ is God become man, He is our Savior, and He is also the greatest teacher to ever live. Jesus Christ gladly welcomed the poor and the wealthy, the sick and the healthy, the decent and the defiled, the ‘sinners’ and the ‘saints’, but he never once evidenced anything but disappointment and righteous contempt for those who were willing to remain as they had been before coming to him. To encounter Christ and leave unchanged is evidence of having an empirical knowledge of Christ(you know who he is) without having a personal knowledge of who he is(you’ve repented of sin trusting Christ alone for salvation). God stands ready and willing to accept a fresh group of ‘kids’ who are by all accounts, immature, irresponsible, below average, some even troubled, and everyone of them thinking they are smarter and brighter than they actually are.
Christ’s final instruction in Matthew 28 would not have included instruction to teach all things that He had commanded if He cared not whether men changed their attitudes, actions, desires, motivations, and beliefs as a result of their encounter with Him.
To openly declare we know God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ demands that our lives represent, through changed and growing attitudes, actions, desires, motivations, and beliefs, a personal knowledge of Christ
When God welcomes all with open arms it is a welcome into a relationship where we are exposed to the truth and in that knowledge there is growth out of our past failures and into the conforming work of Christ.
As those who have come to God’s welcoming embrace we ought to strive every day to be learning and growing in Christ, not fighting to stay the same.
“I can worship God anywhere under the clear blue sky.” Maybe you’ve heard this statement before. Or, maybe you’ve said this before. I have heard this statement a number of times, typically from someone giving me an excuse for why they don’t or won’t go to church. This sentiment, I can worship anywhere, is absolutely true, but is clearly a total misunderstanding of what church really is. It is the result of disillusionment with the church and a false belief that the church exists only as a place of worship, and is therefore irrelevant.
There are a number of purposes defined in scripture for the church. Worship is definitely one of them. There are however many more purposes for the church and reasons to be engaged in the local church. Acts chapter 2 verses 40-47 are of primary importance in our understanding of the purposes of the church. The description there is of the church worshiping God, fellowshipping, ministering as they met the needs of others, telling others of the good news of Jesus Christ, and training men and women in an understanding of the ‘Apostles doctrine’.
The church is not intended to be a place a bunch of stuffy people go to feel good about themselves simply because they attended church this week. Nor is it intended to be a place where worship is the only purpose. We are engaged in the local church today for the very same reasons those early Christians were in Acts 2. One’s relationship to the church is no different than any other relationship should be. Biblically relationships are designed for us as an outlet, not an inlet. That is to say that we are not in a relationship for what we can get out of it, but ought to be in a relationship so that we might contribute. Scripture declares that we, as believers, are all members of one body with differing gifts given to us so that we might edify others. We go to church and belong to a church because it is God’s place designed for us to be able to worship, fellowship, minister, evangelize, and learn.
Worship is the act of man in response to the love of God as a direct reflection of our heart’s desire to glorify God. It is intended to be an offering, something we give to God, not something we get. It would be naïve to say that you have to go to church to worship, but it is equally naïve to say that the only reason to go to church is to worship.
Christian fellowship is essential to the life of every Christian, and that is how God designed it. God has purposed us with the work of edifying, encouraging, uplifting, and loving others. That is not possible if we are forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. This assembling does not have to be at church either, but church services are excellent times to be exposed to others who you can encourage and who can encourage you.
The ministry of the church is really the ministry of the people. We are told to, and see the example in scripture of, ministering to others. Ministry is meeting the needs of others; physical, emotional, or spiritual. Local church ministry is the tangible way that the love of Christ is shown through us. We do not minister to others while avoiding them by avoiding church.
Those who claim to know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior are well aware that salvation offered through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important thing anyone will ever hear and understand. So, with that attitude concerning the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, we are expected to share with others what we know to be true concerning man’s sinful condition, the results of our sin, and the salvation from the penalty of sin offered through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. This purpose of the church is expected to be carried out through the ministry of the church, which is the ministry of the people.
Teaching sound doctrine is a purpose of the church. Teaching Bible truth is known as discipleship. It is the reason churches have preaching on Sundays, Sunday Schools, Devotionals during mid-week prayer meeting, men’s and women’s Bible studies, Vacation Bible Schools, etc. The early church was being taught by the Apostles. They were being established in the Word of Truth. There was, through this teaching, a foundation being built that could not be shaken because the Word of God is unshakeable.
Yes, we can worship God from anywhere. But, to say that that is an excuse for not being engaged in the ministry, fellowship, evangelism, and discipleship of the local church is to deny the truth of God’s Word and the plan of God for you.
One of the greatest privileges we have in the Church is bearing the responsibility of participating in the ministry of the Church. There is a great responsibility we bear in being engaged in the ministry of the Church. Not only do we need to be concerned that the ministry we are engaged in is in line with Biblical standards and expectations, but we must also be concerned that what we are doing brings glory to God. That responsibility ought to be considered a privilege, because, though Christ declares that He will build his Church, He has chosen to use men and women who are fallible, so that as His Church is built, He gets the glory and not us.
Many in the Church today look at their church and ask, ‘What does our pastor need to do to grow this ministry, make it more effective, or reach our community?’ While the pastor undeniably bears a large responsibility in setting the tone for the congregation through his example, the example in scripture is one of the lay person in the church doing a great work in expanding and enhancing the influence and ministry of the local church.
In Acts chapters 6-8 there is a description of certain men, not only being selected to serve, but stepping up and taking responsibility in boldly proclaiming every day through every part of their life the love of Jesus Christ and the salvation offered through faith in His death on the cross as the substitutionary payment for our sins. Men like Stephen and Philip, two of the men identified in Acts 6, were not pastors. Yet, these men are identified as being integral to the growth, effectiveness, and outreach of the early church.
It is a privilege we have been granted to be able to participate in the work God is doing in building His Church. We ought to consider it for what it is and respond in kind. Knowing that we have both a privilege and responsibility to serve in the Church we take seriously what we do and we do it with joy.
The Church today does not necessarily need better preachers or better programs, what it needs is more committed people. By committed people I am talking about people who, like Stephen and Philip, are recognizable as having had their lives changed by the power of God’s love. As those who claim to know Christ as our Savior, we have been transformed and should be unashamedly proclaiming the love of Jesus Christ and the salvation offered by faith in his substitutionary death on the cross.
If we are committed to Christ and truly believe that trusting Christ as Savior is the most important thing that we have done and the most important thing anyone else will do, we must ask ourselves, ‘How much do we have to hate someone to with hold the most important information they will ever hear?’ Why are we not totally and thoroughly committed to the privilege and responsibility we bear, as members of the Church of Christ, to share the love of Christ, and participate in a large way in the growth, effectiveness, and outreach of our church?