I understand it—the reluctance Christians sometimes feel about extending religious liberty to people of all different faiths. We believers cannot shrug off false religions as though they were inconsequential. Secularists may do that, regarding different faiths the way others might regard different fashions, treating them as mere artifacts of diverse cultures. We see them for what they are: Demonic lies that seduce people away from the truth and drag deceived souls to Hell. Neutrality is not among our options. With these realities in view, giving religious liberty to others can feel like we are lying down and giving over the field of battle to a bloodthirsty enemy. It can feel too passive, too weak.
But what if religious liberty is not multiculturalism? What if religious liberty is warfare—a distinctively spiritual military strategy crafted by our King and fitted perfectly for the goals of the Kingdom in this moment? That is precisely what the Bible teaches us.
We can define religious liberty as a refusal to fight spiritual battles with earthly weapons or tactics. Giving religious liberty, therefore, keeps us focused on the battles that actually matter: “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh” (2 Cor. 10:3-4a). The enemy loves to draw us into vain attempts to legislate away false belief or convert people at the point of a gun, because whenever churches have indulged in these pursuits they have become weakened and secularized shadows of their former selves. Do not be tricked into waging an unproductive two-front war. Let the churches stay focused on spiritual warfare and let the state acknowledge freedom of conscience for all people.
Religious liberty is well-suited for a moment in this cosmic battle in which we are more interested in converting than in vanquishing people who serve false religions. This moment of religious liberty will not endure. Judgment is coming. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, since we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people” (2 Cor. 5:10-11a). We seek to persuade people, not to threaten or subjugate them. We can define religious liberty as a determination to give people the freedom to be persuaded. George W. Truett, famous pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, reminded us “God wants free worshipers and no other kind.”1
Would it advance our battle in the least to have our churches filled with hypocrites who are there because they fear the state, not because they fear the Lord?
Upon the orders of our King, we soldiers of the cross find ourselves tasked with announcing a general amnesty and emancipation, sent to bring over defectors from the enemy’s host. “Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. … Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’” (2 Cor. 5:18, 20). Fighting our spiritual war at this moment means pleading with people to be reconciled to God. That is what victory looks like. Drawing the government’s sword and using it to put false religions into their place may promise some longed-for catharsis to soldiers for truth in a world full of lies, but let’s acknowledge it for what it is: dereliction of duty. We are not soldiers of fortune; we owe allegiance to a King. We must serve as He commands.
God commands us to await patiently the coming day of judgment. Even those who have paid the ultimate price in this war must learn this patience (see Rev. 6:9-11). We often yearn to set things right immediately in our own strength, but Christ has commanded us not to set about ridding the world of the weeds of false belief. We are not suited well for that task—we tend to damage the wheat (see Matt. 13:24-29). In every epoch of history in which Christians rejected religious liberty and endeavored to enforce right belief, those Christians wound up persecuting other Christians for following the scriptures rather than the state churches. We can define religious liberty as patience by which we await God’s judgment in God’s way and on God’s timetable. The reapers are coming. Be patient.
Religious liberty is neither passive nor weak; it is disciplined and wise. It is the order of the day for all who follow Jesus. It is the master strategy by which we will know victory.
Excerpted from Religious Liberty Bible Study by Phillip Bethancourt & Andrew T. Walker with Russell Moore. © 2017 Lifeway Press. Used by permission.