“Unmuzzleable” Ministry

feature-article.gifPresident Obama is coming under fire for repeatedly saying that America has many Christians in it, but that we are not, or at least not now, a “Christian nation.” Few would say that we are still a Christian nation, many claim we once were a Christian nation, and some question whether we were ever one. While the United States has a system of government that stems largely from Judeo-Christian values, what qualifies America to be a Christian nation?

Our nation from its beginning sought to protect its citizens with a moral framework that provided the basis for social order. The Pilgrims who landed on these shores feared God. Many of our forefathers believed in God, and many wonderful provisions were written into the Constitution to protect us. Approximately 76% of adult Americans identify themselves as Christians. The United States Supreme Court said in 1892 that “this is a Christian nation.” But does this make our nation Christian? Do we have a Christian heritage? These are questions that make for good debate, several things are certain.

We are watching a tolerance for Christianity disappear.
I am so grateful for this nation, but I am reluctant to claim that we truly are a “nation under God.” We have had some Presidents and congressmen who appear to have loved God and His Word, but we have also had men who showed little, if any, appreciation for the things of God. We have had marvelous liberty to plant churches and send missionaries, but our nation is not a theocracy and America’s tolerance for true Christianity is wearing thin.

From time to time we hear about the modern secularization of our society. Are we really seeing our nation become secular, or we rather witnessing the thin veneer of values being rejected and replaced? America was always secular. The salt and light of the church has been used of God to arrest somewhat the spread of humanism so prevalent in Europe. Americans today seem disposed to trust in anything or anyone but the one true God.

Our culture seems to have diminishing patience for the Bible and any church that stands without apology for the Word of God. News commentaries and blogs reflect a growing hatred for Christians and their beliefs. When one Christian school in Ohio enforced a rule that prohibited students from going to local proms, there arose a predictable response of incredulity and malice. The student who rebelled against the rules became a media sensation. He is being hailed as a hero who did the right thing in the face of opposition; meanwhile the school’s position is attacked as demeritorious. Administrators that stood on God’s Word were vilified as intrusive, judgmental, narrow-minded and unchristian. One person who left a comment on a news blog went as far as to say, “The Bible says that control of another (person) is a form of witchcraft. That is just what this school is doing!” Concerning this story I have read dozens of vindictive remarks that are not based on fact, but do reveal an impious disregard for godliness.

A society that does “not see fit to acknowledge God” is rife with “all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice” (Rom 1:28–29). The general anomie on display all around us is directly connected to the reasoning of godless minds. At the same time our nation parades its immorality, it seeks to muzzle any Christian who still calls sin “sin.”

With increasing regularity we are seeing a secular society choose political correctness over religious tolerance toward Christianity. Legislators and justices are stepping up efforts to restrict what we preach. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” As a Christian and an American, I have prayed that my country would not interfere with my responsibility to worship God and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The House of Representatives recently passed a bill, H.R. 1913, which, if it receives approval by the Senate and President, gives a protected class status to homosexuals. Homosexual activists appear to be lobbying to get approval for their sin and to make any dissenting opinion illegal.

How long before we find pastors being charged with hate speech and fined or even jailed for preaching against sin? That is exactly what has happened in other parts of the world where similar legislation has been passed. All it takes to get the process of investigation and intimidation started is an accusation. Will the present definition of “hatred” soon include our calling homosexuality “sin”? Depending on how the final form of the bill reads, a sermon exposing homosexuality as a perversion of God’s plan may be said to violate someone’s “gender identity” or sexual “orientation.”

The Constitution of the United States already provides for “equal protection under the law.” Is the purpose of this new bill to punish crime, or is it to give special rights to groups of people such as homosexual and pedophiles? Under existing federal law a pastor can be convicted for speech which is thought to induce a person to commit a crime against a homosexual. The framers of the Constitution certainly did not draft a document which made it illegal to preach against sin.

Sadly, in our great nation there are individuals who do not share our love for God and His Word. The unregenerated mind is not neutral towards Jesus Christ. Because “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18), they boast against Christ and His bride, the Church. Voices that once were in the minority are more and more vocal. An environment which once permitted fundamental churches and Christian schools is quickly giving way to a humanistic ethos. The Bible with its moral absolutes and exclusive claims is becoming increasingly offensive to an amoral, relativistic society.

We have a mission from God that does not depend on protected rights to go forward.

The early church paid a great price for faithfulness to missions.
Hebrews 11 is a valuable reminder that historically Christians have lost much but stayed true. Remember that “some were tortured. . .others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (Heb 11:35–36). The eternal approval of God on their testimony is “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38).

At the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas were praised as “men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Paul and his missionary team went wherever the Lord sent them and spoke “boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3). Open hostilities against them for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ were not unusual.

Peter and John were warned “to speak no more to anyone in this (Jesus’) name” (Acts 4:18). These apostles were preaching repentance (Acts 3:19) and demonstrating God’s power over sickness. Rulers, elders, and scribes started an inquiry against them. The Sanhedrin was familiar with the fact that Jewish exorcists believed there was power in the names of patriarchs. These judges had condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy. Our Lord Jesus Christ knew what the scribes and priests intended when they interrogated Him early one morning. They didn’t want to be bothered with the truth, so they prodded Christ, listening for something that would pass as blasphemy. Boldly Jesus told them, “From now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of power of God” (Luke 22:69). When they heard Him claim to be the Son of God they pressed Pilate and Herod to execute the Lord of Life. Now Peter and John stood before this same assembly and when told their mission was illegal activity, they concluded “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Paul challenged the Philippian believers to stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. . .” (Phil 1:28).

The underground church testifies to persistence amidst persecution.
Believers in communist countries or Muslim areas testify to the grace of God during hostility. Peter tells the elect exiles that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). While there is nothing secret or underground about the Christian’s testimony, millions meet in homes to worship and be challenged from God’s Word. Then these same believers go out to be brilliant witnesses. Their bright light may cost them freedom or even their lives, but they have the example of Christ and a living hope to encourage them. We may not hear of them in the news, but there are modern martyrs who are dying for the faith.

The true church can expect resistance here and rewards in heaven.
Preaching about Christ and against sin may be the very thing that spurs those who are already hostile toward God to persecute the church. Given the history of the early church, one could argue that the permissiveness of government to the evangelistic work of the church is not normal.

Who among us has really suffered persecution? You may have received an unkind note or a vitriolic phone call, but very few (in this country) have experienced suffering “for His name’s sake.” This could change in our lifetime. While we thank the Lord for the freedom that we have enjoyed, true ministry will proceed with or without interference from government. Our mandate is not altered or abrogated by the times in which we live or the conditions around us.

We must preach boldly even though what we preach may some day be condemned as hate speech. Although politicians and even some clergy may call sodomy acceptable, God still says that such acts are “contrary to nature. . . shameless acts” (Rom 1:26–27) which call for the judgment of a Holy God. The faithful man of God does not retrofit the truth to the whims of modern man; he preaches the whole counsel of God unreservedly so that God may be glorified.

What Congress may soon call illegal speech must remain part of our message. While we are to be “subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1), we must obey God rather than authorities if told we can no longer preach what God commands (Acts 5:29).

If there comes a time when we are threatened or punished for faithfulness to God, may we, like the apostles, “praise God for what had happened” (Acts 4:21). Let us then also rejoice that we are counted worthy “to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

Every believer is to guard against wrong thoughts and wrong speech. We should never live with unresolved anger (Mt. 5:22-24) or permit bitterness, wrath, clamor or slander in our hearts (Eph. 4:31). Instead we should “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and “be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32). As you minister to an increasingly hostile world remember to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:13-14).

What you say may be the truth and you may say it in love, but what if the truth spoken in love is still called hate speech?

This is no time to retreat to safety and silence. There are rapid developments around us that portend ominous days to come. The days of unopposed ministry may be behind us. Paul and Barnabas found that even during times of opposition the Lord of the Harvest was still saving sinners. How precious are these words: “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

The Lord Jesus Christ prepared His Church with these words, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22).

I have no control over what my country may consider to be “hate speech” and a punishable offense. But all who follow after Christ must live by these words of Christ, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:1).

Congress and the courts are and will no doubt continue to be busy in the years before Christ comes for His Church. We may not like what is passed as law, but we must press on in faithfulness without trimming the message. Pray for and practice holy resolve.

Martin Luther wrote,

Here Christ stands, him I cannot deny; upon the Gospel do I ground my cause. Yet the devil, with his crafty disputing, brings it so near unto me, that the sweat of anguish drops from me. Thus was St. Paul constrained to defend himself at Philippi, when both Jews and Gentiles hit him in the teeth, saying that he ‘troubled their city.’ And, at Thessalonica, saying: ‘These are they who turn the world upside down; they do contrary to the decrees of Caesar. And at Caesarea, saying: ‘This is a pestilent fellow, that hath moved sedition among all the Jews throughout the world.’ So the devil stirred up the Jews against Christ, accusing him of rebellion, that he forbad to pay tribute unto Caesar, and that he blasphemed, in calling himself the Son of God. So I say to Satan: Like as thou camest to confusion by Christ and St. Paul, even so, Mr. Devil, shall it go with thee if thou meddlest with me (Luther’s Table Talk, p. 334).

UNMUZZLEABLE” MINISTRY

by Paul Hamilton

President Obama is coming under fire for repeatedly saying that America has many Christians in it, but that we are not, or at least not now, a “Christian nation.” Few would say that we are still a Christian nation, many claim we once were a Christian nation, and some question whether we were ever one. While the United States has a system of government that stems largely from Judeo-Christian values, what qualifies America to be a Christian nation?

Our nation from its beginning sought to protect its citizens with a moral framework that provided the basis for social order. The Pilgrims who landed on these shores feared God. Many of our forefathers believed in God, and many wonderful provisions were written into the Constitution to protect us. Approximately 76% of adult Americans identify themselves as Christians. The United States Supreme Court said in 1892 that “this is a Christian nation.” But does this make our nation Christian? Do we have a Christian heritage? These are questions that make for good debate, several things are certain.

We are watching a tolerance for Christianity disappear.

I am so grateful for this nation, but I am reluctant to claim that we truly are a “nation under God.” We have had some Presidents and congressmen who appear to have loved God and His Word, but we have also had men who showed little, if any, appreciation for the things of God. We have had marvelous liberty to plant churches and send missionaries, but our nation is not a theocracy and America’s tolerance for true Christianity is wearing thin.

From time to time we hear about the modern secularization of our society. Are we really seeing our nation become secular, or we rather witnessing the thin veneer of values being rejected and replaced? America was always secular. The salt and light of the church has been used of God to arrest somewhat the spread of humanism so prevalent in Europe. Americans today seem disposed to trust in anything or anyone but the one true God.

Our culture seems to have diminishing patience for the Bible and any church that stands without apology for the Word of God. News commentaries and blogs reflect a growing hatred for Christians and their beliefs. When one Christian school in Ohio enforced a rule that prohibited students from going to local proms, there arose a predictable response of incredulity and malice. The student who rebelled against the rules became a media sensation. He is being hailed as a hero who did the right thing in the face of opposition; meanwhile the school’s position is attacked as demeritorious. Administrators that stood on God’s Word were vilified as intrusive, judgmental, narrow-minded and unchristian. One person who left a comment on a news blog went as far as to say, “The Bible says that control of another (person) is a form of witchcraft. That is just what this school is doing!” Concerning this story I have read dozens of vindictive remarks that are not based on fact, but do reveal an impious disregard for godliness.

A society that does “not see fit to acknowledge God” is rife with “all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice” (Rom 1:28–29). The general anomie on display all around us is directly connected to the reasoning of godless minds. At the same time our nation parades its immorality, it seeks to muzzle any Christian who still calls sin “sin.”

With increasing regularity we are seeing a secular society choose political correctness over religious tolerance toward Christianity. Legislators and justices are stepping up efforts to restrict what we preach. The First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” As a Christian and an American, I have prayed that my country would not interfere with my responsibility to worship God and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The House of Representatives recently passed a bill, H.R. 1913, which, if it receives approval by the Senate and President, gives a protected class status to homosexuals. Homosexual activists appear to be lobbying to get approval for their sin and to make any dissenting opinion illegal.

How long before we find pastors being charged with hate speech and fined or even jailed for preaching against sin? That is exactly what has happened in other parts of the world where similar legislation has been passed. All it takes to get the process of investigation and intimidation started is an accusation. Will the present definition of “hatred” soon include our calling homosexuality “sin”? Depending on how the final form of the bill reads, a sermon exposing homosexuality as a perversion of God’s plan may be said to violate someone’s “gender identity” or sexual “orientation.”

The Constitution of the United States already provides for “equal protection under the law.” Is the purpose of this new bill to punish crime, or is it to give special rights to groups of people such as homosexual and pedophiles? Under existing federal law a pastor can be convicted for speech which is thought to induce a person to commit a crime against a homosexual. The framers of the Constitution certainly did not draft a document which made it illegal to preach against sin.

Sadly, in our great nation there are individuals who do not share our love for God and His Word. The unregenerated mind is not neutral towards Jesus Christ. Because “there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18), they boast against Christ and His bride, the Church. Voices that once were in the minority are more and more vocal. An environment which once permitted fundamental churches and Christian schools is quickly giving way to a humanistic ethos. The Bible with its moral absolutes and exclusive claims is becoming increasingly offensive to an amoral, relativistic society.

We have a mission from God that does not depend on protected rights to go forward.

The early church paid a great price for faithfulness to missions.

Hebrews 11 is a valuable reminder that historically Christians have lost much but stayed true. Remember that “some were tortured. . .others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment” (Heb 11:35–36). The eternal approval of God on their testimony is “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb 11:38).

At the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas were praised as “men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:26). Paul and his missionary team went wherever the Lord sent them and spoke “boldly for the Lord” (Acts 14:3). Open hostilities against them for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ were not unusual.

Peter and John were warned “to speak no more to anyone in this (Jesus’) name” (Acts 4:18). These apostles were preaching repentance (Acts 3:19) and demonstrating God’s power over sickness. Rulers, elders, and scribes started an inquiry against them. The Sanhedrin was familiar with the fact that Jewish exorcists believed there was power in the names of patriarchs. These judges had condemned Jesus to death for blasphemy. Our Lord Jesus Christ knew what the scribes and priests intended when they interrogated Him early one morning. They didn’t want to be bothered with the truth, so they prodded Christ, listening for something that would pass as blasphemy. Boldly Jesus told them, “From now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of power of God” (Luke 22:69). When they heard Him claim to be the Son of God they pressed Pilate and Herod to execute the Lord of Life. Now Peter and John stood before this same assembly and when told their mission was illegal activity, they concluded “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

Paul challenged the Philippian believers to stand “firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. . .” (Phil 1:28).

The underground church testifies to persistence amidst persecution.

Believers in communist countries or Muslim areas testify to the grace of God during hostility. Peter tells the elect exiles that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). While there is nothing secret or underground about the Christian’s testimony, millions meet in homes to worship and be challenged from God’s Word. Then these same believers go out to be brilliant witnesses. Their bright light may cost them freedom or even their lives, but they have the example of Christ and a living hope to encourage them. We may not hear of them in the news, but there are modern martyrs who are dying for the faith.

The true church can expect resistance here and rewards in heaven.

Preaching about Christ and against sin may be the very thing that spurs those who are already hostile toward God to persecute the church. Given the history of the early church, one could argue that the permissiveness of government to the evangelistic work of the church is not normal.

Who among us has really suffered persecution? You may have received an unkind note or a vitriolic phone call, but very few (in this country) have experienced suffering “for His name’s sake.” This could change in our lifetime. While we thank the Lord for the freedom that we have enjoyed, true ministry will proceed with or without interference from government. Our mandate is not altered or abrogated by the times in which we live or the conditions around us.

We must preach boldly even though what we preach may some day be condemned as hate speech. Although politicians and even some clergy may call sodomy acceptable, God still says that such acts are “contrary to nature. . . shameless acts” (Rom 1:26–27) which call for the judgment of a Holy God. The faithful man of God does not retrofit the truth to the whims of modern man; he preaches the whole counsel of God unreservedly so that God may be glorified.

What Congress may soon call illegal speech must remain part of our message. While we are to be “subject to the governing authorities” (Rom. 13:1), we must obey God rather than authorities if told we can no longer preach what God commands (Acts 5:29).

If there comes a time when we are threatened or punished for faithfulness to God, may we, like the apostles, “praise God for what had happened” (Acts 4:21). Let us then also rejoice that we are counted worthy “to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

Every believer is to guard against wrong thoughts and wrong speech. We should never live with unresolved anger (Mt. 5:22-24) or permit bitterness, wrath, clamor or slander in our hearts (Eph. 4:31). Instead we should “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and “be kind to one another” (Eph. 4:32). As you minister to an increasingly hostile world remember to “rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet. 4:13-14).

What you say may be the truth and you may say it in love, but what if the truth spoken in love is still called hate speech?

This is no time to retreat to safety and silence. There are rapid developments around us that portend ominous days to come. The days of unopposed ministry may be behind us. Paul and Barnabas found that even during times of opposition the Lord of the Harvest was still saving sinners. How precious are these words: “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).

The Lord Jesus Christ prepared His Church with these words, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 10:22).

I have no control over what my country may consider to be “hate speech” and a punishable offense. But all who follow after Christ must live by these words of Christ, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:1).

Congress and the courts are and will no doubt continue to be busy in the years before Christ comes for His Church. We may not like what is passed as law, but we must press on in faithfulness without trimming the message. Pray for and practice holy resolve.

Martin Luther wrote,

Here Christ stands, him I cannot deny; upon the Gospel do I ground my cause. Yet the devil, with his crafty disputing, brings it so near unto me, that the sweat of anguish drops from me. Thus was St. Paul constrained to defend himself at Philippi, when both Jews and Gentiles hit him in the teeth, saying that he ‘troubled their city.’ And, at Thessalonica, saying: ‘These are they who turn the world upside down; they do contrary to the decrees of Caesar. And at Caesarea, saying: ‘This is a pestilent fellow, that hath moved sedition among all the Jews throughout the world.’ So the devil stirred up the Jews against Christ, accusing him of rebellion, that he forbad to pay tribute unto Caesar, and that he blasphemed, in calling himself the Son of God. So I say to Satan: Like as thou camest to confusion by Christ and St. Paul, even so, Mr. Devil, shall it go with thee if thou meddlest with me (Luther’s Table Talk, p. 334).

Paul Hamilton is the pastor of Westerville Bible Church and a member of the Ohio Bible Fellowship.

June 2009

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