Thursday, April 15, 2010

Understanding Religious Liberty

Most Westerners simply don't appreciate the degree to which their freedoms are intrinsically linked to Judeo-Christian culture. Nor do they appreciate the degree to which that culture is dependent upon a Biblical foundation. Consider this as an illustration: Judeo-Christian culture is a tree that grows out of Biblical soil and religious freedom is a fruit of that tree.

Throughout history, whenever a Judeo-Christian community has stopped attending to its Biblical foundation, the culture has declined and its fruits have failed. The only way to restore the fruits is to revive the culture. And the only way to revive the culture is to attend to the foundations.

Religious freedom was integral to the Protestant Reformation (1517). The Reformation not only advanced Biblical truth but the right of individuals to read it in their own language (championed in London by John Wycliffe as early as 1377) and exercise it without persecution. Britain and America's historic human rights advocacy and missionary endeavours have been the fruits of a dynamic post-Reformation Protestant culture that promoted and drew on the Bible.

Rip the foundations away, however, and the tree and its fruit go with it. Even if the foundations are slowly and subversively eroded, the tree eventually withers and dies as its roots cannot provide sustenance or stability. And everyone knows that a transplanted tree will not successfully take root, grow and fruit unless the soil is good in the first place. Furthermore, the post-Reformation Protestant culture of Christian liberty is so dynamic that unless that soil is right and good it will not be able to sustain or support it. Even when the soil is right and good, if the roots are withered through neglect and drought, renewal of the plant through the restoration of its root system will only be possible through considerable struggle and long-term diligent care.

This is the situation facing the UK, northern Europe, and to a lesser extent the USA. Foundations long neglected are being both subversively eroded and openly demolished, for Western political elites determined some time ago (undemocratically) that evolution mandates a transition to a 'post-Christian' culture. Therefore renovations are in order.

However, it is coming as a shock to many to learn that 'fruits' long taken for granted -- such as religious liberty, benevolence, restraint and 'manners' -- are withering and disappearing before their very eyes. It is also coming as a shock to many in the demolition crew that they do not have control of the situation. For before they even get a chance to build their utopia, other builders with stakes in the game are moving in as soon as a space opens up. And these new builders (some very dangerous) are winning hearts and minds amongst Europe's identity-challenged youth.

'Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.' (Revelation 3:2a ESV)

Only through the LORD can the Church have the strength to "turn back the battle at the gate" (Isaiah 28:6b) .

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This article is an edited excerpt from the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 051 entitled UK: UNDERSTANDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY (14 April 2010)