Understanding the Times: Religious Liberty

by Guy Rodgers, President and CEO

“…the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, and knew what Israel should do.” I Chronicles 12:32

It’s painlessly easy to look back in history, read a short blurb about difficult times, and commend those who stood for truth. History venerates William Wilberforce’s 20 year struggle to abolish the English slave trade, but how many appreciate the enormous price he paid? We celebrate the fourth of July with fireworks but precious few Americans know the stories of the signers of the Declaration of Independence who lost everything, from family to fortune, for taking that stand. And how many among us have even heard the names of John Huss, William Tyndale or Dietrich Bonhoeffer?

Many of you reading this have heard me say that I believe we’re in a pivotal time in American history, a time where “understanding the times” is especially crucial. The challenge to understanding the times when you’re in the middle of them is the lack of hindsight that provides clarity. I’m sure we can all look back at times in our lives where things were muddy or obscure, and it wasn’t until sometime later, even years, that we gained clarity and perspective on what happened and what were the ramifications.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man who understood the times of 1930’s Germany. He recognized early on the threat Hitler posed to Christianity, Germany and the world. He struggled mightily with how to act within the times he lived, how to balance faithfulness to God and Scripture with the duties of citizenship. His choices cost him friends, associates, positions, and ultimately his life. I suspect that even as we venerate him we hope we never have to face the realities he faced.

I will not presume to have a 20/20 vision of our times. None of us can. But if we are abiding in Christ, devoted to Him as a disciple, walking in the Spirit, and bathed in the Word, we can and should be able to discern the times and at the very least have some sense of what we need to and should be doing.

In that vein I have no doubt that we have entered times where hostility to Christianity will exceed anything in American history. All the signposts are there, from the rapidly escalating number of successful legal cases brought against Christians practicing their faith to the polling data that reveals an increasingly secularized culture.

How we got here, as important as this is, is beyond the scope of this essay. If we are to be sons and daughters of Issachar, what should we see and what should we do with regard to this issue?

First, we should expect that the assault on religious liberty will accelerate. The conflicts won’t end with bakers, florists, and photographers. Recently, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission attempted to interpret a state law in a way that would have infringed on the right of pastors to preach truth from the pulpit. Thankfully this course was reversed, but we should not take this to mean this will be the last assault on our churches and the very heart of what it means to practice the faith of Christianity. We need to be prepared for this, and more than ever act in accordance with the Apostle Paul’s exhortation that we are not wrestling against flesh and blood but with dark powers and principalities. At its core the assault on religious liberty is spiritual warfare with the goal of marginalizing or even seriously wounding Christianity.

Second, we should expect that as this assault on Christianity and religious liberty continues there will be those among us, those whom we consider friends and even those who profess to be Christians, who will disagree and perhaps even turn against us if we choose to remain steadfast to the clear teachings of Scripture. If/when this happens it will be painful.

It was painful to faithful believers in the Episcopal church who watched their denomination reject the position that the Bible is the authoritative, inerrant Word of God. It was painful to faithful believers in the Methodist church who watched their denomination abandon foundational truths handed down from the days of John Wesley. Today, there are those who profess to be evangelical Christians who are walking down this same dangerous, slippery slope, who are attempting to accommodate Scripture to the changing mores and shifting sands of culture. We need to respond to them in love but without wavering from the Truth, because agape love and truth are not mutually exclusive, they are inextricably bound together.

Third, more than at any time in our lives, we must lock arms together with brothers and sisters in Christ who “understand the times and know what needs to be done.” Christianity was never meant to be a Lone Ranger endeavor, and that’s especially true for influential leaders in these times. We need each other more than ever, which is one of the great value propositions of Pinnacle Forum’s confidential forum strategy.

And fourth, we must avoid the extremes of despair and indifference. Despair is born out of false hope, a hope that is not centered on our great hope, Jesus. It’s tempting to look around, watch the deterioration of our culture, watch it descend ever deeper into chaos, and lapse into despair. “Knowing what we should do” begins with knowing that God is on the throne no matter how things appear around us; that He delights in showing up and showing Himself mighty on behalf of His faithful in the most desperate and darkest of times; and even if He doesn’t, we that His heart is good, He can be trusted, and He will never abandon us.

Indifference is characterized by a “business as usual” attitude when circumstances are far from “usual.” “Knowing what we should do” in these times rejects “business as usual” and results in us making choices and taking actions that are in accordance with that. A central characteristic of this is a deeper level of sacrificial love, selflessness, and service, which impacts everything from how we spend our time to how we spend our money.

I’m persuaded that God is on the move, behind the scenes, culling out, calling out and connecting a faithful remnant through whom He wants to work in extraordinary ways in these challenging times. I came to Pinnacle Forum because I’m also persuaded this ministry has a key role to play as a part of this remnant. The question for each of us is this: How will we respond to this calling?

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