We find ourselves in the middle of a fight for liberty. The declaration of a pandemic in March 2020 led to fear within the general population. The population, including many Christians, cried out to the state to save them from the perceived threat. Fear and a cry of salvation to the state are ingredients for tyranny. Individuals, businesses, and, most important to me, the Bride of Christ now find themselves under the heavy hand of a state employing increasingly brutal measures of enforcement to coerce formerly free citizens and organizations into compliance. The state has essentially claimed ownership over almost all aspects of our existence, including the Bride of Christ, under the pretense of loving us enough to save us from a virus. With mounting fines and increasing threats from the state for asserting the crown rights of Jesus over His church and His worship, we find ourselves in the centre of a conflict for liberty.
As I shepherd our church through this conflict, I am increasingly aware of some dangers within the engagement. Among those dangers is the temptation to treasure the gift more than the Giver. Liberty is a gift, and God is the Giver of liberty. I will elaborate more shortly, but first let me illustrate this temptation with an example from Scripture.
Abraham once faced the temptation to prize the gift over the Giver in the gift of his son, Isaac. God had promised him a son, and Abraham “did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19). Abraham, an old man, eventually had his son by Sarah, his old barren wife who was well passed child-bearing years. Isaac, his son, was God’s good gift to Abraham. God tested Abraham to discern who he loved more, the gift of Isaac or God the Giver of the gift. God called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar in Genesis 22. Abraham obeyed God by faith, and by that proved his love for God, a love for the Giver which surpassed his love for the Giver’s gift.
Now let’s get back to elaborating on a temptation I am increasingly aware of in our present situation. We want the gift of liberty, especially the liberty of the church, but we should want the Giver of liberty more. The temptation is to pragmatically compromise conviction with the aim of achieving the desired end. But in doing so we would only demonstrate that we love the gift more than the Giver. How might we be tempted in that way? We might neglect the purity of the church or compromise the integrity of the Gospel because we’re so focused on getting the gift of liberty. I’ll be even more specific in a moment.
But before that, a reminder of our focus in life from the lips of Jesus will help orient us. In the context of telling His disciples not to worry about their physical needs, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). The temptation of a disciple is to be so worried about perceived earthly needs that the disciple might compromise the standards of the Kingdom to attain them. He might love the gifts more than the Giver. Doing so is not only treason against the King of the Kingdom but it is evidence that one is outside of the blessed Kingdom state described in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12). Instead of seeking the comforts and necessities of life first we must seek the righteousness of the Kingdom first. God promises the necessities of life to those who seek righteousness more than seeking the necessities.
It is possible to seek the blessings of the Kingdom by means of sinning. If liberty from tyranny is a blessing of the Kingdom, which it is, we must desire the Kingdom more than we desire the blessing of the liberty that exists in the Kingdom. The promise of liberty outside of the Kingdom is as illusory as the promise of open eyes by the eating of forbidden fruit.
At this point I must pause to offer a little qualification. I am not advocating for a pietism that neglects engaging the world. I am all for engaging the world, and I think I have demonstrated that throughout the course of my ministry, especially over the last year. I am advocating for a principled engagement, an engagement that abides by Kingdom righteousness, as opposed to a pragmatic engagement that seeks to grab hold of the Kingdom by the arm of flesh. Now, let’s move on from my little qualification.
Getting more specific now, the church of our Lord Jesus faces at least two perennial threats. The first threat comes by the beast from the outside, namely from a tyrannical government who seeks to usurp the supremacy of Jesus over His church. The second threat comes by the false prophet from the inside, namely from a false teacher who lulls the church away from the supremacy of Christ while posing as an insider. Both attacks are always a threat, and it is upon the ministers to vigilantly hold the line on both fronts.
We cannot sacrifice the one for the sake of achieving the other because a half clean church is an unclean church. The Old Testament illustrates this with its food laws. God only allowed the people to eat animals that chewed the cud and parted the hoof. For the animal to be clean, it had to posses both qualities, not just one. An animal that chewed the cud but did not part the hoof was unclean because it did not part the hoof, even if it did chew the cud. An animal that parted the hoof but did not chew the cud was also unclean because it did not chew the cud, even if it did part the hoof. To be clean, an animal had to both part the hoof and chew the cud (Leviticus 11:1-8). It had to be both, not just one. Half clean is always unclean. The church is the same way.
Half obedience is disobedience. A church that courts the false prophet for the sake of fighting the beast is unclean. And a church that courts the beast for the sake of fighting the false prophet is unclean. Half clean is always unclean.
So how does this apply to the cause of liberty, a cause we have suddenly been thrust into?
There are certain people I can fight alongside of that might not be Christians, but there are others I must blatantly oppose. For example, an unbelieving doctor might argue against the effectiveness of lockdowns. I can partner with him while he advocates for procedures that bring healing to sick people. I will oppose him if he advocates to keep abortion clinics open in the name of liberty. The former offers life which is linked closely to liberty while the latter offers death feigned as liberty.
I can partner with an unbelieving entrepreneur who wants to open his gym or restaurant. I will oppose an entrepreneur who wants to open his peeler bar. The former offers a service that serves people good things, while the latter is offering slavery feigned as free enterprise and pleasure.
More to the point. This is what I’m most concerned about. The same principle applies when advocating for opening churches. I legitimately want all true Gospel preaching churches to open, no matter the denomination. Where the true Gospel is preached, I rejoice. But while I believe the government ought not regulate doctrine, I cannot stand beside heretics or cults in a way that legitimizes their blasphemy. Nor can I say I want them to open their so-called churches in the name of liberty. I don’t. I want them shut, and shut for good. My job is to silence such people (Titus 1:11), not to grow their malignancy in the Bride of Christ. Their doctrines are doctrines of bondage not liberty, and truly they are parasites who destroy true liberty which is only found in Christ. The church cannot align with apostate churches in a way that leads others to think we are the same thing. And the church cannot desire that apostate churches open their doors to be filled with people who will sit under a false Gospel. Apostate churches are as much an enemy of the Gospel as an apostate state, even if they aren’t making us as uncomfortable at the moment as the apostate state is.
King Jehoshaphat was a good king of Judah, but he aligned himself with King Ahab the wicked king of Israel. They shared a common ancestry and history. They fought alongside each other against the king of Syria. King Ahab, the evil king, was killed in battle, and Jehu the seer rebuked the good King Jehoshaphat for his alliance with evil King Ahab: “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this wrath has gone out against you from the LORD” (2 Chronicles 19:2). There are some people we cannot align ourselves with, no matter how expedient it seems. Pragmatically it might look wise, but the wisdom of the world is always foolishness to God.
The threat we faced in March 2020 motivated many Christians to fearfully look to the state for salvation. Instead of salvation they found bondage. Now we are faced with bondage, and we must not yoke with Belial to save us from the bondage. If we do, we will only demonstrate that we have not learned to trust in God, and we will likely find more bondage as a result. Satan is always quick to offer salvation for a price. Sometimes Pharaoh himself makes the offer by way of an antichrist state, and other times it is his priests in their high places of idolatry.
May our eyes be upon the Lord, and may we seek first the Kingdom and his righteousness, not first the benefits of the Kingdom. We must trust Him to grant victories when the Kingdom is sought His way.
We are Kingdom fighters before we are freedom fighters.
“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright” (Psalm 20:7-8).