Religious Freedom

religous freedom

Acts 21:26 Then the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering for each of them would be made.

…whatever portion of life that is bound to some master, it is a portion that cannot be laid down for the sake of another.

Recently, my wife and I were in a catholic ceremony. What a difference from the typical protestant gathering we’re used to! Smoking incense, candles, holy water and a lot of kneeling reminded me I was really out of my element.  Then, communion time came.  As non-catholic protestants, we were instructed to simply come to the front and cross our hands over our chests to signal the priest to give a blessing rather than the bread and cup. The thoughts that raced through my mind were things like “Why should I? I’m a Christian, too! Never! I’m not going up there!” Truthfully, the relative legalism offended my carnal nature.  But if I’m really free from the law, should it have?

Paul had already made clear that he was free from the law, but in Acts 21 he adheres to it “to win the more.” Did he compromise principle in doing so? No. Compromising principle is to sin in one’s heart and for the one who is free from the law, there is no sin in freely adhering to it. How, in this new covenant in which all things are lawful (1 Cor 6:12) could the law be unlawful? How in this new covenant in which all things are lawful could worship with no instruments be unlawful? Or non-immersive baptism be unlawful? Or a kosher diet? Or for that matter, a protestant in a catholic ceremony?  If I am rigid that I will not do any of these things or any other practices that are not aligned with the new liberty in which I live, then my freedom has become dogma, a human tradition, an idol of sorts.  The sign of liberty idolized is its imposition on another by the one who claims to have it. But liberty can never be imposed. It can only be discovered. And only pride turns the discovery of liberty into dogma. Liberty is not to be worshiped nor imposed but discovered and embraced. It can never be enforced even in one’s own life for the mere posture of submission to liberty begins a process of altering its DNA, its essence, into law.

If we are not free to practice those things to which we are not bound, are we really free?

Now a discussion must be had concerning the connection between liberty and love for it is only in the fullness of liberty that we can choose to make ourselves slaves to men. If we are bound in any way, then we are not free and if we are not free, we are slaves to something and if slaves to one master then how free are we to choose another?  And if we willfully choose to become all things to only some men (but not those under the law), then we have certainly bound love by our own legalism!  So, the fullness of liberty becomes the power to love fully; for whatever portion of life that is bound to some master, it is a portion that cannot be laid down for the sake of another. Herein is revealed the mystery of the apparent paradox, “law of liberty” written twice by James. Both instances are in the context of love.  James is not arguing for liberty to be law any more than one standing under the sun expects to cast a white shadow.  No, his paradox is to bring attention to the religious reader that when law interferes with love, a new way must be sought. This new “law of liberty” is not a law at all, but rather the lawfulness of all things, the freedom of conscience from all guilt, shame, fear and everything else that is self. And there, in that place of absolute stark liberation, love abounds.

That’s the liberty that allowed us to approach the priest with our arms crossed over our chests.  That’s the liberty that worked in conjunction with our love for the Catholics who had invited us.

Those who tout they dawned upon liberty often make it a trophy showcased in spiritual pride, then justify it by demanding that everyone else have the same reward. But for those upon whom liberty dawned, they’re simply set free. There is no trophy, but only love.


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