“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” wrote the apostle Paul (Phil 1:21). Written from a jail where he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul was completely empowered to live as a witness of Jesus Christ despite his chains. Read the larger passage from Philippians 1:12-26 and a couple of things should be clear:
- What has happened to Paul motivated other Christians “to proclaim the gospel without fear” (v. 14).
- Paul is empowered to live with such fearless liberty because of “prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (v. 19).
Perhaps more time should spend a little more time hanging out with the apostle Paul because it seems like some pastors have forgotten where the ability to preach the gospel and live as a witness of Jesus Christ comes from.
Besides yesterday being the first day of the week when Christians gather together to worship and fellowship with God and each other, it was billed as “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.” Apparently some pastors are concerned that the ability to preach freely is in jeopardy. So from the website linked above, it is stated that “The future of religious freedom depends on a free pulpit to communicate fundamental, biblical principles to congregations across America.” Furthermore, the goal then of Pulpit Sunday is to “have the Johnson Amendment declared unconstitutional – and once and for all remove the ability of the IRS to censor what a pastor says from the pulpit.”
Seriously, I don’t know whether to laugh or scream. Between the two statements, the freedom to preach is located in what the government grants. I understand the concern (even though I believe it is misguided) and I appreciate the religious liberty that exists in America. However… Pastors must have the conviction to believe that the freedom to preach the gospel courageously and fearless depends on nothing but God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Without such conviction today, I have serious questions as to whether such pastor will have the conviction and courage to preach if or when state afforded religious liberty.
Is the fact that so many pastors are concerned about “pulpit freedom” because of the inability to preach without the assurance of state afforded religious liberty? If this is the case, it is the achilles heel of Christianity in America. It is no secret that Christianity is slowly becoming anemic in America but how can it be strong when pastors believe that the ability to preach is at least codependent upon state sanctions? The strength of the church of Jesus Christ, including it’s apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, has always been and always will be the Holy Spirit.
To think that the church’s witness, in any way, needs a state sanctioned blessing, only weakens the church by becoming dependent on an fallible entity and subjecting the church to state control (which is proved by the mere fact that some pastors believe they must politically fight for the right to freely preach). Further more, to devote energy trying to secure state sanctioned religious freedom only side-tracks the church from the mission of God (as the evil one sits in a reclining chair laughing). When the church becomes side-tracked from the mission of God, the goal that all pastors aim for – the gospel of Jesus Christ – suffers…and perhaps, suffers a lot.
Maybe this post sound harsh. It is nice to live in a nation where we are not being threatened with imprisonment or worse for preaching the gospel. But that does not mean that any government must be treated as though the freedom to preach the gospel depends on it.
What pastors and churches alike need to pursue is how to live completely dependent on God the Father, Son, and Spirit. That is something I’m still learning.