Freedom Is Never Free
Dr. Jim Denison
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Thus begins the most famous document in American history. Its 57 signers would have been executed for treason if the nation created by this treatise had lost its War of Independence. The 57 signatures appear beneath these words: “for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They knew that freedom is never free.
On this July 4th weekend, we give thanks to the God who has given us freedom to worship him. We give thanks for those who secured the right to such freedom of worship, those visionaries who birthed the concept of a free church in a free state.
And with those courageous signers, we want to pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor. We want to carry forward the torch they have passed to us. We want to be worthy of their sacrifice and trust. We want to serve the cause of freedom as they did. We want to give our children and grandchildren the same example of courage and honor that we have inherited from those who have gone before us.
Jesus will show us how.
Giving thanks for our freedom (Matthew 9:35)
Our text finds us in the midst of the Galilean ministry of Jesus. Matthew tells us that he was free to go “everywhere,” to all the villages in this northern part of the Holy Land. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, records the fact that there were no less than 204 such villages in the time of Jesus.
Our Lord saw that they were “fainting”–the Greek word meant to be flayed or skinned. They were “scattered”–cast down, wounded, lying around, abandoned by their spiritual shepherds. And so he was moved with “compassion”–a very strong Greek word meaning pity to the depths of one’s being. They were hurting, abandoned, and lost, and he felt their pain and suffering. He saw their need. And he was free to teach, preach, and heal to meet it. Free to minister as God led him.
Such freedom to teach, preach, and heal is still ours today. A free church in a free state is the most significant Baptist contribution to America’s history and political worldview. The state must not regulate the church in our work and service. And the church must not ask the state to support or accomplish our ministry.
John Leland was a Baptist minister and one of the foremost proponents of religious freedom in the infant United States. For instance, he once wrote, “Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men, than it has with the principles of mathematics.” He continued: “Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing.”
On Sunday, May 16, 1920, Dr. George Truett stood on the east steps of the national capitol in Washington, D.C. There, as part of the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting in that city that year, he was asked by the Baptist churches of Washington to address the subject, “Baptists and Religious Liberty.”
Dr. Truett’s address fills 24 pages of manuscript. Of all he said on that remarkable day from the nation’s capitol, I quote only this paragraph:
“That utterance of Jesus, ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,’ is one of the most revolutionary and history-making utterances that ever fell from those lips divine. That utterance, once for all, marked the divorcement of church and state. It marked a new day for the creeds and deeds of men. It was the sunrise gun of a new day, the echoes of which are to go on and on and on until in every land, whether great or small, the doctrine shall have absolute supremacy everywhere of a free church in a free state.”
John Leland and George Truett were right. We celebrate today the privilege of a free church in a free state. The freedom to go where we wish and minister as God leads us. Let us worship today our God of freedom, in thanks for this free nation we love.
Exercise your freedom to pray (Mt 9:37)
Oscar Dellet is the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Camaguey in central Cuba. Our church has worked in partnership with Oscar for some five years now. He has preached for me in Dallas and I have preached for him in Cuba. His is the first name on my prayer list each morning. He is a remarkable visionary, courageous leader, and true man of God. I love him and trust him with my life.
Several years ago Oscar was visiting our church, and came to my home one evening for dinner. During the course of the evening, America’s religious history became the topic of conversation. Oscar told us that he had studied American history in great detail. He knew that while many of our Founding Fathers were godly Christians, many were not. He knew that while many of the colonists were very faithful Christians, many were not. “Why, then, has God so blessed America?” he asked. “For this reason: so America’s churches can bless the world.”