Big Idea: In this World the Church and State coexist in Tension
Intro: Well morning friends and visitors. My name is Matt Johnson and at present we are doing a sermon series called Life, Liberty and the glory of God. Specifically in this sermon series we are thinking about religious freedom. We now live in an age where religious freedoms seem to be disappearing, not improving. So as Christians we need to think about the church’s relationship with the state. Lets pray…
Well last week we had Bishop Michael Stead with us talking about religious freedom. (SLIDE 2) And as he spoke, he kept talking about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Article 18 – created by the U.N. This is an international agreement that is guiding all discussions of religious freedom.
Now whether we like it or not, the UN is shaping the governance of the world. When the UN started in 1945, there were only 51 member countries. Today, there are 193 member states in the UN. In other word’s, the whole world. The only states that are not members of the UN is the Holy See in Rome and Palestine. So, whether we like it or not, decisions made at the UN now shape our freedoms in Sydney, Australia. Article 2 of the ICCPR states that every country commits itself to proactively bring its laws into line with the ICCPR covenant. That’s why Bishop Michael kept referring to the ICCPR – and especially Article 18. Article 18 defines religious freedoms. Now point 4 in Article 18 – says (Slide 3).
Now that sounds great. But what we are discovering is that in secular states applying these laws – not all freedoms are equal. When different freedoms clash – some freedoms always win and other freedoms always lose. At this very moment New Zealand is passing a law to prohibit gay and transgender conversion therapy. This means that if a transgender person came to a church in New Zealand and spoke to the pastor about their gender and whether they should proceed with a sex change – the pastor would need to be very careful in what they said.
If the pastor said that their real identity is linked to their biological sex; or he prayed with them that God take away their confusion or he suggested they read a book that talks about the many people who now regret getting a sex change – he could face between 3-5 years imprisonment.
Now this is crazy and contrary to religious freedom. But gender rights and sex rights tend to trump religious rights. In Australia, the state of Victoria already has a law just like the one proposed in New Zealand. But the New Zealand law is worse. In its current form the New Zealand Bill accepts that if a parent tried to convince their 13 year-old child to accept their biological sex and not take puberty blockers – the parents themselves could be prosecuted with up to 3 years in prison.
Now this week – Simon Bridges, a member of the National Party in New Zealand told parliament that his party was willing to support the bill, if amendments were made to protect parents. Now that would seem reasonable given the ICCPR – Article 18 – which protects the rights of parents. But Simon’s speech arguing that parents must be protected in this law was met with cries of “shame on you” and “this is misinformation”. Even, Jacinda Adern, got angry in a press conference this week and said no changes should be made to the bill in it’s current form because (in her opinion) “the prosecution of parents under this bill was very unlikely.” But as lawyers have pointed out – that is hardly the point. In its current form parents could be prosecuted for denying their children puberty blockers.
Now at this point – as a Christian minister and a father – I will refuse to obey the laws of the land and I will not think twice. The government has no right to make such laws and we need to think through how we respond if and when such laws come to NSW…
Point 1: The World is in Slavery to Sin
Show: John 8:31-34 (ERAD)
Explain: Well, please notice Jesus tells the Jews that the truth will set them free. In other word’s Jesus is saying you’re not currently free. Your currently in a form of slavery. But if you listen to the truth that I am sharing with you – it will set you free. Now the Jews don’t like the idea – that they are not free. They think they are truly free. So, they respond; “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone.” Now the irony is that the only part they get right in that statement is that they are Abraham’s descendants.
In the whole history of the Jew’s they spent most of their existence in slavery. For starters they spent 430 years in Egypt. Suffering, whinging, complaining. They get into the promised land around 1240BC and at best they have maybe 500 years of freedom. But let’s admit it – half the Jewish kings were tyrants who exploited them like slaves. So, they are suffering, whinging, complaining. Then in 722BC – the 11 northern tribes of Israel are conquered and carried off as slaves to Assyria. And then 605BC Judah and Benjamin are conquered by Babylon and they are carried off as slaves to Babylon. Then Persia conquered Babylon (and while the Jews could head back to Israel) the Persians still dictated the terms. Then the Jews had to answer to the Greeks and now as they tell Jesus they have never been enslaved by anyone, they still don’t have real freedom because the Romans dictate the terms. So what exactly to the Jews mean – by we have never been enslaved by anyone?
The fact is human beings have a great capacity to self-denial and self-deception. We think self-autonomy and charting our own course in life equals freedom. In the days of the judges the Bible says “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (Jud.21:25) That’s the world we now live within. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. And they think that equals freedom. “I’m free because no one is telling me what to do. I’m doing whatever I want to do.” But people fail to realize that God has made the world in such a way that our actions have consequences.
If you drink copious amounts of alcohol today and then stop tomorrow – you’ll probably wake up with a hangover, but you’ll still largely be free to decide whether you want to do that again or not. But do it for a week or more and you start to lose your freedom. You become an alcoholic and you’re no longer making real decisions. Rather, you’ve become enslaved to alcohol and you’re no longer in control of the alcohol, the alcohol is in control of you.
The same is true of pornography, or sexual immorality, or lying and gossiping or having the latest fashions or even more and more money. We think the pursuit of certain things in greater and greater quantities will make us happy. But you just wake up one day and realize the things you thought you were pursuing for happiness’ sake, are actually controlling you and making you miserable. When we fail to obey the good and healthy boundaries God sets in life its not liberation and freedom. Rather, it always ends in forms of slavery. But it just so happens, that some people are so dumb they fail to realize it. Like the Jews, we respond “Ive never been enslaved to anyone or anything.” You sure. The drug addict, the sex addict and the social media influence or fashion diva is not really free. They are enslaved, whether it is more drugs and sex OR more likes on Facebook or followers on Twitter.
Now if you take that same principle and multiply it – you have the same problem on a global scale. Whether you agree with climate change or not, I don’t really care. The point is – our planet has become so enslaved by the pursuit of certain things that we can’t get off the train even if our planet depended upon it. Or, take political correctness and the woke police. The very things that were meant to promote freedom for certain people is now turning into a form of slavery as the woke turn on each other for not being woke enough. Germaine Greer and J.K Rowling are perfect examples. Our whole world is enslaved and becoming increasingly enslaved because of our failure to obey the boundaries God established. Perhaps, on a spiritual scale, that is what we are experiencing right now – locked up at home.
The western world has rapidly rejected all God’s boundaries over the last 50 years and maybe we are getting a foretaste of the sort of slavery that brings. Jesus says in this passage; “I tell you the truth everyone who sins becomes a slave to sin.” Now I would say that happens not just at the individual level, but also at communal, societal and perhaps even global terms. God has made the world in such a way that things work for our best, when we respect and obey the boundaries He sets. And within those boundaries God gives us a lot of freedom. But when we ignore God’s boundaries and go for absolute freedom, we don’t obtain real freedom we end up in forms of slavery.
APPLY: Perhaps that is why we are now all locked up in our houses. Yes, the physical reason we are all locked up in our houses is coronavirus. But perhaps the spiritual reason we are all locked up in our houses is that the world has and is rejecting all God’s natural boundaries – and that is leading to forms of slavery. Perhaps, God is giving people a foretaste of the sort of slavery they will experience in hell forever if they don’t repent. Maybe right now is both God’s judgment and God’s mercy. A wake-up call – for the world to realize that ignoring God’s boundaries is not good. Now perhaps, you’re sitting at home watching this and you realize you are enslaved to something – perhaps making a name for yourself at work, or getting more money, or maybe it is drugs and alcohol or some other vice. Well, the only way to really change and find true freedom that is good is with Jesus.
Point 2: The Church is set Free by the Truth of Jesus
Show: John 8:31-32, 36-38 (READ)
Explain: Well, as you can see, Jesus tells the Jews that are beginning to believe in him, that if they hold to his teaching, they will truly be his disciples. And then in parallel Jesus promises that if they hold to his teaching, the truth of his teaching will set them free. Jesus is claiming to be the source of truth that brings true liberation in life. Verse 36 – makes it clear Jesus means the truest sort of freedom. You will not only be free, you will be free indeed OR truly free through Jesus’ truth.
Because Jesus is God’s Son and coequal with God the Father, he knows all the boundaries in life. Just as, God told Adam and Eve you are free to eat from all the trees, except that one in the middle of the Garden, so Jesus tells humanity what are the boundaries to true freedom. The Jews were taught that God’s boundaries were the 10 commandments and to a certain extent this is true. The Jews were taught that if they obeyed the 10 Commandments (and all their various expressions) they would be blessed and enjoy true freedom in the Promised Land. But, if they ignored God’s boundaries and went again for absolute freedom they would end up cursed and in slavery to other nations. So the Jews got the idea of respecting God’s boundaries, but they didn’t do it. They kept ignoring God’s boundaries and falling into slavery again, and again, and again. What the Jews needed and what we all need is a higher truth and a greater truth – that brings us out of the realm of slavery.
This truth, that liberates is the gospel. The gospel is the good news that God’s Son, the Lord Jesus died for our sins. The penalty for ignoring all God’s boundaries is that you die and go to a permanent jail called hell. This is the consequence of sin. But God loved us so much that He came into this world in the man Jesus Christ and died on the cross and descended into hell to pay the penalty for sin. Jesus did the time for our crime. And because our sin is paid for in Jesus, God says everyone who believes in Jesus and repents of their sin will be forgiven, they will receive eternal life and they will begin to enter into true freedom.
This is the gospel that liberates us from sin. How? Well our problem in this world is that we don’t trust anyone, except maybe ourselves. So we do what is right in our own eyes and we keep reaping bad consequences because we don’t really know the boundaries. Some people say these are the boundaries, other people say these are the boundaries. We don’t know who to trust. But Jesus came to earth and showed us we could trust him. He showed us we could trust him because he loves us enough to die for us. But Jesus showed us we could trust him as God, by rising from the dead. And as we learn to truly trust Jesus he sets God’s boundaries so that we begin to experience true freedom.
Illustrate: Now you may ask, but does it work. The answer is yes. I myself was a drug addict. I had some significant scars from childhood and I decided to deal with them in the way I thought was best. There were some really dark moments in that period – when I was truly enslaved to all sorts of things and close to self-destruction. But Jesus set me free. We have countless stories of people in our church who were enslaved to drugs, or alcohol, to sexual perversions, to money and power and lies -who have been liberated by Jesus (and they have no intention of going back).
Apply: Although life is not yet perfect for people following Jesus, it is a lot better trusting Jesus’ boundaries than the alternative. But I want to show you what we have just explored because it is the basis for church-state relations. There is a group of people who are enslaved – called the state or the world. (Slide 3). Now I know you’re thinking this is just a picture of the world enslaved in coronavirus lockdown. But no! This is a picture of the world in spiritual slavery to sin – just like Jesus said. Now of course, if you asked people in the world whether they wanted to be free, they’d laugh at you and say “I’m already free.” Just like the Jews they’d claim they are not in slavery to anyone or anything. (ENTER) But truth is they are in slavery to sin because they don’t trust God. So, they just do whatever is right in their own eyes and they end up slaves to lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. The whole world is in slavery to these things. But Jesus came to set people free with truth.
So as the gospel of Jesus is preached; TRUTH, TRUTH, TRUTH, TRUTH, TRUTH brings people out of slavery and into FREEDOM; FREE; FREE, FREE, FREE etc etc. And this kingdom of truth and freedom is known as the Kingdom of God or the Church. The universal church is the kingdom of God. Now when we think about church-state relations and especially “freedom of religion” we are thinking about how the two balls interact with each other. How does the Kingdom of Man effect the Kingdom of God and how does the Kingdom of God effect the Kingdom of Man?
Now some people will argue they shouldn’t have anything to do with each other. Thomas Jefferson in the United States said that there should be a wall of separation between the church and the state. The church shouldn’t interfere with the running of the state and the state shouldn’t interfere with the running of the church. But in all practical terms that is nearly impossible. The reason that it is not possible is that the state or the Kingdom of Men will always have some members who are Christians and Christians will have views that they want to express. Views and beliefs that are just as valid as everyone else views and beliefs. So the state has no right to silence Christians views because we are equal citizens in the kingdom of men. What’s more, so long as the church is in this world and Jesus has not yet returned the church cannot entirely separate itself from the world. The Christian gospel means that the church needs to keep interacting with the world in order to share the gospel. And where we see injustice, or poverty or just doing earthly good in our jobs the church has to interact with the state and the laws of the state. So how do we do this well and how do we do this wisely?
This will be the subject we will be considering.
Point 3: The World and Church coexist in Tension
Show: John 8:42-44 (READ)
Explain: Well as you can see – Jesus says there are two different fathers over the two different kingdoms that we looked at. The father of the Kingdom of Men is Satan who is constantly spreading lies that enslave people. But the Father over the Kingdom of God is God the Creator who sets people free through the truth of the gospel and the truth he reveals in Jesus.
and there are group of people who have been set free by Jesus called the church.
But within, all the truths that Jesus reveals to us – there is a particular truth – that actually sets us free. This truth is called the gospel.
God is good. He made the world and He established boundaries because he knows what is good for us.
A few weeks ago as we began this sermon series I spoke to you about the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve had the freedom to eat-eat or the freedom to die-die. There were two types of freedom. There was true freedom within the boundaries God set, which included do not eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden, but apart from that go nuts. Enjoy my blessings. And so long as Adam and Eve respected God’s boundaries they were free to keep enjoying all that the Garden of Eden had to offer.
But then Satan tempted them with another sort of freedom. Satan told them they didn’t really need to obey God. Instead of freedom with boundaries, they could have absolute freedom with no boundaries. Just do whatever you want. But Adam and Eve soon discovered that this sort of absolute freedom, without God’s boundaries, was not so good. They ended up outside the garden, fighting with each other and finding life hard. Absolute freedom didn’t make life better, it made life worse…
The problem is most people think absolute freedom is true freedom.
The free and there absolute freedom where you had no boundaries but you end up not really free. There is freedom where you respect God’s Word and God’s boundaries and you get to freely eat and keep eating. 2) Then there is another type of freedom where you ignore God Word and God’s boundaries and you get to freely die and keep dying. Now do you want freedom to eat-eat or die-die?