Monday, November 29, 2004

Freedom – western style & Christian style

A discussion starter from Dr Peter Toon

Liberty (or Freedom) is a prized possession of some nations, especially those of the “West”.

Freedom to pursue one’s religion, to hold and express opinions, to vote without duress, to own home & land, to expect a fair trial, to enjoy privacy when desired, to pursue personal happiness within the law, to move without hindrance within one’s country as well as in and out of one’s country, to improve oneself educationally and to seek for promotion in jobs, to have the full exercise of one’s rights, to read newspapers from a free press, and so on, are the content of this Liberty.

No country or civilization perfectly embodies these personal, civil, political, legal and cultural freedoms because, in essence, people themselves are imperfect and therefore abuse or stand in the way of some of these liberties most of the time. Even so, countries with these liberties usually see it as their “missionary” duty to export them in a suitable form to other countries, where as yet they are not known.

Exercising and enjoying these freedoms does not especially predispose a person to the devout practice of religion – Christian, Jewish or Muslim. In fact, these freedoms can create a situation in which what “the law of God” declares to be “sinful” or “immoral” is openly advertised and commended as not only available but good. Of this tendency there are many pertinent examples in north American and western European countries as the many encyclicals of the Papacy in modern times demonstrates.

In fact, to live as a committed Christian (or Jew or Muslim) in a secularized, free western society is extremely challenging, because in making use of the freedoms to pursue his religion, the devout believer has the duty both to resist temptations to sin on many fronts but also to use his right to express an opinion in order to oppose the most obvious signs of freedom gone wrong (e.g., easy abortion).

What a committed Christian living within these freedoms has certainly to be clear about is that what is called “Christian Freedom” in the New Testament has nothing to do with the “Liberty” and “Freedom” of modern liberal, democratic society. For, strictly from a Christian perspective, a Christian believer can be wholly “free in Christ” and “free in the Spirit” while living in a totalitarian and persecuting state.

The Freedom enjoyed by a baptized believer in Christ Jesus is radically different from the Freedom enjoyed by a citizen of the U.S.A. or Canada. Of course, one person can simultaneously enjoy both Freedoms, the one to the full and other guardedly, for the latter (unlike the former) may lead to perdition.

The first freedom (see the Epistle to the Galatians for details) is based upon a relation to the God the Father through God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ) and by/with the Holy Spirit. It begins with freedom from the guilt of sin and moves on to freedom from the power of sin so that there is a freedom to worship God in spirit and in truth and to serve him without counting the cost – even unto the martyr’s death if that be the will of the Lord. It is freedom to say “Yes” to the Lord Christ at all times and thus “No” to all who oppose the will of the same Lord Christ. It is a freedom that is given by God to committed members of the new covenant of grace and it is kept alive through God’s faithfulness and human consecration to God. It begins as an inner quality of life and proceeds to be expressed in word and deed.

Thus genuine Christian Freedom is available through the mercy and grace of the Holy Trinity (God the Father through God the Son and with God the Holy Spirit) at all times and in all places. Nothing whatsoever in this world can prevent its arrival and its exercise (see Romans 8 for an eloquent statement to this effect).

To know and enjoy Christian Freedom in a totalitarian and persecuting society means that one is most conscious of being united by the Spirit with the Christ who witnessed and suffered, as one looks to the Father in heaven for sustenance and reward, and as one lives as a witness along with one’s brethren in Christ. To know and enjoy Christian Freedom in the secularized West means that one has to watch and pray, to be aware of temptations on every front, and to use all opportunities offered to testify to the Lord Jesus Christ.

To equate the Freedom offered in the West with the Freedom that is in Christ and by the Holy Spirit is to make a tremendous mistake and to proceed to engage in many mistakes and errors. (Regrettably the Episcopal Church USA provides a stunning example of such a mistake!!!)

Christians have to find a way to live in the freedoms of the West while prizing most of all the freedom that is in Christ Jesus!

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom
standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us thy
humble servants from all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in
thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen.

The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon M.A., D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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