Biblical Christianity promotes religious freedom
One of the most common accusations levelled at Christians is the claim that Christianity has a shameful record of intolerance and persecution. What about the Crusades? Or the Inquisition? How should we respond?
We don’t have to be intimidated by these claims. It is the biblical world view that provides the most secure foundation of the rights of the individual, including the right to religious freedom.
Jesus taught that we are to, ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’ (Mark 12:17) Caesar (aka the State) does not have the right to demand everything from you. You were not made in the image of Caesar. You were made in the image of the one who made Caesar. Caesar has no right to tell you what to believe.
God, your Creator, alone has authority over your soul. God calls citizens to obey civil authorities (Romans 13:1-8;1 Peter 2:13-14), but obedience is not to be unlimited. When there is a clash of demands, we obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). We can infer from this that governments should not coerce the consciences of their citizens. As the apostle Peter wrote, we are to honour the Emperor – but we are to fear God (1 Peter 2:17).
To understand the basis for respecting religious freedom we need to go back to creation. Man and woman are made in God’s image; they are rational beings, given the capacity to worship, love and relate.
Genuine worship, love and relationship cannot be coerced. God calls his people to ‘choose the good’ (Deuteronomy 30:15). The Old Testament contains numerous condemnations of external religious ritual, performed without the free and willing love of the heart. God promised the good of the land to those who willingly obey him. (Isaiah 1:19-20).
Building on this biblical foundation, several of the early church fathers developed arguments in favour of religious freedom as an individual natural right possessed by all people, regardless of religious convictions.
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