During his speech at the 1941 State of the Union, President Roosevelt proposed a set of four fundamental freedoms that people "everywhere in the world" should enjoy. The second, and topic of today’s article, is…
The Freedom of Worship.
Roosevelt believed in the freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world. Just like freedom of speech, freedom of religion is protected under the First Amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Religious liberty is an integral part of any truly free society. Acknowledging that fact can be quite humbling for governments who would prefer to take the place of God. After all, God’s word is authoritative, His acts are always righteous, and His motives are always pure—He commands respect, and receives praise. God’s laws trump any laws crafted by man.
You can see why a power-hungry government might not like the competition, but there is only room for one ultimate authority, and the position has been filled. In reality, the world is a much better place when Judeo-Christian traditions become more prominent. Recognizing and fostering religious liberty has a positive effect on society.
Personal relationships with the Creator ultimately lead to moral improvements; improvements in individuals, communities, and ultimately the nation itself. Goodness and morality are not “mandated with governmental authority”, but are instead formed and perfected in individuals as they pursue Christ. A government that humbly recognizes Christ as the ultimate authority is one that recognizes a greater truth: man is not God, and no man is greater than God.
America was built on Christian foundations. Religious freedom used to be of far greater importance to Americans. It was considered right and prudent to recognize and worship God a few hundred years ago, even in legislation. For example, the 1778 South Carolina State Constitution declared the following: “That God is publicly to be worshiped.” and “That the Christian religion is the true religion.” The 1663 Rhode Island Charter noted, “true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty.”
My how far we have come. Christian faith has been under attack in the US for as long as I can remember. Prayer has been removed from the classrooms and other public institutions. Statues of The Ten Commandments have been removed from public places, schools, and government buildings. Public schools curriculums teach Darwinism as a scientific fact, but not Intelligent Design.
In the last 2 years alone, the government has tried to force churches to close, and fined other churches millions of dollars. Officials have interrupted church services and arrested Christians for gathering to worship God. As a nation, we have turned our backs on God.
John Adams famously wrote “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” James Madison also wrote that the Constitution requires “sufficient virtue among men for self-government,” because without it, “nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another.”
These men had seen tyranny and knew how important religious freedom, protected by virtuous men, was to individual liberty. But they also recognized that without leaders of virtue and character, government accumulation of power would eventually lead to authoritarian rule and tyranny.
If we want to see this trend reverse, It must start in our own homes and communities. We need more bold men of character setting examples, not frightened and easily offended weaklings crying for more restrictions in the name of “safety” or “equality”.
“The biggest threat to our constitutional order … is the failure to pass to subsequent generations the character, virtue and knowledge required to protect the constitutional safeguards.”1
So how does this all tie in with the freedom to worship? A nation that worships God is a nation that reveres God. When we revere God, we are humbled. When we humble ourselves, we grow in conviction. We recognize our place as holy image-bearers—reflections of God. When we reflect (or model) God’s goodness, we are living in a way that loves and respects others. We can be united in a firm and unchanging foundation.
When we as a nation lack that reverence, we are left only with the protections of The Constitution which, if history is any indicator, will be tweaked, redefined, and ultimately be overthrown in favor of tyranny. If ever we find ourselves on this road, we must remember that true freedom is not a fluctuating indulgence given by any man or government. True freedom is found in Christ alone.
Christians should pray for, be thankful for, and stand up for the freedom to worship God. But make no mistake, we must be ready in season, and out of season to worship and proclaim the gospel no matter the cost. Remember the kingdom to which you truly belong. Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” It is present in those who know and love Christ—in every political reality.
As Roosevelt proposed, people everywhere in the world should enjoy the freedom to worship. I hope and pray that this nation will find itself under the leadership of men who revere and love God—and that we would be a light and force for good in the world. I also pray that whatever God’s will is, that we would be obedient, bold, and joyful.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)