Free to Worship: So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. John 8:36
Picture this, Sunday morning church setting, getting ready to worship, sing/praise…the worship leader says to all, “it is good that we have the freedom to worship”. What does that really mean in the West? What are the ongoing costs of freedom? Does it carry a responsibility? Does it imply a level of comfortableness that deep down we hope does not change? Like a lottery ball spinner, these questions have tossed and turned in my mind. Answering them all of them in one or two pages will be virtually impossible. In all truth, these are just my opinions. These are simply ponderings. I have no research, stats, or evidence for them.
1) What are the ongoing costs of freedom and how does that affect our ability to worship? I completely agreed with our worship leader. Reminding us of this incredible and precious privilege is crucial. Because we think in terms of rights, we sometimes forget the aspect of privilege that comes with freedom of worship or any freedom for that matter. It is a gift we live into but have not had to sacrifice for.
I fear this freedom is taken to lightly. As we lay this beside the dangerous places in our world where disciples and followers of Jesus are being tortured and murdered for following, do we really sense the gravity of what is happening? As dangerous groups like ISIS grow in strength, and you can bet, there are cells in the US, are we prepared to be challenged? Would we stop gathering in our places of worship if we felt that at any moment, our worship space might be invaded? Would we start gathering at night under the cover of darkness? Would we no longer announce our services? Would we change venues? Would we just tell everyone to stay home and then televise our sermons remotely from some hidden area? What would we do?
2) Is there a level of responsibility that free Christians/disciples in North America must carry? I think so. I am concerned that we have forgotten what following Jesus means and implies. Worshipping safety has anesthetized us to the challenges, difficulties, and suffering that Jesus called us into when he invited us to follow Him. I am not implying we need to be stupid, reckless, or seek the thrill of some danger in the name of the Gospel. That is idolatry not discipleship. But, there is much more than what we are doing.
Case in point, what are most people thinking about as worship closes on Sunday morning? What is the very next conversation? Is it the challenge just issued by the pastor? Is it punching in a reminder on your phone to share what you learned or heard with your coworker? Is it engaging in a conversation with your youth who attended worship about how he or she can apply this in school and with their classmate or friend? I hope so. More likely, it is about where are we going to eat? What are we going to do now, etc? Not that there is anything wrong with fellowship and enjoying Sabbath rest…but is there space for those other questions and processing of living out our faith? Or, are we abusing the freedom? Are we taking it for granted because there is nothing really significant happening that gives our faith and its pursuit meaning? Is comfort our ultimate goal even in our faith?
3) Back to ISIS and where I’ll close. What is happening is deeply disturbing me. The first Crusade was initiated (and this is a huge generality) in part as a response to a militant spread of Islam. An expression marked by burning churches, occupying lands, killing followers of Jesus and anyone else that would not convert to Islam.
We cannot engage this the same way this time. It did not work the first time and it will not again. Christians cannot think that our US military can go to battle armed with our Christian blessings and in the name of God to stop the spread of yet again another form of militant Islam and especially to keep us safe. Rumors are flying that Germany is deporting anyone that is Islam or of Arab descent out of their country. I am not sure of its truth, but the ring of this makes me shudder. The call of God and the call of Christ is praying for our enemies. It is blessing those who persecute us. It is turning the other cheek. I believe it also means protecting those who have a peaceful expression of Islam. For if we do not, they will have no other choice if the situation arose but to fight against us. Radical Islam is brutal, unmerciful, and killing anything not of its belief. What is radical discipleship for us? What does it look like?
For me, it looks like Gandhi (although he was Hindu) and Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a peaceful stand to a brutal injustice. It is wave after wave after wave of Christians who are willing to be beaten, tortured, and persecuted. It is a non-violent response and out-loving ISIS or Al-Queda, or any other militant religious group. How we saw those fighting for their right to vote in the 1960’s, peacefully and upholding the tenants of Christ, is how we must respond if called to the table.
I pray that our pastors and Christian leaders in the West are preparing their congregations. I am not a conspiracy theorist, a doomsdayer, or a pessimist. Quite the opposite. But, if this continues to play out, we will need to be prepared. Our discipleship may start to take on a new and fresh meaning. Freedom always comes at a cost. What contributions are we going to make to insure that for all people? No more riding on the coattails of those who won this for us hundreds of years ago. We are readily being called into the trenches. Are we ready to walk with Jesus to the cross so that all people can worship even if it means they reject Jesus for some other peaceful, religious expression? Are we ready to serve in a manner that refuses to allow violence and force to be the dominant theme?
Our freedom came with a price. Jesus died on the cross and gained our ultimate freedom from the penalty of sin-death, and to show us the grace and mercy of God our Father. The early disciples were tortured and many also killed for their faith to protect and live out the legacy of Jesus and grow the church as we know it. And our country, with the death of thousands of soldiers, was established on the basic principles of certain rights. One of which being free, religious expression without the interference of the government.
What are we willing to do today as followers across the world meet to worship and follow Jesus knowing it could cost them their earthly life? Aren’t you glad we have the freedom to worship?