These are the words of the Reverend John Leland, a Baptist minister (A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia, 1790).
Two years ago I wrote that I feared the end of religious freedom in the United States. My fears remain unabated. I am growing increasingly concerned about religious intolerance in our nation. The Bill of Rights guarantees citizens of the United States of America the right to freedoms of speech, assembly, and free exercise of religion. The free exercise of religion is inextricably bound to the freedoms of speech and assembly. Religious faith cannot be adequately expressed without the freedoms to assembly together and speak. The federal government is charged with protecting these basic and essential human rights. It is becoming apparent that there is a political movement afoot with the intent on limiting religious speech and expression to the domain of private devotion. Much of this is due to the religious community’s opposition to abortion and the homosexual agenda to redefine marriage. Opposition to abortion or homosexual marriage is being defined as hate speech. Religious speech or expression that challenges the agenda of the government is being suppressed.
I recently posted on Facebook an article that relates Ralph Reed’s conversation with Bill Maher. I commented that this story is “an excellent example of how uninformed Christians are hindering the cause of Christ.” That post provoked a conversation with a dear brother, a conversation that cannot be adequately conducted in a few sentences. So, I extend our conversation here. I have suggested many times that Christians, especially those who wish to engage the public square, must become better exegetes and interpreters of Scripture. This does not mean taking a low view of Biblical inspiration and authority. To the contrary, taking a high view requires serious reflection.
I recently read Lynne Cheney’s new biography – James Madison: A Life Reconsidered. I thought I would be taking a Sabbath from theological considerations and indulge in my second love – American history. But I was wrong. Early on Cheney tells us of Madison’s lifelong struggle with “sudden attacks,” most likely a form of epilepsy, that often left him debilitated for days. As a student at Princeton, Madison sought to understand the source of his malady. He consulted medical texts and biblical commentaries. The scientific explanation for his disease was an excess of black bile secreted by the kidneys. Remedies included a mixture of mercury, arsenic, and antimony. The biblical explanation for his disease, which was supported by the Princeton faculty, was demon possession (Matthew 17:14-18; Mark 9:17-26; Luke 9:42). The King James Version of the Bible, which he consulted, referred to sufferers as “lunatics.”
This is a compilation of New Testament scriptures that exhort us to faithful Christian ministry. I have used this as a charge for Ministerial Internship Program graduation exercises, and I offered it as the benediction at our 2014 graduation at Pentecostal Theological Seminary.
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves… Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:16; 28:19).