Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is Faith a Private Thing?

Some people say their faith is a private thing and something they are unwilling to discuss in public. Now there are many different faiths in the world. But this approach does not fit with Biblical Christianity (Matthew 10:32,33; 5:16; Romans 10:9,10). This is important because we live in a culture where faith is becoming more and more marginalized. The idea is that it is all right to believe in God as long as you do not publicly profess it or do anything about it. This idea of a compartmentalized faith does not meet the demands of Scripture that Christ be Lord of all of our life (1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 12:1,2; Matthew 10:24-26). This does not mean that we should be nasty or obnoxious about what we believe (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:6; 1 Peter 3:15). But we do need to stand firmly for the truth.

One thing this implies is our open involvement in the public square based on our faith. There are dangers here. There is the danger that we can think we can produce a Christian nation or at least a moral nation just by passing the right laws. But while laws may have a function in restraining blatant evil (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13,14; Deuteronomy 17:8-13), even God's perfect Law cannot genuinely change people without a work of grace in the heart (Romans 7:12-14; 8:3,4; Galatians 3:19-22). But we are called to stand up for truth and rebuke evil (Acts 5:27-32; 1 Kings 21:17-26; Proverbs 14:34). I would conclude this includes working for good laws wherever  possible, though with a realistic understanding of what they can do. But we must not accept a neutered faith that applies to only a corner of our life.

Now one argument by those who would restrict the influence of Christianity on society is to bring up past atrocities such as inquisitions and witch trials. But it is clear that atheism has shown itself capable of its own atrocities: the Soviet Gulag, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields. As an argument against any view this is simply mud-slinging. Any belief may be twisted into being used as a basis for tyranny. But the practical moral is that everyone is capable of taking their beliefs and forcing them on others and we need to be wary of this no matter what the position involved is, including our own. Nor does it solve the problem simply to have no definite belief. The Roman Emperors were very broad-minded and persecuted Christians for being obstinate and not going along with what they thought reasonable. The only escape is for all of us to be allowed to openly avow and follow our beliefs, but not to force them on others. It is only then that Christians can confess  their faith as they should, in a peaceable but firm manner, without it leading to force being employed by one side or the other.

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