Proclaim Liberty Throughout the Land
By Alan J. Reinach, Esq.
Todd Sturgill had a good job driving a UPS truck. He owned his own home, and was able to provide a comfortable living for his family. It was nearing Christmas, and the delivery season became hectic with the delivery of mail order gifts. Sundown came earlier on Friday afternoons, and Todd’s requests for Sabbath accommodation were met with incredulity. You want to do what? Leave early on Friday afternoon during the busiest time of the year? One Friday just before Christmas, Todd finished delivering all his packages, and hurried home before the end of his shift to observe the Sabbath. When he returned to work, he was fired.
What would make a man risk a steady job and sacrifice his family’s economic security? Did the Seventh-day Adventist Church do this to Todd? Did the church tell Todd that he should be willing to lose his job in order to obey church teachings? No, it wasn’t the church that told Todd to stop working on Sabbath – it was the Holy Spirit of God!
Todd Sturgill’s faith made him a powerful witness for God. Todd has had the opportunity to proclaim liberty throughout the land to coworkers at UPS, to lawyers, judges, court personnel and a jury. Now that his favorable jury verdict has been upheld on appeal, Todd’s faith lives on in the law books for future lawyers and judges to read about. But Todd could not have witnessed in this way without the help provided by your annual liberty offering, a portion of which is used to pay for lawyers for church members like Todd Sturgill.
Todd Sturgill has been a powerful witness that Christ is real, and that a relationship with Him is more important even than keeping a job! No, the church didn’t tell Todd Sturgill to risk his job, because it is not the role of the church or the pastor, it is not even your job to become conscience for someone else. Indeed, there is something even more fundamental to the Seventh-day Adventist Church than observing the seventh-day Sabbath – a faith relationship with Jesus Christ!
John writes: “this is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” The biblical sort of knowing is an intimate experience. It is personal.
Liberty of conscience is central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is love, John writes. The very nature of love requires freedom, it cannot be commanded or compelled.
In the eerily prophetic book, 1984, by George Orwell, he writes about a totalitarian society closely monitored by Big Brother. Winston Smith, the hero of the book finds himself a reluctant rebel against Big Brother, who is caught and brainwashed. At the very end of the story, Winston is sitting in a bar in a drunken stupor as Big Brother comes on the television screen. He begins weeping tears of love and devotion for Big Brother. The one he once hated, he now loves.
God is much more powerful than Big Brother. God doesn’t need crude brainwashing or torture techniques to change our attitudes. He is omnipotent. When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have easily rearranged their brain chemistry and restored them to a perfectly happy, holy and obedient state. Sometimes, I wish he would do that to me, and even more often, I pray he would rearrange my kids’ attitudes!
Take another look at the story in Genesis 3, and consider what this says about the nature of love and freedom. At the beginning of the story, the woman wanders over to the tree, and is engrossed in conversation by a fast-talking winged serpent. On the way over to the tree, she passed no warning signs: “beware of serpent;” “Poisonous fruit, Do Not Eat!” There was no barbed wire fence. This tree was the most dangerous spot on earth, more dangerous than a speeding locomotive, more deadly than a steep cliff, or a raging rip tide.
We put fences up to keep kids from wandering onto train tracks, we build guard rails to prevent cars from careening over the cliff, and we post signs warning swimmers about dangerous ocean currents. What did God do to protect Adam and Eve from the dangerous tree? He told them not to eat its fruit. That’s it. He warned them it would kill them.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
In a perfect world, kids do what their parents tell them the first time, without having to be reminded over and over. In a perfect world, Adam and Eve could be expected to follow God’s instructions because they loved and trusted God, and knew instinctively that God was right, that He was loving, and that He knew what was best! After all, they did live in a perfect world. Still, God could have put up a fence. See what God did after Adam and Eve ate the fruit.
Then the Lord God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" — therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.
God knew how to guard the tree of life to keep Adam and Eve away! He could have stationed cherubim at the tree of knowledge. So why didn’t He? Why did humanity have to endure thousands of years of sin and suffering? Because love must be free!
Because love must be free, God risked the life of his one and only Son Jesus. Jesus is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world. From the time God first chose to create humanity, He knew what would happen. He knew that creating people would cost the life of the Son of God. He made man anyway!
Liberty of conscience is not a minor issue in the Great Controversy. It is absolutely central to the plan of salvation! At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus stood up in the synagogue and read from Isaiah:
8 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."
The spirit of the Lord is upon me.
Jesus defined his own ministry in terms of liberty. Setting humanity free from captivity to sin was not to be achieved by superior fire power. God’s omnipotence could not help him save fallen man. So it was on the cross of Calvary, when his physical strength failed, and his heart broke, that Jesus won the victory that ensures our freedom from both the penalty and power of sin. It was love that won the victory, not might or power.
In the final events of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan, the gospel rooted in love and liberty of conscience remain the central issues. No, friends, the climax of earth’s history is not about us, whether we will be faithful in the midst of persecution, whether we will ultimately be saved. The destiny of the world isn’t about us, but about Jesus Christ. The focus of attention at the end of human history is on the character of the King, and the nature of His kingdom.
When Satan moves upon the nations of the world to legislate worship on penalty of death, he has invested the god of that worship with his own character. He would have you believe that God demands your worship, or he’ll kill you, torture you eternally even, in flames of hellfire.
Christ calls out to a sleeping church, to wake up and answer the knock at the door of your heart. Revelation 3:20.
This scripture is borrowed from the Song of Solomon, chapter 5, where the lover knocks at the door early in the morning, drenched with dew, and the woman inside is slow to get up out of bed and open the door. By the time she drags herself out of bed, her lover is gone, vanished.
Christ is a gentleman. He doesn’t force his way into our lives. He doesn’t overpower us with His love. He knocks patiently, persistently, hoping, praying that we will open up our hearts and let Him come in. He doesn’t force us to love Him, or to worship Him. Instead of forcing us, He died for us! This is the gospel, and this is the main issue at the end of time.
In place of this gospel, the church of the last days substitutes a gospel of morality. Its answer to the moral chaos that Satan has sowed is a misguided effort to establish the Kingdom of God as an earthly dominion by legislating morality and religious worship. We have to make people do right and be right, by force of law if necessary.
In the true gospel, the new covenant, the Holy Spirit transforms the life from the inside out, by writing God’s law on the heart, and making us want to do right and be right, because we love God. In the true gospel, there is supernatural power to overcome our inherent sinful natures. Righteousness is a gift of Christ, and it comes by faith, not by force. And the kingdom of God is within you.
The gospel of the last days offers a legislated form of righteousness. The church of the last days lacks the power of God, so it seeks to compel people to worship God, and to do right, by force of law, on penalty of death even. This is not the true gospel of righteousness by faith, but a false gospel of righteousness by force.
Now Seventh-day Adventists have been given a marvelous gift. We have unique insight into the final prophetic events. We know that the mark of the beast will entail the legal enforcement of a common day of rest and worship. So a key question remains: THE question for us to answer is: what are we supposed to do with what we know? What are we supposed to be doing now, before the final crisis? Too many of us have been so obsessed with Sunday laws and the end game of prophecy that we completely miss the run up to the end. We grasp at rumors of Sunday laws, and secret meetings of Christian leaders to plot the enforcement of Sunday – despite the fact that such rumors have repeatedly proven to be false! Yet we overlook the most obvious issue: we were given prophetic insight for a reason!
We are supposed to act now, intelligently, to anticipate the mark of the beast. How can we do this? How can we anticipate the mark of the beast? What are we supposed to be doing now, in light of what we know? Let me suggest three things:
1. First, we must proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof. The true gospel, with its emphasis on liberty of conscience, is the antidote to the mark of the beast. If people understand that a loving God gives freedom, and does not coerce the conscience, they will be prepared to recognize the system of worship enforced by law under the mark of the beast as a counterfeit. They will be inoculated against deception. All of us can partner with Liberty magazine in proclaiming liberty throughout the land, and giving people the antidote to the mark of the beast. We can do this through our annual offerings to support religious liberty.
We can also do this by being informed, and getting involved as a member of the North American Religious Liberty Association, the church’s membership organization dedicated to working for Liberty in the courts and legislative halls. You can learn more and sign up and join at www.religiousliberty.info.
2. We must anticipate the attacks that will come upon Sabbath keepers. According to Ellen White, we will be blasted as enemies of law and order, and calling the judgments of God upon the land. How can those who have proclaimed the immutability of God’s law with wonderful power be accused of being enemies of law and order? Because we have been slow to understand the relevance of God’s law in the real world, and the importance of applying the law of God to everyday life. There are real battles going on in our culture with respect to commandments besides the Fourth. What are we doing to impact our community with respect to the erosion of the family, the destruction of marriage, the prevailing sexual immorality and violence? Are we serving as salt and light to help people live lives of integrity and purpose and obedience to all Ten of God’s commandments? If we are actively ministering in our communities, teaching people how to obey God, to have healthy marriages, happy families, offering hope and healing, we make it very difficult for Satan to make his accusations stick that we are the source of the world’s problems.
3. We can also anticipate the final crisis through building bridges of friendship, understanding and communication with the leaders of our communities. Remember Waco? The Branch Davidians had no one to speak for them when they were branded by the press as whackos. Do you want the leaders in your community learning about who you are and what you believe through the media, in a time of crisis? Reporters work under intense deadlines, and they often have a very poor understanding of religious issues. Do you really want to rely upon journalists to faithfully report our point of view? Is it their job to witness for us? Of course not.
When the crisis comes, don’t you want the leaders in your community to be open to sitting down with us, person to person, eyeball to eyeball, and hearing our concerns directly from people they already know and trust as people of genuine integrity, compassion and faith?
Today, Adventists are far too isolated socially and culturally. We live in our own worlds, with a fortress mentality, lest the world should contaminate us. We live in a cultural cocoon, and as a result, we are setting ourselves up for persecution.
The mark of the beast doesn’t happen over night. A society doesn’t single out a group of citizens for economic exclusion and the death penalty in an instant. People don’t just snap their fingers and say, you Sabbath keepers are the problem, we’re going to get rid of you. There is a progression.
Consider the best historic example – the Nazi holocaust. Hitler began preaching against the Jews, and blaming them for Germany’s economic and social woes in the 1920s. The ground was well prepared by the time he rose to power in 1933. Over the course of the next five years, he began to institute economic reforms, depriving the Jews of economic rights and then civil rights and human rights. The concentration camps came later, and the gas chamber was the final step, more than a decade after Hitler began making the Jews the scapegoat for Germany’s problems.
My point is simply this: there is a steady process whereby a group of people who are otherwise integrated into social life are singled out to become scapegoats, and are identified as the enemy, and subject to increasingly severe legal measures, eventually resulting in their persecution. There is a process whereby a group is separated out and becomes the “them,” so that they are not part of “us.” It takes time.
Now Seventh-day Adventists are largely aiding and abetting their own persecution by separating themselves out before the crisis, creating our own cultural cocoons, our own ghettos, our own social isolation.
Am I saying that we can avoid persecution by building bridges for Christ? No. This is not to blame the victim. I am not blaming the Jews for what the Nazis did, and I don’t think we can prevent the mark of the beast.
No, the real issue is whether we will give the leaders of our nation, the leaders of our state, the leaders in all of our towns and cities a fair chance to hear the gospel at a time of crisis when all the world will be called to make a decision for or against Christ. The best way for them to be able to give the gospel a fair hearing is if they can hear it from people they already know and trust.
Their own character will determine their destiny. Remember, the mark of the beast is received in either the hand or the forehead. Only those who receive it in the forehead are truly deceived, true believers in the system of compulsory worship by force of law.
Those who receive the mark of the beast in the hand are not true believers. Instead, they go along to get along. They lack the faith and courage and character to choose truth over what is convenient.
Now is the time to build bridges for Christ, to establish relationships of trust and goodwill with civic leaders through our loving service and ministry in the community. Liberty magazine goes before us to build bridges with many leaders. It is widely read and greatly appreciated. But we must put a human face to our message. We must take advantage of the goodwill that Liberty has created and build a personal relationship with these leaders.
How can you build bridges for Christ? What is God calling you to do? I cannot answer for you. But I do know that Christ didn’t die for you, just so you could sit in the pew, and warm the bench. There are not just five players on His team, as in basketball, or nine players like there is in baseball. No one is on Christ’s team to sit on the bench, and watch while the better players play the game, while the preachers do the work. No, Christ calls all believers to follow Him, to take up their cross, to devote their best energies to His service, and to proclaim by deed, and occasionally by word, the character of the King and the Nature of His Kingdom. No one is too young to serve Christ, and no one is too old. There is no retirement from discipleship.
Now is the time to proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ, to proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof!