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The Levee of Liberty

By Alan J. Reinach, Esq.

The levee didn’t give way and flood New Orleans in a flash, in a moment, by a freak of nature. No, it was the result of a decade or more of neglect. Shifting priorities, budget cuts, apathy all made their contribution. The levee was not prepared to withstand the storm.

Bible Students know that Liberty in America faces its own storm. Revelation 13 repeatedly warns us that the powers of church and state will combine to enforce worship. No man may buy or sell unless he worships the beast and its image. All who will not worship will be killed. Many Adventists think that the loss of liberty is inevitable, even desirable, since persecution must come before Jesus comes, and we want Jesus to come.

If you really want persecution, so that Jesus comes, there are many countries where you can go today and find persecution. Some of you have left countries where it was very difficult to be an Adventist. If you want persecution, go to Saudi Arabia and study the Bible with a Muslim. If you’re lucky, you’ll only be deported. If your Muslim friend converts to Christianity, his own brothers will seek to kill him. Or go to North Korea. There, you’ll be arrested merely for having a Bible. Go to Indonesia, where thousands of churches and mosques have been destroyed in sectarian violence. You don’t have to wait for persecution.

Ellen White faced this same attitude in her day. A young minister named Alonzo T. Jones was powerfully preaching righteousness by faith, and at the same time, led the fight against a constitutional Sunday law amendment. His critics opposed not only his preaching, but also his religious liberty work. They worried that his preaching of Righteousness by Faith would undermine the law, and that his active opposition to Sunday laws would delay the coming of Christ. Listen to what Ellen White said at that time:

There are many who are at ease, who are, as it were, asleep. They say, "If prophecy has foretold the enforcement of Sunday observance the law will surely be enacted," and having come to this conclusion they sit down in a calm expectation of the event, comforting themselves with the thought that God will protect His people in the day of trouble. But God will not save us if we make no effort to do the work He has committed to our charge. . . . {LDE 127.3}

We are not doing the will of God if we sit in quietude, doing nothing to preserve liberty of conscience. --5T 714 (1889). {LDE 127.2}

Or, to put it another way, We are not doing the will of God if we neglect the levee of liberty. What is the levee of liberty? What is religious liberty?

Religious liberty is a distinctly Protestant concept. In ancient Israel, there was no concept of tolerance of religious diversity. Idolators were not to be tolerated. Jews were not to intermarry. If strangers wished to live in peace with the Jews, they were obligated to have their males circumcised, and to participate in the Jewish feasts, like Passover.

Pagan Rome was tolerant to a point, so long as you reverenced the Roman Gods you were permitted to worship your own gods. Christians ran into trouble, as did Jews, because they refused to reverence the Roman gods.

By the time Christianity assumed the seat of power in the Roman empire, it too, had become intolerant. For more than a thousand years, religious conformity was secured by force of law and military arms. Today, we think of the Crusades in terms of fighting among Christians and Muslims. We forget that quite often, the Crusaders turned their religious zeal against dissenters in Europe, particularly Jews but also Christians such as the Waldensians and the Albigensees. There is a famous quote from the Albigenseen Crusade, where the Prince asks the Bishop for advice, because the city contains both heretics and Christians. The response: “kill them all, God will recognize his own.”

Martin Luther discovered the importance of religious freedom, as he took his stand on the Word of God. He realized that freedom is the very essence of faith. The German Reformed Princes meeting in Spires in 1529 also understood that liberty was inseparable from the gospel. The princes were faced with an ultimatum, a decree, that would essentially stop the reformation in its tracks. The gospel could not be preached anywhere it had not already come to be accepted. No new reforms would be permitted.

The German Princes reasoned from the core doctrines of the Reformation, sole scriptura, the Bible and the Bible only, sole fide, faith alone, the priesthood of all believers. They understood that a soul comes to Christ directly, by faith, and not through a human priesthood. As they grasped the political implications of the gospel, they realized that they could accept no restraint on the gospel, that neither the powers of church or state had any right to interfere between a soul and its Creator. They issued the famous “Protest” that gave the very name Protestant to the Reformation, and in that protest, announced the fundamental principle of Protestantism, that in matters of conscience, the majority has no power. In matters of conscience, the majority has no power.

To be sure, Protestants were no more consistent than Catholics in practicing the principles of liberty of conscience. Protestant countries granted no more freedom to Catholics than Catholics did to Protestants.

Yet, hundreds of years later, Baptists in America brought the principles of liberty of conscience to the forefront of American politics, when they pressed for the separation of church and state, not only in the Federal Constitution, but in state constitutions as well.

Today, it is common for Christians to insist that America was founded to be a Christian nation. This is simply false, and our founding fathers said so quite clearly in a treaty with Tripoli in 1796. This treaty was adopted unanimously by the US Senate. There was no controversy at that time over the treaty’s declaration that the United States is in no sense founded on the Christian religion. This was not an extraneous sentiment, but central to the very ability of these United States to enter a treaty of peace with a Muslim nation.

It is not true that this country was founded to be a Christian nation, but we were founded on distinctly Protestant principles about liberty of conscience, principles that derive directly from Protestant doctrines concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now the fate of religious freedom and the fate of the gospel are inextricably linked. Just as religious freedom rose with the gospel, so it will die with the gospel. Prophecy teaches us that religious freedom dies when the church seeks the power of the state to impose her religious teachings and practices on the nation and the world.

But the church only seeks the power of the state because she has lost the power of God. This is why the relationship between church and state, in symbol, is described as immoral, as adultery. The church is properly intimate with Christ, but she has forsaken her intimacy with Christ to become intimate with the state. Adventists need to look beyond partisan politics, and renew our prophetic vision. Instead of being Republicans or Democrats, and becoming zealous of political causes, we need to recall the danger of putting too much emphasis on political means to address essentially spiritual issues.

When the church forsakes her intimacy with Christ, she loses her grip on the gospel itself, for as Paul writes, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. This power is the very righteousness of God, from faith to faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith. When we live by faith, we live by the power of God. We die with Christ, and we live a new life of faith. This is what religious liberty really is all about – it is about spiritual freedom in Christ, freedom to die to sin, to live a new life in Christ, freedom to live by faith. The political principle of religious liberty is an extension of this spiritual principle. The state is denied any power to tell us when, where or how to worship, or what to believe. We are free to accept the gospel or to reject it.

The greatest threat to religious freedom today is the loss of the gospel, the loss of the power of God, and the church’s intense grasp for political power. Yet, Adventists have become part of that political power play, and to the extent that we are part of it, we cannot speak prophetic truth to power, we cannot serve as watchmen on the walls of Zion, we cannot fulfill our prophetic mission.

Protestants in America lost the gospel and the power of God when, in the mid nineteenth century, they rejected the Sanctuary message, and the light shining from the heavenly sanctuary on the law of God and the Sabbath.

Rejecting the sanctuary and the Sabbath, Protestants began to attack the law of God, to declare that the law of God was nailed to the cross, that we are not under obligation to keep the law, because we are under grace. Adventists have warned for generations that this teaching was sowing the seeds of moral chaos, that if Christians lost respect for the law of God, they would lose respect for man’s law, and our nation and culture would descend into the moral abyss.

Well, here we are. You can’t blame Hollywood for dishing out desperate housewives, when Americans make shows like this so popular. If we didn’t watch them , they wouldn’t produce them.

Ironically, today American Christian leaders have rediscovered the law of God, and are fighting to erect stone monuments to the law of God, and to display it on court house walls. I say this is ironic because in the new covenant, where does God place His law? In the human heart. In the old covenant, the law was written on stone. Adventists are often accused of being legalists, because we quote Jesus who said: if you love me, keep my commandments. Adventists don’t erect monuments to the law. We teach people to internalize the principles of God’s law, to live by them, to let them live inside of us, and shape our lives.

When the law is removed from the gospel, the gospel is destroyed. Remember what Paul said, the gospel is the power of God for therein is the righteousness of God revealed, from faith to faith. When we respond to God’s righteousness in giving Christ to die for our sins, our lives are transformed, and by faith, our lives reflect God’s righteousness.

Today, God’s righteousness has been given a narrow meaning. It is no longer the power of God. Today, preachers teach that it if you will only believe that Christ died for your sins, you will be saved. This is both true and false. It is true that when we believe, we receive salvation as a free gift. But it is also true that when we accept God’s salvation, our lives are changed. The love of Christ now controls us. Because we love Christ, we keep His commandments. We have a new power in our lives, the power of God’s righteousness! You see the gospel combines law and grace, justification and sanctification. The gospel is the power of God!

But the church today has forsaken the power of God. So it is approaching the law of God apart from the gospel, apart from the new covenant, in a legalistic manner.

Christians now understand that the solution to America’s moral decline is law. This is correct. What they do not understand is that there are two choices: the law can be written in the human heart, or in the Congressional record. We will either have the new covenant or the old. Sadly, Christian leaders are choosing the old.

The future of American freedom, of the American Republic hangs on this choice, the choice between the old and new covenants. The old covenant is slavery. It is tyranny. When the law is enforced as an external restraint on morality and religious conduct, it takes away our freedom. It makes us do what we are unwilling to do.

The new covenant is freedom. The law is written in the heart, and we now lovingly and willingly do what is right, because the gospel is the power of God and reveals the righteousness of God in our own lives!

Do you see? God has given to Seventh-day Adventists a spiritual message that will determine the destiny of our nation! Prophecy will be fulfilled, but it is not written that our nation must now descend into tyranny. It is not written that we must lose our freedom today. The destiny of our nation depends on spiritual revival. If Americans experience the law written in the heart, we will preserve freedom for another generation. If we fail to experience the new covenant, the law will be written in the congressional record, and the religion of the majority will be imposed upon the nation. We will descend into tyranny. The mark of the beast is the inevitable result. National apostasy will lead to national ruin.

Do you see? Our country is in grave danger, and Adventists are mostly fiddling while the New Rome burns.

What is the levee of liberty? It is the wall that protects our freedom. The levee is constructed on the foundation of the constitution, but that foundation is eroding as we sit back and watch. The levee is constructed with bricks made of our national commitment to individual rights, but those bricks are crumbling. It is made out of mortar taken from our respect for “liberty and justice for all,” but today, there are some who are no longer included in this equation. The levee of liberty is crumbling.

To whom has God given the obligation to protect and defend the levee of liberty?

Ellen White writes in Acts of the Apostles about the Protest issued by the German Princes, and how they arrived at the decision to reject the Emperor’s decree, because “in matters of faith, the majority has no power.” Then she writes:

“This principle we in our day are firmly to maintain. The banner of truth and religious liberty held aloft by the founders of the gospel church and by God's witnesses during the centuries that have passed since then, has, in this last conflict, been committed to our hands.

The banner of truth and religious liberty has been committed into our hands. Will you accept it? Will you lift up this banner? Will you work to strengthen the levee of liberty?

So, what can you do to preserve liberty of conscience in America? The short answer is: a great deal! Freedom is not free. Our founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in the cause of freedom. Now its our turn. Freedom will only thrive if its alive in the hearts of a freedom loving people.

The work of building the levee of liberty is not difficult The Adventist Church has been engaged in this work for more than a century. We have published Liberty magazine for more than one hundred years, and send it to thought leaders. In recent years, we have expanded into radio and television with Freedom’s Ring radio, and Faith and Freedom television. Adventist religious liberty leaders also speak regularly on secular talk radio programs. We have several key websites: churchstate.org and religiousliberty.info.

But the glue that holds all of this together is you. Not only can’t we function without your support, we need your active involvement if we are to be effective. The church has re organized the North American Religious Liberty Association to give church members an opportunity to participate, not only in a financial way, but with their active involvement. There is a great deal to be done in the local church and community, but you won’t even know what to do if you are not informed. Our motto is be informed and get involved! Your church leaders are not the ones to whom has been given the solemn responsibility to uphold the banner of truth and religious liberty. This privilege belongs to all of us, it is your spiritual calling to uphold the banner of truth and religious liberty.

To sum up, there are two things you can do to uphold this banner of truth and religious liberty. First, join the North American Religious Liberty Association.

Second, live by faith. Live the righteousness of God. Live the gospel of Jesus Christ. America desperately needs the gospel. We need revival. We need to experience the law of God written in the heart as a life changing principle. Without it, our Republic is doomed. With the gospel, we can secure our freedom.

Adventists have been defensive for too long, embarrassed about being called legalists. It is time for us to provide the spiritual leadership our nation needs.