The Bible teaches three types of Liberty. These pleasant Biblical principles are readily remembered with the unpleasant acronym I-R-S
Individual soul liberty
Soul liberty is the right to free exercise of conscience. James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution said “Conscience is the most sacred of all property”. Consider Romans 14:1-5
“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems [one] day above another; another esteems every day [alike]. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
As this passage shows, the corollary to having our conscience respected is to respect the consciences of others with whom we may not agree. Conscience is God-given and we will give account to God for whether we have heeded the urgings of conscience. To this agrees I Cor. 10:29, which reads “Conscience, I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man's conscience?”
Besides being encoded into the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it is taught in the Bible. In this topic we enter into the issue of separation of church and state. It is vital that we understand this issue correctly. To that end the following facts are pertinent and are matters of history:
None of the words “separation”, “church” and “state” occurs in the Constitution at all.
At the time of the creation and signing of the Constitution several of the states had a state church – that is, a church that was not only officially sanctioned by the state, but that received support in the form of taxes collected in the state. The Constitution could never have been ratified if the First Amendment had been seen as a bar to a state church. Even former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas, affirmed the truth of this statement.
The First Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It forbids the U.S. Congress from making such a law. There was no prohibition on the states doing so, nor could there have been.
Where did the phrase “separation of church and state” come from then? As the Constitution was being considered for adoption by the states a group called the Danbury Baptists wrote to newly-elected President Thomas Jefferson expressing their happiness at his election and their reservations that the Constitution did not prevent federal government interference with religion. Here is a quote from their letter:
“And such has been our laws and usages, and such still are, [so] that Religion is considered as the first object of Legislation, and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy…we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights. And these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgments, as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen.”
Jefferson wrote them a cordial letter endorsing their views in which he said “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
So the wall of separation was to prevent government interference in religion – not Christian influence being exerted in government. In fact, consider the following quotations from the founding fathers:
“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty – as well as the privilege and interest – of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” – John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign...Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body.” (Emphases added) – James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution and Fourth President of the United States.
Perversion of the intent of the founders has become so prevalent today that a restaurant that offered a discount to Sunday diners who would present a church bulletin (showing they had attended church) has been sued by an atheist claiming this represents a violation of the separation of church and state. The plaintiff did not specify whether the restaurant was a church or a state.
The zeal of the illiberal “liberals” to scrub all vestiges of Christianity from the national consciousness has now extended to denying the free exercise of religion, which is also guaranteed in the First Amendment.
The favor shown to Islam in America now is not due only to Obama’s Muslim background, but to the fact that in in Muslim extremist nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran and such as Obama is now helping to install in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria etc., the government and the religion are one and the same.
The colonies that had state churches did so generally based on a false interpretation of scripture. Since ancient Israel was a theocracy and since they misread the Bible to teach that God was done with Israel and that the church had replaced Israel in His affections they sought to give their own government a theocratic structure – that is, to create a government where religious and political power are held in the same hands. In this effort they were wrong as the Lord Jesus Christ showed in his confrontation with the Pharisees and Herodians in Matthew 22:15-22;
“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. "Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? "Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
This was revolutionary teaching! All governments at the time and through much of history integrated the religious and political spheres. For example, the Romans were required to worship the emperor as a god. Jesus was saying these spheres were to be treated separately. It is therefore no surprise that the conclusion of the above account reads “When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.” This is how the early church structured their internal government until Constantine reunited church and state in himself in 312 A.D.
The Bible teaches that we are all born in bondage to sin – it is our nature to sin. The Bible also teaches that there are fearful consequences for sin, a troubled life here on earth, a troubled conscience, fear of death and eternity separated from God in Hell if we persist in unbelief unto our death. There is nothing we ourselves can do to avoid these consequences, but Jesus can. He said “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The apostle Paul, writing in Romans 6:16-18, draws out a contrast between spiritual liberty and spiritual slavery:
“Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin [leading] to death, or of obedience [leading] to righteousness? But God be thanked that [though] you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness..”
The transition from slave of sin to slave of righteousness is made when one receives Jesus Christ as savior (John 1:12). The last clause is not to be understood as teaching that once a person is saved by Jesus he will never sin again. We are made free from the bondage to sin. However, we are still humans. Although we have a new master, our old master (sin) does not abandon its urgings and we may slip. But as we continue to confess those sins to God and repent from them we have continuing fellowship with God and forgiveness. Here are Paul’s instructions for us after we have received Jesus Christ. It is impossible to do this unless we have received Him.
“As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” (Col. 2:6-7)
Another passage contrasting spiritual liberty and spiritual slavery is Galatians 5:1
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
This was addressed to a people who were under the misimpression that they could achieve right standing with God by obeying a bunch of rules. Any parent who has done a conscientious job of raising a child knows that you can multiply rules almost without limit and the child will still find a way to excuse slipping his misdeeds in between two of the prohibitions. The child we want is the one whose heart is changed from rebellion to obedience. That’s the kind of child God wants too.