On December 10, Pastor Gettys' in his sermon talked about signs of where we are at the end of time. He talked about war, terrorism, decline of the family, immortality, secularism, natural disasters and quite a list of others to remind us of the fact that the end is not far hence. In that sermon he read some texts. Luke 12:37 it talks about the servants who the master, when he comes, will find watching. In Mark 13:32, 33 the Lord says watch and pray. In 1 Thessalonians 3:6, in describing the time, Paul says Watch and be sober. Not just be free of alcohol, but be serious in your thoughts, in what you are doing and where you are and what is going on around you and to know what is taking place. To have our minds stayed upon Jesus. In the text that was read today from Revelation 13 it talks about the beast that come up out of the land, restored power to the beast that had received the deadly wound before in chapter 13 of the book of Revelation. And it says of that beast that came up that it had two horns like unto a lamb.
Seventh-day Adventists have historically interpreted this prophecy to represent this great country of ours. Having civil and religious liberty, and as a lamb to bring peace and to bring honor and to bring glory, to peace and civil and religious rights. But it also says it will speak like a dragon and restore power to the first beast. Seventh-day Adventists have historically also interpreted this prophecy and identified the first beast as relating to the papacy and it says that they will come together and form an image to the one before and shall cause all men to worship and to serve.
This is the picture that is laid out for us in the prophecy, isn't it. I believe that prophecy. I believe that you as Seventh-day Adventist Christians believe that prophecy. That we are living in that kind of time. And I believe that because of this it requires eternal vigilance on our part to know where we are, what we believe and to share that with other people.
I am so pleased to see the people of this church going to various places in this world to share this gospel. It is heartening. There is nothing that is greater than to make a place in your experience to experience the baptism of 3,000 people on one Sabbath morning. I have felt that experience. I know what it is.
But also there are things taking place around us that we need to be aware of and we need to be sure of where we are in the great country of ours. And every time I have come back to the from anywhere else, I praise the Lord that I am home. Because I am glad to be home.
But brothers and sisters I want us to spend a few minutes thinking about what is taking place about us in our great country. I want to look back at a little bit of history. Because often times, I believe in talking to younger people, in the history of our country some of these things are not seen. Perhaps in the effort to be politically correct. I would like to share with you a little bit of what has happened in the past in the founding of our country and some of the principles that I believe came directly from that.
Let go back to the colonies, the colonies of the early settlement of the United States. The pilgrims came to Massachusetts fleeing persecution in Europe. But you know it wasn't very long before they had their houses built, their churches built. They were able to take care of their livelihood and all of a sudden they forgot what was taking place in Europe and they had a very similar thing here. Because they had adopted a state church much as they had experienced wherever they came from in Europe. They began taxing in support of that state church. And even though you may not have been a member of that church, you had to pay taxes to support that church and to support its ministry. They had laws requiring worship in the state church. You may not even be a member of the church, but they required worship in that state church. There was punishment for people who were not members of the church. They had laws concerning what people believed. And if they did not conform to the state church they could even be deported from the colony of Massachusetts, They were simply reflecting what they had known in Europe where the state and the church were combined.
From Jamestown in 1607 to the Revolution in 1776, the British colonies in North America basically had state churches. The people from New York and the Southern colonies had the same state church, the Church of England. The New England colonies adopted various forms of the congregational church as the state church. These colonies consistently discriminated against Catholics, Jews, and even dissenting protestants. This is what was taking place in the early settlement of our great country.
I want to share with you something that I read in an article just recently. A paper that was done concerning this. In 1656, the general court of Massachusetts Bay, forbade the presence of Quakers in the colony. If any were found they were jailed, whipped and deported. But Quakers were persistent. So the following year the legislature ordered that banished male Quakers that returned should loose one ear. If they returned a second time, the other ear. Females who came back were to be severely whipped and on a third return, male or female should have their tongues bored through with a hot iron. But the Quakers kept coming.
So in 1658, the general court prescribed death by hanging. The same penalty was imposed upon Jesuits and Catholic priests who returned after banishment. Between 1659 and 1661 one woman and three men were indeed hanged in the Boston Common.
As late as 1774, at a time when the colonists where strongly protesting British invasions of their rights, Isaac Baccus????, leader of the Massachusetts Baptists informed the governor and the council that 18 Baptists had been jailed in North Hampton during the coldest part of the winter for refusing the pay taxes in support of the town's congregational minister. That same year, James Madison wrote to a friend "that iabolical, hell consuming principle of persecution rages among some. There are at this time in an adjacent county not less than five or six well meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments which in the main are very orthodox. So I must beg you to pray for liberty of conscience for all."
This is what was taking place in our colonies. And this is the reason that as time moved on it was necessary for change. But change came slowly and very little. Significant change did not come in the colonies of the US until the beginning of the Revolution. At the time when the people of this country were revolting against the crown in England. And not only revolting for their political rights, but they also began to revolt concerning their religious rights. They were tired of the state church. They were tired of the Church of England taxing the colonies for the support of the Church of England.
Another piece I would like to share with you what took place there with the beginning of the Revolution. Virginia, like many other states, disestablished the Church of England. The Church of England had been the state church in Virginia. The colonists had identified the church with the hated royal government. The Virginia constitution of 1776 guaranteed to every person equality and the free exercise of religion, but it stopped short of declaring a full separation of church and state, much to the disappointment of the largest dissenting group in the state, the Baptists, because they were dissenting from the Church of England and they wanted to have complete separation of church and state. Other groups that still adhered to the Anglican faith believed that tax money should support religion. Taxes they thought, ought not just go to one sect, but should be used to support all protestant Christian churches.
The fight to establish full religious freedom is worth looking at for a moment because it involved two of the great architects of the American nation. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and James Madison known as the father of the constitution. Both men would later serve as presidents of the United States. Thomas Jefferson had written a bill for religious freedom for the legislature of Virginia and it provided, among other things "no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship place or ministry whatsoever." This bill was passed by the Virginia legislature and Jefferson believed that religion was to be a personal matter between the individual and God and therefore beyond the reach of the civil government. Jefferson believed that the relationship to God was an individual relationship on the part of people and beyond the reach of civil government. A very interesting statement there. He did not limit this freedom to protestant sects or even to Christians, but to all groups. And he considered this freedom not to be the gift of legislative session but one of the "natural rights of mankind." Jefferson's ideas were far more advanced in the 1780s than those of his countrymen. And even in his native Virginia there was much opposition to his proposal especially from churches that wanted the support of the state.
Notice that Jefferson made the point that this was a natural right of mankind, not a gift of the legislature, because the legislature can take back a gift. And so in our declaration he put that the fact that these were inherent rights apart from legislation. Jefferson left for Paris and the American minister and he left his fight for religious freedom in Virginia to his friend and disciple James Madison who wrote one of the key documents in American religious freedom. It was called "The Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments."
Like Jefferson, Madison argued that the essentially private and voluntary nature of religion should not be subject to government in any manner. A tax assessment even if divided among all religions none the less remained an establishment of religion and should therefore be opposed no matter how mild and beneficent it appears.
The arguments made over 200 years ago are strongly applicable today, I believe. And so we see that in the establishing of our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence these men believed very clearly that government had no place interfering with our religious beliefs. And from that has come what has been known as the separation of church and state. Although most of our founding fathers may have been Christian they recognized that for the good of the country and the good of the church, there should be a separation between the state and the church. And in any society where the state and the church had become combined it is neither good for the state or the church but a separation of the state and the church is good for both.
Historically that has been a belief in our country but in the last few decades there has begun to be a change in that. There has begun to be a blurring of that separation. And in some places an almost total blurring of that. I remember when I was young in ministry; back in the late 60s and early 70s I attended a couple of conventions of an organization. The name of the organization was a long one. It was called Protestants and Other American United for the Separation of Church and State. It was better known as an acronym PAOU. Later it was changed to American for Religious Liberty. But I remember that at those two meetings that I attended there were leaders from almost every church, almost every denomination, in North America. And very vehemently spoke of the separation of church and state. This was the theme that was carried through all of those meetings.
I can remember the names of some of those leaders that were there and spoke concerning that. Who today do not speak of religious liberty as separation of church and state as we know it. Today these few decades later, the blurring of those lines has continued.
This morning I would like to share with you several examples that I believe point out to use that blurring of the separation of church and state. One of those that we have heard a lot about is called Faith Based Initiatives. Faith based initiatives. Currently the government wants to fund programs with faith based operations that the government would normally be involved with but they want the churches and faith based organizations to carry those out for them. My brothers and sisters, this may sound good on the surface, I think, but when we stop and think about it, and I believe very clearly in faith based initiatives. Faith based initiatives should do that operation and do that work on their own money not on the money of the government. Because anytime money comes to a faith based organization you can be sure that controls and concerns come along with it. And I believe that as Seventh-day Adventists we need to recognize the fact that as we do our work, we do our work on our own. Faith based initiatives I believe is one of those items that sounds good at first, but is a blurring of the separation of church and state because anywhere money goes control goes.
Another example is one that has taken place the last couple of decades concerning what was designed and engineered by the Christian Coalition which they made statements that their goal was to have their hand picked financed and managed people in every legislative body of the country at every level of legislation be it city, county, state, or federal. They began to hand pick and to finance and to give millions of dollars to elect people into legislature that shared the beliefs and the goals of the Christian Coalition. There have been statements made in the recent past that this seemed to be accomplished. That now we have representatives in control in almost every legislature. But they still continue to hand pick and finance and to manage people into those kinds of positions.
In fact I just read the other day and I saw a bumper sticker just yesterday. Ralph Reed the architect and the campaign by the Christian coalition is running for lieutenant governor in the state of Georgia. A blurring of the separation of church and state. Another term that you have heard and I have heard is "take back America for God." It is one that has been shared by a number of different people. Combination of various groups have this slogan in common. One is James Kennedy down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Another one is Jerry Falwell and Pat Robinson and James Dobson the Liberty counsel to name just a few.
To take back America for God with the purpose of appealing to the government to legislate in the areas that they want legislated for their agenda. A blurring of the separation of church and state. Because of the many different religious groups in America today, they feel they are loosing hold upon people and secularism is taking over our nation. My brothers and sisters, when I read my Bible it tells me that the preaching of the gospel will bring freedom to people, will bring restoration to people, will bring hope to people, will overcome secularism and that we do not have to depend upon the hand of legislatures or governments anywhere for doing that, that the power of the gospel is to change people's lives and to make them into men and women who serve God and that can walk in a world no matter how secular it becomes and know that they have the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts and that's the only power that can keep them from secularism.
No power from any government can do so. No laws can do so. And all of this is done in the name of religious liberty.
They say that society is becoming too secular and they must take it back for God. I've read a number of websites in the last few weeks and more and more of these websites on religious liberty are saying forget the separation of church and state, this is something that is no longer in vogue. My brothers and sisters, when I go back to the constitution and the bill of rights, I find there a wall of separation built to give me the rights to do in my worship as I find as an individual to serve my God and to worship Him.
Another way of blurring the line is the Ten Commandments movement. This came to the forefront when Judge Moore down in Montgomery protested the taking out of the monument concerning the Ten Commandments. And on the surface we say well what is wrong with that? Such a blurring of the separation of church and state someone else comes along and says why can't we have the commandments here and there. Have you noticed what those Ten Commandments listed people's yards said? And the ones that were on the stone in Montgomery and the others in various counties were displays have come? The very heart of the Ten Commandments is removed. Because it does not even identify the God who giving those commandments.
You might think about the fact that those who are promoting those ten commandments today are those who for decades have been those who have said that the ten commandments were done away at the cross, but now with their own version of the ten commandments, they must be put everywhere, no matter where it is. But now to take back America the Ten Commandments have all of a sudden become very important. At least their version of the Ten Commandments.
There is a case that took place just recently in Mercer County Kentucky. I would like to share a little of that case with you it was over the Ten Commandments. Mercer Country Kentucky had developed a display of the Ten Commandments along with the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Star Spangled Banner the National Motto the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution. The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution and a picture of Lady Liberty.
It seems like a nice display doesn't it. Well, suit was brought against Mercer County by an organization called the America Civil Liberties Union. And here is what happened with it. This is dated December 20, 2005 just before Christmas. Today the Sixth Circuit Court adopted the reasoning of the Seventh Circuit in Brooks vs. Elkhart County, another case with a similar display. A liberty counsel case where the Seventh Circuit upheld an identical display to that in Mercer County. The Sixth Circuit now has stated this concerning the Mercer county case in deciding against the ACLU. "Our concern is that of the reasonable person and the ACLU, an organization whose mission is to ensure that the government is kept out of the religion business does not embody the reasonable person."
Now stop and think about what this court said. It said the ACLU does not constitute the reasonable person. Here is a new philosophy. The reasonable person. Keep that in mind. The court's opinion also rejected the ACLUs repeated reference to the separation of church and state and the court went on to say "this extra constitutional construct has grown tiresome. The first amendment does not demand a wall of separation of church and state."
That was a statement that was made by the Sixth Circuit Court on December 20. The ACLU is listed there as not a reasonable person. What does it take to be reasonable person in the eyes of the court? Would someone coming there claiming the seventh-day Sabbath as their Sabbath and they want to be excused from work or military or whatever else be a reasonable person? It is a new philosophy to think about what this court has said in this statement.
Matthew Staver president and general council for Liberty Council hailed today's decision as a great victory. Staver stated "today's decision begins to turn the tide against the ACLU which has been on a search and destroy mission to remove all vestiges of religious history public view." Staver added "whether the ACLU likes it or not, history is crystal clear that each one of the Ten Commandments played an important role in the founding of our system of law and government." Everyone of the Ten Commandments he says played a role. "Federal courts are beginning to rightly reject extreme notions of separation of church and state. It is about time the courts begin interpreting the constitution consistent with its original purpose.
With the changing of personnel at the US Supreme Court, the trend toward a more historical approach to the first amendment is well underway." Staver concluded, "this case should be used as a model for other counties wishing to display religious documents and symbols including the Ten Commandments. It is absurd to think that displaying the Ten Commandments is unconstitutional. The Ten Commandments are a universally recognized symbol of law. Our laws and our notions of right and wrong have been shaped by the Decalogue."
Very interesting statements made both by the court and by Liberty Counsel concerning the placing of the Ten Commandments. But you know what, it brings a very interesting paradox because for decades people have been teaching that the Ten Commandments have been done away with at the cross. We don't need the Ten Commandments. Now all of a sudden there is a turn in the opposite direction and they are saying we are needing the Ten Commandments spread everywhere. Their version of the Ten Commandments so what happens then when you or I talk to someone concerning the Sabbath? It brings it into a whole different light and we need to be aware of that we need to be vigilant to know what is happening. The blurring of that separation.
One day I was walking through the airport and all of a sudden there was a TV on in one of the places there waiting areas or whatever it was seems like it was a little snack bar that was not in operation that Sunday morning but there was a TV on. It caught my ear and as I went by I had a few minutes before my flight and I stopped and I looked at it and it was a tele-evangelist a minister on the television and as he was talking. He was asking everybody for money to send Jews back to Israel. He was talking about raising millions of dollars to send Jews back to Israel. And I stopped and listened to him and that is what was happening. This is in the area of the Christian Zionist movement. Because of the non-Biblical theories of the rapture in order for it to work there must be a government of Israel, and so you see in many, many places people raising money, Christian people raising money to send Jews back to the nation of Israel so that the government can be there because it must be there for their theories to take place.
Another thing that is happening, I read something on this just recently. Anytime the President or the Congress show any sign of weakening ties or support to Israel the switchboards, the emails, the regular mail, and any other means of communication to the capitol light up. Hundreds of thousands of calls and email urging the president and the congress not to weaken their ties to Israel. The US diplomatic relationship with Israel is driven very strongly by the Christian Zionist movement. A blurring of the separation of church and state.
What about the end result? We read the scripture in Revelation 13. I love my country and I am so glad to be in this country but I pray that separation of church and state will become greater, not less because of what it says in that scripture. It tells us there that there will be that kind of joining before the end. My brothers and sisters, eternal vigilance upon our parts is vital. It is necessary. Do you know what? Ellen White tells us that we can use these challenges to our religious liberty as opportunities to share the truth of God's love and of the Sabbath with others. And that is what we need to be doing isn't it?
Sometime ago I saw a painting by Norman Rockwell. In this painting there was a house on a little street in typical America as only Norman Rockwell could paint it. And in this house there was busy activity everywhere. Someone was on the porch sweeping the porch someone was washing the windows. Someone was in the yard cleaning the yard. There was activity everywhere but everybody was looking in one direction, down the street. And way down the street in the background you see a soldier coming home. They were welcoming the young soldier home. They were all watching, but they weren't sitting there in quite indolence. They were working, preparing the house, making sure that everything was ready for him when he came home. The Bible says watch and pray. But I believe that watching is not passive watching. It is a proactive watching and sharing that which God has given to us in His Word. That is what our religious liberty should mean to us is that we have the opportunity of sharing what God has given to us.
Hymn of Praise: #4, Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven Scripture: Revelation 13:11-17 Hymn of Response: #617, We Are Living, We Are Dwelling
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last updated 27/01/06 by Bob Beckett.