Sermon delivered January 19, 2008 by Amireh Al-Haddad

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Religious Liberty Redefined

Revelation 20:2-6

(RealAudio Version available)

Our Scripture reading this morning, turn back, if you've already lost it, to Revelation 20. This time reading just verse six. It says, "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection. On such the second death hath no power, but he shall be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him a thousand years." Wow. Herein lies one of the greatest and most dangerously misinterpreted Bible texts of our time. Because it is the misunderstanding of this text that is leading more and more Christians here in America down a path that, not unlike Judas, that infamous disciple of Christ, will lead them to attempt a political solution for the wrongs of this world.

The idea that today's Christians will be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him for a thousand years, today spurs on evangelical Christian leaders to a new error that I think we have never seen before in our country. It is a difference in understanding prophecy that sets us apart as Seventh-day Adventists. It sets us apart from other conservative, evangelical faiths of our times. But it is also a point that I have never in my lifetime, heard preached about from this pulpit. Maybe you have, but I haven't. And so I am here today to change that. I am here today to reaffirm the Seventh-day Adventist churche’s beliefs in regards to Christ's ministry and the prophetic interpretation of this verse here in the Bible. I already know that some of you are going to love what I have to say, and you're going to agree with what I have to say. But I suspect in my heart that others of you will be slightly more uncomfortable because I am going to challenge what you hear very often in Christian radio. I'm going to take that chance today, and I'm going to ask you that even if you disagree, you will listen and consider what I have to say.

Religious liberty today in the United States is being threatened in ways that we, as a church, very often ignore on a daily basis. Christians today talk about the threats to freedom and the need to uphold our values in this country. I talk about the threats to freedom and the needs to uphold our values in this country. Evangelical leaders, both Protestant and Catholic, for the last 20 years, and mostly under the direction and guidance of the last pope, Pope John Paul the second, have been shelving doctrinal differences and uniting instead on the basis of a shared moral, social, cultural, and political value system.

We saw the first influence of this when Catholics and Protestants came together in the early nineteen eighties, probably, and united under the right to life campaigns. Now that relationship regarded a joint effort to abolish abortion in this country. This is not a statement on abortion today. This is an example of how Protestant Christians, evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church had first started forming their alliance together in this country. That relationship brought them into a room sharing and agreeing to something for almost the first time in 500 years. The most recent of these shared values, I've seen being going on in our Capitol as I visited the Capitol last year and toured around with a group of Adventists who were with me and who were lobbying with me for some religious liberty work, we went through places and all the senator's aides were asking us, "Are you lobbying today in regards to immigration?" And I said, “No.” And the group I was with said, “Why do they keep asking us this?” And I said, “Because evangelical Christians today are up here lobbying on immigration.”

This form of unity between Protestants and Catholics has taken on a very prominent place in our times today. It is something that both political and religious scholars refer to now not as religious ecumenicism, but political ecumenicism. While most all other doctrinal issues have been laid aside for these groups, there is one common thread in doctrinal issues that is tying the two groups together, and it is the thread that is found here in Revelation 20. It is the common doctrinal thread on the thousand year millennial factor.

When it comes to millennialism, there are two schools of thought. Are you aware that there are two schools of thought in millennialism? There is a difference between the two. There is post-millennialists and there are pre-millennialists. In case you don't know the difference, a pre-millennialist is someone who believes that Christ’s return, Christ's second coming, occurs before the thousand year prophetic time period described here in our Scripture reading today. A post-millennialist is someone who believes that Christ's second coming occurs after the thousand year prophetic time period in Revelation 20. As Seventh-day Adventists, I hope you all know that we are pre-millennialists. What I find interesting is, that the comparison, like books from Tim LaHaye's Left Behind, you all know, you’re familiar with Tim LaHaye's Left Behind, Hal Lindsey's book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, all of these books emphasize that they too, like us, are pre-millennialists. Their theory though, that a secret rapture occurs before Christ comes back, before the second coming, and that the second coming actually occurs when Christ will come back and reign here on earth for a thousand years. Now except for Seventh-day Adventists, the one thing that both pre-millennialists and post-millennialists share in common, the one thing that pre-and post-millennialists share in common, is that they believe that the thousand year prophetic time period will take place here on earth. Now I hope that in your mind, you're already answering the question that other people would ask. “Well, what else is there to believe?” There is to believe what we read here, and that is that Christ's kingdom is not established here on Earth during that thousand years.

It is because of this Christian attitude, it is because pre-millennialists and post-millennialists believe that the thousand year prophetic period occurs here on earth, that they believe Christ's kingdom must be established here on Earth during that thousand years, even by force if necessary. Because of that, it becomes clear to them, those people who believe this, that their Christian duty is to have a godly commitment to making sure that Christ is honored throughout the world, through all people, and that every government and every institution must be converted to this way of thinking. Are you concerned yet that misinterpretation of policy is affecting us in America in a negative way? I find that my religious beliefs disagree with over 90% of Christians today. And I'm worried, because that puts me in the minority. Sure I'm a Christian. Sure I'm a Protestant. Sure I'm evangelical. Sure I'm conservative. But I am still in the minority because I am a Seventh-day Adventist believer.

If you are not worried, then I should reiterate, what we, as Seventh-day Adventists, believe about Revelation 20. We believe that that thousand year time period is going to be spent in heaven, amen? And not Earth. God gives to us a gift of a thousand years in which we have a chance to pore over the books of life and remembrance, to gain a better understanding of how He is judging so that we can understand and agree with the final judgments that are coming down. So that we can understand the judgments that will be made are just. I didn't say fair. I said they’re just. Understanding that the Saints will spend the millennium in heaven takes our concentration away from earthly worries. Earthly power struggles. Doesn't it? But for evangelical Christians today, people who believe that Christ will come and rule on earth in that millennium, the stakes are set so high that they perceive they cannot ignore their duty.

There is a fairly new word that is being used to describe this particular movement. Maybe you've heard of it. I didn't come up with the word. Books and books are being written on this, and it's commonly referred to as Dominionism. Dominionism is, what the definition I probably would give you would be the evangelical movement's plans to impose Biblical law on every aspect of American society. Now Dominionists today, are those who lead the battle cry in this nation that we should be a Christian nation. Dominionists today cry that we must take back our nation's leadership. That cry that we hear today regarding prayer in school. And by the way, you know Christian leaders agree to prayer in school, until you tell them that under religious liberty a Moslem has just as much right to pray as a Christian, or a Buddhist, and then they back off. They do. I heard Pat Robertson once say, in answer to the question, “Well then, Muslims would be allowed to pray?” He said, “Oh, no, no, no. This is Christian prayer in school.” Dominionists think that their cry regarding school prayer, 10 Commandment postings, judicial liberalism, are taken up by those who want to reclaim the country for God and for Christianity. They are, in fact, while we sleep, redefining religious liberty as something available to the protection of Christians only.

But the more I hear from evangelicals today, the more I wonder if their attention is truly focused on Jesus. We fall into the same category at one time or other. I'm not saying that we are so much holier than every other Christian out there. We all know that sometimes even Adventists don’t look to Christ for what to do. We all take what we know of Jesus and we adjust it to fit our own agendas, our own plans, and our goals. But I would challenge each of us today to set aside our agendas. To set aside what plans we think we are making for Jesus, and let Jesus make the plan for us instead. Evangelical leaders today are trying to set an agenda for Jesus. John Hagee writes in his book, The Jerusalem Countdown, he writes this. He says that “the restoration of Jerusalem is a prelude to the return of the Lord. In the eternal counsel of Almighty God, He has determined to make Jerusalem the decisive issue by which He deals with the nations of the earth. Those nations who align themselves with God's purpose for Jerusalem will receive His blessings. But those who follow the policy of opposition to God's purposes will receive the swift and severe judgment of God without limitation.” Jerusalem Countdown. That’s from page 51 through 54. Even here, within our own church, I know that there are members who believe that Jerusalem must be restored for Christ to come back. The Old Testament book in Zechariah, if you've got your Bible with you. Zechariah 6, verse 15. Adventists today will give you this verse in trying to convince you that, “Yes, Jerusalem must be restored”, and it says, Zechariah 6, verse 15. "And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me unto you. And this shall come to pass, if you will diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God." Zechariah here, the book of the Old Testament most often quoted, even by Adventists, as the Christian’s reference to Jerusalem's restoration. We forget sometimes that as we translate literal verse by verses of the Bible, that sometimes you have to take the Bible as a whole and not just one text.

After setting forth his eight visions of Israel here, Zechariah clearly shows in verse 15, the fulfillment for Israel of this vision is actually conditional. He says it's conditional in verse 15, where he says, "If ye will diligently obey." This shall come to pass if you will diligently obey. Now certain features of this prophecy will be fulfilled but not by Israel as we know it today. We know that because this prophecy is conditional, Jews had to accept Christ, who Zechariah refers to earlier, as the Branch, in verse 12. The Jews had to accept Christ, the Messiah, the Branch, in order for this to be fulfilled. Because they rejected it, now the fulfillment will take place in the Christian church, which we very often refer to as spiritual Israel.

There is no doubt that people who believe that the restoration of Jerusalem must happen in order for Christ to return are sincere in their beliefs. I'm not saying that they're not sincere. There is no question that people like Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Dave Hunt, Hal Lindsey, Alan Keyes; that these men are all sincere man. But we know that their path is a road of misunderstanding, and it will one day, for us, if you believe in prophecy, lead to persecution. Prophecy tells us that, and it is for prophecies sake that we can no longer allow ourselves to be fooled or to be led astray by people who have the same burden as we do for moral society. For social issues. For a God-fearing country, but whose goals are so far removed from God's plan for us that we cannot take sides with them.

It is ironic that evangelical Christians have interpreted Scripture with the same sort of misunderstanding that the disciples did. It's ironic that their views and their understanding of Scripture are so shaped by the religious leaders of the day, just like the Rabbis who had erroneously interpreted the Scriptures regarding the Messianic kingdom. They had a hard time accepting Christ and accepting that Christ was trying to teach them continually about what His kingdom was really about. He wanted them to understand, just as He wants us to understand, that His kingdom is not an earthly one, but a heavenly one, in which the entrance does not lie through some pearly gates, or some gates of the city of Jerusalem in Israel, but it is the entrance into a kingdom that Jesus wants us to go to and where He reigns, that is in our hearts and in our lives.

I reflect on current events, the issues that the church faces in the public arena, and in dealing with things like the 10 Commandments issue. It's all the same. Christian leaders believe that we must install these tablets in our schools, in our legislative halls, in our courthouses. But in fact, the only place that the 10 Commandments makes a difference is when we install them in our hearts, and in our lives. Everything else is just decorative. Countless times in the New Testament it is revealed to us that there are workings going on that would have placed Jesus as the king in Israel, in Jerusalem, even by force.

John records this happening. Turn to John six, verse 15. Here we are. Jesus has just fed the 5000. Now that's quite a feat. You want to be a worried political leader. Think about a guy who can feed an army of 5000 off of a couple of loaves of bread and some fish. Now that's a guy you need to worry about, right? Think about a guy who could heal an army of 5000, just like that. Just by someone touching the hem of His robe. That's quite a threat, isn't it? Here we are. John six, and we see that Jesus, in verse 14, they finally, they look at Jesus, and they say, “Hey, this guy, He's the Prophet that should come into the world.” But look, they plan on making Jesus King. John six, verse 14. "Then those men when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, ‘This is of truth the Prophet that should come into the world.’" But then what did Jesus do? "Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take Him by force to make him a King. He departed again into the mountain Himself alone." Jesus said, “They're going to make me King, I am going to leave, before they can do that. That's not what My ministry here on Earth is about. That's not what My kingdom is about.” And yet Christ, here, goes to the mountains, alone by Himself, to pray. And I think that He prays that His disciples can see His kingdom is sacrificial, and eternal. Not political or earthly. He prays continually through His ministry that His disciples will see this, and understand this, and ironically, even Judas never does. Ellen White points out in a key parallel and an answer for us the question of what current responsibility we have in light of the knowledge with this world. She says this, in The Great Controversy on page 594, she says, "The events connected with the close of probation and the work of preparation for the time of trouble are clearly presented. But multitudes have no more understanding of these important truths than if they had never been revealed." Do I need to read that again? “Multitudes have no more understanding of these important truths than if they had never been revealed. Satan watches to catch away every impression that would make them wise unto salvation and the time of trouble will find them unready.”

Paul warns us of the same thing. Paul says, in Second Timothy, you brought your Bibles, right? I'm telling you I cheated, I'm already at Second Timothy. I marked mine. Second Timothy, chapter 4. If you turn with me. Paul reiterates what Ellen White says, or actually Ellen White reiterates, I'm sorry. I got that turned around. What Paul says, about people being unprepared. Paul in Second Timothy, chapter 4, verses three through five, Paul says this. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears, and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things. Endure affliction. Do the work of an evangelist. Make full proof of thy ministry." Hmmm. The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.

As Seventh-day Adventists, we believe in many issues involving public affairs. I received a call from a pastor in Florida just last month, in December. He said that he was invited to a public forum on religion in the public eye, and it was put on by the city in which he lives and he pastors. And he was scheduled to be on a panel with a couple of, well actually, with one other person, and that was his local state legislator. Now when the city was calling to arrange for all the panels, the legislator asked, “Who’s going to be on the panel with me?” And she said, “Pastor Fancher from, you know, this church.” And he said, “Which church?” And she said, “The Seventh-day Adventist church.” And he said, “Oh, you don't need me on the panel.” And she said, “Why?” And he came back and he said, “The Seventh-day Adventists are the experts on religious liberty. There is nothing I can add to that panel.” This of course makes Pastor Fancher a little nervous, because now he’s got the panel to do all by himself. But we are known in the public for our religious liberty emphasis, and our defense and support of religious liberty. We still champion, today, even with our understanding of religious liberty, we still champion moral values, traditional values, social issues that we feel are important to the church. But we don't do it as a means of securing political power, or of forcing others to believe.

In recent years and in a very worrying way, evangelical and Catholic leaders have come together in droves, making it clear that their objective is to advance the kingdom of God through political means and the force of law. As defenders of religious liberty we cannot continue to ignore these actions. The general Christian population here in America, I truly believe, is being hoodwinked by evangelical leaders such as David Barton, James Kennedy, Judge Roy Moore; just to name a few. I have nothing personally against these individuals except that their doctrines do not match mine as a Seventh-day Adventist. You know who these men are because you’ve heard them on television, you’ve seen them on television, you've heard them on the radio. But here's the thing. Not only are they trying to hoodwink the general American population, they would hoodwink you as well if you will let them. They are trying, in essence, to blur the nation's history by removing the distinction between the nation’s early Puritan roots, and the nation's founding father and Constitutional period. There are vast differences between Puritan America coming to colonize the New World, and our Constitutional founding fathers Revolutionary war America. I'm a history geek, yes. We'll talk more about that this afternoon. This afternoon we’re going to have a fun, informative time. I want you to come back at three o'clock. But they try to blur these two periods, because they want people to believe that the United States government is specifically intended by our nation's fathers to be literally, literally, constituted on the basis of Christianity and Scriptural commands. The Seventh-day Adventist church historically, historically, has fought the idea of claiming official Christian nation status upon our government. We do so during Ellen White and A.T. Jones’ time. We did so then, we do so now. Our defense of religious liberty is to ensure that everyone has the right to decide, without government coercion, whether they want to be followers of Christ or not. Amen?

I wish that I could stand here today and tell you that the objective of these men is to really pursue the truth. But I cannot. Because the truth, an honest examination of history, does not support or advance their interests. They are subtly rewriting the country's constitutional history in the minds and in the hearts of the American public in a hope to establish a Christian constitution and a Christian state.

I don't ever want to hear that any Seventh-day Adventist was hoodwinked into believing that. For as prophecy is a gift from God, a gift that enables us to be smarter and to think more widely about what is going on, prophecy is clear that the only way this nation can ever institute a national Sunday law is by refuting the very principles of our Constitution. Four years ago, senatorial candidate, Reverend Alan Keyes, stood on the steps of the Alabama courthouse defending the 10 Commandment monument that was in that courthouse. And he worked that crowd. Here's what he said to work the crowd, and he had a crowd that believed him. He worked that crowd, and he said, “I've read the Constitution and nowhere did I read in that Constitution that church and state must remain separate.” Are you worried yet? Are you worried that the crowd cheered him on? Of course he didn't read that. It is an intent of the Constitution writers that that is what the first amendment means.

Liberty magazine. By the way, you know, next Sabbath you're going to get a chance to support Liberty magazine. I have a copy here with me. In your bulletins today, you have a Liberty Bond. I have one up here somewhere. Take this home. When it's Religious Liberty Sabbath time, when its offering time, I always tell people, we want you to leave your wallets at home. All you need to bring to church next Sabbath is your checkbook. How's that Pastor? They don't need their wallets, just their checkbooks. For the Religious Liberty offering.

Liberty magazine ran an article in July/August of 2006. The title of the article was The Rise of Dominionism and the Christian Right. The author in the article quotes James Kennedy from Coral Ridge ministries. Here's what Dr. Kennedy says. He says, “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As a vice- regent for God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighbors, our schools, our government, our literature, our arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment mediums, our news outlets, our scientific endeavors. In short, over every aspect and institution of human society.” Now I don't know about you, but when I read a statement like that, I see clearly that religious liberty, as we define religious liberty today, cannot exist in that type of society.

Undeniably, Christ’s last instructions to His disciples were to go and preach. It says so in Matthew. The last chapter. He says to them, “Go, teach all.” Not, “Go, force all to believe, whatever the cost.” “Go, teach all.” Admittedly, I, myself, I'm not going to lie to you. I would love to say that every person in this country is a Christian. Better yet, I'd love to say every person in this country was an Adventist. But when our own God does not enforce upon others that choice, who are we to do so for Him? The God of the universe comes to the door of our heart and He does not demand, or deliver an ultimatum, for us to let Him in. He quietly knocks, and when we open the door, does He just barge in? No. He says, “Hey, can I come in?” How different is that from the plan to claim America whatever the cost? We serve a kind and loving God who allows us the religious freedom to choose to obey Him and to follow Him because we love Him.

Yes, I am a history dork. I know that today's news is tomorrow's history. Needless to say, in our cultural war that we live in today, where people of faith butt heads against atheists who want to change the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, or agnostics who aren’t really sure what they believe, but they know they don't want you to tell them what they believe, right? Yes, we are in a cultural war. In a climate today, and ideas here in this country, the church feels like she is losing the battle. And if there's one thing that I know, that is that history's lessons are seldom learned. From the Jews in Christ’s time to the Christian Church throughout the ages, whenever the church loses the grace of Christ, whenever the Church finds herself destitute of the power of love, she has reached out for the strong arm of the state to enforce her dogmas and to execute her decrees. Here is the secret behind all the laws that have ever been enacted.

Ironically, Benjamin Franklin also says something along the lines of what I just read. Benjamin Franklin says this. He says, “When a religion is good, I concede that it will support itself. And when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call from help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign I apprehend of its being a bad one.” All right, Ben. Let's go. Quite the ladies man, wasn't he? I like him.

As Adventists, we need to open up our eyes. We need to look around and we need to realize why religious leaders are trying to convince us that the Constitution has been wrongly interpreted all of these years. We need to realize that not all Christian doctrine is the same. And not all Christian doctrine is sound. Just because you are able to make it onto the radio or the television or the Internet doesn't mean that you're right. Jesus spent His whole ministry trying to be an example, not only for His disciples, but for us. Amen? We have His example to teach us. He spent three and half years trying to explain to people, trying to avoid situations that would have placed Him in a position of power. Even His defense before Pilate states to us for all to understand that as long as evil exists, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. He says to Pilate, "If my kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight that I should not be delivered to the Jews." In keeping with this statement, I pray that we are working towards being citizens in a heavenly kingdom, first and foremost.

Christians all over the United States now know what it means when you see the letters WWJ D, don't they? But I think that most of the time it's meant as a statement, it very often turns into an unanswered question. Not, “What would Jesus do.” as a statement, but, “What would Jesus do?” I don't know, right? Unanswered. The sad fact is that it always goes unanswered, many times. We use the What Would Jesus Do letters in the Religious Liberty Department. Not as a question, but as a principle. The Religious Liberty ministry in this church is focused on Christ. The Religious Liberty ministry in this church is focused on Christ. He is our example. And we are worried when we see other people who, in the name of religious freedom, act on the What Would Jesus Do question rather than the What Would Jesus Do principle. They wonder what Christ would do because they themselves are not focused on Him. If you're focused on Christ, you don't wonder what Christ would do. You know. We worry about people who would have religious liberty, but only for Christians, and only if you believe in the doctrines that they preach.

In the early days of my work here in the Religious Liberty Department, I would stand before pastors and workers meetings. I’d stand before you in afternoon seminars and I would tell you the reason you should give an offering to religious liberty, the reason you should support and defend religious liberty every day, when you go to work, or go home, or go to school, is because it gives us the opportunity to have freedom here in America to win souls to Christ. Amen. But over the last few years I've come to understand a deeper understanding on religious liberty. A deeper meaning and a deeper reason to defend religious freedom. And that is because religious liberty is born of God, and it was practiced in heaven. Think about it. If there had never been religious freedom in heaven, Lucifer and his followers would never, ever have been allowed to rebel against God.

I don't know about you, but I want to be a citizen in heaven one day. And while I am nowhere close to being perfect, and do not profess to be so, I understand the conventional wisdom holds that practice makes perfect, and so I practice. And I'm going to leave you this morning with a challenge. That you have to practice a defense of religious liberty as it is practiced in heaven. Practice it as if you will be priests of God and of Christ and shall reign with Him for a thousand years.

Hymn of Praise: #645, God of Our Fathers
Scripture: Revelation 20:2-6
Hymn of Response: #304, Faith of Our Fathers

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 1/23/08