Today we are going to consider a very important topic--that of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, for you see religious liberty and freedom of conscience are gifts from God—gifts centered in free choice. These gifts are important for everyone in the world, and they are integral to our sharing the good news of the ultimate gift of Jesus Himself.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we’ve always embraced religious liberty as an important part of our beliefs, history, and mission. Religious liberty is in the very DNA of our Church. Because we find the imperative of religious liberty in the Bible, we feel very close to the believers who stood for religious freedom during centuries of religious persecution. We read this from the pen of inspiration:
"The mighty conflicts and victories, the great sorrows and special joys, by which individuals and nations are carried forward in the path of reform and salvation, are of too great importance to be permitted to pass from memory. Such experiences cost the heroes of faith too much to be often repeated in history; they should not be lightly regarded. Those struggles for freedom of conscience should be a lesson to all, that no truth which involves self-denial and sacrifice will be favorably accepted by the world. A costly effort is required of every soul that will go in an opposite direction from the multitude. All that stand in Christ’s name in defense of the truth must have a history of conflicts and sacrifices. They cannot advance in reform, as Christ leads the way, except at the risk of liberty and life" (ST July 26, 1883).
Religious freedom is a fundamental freedom—a basic human right, and yet, over the centuries it has often not been practiced. True religious freedom preserves an appropriate focus on personal decisions, and yet it is also good for the well-being of societies and countries. Wherever it is honored and protected, justice and peace increase.
But more than this, religious liberty and freedom of conscience have biblical foundations; God created us with the freedom to choose. It’s an important part of our human dignity. It was an expression of God’s great love, as there is no true love without the freedom to love.
Religious freedom bears the signature of a God of love and plays an integral part in the great conflict between God and Satan, between good and evil.
In the heart of the book of Revelation—chapters 13 and 14—the evil power is described as oppressing, persecuting, and killing those who refuse to worship the beast. In contrast, the people of God proclaim their faith in Jesus--but they don’t force anyone to worship. Christians have always testified to Jesus as the truth, but no one should ever be forced to make that testimony. Jesus never imposed His teachings on anyone. Even His closest disciples were free to leave Him.
Jesus prepared His disciples to face persecution, but He never allowed them to persecute others or to take revenge. Instead, He told them, “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another” (Matt. 10:23). Instead of using violence, Jesus asked His disciples to love their enemies, a practice proclaimed again in 1 Cor. -4:12, 13: “And we labor, working with our own hands. being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.”
As believers in the world today, we face many challenges. But as tensions rise, there will be opportunities to share our faith. We should not be intimidated or give up but face whatever challenges may come with the Christian graces of kindness, love, hope, and perseverance.
As Seventh-day Adventists, let’s be fully engaged in our strong commitment and personal actions that promote religious liberty and freedom of conscience, and that of sharing God's messages in an increasingly secular society. Let’s speak and advocate our positions in a winsome manner with grace, conviction, and passion. And let’s seek wisdom from heaven to accomplish the great task of carrying forward the three angels' messages with kindness, compassion, and truth.
Let us pray. Our Father in Heaven, thank you for the wonderful messages from scripture, your messages. Messages of conviction. Messages of eternal truth. As we share them with people, help us to do that with kindness and compassion, not forcing people, but helping people to realize that the very opportunity they have been given, of choice, by you, is of life and death consequences--and that you want them to choose that which is right. So Lord, please bless, as we advocate and encourage religious liberty and freedom of conscience, so that everyone can have the opportunity of making the right choice. The choice to follow you and ultimately to see you coming in the clouds of heaven, and be taken to be with our Lord forever. Thank you for hearing us and thank you for the opportunity of standing for religious liberty wherever we are. In Jesus name we ask it, amen.