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The Ephesians 4 Project XVII

Article XVII:  Religious Liberty
God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Unifying Principles of Article XVII
On this Independence Day holiday weekend, it is most appropriate that I post this particular article.  History is replete with examples of the blunders and abuses that occur when religion and the state become too cozy.  I think of the atrocities infamously known as the Crusades, Nazism, and various Islamic dictatorships.  This is why I am glad that the Baptist Faith & Message contains Article XVII on Religious Liberty.  Since God is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but a Divine Independent, the church should be wary of promoting secular politics within its body.  The BF & M leaves no stone unturned on this issue but makes it abundantly clear that, “Church and state should be separate.”  Rather, the church should “render loyal obedience thereto [the state] in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God.”  Therefore, all Southern Baptists can agree that our churches are to be religiously free from and yet conditionally accountable to the state.

For His Glory,
Jeremy Vanatta
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Essential Things or Not: Do All to the Glory of God

Perhaps one of the greatest struggles for followers of Jesus Christ is the very real tension between essential and less-essential matters within Christianity.  If the The Threshing Floor is going to be of any use to anyone (not the least of which, me), then we must bear in mind that some wheat kernels that fall to the ground are less essential than others.  When we speak of essential matters, most Christians are referring to the most fundamental truths of Christianity.  Truths that would render Christianity quite unremarkable and quite impotent if they were ignored or adjusted.

What are some of these essential truths (also referred to as core or fundamental truths)?  To name only a few, we should mention: the sovereignty and holiness of God; the sinfulness of man; the virgin conception of Jesus, His substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection; His Second Coming; justification of the sinner by faith in Christ alone; and the sanctification of all those who are genuinely His.

What, then, are some of the less-essential truths (also known as non-core or secondary truths)?  Again to name only a few, we should mention: Sabbath-keeping; frequency of Lord Supper observance; food choices; clothing choices; alcohol consumption; tattoos; styles of music; speaking in tongues; and the list could go on and on.

On all of the essential truths, Christians must be inflexible and vigilant as the assaults of the enemy are relentless here.  We can in no way deny these truths without denying the very core of Christianity itself. But what should Christians do with the less-essential truths of Christianity?  Paul's instructions to the Corinthians can be especially helpful here.

In 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, Paul writes about the less-essential issue of meat that has been sacrificed to idols.  Should a Christian eat or not?  Many believers would immediately answer, "No way!  Don't eat it!"  But Paul instructs us differently.  He actually says, "Eat" (v.25), although we should be able to answer "Yes!" to at least two questions:
1)  Is it helpful to my neighbor? (1 Cor.10:23-24; Rom.14:13-19)
2)  Does it bring glory to God? (1 Cor.10:31)

If the answer to either question is no, then the Christian must not partake.  If, however, the Christian's conscience is clear on these two points, then he may proceed, all to the glory of God.  I pray this helps us in at least some small way to navigate the often confusing maze of truth.
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