Freedom of Religion
Here in the USA, we have what is called in laymen’s term “freedom of religion”—in other words, the freedom to choose the religious practices and beliefs we desire to follow. Some choose this country as a place of freedom FROM religion, as they do not practice any of the known forms but rather are atheists—that is skeptics and unbelievers of a God—and they have that freedom as well.
But getting back to those who do believe in forms of religion; where did this begin and how? Was this always the case for man, being able to choose his own religion? Was it God’s intention at the creation of man that all human beings should have freedom to choose their own religion? What choices were there in the Garden of Eden concerning religion, as we know it today? Jumping ahead to when the Word God became human (John 1:1-3, 14) and then later said He would build His Church; but was that for the purpose of being divided into all sorts of denominations and various organizations and independent movements that we know as “religion & Christianity” today? If we are seriously considering ourselves to be Christians, these are questions that we need to think about and then look to the written Word of God for answers! This would also include many of the divided COG groups that have now come on the scene as well, as they also seem to want their freedom to remain separate from other COG Groups, and worship God as they choose!
Let us reflect for a moment; here in the USA, in every state and almost every town, there are some kind of church buildings and places where people congregate together for some kind of worship. Hardly any of them are exactly alike, nor do they all have the same beliefs. There are many religious denominations and organizations and big and small churches. There are also various days of the week that differing denominational congregations with their differing beliefs assemble on. However, there is a general agreement across this nation on the first day of the week, Sunday, for gathering to worship. But once again, is that really the Biblical day of weekly worship and who do we rely on to set the day? (See the Bible study titled Sanctified Time for the true Sabbath.)
Have you ever wondered if all who propose to worship GOD are actually worshipping the SAME GOD? (We should realize that Muslims and Buddhists, as well as various other forms of religion have their own gods, which are not the same as the true Christian God.)
In the remainder of this article, let us ponder some things about this “freedom of religion” to give some thought to what the Bible – the written Word of God — has established for true Christianity. (See article with the title of Christianity or “Christianity” for more of a difference, even in what is claimed to be “Christianity”!) Did God allow a variety of ways to worship Him and then later that also came to be applied by His only Son, Jesus Christ, for the New Testament Church and all followers of Christ from then on? Let us recall that Christ claimed to be “Lord of the Sabbath” in Mark 2:28—note; V.28 “Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath." This is a key passage to remember, as we will see why in the remainder of this article. (NKJ throughout article, unless otherwise noted.)
How many different ways are there to worship, that is pleasing to God and works His purpose in Christ? Have you ever given any thought to where all these different variations and forms of worship came from? Did they have their origins mentioned in the Bible and were they Okayed by God and Christ? When we reflect back to the time of the ancient patriarch Abraham, we find that he was called out of his country and father’s house, told to go elsewhere by God and to worship as he was directed. He simply obeyed, set out on a journey not knowing where he was going at first and was blessed. (Gen.12 & Heb.11:8) Hundreds of years later we find this recorded in the book of Joshua, near the end of Joshua’s life. Josh 24:2 And Joshua said to all the people, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel: (This was not just any god, but a distinct deity! Note this verse in the American Standard Version or ASV; Thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt of old time beyond the River, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods.” (This is clearly the God being who became Jesus Christ, when further study into this is done.) V.3 And I took (That God being) your father Abraham from beyond the River, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.” ASV. This is a miracle performing God who had overpowered Egypt’s gods and split the sea for Israel!
We see here that there were a multiple of “gods” that were looked to even in those ancient times, but now let us notice V.14 "Now therefore, fear the LORD, (Jehovah-ASV) serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!” (Again, this means Jehovah) These other “gods” we learn, were of pagan origin with all of their different concepts and ways of worship that actually violated the first two Commandments of those given to Israel from God thru Moses. Of course, behind these “gods” and their power was the god of this world, known as Satan the devil, who is the god of this world (2Cor.4:3-4) and deceives the whole world (Rev.12:9) with false religions. Christ defeated him again, when He came in the flesh. (See Matt.4:1-11)
Those passages should help us begin to determine that among a multitude of gods that people down through time have worshiped, only the God of Israel—(the LORD, or Jehovah as we read above)— one God being of the God head who became flesh, But we can also notice in those same passages, there was obviously a freedom of worship of these various other “gods” which was not to apply to Israel, if they wanted to continue to be a blessed people, the chosen of the true God realm, which was at that time the Word God and God (John 1:1-3) who was revealed by Christ as the Father.
God (Jehovah or the YHWH—the “I AM”) inspired Moses to give to Israel a set of Laws and the choices they were given was to obey or disobey! This was not a freedom to pick and choose their own variety of religion, how and when they would worship God, but rather to choose if they would believe and obey God and live. (This same choice was offered to Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, in the Two Trees. Click link for more on that subject) To have disbelief of God was to disobey and die, as all humanity but Noah and family did in the flood! Notice these verses; Deut.30:15-20 "See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, 16 "in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, -(Meaning Jehovah your/Israel’s-'elohiym’ – God, again distinguishing which of the Two true God beings this was!)- to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess. (Of course Christ made it clear that He and the Father are “one” in mind, goal and purpose—but were separate personalities or beings. John 17) V.17 "But if your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, 18 "I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess. 19 "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; 20 "that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them." The people of the OT never knew the being Christ revealed as the Father, or Christ would not have had to reveal Him (Matt. 11:27) and the Jews would have had a better understanding.
So we can see from those verses above that Israel did not have freedom to choose their religion, nor did they have any freedom to choose what days they would worship on, those also being set by the one true Godhead. God in the OT did not deliver one way and Christ coming in the flesh deliver another, as they were both the same God. We find this recorded in Lev 23:1-4 “And the LORD (Jehovah) spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'The feasts of the LORD, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. 3 'Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day (4th Commandment) is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings. 4 'These are the feasts of the LORD, holy convocations which you shall proclaim at their appointed times.”--- and then through the rest of the chapter God reveals the days that are set aside to come before Him and worship on. It was not left for any of the twelve tribes of Israel to decide how and when they would worship, but only whether they would worship God and obey His Commands or not. The freedom they were given in this matter was to CHOOSE to obey God, live and be blessed or disobey, going the way of the world around and eventually die without a relationship with God. Freedom to pick your own style of religion and ways and days of worship has always been for the pagan religions of the world and comes from Satan the devil, but was never intended for true followers of God. God wants His children to follow Him and obey His specific and set ways, both in ancient times and today as true Christians. The Bible nowhere offers salvation to those who want to pick and choose their own religion, or even their own ideas of things to believe from the Word of God.
Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath (being the one who rested—Gen.2:2—thus bringing it forth as Sabbath) also said in Matt 16:18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, (Petros—a piece of rock) and upon this rock (Petra—a large mass of rock—Christ Himself) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” (NAS) Christ is referred to as a “Rock” in many passages of Scripture, as well as the Chief corner stone, but Peter was only one of several “foundation stones” and a leader among the original apostles. Christ taught the keeping of the same Ten Commandments as in the Old Testament (Matt.19:16-22) if one wanted life and there is ample evidence that the same OT annual Holy Days were also kept by the New Testament COG after Christ acended. (See the article THE TEN COMMANDMENTS plus the ten individual articles for each Commandment on the “Articles” page.)
So finally now, where then, did “freedom of religion” get its start in this NT era, beginning with the establishing of True Christianity in 31 AD? Did Christ establish it? Persecution set in almost immediately on the true COG, which is called “the way” several times. So believe it or not, the first “state” edict of this kind was done by Constantine, the Roman Emperor around 313 AD! Here is a quote from HALLEY’S BIBLE HANDBOOK, bottom of page 759 in my personal copy; “Constantine granted to “Christians and to all others full liberty of following that religion which each may choose,” the first edict of its kind in history.” Now that term “Christians” given above is not the same one that had been applied to the original followers of Christ and what they did. This “Christianity” was already vastly different from what Christ Himself taught His disciples. However a few years later, and after making “Christianity” (which was already very corrupted by paganism of Rome) the religion of his courts, in 325 AD Constantine (A sun worshipper) stood against the Biblical Sabbath and officially made Sunday the Roman empires day of weekly worship, thereby choosing Catholicism as his version of Christianity. (See the booklet titled “The Image of the Beast” for more on this.) That began the 1260 years of persecution on the true COG, prophesied in the book of Revelation, chapter 12:6, which ended for the most part at the protestant reformation in 1585. These are well known documented facts of history for those who are willing and wanting to learn the truth. 2 Cor 4:2-4 “But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”
There was only one tree in the midst of the garden that would bring life eternal and the other choice led to death. It is the same today with religion. There is only one choice that leads to life and it has to be the way God has laid out already, found in the written word of God! It is a true Christian’s desire to please God and do it His way, believing His written Word and what it reveals! However, we must be willing to study and “rightly divide the Word of truth” (2Tim.2:15) with belief, in order to uncover those truths and way of life! Do you really want the freedom to pick your own brand of religion and continue to do as you think and believe, or do you want God to tell you what to believe and how to worship Him? If so then ask Him for the strength to believe the knowledge already revealed to do it His way. The choice is still ours to make at this point, under the freedoms we still have here in the USA. Those will be gone in a few more years! (Amos 8:11-12)
(Written for TCOGMSO by the editor)