How Liberty Dies
By Alan Reinach
In 1992, Ross Perot ran for President and pulled enough conservative votes away from President George Bush to enable William Jefferson Clinton to be elected president. Can anyone remember the name of Ross Perot’s vice presidential running mate? He was James Bond Stockdale. I found his name amusing. James Bond Stockdale participated in the Vice Presidential debates, and began his opening remarks with the profound questions: “who am I; why am I here?” It was refreshing for this unknown candidate to publicly admit that no one knew who he was, or what he was doing in a vice presidential debate.
James Bond Stockdale asked the right questions, important questions. Questions that we ought to keep asking ourselves regularly. Who are you, and why are you here? It is a question we need to ask ourselves as a church, as well. What is the meaning and purpose of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Who are we as a church, and why are we here?
We claim that our reason for existence is to give a prophetic message to the world, a message found in Revelation 14:6-12. In that passage, three angels have warnings to deliver to every nation, kindred, tongue and people, and we believe the angels symbolize the work of the worldwide church. This church does not exist to sustain institutions, to generate improved statistical performance, or better our tithe collections. Our only purpose is to prepare the world to meet Jesus Christ. To do this, we must communicate prophetic truth in plain language. Not in fancy religious talk, but in plain English. If there is a fire in a train, the conductor doesn’t come on the p.a. system, and inform the passengers that there has been a malfunction of the internal combustion devices, and that faulty combustion has emerged from the engine compartment and is spreading through the vehicles. No, the conductor says: hey folks, the engine just blew up, and the train is on fire, let’s get out of here!
If we are going to give the Three Angel’s messages in plain English, we better start by making sure we understand them ourselves. I am guessing that most of you know something about the First Angel’s message, which is the everlasting gospel, and the Third Angel’s message, which warns against the mark of the beast. If your neighbor came over, and asked you to sit down and explain these messages, you could probably make it through these two. But what about the second angel’s message?
And another angel followed, saying, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication."
I believe it is time for this message. But what does it mean?
Lets take a closer look at the message, and at it symbolic language.
1. Babylon. The term itself means “confusion by mingling.” We will see that the emphasis here is on the mingling of church and state. Chapter 17 of Revelation gives some additional information. Here, we see a woman all decked out like a prostitute, with the name Babylon on her forehead. She is said to represent the great city, that rules over the kings of the earth. She is riding on the beast that represents the nations. In chapter 12 of Revelation, a woman dressed in white symbolizes the church. By contrast, this prostitute represents the church in a state of moral and spiritual corruption.
2. Is Fallen, Is Fallen. The emphasis of the message is placed on the fall of Babylon. But this fall does not here refer to her moral and spiritual decline. That has already taken place. This fall points to a specific sin, a specific offense.
3. Babylon is fallen, is fallen, because she makes all nations do something. She imposes her will upon the nations. This is her sin, this is the cause of her fall. She is not content to pursue a relationship with Christ, but she commits fornication with the kings of the earth, she becomes intimate, immorally intimate with the powers of state. She makes all nations drink the wine of the wrath of her fornication. Babylon’s fall is caused by her “confused mingling” with the politicians.
4. Before we consider the wine and the wrath, it is imperative to be clear on what constitutes fornication here. The church enters an intimate relationship with the state that is improper. It is immoral.
Is it wrong for the church to advocate policy positions on issues such as marriage, or abortion, or gay rights? No. You may agree or disagree with public policy positions advocated by a church, but it is their right to do this.
Where the church crosses the line is when she asks the state to align itself with a particular religion; and to give comfort, support, encouragement, and aid to her religious teachings and observances. When the church asks the state to help it build up and establish the kingdom of God, the church is out of line. She is seeking a substitute for the power of God. She is asking the state to do what God alone can and must do – establish His own kingdom.
5. With this in mind, the wine and wrath are easier to understand. The wine represents the teachings of the church. Jesus used the symbol of wine to represent the gospel, when he said that you cannot put new wine into old wineskins. The wrath is the power of law, the power of the state to enforce the teachings of the church. This is wrong. Coercion in matters of faith is wrong. Jesus does not drag anyone kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God. No one is forced to believe. Salvation is a matter of the heart, it is by faith, and it cannot be coerced. When the church seeks to advance religious teachings, and to coerce religious belief and practice by the power of law, it is crossing the line.
Do you now see why Seventh-day Adventists have been among the foremost defenders of the separation of church and state? It is because we believe the church can and must rely on the power of God, on God’s resources, on intimacy with God. This is her calling.
God has repeatedly promised to give to the church everything she needs. Can you think of some of these promises?
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
He has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness.
My grace is sufficient for thee.
The gold and silver are mine.
He will do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask, or even imagine!
Ask, and ye shall receive. Seek and ye shall find.
Is Jesus enough? Is He? Does the church need the power of the state? No, we don’t. God doesn’t need help from presidents or kings.
Babylon commits fornication with the kings of the earth as a result of her moral and spiritual collapse. It is because she has long ago forsaken intimacy with Christ that in her spiritually powerless and corrupt state, she desperately grasps for a substitute form of power offered by the kings of the earth.
Friends. This is where we are today in America. The church is not wrong for engaging in public policy issues. Her sin is her covetousness of power itself, political power, and not just to exercise such power for moral or secular purposes, but to exercise political power for religious purposes.
There is a theological heresy that is driving the Christian political movement in our nation. It is called Christian Reconstructionism. I want to spend a few minutes and introduce you to this heresy. While few Christian leaders will publicly espouse this view, many are profoundly influenced by this theology. This theology provides a logical foundation for the mark of the beast. I cannot predict what will happen, but we need to understand the risk posed by Christian Reconstructionism.
The theological grandfather of the Religious Right is R.J. Rushdoony. In his book, Christianity and the State, Rushdoony writes:
What then is the basic problem? Not only is every church a religious institution, but every state or social order is a religious establishment. … the real issue … is simply this: the state as a religious establishment has progressively disestablished Christianity as its law foundation, and, while professing neutrality, has in fact established humanism as the religion of the state.” p. 7
Rushdoony is advocating that Christianity be the law foundation of the American republic, and that the nation is, or ought to be, a religious establishment, a Christian one.
Rushdoony stands in a Calvinist tradition that hearkens back to the Puritan roots of New England. The Puritans believed that they were in a new covenant with God, to establish a new Israel, to become a new covenant people in a new world.
The Puritan tradition did NOT find expression in the American Constitution, or in the Bill of Rights. In fact, our Founding Fathers rejected the notion that the United States would be overtly Christian. The clearest expression of this was found in a treaty with the Islamic country of Tripoli, famous for its Barbary Pirates, which were attacking American merchant vessels. In 1796, Washington negotiated a treaty with Tripoli, based on the premise that there was no religious basis for hostilities because, as the treaty declared, “America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
Despite our constitutional tradition, there have always been Puritans among us advocating that America belongs to Christ. Former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore, the Ten Commandments judge, clearly expresses this view:
“For forty years we have wandered like the children of Israel. In homes and schools across our land it’s time for Christians to take a stand. This is not a nation established on the principles of Buddha or Hinduism. Our faith is not Islam. What we follow is not the Koran, but the Bible. This is a Christian nation.” Chicago Tribune, December 10, 2001.
Moore is certainly not alone in his view. In 2000, for the first time a Hindu priest offered a prayer before the United States Congress, over the adamant objection of The Family Research Council. The Family Research Council is a very prominent Christian public policy organization that was spun off from Focus on the Family. They issued a written statement declaring:
While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country’s heritage… Our Founders expected that Christianity – and no other religion – would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate people’s consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference.”
Is that true? Did America’s founding fathers only have Christians in mind when they wrote that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, and later, enacted the First Amendment prohibiting Congress from interfering with the free religious exercise of any American?
Writing in his autobiography, Thomas Jefferson discussed an effort to inject the name of Jesus Christ into the First Amendment. He said that this effort was “rejected by the great majority” [ Why?] “in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its [that is First Amendment] protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
So The Family Research Council is simply wrong. Our Constitution does not anticipate a preferred status for the Christian religion. In the American system of government, all churches and all religions are equally free. The state remains neutral toward all religions, because religion is not the business of government.
Of course, those who advocate that America is a Christian nation have reinterpreted the meaning of the First Amendment. One of the most tireless and ignorant advocates of this view is a math teacher, David Barton, who is widely touted in Christian circles for attacking the separation of church and state:
“The constitutional prohibition against an “Establishment of religion” forbade only the establishment of a national denomination.”
This interpretation is a transparent fraud. Why? Because the drafters of the First Amendment considered language that clearly said “no national church.” What happened to that language? It was rejected. If they wanted the First Amendment simply to prohibit a national church, they had their chance to do just that. Instead, the First Amendment says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Religion is not the proper object of government. “No law.” No establishment of religion of any kind. Not just a formal church, but anything else.
Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries sponsors annual conferences called “Reclaiming America” conferences. He wants to reclaim America for Christ. George Grant, published his book The Changing of the Guard while serving as Director of D. James Kennedy’s Coral Ridge Ministries. Grant does not beat around the bush in explaining what he wants to do.
”Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ – to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness.
But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice.
It is dominion we are after. Not just influence.
It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time.
It is dominion we are after.
World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel. And we must never settle for anything less…
Thus, Christian politics has as its primary intent the conquest of the land – of men, families, institutions, bureaucracies, courts, and governments for the Kingdom of Christ.”
Contrast this view of religious domination, of religious conquest, with the insight given to Ellen White, found in the Desire of Ages, page 509:
But today in the religious world there are multitudes who, as they believe, are working for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ as an earthly and temporal dominion. They desire to make our Lord the ruler of the kingdoms of this world, the ruler in its courts and camps, its legislative halls, its palaces and market places. They expect Him to rule through legal enactments, enforced by human authority. Since Christ is not now here in person, they themselves will undertake to act in His stead, to execute the laws of His kingdom. The establishment of such a kingdom is what the Jews desired in the days of Christ. They would have received Jesus, had He been willing to establish a temporal dominion, to enforce what they regarded as the laws of God, and to make them the expositors of His will and the agents of His authority. But He said, "My kingdom is not of this world." John 18:36. He would not accept the earthly throne.
To the casual observer, it would appear that Christian conservatives are a generally positive influence on American public life. They are seeking to uphold basic moral values, family values. They combine faith and patriotism, and surely represent the best of what America stands for. But wait a minute. The blending of faith and patriotism – why, that’s the mark of the beast! Mixing God and Country, church and state, faith and patriotism – that is the very thing that leads to the fall of Babylon – this is the very union of church and state condemned in the prophecy we’re studying today.
There are countries in the world today that blend God and country, faith and patriotism, and use the sacred religious writings as the basis for the nation’s legal system – just as Christians would like to do in America. We call that legal system, Sharia law, and we find this system in the most religiously oppressive nations of the world – places like Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Yet this is precisely what some seemingly patriotic Americans intend for our country.
Friends, I do not mean to criticize religious conservatives alone. In the end, I am convinced that both liberals and conservatives will agree to restrict liberty of conscience. In fact, they already do. The only real disagreement is on what restrictions to impose, which set of moral values should trump individual conscience.
The point is that the American church has long ago become Babylon, and in this morally and spiritually fallen condition, is in imminent danger of completing her fall by securing political power as a substitute for God’s power. The church does not seek the power of the state until long after she has lost the power of God. We’re there, folks.
The First and Second Angel’s messages fit together. The First Angel calls us to return to our source of power, to worship the Creator. When we heed the message of the First Angel, we recover a true worship, a true gospel, and we don’t need the power of the state. The church regains her spiritual bearings, her moral compass, her source of power, and the result is a powerful spiritual revival and reformation.
If we fail to heed the call of the First Angel, we will also fail to heed the warning of the Second Angel. The failure to recover the gospel inevitably leads us into the arms of the state. The church pursues a substitute for God’s power, and asks the politicians to provide material aid and support for moral reform. Do you see the absurdity of this picture? The church is seeking national moral renewal inside the Beltway, with the help of our politicians, by an act of Congress?
The church in America is at a crossroads. Trust in God or trust in princes.
Who will give this warning? Who will warn the world about the danger of uniting church and state? Who will defend the separation of church and state as a biblical principle?
More than a hundred years ago, the Seventh-day Adventist Church organized the American Religious Liberty Association, because we were convinced that religious liberty was fundamental to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This organization has been revived and renamed the North American Religious Liberty Association, and now includes Canada.
NARLA, as it is known, proclaims that religious freedom is central to the character of God as it works to protect and defend liberty for all peaceful people of faith. This is the golden rule, after all, that we defend liberty for all. NARLA is your vision, your values and your voice for freedom. NARLA needs you. As the old saying goes, divided we fall. Alone, we feel powerless to communicate to elected officials. When we stand alone, it is as though we are hiding our light under a bushel. But when we stand together, and unite our resources, our time, our money, and our voices, we become a roaring torch light for liberty.
Today, the deacons have passed out NARLA newsletters. You can read these and learn more about the work of this vitally important organization. There is an envelope you can use to become a member, or send a donation. You can also go to the NARLA website at religiousliberty.info.
Church and state are uniting in America today, before our very eyes. Seventh-day Adventists have been raised up for such a time as this. It is time for us to discover who we are, why we are here, what is the meaning and purpose of our church. It is time for us not only to discover, but to fulfill our prophetic destiny faithfully, and to proclaim the warnings of the First and Second Angel. It is time to call our nation back to God, not through politics, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray.