IN OUR STUDY LAST month we noted that the Scriptures record the children of God being opposed and persecuted time and again and that all disciples are warned that following Christ's example, they who "live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Now we want to look at some current instances of the handling of religious people and "churches" in this country by officials and hopefully we will begin to understand the big picture.
As we have said, looking at how the government and courts deal with
others and their beliefs may help us to know what to expect. There's no
place in this country you can find to escape from the problems that
exist. No matter where you live there will be people who oppose your
Christianity. Up in the state of North Dakota in a little town called
Harvey the government found a "Christian school" and worked to close it
down. Now a lawyer named Gibbs flew to Bismark to help defend those
operating the school. His amusing account impresses the idea of country
that is sparsely populated. He said when he was waiting for
transportation from Bismark he saw a man loading down a station wagon
with "tons of groceries."
Mr. Gibbs remarked, "Boy, you must really stack them away... got a big
family or something?"
"No," the man answered, "We just don't come in to the grocery store but
maybe once a month."
"Why do you do that?" Gibbs questioned.
"Cause we live 180 miles from the nearest grocery store."
Now, folks, that is very sparsely populated territory!
But, the point is, in the middle of all that sparseness, they have found
a "Christian School" and have sued it! And a man found himself in very
serious circumstances. He was taken into court by the government and
tried. They told him he did not have the right to run the school, they
told him, "If you don't put your children back into the Harvey public
schools, we may have to take your children from you."
Certain areas of the country have communities of religious people which
may have convictions similar to yours. The people of Government in that
particular area being more familiar with those religious people and
their beliefs may help the officials to see your position. However,
simply because there is a population of Amish, Mennonites, or Quakers in
the area, will not guarantee that officials will understand your case
and will therefore go easy on you.
The Federal Government has set up guide lines by which the courts can
determine all cases with some degree of uniformity. As we have pointed
out, there is really no safe place to live; Christians will always find
that men will oppose them. Recently, a Christian woman, living in what
some term"the Bible belt" who stated that her Christian beliefs
precluded her from participation in the judicial process, was railed on
by the presiding judge, who said rudely something like, "I'm a Christian
too, and I resent anyone saying that doing this is wrong!" Many people
claim to be Christians, but outside of being converted to true
Christianity and having a genuine desire to please the Lord, they will
never understand the Christian position.
The Court says that when we talk of a church we are talking about
beliefs and believers. That, of course, is what the Scriptures teach
makes up the Lord's church. So, the Court recognizes that principle,
and accepts any religious group as a "church" composed of beliefs and
believers. Whether it owns a meeting house or not... where it meets or
how often it conducts worship, as far as the Court is concerned, doesn't
matter. The Court holds that a "church" is just the believers and its
Size has nothing to do with it. Its organization has nothing to do with
it as far as the Court is concerned. A church may have its beginning in
a family home. The building didn't make it a church. It may finally
have elders and deacons; it may build all kinds of buildings and put in
all kinds of systems and officers, but the Court says all these things
have nothing to do with it. It was the "church" back in the living
WHICH BELIEFS ARE PROTECTED?
The question now is, "Which beliefs and which believers are going to be
protected." You may remember that the First Amendment to the
Constitution states that, "Nothing shall abridge the exercise of your
religious beliefs," but once the court has said "nothing" they want to
define "nothing." When they say there shall be no law which abridges
your free exercise, the Court says, "We want to tell you what 'no law'
And when they comment about "no law" they say - "When we look at these
beliefs we see a strange thing about it; we find that all of the beliefs
that you have are one of two types." They said, "Every belief, without
exception, is either a conviction or a preference."
A CONVICTION OR A PREFERENCE
Now this is the first test that you are going to look at when you go
into a courtroom. They are going to determine whether your belief is a
conviction or a preference. A conviction and a preference can both be
very, very strong beliefs, but there is a radical difference between the
two. A preference is a belief that you may hold with great intensity.
There is no doubt about your sincerity. There are people, who going to
court, tell their attorney, "Mr. Lawyer, I am very sincere... I really
believe this!" The Court has said, "A preference is a belief that is
very, very sincere."
The Court says that a preference is "a belief you can devote your whole
life to" - You can go into the preaching of the gospel for the rest of
your life... You may go into a mission field, and become a missionary
in the Amazon Jungle or you may go Downtown here at home and knock on
doors... you can devote your entire life to it, all in the name of a
YOU CAN SPEND AND BE SPENT FOR A PREFERENCE
A preference is a belief that you can give all your money to. Jesus
said in Luke 12:34, "For where your treasure is there will your heart be
also." So the Court says one good indicator of a man's faith is what he
does with his substance. But, they also say that you can give every
dime you have to your faith... in the name of a preference.
This can be a belief that is so strong that you go out and proselytize
others. Tomorrow you can go down and stand on the corner and preach to
passers-by, fervently attempting to evangelize and to win their souls,
all in the name of a preference. You can have a strong and effective
work reaching many and bringing others to your belief all in the name of
You can have such an intense belief that you want to bring your children
into the way. You may believe it so strongly that you must "bring them
up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). You can
believe that is a mandate from God, but it is all in the name of a
But the Court said, unfortunately, preferences are simply not protected
by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States... not
at all! And the reason that they are not protected is because of what
they are... They consist of a belief that you hold very, very,
strongly, but at some point you will change!
You'll abandon it. Something will turn you away from it. You PREFER it
(thus the name "preference"), YOU STRONGLY BELIEVE IT, BUT YOU'RE
WILLING TO CHANGE IT. Therein lies the difference between a preference
and a conviction. A preference, at some point, you will change; a
conviction... you will not change! At some point, in some
circumstances, under certain conditions you will back down from a
preference, and you will change it.
In our next study, Lord willing, we
want to look at what the Court says will cause a man to change his