WE HAVE BEEN studying (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) the way the Government and the Court determine
whether the faith of a religious person will or will not be protected by
the First Amendment of the Constitution. The Court has said that a
person's faith is either a Preference or a Conviction. If it is
determined to be a Conviction it will be protected. They have
Scriptural examples that show readily the elements of a Conviction.
In the early chapters of the book of Daniel the actions of the young
men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are often cited. Upon examination
of their account you will see some things which will be readily apparent
that the Court also has pointed out.
You recall that the three Hebrew children were taken captive under the
kingship of Nebuchadnezzar. They were carried off to the land of
Babylon to secure the performance of the in-house king back in their
The account says that these young Hebrews, and particularly Daniel, did
a very strange thing immediately when they were captured. It says,
"They purposed in their heart that they would not defile themselves..."
WHAT FAITH IS NOT
Now the Court has pointed out a peculiar thing about a person's beliefs
that they recognize - "They are not feelings." "A belief is not a
glow." When you go into the courtroom and they ask, "What do you
believe?" You can't say, "I believe this warm glow that comes over me
from time to time; that's what I believe." Nor can you say, "I believe
this thing that makes me feel good." Nor can you say that "it's a hunch
When you go to the witness stand you have to be able to tell the Court
what you believe. Years ago people could go in and say, "We believe the
Bible." And that was pretty good because any guy that got up there and
said they didn't believe the Bible - the lawyers really went after them.
UPON WHAT DO YOU BASE YOUR FAITH?
But now suddenly they say, "You believe the whole Bible?" The man says,
"Yep, the whole Bible." "From the first page to the last page and all
the in-between pages?" The man says, "Yep, that's what I believe."
Then you know what they do? They begin to ask you questions about
what's in there. And when you can't answer them. . . It's awfully
tough to believe something you don't know. And they will make you look
very silly! Because you can't tell people what you believe. It
suddenly boils down to it's sort of an "I think."
So brother, sister when you go to the witness stand they will quickly
ask you, "Is there a place where all your beliefs are written down?"
You will say, "Yes, there is." They'll ask, "Where is that." You'll
reply, "In the Bible... I believe all the Scriptures to be true, but
the New Testament applies to me as a Christian."
They may ask, "We want you to take the Scriptures and feel free to
change anything you want to change right now... Add to, take away from,
rearrange them. You just work them any way you want to work them."
You will say, I'll take them just like they are.
Now they are asking these questions because with them are customarily
some men who are experts in "the Biblisist Fundamentalist doctrine."
These are usually men from the State University Theology Department who
study us. They come in because that prosecutor doesn't know what to
ask; he's only a lawyer. Mark Twain once said, "I want to talk to you
about lawyers and educated idiots... Oops, I repeated myself twice in
the same sentence." But what that clever lawyer knows to do is to bring
a man in who does know. And he brings in a man who has studied you and
what you are supposed to believe.
This man can give the most brilliant presentation of the Christian faith
that you ever heard. No, he's not a believer... he just knows what your
faith should be. He's one, as Paul might say was "ever learning and
never coming unto a knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). He knows
that if you are going to rearrange or change any of the Book he can hop
on you so quickly, because he'll ask, "What does it say about the man
who would add to it or take away from that Book?"
IS THE WORD OF GOD A BOOK OF PREFERENCES?
So you'll say, "I'm going to take the Book just the way it is." Then
they most likely will ask, "Is that a book of preference or conviction?"
And you know what, there's a strange thing about that Book, the things
necessary to please God are not given to us for preferences but for
God doesn't say, "If you fellows find it convenient, and you won't get
sued for it, and everybody will go along with it, and your wife and kids
agree to it, and everything will go your way because of it - please,
don't lie." No, the word of God says plainly, "Lie not..." (Colossians
It doesn't say, "If you're having financial problems, and you can get
along on your wages, and you don't have some extra bills come up -
please don't steal." No, it says, "Let him that stole steal no more,
but rather let him labor working with his hands what is good..."
(Ephesians 4:28). You see, your faith in things required to please God
cannot be mere preferences, but must be convictions.
You see, "True worshipers... must worship in spirit and in truth" (John
4:23, 24). A Christian is told you must, "Love your enemies, bless them
that curse you, do good to them that despitefully use you and persecute
you" (Matthew 5:44). The word of God doesn't say, "If it's
convenient... If others agree with you... If your family is pleased
with your decision... If it won't get you in trouble... worship me, and
serve men, and love your enemies."
ARE YOU TO LIVE BY THIS BOOK?
The Court will ask, "Does that mean your life and service are supposed
to be based upon an operative of this book?" And you will answer, "Yes"
- Right? It's all true so far. But rapidly you're going to run into
some problems, because you walked up there and affirmed that you would
tell the truth. Now they will ask you to TELL THEM WHAT YOU BELIEVE.
And the Court says, "Unless you can tell us what you believe, you don't
believe it," because you don't believe a hunch, you don't believe a
feeling, and you just told them that IF IT ISN'T IN THIS BOOK YOU DON'T
BELIEVE IT. Right?
Oh, by the way, they'll also ask you, "Is there the word of any man that
you will accept with the authority of that Book." And you'll say, "No."
Now the reason they'll ask you that, a member of the church of Christ,
is that a terrific amount of what you believe is what you've been told,
but you have never found in the Scriptures yourself. So when you begin
to say, "Well, someone said..." They'll interrupt, "But, isn't it true
that the word of man doesn't count..." You remember it does say, "Let
God be true, but every man a liar..." And, "If any man teach otherwise,
and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus
Christ, and to the doctrine... He is proud, knowing nothing" (Romans
3:4; 1 Timothy 6:3,4).
YOU MUST BE ABLE TO TELL WHAT YOU BELIEVE
They are going to force you back to this Book, and it doesn't matter how
good you are with a concordance and how quick you are on your feet, IF
YOU DON'T KNOW IT YOUR LAWYER CANT GET IT OUT OF YOU. It's kinda funny
but lawyer Gibbs says that some, even denominational preachers, who have
been there on the stand will ask during a break, "Please tell me what I
believe." That just proves that they don't know what they believe! How
can the lawyer tell you what you believe? He doesn't know what you
believe; ONLY YOU KNOW what you believe.
The Court says you don't have to be eloquent, and you don't have to be
so versed that you can stand up there and with great logic present your
case, but "YOU MUST BE ABLE TO TELL US WHAT YOU BELIEVE, OTHERWISE, IT
CAN'T BE A CONVICTION, BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE."
YOU MUST BE ABLE TO PURPOSE
Now, these Hebrew children back in Babylon did a peculiar thing, the
Scriptures say, "They purposed in their hearts not to defile
themselves..." Now days we are always saying to someone, "You did that
on purpose." Christians know the meaning of "purpose" because we're
told to purpose in our hearts what we'll give or contribute on the
Lord's day (1 Corinthians 16:1,2; 2 Corinthians 9:7). "Purpose" means
to "determine" or "resolve." And the Court says that in order to have a
Conviction you've got to be able to PURPOSE, and to be able to purpose
you have to KNOW what you believe, otherwise YOU CAN'T PURPOSE!
YOU MUST BE WILLING TO STAND ALONE
The second thing the Court points out is that, back in Daniel,
Nebuchadnezzar ordered that a graven image be made and that when the
instruments played all the people were to bow down. The record says
that when the instruments played all bowed down save three, Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego. Now here lies the curious commentary-Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego were not the only Hebrews in the land. Where were
all the other Hebrews? Were there no others present? If there were,
evidently they found their way to the ground-only three stood erect.
The Court says, "If you have to have someone stand with you before you
will stand, that you do not have conviction; you have preference."
Haven't you been in a situation where someone says, "Now look, you all,
if you will stand with me on this thing, I'll stand, but if I'm the only
one, and you're not going to stand, and you're not going to back me, I
It's a strange way we talk about God; sure, He's all powerful, but if I
don't have everybody else with me in a particular matter (and all I have
is God), I can't win! But if we have the numbers with us then WE can
win! (It doesn't seem to matter where God is on the issue).
What happened to being like Paul who believed if God be with me, who can
be against me, and who noted that at his first trial in Rome "no man
stood with me, but all men forsook me... Notwithstanding the Lord stood
with me"(Romans 8:31; 2 Tim 4:16,17). The Court said, "If it requires
others to stand with you, then you simply do not have a faith of
WHEN WAS LEVI RIGHT?
Do you know how many stood with Levi Weisner? None! When Levi first
took his stand in Ohio, do you know where his brethren stood? They were
all opposed to him! When he first lost in court they wrote him letters,
they called him on the phone, and said, "Now Levi, look, you're wrong;
back down." And you know what Levi Weisner did? He kept on. He kept
on because he believed he was right. He proved to his brethren that he
was right and suddenly everybody says, "Man, Levi's right!" But when he
first took his stand THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE PERSON OF HIS FELLOWSHIP
THAT STOOD WITH HIM, NONE, HE WAS ALL ALONE. But Levi Weisner had a
conviction in his heart and it didn't matter if anyone stood with him or
Now the Three Hebrew Children were taken before King Nebuchadnezzar for
their disobedience and what does Nebuchadnezzar do? He does a very
unusual thing-He says, (in other words), "Do yo know what you've done?"
But before they can answer he gives them another chance. He says, "I'm
going to give you another shot at this. Now if, when the instruments
play this time, you bow down all will be well, but if they play and you
do not bow down, you're dead! There's no God that can deliver you out
of my hands!"
IS YOUR FAITH JUST TO PROVE A POINT?
And you know what some of us would have done if we were the three
standing there? We would have said to each other, "Fantastic! Man,
we're still breathin'! Thank God! Wheeew! Let's get out o' here! We
proved our point! Next time those instruments play we'll either bow, or
we'll get lost. We'll go to the restroom or somethin'! We just won't
be around." Right?!!!
But you know what they did? They said, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not
careful to answer thee in this matter." In other words, "We don't need
another chance... Give us another chance. Don't give us another
chance... Give a dozen more chances... It doesn't make any difference."
Because CONVICTIONS ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE!
ON WHAT TERMS?
The Court said, "If you can sit down and negotiate what you believe,
then it is a preference." What is a Preference by definition?
Something you strongly believe but you can change. What is a
Conviction? Something that you believe with such intensity in your
heart that you will not change it! How can you negotiate what you will
We live in a funny age where everybody seems to pride themselves in
being "reasonable." They say, "Now you've got to be reasonable."
Translate that and, "You've got to give... you've got to compromise what
you believe." Many people have to see which way others are going before
they take a stand, and will change if the tide is against them.
Convictions will not compromise.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told the King right then and there, our
convictions will not change! "So," in other words, "if you're going to
stick us in the fire you had best get on with it." Now their next
statement was very curious; they said, "We believe our God can deliver
us..." And a lot of people would like to stop there. But they said
something far more important. They said, "EVEN IF OUR GOD DOESN'T
DELIVER US WE WILL NOT BOW." They were saying, "If we go in that fire
and we are destroyed... we are burnt to a crisp... there's nothing left
but to sweep up our ashes... WE KNOW WHAT WE BELIEVE AND WE'RE NOT GOING
That is a believer's success! Success by the world's standards is
winning here and now, success by Christ's standards is being faithful.
Revelation 2:10 says, "Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee
a crown of life." Unfortunately, many Christians have adopted the
world's standards of success. Many believe they only win when they can
show a tangible worldly gain. To some, God said a very curious thing in
Hebrews 10. He said that his people "desired a better country" than
this and chose a better way and were willing to die for their faith.
According to some, John the Baptist unfortunately never won; Jesus never
won; James, Paul and Peter, didn't win... Yes they did; they all won!
Not by the world's standards but by God's standards they won, because
they were faithful. On and on the list goes; winners all- faithful to
God! Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were successful not be cause they
came out of the fiery furnace, they were successful BECAUSE THEY WENT
IN! No matter what the consequences might be, they were FAITHFUL TO
GOD! God brought them out, but THEIR FAITH TOOK THEM IN.
[In Part 5 of this series, Lord willing, we hope to cite a landmark court case and conclude with some current applications - R.N.]