God never intended for our religion to be a personal, private thing. Yet, we are increasingly told by our society to make it so. Our kids are told to avoid prayer and religious conversation. What is good in the home is now deemed evil when it becomes public discourse. Talking of Christ is deemed to be divisive and hurtful by our culture.
How do we respond? Do we encourage our kids to obey their authorities? Or do we encourage them to rebel and protest?
The pastor and theologian, John Bunyan, faced a similar complaint several hundred years before us. He was encouraged by the legal system of his day to keep his religious beliefs within the confines of his “family.” When he refused to keep his religion to himself, Bunyan was thrown into jail. From his life and testimony, we can learn three things about how to respond to lack of religious toleration in the 21st Century.
1. What is good for the home is good for all:
The soul that clings to Christ will increasingly become more loving, kind, patient, and caring. And since talking about God and the Bible helps knit our souls and character ever closer to God’s Word, we must make it a point to talk of Jesus in our home. And since it is good for us to talk of Jesus in our home, we must be willing to talk about him in our school. Does this mean that everyone will like us? No. Does this mean some will be offended at our words? Yes. But if we truly believe God’s Word has life within it and that it possesses the power to change people for their and our society’s good, then we must share it with others even when teachers and lawmakers tell us not to speak. As Bunyan said,
If it was lawful to do good to some, it was lawful to do good to more. If it was good duty to exhort families, it was a good to exhort others.
2. Don’t hold anyone captive:
Bunyan spoke boldly for Christ. Some estimate that thousands of people would come to hear the tinker’s sermons, which were often delivered in a barn or field. But Bunyan was very clear. He did not force anyone to listen to him. He was gracious to all. As he told his judges,
I shall not force or compel any man to hear me; but yet if I come into any place where there is a people met together, I should according to the best of my skill and wisdom, exhort and counsel them to seek of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the salvation of their souls.
In short, Bunyan did not attack anyone with the Bible. If they would not hear him, he left them alone. But if they would hear him, he would boldly proclaim Christ. We too must respect the wishes of others. If they ask us to let them be, if they ask us to stop sharing Christ, and if they tell us no thank you, we must respect their wishes. But if they will hear us, we must preach Christ. We should always be ready to preach and counsel like Bunyan was. But we must never force anyone to hear us against their will.
3. We must remember our allegiance is to Christ:
If we stand on the gospel, we will not be popular with all people. They will ask us to stop even our respectful communication of truth. Our kids very well may be threatened with bad grades, expulsion from school, or banishment from the starting roster. But when the time comes, we must stand with Christ. This world and all its honors are passing away. If we conform our faith to the will of those around us, we will deny Christ and find only despair. But if we cling to Christ as Bunyan did and experience our own prison sentence, we can trust that God will take care of us. As Bunyan wrote,
Let the rage and malice of men be never so great, they can do no more, nor go any further, than God permits them; but when they have done their worst, We know all things shall work together for good to them that love God.
Our allegiance first and foremost must be to Christ. Are you and your kids ready to follow Him?