There is much concern globally about religious freedom and persecution, and in the United States, many groups are worried about the fusion of religion and politics – but is religious freedom necessary to advance the gospel?
In modern times, people are extremely concerned about religious persecution and freedom of religion. China is cracking down on religion and imprisoning people. In countries around the world, people are continually beaten or killed because of their religious beliefs.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,”
–2 Timothy 3:12
According to the Bible, following Christ and enduring hatred and persecution is unavoidable. It comes with the territory. Jesus said:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”
Christ also said those who refuse to reject their faith and endure will be blessed.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
But the core question at the heart of the matter is…
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
– Matthew 16:18
According to biblical scholar Ellicott, Christ, not Peter, is the rock. The Old Testament associated the idea of the rock with the greatness and steadfastness of God, not with a man.
It is without question that the early church faced far more persecution than it does today. In spite of seemingly insurmountable odds that unceasingly sought its destruction, Christianity grew from a seed to the dominating religion of the world.
“The history of the world offers hardly any serious parallel to such a prediction, and still less to that fulfillment of it which has been witnessed through eighteen centuries of Christendom, and which does not as yet seem drawing to its close,” Ellicott says.
“All the plots, stratagems, and machinations of the enemies of the church would not be able to overcome it, a promise that has been remarkably fulfilled,” says biblical scholar Barnes.
Pastor John MacArthur is one of the most high-profile religious figures who argues religious freedom is completely unnecessary for advancing the gospel.
“You say, ‘Well, isn’t religious freedom important for Christianity?’ No, it’s meaningless,” MacArthur proclaims. “Doesn’t matter what laws governments make or don’t make, they have no effect on the kingdom of God. Jesus said, ‘I will build My kingdom, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.'”
MacArthur elaborated further in a sermon entitled: “The Church Has No Fellowship with the World.”
“Christianity advances whether there’s religious freedom or not,” MacArthur stated.
“The apostles turned the world upside down with no help from it, no social action, no alliances,” MacArthur pointed out.
In a separate sermon, MacArthur spoke out about those who try to meld religion and politics into a universal front.
“My point is not that Christians should remain totally uninvolved in politics or civic activities and causes,” MacArthur said. “They ought to express their political beliefs in the voting booth … what God’s Word says about doing good in society … gratitude for whatever amount of religious freedom the government allows us to enjoy.”
“As long as we realize that that interest is not vital to our spiritual growth, our righteous testimony, or the advancement of the kingdom of Christ,” MacArthur clarified. “Above all, the believer’s political involvement should never displace the priority of preaching and teaching the gospel.”