Living in North America and specifically the United States, I have been reflecting on what it means to have freedom as well as the responsibilities and rights that come with being free people. Freedom is a significant point of tension within the United States--even among our churches. You no doubt have heard or experienced the debates regarding public worship, masks, and vaccines. All of these debates center around the freedoms and rights that we have in our country. Some pastors are now being asked to write religious exemptions for congregants whose employers require vaccines. The challenge, however, is that we don’t have a theological argument against the use of vaccines like we do against abortion, for example. The only possible premise for writing such a letter is based upon “freedom.”
I am finding the words of Paul to be a good guiding framework for understanding how to use and understand our freedom. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.” It is fascinating that Paul's view of the purpose of freedom is radically different from what we encounter in our current culture. He says, don’t use your freedom to serve and gratify yourselves. Your freedom is given so that you can serve others!
I was talking with a leader of a network of churches in the UK about the protests surrounding the shutdown of church buildings. People were not protesting because they wanted to gather for worship. Instead, they were protesting because they wanted to use their building to serve those in need in their community, and they were being prevented from doing so. Of course I am not saying that public worship isn’t a vitally important part of our faith, but the spirit of those protests in the UK didn’t often seem to really be about worship, but instead a protest on infringement of freedom.
I wonder how our postures would change if we kept these words of Paul at the forefront of our minds when contemplating our freedom. How might we use our freedom to serve one another? How might we let our freedom not be self-focused, but others focused? Wouldn’t our surrounding culture be drawn to the light of Christians, and thus the light of Christ, if our freedom was a vehicle by which to serve those around us? Perhaps the early church experienced exponential growth in Christianity as a result of believers' response to the plague, so we would see a revival of those entrusting their lives to Jesus because of the radical way in which we as Christians used our freedom.
ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians