John MacArthur and Reframing Religious Liberty

A clip from John MacArthur resurfaced on the internet recently in which he spoke violence against the sacred cow of religious liberty. I will make no attempt to defend everything Pastor John said. I will however remind you that he kept his church doors open amid tyrannical governmental pressure to close them. More to the point, the soft-evangelical-left thought leaders—those who have risen up in response to MacArthur’s clip to write valiant pieces in defense of religious liberty, were nowhere to be found back then. Yes, when religious liberty was actually under attack, they were closing their churches, wondering from their basements why MacArthur could be such a grumpy old man, worshipping God in sacred assembly in the middle of a pandemic! 

If you were to enter in afresh to this evangelical community, you could tell from the outset that something has gone awry. Here you are fresh off the boat and you hear that the man who kept preaching when government demanded he put a sock in it is not so much a fan of religious liberty. And, lo and behold, those who double masked, vaxxed, boosted, and zoomed church have taken up their pen over at Christianity Today to straighten out MacArthur on religious liberty. Something is in the water around here. What is it? 

Here lies our key problem: We think there is such a thing as a religiously neutral state. We have bought the lie that the state can sit over there in its own box and the church can sit nice and tidy in another. Neither box influences the other. That’s the set up. Religion then is a concept that only touches down upon the church box and has nothing whatever to do with the state box. We reinforce this idea with loads of shorthand comments like, “Just give me a free church and free state.” But what exactly is the state free from? Church influence? Jesus? The Bible? And how can it be that the state is free from God’s revelation when Romans 13 makes it abudantly clear that civil leaders are ministers of God? Are they ministers of God who don’t have to listen to Him?

John MacArthur has proven to have more of Romans 13 in his blood stream than the recent leadership of the ERLC. So he goes to saying something like, “I don’t support idolatry.” And the church says, “Amen.” Then he proceeds to say something like, “And I don’t think half-decent presidents should either.” And Russell Moore gets out of bed and fires up his computer to write a piece at the Washington Post. All of this leaves us seeing the vital need to reframe the conversation about religious liberty in these United States. As with all reframing jobs, when we are done we won’t have a finished house. But, we will atleast have a structure that won’t colapse once we are inside.

As I said above, our critical problem is that we think a religiously free state exists. But, we need only look around to see that we do not even presently operate that way. There are all sorts of religions that are not going to be on equal footing around here. You will be hauled off in a police cruiser if you offer up your religious sacrifices to Molech. Some would enter into polygamy out of religious devotion, but the practice is illegal far and wide in the United States. To the shagrin of the polytheists we are not changing the pledge of allegiance to one nation under gods. And come to think of it we are not editing it to say “one nation of gods” and so there goes pantheism, too. 

Now if someone were to propose, in the name of religious liberty, that we edit the pledge of allegiance to say, “One nation under gods,” I imagine several evangelicals would be opposed. But many of them could not consistently oppose the proposition. You can feel their angst. Here I am a genuine polytheist. I have sincerely held religious beliefs that there are many gods, not one God. You have told me that the state ought not to meddle in religious affairs. That is not their lane, you say. So how is it that the state’s pledge meddles in religion? You have clearly cut me, and my family, and my religious community off with the very words, “one nation under God.” And I do not only suffer when we say the pledge. You have this God all over the place. He’s on the buildings. He’s in the songs. Your money even says you trust in Him! The culture, customs, the laws themselves are all infused with this God, but not my gods. 

It is high time to be honest with ourselves and others: All societies are religious. We find ourselves in yet another not-whether-but-which situation. It is not whether your society will be religious, but which religion will mark your society. There has been a great and ongoing attempt to deconstruct Christianity, the religion that has clearly marked the United States from its outset. And there are now those who would aid such deconstruction by employing the very language of religious liberty. They are framing in a house. But it is not a Christian home. 

So here is where the reframing comes in. And this should not be a shocking proposal. I submit that we have all future religioius liberty conversations according to this blueprint: Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. Jesus is Lord of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Gavin Newsom and Ron Desantis. He is Lord over every mayor and city council. He is Lord over religious liberty. He is Lord over the state. He is Lord over the Constitution of the United States of America. And every single person must obey His Word, not only as individuals, but also in his or her station. Fathers must obey His Word as fathers, and mothers as mothers. Politicians must obey God’s Word as politicians. And Supreme Court Justices must obey His Word as Supreme Court Justices, doing what He commands and abstaining from what He forbids.

If we follow the pattern above then we of course cannot say that the state is free from God, Christ, the church’s influence, the Holy Scriptures, or the gospel of Jesus Christ. A Christian church or community cannot say to the state, “You leave us alone and we will leave you alone.” Such an arrangement is not only a pipe dream, it runs flat contrary to God’s revealed Word: “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, And ye perish from the way” (Psalm 2:10-12).