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home : opinions : opinions November 24, 2015

7/11/2009 8:50:00 PM
My Turn: First Amendment: The Gospel must be free

Rev. Brian A. LeStourgeon

When the Constitution was adopted in 1787, there was no Bill of Rights, and states were free to pursue local religious agendas. The political compromise that led to ratification, however, was a promise that the first Congress would adopt amendments protecting the basic rights of citizens (which happened in 1791).

The First Amendment included the phrase, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." This phrase was part of an additional compromise among earnest Christians and Enlightenment-influenced Deists. Why Deists would want "the state" out of religion was obvious, but why would any early American churchman agree to this phrase? One answer is found in a distinctly American contribution to Christian theology.

The theological basis for the First Amendment is a doctrine known as "regenerate church membership." Regenerate church membership is a characteristic of all churches who believe that a person must be "born again" prior to becoming a church member. Some of the Founding Fathers understood that as long as it was culturally and politically advantageous to join a church, sinners would not turn to Christ because they had been saved by Christ, but only because it served their sinful self-interest.

Colonial Christians had seen the effect of governments involved in the promotion of religion - churches were filled with those who acted with the cultural trappings of Christianity, but were not truly "saved" (and therefore not led by the Holy Spirit), resulting in vice, persecution, and war in the name of the Church. Early American theologians became convinced that it is only in a land where even atheists were free to be atheists that the church would be free to preach a true and unadulterated gospel.

American theology's unique contribution to the world's understanding of Christianity was the formal recognition that the only genuine conversion is a free conversion. If government formally enforced a form of Christianity, then non-believers were not truly free to hear and respond to the genuine good news of Jesus Christ. Theologically speaking, government interference corrupts the purity of the gospel. This is why the spiritual forefathers of what would later be known as "evangelicalism" worked to weave non-interference into the political fabric of our great nation. The First Amendment is, in part, a political expression of the evangelical gospel.

Jesus said, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed (Luke 9:26)." The Savior also said, "I will build my church (Matt. 16:18)" and "My kingdom is not of this world. (Matt. 18:36)"

It is not those who defend the First Amendment who are ashamed of Jesus. We must be careful not to deny that Jesus can do what he said he could do - build his church and his kingdom in his own way, without relying upon humanity's political passions.

Camp Verde Christians must decide if we will take a sub-evangelical, corrupted gospel, anti-First-Amendment stance or if we will stand by the First Amendment, in defense of the true gospel, trusting the words of Jesus.

Let us make sure that the Christian community of Camp Verde does not love the cross more than the Christ who died upon it. Let us make sure the gospel remains free.

Rev. Brian A. LeStourgeon, M.Div., is pastor of Camp Verde Baptist Church.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 20, 2009
Article comment by: Melissa

Simply put, Separation of Church and State actually PROTECTS religious liberty. I truly hope that more Americans, including our elected officials, understood such truths about our history. Your words, Reverend, are a step in that direction. Thank you, Reverend.

Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2009
Article comment by: Ria Rhodes


Let us remain Americans who value our constitutional freedoms more than symbolism. Constitutional freedoms for which many have given their lives to help preserve. Let us strive to keep our Constitution as free as possible from the deleterious effects of religiosity upon the laws of this great country.

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