Important Plank in Our Platform

Protecting religious liberty.

BY NELSON C. BURNS, Evangelist, Tasmanian Conference

We read this pertinent statement in Vol­ume VI of the "Testimonies :" "The banner of truth and religious liberty which these reformers held aloft, has in this last con­flict been committed to us."—Page 402. It surely could not be otherwise. We have the last message of God for the last time. With the cessation of liberty come intolerance and hostility to the preaching of the Word, and the devil will use these circumstances to hedge up the work of God by making the public presenta­tion of the message increasingly difficult. Gov­ernments and hostile organizations will deprive us of that liberty of movement and freedom of speech which is so indispensable for the propa­gation of the truth. Indeed, some of us are already beginning to feel the weight of this op­position.

A few weeks ago, when I was presenting the prophecy of Daniel 7 before a large congrega­tion in Launceston, toward the close of my dis­course I was heckled, and an attempt was made to stop the service, although not once during the entire exposition did I mention by name the power that is known to Adventists to be repre­sented by the "little horn." The enemies of lib­erty are determined that these telling proph­ecies, even in their mildest form, shall not be presented. How true and timely is the warn­ing given to us by Mrs. White in the closing chapters of "The Great Controversy." We are now facing the time of which she spoke.

This does not mean, however, that we are complacently to accept the inevitable and refrain from lifting our voices in warning the world of what this restriction of liberty will mean. In "Testimonies," Volume V, we read:

"It is our duty to do all in our power to avert the threatened danger. We should endeavor to disarm prejudice by placing ourselves in a proper light be­fore the people. We should bring before them the real question at issue, thus interposing the most ef­fectual •protest against measures to restrict liberty of conscience."—Page 452.

There should be no question, therefore, re­garding the need of this plank in the platform of our preaching. What we are concerned with particularly is the best means of bringing this question before the attention of the world. Mrs. White admonishes us that "the question of religious liberty . . . should be handled with great wisdom and discretion."—"Testimonies to ilin­isters," p. 219.

Actually the essence of religious liberty truth is contained in the whole of our message for today. Consequently, from the very first public address,4which may be on Daniel 2, to the final appeal, which may be on "Which Is the True Church ?" there are abundant opportunities for arousing public interest in this subject and explaining the fearful consequences contingent upon the loss of our liberty. The very nature of our preaching lends itself to a forceful and log­ical presentation of this-subject.

In the first address I gave in the Paramount Theater, in Wellington, where a thousand peo­ple were present, my subject was based on the prophecies of Joel and Isaiah, and I gave it the title, "Why England Fights." I stressed that the great national goal is "liberty," and that the reason for our liberty is found in the sepa­ration of church and state. When I made this point, there was great applause from the audience, but when I had finished, I was accosted by two men of more than average education, who declared they would challenge my position on religious liberty. They maintained that jus­tice and righteousness could be completely realized only when enforced by the state ; and as the church was responsible for righteousness and truth, it must be supported by the state. They accused me of doing a great disservice to the welfare of the community, and threatened me, saying the matter would not rest with this incident. They declared they would attend my meetings to observe my attitude in the future. Perhaps these two men had no small part in the climax that was reached in an organized opposition and an attempt to close my meetings four months later. I mention this experience to illustrate how timely and necessary is the message of religious liberty, and also to reveal how eager are our enemies to silence us on this subject.

At the time of which I am speaking, the Cath­olic Church had distributed to every home in New Zealand a large four-page folder on "Cath­olic Social Teaching," which emphasized the need of social justice being backed by "force." From it I quote the following:

'Many good Christian people oppose all forms of force and proclaim and suffer for an unqualified pacifism. Their sincerity is admirable, their pacifism illogical. Christ never lost His peace ; yet He made a cord Himself and used it with great force upon the bodies of money-makers. . . . Force is necessary sometimes to defend and apply Christian justice, be­cause 'justice without force is powerless.' "

The conclusion that the writer of this pam­phlet intended his readers to draw is obvious: namely, that as the Catholic Church is leading a crusade for social justice, and this crusade can be realized only by the application of force, the state should invest the Catholic Church with the power to use force to bring about social justice. So successful has this type of propa­ganda been that it is now accepted by large numbers of people. Frequent letters to the daily newspapers and many of the articles in the cur­rent magazines openly affirm that the time has come for the Church of Rome to have a fore­most place in legislation. When this does eventuate, the natural corollary, of course, will be the silencing of all teaching not in accord with the dogmas of the papal hierarchy.

This fact is admitted by some of the leading authorities of the Papacy. I will quote from an article which appeared in the Christian Century of November 6, 1940. The writer is reviewing C. C. Richardson's book, "Catholic Principles of Politics," which is the standard text on this subject in Catholic colleges.

"The state is obligated not only 'to have a care for religion' but to 'recognize the true religion. This means the form of religion professed by the Catholic faith.' From this basic assumption of Romanism, that it alone possesses religious truth, there follow those familiar consequences of intolerance toward non-Catholic sects and restriction of civil liberties. In the Catholic state non-Romanist religious services ought only to be 'carried on in the family, or in such an inconspicuous manner as to be neither of scandal nor of perversion to the faithful.' Unrestricted lib­erty of speech and writing endanger the public wel­fare by the propagation o'f 'false religious notions' against which the state ought to protect its citizens. 'Error has not the same right as truth.' . . . Every state restricts individual liberty to some degree, and refuses to recognize any right to publish indecent literature or indulge in libel. How much more nec­essary it is for the state to guard the spiritual life of its members against the propagation of harmful religious opinions." (Quoted in the Ministry, February, 1941)

We can see, therefore, whither the Catholic Church is attempting to lead the world. In a recent article which appeared in the Tablet, the writer pointed out that the Catholic Church did not want a new order but the old order. We know what that means—the repetition of the Dark Ages of medieval horrors, the age of in­tolerance, persecution, and the sword. These dangers are foreshadowed by some of the fore­most of our writers today. I will quote from two recent books. The first is "Europe's Dance of Death," by G. T. Garret.

"One most important freedom is the right to wor­ship God in one's own way. It is very unfortunate that the most powerful Christian organization has not been content with tolerance shown to its religion in the democratic countries. I believe that today the Catholic Church is more prosperous and makes more converts in the United States than in any other country. It is free and politically powerful in France and England. Yet for some years the general tendency of the Vatican has been antidemocratic, and in many democratic countries, notably France and Canada, the leaders of the church have been closely connected with Fascist movements. This threat from within may ultimately prove almost as destructive to European civilization and the old democratic standards as war itself, for it will destroy the will to recover freedom after the war."—Page 317.

H. G. Wells also makes some illuminating comments in his book "Guide to the New World." He emphasizes the problem of devel­oping democracy among certain groups whose thinking is controlled by the Organization to which they belong. He discusses certain po­litical organizations, but carries it also into the field of religion:

"Never will the devout Catholic be really frank with you. Always there will be a reservation; al­ways the priest will be lurking in the background. His directions will come between you and your Catholic friend. To marry a Catholic is only half a marriage, and your children will be only half your own. And manifestly if you do business with Cath­olic shops, if you subscribe to Catholic charities, if you entrust your children to Catholic teachers, you are helping to sustain, a hostile campaign against the candid life. That campaign will be furtive when it must, and overbearing when it dares. We, too, are forced to discriminate in self-defense."—Page 35.

With warnings such as these, and conditions as they are in the world today, what opportu­nities we have of arresting the attention of the public to the dangers of the curtailment of our liberties ! Heretofore I have never devoted a whole night's discourse to the question of re­ligious liberty, but I feel that the time has come for us to give it more than passing attention. I believe that it can be made one of our drawing subjects by giving it an attractive title, such as "The Enemy Within the Gates." The subject is most timely ; we have material in abundance; and a live presentation, well prepared, will hold the interest of the audience.

We should refrain, however, from dealing with any aspect of this subject in a challenging, blatant manner. Mrs. White warns against this. She says that unless we handle this sub­ject with tact and wisdom, "we shall bring upon ourselves a crisis before we are prepared for it. The burden of our message should be 'the com­mandments of God and the faith of Jesus.' Our brethren should be cautioned to make moves that will not stir up and provoke the powers that be."—"Testimonies to Ministers," p. 219.

The question of religious liberty, therefore, should occupy an important plank in our plat­form, not only to show the people that intoler­ance and persecution inevitably follow in the wake of vanishing liberties, but for the most important of all reasons, that our converts will be prepared to meet the crisis when it does come, and by the grace of God remain firm to this message until the conflict is ended.


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BY NELSON C. BURNS, Evangelist, Tasmanian Conference

August 1943

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