Using Force in Religion

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.  Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.  The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.  Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk.  They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

  • 1 Timothy 1:3-8

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

  • 1 Peter 5:1-3

“With regard to force in religion: ‘Faith desires to persuade rather than to compel.  Are the converted Jews in Spain sincere Christians?  Augustine said that heretics should be removed.  He meant simply removed from the communion of the Church.  The spirit of our Lord was merciful.  Did he not say, ‘Neither do I condemn you?  But,’ added Erasmus, ‘I would agree that an extremely contumacious heretic might be burned.’  He does not explain what would make a heretic ’extremely contumacious.’ And there was no example of burning for heresy in his day which he condoned.’”

  • Roland H. Bainton, Erasmus of Christendom

Forcing Jews to convert to Christianity in Spain during Erasmus’ day was not the only instance of this type of behavior, and other religions have done worse things.  But I am somewhat guilty, in that I insisted that the family end their day with reading Scripture before bedtime.  When I got flashback from all three other members of the family, I dug my heels in even more.  Note that this was before my wife became a true Christian and she has since regretted words that she had said.  To me, it was the difference in life and death, but they must be willing to see that.  Of the two of the three who have accepted Jesus, only my wife is a regular reader of the Bible and that not daily.  If I had not insisted, would they want to read the Bible more or would they drift further away?  How does a family establish the rules that the family lives by?

But salvation is not on our pay level.  God does that.  And we always have the individual’s free will to consider.  Another one of those things that my mother passed down to me that was not the greatest advice – compulsory this and compulsory that – especially when the other family members did not like it (her favorite time to make it compulsory).  Reading the Bible daily is something that nourishes every Christian, but the desire to do so must come from the heart.  Devotions and prayer were hardly ever a fight, but reading the Bible became fighting words for one of the other three, and the others joined the pack.  Did I have a contumacious heretic who led the others astray?

We may have to back off, less than compulsion, but that should never stop our prayers.  As our children rebel, it should intensify our prayers – as long as there is breath.  And maybe, although very tempting, we might back away from burning the contumacious heretic.  As the quote states, they did not allow that in the time of Erasmus, but he was tempted to use that practice.

And when faced with open rebellion, we continue to live the Christian life, showing them God’s love.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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