“Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it.  You are also saved by it, if you hold to the eastermessage I proclaimed to you—unless you believe to no purpose.  For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”  I Corinthians 15:1-3

“’Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.’” Acts 16:30, 31

“So that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.  For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of times so that we should walk in them.”  Ephesians 2:7-10

“He [Jesus] said to them, ‘How unwise and slow you are to believe in your hear ts all that the prophets have spoken!  Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter into His glory/’ Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.”  Luke 24:25, 26

The Easter Message of Religious Freedom

The Bible’s resurrection tales show us faith based on peaceful persuasion.

Joseph Loconte, The Wall Street Journal, March 29, 2013, p. A 13

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, they reflect on God’s purposes amid suffering and death. They look forward to the hope of the resurrection. Yet there is another aspect to the Easter story that should be as important to the skeptic as” it is to the be­liever: its message of religious tol­eration. Whether read as history or allegory, the resurrection stories in the gospels offer an ap­proach to faith that challenges the militant religions of our own day. Consider the account in Luke’s gospel about two disciples of Jesus, just days after his crucifix­ion, fleeing Jerusalem for their home in nearby Emmaus. They are fugitives: Jesus was executed on the charge of sedition, after all, and it is not safe for his followers to remain in the city- His horrific death has cast them into a storm of grief and doubt.

Somewhere along the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to the men as “a stranger”—they don’t imme­diately recognize him—and a con­versation ensues. The stranger upbraids- them for their politicized religion, that is, for thinking that Israel’s Messiah would be a mili­tary or-political liberator. Rather, he explains, the Messiah was meant to suffer for the sake of his people in order to win them spiritual free­dom: “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.” Finally, by the end of their journey—after talking and debating and sharing a meal together—the travelers recog­nize who the stranger is.

The disciples have been guided, not coerced, out of their skepti­cism. Their objections have been met with reason, not force. The stranger has described the world they were meant to live in, a world drenched in beauty, peace, justice and love. They are cut to the quick: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us’ on the road and opened the Scripture to us?”

Realizing what has, happened, emboldened by ,their new faith, the travelers rush back to Jerusalem to share the news about Jesus with their friends. “Fold with remarkable modesty and vulnerability, this account is one of the earliest conversion stories in Christianity. It helped to set the .pattern for evangelism in the early church.

In all of the New Testament’s resurrection accounts, the method of Jesus for winning hearts and minds—his emphasis on peaceful persuasion—couldn’t be plainer. All depict the patience and kindness of God in the face of human doubt.

Yet, in one of the tragic turning points in the history of the West, this biblical ideal was rejected. The church, imitating the Roman state under which it had suffered and ultimately thrived, soon endorsed the methods of Caesar: the use of imprisonment, torture or death to combat unbelief.

The church of the martyrs became the/church of the Inquisi­tion. Catholic thinkers as profound as Thomas Aquinas justified the use of violence to win converts and put down dissent. “Even if my own father were a heretic,” declared Pope Paul IV, “I would gather the wood to burn him.”

Protestants soon followed suit. Leaders such as John Calvin, with Bible in hand, used the power of the state to brutally enforce the new religious orthodoxy.

The advance of Christianity in the West brought with it many blessings: an ethos of compassion for children, the poor, the sick and the outcast. It established a basis for human dignity unknown in antiquity. Nevertheless, nearly everywhere the church went— whenever it encountered resistance or disbelief—a culture of suspi­cion and violence followed. Chris­tian author C.S.. Lewis once declared: “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.”

Eventually, after a series of religious wars, the Christian church confessed its negation of Christian charity. By the late 17th century, a steady stream of tracts, pamphlets, sermons and books—disseminated by the explosive growth of the printing press—delivered a singu­lar message about the sacred rights of individual conscience. Christian thinkers such as William Penn, Roger Williams and John Locke would help the church recover its, older tradition of toler­ation, as old as the New Testamentitself

Indeed, a firm basis for religious freedom would be found in the Bible, supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. “I did not come to judge the world,” Jesus told his followers, “but to save it.” Here is an Easter story—a message of the grace of God toward every human soul—for believers and doubters alike.

Mr. Loconte, a professor of history at The Kings College, is writing a book on the history of religious toleration.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: