Jesus taught religious freedom

Through the ages, terrible atrocities have been committed because of religious intolerance. Religions have been persecuted, and religions have persecuted others. Such atrocities are almost always related to political power.

Millions have been murdered.

During the first few centuries after Christ, Christians were severely persecuted and murdered by pagans and Jews. The pagans were offended because Christians refused to worship the pagan gods and the emperor. The Jews viewed Christians as heretics.

The Christians did not retaliate because Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies and to do good to those who hate them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35).

From the seventh to the eleventh century, by force of arms, Muslims spread their religion around the Mediterranean from Asia Minor, along the northern coast of Africa, and into Spain. Church buildings were destroyed, church leaders were murdered, and Christianity was exterminated where Muslims gained political power.

With regard to unfaithful Muslims who “wish that you should disbelieve as they disbelieve,” the Koran commands1: “If they turn their backs, take them, and slay them wherever you find them” (Chapter 4:89). With regard to “unbelievers” the Koran says: “I shall cast into the unbelievers’ hearts terror; so smite above the necks, and smite every finger of them!” (Chapter 8:12). Another translation of the Koran interprets this more graphically: “Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”2 When a peace treaty with idolaters expires, the following is commanded: “slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush” (Chapter 9:5).

Some Muslims try to soften these teachings, but it cannot be denied that through the centuries, and also at the present time, these passages in the Koran have been used to promote and justify much persecution, war, terrorism and murder.

The establishment of worldwide Muslim totalitarian government is a tenant of Islam.

From the eleventh through the thirteenth centuries, Crusades were organized in Europe in an attempt to conquer Jerusalem by force of arms. Thousands of Muslims were murdered and their villages were destroyed.

The Crusaders called themselves Christians but they were not Christians. They did not follow the teachings of Jesus at all!

At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church used the Inquisition to murder those who opposed its authority. It was a capital crime to read the Bible without the permission of the Church.

In 1536 William Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake in Vilvoorde, Belgium by Catholic authorities. His crime? Publishing the Bible in English and exposing false doctrines of the Roman Church.

When Protestants came to power in certain countries, they sometimes persecuted Catholics and other Protestants who did not agree with them.

On October 27, 1553, Michael Servetus was burned to death at Geneva, Switzerland at the instigation of John Calvin.

In the twentieth century many religion-related atrocities were committed.

Six million Jews, men women and children, were murdered by the Nazis by shooting, in mobile gas vans and at mass extermination camps. The Nazis also exterminated gypsies and people with physical defects or mental illness.

Seven hundred thousand Muslims were evicted from their homes in Palestine and forced to spend the rest of their lives impoverished in refugee camps in the desert.

Conflicts involving religion in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia resulted in the murder of millions of innocent people.

Atheistic communism persecuted and murdered countless believers of all faiths in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.

Jesus taught tolerance and religious freedom.

All persecution is contrary to the doctrine of Christ. Although apostasy is to be refuted and false teachers are to be expelled from the church, Christians are not to persecute others or use coercion to prevent others from practicing their religion.

Once when Jesus and His disciples were traveling to Jerusalem, they were refused lodging in a Samaritan village. “And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?’ But He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.’ And they went to another village” (Luke 9:54-56). Christians may not use Old Testament examples to justify violence. The teaching of Jesus is on a higher plain, is of a different spirit.

Not only does Jesus teach against persecuting others, we are not even to forbid them: “Then John answered and said, ‘Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is for us’“ (Luke 9:49, 50 //Mark 9:38-40).

Some have misapplied this passage to teach that we should fellowship false teachers. But Jesus did not condone what this person was doing. He simply taught religious freedom. We are not to ‘forbid’ others.

Paul explains: “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:15-18).

Some who are now Christians in Flanders, first started studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Others who are now Christians, first studied the Bible with Mormons. As they continued studying the Scriptures, however, they rejected the errors of these groups, and learned the truth of the gospel.

Although false teachers are not to be permitted to teach in the church, it is not our task as Christians to prevent them from proclaiming their beliefs in general. It is our task, however, to refute their false doctrine. Religious freedom does not mean that we must remain silent in the face of religious error.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

Christians combat false doctrine by preaching the truth. We refute false arguments and capture the thoughts of men by preaching the Word of God. Rather than being overcome by evil, we overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

Although we can sympathize with oppressed peoples who mistakenly think force of arms can set them free, it does not work. Jesus said: “Put away your sword, for all who draw the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). You cannot overcome evil with evil. An attempt to do so only multiplies evil.

Jesus showed us how to overcome evil with good by going to the cross and rising victorious from the grave to become King of kings and Lord of lords. He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

The most powerful weapons on earth are not guns and bombs, but words. If you want to have influence for good, learn to speak and write well. And, of course, the most powerful words of all by far are the words of God.

“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Christians are proponents and defenders of religious freedom. Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Unchristian teaching is to be refuted, but true followers of Christ do not persecute others or prevent them from practicing their religion. Amen.
Roy Davison


1 These quotations are from “The Koran Interpreted, A translation by A.J.Arberry” considered to be one of the most scholarly and unbiased translations of the Koran into English.

2 As translated by M. H. Shakir.

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive