This new statement on religious liberty is well-worth being aware of:
Throughout the West the war on Christianity in particular and religious freedom in general is ramping up. Increasingly our liberties are being whittled down or taken away altogether as the secular state grows in power, scope and influence. How are Christians to respond to these developments? What does Scripture say about such situations?
The brand-new Niagara Declaration seeks to answer questions like these. The 1700-word document consists of ten articles prefaced by around a dozen introductory remarks. Primarily penned by Rev. Dr. Joseph Boot, along with the collaboration of some others, this is an important statement that deserves a wide audience.
Boot, who is originally from the UK, is a Canadian pastor, apologist and cultural missionary. He is perhaps most well-known for his important 2014 volume, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope. I discuss him and that book in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2019/05/14/a-derelict-church-and-a-moribund-culture/
While the authors of the Niagara Declaration are looking only for those who are a “pastor or authorized representative of your church or organization” to sign the declaration, and presumably only those who are Canadians, it is a helpful piece on religious freedom, the application of which is relevant for many other countries.
The website containing this document says in part:
Welcome to the official website of the Niagara 2020 Declaration. We sincerely thank you for your interest and for visiting. We hope you will be able to join us in this national Christian initiative, and we value your prayers for its success.
In Canada, as blessed recipients of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for generations and heirs of the Christian Parliamentary tradition and English Common Law, we have long been able to take our freedoms and liberties in the faith for granted. Tragically, those days have waned, and we all share culpability for the declining situation and loss of the pervasive influence of the Scriptures. In our generation, with the undeniably radical cultural shift over the last sixty years, we are confronted with increased political, institutional, and legal opposition to the faith. Christians are facing an attack on our historic liberties and Charter freedoms. These include (but are not limited to) various persecutions in the form of media propaganda, speech and human rights codes, Supreme Court decisions regarding Christian institutions and end of life issues, municipal and provincial bylaws regarding sexuality and gender, indefinite emergency restrictions and lockdowns, and proposed amendments to the Criminal Code that could radically curtail the freedom of Christian leaders, churches and parents (cf. the federal bill to criminally ban so-called “conversion therapy”).
As to the actual Declaration, let me quote parts of it here. It begins with these words:
In view of various culture-abandoning errors and a broad decline presently inflicting and marginalizing the Church, and at a time in the Dominion of Canada when our civil society is renouncing, both in law and socio-cultural life, its historic Christian heritage in pursuit of liberty without the Gospel, justice without God’s law, truth without the Scriptures, flourishing without obedience, atonement without the cross, love without faithfulness, peace without repentance, salvation without Christ, and a world without creational norms, it is incumbent upon a faithful Church to set forth to all powers and authorities, the claims of Christ and the freedom of His Kingdom people, the Church (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:15; 1 Tim. 1:9-11, 17; 3:15; 1 Pt. 2:16-17; 5:11).
In a national cultural context in which ultimate sovereignty is rapidly being seized by – or readily surrendered to – the State, imperilling inherited liberties and exposing our civil government to divine judgment, we must be mindful that freedoms not fought for are soon forfeited.
It then offers a number of introductory points with various Scriptural references. The first four are these:
WHEREAS Jesus Christ claims total authority over the nations as the Creator and Ruler of the kings, judges, and governors of the earth (Ps. 2:7-12; Ps. 110; Luke 23:3; John 19:11; Acts 17:7; Eph. 1:20-23; Phil. 2:9-11; Col. 1:15-17; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:5);
AND WHEREAS the one, holy, catholic (i.e. universal) and apostolic Church has been founded by our Lord Jesus Christ long before all temporal authorities of this Dominion of Canada came into existence (Matt. 16:18; Mark 3:13-19; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:7-13; Col. 1:18);
AND WHEREAS the Church of Jesus Christ does not have her position in the nation assigned her by the permission of civil government, but jure divino – she has her own organization and she possesses her own office-bearers (Matt. 10:1-15; 18:15-20; 28:18-20; Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 6:1-7; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:9-13);
AND WHEREAS the sovereignty of the State and the sovereignty of the Church exist side by side, instituted by God and in service to God, mutually limiting each other as recognized in the Scriptures and applied in Magna Carta (Mark 12:13-17; Acts 5:29-32; Rom. 13:1, 4; 1 Cor. 6:1-7; 2 Cor. 10:3-6; Eph. 1:22; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:1-4);
And here are some of the articles that follow:
Article 1. Liberty in all spiritual matters
There shall be no interference from civil authorities in the spiritual matters of the Church of Jesus Christ either by Federal or Provincial legislation, local bylaws, or by threats and intimidation from diverse arms of the administrative state bureaucracy. We recognize no authority other than Jesus Christ and His Word in the rule, ministry, and teaching of the Church. Spiritual matters include, in particular, the worship of God, the confession, sacraments, ordinances, discipline, and rites of the Church, and the teaching and pastoral guidance of the same.
Article 2. Liberties related to the Holy Bible
The Holy Bible shall be freely printed, distributed (both through electronic media and in hard copy), read, quoted, preached, and taught anywhere in the Dominion of Canada without fear of legal penalty or censure. The teaching of this Word is commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ, being Himself attested to us in Holy Scripture, as the one Word of God which all people have to hear, and whom all people have to trust and obey in life and in death.
Article 3. Liberty to preach the Gospel
The Churches shall remain free to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ peacefully, proselytize, establish churches, and disciple those who wish to follow Christ without any form of censorship or penalties imposed by temporal civil authorities. We reject all false doctrine asserting that the Church must surrender the content or form of its message to the prevailing ideological and political convictions of our day. The Christian Church is in all things to acknowledge and declare the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, whose Word upholds all things.
Article 5. Liberty of conscience
Like all citizens, Christians in Canada have a right to liberty of conscience. As such, none may be compelled or coerced to act contrary to their conscience. No one may be compelled or coerced to adhere to, or to renounce, any religious, moral, or philosophical belief.
The statement offers this by way of conclusion:
This solemn document – containing an affirmation of scriptural truth concerning Christ and His Church, the inherited liberties bequeathed to us by our forebears, and ten articles duly deduced from them – calls upon all who can stand in solidarity with its Declaration to be mindful of these biblical findings in all their decisions and actions concerning the relationship of Church and State and to passionately defend them when assaulted, and to earnestly pray for all those in civil authority, that God might direct them in all their ways so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness (1 Tim. 2:1-2; see also Ezra 6:10; Jer. 29:7; 1 Pet. 2:17).
The entire document can be read (and signed) here: www.niagaradeclaration.ca/
As mentioned, the diminution of religious liberties is taking place throughout the West, and Christians in other nations may also find the need to draft documents such as this. Such manifestos may not be the be all and end all in the wars against faith and freedom, but they offer a helpful platform by which churches and church leaders can make their case and plant their flag.
It is sad that we have gotten to such a place, but that is the reality we now face. We must take a stand now, before we lose even more religious freedoms. Well done to Dr Boot and the team for creating this much-needed Declaration.