Westminster Declaration of Christian Conscience..??


I’m hoping those subtly placed question marks at the end of the above title have piqued your interest, and implied that this post is NOT yet another ‘nag’ to put your name to this declaration. As a Facebook-er, I’ve had many such nags recently, so have endeavored to undertake an investigation, albeit brief.

In case you’re not one to wile the hours away on Facebook and/or not a Church-goer… this declaration is based on a similar one in the States. Christians are being urged to sign it, with the intent of informing the political candidates in question of our beliefs… and urging them to respect/protect them.

The first few paragraphs are entitled: Our beliefs and Values… Human Life… Marriage.
At face value, these are fairly straightforward. ‘Liberal’ (not Lib Dem) Christians could spend many an hour dissecting them, extracting the ‘conservative’ ness out and proposing alternative suggestions… and although I’m tempted, I feel my time could be used more wisely. Here’s one example of such views (Ekklesia) and while I can’t say I’m unwaveringly behind all he says, I do concur with the gist of the piece.

But it’s more the last two paragraphs of the declaration that disturb me:

Conscience
We count it a special privilege to live in a democratic society where all citizens have the right to participate in the political process. We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair, particularly in protecting vulnerable people. We will seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected against interference by the state and other threats, not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities. We will not be intimidated by any cultural or political power into silence or acquiescence and we will reject measures that seek to overrule our Christian consciences or to restrict our freedoms to express Christian beliefs, or to worship and obey God.

Commitment
We call upon all those in UK positions of leadership, responsibility and influence to pledge to respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold these beliefs and to act according to Christian conscience.

(words in bold is my doing)

We live in a Post-Christendom era. While it’s fantastic for us to get together with other Christians from a plethora of denominations and state our beliefs… the minute we attempt to enforce those beliefs on others, or demand that we have any sort of ‘rights’, we’re stepping outside of what our faith actually holds dear. Stuart Murray, in his superb book on this topic, suggests we ought to advocate equality for other faith communities… and advocate abolition, not extension, of Christendom vestiges. He states this is more feasible and ‘Christian’ than the restoration of a Christian State.

Granted, the declaration isn’t demanding Constantine to make a come-back… but its rhetoric is leaning in that direction, and for that reason I will not be signing it, and I’d invite you to consider doing likewise. We’re called to ‘be Church’ – to live in such a way as to be a witness for Christ. To be an example. To love and care for the oppressed. To share the Good News with those around us. But to demand/claim/expect any special treatment in the UK or anywhere else in the world?
No.

These are my very initial thoughts on this topic though, so please come back at me with your thoughts on this one.

26 Comments

  1. Reply

    My thoughts on the declaration:
    1. “We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair” – well, “what we can” sounds like we commit to do things that I personally don’t think Christians should do – i.e. push their morals on other people with the threat of imprisonment if they don’t obey, e.g. voting for MPs who will implement legislation.
    2. The same goes for “seek to ensure that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are unequivocally protected” – sounds like using law/coercion to get our way (for ourselves and for others).
    We are called to do good, but we are not called to do evil to do good – and I think that threatening, coercive behaviour, such as making efforts to bring about legislation (where disobedience is punishable) is against everything that Christ stood for.
    I like the stuff about not being intimidated but acting according to our conscience. 🙂
    I won’t be signing.

  2. Reply

    I am so fed up with all the Rights issues and just wish that someone, somewhere would emphasise Responsibility. That, it seems to me, is a far better summary of Jesus teaching. My daughter, when she began her grand descent into heroin addiction, threw all her Rights at me. So did the psychologist I was urged to take her to see – though he said nothing about her Right to being a child who might expect a responsible parent to care for her.

    But in the end, it was my love encouraging her to take personal responsibility that saw her triumph over a 13 year addiction. You can read about it in my book, A Painful Post Mortem.

  3. Reply

    Thanks for that Mel… can’t imagine what you’ve been through, but glad to hear it’s had a positive outcome.

  4. Reply

    Hi Annie,

    Very strong and forceful views presented in your blog and it’s good to see you expressing them. I’m not sure there is enough passion demonstrated on such topics and I do think it helps people to think when they are presented with a challenge. Even if they end up disagreeing, at least the conversation was stimulating.

    For that reason I have decided to present a few thoughts of my own in response to your comments as I do see things slightly differently. So I’m going to take the two statements you added emphasis to and present my thoughts on each of them.

    ‘…unequivocally protected against interference by the state…’

    When you consider this statement in the light of our open society where freedom of speech is still generally accepted and we are able to express our faith openly and without too much oppression, then this statement could seem a bit harsh. It’s fighting talk and in our society it is very easy to ask the question, where’s the fight? What we must remember however is that our society is changing and secular humanism is the main belief system that rules government, society and even churches. Consider for example the laws that are sneaking into this country.

    Freedom of speech is slowly being removed; churches are not allowed to refuse jobs to people who are involved in same sex relationships; preachers are not allowed to present biblical truth as anything more than an opinion and even then you have to walk carefully. A Christian couple from Liverpool were recently taken to court for expressing their views in the hearing of a Muslim woman. A schoolteacher was sacked because she offered to pray for a trouble student. These are just some of the things that are happening in our communities and I suspect the problem will increase. So I am compelled to ask, if these things develop further how would I respond? Would I ‘unequivocally protect’ my freedom to live out a biblical Christian lifestyle ‘against interference by the state’? Without question! If I am threatened with prison for stating that Jesus Christ and He alone is the only way to heaven, I will submit to the legal system or defend my right (or is it responsibility) to defend the truth of God’s Holy word. I will speak the truth with passion and willingly be carried off to prison. And when they release me. I will go on speaking the truth until I am imprisoned again!

    These things are a living reality in many countries of the world. There have been more Christian martyred in the last few years than in the last 2000 years. Right now, this very second, somebody somewhere is being actively persecuted for living out their faith, Christian or otherwise. It is worth remembering Daniel (in the book of Daniel) who, in a foreign country, protected his right (or responsibility) to pray three times per day, despite prayer being ruled as against the law. In addition to that, Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down to the idol. Why? Because they were upholding their right (responsibility) to ‘worship no other God besides me (Jahveh)’.

    So, when I sign the declaration (and I will) I am saying. Whatever you guys in Westminster want to do, just remember that I am a Christian and I will live as an uncompromising Christian, despite what you get up to and whatever laws you pass.

    The same applies to the statement ‘respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians’.

    Will I, for example, protect the right of churches to dismiss a staff member who has been caught in acts of extreme unrighteousness without repentance? Yes I will. Such action could be deemed as unlawful dismissal and the worker could take the church to court. Will I defend and uphold the rights of Christian and indeed other faith based groups and individuals as the declaration suggests in its statement ‘not only to individuals but also to institutions including families, charities, schools and religious communities’. These things are not linked to imposing our views onto others. They are simply focused on having the freedom to carry out our faith without making it illegal.

    Simon Morden stated on the Facebook page, “the Christian Institute supports it” and the reason they do is because they are facing these battles on a daily basis. There would be Christians jobless and prosecuted in this country, just for living their faith, if it was not for the Christian Institutes hard work and personal sacrifices. William Wilberforce followed his Christian conscience when he fought in parliament to see the abolition of slavery. He fought against national law to bring about righteousness as presented in God’s word. The rich aristocrat’s had no desire to give up their slaves, but Wilberforce fought from the foundation of his Christian conscience. Vince and Pauline Matherick saw a measure of this themselves when they were being forced to support and teach homosexual lifestyles as part of their role in the home. The Christian Institute took up their case and by the grace of God they won their case and are still able to be a great support to abandoned children, without compromising their Christian conscience.

    To end I would like to highlight how government works in our country. Our government is a democracy whereas government under Constantine was an autocracy; our government serves the people and works for the people. In order to better serve the people, our government needs to know how we feel. They need to understand what our needs our. You can be sure that the secular humanist, which I consider to be the new national religion, are getting their point across. They are making sure the government hears their views so that the government will create a country that allows them to function and flourish. If the Christians do not provide the government with its position on life and values, they cannot account for us and as a result we rob them of the opportunity to do their job (serve the people). Scripture tells us that God has anointed them to govern and the governing system they have chosen is democracy. They want us to have a voice. If we do not provide them with the Christian viewpoint then they will create a nation that is impossible for us to live in.

  5. Reply

    Hi Neil, without doubt, as you say we (Christians) are persecuted. However, is our response:
    a) to remove the rights and/or freedoms of others so that we can have our rights and freedoms?
    b) to bring in legislation that attempts to prevent this persecution by threatening punishment to those who seek to persecute us.
    OR
    c) simply to accept persecution, not fear it, and to continue living as Christ requires of us.
    I cannot find an instance where Christ attempted to stop people persecuting him. The only time he used power was in the temple against people who claimed to be inside God’s family. He did not attempt to coerce the Romans or the Hebrew authorities into protecting his followers or even into protecting the vulnerable. Although he was known to find favour with some in power. Many expected the Messiah to be a conquering hero that would protect God’s people with law and force. That is not the Messiah that came.
    Coercive power (legislation and the authorities of this world) are part of the failing system we see around us. Christ came to usher in a new system where we love our enemies and don’t exert our energies seeking our own privilege.
    The freedom that God gives us transcends any persecution that we may suffer – we can be free even when we have all of our freedoms taken away from us. It will never be impossible for us to live in this nation – however much people may try (and fail) to stop us obeying God. Maybe persecution is what the church needs? We seem so far away from the heart of Christ when we seek power over others through our right to vote. Let us find favour with the people around us, just as Daniel did and let’s exert our energies showing the new way of love and ignore the failing method of coercive power.

  6. Reply

    where does the declaration seek to except power? It is a declaration that states we will live by the Christian values of freedom. It suggests… we have these views and we will live by them, take that into account when you develop legislation.

    I dont see any desire to force law upon people, i see a desire to prevent law from controlling religious freedom.

  7. Reply

    The declaration includes: “We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair” – well the only way to ensure that our laws are just and fair would be to be part of implementing those laws, perhaps by voting for an MP who promotes such laws and will pass them into law. “Do what we can” implies that we will vote because that is doing something that we can do.

    The declaration has power because MPs will see that a certain amount of their voters want particular laws and not other ones and will tailor their manifesto in order to get the votes of these people. It is an assumption in the church that Christian’s should vote and the declaration builds on that in order to make Christian’s votes count.

    You say “I see a desire to prevent law from controlling religious freedom”. You are right, there is such a desire – now, personally, that is a willingness to put God’s will above the law. For many that desire is to control what laws exist – hence the Westminster declaration which is aimed at the legislature.

    You said “They are simply focused on having the freedom to carry out our faith without making it illegal” – so I assume that you are trying to influence legislation? I guess the question is: are you willing to vote and use the coercive power of the legal system that gives your vote relevance?

  8. Reply

    Well said Mark! I think we need to guard against being complacent, however – i.e. wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove.

    As I said above, I experienced considerable persecution from the psychologist to whom my doctor sent me with my daughter, to the extent that my ‘religious fanaticism’ was used against me in an attempt to remove custody of my children from me (by my re-married ex-husband).

    Thirteen years is a long time to suffer that sort of prejudice, whilst at the same time watching your daughter in self-destruct mode. But it is possible! Faith, after all, is a gift from God – not something we need to strive to achieve.

  9. Reply

    Thanks Neil… appreciate you taking the time to participate!

    Referring back to your initial post… I’d be interested to know of any part of the New Testament that urges us to attempt to influence those in government. We are called to bless and pray for those who persecute us… but are we called to ask them to ‘stop it please’?

    It’s not that I’m opposed to some of what you say regarding Christians standing up for what they believe in, regardless of ‘the law’… but this declaration is taking it much further than this. It’s a plea to do things our way, and a threat to suffer the consequenes if they don’t! It’s a suggestion that we are granted ‘rights’, over and above other faith groups and secular groups.

    If either Jesus or Paul (or another NT writer) had urged that Christians do this, then fine. But I honestly don’t believe they did.

    Oh, and best wishes for your forthcoming wedding anniversary…!

  10. Reply

    This is the system that God, in His sovereignty, has established in our nation. My job is to respect it and acknowledge that it has been put in place for the good of our nation and the people who live here. I support my government and I use the system that they, under God’s establishment, have chosen to implement (democracy). The system is not perfect but it is what we have.

    The system invites me to have a voice and make my convictions known. Like i said… they serve us, the TAX payer. Im assuming you pay tax? You pay their wages, they work for you.

    They need to know your convictions in order for them to create a society that serves the entire population. That is their job.

    You do have rights, all of us do, and nobody can take those away from us because God has given them to us. When it mentions ‘right’ at the end of the declaration I read as basic human right. The human right to live out your own life and belief system. Hitler took that away from Germany and tried to do it with the rest of Europe. Thank God, he gave us Churchill to who carried us to war in order to protect the same human right we are discussing now.

    If persecution is the will of God for the UK… I welcome it. In the mean time I will use the tools God has given to us, in order to ensure God is openly glorified and the institutions He set in place, such as family, are maintained.

  11. Reply

    Paul or Jesus never lived in a democracy. Jesus refers to our responsibility to pay taxes, suggesting we should acknowledge the authority that exists. Paul tells us to submit to those who are in authority, which he wrote while under one of the biggest persecuting governments of all time.

    So the New Testament conclusion is that government is established by God. Our government uses democracy to govern, and invites our opinions, ideas and recommendations. If the Conservative party get into government (which will be under God’s sovereignty if they do) they are asking us to take MORE control, with an invitation to join the government.

    So, if i take Paul’s assertion and submit to those in authority, i will work within the system they provide for me. I certainly don’t think it should be boycotted. I believe we enjoy a democratic society because of the Bible. Mostly Paul’s work!

    In addition, i dont see the declaration as a threat. I canot see it!!! I see it as declaration of my position… just so you know… this is where i stand!!!

    The consequences are not very scary are they? Protect religious freedom or ill write all the scripture I have memorised on the walls of my cell, while you bring breakfast, lunch and dinner at your own expense.

    Thanks re Anniversary, 12 years!!! People have got less for murder 😉

  12. Reply

    Sorry I finished so abruptly – was called away. I’m sorry, too, to have made this discussion personal – except that this is the reality of the situation. It’s not simply an abstract or theological debate. The fact is that Christians are being persecuted.

    I was asked, in January, to take part in a BBC radio programme about Christians suffering persecution, and the experience of some of them was heart-wrenching. That said, however, most of those interviewed had behaved in a truly Christian manner. Where jobs were threatened they had used the law to seek reinstatement, but mostly they accepted the prejudice against them in a cheek-turning manner.

    Anyway – I’ve said enough. You must be fed up with the sound of my keyboard by now . . .

  13. Reply

    Neil, You are absolutely right, our government do invite us to participate in government. Absolutely right that God puts governments in place and yes, we should submit to those in authority and work within the limits of the system they provide – we can also accept the many of the privileges provided to us.

    The only thing that I am concerned about is Christians using coercive power: For example we have the right to vote, but that right is not a God given absolute right (probably the only God given absolute right we have is to give our lives to him, accepting his gift of a relationship with him).

    Voting is a right that exists because of the power to punish people by putting them in prison, it also exists because of the power the nation has to repel invaders using violent, deadly force.

    When we vote for someone who is going to implement laws (regardless of whether they are good or bad laws) we are acting as part of government and we are choosing that people should be punished if they do x, y or z (without the police who can violently apprehend people, people could not be punished and the legal system would not work). What would be the point of voting if everyone could get away with not obeying them!

    I don’t believe that, as Christians, we should be taking up the power that is available to us to force people, using violent coercion, to follow a set of rules that we proscribe. We know that being forced to obey rules doesn’t make you better, we know that the only thing that reaches people for the better is loving self-sacrifice as demonstrated by Christ to which they can respond by changing out of free choice. So let’s spend our energies doing something that makes a real difference rather than something that comes out of fear and desire for self survival.

    • Reply

      Tyrone Oct 23 So agree with the above statement that CNN is FOX NEWS LITE… I use to enjoy the fact that one could think they were getting an un-biased news source, but after watching the past couple of days of most of the reporters jumping on the ROMNEY bandwagon, have decided I’d go back to netflix until the election is over…They took the easy road and sold themselves out. Save Anderson Cooper I do agree that he tries to stay neutral.

  14. Neil Reid

    Reply

    Mark, self survival? I’m considering a world that my children will live in, i’ll be gone! What changes people is the Holy Spirit (regeneration). I can find five different people who will give me five different definitions of love, even from a biblical prospective, using the Greek!!! And, they will each give you five different ways of how it should apply in real life!!!!!!!

    I have got personal testimonies of how sacrificial love won one, and produced hate another. I gave them both the same. Both had the same problem and i love both equally. One walked free and the other grew to despise me and is no longer with us. Is this not a picture of the the two men crucified with Jesus?

    Jesus both rebuked harshly and showed great compassion. Jude tells us to make a distinction on who needs what type of approach. Jesus never removed the moral law and government is anointed by God to execute His righteous judgement. Our system is democratic by God’s sovereign will. I believe government; order, structure and punishment are all necessary for the safety of society (not self – im a big boy!).

    Does not God clearly model this principle? He punished Cain for killing able. Imprisoned Jonah in a great fish until he submitted to God and saw the error of his way. Remember, the wages of sin is death! That is not to say I advocate the death penalty, God will judge the world… but the principle of punishment and consequence originates with Him.

    Having said that, I see nothing coercive in the declaration. Not a single thing! Chrome’s built in dictionary says…

    ‘Coercive measures are intended to force people to do something that they do not want to do.’

    The declaration is not forcing anybody to DO anything. It is simply saying. This is our conviction… please remember that and maintain laws that allow us to continue being who we are.

    Its main aim, as I see it, is to prevent the introduction of laws that would remove the freedom others shed their blood to give us. Laws such as… incitement to religious hatred. Law in a democratic society is not designed to coerce. It is designed to protect the week and vulnerable.

  15. Reply

    I do want to be clear on the link between the declaration and coercion. I don’t think that I’ve said that the declaration is coercive, but I believe I have said that its purpose is to reinforce the ability of the Christian to be coercive:
    The declaration encourages MPs to change their manifesto to suit the people that they think will be voting them in. This is true for any political lobbying.

    If the politicians didn’t think that Christians would vote then they wouldn’t be influenced by the declaration. The only reason the declaration exists is because its creators and those who sign up to it think that it will have an effect in parliament and the only way it could have an effect is if parliament thinks that it is the opinion of voters (that the Christians who sign it are also going to vote that way).

    By putting in lines like “We pledge to do what we can to ensure our laws are just and fair” the declaration clearly implies that Christians are going to be politically involved to get what they want (for themselves or others).

    I entirely agree with you about government – it is there for the safety of society – but interestingly it isn’t there for our relationship with God. I do agree that God is a God of judgment. My concern is that a lot of Christians think that they are supposed to judge the world – when in fact it is clear in the New Testament that we should only judge those inside the church.

    Voting would appear to be an outcome of people thinking that they are supposed to judge and control those outside of the church – but as judgment and control cannot give anyone a relationship with Christ, what is the point? Sure it makes society nicer, but it also reinforces the idea that that is the only way to live – when we have a counterpoint that says there is a new way to live, one of submission, service and sacrificial love.

    I’m pretty sure that we agree on most of this, which is quite exciting!

  16. Reply

    Neil, with reference to your post above, beginning: Paul or Jesus…

    …yes we should pay taxes and acknowledge and submit to the authority that exists… I agree.
    Government established by God? OK, insomuch as he ‘permits’ it to rule, temporarily.
    Government invites our ideas… smashing! I’m all for telling someone my opinions when asked (as you’re well aware!). But that’s not tantamount to requesting special treatment for Christians… to ask that ‘rights’ be protected… is it?
    Where does Jesus/Paul instruct us to go down that road?

    12 years? Bah! We hit 16 in July… still winning!

  17. Pingback: The Westminster Declaration: Just Say No! Dissenting Voices #hangem « Phil's Boring Blog

  18. Reply

    Absolutely, God put democracy here just as he puts theocracies there and autocracies elsewhere. Does that mean I should be the active theocrat, autocrat or democrat and ensure the existence of war, violence, laws, taxes and punishments? No.

  19. Reply

    God didn’t establish democracy any more than God established any other -ocracy: we did. We are Christ’s hands and feet on planet earth: God works through us — to feed the poor, clothe the naked and house the homeless. Our government’s capitulation to capitalism marginalises all of these groups even further, and declarations like Westminster 2010 simply add to the misery.

    [and whilst we’re onto wedding anniversaries: we hit 23 this year. So there 😉 ]

  20. Reply

    really dont see how X is equalling Y in most of your reasoning. It all seems very anti-establishment to me!

    blessings 😉

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