Over the past week or so, news screens across the world have been filled with the shocking and tragic scenes of the Charlie Hebdo murders. For those unaware, Charlie Hebdo is a Paris based satirical magazine, known for pushing the envelope regarding political correctness and offence. Many individuals, groups and religions have not escaped its ridicule with front covers mocking Michael Jackson to Jesus Christ and Muhammad.
Wednesday’s terrible killings have brought back into the spotlight issues regarding freedom of expression and speech and how absolute this right should be. With this in mind, how should Christians regard the issue of free speech today?
Many believers around the world will testify to the saving and transforming power of the gospel (the video below offers a biblical explanation of what this gospel is.) Indeed, it is no coincidence that Paul in his letter to the Romans says ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of salvation for all who believe’ (Romans 1:17-18.) As such, this truth cannot be underestimated in terms of its significance; it changes not only life in the here and now but also ensures a perfect eternity with God (Revelation 21 and 22.) On the other side, the Bible gives stark warning that those who refuse to believe and repent will face judgement (Hebrews 9:27) and an eternity in hell (Matthew 18:8, 25:46.)
Given the magnitude of the above, we if we believe it to be true for ourselves should surely be telling others about this and praying for opportunities to this effect. In saying this, I am of course aware my own sin gets in the way of my own evangelism and that I need God to help me be bold amongst my unbelieving colleagues, friends and others who I might happen to meet.
Yet, as well the of the gospel having the power to save and change lives, we also know that it is ‘an offence to those who are perishing’ (1 Corinthians 1:18.) In addition, some of what the Bible says is counter cultural to the beliefs and values of today’s age. Therefore, we should not be surprised that the gospel and Bible are considered offensive by numerous individuals and groups. In saying this, we should not in any way deliberately aim to be offensive. This would run counter to scripture which exhorts believers to love our neighbour (Mark 12:31) and to not be quarrelsome (2 Timothy 2:24-25.)This sharing of the truth without going out to cause offence can be summed up in the following phrase: ‘share the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:14-15.)
For all these reasons, I believe Christians should be interested in upholding the principle freedom of speech through political, judicial and social means. Such activity will vary depending on each individual, from deciding to choose political candidates and parties who uphold this principle, defending it in conversations, to directly getting involved in activity to this end. Further, whilst it is regrettable that offence could be caused from sharing the gospel and Bible with others, the imperative to share what we believe to be true and of maximum importance is surely greater.
We must also be aware however that God is sovereign and is in full control of all circumstances – past, present and future (Isiah 46:9-10, Romans 9.) Ask yourself this; did the severe persecution of the apostles, and members of the early church stop the spread of the gospel to more and more parts of the World? No it didn’t (Acts 4:1-4 is just one example.) Further, look at the persecution faced by Christians around the world today, from Nigeria, to China to North Korea (amongst many other places.) Has this modern day oppression curtailed the advance of the gospel? Again, the answer is negative. In China for instance, despite opposition of various kinds, the number of professing believers has grown massively – there are now as many Christians as there are members of the Communist Party! The point here is clear, not even the most severe persecution will halt the advance of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Whatever the circumstances in this present age, God will build his Church which will last into eternity (Matthew 16:18 .)
Thus, whilst Christians should be looking to uphold free speech, even when it unfortunately causes offence, we should not let any assaults on this principle deter us from the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) – to make disciples of Christ Jesus.
N.B. As Christians, we should not take ‘freedom of expression’ to mean murder or physically harm another person or group in name of Christianity, or incite to that effect. Put simply, there is no Biblical mandate for this. (Matthew 5:38-42, Ephesians 6:12)