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Perspective - Freedom of conscience

Recently I have been meeting with someone to discuss some culturally accepted practices that are against the traditional Biblical perspective. Looking to explore these, I have presented some commentary to help anyone formulate a response should they ever be challenged in their everyday life.

Baptists are well known for their favourable position supporting the separation of state and church. Broadly speaking Baptists resulted from the Reformation, where people looked to

reform the practices and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Baptists also supported the right to "Religious Freedom".

This encompasses a range of rights and freedoms related to religion, including:

  1. Freedom of Belief: The right to hold any religious beliefs or none at all. This includes the freedom to adopt, change, or abandon a person's religion or belief system without fear of coercion or discrimination.

  2. Freedom of Worship: The right to practice religion or belief system in private or in community with others, including the freedom to attend religious services, observe religious rituals, and engage in religious practices without interference.

  3. Freedom of Expression: The right to express religious beliefs through speech, writing, teaching, and other forms of communication. This includes the freedom to share religious beliefs with others, to evangelise, and to engage in religious education.

  4. Freedom of Association: The right to associate with others for religious purposes, including the freedom to form religious communities, congregations, and organisations, as well as to join or leave religious groups voluntarily.

  5. Freedom from Discrimination: The right to be treated equally and without discrimination based on religion or belief. This includes protection against discrimination in employment, education, housing, and public services, as well as protection against hate speech and violence motivated by religious intolerance.

  6. Freedom from Coercion: The right to be free from coercion, pressure, or intimidation to adhere to or renounce a particular religion or belief system. This includes protection against forced conversion, religious indoctrination, and other forms of religious coercion.

This has recently, and as I understand it today, expanded over the years to go beyond its historical origins to include other forms of discrimination. This can be labelled as "freedom of conscience".

Key aspects of freedom of conscience include:

  1. Autonomy: Individuals have the right to make decisions about their beliefs and values independently, without external pressure or influence. This includes the freedom to form their own moral judgements and to choose how to live their life based on those judgements.

  2. Religious and Non-Religious Beliefs: Freedom of conscience applies not only to religious beliefs but also to non-religious or secular beliefs, ethical principles, and philosophical convictions. It protects the right of individuals to hold any belief or worldview, whether religious or non-religious, and to live by those beliefs.

  3. Freedom of Thought and Expression: Freedom of conscience encompasses the freedom of thought, belief, and expression. Individuals have the right to express their beliefs openly, to engage in discussions and debates about matters of conscience, and to share their convictions with others without fear of censorship or reprisal.

  4. Conscientious Objection: Freedom of conscience includes the right to refuse to participate in activities or practices that violate a person's deeply held beliefs or moral principles. This may include conscientious objection to military service, participation in certain medical procedures, or compliance with laws or policies that conflict with their conscience.

  5. Freedom from Discrimination: Individuals should not face discrimination, persecution, or harassment based on their conscientious beliefs or moral convictions. Freedom of conscience protects individuals from being penalised or marginalised because they refuse to conform to majority beliefs or societal norms.

Freedom of conscience is recognised as a fundamental human right in various international and regional human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also protected by many national constitutions and laws around the world as an essential component of individual liberty and dignity.

Where does this leave us on how we respond when a person's beliefs conflict with God's Word?

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

There is a tension in how we receive people who want to hear the Gospel, seek Christ and experience God, but who continue to sin without repentance. Many use the word 'acceptance' which is in line with the notion of freedom of conscience, and what I believe to be the same issue the early church suffered from, where many took God's grace through Jesus as the licence to carry on sinning as believers.

One area where this is addressed in Holy scripture is the Book of Romans.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

Sin entered the world through Adam - impacting all (the fall). Righteousness through Christ's obedience to the cross - impacts all (justification).

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:1-4)

Those who believe and have faith in Christ died with Him, and are covered in His grace. But should we go on sinning? No no means!

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

We are in fact dead to sin (our old life has gone). We are not to let sin reign in our bodies, but instead offer ourselves as an instrument of righteousness.

As a result, I believe that "acceptance" is the wrong approach, but rather "to welcome and to share the Gospel". Through the Spirit, I believe God will transform all those who believe. Repentance and the ongoing journey of sanctification towards the likeness of Christ will be the result of a transformed heart - led by the Spirit. Ongoing sin by a Christian should never be tolerated, celebrated or accepted, but rather corrected with love.

Discrimination in the world should also never be tolerated, with our call being to love our neighbour as ourselves.

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