This is an important enough topic that I am going to risk it being rejected. In some respects, this may be the hardest Helium article I have written to date. I originally pondered this topic when reading another article in a place I regularly read. It made me think because, while I agreed with much that was stated, I also disagreed with much that was stated. Well, I found a Helium title that fit it, and I began researching it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the author of that article is also a Helium writer! Therefore to be fair, I will not mention that person’s name or where the article appeared.
Why did I disagree with the original article? What I see lacking in articles about this subject on various web sites, including “cult” or “cult awareness” sites, is that the reasoning is not Biblical. That does not mean they are necessarily wrong, but shouldn’t the main reasoning be based upon the Bible itself? If we are going to talk about an organization that is supposed to be based in Scripture, then shouldn’t principles in Scripture be the driving force behind any list of “rights”? In fact, where in the Bible does it say we have any rights whatsoever? It seems we need to first establish if we even have any rights. Then we can establish what we do not have a right to, and finally what rights we do have. The odd thing about it is that if you look at the Bible in a particular way, that is exactly how it is presented!
“Rights” in the Bible?
Some would argue we have no rights. If you are looking for the word “rights” in the KJV, I’ll save you the trouble. That word is not used there. The modern concept of “rights” has not always existed, and the KJV was commissioned by a king, after all. Kings don’t usually think much about people’s rights, especially kings in the 17th century. However, if you look at the NIV, the word “rights” does appear where “manner” is used in the KJV. Certainly the word “birthright” is used, which shows that firstborns had inheritance rights. Job 36:6 states, “He preserveth not the life of the wicked: but giveth right to the poor.” The NIV translates that last part as “gives the afflicted their rights.” We do not see a one-to-one correspondence of the concept, but we see subtle and not so subtle statements throughout the Law that God envisioned people having certain rights.
How were any of these rights established? Mostly through, not by, the Mosaic Law. If the Law entitled someone to something, then they had a “right” to it. Similarly, the US Constitution outlines our rights by law. Some say the Constitution gives us our rights, but I would strongly disagree. Even the US Constitution acknowledges we “secure the blessings of liberty”, which is quite different than stating the Constitution establishes the grounds for liberty. “We the People” of the United States have ordained and established the Constitution, not the other way around!1 Furthermore, it would not have been possible for the Constitution had the US not declared independence by appealing to “Nature’s God” and the “Creator”.2 Therefore, the authority of the governing documents that started the US were not the documents themselves! Neither was “Mosaic Law” the granter of rights to ancient Israel! That’s because it really wasn’t the “Law of Moses”, but it was rather the “Law of God”. It was God Who granted any rights, if they were to be given!
If that is true, then we should see examples of some type of “rights” even before Moses. We do. Adam and Eve were created perfectly, they were placed into a perfect environment, and they had a personal relationship with God their Creator. They were told to not eat of one of the trees in the Garden. Why? God could have programmed into them a distaste for the fruit of that particular tree, and there would have been no problem. However, if God created them in that manner, then they would not have been created in His image. God gave them free will because God has free will. They had a God-given right to make choices, even if those choices were not in their best interest.
From the very beginning, we see God giving human beings “rights”. Something that seems to be lost today, however, is that with rights comes responsibility. We have trouble understanding our rights because we have in some ways lost the sense of responsibility and instead have perpetuated a victim mentality. It also distorts the freedoms granted to us. We cannot have freedoms without rights to protect them, and Christians are granted freedom (Jn 8:36; 2Co 3:17; Gal 4:3-7).
What are not Rights
What is not a right? By definition, the opposite of a right is a wrong. What is a “wrong”? The breaking of the law!
We see a right being given to Adam and Eve, and later we see the Law given to ancient Israel that spells out further rights. However, before God gave a detailed listing of laws, including case and civil laws, He pronounced a series of “Thou shalt not” statements. To distill it down as far as possible, God was saying, “You shall not do wrong”, and He listed them.
In other words, we do not have a right to sin.
What are our Rights?
Since we do not have a right to sin, we cannot expect a church to tolerate active and deliberate sin. We cannot expect a church to tolerate us sinning against others in the congregation. Therefore, our first right should be a process to deal with unrepentant sinners. That may seem like an odd right, but we should expect that as long as we adhere to Mt 18:15-19, the church should as well.
Outside of the Law and certain principles established in the New Testament, what freedoms are granted us? If the Law is a highway, then love is the highway markings. If we travel off the road, we can run into severe obstacles that can ruin the trip (our life). If we go outside the markings, we will be on the road, but we will have violated the intent. The shoulder can be not as well maintained and have debris that is also dangerous to us. Driving on the wrong side of the road can be outright dangerous. It is best to stay within the correct lines. Does it matter which lane you are in if there are 4 lanes going the same direction? Well, customs and laws may differ in different regions and countries, but you will probably still get to where you are going. Does it matter the speed you are going? There probably is a wide range of acceptable speed on the highway. Within that range, you are free to choose a speed. Basically, if the traffic laws don’t say you cannot do it, then there is no reason you cannot do it as long as you are putting no one in danger.
So, we have the right:
- To not be continually sinned against (elaborated above).
To make choices, to exercise free will and to be wrong. If God granted this to Adam and Eve, then why shouldn’t we extend the courtesy to others? If it isn’t blatant sin, then we need to be tolerant of others (Ro 14:1-4):
a. To have different opinions. These may even be doctrinal, but as long as we are not causing division, why not allow the truth to sink in on God’s timetable? Besides, are you so sure that you aren’t the “weaker brother” with the incorrect view?
b. To have any occupation (Ge 2:15; Ep 4:28) that does not support sinful activities (Ep 5:1-17).
c. To live any way that is not condemned in the Bible and does not cause someone else to sin (Ro 14:21).
d. To marry anyone not forbidden by the Bible. Please note that in 1Co 7:39, we are to marry “in the Lord”. However, you should note that Paul starts off the chapter by saying, “I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” Then again, he says in verse 12, “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord”.
e. To sharpen our God-given talents through education (Pr 1:7, 22; 2:6; Jas 1:5; 2Pe 1:5).
f. To have a life outside of church (if we are to “assembling of ourselves together”, then it stands to reason we are apart much of the time).
g. To have worldly friends (Mt 9:10-12).
h. To not be judged outside the bounds of explicit Bible commands (Mt 7:7; Jn 7:24; 1Co 2:15).
i. To learn and exercise discernment (1Co 2:7-16; 1Jn 4:3).
To not be discriminated against:
a. Because you are a different ethnic group (Ac 10:34; Ro 2:11; 10:12).
b. Because you are poor, rich or famous (Lev 19:15; Dt 1:17; Ep 6:9; Jas 2:9).
- To be forgiven by church leaders after being forgiven by God (Mt 6:14-15; 2Co 2:1-11).
- To Godly church leadership (1Ti 3:1-12).
- To be taught the truth in love (Jn 4:24; 16:13; Ep 4:11-15).
- To be told when we are wrong (Lev 19:17; Lk 17:3; Tit 1:13; Jas 5:19-20; 1Jn 5:16) in love.
- To be treated with the love and respect due everyone (Mt 22:39; Lk 6:31; Jn 13:35).
- To confidentiality (Pr 11:13; 18:8; 26:20).
- To use your mind (Isa 1:18; Mt 22:37).
- To ask what Scripture supports any given teaching (Isa 8:20; Mt 22:29; Jn 5:39).
- To ask what Jesus would do if He were there (1Pe 2:21).
- To be human (Ge 1:27, 31).
- To attend with another church organization that doesn’t teach heresy (Lk 9:49-50).
- To leave if they teach heresy (2Co 6:14). No explanation is needed, either.
There may be others, but these are the ones that stand out from a Scriptural perspective.
“Rights” aside, however, we must ask ourselves if we truly are viewing things with a loving, serving attitude. We will definitely make the wrong decision if we don’t have a servant’s attitude, regardless of whether or not the facts justify the actions. One way to do that is to surround ourselves with others who do have that attitude. We tend to reflect the attitudes of those we surround ourselves with.
What we must also be mindful of in any dealings with other people is that they are not perfect, even as we are not perfect. Remember the old saying, “If you find a church full of hypocrites, don’t worry. One more won’t make a difference.”
- Barefoot Bob, “The Constitution For The United States, Its Sources and Its Application“
- Wikipedia, “United States Declaration of Independence“