You have likely heard about the worship gathering at Auburn University that resulted in a public baptism at the campus lake of over 200 students. It was observed by 5000 students.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) sternly opposed the action. They sent a letter to Auburn University President, Christopher Roberts, warning that the student baptisms, one of which was assisted by Auburn Tigers head football coach Hugh Freeze, somehow violated the Constitution’s Establishment Clause. I felt irritated by the actions of the FFRF, and wanted them to butt out and let me revel In the joy of young adults stepping forward with Christ.
The next morning I was doing my Bible reading which is a chronological reading plan on the life of the Apostle Paul (Olivetree.com). I was struck with his early response to those who were spontaneously yielding to Christ, as visualized by their baptisms.
- Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. – Acts 8:3
- But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. – Acts 9:1-2
- I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. – Galatians 1:13
It is hard to imagine any members of the FFRF opposing baptisms with the ferocity that Paul did. Yet, God. Yet, God….. pursued and transformed this zealous opposer of the Gospel, a man who was responsible for the imprisonment, beatings, and execution of those who professed the same allegiance as Coach Freeze and those Auburn kids.
So, what are we to glean from this?
- God is big. He saw in Paul a man He would rescue and forgive. A man he would empower and employ for great kingdom work. Maybe our big God has “Paul’s” in the FFRF. They just don’t know it yet.
- People really do change. Put Paul in our day, and imagine his vitriol to the gospel, his vehemence in opposing it, and his violent behavior to the church and Christians. Now see the power and creativity of God in delivering him. You see a God that can really change the heart of the most ardent rejector of Christ in your life.
- The FFRF (or any persecutors) are not the enemy. They are victims of the Enemy. Paul wholeheartedly believed he was doing what was good and right. It was what helped people. It was what pleased God, or his understanding of God. One’s practice being wrong, even terribly wrong, does not mean their motives are as evil as you might think they are. One of the glories of the gospel is it gives us a “new mind” (Romans 12:1). Without it, people’s minds are “darkened, deceived, ignorant, blind” (all Scriptural descriptions)
- The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20). To persecute Christians for identifying with Jesus is ungodly behavior. But, ungodly anger, posts, mockery is never the Christian counterpoint. It is forgiveness, compassion, and prayer. Stephen, the first martyr (Acts 7), while being stoned, showed the way. As the stones bashed his body, he prayed, ““Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” It is likely that response ate at the soul of Paul on his way to Damascus and Jesus said to him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (goads were the sticks prodding animals to respond). Paul was not won by debate or ridicule. He was won by the supernatural response of a mistreated Christian.