The End of Religious Liberty

by Jason G. Duesing March 25, 2024

Are we seeing the end of religious liberty?

For Christians in America, we see the complexities of cultural engagement. Articulating the truths of biblical Christianity regarding sexuality and gender alone, brings conflict or worse. So, it is good and right to be concerned and wonder if the end of religious liberty is near.

We also wonder and debate how best to respond. We watch and listen to conversations about Christian Nationalism. We consider an upcoming presidential election. All the while, we recognize our society is experiencing more and more what a recent book calls The Great Dechurching.[1]

Are we seeing the end of religious liberty?  Here, in the West, we wonder.

However, in the rest of the world, we are seeing it. Listen to these facts from the recent annual World Watch List Report[2] that lists the 50 Countries where it is hardest to follow Jesus. Last year:

  • Almost 5,000 Christians were killed for their faith
  • Nearly 15,000 churches were attacked or closed
  • More than 295,000 Christians were forcibly displaced from their homes because of their faith

The fact is that for those of us in the Western World who worry about the loss of religious liberty may never go to jail for our faith, but, right now our brothers and sisters are in jail in many countries around the world.

Are we seeing the end of religious liberty?  In the rest of the world, we are.

Religious Liberty as Something Bigger

Given this predicament, one might be tempted to despair. Even so, while the present trends are not good, we should work to prevent the erosion of religious liberty wherever possible. To help with that, I want to offer an adjustment in how we think about the end of religious liberty.

Rather than a single-focused lament about what this means for Christians, I find it a helpful corrective to think of religious liberty as something bigger than just the free exercise of religion in a country or in our country.

For the purpose of religious liberty, ultimately, is not about freedom for Christians. Absolutely it includes that, but it’s purpose, as a doctrine, is so much more.

So, instead of asking, “Is this the end of religious liberty?”, I want to ask, “What is religious liberty?” and then “What is the end of religious liberty?”

What is Religious Liberty?

First, here are a few brief statements to summarize a biblical understanding of what is religious liberty:

  1. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see anyone coercing faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus could have coerced faith, but did not.
  2. Nowhere in the New Testament do we see Christians executing or arresting those who deny faith in Jesus Christ. While on earth, Jesus could have exercised judgment in this way, but did not.
  3. Instead, we see our Lord Jesus, his apostles, and the early churches reasoning, instructing, calling to repentance, and inviting people to believe.
  4. In sum, in the New Testament, Christianity is a faith that does not coerce, but persuades.

This biblical understanding influenced a theological and culture-engaging distinctive for many believers throughout history, and especially the men and women who formed the Baptist Tradition. From the Reformation, to England, to early America, to the present world at large, Baptists have advocated for religious liberty along these two axioms:

  1. The defense of every citizen’s right to pursue what they believe or do not believe only exists when the Church operates independent of the State.

Baptists affirmed that the State should exist and Christians should relate accordingly, but not ultimately (Romans 13, 1 Timothy 2, Acts 5). Baptists understood, from experience, that when the State can determine the validity of or limit the practice of one religion in society, nothing prevents it from turning to another religion or all religions.

  1. The defense of this civil right ensures the proclamation the Gospel for all either to accept or reject freely, without coercion. Further, it prevents the State from using its power intended to ensure civil protection and safety for matters of the soul and Spirit.

Read this summarized so well in the Baptist Faith and Message: “A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.”[3]

If this is religious liberty, when, then, will religious liberty come to an end?

When will Religious Liberty end?

The beautiful hymn in Philippians 2 tells of the humbling, sacrifice, and exaltation of Jesus Christ. And, it also tells us when religious liberty will end.

In Philippians 2, we see God has already exalted Christ Jesus and given him the name “Lord.” He has already handed all things over to him (see Matt 11:27), put all things under his feet (Eph 1:22), and given him all authority (Matt 28:18).

Yet, Paul also reveals that a future day is coming when the name of Jesus will go forth and all creatures will bow and confess him as Lord. At this time, which Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:24 calls “the end,” Jesus will finally destroy death and see the complete fulfillment of Psalm 8:6, when all things are put in subjection under his feet (1 Cor 15:23–28).

In Philippians 2:10, Paul references a statement from Isaiah that “every knee shall bow” to God the Father and ties his hymn to the larger and weightier biblical story.

In Isaiah 45, the prophet is crusading against idolatry by defending the uniqueness of the God of Israel. Thus, by ascribing this text to God the Son in Philippians the Bible not only affirms trinitarian equality, it shows that Jesus Christ is not a challenge to the monotheistic God of the Bible. The Father and Son are One. And this One God will one day be exalted once and for all. Until that day, we understand that Christ’s exaltation and the subjection of all to him are both already true and not yet complete.

Only on that day, the time of religious freedom will end. Everyone will bow and acknowledge the one true religion and one true God. The bowing especially conveys this acknowledgment, as the Bible regularly identifies this posture with concession that the one to whom one bows is superior. Further, this day of acknowledgment is universal but not universalism. No one will escape participation, whether repentant or not. Everyone will acknowledge that Jesus is King, whether out of joy or shame.

When we talk of religious liberty in the United States, we acknowledge its present fragility with words like threatened and with calls to “defend” it. And, as I said, to be sure, as long as we have religious liberty, it is worth defending.

However, should believers find their liberties removed or suppressed in the days ahead, we should also recognize that we will not really reach the end of religious liberty until Jesus returns.

Think of our brothers and sisters in North Korea or Yemen. How do they persevere? With no temporal hope for religious liberty, they must rely on an eternal and future hope. For those in Christ, the knowledge of the last day should provide hope that, no matter what trials come or earthly freedoms are diminished, God will make all things new. He will put all things under his feet and declare himself finally triumphant.

This eternal perspective should provide hope, but it should also serve as a sober warning, for the grace God shows by granting any form of religious liberty on earth is finite. At that time, when religious liberty ends, there will be no more hope for the lost.

If that is when religious liberty will see its ultimate end, how are Christians now to think about the purpose of religious liberty as something bigger?

What is “the end” of Religious Liberty?

In Philippians 2:11, Paul says that the universal submission of humanity to the lordship of Christ at the end of time takes place “to the glory of God the Father.”

This is “the end” goal, or bigger purpose, of religious liberty.

What do we mean when we see all things taking place to the glory of God? In part, it is the proclamation that:

  • The reigning King who made the heavens and the earth should receive honor and glory forever and ever (see 1 Tim 1:17).
  • To the one who put forward his Son as a propitiation so that God the Father might be just and the justifier of all those who fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:21–26) belongs glory and dominion forever and ever (1 Pet 4:11).
  • The one who gave his Spirit as a Helper to teach, convict (John 14:26; 16:8), and send his children as witnesses to the nations (Acts 1:8), to him be glory in the church, throughout all generations, forever and ever (Eph 3:21).

When we can hold onto the glory of God as the reason why religious liberty is worth defending, we can adjust our thinking about what is religious liberty and why it matters. This adjustment allows us to step back and affirm:

  1. Our hope that one day Jesus will be exalted on earth even while suffering continues, whether to us or to our brothers and sisters around the world.
  2. True faith cannot be coerced. The best cultural environment for faith to take root is one where there is religious liberty for all religions.
  3. One day true religious liberty will end and all knees will bow, whether they want to or not.
  4. Until then, the good news that Jesus is Lord is shared, with reasoning and pleading, while there still is time.
  5. It is worth proclaiming Christ even at the risk of security, safety, and rights—all for the glory of God.

This is the end of religious liberty.


This article is adapted from Jason G. Duesing’s recent chapel message: “A Portrait of the End of religious liberty,” at Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College. You can watch the full message below:

[1] Jim Davis, Michael Graham, and Ryan P. Burge, The Great Dechurching: Who’s Leaving, Why Are They Going, and What Will It Take to Bring them Back? (Zondervan, 2023).

[2] Jayson Casper, “The 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Follow Jesus in 2024,” Christianity Today, January 17, 2024,

[3] “Article XVII: Religious Liberty,” Baptist Faith and Message,