THE MOST important work in the world cannot be done without freedom of the press! What is that work? It is the work of announcing that God will restore His Government to the whole earth! But before the Government of God is restored, it must first be announced! The good news of that announcement — the Gospel of the Kingdom of God — must be preached (Matthew 24:14) to all nations (Matthew 28:19). And the nations must choose whether they will want it or resist it. In this day, God has made the MASS media available to accomplish His work. But reaching a mass audience with the good news of God's soon-coming Government requires the freedom to PUBLISH. Notice Mark 13:10: "And the gospel must first be published among all nations." Further, God lays a special duty on his messenger and Church to publicly disseminate certain warnings to certain nations. Ezekiel 33:1-7 describes God's charge upon the watchman. When the watchman sees "the sword" come upon the land — a prophetic symbol of military devastation — he must "blow the trumpet" or God will hold him personally responsible. This duty requires that a message warning about some very unpleasant events be published as far and as wide as possible to the latter-day descendants of ancient nations. Similarly, when God charged the prophet Jeremiah with a message, he also had an affirmative duty from God to spread it to as wide an audience as possible. Jeremiah was given a message so important he could hardly contain himself: "But his [God's] word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones..." (Jeremiah 20:9). So God's servants really have no choice as to exercising the right to publish their message freely. Their message is not for their personal benefit — but to the whole world!
And yet while the Bible places a duty on God's servants, it also warns that this world — even now and in the future — will not always allow the freedom to publish. In the past a government's excuse for persecution was that God's message IS TOO DISTURBING to be allowed to circulate freely. In the Old Testament, Elijah, for example, was hauled before King Ahab for the ancient equivalent of the crime of disturbing the peace: "Ahab said unto him [Elijah], Art thou he that troubleth Israel?" (I Kings 18:17). Elijah's defense was that he wasn't troubling Israel, only bringing some very distressing news from God to Ahab's government (verse 18). Likewise, the religious and political authorities of Amos' day tried to subject him to "prior restraint" — from speaking his message at all — because the message he brought from God was TO CONTROVERSIAL! "Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, Amos hath conspired against thee in the midst of the house of Israel: the land is not able to bear all his words.... Also Amaziah said unto Amos... prophesy not again any more at Bethel" (Amos 7:10, 12-13). Amaziah tried to deny Amos a forum for God's message in ancient Israel. Amos' message was too upsetting to the political and religious establishments! The prophet Jeremiah was even subjected to an ancient form of book burning. God commanded Jeremiah to write down "all the words that I [God] have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations..." (Jeremiah 36:2). Jeremiah put the words on a roll. Eventually, however, possession of the roll came to one of the king's top aides, who read it to the king (verse 21). After reading "three or four leaves" of the scroll, the aide, ever eager to please a now distraught king, threw the roll into the fireplace (verse 23). Afterwards, the king attempted, unsuccessfully, to seize Jeremiah for putting God's word to writing. Earlier, Jeremiah had already endured actual imprisonment for the content of his spoken message (Jeremiah 20:2). In the New Testament, the authorities tried to prevent the apostles from preaching the Gospel. The apostles were forcibly brought before the council. The high priest asked them: "Did not we straightly command you that you should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine..." (Acts 5:28). In other words, the civil and religious authorities were seeking to regulate the content of their message! In response, the apostle Peter declared the firm rule that "we ought to obey God rather than men" (verse 29). Since Peter and company had a God-ordained duty to say what they were saying, the commands of the civil government of Jerusalem were in direct conflict with God's. For the future, the Bible prophecy reveals that the time will come when most of this world's nations will be led by Satan to abolish freedom of the press — and all related freedoms. Why? To prevent any publishing of God's message from reaching any substantial number of people! `Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: and they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12). Elsewhere the Bible reveals how this prophesied press clampdown will take place. Revelation 13 describes a great religious-civil power that will arise in the place of the old Roman Empire. This prophesied power will not allow free speech, a free press or the free exercise of any religion — except the official religion of the state.
Why Free Press Important
The Gospel is the good news of a government that will REPLACE the governments of this world. Yet replace is a mild word! The prophet Daniel flatly declares that the Government of God will "break in pieces and consume" the nations of this world that resist Him (Daniel 2:44). The Gospel of the Kingdom of God proclaims that there is a higher power than human government, another and divine government to whom men, whether they know it or not, ultimately owe allegiance. For this reason early Christians were accused of doing "contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus" (Acts 17:7). No wonder the governments of this world have historically sought to suppress the publishing of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God — for it is ultimately the news of their overthrow by Christ at His return! Some have tried to justify the suppression of press freedom on the grounds that the free circulation of false ideas would create havoc for human government."Lying opinions, than which no mental plague is greater," wrote Pope Leo XIII, "and vices which corrupt the heart and moral life, should be diligently repressed by public authority, lest they insidiously work the ruin of the state." The key error is the failure to see the difference between the government of man and the government of God. God does not reveal the whole of His spiritual truth to society at large — only to those He calls (see Romans 8:30). Man, cut off from God, cannot be trusted to pass judgment on whether God's truth is, in fact, "true." The Bible reveals that Satan has deceived "the whole world" (Revelation 12:9). Christ said his true church would be a little flock, not a majority of the political community (Luke 12:32). Thus, no human government can ever be really certain that it can tell a "lying opinion" from a true one. Because men's minds are limited, men must have the truth revealed to them by God. When God doesn't reveal it, as He doesn't to most of society, the safest course open to humans is the greatest possible circulation of ideas. The Bible supports this idea when it declares: "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the MULTITUDE of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14). Even if false ideas circulate under freedom of the press, at least God's Word will also be able to go out unhindered. Free societies pay a very high price for freedom of the press — pornography circulates freely because human courts say they can't really tell the difference between pornography and other kinds of writing or expression. This is a very high price — but at least it does insure the free circulation of God's truth, as well as other religious ideas. If you grant human government the authority to censor what is printed or spoken, you allow the government to stop any message it doesn't approve of. Government tried to suppress Elijah, Amos and Jeremiah; it is prophesied to suppress God's true Gospel again in the future. The power to censor bad writing easily becomes the power to suppress good writing. There is a reason why God began, and based, his end-time work in the country on earth where freedom of the press is greatest — and why God's Church has grown the most, as a rule, in countries where press freedom is substantial. Since the spreading of God's Word is the most important activity on earth — the preservation of freedom of the press is one of the most awesome responsibilities God lays on human government.