Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Baptists and Religious Liberty (1)

The concepts of religious liberty and separation of church & state are frequently on the minds of Americans and Baptists. Here are some Bible principles that may help guide our thoughts.

[1] "My kingdom is not of this world" - John 18:36. The kingdom of Jesus Christ is separate from the kingdoms of this world, and the kingdoms of this world have no authority over His kingdom. Religion is a matter between God and the soul, and the only mediator is Jesus Christ. Human authority should not meddle in these affairs.
[2] "We ought to obey God rather than men" - Acts 5:29. We are enjoined to obey governmental authorities in their sphere of service (Rom. 13:1ff.), but allegiance to God supercedes any and all human authority.
[3] "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock" - I Cor. 8:9. (cf. I Cor. 6:7 - "Why do ye not rather take wrong?"). We do not deny the authority of God in His commands. But in areas in which we have liberties, there are times when we should take wrong in consideration of the overall good.
[4 ] "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed," John 8:36. There is no true religious freedom apart from that dispensed by Jesus Christ. Any other is ephemeral -- an illusion.

One aspect of the Baptist stand for religious liberty is found in the desire for uncoerced religion, between man and his God without human intermediaries. Following this principle, Baptists could not demand allegiance to their principles from those who did not hold them. This aspect we extend to others.

Another aspect of the Baptist stand for religious liberty is found in the desire to obey God at all costs, which at times can lead to "civil" disobedience. Following this principle, no matter the laws in Britain, the American colonies, etc., Baptists would not surrender their duty to preach what they believed to be the truth. This aspect we ask for ourselves.

A third aspect of the Baptist stand for religious liberty is found in the desire to not press every liberty that we have to the extent of becoming stumblingblocks. If a city council makes a law concerning zoning, for example, it might restrict a church's ability to meet or build a structure in a certain area. While this might violate the Constitution (if it discriminates only against churches), it does not keep them from obeying God, for they can meet and preach in some other location and structure. This might be a good occasion to "take wrong" and go on, rather than pressing for rights. This aspect we hold out in peace and reconciliation between us and others.

A fourth aspect of the Baptist stand for religious liberty is found in the desire for true religion only between God and His subjects. Only the subject He has made free shall be free indeed. This freedom cannot be bound by physical chains, locks, or bars. This aspect we accept by faith with hope, for God knoweth them that are His.

"Government is the formation of an association of individuals, by mutual agreement, for mutual defence and advantage; to be governed by specific rules. And, when rightly formed, it embraces Pagans, Jews, Mahometans and Christians, within its fostering arms--prescribes no creed of faith for either of them--proscribes none of them for being heretics, promotes the man of talents and integrity, without inquiring after his religion--impartially protects all of them--punishes the man who works ill to his neighbor, let his faith and motives be what they may. Who, but tyrants, knaves and devils, can object to such government?" – John Leland, from The Writings of Elder John Leland, p. 476

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said! Now, let us watch with Elder Leland and see who are the tyrants, knaves,and devils who object to such government.