Baptists care about religious freedom for everyone.
I had a conversation with someone who was surprised to hear me say that. This person I was talking to goes to a Baptist church. But that’s something he has never heard. Rather, he grew up in a community where the Christians were more likely to insist on “Putting God back in schools” and “Getting back to our American Christian roots.”
When the Baptist denomination first came into being in the 1600s, religious freedom was very important. Baptists were in the minority, and they were persecuted for their different beliefs (namely, that they believed adult professing Christians should be baptized, not infants). Some went into exile because of the persecution. Others were imprisoned. It was tough being a Baptist back then. And therefore the first Baptists stood for religious freedom for everyone.
But things are different now. In many southern American towns, we have been the majority denomination. And most Baptists are clueless about their denomination’s history. I was clueless, too.
Today I listened to Dr. Roger Paynter’s sermon at First Baptist Church Austin from July 7, 2013. He gave a brief history lesson explaining how a Baptist pastor and the Virginia Baptist General Committee in 1788 were instrumental in the drive towards creating the Bill of Rights and guaranteeing religious liberty in America. Without their insistence, history would have turned out differently.
Sadly, during the sermon he said, “Maybe I’m cynical, but I have a hard time imagining any state Baptist convention anywhere these days – other than maybe Virginia – having courage to stand up and make such a statement if our government chose to remove religious liberty. …….. I hope I’m wrong.”
I hope he’s wrong, too, but I imagine he is not. The freedom to worship or not to worship … and the freedom to worship the way one prefers … without coercion … without persecution. That is what we want for ourselves. And so in the name of Christ, that is what we should offer to others!
I read a book called The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms by Walter Shurden that succinctly outlined the beliefs which have historically set Baptists apart. These are the reasons I love being a Baptist. Here is what Shurden says about the “Baptist Distinctives – Four Freedoms”:
Bible Freedom: The Bible, under the Lordship of Christ, must be central in the life of the individual and church. Christians, with the best and most scholarly tools of inquiry, are both free and obligated to study and obey Scripture.
Soul Freedom: The inalienable right and responsibility of every person to deal with God without the imposition of creed, the interference of clergy, or the intervention of civil government.
Church Freedom: Local churches are free, under the Lordship of Christ, to determine their membership and leadership, to order their worship and work, to ordain whom they perceive as gifted for ministry, male or female, and to participate in the larger Body of Christ, of whose unity and mission Baptists are proudly a part.
Religious Freedom: Freedom of religion, freedom for religion, and freedom from religion – insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar.
Amen and Amen.