yesterday's post regarding Lee Canipe's book A Baptist Democracy: Separating God from Caesar in the Land of the Free (Mercer University Press, 2011):
The current issue of Christian Reflection, a publication of the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, addresses the theme of freedom in Christian perspective with several substantive articles, reflections on artistic renderings of Christian freedom, worship resources, and reviews of selected books that frame freedom theologically. Jason D. Whitt's article "The Baptist Contribution to Liberty" is of particular interest in connection with my previous post. Here's a snippet from Whitt's introduction:
Baptists have long considered themselves to be at the forefront of calls for religious liberty. From their origins in seventeenth-century England to the early days of the fledgling American republic, and now into the twenty-first century, Baptists have claimed religious liberty as one of the characteristics that distinguishes them as a unique people. It was this commitment to religious liberty that spurred Baptists such as Isaac Backus (1724-1806) and John Leland (1754-1841) to call on the framers of the American Constitution to instantiate the separation of church and state as a hallmark of the new nation.
For most Baptists in the United States today a corollary to their understanding of religious liberty is the belief in soul competency, the idea that each individual believer stands before God alone in a relationship that is a personal matter between that soul and the divine. They say that religious liberty secures every individual’s freedom to determine his or her own religious beliefs apart from coercion by government (or any other institution).
While this understanding of religious liberty as individual freedom has become the standard for contemporary Baptists in the United States, it is not the conception of religious liberty first promulgated by Baptists in England. This contemporary view—that each individual has the right to choose theological beliefs from a vast array of options based on which ones best suit the individual’s desires apart from coercion by any authority—misses completely the intent of the early Baptist calls for religious liberty. The early English Baptists were not primarily concerned with individual human freedom, but with divine freedom. Religious coercion of belief was not primarily an affront to the individual’s rights, but to the sovereignty of God. It was God’s freedom that was at the center of Baptist calls for religious liberty.
Contemporary accounts of religious freedom that isolate the individual from all sources of authority save for personal reason betray a deep influence from Enlightenment thought rather than Baptist origins. These accounts tempt us to think of ourselves as isolated individuals whose faith is solely interiorized and who have no true connection with fellow believers other than our voluntary and changeable associations with them. How did we arrive at this point of confusion, and what are the implications of this turn from original Baptist ideals for believers today? (read more)