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  • Writer's picturePastor John Anderson

Baptist History You Should Know!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

*History and Politics Alert!

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States is loved by every liberty-lover in the world. This is a guarantee that preachers will not be muzzled out, citizens can express their opinions verbally and with the pen, and that people have a right to question their government's decisions here in these United States. There are people with whom I vehemently disagree but I would stand shoulder to shoulder with them in order to protect their right to disagree with me. This is one of the responsibilities of freedom. Freedom is not free. It must be fought for, strived for, and protected at all costs.

In recent days, we have witnessed mayors, governors, and elected officials throughout our nation speak very dangerously about the freedoms and rights of churches to meet and assemble during this Covid-19 crisis. The most alarming in my personal opinion was Bill de Blasio, the extremely liberal mayor of New York City. His own words: "I want to say to all those who are preparing for the potential of religious services this weekend: If you go to your synagogue, if you go to your church and attempt to hold services after having been told so often not to, our enforcement agents will have no choice but to shut down those services." He later added.  "we will take additional action up to the point of fines and potentially closing the building permanently if worshippers do not comply."

Before you jump on board and think, desperate times desperate measures, remember that freedom of religion was birthed out of a season of desperate times and measures. Friend, every liberty lover should be alarmed and outraged at such ridiculous statements here in these United States. I made the decision for our congregation that we would move to online services out of respect to our Governor's request, out of concern for our congregation's health and well-being, and out of a commitment to maintain a good testimony in our community. I did not make that decision because I was afraid of our government or of a Gustapo-like PC media. We need to be very cautious that we do not become brainwashed in these days by the PC Police in our midsts and those who are in favor of limiting freedom for the cause of safety. This is a huge mistake to start going down this road in our minds and in our behavior.

Those who do not know history will not appreciate it. Those who do not appreciate history will inevitably repeat the mistakes that were made in history. It is time that many Baptist people across this nation understand one of the historical contributions of a Baptist preacher that literally changed the world!

We have the first amendment, in majority part, due to the efforts of an American Baptist preacher named John Leland. Leland, a prominent Baptist preacher at the turn of the 19th century, had petitioned his Virginia legislator, James Madison, directly regarding his concern that more needed to be done to ensure religious liberty in the new country than the “Religious Test” clause of Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution.

Since Baptists represented a significant portion of the vote in Madison’s district, Leland’s threat to run for Madison’s seat in the House of Representatives resulted in a visit by Madison to his home. Coming out of that meeting was a compromise that included Leland agreeing not to run for Madison’s seat and Madison agreeing to champion Leland’s and his fellow Baptists’ concern for religious liberty. Madison kept his word and pushed for the Bill of Rights. Without Baptist involvement in the political process, it is probable that the protection of religious liberty from Congress would not exist.

Baptists have historically defended the principle of religious liberty. Since Baptists have always believed in churches made up only of professing, baptized believers, they have always rejected the idea of a state church union which results in a church composed of all citizens.

In the 16th century, the European Anabaptists opposed the use of the sword to mandate matters of the conscience. Seventeenth-century proto-Baptists such as Thomas Helwys (in England)  and Roger Williams (in Colonial America) spoke directly to the governing authorities appealing for religious liberty. Baptists have always stood on the side of religious liberty for all.

In fact, it was a group of Baptists in Danbury, Conn., concerned about the infringement of the newly formed federal government upon the consciences of American citizens, to whom Thomas Jefferson responded in a letter with the famous expression of “separation of church and state” that has become such an important part of the American discussion concerning religious liberty. (By the way, separation of church and state is not to prevent the church from influencing the government. It is put in place to keep the government from attempting to control the church!) This expression was a summary of the rights guaranteed in the first amendment that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

I am a Baptist for more reasons than fellowship and fried chicken. We believe historically and today that the government bows to the higher throne of free conscience and the decrees of our God. I hear people say things like "I am Baptistic but not a Baptist." Pardon me, but that is like saying "I'm Americanistic but not an American; or I am vegitarianistic but not a vegetarian." Quite frankly, most people speaking like this do not understand Baptist History in America. If they did, they might not be so cavalier when speaking about things they do not know.

Without apology, I gladly identify as a Bible believer who is a Baptist and thankful for my heritage and for men like John Leland who would refuse to sit by idle when religious freedom was unclear and unprotected. May God continue to raise up more John Lelands in the day in which we live! Let us never forget the battles that were fought, the price that was paid, and the blessings we enjoy because of great men like Leland!

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