Baptists on Religious Liberty, Church and State



2000 Baptist Faith and Message


XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

Genesis 1:27; 2:7; Matthew 6:6-7,24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Romans 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Galatians 5:1,13; Philippians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19.


XV. The Christian and the Social Order

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

Exodus 20:3-17; Leviticus 6:2-5; Deuteronomy 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Micah 6:8; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 5:13-16,43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3ff.; 10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Romans 12–14; 1Corinthians 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20-24; 10:23-11:1; Galatians 3:26-28; Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:12-17; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8.




The Baptist Faith and Message of 1963

XVII. Religious Liberty  God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power. 

Gen. 1:27; 2:7; Matt. 6:6-7, 24; 16:26; 22:21; John 8:36; Acts 4:19-20; Rom. 6:1-2; 13:1-7; Gal. 5:1, 13; Phil. 3:20; 1 Tim. 2:1-2; James 4:12; 1 Peter 2:12-17; 3:11-17; 4:12-19 


XV. The Christian and the Social Order Every Christian is under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in his own life and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Christian should oppose, in the spirit of Christ, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice. He should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth. 

Ex. 20:3-17; Lev. 6:2-5; Deut. 10:12; 27:17; Psalm 101:5; Mic. 6:8; Zech. 8:16; Matt. 5:13-16, 43-48; 22:36-40; 25:35; Mark 1:29-34; 2:3 ff.; 10:21; Luke 4:18-21; 10:27-37; 20:25; John 15:12; 17:15; Rom. 12-14; 1 Cor. 5:9-10; 6:1-7; 7:20- 24; 10:23 to 11:1; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:12-17; 1 Thess. 3:12; Philemon; James 1:27; 2:8 
 




Presidential Study Committee Report of 1994
Received by 1994 the Southern Baptist Convention

From Part I
We also affirm the historic Baptist conception of the nature and function of confessional statements in our religious and denominational life.  Baptists affirm and circulate confessions of fatih with the following understandings:

1. As an expression of our religious liberty.  Any group of Baptists, large or small, has the inherent right to draw up for itself and to publish to the world a confession of faith whenever it wishes.  As a corollary of this principle, we reject state-imposed religious creeds and attendant civil sanctions.


A Free Church in a Free State Throughout our history Baptists have not wavered in our belief that God intends for a free church to function in a free state. Since God alone is Lord of the conscience, the temporal realm has no authority to coerce religious commitments. However, the doctrine of religious liberty, far from implying doctrinal laxity or unconcern, guarantees the ability of every congregation and general Baptist body to determine (on the basis of the Word of God) its own doctrinal and disciplinary parameters.






Abstract of Principles
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1858 

XVIII. Liberty of Conscience. God alone is Lord of the conscience; and He hath left it free from the doctrines of commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to His word, or not contained in it. Civil magistrates being ordained of God, subjection in all lawful things commanded by them ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
 
 


New Hampshire Confession of 1833

14. Of Civil Government
That civil government is of divine appointment, for the interests and good order of human society; and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed, except in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.
 




The Philadelphia Confession of 1742

Chapter 21

Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience

1. The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the Gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigor and curse of the law and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear, and sting of death, the victory of the grace, and everlasting damnation; as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of a slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind. All which were common also to believers under the law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament, the liberty of Christians is further enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of the ceremonial law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to His Word or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, and absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.

3. They who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the Gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty; which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
 
 


The Orthodox Creed of 1679

Article 45
Of the Civil Magistrate The supreme Lord and King of all the world hath ordained civil magistrates to be under Him, over the people for His own glory and the public good. And the office of a magistrate may be accepted of and executed by Christians, when lawfully called thereunto; and God hath given the power of the sword into the hands of all lawful magistrates for the defense and encouragement of them that do weH and for the punishment of evil doers and for the maintenance of justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom and commonwealth, and they may wage war upon just and necessary occasions. ~d subjection in the Lord ought to be yielded to the magistrates in all lawful things commanded by them for conscience sake, with prayers for them, for a blessing upon them, paying all lawful and reasonable custom and tribute to them for the assisting of them against foreign, domestical, and potent enemies.


Article 46
Of Liberty of Conscience The Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of kings and Lord of all by purchase and is judge of quick and dead, is only Lord of conscience; having a peculiar right so to be. He having died for that end, to take away the guilt and to destroy the filth of sin that keeps the consciences of all men in thraldom and bondage till they are set free by His special grace. And therefore He would not have the consciences of men in bondage to, or imposed upon, by any usurpation, tyranny, or command whatsoever, contrary to His revealed will in His Word, which is the only rule He hath left for the consciences of all men to be rule and regulated, and guided by, through the assistance of His Spirit. And therefore the obedience to any command or decree, that is not revealed in or consonant to His word in the Holy oracles of Scripture, is a betraying of the true liberty of conscience. And the requiring of an implicit faith and an absolute blind obedience, destroys liberty of conscience, and reason also, it being repugnant to both and that no pretended good end whatsoever by any man, can make that action, obedience, or practice, lawful and good, that is not grounded in or upon the authority of Holy Scripture or right reason agreeable thereunto.
 
 


The London Confession of 1644

48. That a civil magistracy is an ordinance of God set up by God for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well and that in all lawful things commanded by them, subjection ought to he given by us in the Lord; and that we are to make supplication and prayer for kings, and all that are in authority that it under them we may live a peaceable and quiet life in all godliness anti honesty.

49. The supreme magistracy of this kingdom we believe to be the King and Parliament freely chosen by the kingdom, and that in all those civil laws which have been acted by them, or for the present is or shall be ordained, we are bound to yield subjection and obedience unto in the Lord, as conceiving ourselves bound to defend both the persons of those thus chosen, and all civil laws made by them, with our persons, liberties, and estates, with all that is called ours, although we should suffer never so much from them in not actively submitting to sonic ecclesiastical laws, which might be conceived by them to be their duties to establish which we for the present could not see, nor our consciences could submit unto; yet are we bound to yield our persons to their pleasures.

50. And if God should provide such a mercy for us, as to incline the magistrates' hearts so far to tender our consciences, as that we might be protected by them from wrong, injury, oppression and molestation, which long we formerly have groaned under by the tyranny and oppression of the prelatical hierarchy, which (God through mercy hath made this present King and Parliament wonderful, honorable, as an instrument in His hand, to throw down; and we thereby have had some breathing time, we shall, we hope, look at it as a mercy beyond our expectation, and conceive ourselves further engaged forever to bless God for it.

51. But if God withhold the magistrates' allowance and furtherance herein; yet we must notwithstanding proceed together in Christian communion, not daring to give place to suspend our practice, but to walk in obedience to Christ in the profession and holding forth this faith before mentioned, even in the midst of all trials antI afflictions, not accounting our goods, lands, wives, children, fathers, mothers, brethren, sisters, yea, and our own lives dear unto us so we may finish our course with joy: remembering always we ought to obey (God rather than men, and grounding upon   the commandment, commission ion and promise of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, who as tie hath all power in heaven anti earth, so also hath promised, if we keep his commandments which lie hath given us, to he with us to the end of the world: and when we have finished our course, and kept the faith, to give us the crown of righteousness, which is laid up for all that love His appearing, and to whom we must give an account of all our actions, no man being able to discharge us of the same.

52. And likewise unto all men is to be given whatsoever is their due; tributes, customs, and all such lawful duties, ought willingly to be by us paid and performed, our lands, goods, and bodies, to submit to the magistrate in the Lord, and the magistrate every way to be acknowledged, reverenced, and obeyed, according to godliness; not because of wrath only but for conscience sake. And finally, all men so to be esteemed and regarded, as is due and meet for their place, age, estate, and condition.

53 And thus we desire to give unto God that which is God's, and unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and unto all men that which belongeth unto them, endeavoring ourselves to have always a clear conscience void of offence towards God and towards man. And if any take this that we have said to be heresy, then do we with the apostle freely confess, that after the way which they call heresy, worship we the God of our fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets and apostles, desiring from our souls to disclaim all heresies and opinions which are not after Christ, and to be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, as knowing our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord.
 




Resolution No. 5
Adopted by messengers to the 1995
The Southern Baptist Convention

On a Constitutional Amendment Regarding
Prayer and Religious Expression

WHEREAS, The 104th Congress is considering an amendment to the Constitution to protect the freedom of private persons, including students in public schools, to engage in voluntary prayer and other religious expression in circumstances in which expression of a non-religious character would be permitted; and to prohibit the denial of benefits or other discrimination against persons on account of the religious character of their speech or status; and

WHEREAS, Although specific language has not been selected, some proposals would also stop lawsuits challenging government accommodation of public or ceremonial acknowledgments of the religious heritage, beliefs and traditions of its people, such as the motto In God We Trust on coinage, or the display of the Ten Commandments in public buildings; and

WHEREAS, The biblical principle of religious liberty is rooted in the nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the nature of the human spirit as created by God: spiritual regeneration and reformation can and should occur only as an individual freely responds by faith to God's work and God's Word, and not in response to coercion by any person, government or church; and

WHEREAS, The constitutional principle of religious liberty is rooted in the convictions of Baptist forebears like John Leland and other early Americans who, despite arguments that no amendment was necessary, insisted upon certain amendments to the Constitution, resulting in the First Amendment Religion Clauses: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and

WHEREAS, With growing frequency the Supreme Court has issued confusing and contradictory rulings which have led some lower courts and public officials to interpret the Establishment Clause as prohibiting what the Free Exercise Clause should protect, and to interpret the Free Speech clause as prohibiting discrimination or censorship based on the content of speech, with the exception that religious speech on government-owned property or at government-sponsored meetings must be treated discriminatorily in the name of strict separation of church and state; and

WHEREAS, After decades of hoping that legal briefs, statutory remedies, or changes in court personnel could reverse the rising tide of discrimination against religious expression in the schoolhouse, workplace and public square, it is time for the American people to express their will clearly through the Constitutional amendment process which provides the surest way to stop such discrimination.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, call on Congress to adopt and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to protect the freedom of private persons, including students in public schools, to engage 
in voluntary prayer and other religious expression in circumstances in which expression of a non-religious character would be permitted; and to prohibit the denial of benefits or other discrimination against persons on account of the religious character of their speech or status; and to permit government accommodation of public or ceremonial acknowledgments of religious heritage, beliefs and traditions of its people; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we call on the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission to work for passage of such an amendment, while also advocating Baptist principles of freedom of conscience, to prevent government from composing, compelling or subsidizing prayer or religious expression by any person; and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That on this 150th Anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, we reaffirm the principle and pledge ourselves to the practice of our God-given right of religious liberty, in order to obey God's commands to pray without ceasing and to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to everyone, everywhere.