What We Believe- Article XVII, Religious Liberty

After a short hiatus we are back to our weekly look at what we believe as enumerated in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000.  Actually, we are rounding third and heading for home, with only one more week after this one to look at the BF&M.  So, in this penultimate week (I really like that word) we will be handling Article XVII on Religious Liberty:

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.

Ummm . . . okay?  What was that?  I’m not quite sure if what we just read is what we believe from the BF&M 2000 or from the US Constitution 1789?  I definitely picked up a lot of Romans 13 in there, but it seemed to be mixed with a fair dose of the First Amendment and various Supreme Court rulings.  Honestly, I don’t really know why this is even in here?  Looking at it, this is verbatim what was written in the 1925 and 1963 editions (though the Scripture references have increased a tad), which is interesting since to the best of my knowledge the “separation of church and state” was not a well known civic doctrine until after 1947.

Alright, so anyways, let’s take a look at this mess.  Maybe a place to start would be by trimming it down to what I think actually has biblical justification as opposed to simply Constitutional justification.  It would look like:

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.)  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.  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.

* = This is dependent upon how we define separate

It appears to me that much of what was written originally (and subsequently removed by me above) was an expansion on one of two sources, either Romans 13.3-4 or Philippians 3.20:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13.3-4)

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3.20)

Now, I love Philippians 3.20, but I believe we can take that and Romans 13.3-4 too far.  We are to cherish our citizenship in heaven above our earthly citizenship, but this is not meant to be taken as a renouncement of our earthly citizenship (as say the Anabaptists might), which seems clear to me by the simple fact that the man who wrote Philippians 3.20 is the same man who constantly appealed to his Roman citizenship for protection during his ministry as recorded in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 16.37ff, 22.25ff, &tc).  Thus there must be some moderation here.

Similarly, one does not have any reasonable expectation for governmental respect of the church under the guise of Romans 13.  Surely the state shall be judged for their unfairness, but I do not see any cause to state that the state owes anything to the church.  Is this how Peter and James or Paul and Silas approached the issue?  Certainly not.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I do not recall Paul at any point before the King or Caesar saying, “Excuse me, I am a Christian.  You owe me religious liberty.”  Proper governmental authority should pay homage to Christ, but there is no delusion that the civil government of this world will or that we should expect it to.

This leads us to the idea of whether or not the Bible teaches that “Church and state should be separate.”  In as much as this means that the church should not depend upon the state for anything nor use authority within the state to determine authority within the church (think like the Church of England and it’s mixture with the monarchy) then certainly the two should be separate.  But to the extent that this concept is taken today, that we must have a pluralistic public square and that the state should not honor the church solely or at all, I do not believe this to be the case.  It is plausible (though not highly likely) that the state could operate in a way which is both honoring to and subservient to the church.  This would seem to be okay.  What must be avoided is the church becoming dependent upon anything from the state.

All that said, I do believe that the writers were on the right track in saying, “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.”  This is what I meant above by the church not being reliant upon the state for its well being.  It’s funny, this is so right and yet our convention seems to have a reputation in direct contrast to this, constantly wanting to use our power and influence to push our agenda through legislation and crying foul and prophesying utter doom when this does not work out.

In the end, this article is definitely a mess.  There is so much inappropriate in here, and that which is appropriate and good to meditate on we tend to disavow in practice.  Oh well, they can’t all be winners.

One Response to “What We Believe- Article XVII, Religious Liberty”

  1. Amber Says:

    SEPARATION OF RAUNCH AND STATE

    (It’s still legal – and always God-honoring – to air messages like the following. See Ezekiel 3:18-19. In light of government backing of raunchy behavior (such offenders were even executed in early America!), maybe the separation we really need is the “separation of raunch and state”!)

    In Luke 17 in the New Testament, Jesus said that one of the big “signs” that will happen shortly before His return to earth as Judge will be a repeat of the “days of Lot” (see Genesis 19 for details). So gays are actually helping to fulfill this same worldwide “sign” (and making the Bible even more believable!) and thus hurrying up the return of the Judge! They are accomplishing what many preachers haven’t accomplished! Gays couldn’t have accomplished this by just coming out of closets into bedrooms. Instead, they invented new architecture – you know, closets opening on to Main Streets where little kids would be able to watch naked men having sex with each other at festivals in places like San Francisco (where their underground saint – San Andreas – may soon get a big jolt out of what’s going on over his head!). Thanks, gays, for figuring out how to bring back our resurrected Saviour even quicker!

    If you would care to learn about the depraved human “pigpen” that regularly occurs in Nancy Pelosi’s district in California, Google “Zombietime” and click on “Up Your Alley Fair” in the left column. And to think – horrors – that she is only two levels away from being President!

    [Yes, the above is on the web. And I found another stunning item on Google - "God to Same-Sexers: Hurry Up."]

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