Introducing Southern Baptists©
C. B. Hastings
TOC  Forward    Chapter 1  2   3  4  5   6   7   8  9  Aftward   Appendix  Glossary   FAQ  Bibliography (Start Page)

"Every man must give an account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in that way that he can best reconcile it to his conscience."' So wrote Baptist pastor John Leland in "The Rights of Conscience" during the important struggle in the 1780's in Virginia to pass a bill of rights that would guarantee religious liberty. The state had long established the Anglican Church.

Leland went on to refute the oft-repeated claim that the highest good of the State is fostered by a single, established Church so as to produce unity and promote good order.

Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear—maintain the principles that he believes—worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death; let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more?2

There is no nerve in Baptists that is more sensitive than that which activates our conscience for religious liberty. Critics may accuse us of knee jerk reactionism, of selective application of the principles, or of championing the cause only when Baptists are a despised minority, but with no shaking of our stand. On this we have a kind of race memory that goes back to our forebears, the Anabaptists of northern Europe in the sixteenth century. It is not just a cause that may need to be espoused on those occasions when we are an endangered species. Nor is it one which lies ready to hand whenever we need to prove our concern for justice for oppressed peoples. These may be the only times the public media take note. On the contrary, religious liberty is an essential part of the warp and woof of the whole cloth all Baptists wear. Even when fighting for this liberty for ourselves, we believe that it is a divine right that promotes the highest good of all men and their societies, even those who oppose us.


1. The Anabaptists Heritage.

The Swiss Anabaptists in the 1520's took their stand for believer's baptism and a church "gathered" out of both the established Church and the dominant State. For this the Church accused them of heresy and the State of sedition. The first Anabaptist martyr (Zurich, 1527) was Felix Manz, the associate of Conrad Grebel, who is generally accredit ed as founding the movement. He pleaded before the Council of Zurich against the use of force to suppress those who rejected infant baptism. Though he lost his life, Manz and his fellow believers launched Christians on the long trek toward full religious liberty, almost three centuries distant. "In 152~25, at Zurich, are the crossroads from which two roads lead down through history: the road of the free church of committed Christians separated from the state, with full religious liberty; and the road of the state church, territorially fixed, depending on state support, and forcibly suppressing all divergence, the road of intolerance and persecution."3

Calvin was not above using the state to punish heretics, even to death as in the case of Servetus. But even his good friend Nicholas Zurkinden, a member of the council of Bern that passed one such death sentence, rebelled inwardly at this kind of travesty.

Writing to Calvin years afterward, he said: "I freely confess that I also am one of those who desire to see the sword used as seldom as possible as a means of compulsion upon the opponents of the faith: and I am moved not so much by the Scripture passages which are cited, to keep the edge of the sword away from the treatment of matters of faith, as the unbelievable examples which have occurred in our time in the punishment of the Anabaptists. I was witness here when an eighty-year-old grandmother and her daughter, a mother of six children, were led to their death for no other reason than that they rejected infant baptism in accord with the well-known and common teaching of the Anabaptists."4 He testifies to an historical reality which can be repeatedly demonstrated: once the sword is allowed in defense of religion there is no limit to injustice and tyranny. No liberty is safe where there is no freedom of religion.

We will look presently at the bases of religious freedom, but it is well to note the six grounds of such advocacy by Anabaptists as discerned by Bender: (1) the teaching and spirit of Christ expressly forbids any use of force; (2) the principle of voluntary church membership; (3) the Christian life as active discipleship rather than passive acceptance of the grace of God mediated through the Church; (4) the primacy of Christian love, even to one's enemies; (5) the way to victory through suffering; (6) faith as a gift from God that cannot be compelled by many

2. Early Baptist Witness In Europe and America.

It has been noted above that present-day Baptists have no direct connection in origin with Anabaptists. But the early leaders, John Smyth and Thomas Helwys, were strongly influenced by their teachings. In "A Short Confession of Faith" the Helwys party in 1610 stated that in contrast to the Old Covenant Christ took away "also the kingly office, kingdom, sword, revenge appointed by the law" from the domain of the Church.6 Furthermore, God has armored the Church only with spiritual weapons for the spiritual warfare. "And they being the redeemed of the Lord, who dwell in the house of the Lord, upon the Mount Sion, do change their fleshly weapons, namely, their swords into shares, and their spears into scythes, do lift up no sword, neither hath nor consent to fleshly battle."' In the context of their persecution by the authorities, both Catholic and Reformed, their first stand for liberty had to be directed against the Church. By this they disputed the age-old concept of the two swords, the temporal and the spiritual, both under the control of the Church, which was Catholic doctrine. On the other side they disputed the Reformers' concept of the two orders, where the Church is superior to the State and has the right to use the latter for the defense of the faith.

Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island, has been called "the attending physician" for the birth of full religious liberty in any modern stated His banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony was based upon these particular views: (1) The Church and the State cannot be co-extensive, for the Church is made up alone of the regenerate. There is no such thing as a Christian state. Citizenship ought not to be restricted to the regenerate, nor should the ideals of the Church be lowered to include all the populace. The sword belongs to the State for "civil vengeance and punishment"; the Word, as the sword of the Spirit, belongs to the Church for "spiritual vengeance and punishment." (2) Constraint of a man's conscience cannot but pros duce hypocrisy and so divine wrath. His repentance is an expedient which deludes both the man and his judges and results in a deceived conscience. (3) The erroneous conscience must be respected with the same freedom as the true. The end result may be a more moral and considerate life than that of an enforced yet true conscience. Given the diversity and fallibility of men, who is qualified to judge the conscience finally but God himself?

Williams was accused of opening the door to a great increase of "papists." The breadth of his soul, educated in a strict Calvinism, is nowhere better seen than in this statement, which could be thought very modern:

. . . if any or many conscientiously turn papists: I allege the experience of a holy, wise, and learned man, experienced in our own and other states' affairs, who affirms that he knew but few papists increase, where much liberty to papists was granted, yea, fewer than where they were restrained: Yet further, that in his conscience and judgment he believed and observed that such persons as conscientiously turned papists (as believing popery the truer way to heaven and salvations say, such persons were ordinarily more conscionable, loving, and peaceable in their dealings, and nearer to heaven than thousands that follow a bare common trade and road and name of Protestant religion, and yet live without all life of conscience and devotion to God, and consequently with as little love and faithfulness unto mend

In our pride of the "founding fathers of our nation" it is easy to forget that with few exceptions the early colonists, who were escaping political and religious tyrannies of Europe, were hardly more liberal in their foundations than the countries they left. Though the Plymouth Colony was more open at first, soon all of New England came under the intolerance of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Virginia and the Carolinas established the Anglican faith, and as late as the Revolution Baptists were still being imprisoned and fined for preaching and conducting assemblies. Peter Stuyvesant in New York established the Dutch Reformed Church until the English took over and changed to the Anglican faith. There both Baptists and Quakers were subject to arrest, whipping and banishment.

Maryland and Pennsylvania were remarkable exceptions. Lord Baltimore, a convert to Catholicism, established the colony of Maryland in 1632 and gave freedom of conscience to Protestant and Catholic alike. His "Toleration Act" of 1649, however, proscribed those guilty of blasphemy, denial of the Trinity, or reproaching Mary or the apostles. But by 1688 the tables had turned and the Protestant legislature repealed the Act of Toleration, forbade Catholic worship and even refused admission for Catholics to the colony. William Penn, the Quaker, opened his colony to all, only restricting public offices to those who professed faith in Christ. Only Fthode Island in its charter of 1663 guaranteed full liberty to all with no political hindrances to any on the basis of religions

3. The Baptist Influence for the Bill of Rights.

When the colonies began to write their own constitutions after the Declaration of Independence, Virginia and Massachusetts opened the way for full guarantees of religious liberty in the new republic. Both were strongly influenced by Baptist leaders. In Virginia the political leaders, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, were guided by the tenets of Deism and the social contract theory of John Locke. In 1776 under their leadership the Virginia legislature adopted a constitution and passed a bill of rights. One of the latter, written by Mason, originally read: "That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to tolerance according to the dictates of conscience...."" Madison led the assembly to substitute free exercise of religion for tolerance. Still, John Leland and his Baptist cohorts were not satisfied that full liberty was theirs until the State was officially separated from the Anglican Church. Their fears were justified when Patrick Henry in 1784 introduced a bill that would provide a general tax for the equal support of every religious body.'2 The General Committee of Virginia Baptists led a strong attack against the bill. Still it might have passed had it not been for the powerful "Memorial arid Remonstrance" of James Madison before the assembly. Among many reasons he brought against. the bill we note here principles which have been appealed to many times since.

"Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties." This has been called "the nose of the camel under the tent." While it can produce such a rigid view of separation of Church and State as to deny the influence of either upon the other, it yet proclaims the necessity of "eternal vigilance in the affairs of liberty."

"Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity in exclusion of all other religions may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever." This states that when favoritism is shown in tax-support to one religious system, there is no barrier to unlimited favoritism, even if in justice the attempt were made to benefit all equally.

"Because experience witnesses that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation...." Now this is Madison's personal judgment, of course, but it is at one with the Baptist experience throughout history of having to break with both State and Church in order to restore what they believed to be the purity of the Christian faith.

"Because the policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. . ."'3 It has long been a Baptist contention, joined by many others, that in a free, pluralistic state Christianity enjoys more vitality and growth because it must make its way through witness and persuasion of those without and by sole support of its own constituents.

"Because, finally, 'the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion according to the dictates of conscience' is held by the same tenure with all our other rights." Now Baptists have not tried to argue this principle as much as simply to hold it as axiomatic. This is justified by the very fact that the eventual Bill of Rights of the Constitution began with the guarantee of freedom of religion and tied it immediately in the same sentence Title the other basic freedoms of speech, assembly, and petition:

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.

Isaac Backus, a Baptist leader, presented a plea for a religious liberty clause to the Massachusetts delegation to the Continental Congress of 1774. It was not until the fight to ratify the new Constitution, however, that religious liberty was finally a political reality for the Republic. Virginia was a key state in that struggle. The Baptists of that state were about to put up their leader against the powerful James Madison as delegate to the Convention on Ratification. John Leland had written a long letter to Madison spelling out ten objections to the Constitution unless a bill of rights was adopted. Madison visited the Baptist leader and under the trees at his farm home the latter agreed to throw the weight of Virginia Baptists behind Madison for his assurance that he would introduce such a bill in the coming convention.'4 The bill as finally written by Thomas Jefferson was ~Hnnterl in 178O and ratified by the states two years later. Merrimon Cuninggim summarizes the role of the little people in this struggle for liberty of conscience:

Both the Bill of Rights and the Statute of Religious Freedom were enacted through the generalship of Madison and his helpers, with Jefferson playing the strategist's role; but the privates in the ranks were the dissenters. And if there had been no large and determined army there would have been no fight. The victory for religious liberty was a compound of many forces, the work of many diverse people, the outgrowth of many varied movements. But that one element that could not possibly have been spared, that one factor more effective than any of the rest, was the participation of the dissenting Protestants.

4. Continuing Struggle for Religious Liberty in America.

As is so often the case with human movements, once liberty was guaranteed by the Constitution many concluded the victory was permanent and there need be no further concern. But it was not to be so. It took until 1833 when the last state, Massachusetts, finally completed the disestablishment of any church. Soon the problem arose from an unexpected quarter. "Though legally disestablished, the churches (sadly including Baptists) often acted as if there was a sort of general Protestant establishment and sought to use legislation to enforce their view of morality upon the nation. They dipped occasionally into the public treasury for support of their work and held on to an older privileged position. It took greater courage perhaps to oppose, as many did, such subtle abuses of church-state separation than to act when the issues had been clear cut.'' The great migrations, mostly of Catholic peoples from Europe and Ireland, in the eighteenth century aroused such anti-Catholic fears as to attract many Baptists to nativistic movements. Some of these were tempted to deny the rights of citizens or to restrict them seriously in their antagonisms. Gradually also Baptists sought political means to enforce with other Protestants such characteristic moral codes as the Puritan sabbath (to the disadvantage of Jews and Seventh-Day adherents), temperance, and book censorship.


We have been tracing the way Baptists have been shaped by, and the contributions they have made to, the cause of religious liberty. By no means should any conclude that Baptists are the dominant force in this cause. Practically all Protestants, and since Vatican II Catholics also, are caught up in these concerns. Not only are all concerned for religious liberty in such communist countries as Russia and Muslim states as Iran and Turkey, but even in the United States the problem has taken on the greatest complexity. In the last generation the State has entered through education and welfare programs fields that once belonged solely to the churches. All of this and more calls for the profoundest study of the philosophical, religious and legal bases of liberty, civil and religious, economic and personal.

It is beyond the scope of this book and much more the capability of its author to attempt more than a brief look, first at some definitions and distinctions, and then at some biblical and theological grounds.

1.  Definitions and Distinctions.

A good place to start is the distinction between tolerance and religious liberty drawn by the eminent Jesuit scholar, John Courtney Murray. As one of the Perth at the Second Vatican Council he was largely responsible for the writing of the Declaration on Religious Freedom. He describes the long-standing policy of tolerance of the Catholic Church:

The theory of religious tolerance takes its start from the statement, considered to be axiomatic, that error has no rights, that only the truth has rights, and exclusive rights. From this axiom a juridical theory is deduced, which distinguishes between "thesis" and "hypothesis." The thesis asserts that Catholicism, per se and in principle, should be established as the one "religion of the state since it is the one true religion." Given the institution of establishment, it follows by logical and juridical consequence that no other religion, per se and in principle, can be allowed public existence or action within the state.... Error has no rights. Therefore error is to be suppressed whenever and wherever possible; intolerance is the rule. Error, however, may be tolerated when tolerance is necessary by reason of circumstances, that is, when intolerance is impossible; tolerance remains the exception."

Now this is obviously not religious freedom, for a tolerance, when exercised either by a dominant church or by an all-powerful state, has no respect for the validity and autonomy of a contrary religion. Rights which are offered only in sufferance can be revoked for cause. Religious liberty exists on the contrary only when it is inalienable and irrevocable.

Freedom implies the absence of restraint; liberty is the wider, more positive license to accomplish aims and so fulfill the nature of man and his religious societies. Religious liberty is an inclusive concept. It begins with the individual in freedom of conscience. This is a concern of the Church, for in its evangelizing, educating and disciplining there must finally be room for the individual conscience to be free, else it is no longer moral. This is a concern of the State, for its laws and national policies must never abridge the free exercise of conscience. And this is pointedly demonstrated in the matter of conscientious objectors in the time of war.

Religious liberty extends from the individual to his religious group and grants freedom to assemble and to worship "according to the dictates of conscience." This includes again the freedom to witness and to propagate religion, restrained only by respect for the rights of others and the civil order of the State. True freedom exists only when the dominant religious group accepts responsibility for the freedom of its minorities. Where the State and the Church overlap, both have the responsibility of recognizing the legal and religious distinctions fostered by each.

2. Theological bases of religious liberty.

Let us summarize our argument for religious liberty with these four theological considerations:

There is one God of all men. As creator and provider of all he shows partiality toward none (Matt. 5:45; Rom. 2:11; Acts 10:3~35). He "would have all men to be saved" (I Tim. 2:4), "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). He is not the God of peoples of a single race or a single religion (Rom. 3:29). He has ways of revealing himself that go beyond the Judeo-Christian witnesses (Acts14:17; Rom. 1:19-20; 2:14-15). This requires a respect and a sensitivity on the part of those witnesses to "the heathen" which too often are ignored or at best not sought after.
The dignity of man. As we have discussed the competency of the soul under the lordship of Christ, we need only call attention to the fundamental truths of the nature of man as human and as Christian.
The only power and authority granted to Christ's followers is that which he himself wielded. It is the power of the Cross: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself" (John 12:32). He would persuade men through redeeming love. It is his word that "is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Heb. 4:12).
The sole motive and operating power, then, is that of agape love. The church has no other force. The State, without such resource, is shut up to the operation of laws, which can frequently show injustice and even coercion. But the Church can only take it patiently and fight back with the weapons of the Spirit, clothed with "the whole armor of God"—truth, righteousness, peace, and faith (Eph. 6:11-18).


All of the foregoing discussion of religious liberty may lead some to assume that we only have to write the guarantee of religious liberty into the constitution and laws of any land in order to secure permanent freedom. Such is far from the case. The United States has not only been the pioneer, but the chief exemplar of religious liberty for all modern states. We have the pluralism of peoples, cultures, and religions to under gird a doctrine of fairness to all and of unity through diversity. All Protestant bodies are on record in support of the Bill of Rights. Now as a result of the Declaration on Religious Freedom of the Second Vatican Council the Roman Catholic Church is also strongly committed (see below). Champions of religious liberty have been able to rely largely upon the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, in no other country has there been so much agonizing over the interpretation and applications. Many have concluded that so long as human societies, both political and religious, remain fallible, there can be no rest from this struggle.

Much appeal to the cause has been based upon Thomas Jefferson's famous phrase, "a wall of separation between church and State." It is well to quote him in the context of his reply as President to a letter of commendation from the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut in 1802:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to kits social duties.'8

Now some have argued that by the figure of the "wall" the founding fathers of the country never intended for a hard and fast separation that would ignore that both Church and State operate in the same realm of the social life of its people. The last clause of the quotation above would seem to bear this out. Jefferson may have been overly optimistic in concluding that man has "no natural right in opposition to his social duties." With the careful delineations of a limited state which he held, he could not foresee the modern concern of the State for the same welfare and just causes which have long been the preserve of religion.

Glenn Hinson has located three areas where "the taut line" of separation has been difficult to define:

  1. State aid to religion, both direct for denominational educational and welfare institutions, and indirect aid, such as tax exemption of Church property;
  2. Church involvement in State affairs, by seeking legislative recourse for moral concerns such as temperance, anti-pornography, Sabbath laws, and abortion disputes;
  3. State involvement in Church affairs, such as court settlements of Church property disputes, application of equal opportunity laws, and the appointment of an ambassador or representative to the Vatican.

Much Protestant-Catholic tension has arisen over State aid to education. Protestants have tended to justify Bible reading and prayer in the public schools, released time for religious instruction, baccalaureate services and non-denominational departments of religion in state colleges and universities. Catholics have generally defended State aid to parochial schools, the incorporation of a parochial school into a public system, garbed nuns teaching in public schools, and, where full direct aid has not been allowed by the Supreme Court, financial support for textbooks, bus transportation, and school lunches. Both Protestants and Catholics have been in substantial agreement on the legitimacy of chaplains in the military and state institutions, tax exemption for religious property and activities, and social security for the clergy.

Classic Supreme Court cases have been occasioned by specific problems presented by certain religious groups in America. In the last century the Mormons precipitated a crisis over polygamy. In this century the Jehovah's Witnesses have been before the Court several times on their stand against saluting the flag and transfusion of blood. The Amish have withstood the State over enforced education of their children. Sabbatarians have struggled against the Sunday "blue laws." More recently the members of the Unification Church ("Moonies") have provoked decisions over their claim to freedom to witness in public places. The Church of Scientology and some lesser groups have exercised the courts sorely over the problem of the legal definitions of religion. The Justice branch may no longer be able to assume those definitions provided by religious bodies as in earlier years.

This brief listing of the areas of overlap and tension barely opens the window upon the complexities of the interpretation and applications of the principle of the "separation of Church and State." It should be obvious by now that strict separation is an ideal which is both impossible and unwise, for it would deny the prophetic voice of the Church to criticize the State, and the "social duties" of Christians in the exercise of their religious practices. Hinson argues for a clear distinction together with "mutual helpfulness" between Church and State. He urges no favoritism of any particular religious body by the State and does not believe that the American policy should lead to the "total secularization of the state."' He points out that "the health and survival of soul liberty depend on the maintenance of delicate balances." These he defines as the State's balance between hostility and control and that of favoritism; the Church's balance between freedom of propagating its faith and the rights of others, between missionary zeal and respect for human conscience. Liberty of conscience cannot finally be denied, as countless martyrs to the faith have attested. Liberty of religion is a freedom that must continually be won through the exercise of justice on the part of the State and love by the Church. Anything less is an ultimate denial of the one Shod who is father and judge of all mankind.20


No contemporary discussion of religious liberty would be complete without acknowledging the tremendous contribution of the Catholic Church at the recent Council. Together with the Decree of Ecumenism, which for the first time in history formally recognized "the separated Churches and communities," the Declaration on Religious Liberty opened an entirely new era in the history of religious freedom. Even before the final passage of the Declaration, December 7, 1965, Pope John XXIII had called Cardinal Bea to establish the Papal Commission on Christian Unity. It is significant that two Americans played a strong role in the delicate politics of the Council in helping to bring about the Declaration. John Courtney Murray, S.J., a peritus (theological consultant), has been recognized widely as most influential, even to the final written form of the documents' The other was a young Paulist Father, Thomas Stransky, who later as president of his order of missionary priests has been very active in ecumenical dialogues. He served in the Commission on Christian Unity under Cardinal Bea and his successor, Cardinal Willebrands.

The Declaration defines religious freedom thus: "This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs."22 Murray identifies two aspects in this and points to the new element: "First, no man is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his personal beliefs; second, no n1an is to be forcibly restrained from acting in accordance with his beliefs. The affirmation of this latter immunity is the new thing, which is in harmony with the older affirmation of the former immunity."23 This freedom from coercion for the individual is enlarged to include his religious community in paragraph 4. This is spelled out in terms of freedom of assembly and worship, the right to educate children and establish religious institutions, particularly seminaries, and freedom for missionary endeavor. The Council recognized the right of the State to set norms for social order and of Christians to obey its laws, but without hindrance from the government in the exercise of religion. Government is urged "to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life,"24 but these are not spelled out.

Baptists, who among others have felt the lash of Catholic persecution in the past, rejoice at the tremendous stride toward full religious freedom made here by the Catholic Church. Even though only one sentence in the Declaration admits the former intolerance—"In the life of the People of God as it has made its pilgrim way through the vicissitudes of human history, there have at times appeared ways of acting which were less in accord with the spirit of the gospel and even opposed to it"zS????—the Declaration taken in its entirety is a humble about-face for the once triumphalistic Church.

Still, we could wish that the Church had gone farther. There is no disavowal of the right of the Church to be established in a State wherever possible. Instead the Church is urged to be tolerant of minorities: "If, in view of peculiar circumstances obtaining among certain peoples, special legal recognition is given in the constitutional order of society to one religious body, it is at the same time imperative that the right of all citizens and religious bodies to religious freedom should be recognized and made effective in practice." 2e

The Declaration is concerned chiefly with the freedom for the exercise of religion of the Church itself in those countries where the government might be alien or hostile. It has nothing to say about the freedom for dissent within its own ranks, and this has led to much confusion in the development of religious re newel in the years since. It is agreed that both here and elsewhere in the Documents, final appeal is made by the individual to his conscience before God. But in the light of the claim that the Church is the custodian of truth, both that which is revealed and "those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself,"27 it is not likely that the Catholic conscience is ever going to be finally free to pursue Truth apart from its authoritative teachers.

Philip Wogaman expressed the basic cause of a limited approval of the Church's Declaration:

While there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of the new generation of Catholic political thinkers or the good faith of the church in adopting its basically progressive Declaration on Religious Liberty, it may yet be said that the basis still remains upon which the older claims of dogmatic intolerance were previously made. I am thinking of the claim that the Catholic Church is the repository of absolute religious truth and objectively valid means of grace, in relation to which other religious claims are relatively in error, and of the hierarchical system which remains for the authoritative interpretation of doctrine.... If modern Catholicism is still understood to possess infallibility in dogma and objective means of grace, identified with institutional forms and administered by an authoritative priesthood and hierarchy, does there not remain a logical basis for political efforts to further the church in its objectively valid mission and to impede competitive efforts insofar as circumstances of time and place permit? . . . One may believe the question to be largely academic in the present spirit of ecumenicity, but at the same time one may continue to hope for further modifications of the doctrine of the Church.28

In spite of sharing Wogaman's criticism, this author agrees that the Council has ushered in a new day in which there is much possibility for cooperation between Catholic, Protestant and Jew in the cause of liberty of religion world wide. It is just as true here as in other areas: so long as religious liberty does not truly exist in any country of the world, no country can rest set cure with its own measure of freedom. Perhaps the ultimate bat tie is against that weakness of human nature so poignantly described by Milton,

Than to love Bondage more than Liberty,
Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty.29


1. Robert A. Baker, ea., A Baptist Source Book (Nashville: Baptist Press, 1966), p. 40.

2. Ibid., pp. 41-42.

3. Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptists and Religious Liberty ire the Sixteenth Century (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), p. 8.

4. Ibid., p. 18.

5. Ibid., p. 19.

6. Op. cit., p. 105.

7. Ibid., p. 107.

8. Glenn Hinson, Soul Liberty (Nashville: Convention Press, 1975), p.96.

9. Roland H. Bainton, The Travail of Religious Liberty (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1951), p. 223.

10. I am indebted to Hinson, op. cit., pp. 90-98, for this summary.

11. Baker, op. cit., pp. 34-35; italics mine.

12. This system still prevails in West Germany and certain other European countries.

13. All quotes are from Baker, op. cit., pp. 3~37.

14. The story is told in full by O. K. and Marjorie Armstrong, The Indomitable Baptists (Garden City: Doubleday and Co., 1967), pp. ~16.

15. Merrimon Cuninggim, Freedom's Holy Light (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1955), pp. 10~107.

16. Pope A. Duncan, "Baptists and Other Denominations," Baptist Advance (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1964), p. 391.

17. John Courtney Murray, S.J. ea., Freedom and Man (New York: P. J. Kennedy and Sons, 1965), p. 134.

18. A. F. Carrillo de Albornoz, The Basis of Religious Liberty (New York: Association Press, 1963), p. 44.

19. H. A. Washington, ea., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 8 (New York: Derby and Jackson, 1859), p. 113.

20. Hinson, op. cit., pp. 10~107.

21. For more detailed discussion of the issues involved in the application of the principle of separation, see Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: Beacon Press, 1967); Philip Wogamon, Protestant Faith and Religious Liberty (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967); Glenn T. Miller, Religious Liberty in America (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press), 1976.

22. See the symposiums edited by John Courtney Murray, S.J., which deal with the many issues: Freedom and Man (New York: P. J. Kennedy and Sons, 1965), and Religious Liberty: An End and a Beginning (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1966).

23. Number 2, Murray's translation in Religious Liberty: An End and a Beginning (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1966)

24. Ibid., footnote 4, p. 166.)

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid.

28. Wogaman, op. cit., pp. 39~0.

29. Samson Agon~stes, 11. 27~271.

Last updated Tuesday, December 29, 1998

©Copyright 1998 All rights Reserved. C.B Hastings
Text was scanned and OCRed from Introducing Southern Baptist ©Paulist, Press 1981.
ISBN: 0-8091-2364-9
Library of Congress Number: 81-80052
Contact the Author