The 4th of July has always been special to me. Freedom is precious. During my life the freedom of my nation has been threatened time and time again. Now is no exception.
Baptists played a central role in securing freedom for us. The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in order to gain the support of the Baptist Christians. Our Baptist forefathers should be credited for not only freedom of religion, but also the right to own guns, to speak our minds, to have privacy and all of the rights protected by the first ten amendments to the Constitution. I wish that the Baptist Bashers knew that their very right to attack us is guaranteed by our early Baptist leaders such as Roger Williams, Isaac Baccus, and John Leland.
For many centuries the national governments required all of their citizens to belong to the denomination supported by the king. In England it was the Episcopalian, in Spain the Roman Catholic, in much of Germany the Lutheran, in Scotland the Presbyterian and so forth. Those who did not want to conform were punished. Many were even killed.
In the Sixteenth Century men and women all across Europe questioned this arrangement. Their argument ran like this. Beyond this life awaits Judgment by God. We will be accountable to God for what we believe and how we behave. Consequently, individuals should be given freedom of conscience. Accountability presupposes freedom. For the Baptists salvation came by a person personally responding to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to believe in faith that God would forgive one for his or her sins.
Apparently, the rulers of nations and of religious denominations believed that for the society to work properly everyone should share the same religious beliefs. So, Baptists were persecuted. For example John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, spent many years in jail. The colony of Rhode Island, established by Baptists Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke, was the first colony to offer freedom of religious beliefs to its citizens. This was true not only for Christians, but for Jews and Muslims as well.
About 1750 a great revival swept through the American colonies. Many responded to the invitation of the Holy Spirit, experienced forgiveness and the new birth. Many joined the ranks of the Baptists. When the colonies, having won their freedom from England sought to form the United States, the support of the Baptist was needed. So, while some states in New England had established Congregationalism and some in the South Episcopalianism, the nation as a whole supported the Baptist position and allowed freedom of religion.
So, this Independence Day please recall your Baptist heritage. And when some express the desire to suppress the free exercise of a faith which is clearly in error or are critical of you for wanting to evangelize Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons and others, just remember the Baptist way. It is not easy. But the Baptist way is to both affirm freedom of religion and to share the truth with those whose beliefs or behavior are in error.