Friday, August 26, 2011

"Religious freedom is about gospel freedom"

Nathan A. Finn, Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been posting a series he titled "The Gospel and Baptist Identity." The final entry is "Free Churches in a Free State." A portion:
The final historic Baptist distinctive is perhaps the most controversial, at least in the last generation—our commitment to full religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Of course the reason this idea is so provocative is because the latter phrase means
different things to different people. While there are many secularists out there who equate church-state separation with the silencing of (orthodox) religious voices from the public square, this is far from what Baptists have historically meant when we’ve used this language.....

Baptists have argued that the best way to preserve religious liberty for all people is to protect the church from oppressive state coercion and protect the state from utopian theocracy. Both of these arrangements are a threat to the gospel, the former because it often stamps out the free proclamation of the good news, the latter because it frequently confuses the gospel with worldly political power. Religious freedom is about gospel freedom. There is no arrangement that better protects gospel freedom than one that allows for free churches to flourish in a free state.

To say it another way, when we are at our best, Baptists don’t base our views of this matter on Natural Law, Jeffersonian ideals, or American tradition—though all of these are good as far as they go. Nor do we argue that religious liberty is the way things are meant to be—frankly, it’s a temporary concession in a fallen world where multitudes shake their fists at their Creator and refuse to bow the knee to the True King. Baptists believe that a free church in a free state is not an end unto itself, but rather is the best means of preserving the freedom of the gospel. This means we not only fight for our own religious freedom, but we also defend the religious freedom of pagans, infidels, and atheists, not because they’re right, but because we recognize that when they have the right to be wrong, we have the right to convince them of their errors and persuade them of a better Way through the gospel. .... [more]
The Gospel and Baptist Identity: Free Churches in a Free State | Nathan Finn l Christian Thought & Tradition