Prayer Blog 10th-16th May 2015

A detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, March 7, 2011. The court is taking up a climate change case for the second time in four years. On Tuesday, April 19, the court will hear arguments in the case American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut, 10-174. The Obama administration is siding with American Electric Power Co. and three other companies in urging the high court to throw out the lawsuit on grounds the Environmental Protection Agency, not a federal court, is the proper authority to make rules about climate change. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Baptist Principle of Religious Liberty

How many times have you heard it said, in conversation, that all religion should be banned for it is always at the root of starting wars? There is an element of truth in the fact that religion often is the root cause of armed conflict, such as is currently happening in parts of the middle east, religion was the cause of armed conflict in Northern Ireland and in many other places, throughout history, religion has never been far away from trouble and strife. But does this warrant barring all, or even some, religious beliefs and practices?

It often comes as a surprise to people that Baptists have historically held a conviction that there should be ‘religious liberty for all.’[1] In 1612 Thomas Helwys, an early dissenter, and a founder of the first Baptist church in England, wrote the Short Declaration of the Ministry of Iniquity, The King, he said, should only be responsible for earthly affairs and everyone should be free to enjoy freedom of conscience:-

Let them be heretiks, Turcks, Jewes, or whatsoever, it appertynes not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.[2] (Helwys spelling – not mine!)

It should be made clear that not all Baptist thought this way but for Helwy’s followers, who were General Baptists, those who believed that free will was involved in conversion, this freedom became important as they argued that, if the state, or any form of church government, imposed a particular form of religious practice then they were in danger of making people hypocrites if they converted under pressure.[3]

No doubt the fierce persecution that many dissenters such as Puritans and Baptists received influenced them as such that they would not treat others as they had been treated. They carried their conviction over to America, as pilgrim-fathers, and according to historian Ian M. Randall there was a strong movement of Baptist fighting for religious freedom across Europe peaking throughout the 1840’s – 1930’s, again through times of fierce persecution.[4]

It strikes me, that at a time when we hear a lot in political campaigning about restricting the movement of people across Europe and from Africa, we have to be careful. Careful also, when we hear calls for banning faith schools e.g., careful, whatever our own political persuasion is, to give people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, the right to religious liberty even if we do not agree with them. Banning religion never usually works. Converting souls to Christ changes people forever. Let’s pray that it may be so.

A Prayer for All Humanity

O God of love, we pray thee to give us love:
Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,
Love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls;
Love of our neighbours near and far;
Love of our friends, old and new;
Love of those with whom we find it hard to bear,
And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;
Love of those with whom we work,
And love of those with whom we take our ease;
Love in Joy, love in sorrow;
Love in life and love in death;
That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with thee,
Who art eternal love.


William Temple, 1881-1944

[1] David W. Bebbington, Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People, (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2010), 198
[2] Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612; repr., London: Kingsgate Press for the Baptist Historical Society, 1935), 69, cited in, David W. Bebbington, Baptists Through the Centuries: A History of a Global People, (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2010), 199
Bebbington, 198-200
Ian M. Randall, (Oxford: Whitley Publications, 2012), 1-5

[3] Bebbington, Baptists Through the Centuries, 198-200

[4] Ian M. Randall, The Whitley Lecture 2012: Religious Liberty in Continental Europe, Campaigning by British Baptists, 1840’s-1930’s (Oxford: Whitley Publications, 2012), 1-5

2 thoughts on “Prayer Blog 10th-16th May 2015

  1. Bill McD

    I am a great fan of William Temple in that he was one of those people who could encapsulate a deep and profound thought in a short sentence or phrase.

    On the question of different belief systems living together, clearly Christendom has historically often got it wrong in that human endeavour takes over from Christ inspired action. How could the Crusaders go to war to save Christendom? You can imagine the thought processes. The God of the Old Testament upheld King David in his escapades, therefore we will call on the Lord to help us turf out the Moslems and we will assemble an army under the direction of the King to fight for that result.

    Apart from the extended chain of command from King to knights and foot soldiers, it is clear that not all, indeed very few of the Crusaders would be inspired by a direct call of God to enter into war. And of course that is how we arrive at religion being at the root of wars and genocides.

    While the Crusaders were doing their stuff, the rest of Christendom was simply getting on with life on a spectrum from absolute commitment to God through monasticism to simple acceptance that we all have to reckon with Him in the final analysis.

    The moral of all of this is that bible-belielving Christians can only enter into civic duty and responsibility if it accords with the teachings of Christ. Personally, I would find it difficult to join a political party because I could not sign up to manifesto commitments that I find problematical in a spiritual sense but I can triangulate, to use the modern term to arrive at political decisions which do not violate my deeply held beliefs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. williemiller1958

      To join a political party or not is an interesting question. Anabaptists strongly believed that they should not become magistrates and throughout history Christianity has wrestled with the relationship between church and state. I guess that Temple is a good example of a Christian who joined a political party, Labour, and was able to use his influence for the greater good of many people. There is rarely a straight forward answer to many of these issues but the greater good seems, to me, to be a good objective for those of us who strive for the Kingdom of God.

      Further reading:-



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