Religious Liberty – A BAPTIST Distinctive!
Posted by Pastor Szekely on December 11, 2006
There is a difference between religious tolerance and religious liberty…Webster (1826) tells us that “Toleration implies a right in the sovereign to control men in their opinions and worship, or it implies the actual exercise of power in such control“. But religious liberty, says Webster, is “The free right of adopting and enjoying opinions on religious subjects, and of worshiping the Supreme Being according to the dictates of conscience, without external control“.
History [recorded by Baptists and non-Baptists alike] is very clear that Catholics and reformed Catholics (i.e. Protestants) held to, and hold to, religious tolerance, while religious liberty was, and is, a distinctive characteristic of the Baptist people…the following gives a great example:
The Reformation period was of long duration in England. It began with Henry VIII in 1509, and really did not end until Parliament called for the head of Charles I in 1649. During this time of the Reformation, the Creed, Liturgy, and Practice of the Church of England were determined.
Now as much as Henry VIII hated the papal party and had broken with the pope, he had still more hatred for the Baptists, at home and abroad. Neither his flattery nor his threats prevented the spread of the Baptists.
The history of the Baptists in England during the time of Henry VIII is written in blood. Almost immediately after coming to the throne, Henry brought and allowed proceedings against our Baptist forefathers, and they were persecuted to the death.
The chief agent of the king in these persecutions was William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury. On May 2, 1511, a number of Baptists appeared before him who were convicted of being opposers of infant baptism. the Archbiship demanded that each would renounce the following articles:
1. That the sacrament of the altar is not the body of Christ, but material bread only.
2. That the sacrament of baptism and confirmation are not necessary or profitable for men’s souls.
3. That confession of sins ought not to be made to a priest.
4. That there is no more power given by God to a priest than to a layman.
5. That the solemnization of matrimony by a priest is not profitable or necessary for the well of a man’s soul.
6. That the sacrament of extreme unction is not profitable or necessary to a man’s soul.
7. That pilgrimages to holy and devout places be not profitable, neither meritorious for man’s soul.
8. That images of saints are not to be worshipped.
9. That a man should pray to no saint, but only to God.
10. That holy water and holy bread be not the better after the benediction made by the priest than before.
The Baptists refuse to renounce, and all were punished. Alice Grevill, who had been a Baptist for 28 years, was condemned to death. Simon Fish, a theologian and pamphleteer, was denounced as a heretic and died of a plague while in prison. James Bainham, a lawyer, died a triumphant death at the stake.
These are just a few of the Baptist forefathers of the Faith who were held to Bible doctrine and not to man’s inventions. Their belief and convictions brought them to Glory by way of persecution.
Maybe they have been unknown to you until now, but they “shine forth as lights” with the Baptist distinctive of Religious Liberty [not religious tolerance]. Although they opposed the damnable doctrine of infant baptism, they did not persecute anyone; did not tear anyone from their home; did not throw anyone in a dungeon; did not mutilate and kill; this was left to the Protestants and Catholics. These Baptists held to freedom of worship without persecution – a TRUE BAPTIST DISTINCTIVE!
(Information used was drawn from: “A History of the Baptists”, John T. Christian, Vol 1, pgs. 189-190 AND “History of the Reformation of the Church of England”, Gilbert Burnet, Vol 1, pg 27)