Religious Liberty and the End of the American Empire of Baptists

Writer's Note: I started this thought yesterday and got seriously interrupted by life. Let me try to finish it today, or at least explore more fully.

   Religious liberty in America came about because state sponsored religion was finally seen as a form of repression, both of the state and the church. Anglicans ruled the day in colonial America, set over unruly colonists by the King of England. Taxation for the state church encroached on civil liberty, perverting the state, and on soul liberty, staining the spiritual Kingdom of God.

   The Founders thought only error needed the support of government. Modern evangelicals might learn from their example.

   Baptist Christians had a great place in the separation of Church and State. In fact, if not for the ability of Jefferson and Madison to play Baptist off Episcopalian in the Old Dominion, separation of Church and State might never have become a part of the American standard. We could then have a state supported theocratic government with no need to evolve in either religion or politics, guaranteeing the religious wars seen in other nations.

   Think of it. America has fought within itself over race and over its inner demons but we have yet to fight with ourselves over our religions; at least, not with guns. The most dangerous potential contaminations to our religious pluralism today are Christian, in the form of Christians who seek religious theocracy in government and Muslims, who seek domination in religious and secular quarters.

   Simply put, Christians are elitist and fearful, while Muslims are isolated and aggressive. This is not a good combination.

   Which, as it will, brings us to evangelism, the declaration of the gospel of Jesus, the Christ and missions, the demonstration of the gospel of Jesus, the Christ. Elitist Christians fear the word "evangelism," since secular media has coined the derisive term "tele-evangelist." No one wants to be Robert Tilton or Rod Parsley or Jesse Duplantis, think what you will. Let them get large crowds. Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen can spend all their days clearing your sinuses and helping you be a better you. No serious person takes them seriously, except as a "feel good" business concern. If God is not appalled at their odd-ball antics, one has a hard time envisioning what it is that might appall God.

   Still, if God will not overtly interrupt the Holocaust, it is hard to see why God would care much about Oral Roberts or Gene Scott. God knows where they are going. They will meet soon enough.

   Baptists have practiced evangelism and missions, cooperated for the same, sacrificed for each, for as long as there have been baptist Christians. We have been dismissed as rough-hewn enthusiasts for our fervor. Those who disrespect us so have, until this generation, missed the point.

   We are, in fact, a populist movement of the purest grass root variety. Populism itself is misunderstood, for men try to explain populism as a loose social confederation, while it is actually at once the tightest and most broad spread of political thinking. Everyone wants decent work, health care for the sick, a dignified old age, education for the young, a real home. This is populism and it cuts across Whigs, Know-Nothings, Democrats, Federalists and Republicans.

   The roads and national defense once demanded of federal government have now changed to a cry for what amounts to transportation and defense in a post-modern world; financial stability. No nation is safe in this world that is not financially sound.

   Baptists are a people's movement, no matter how much we speak of God. We believe God is one of us.That is what we mean we speak of oneness with God. God is not just for kings and presbyters, for the rich who can afford a pew, for emperors and bishops. God is one of us, so we can be one with God.

   God must love the real people. He made so many of us.

   So, evangelism/missions have been the order of the day for baptist Christians since our inception. We are the Free Church, neither Protestant nor Catholic, neither denouncing another body nor bowing to a pope. If the white smoke puffs, it does not blow to our place.

   Baptists love to help people and believe the greatest help people can have is the spiritual salvation of their soul.

   The BGCT's previous administration, juvenile, pusillanimous, disingenuous, corrupt by its own admission, Incompetent by any measure, produced thirteen points of contact in its last reorganization. The word evangelism did not appear at any point, despite the two members of my staff who claimed they argued for it at every point. I do not know. I never got a meeting with the reorganization leaders.

   One can assume the deck was stacked.

   One can also assume the two members of my staff who gave these arguments were ineffective in stressing the evangelism position and in advocating their primary benefactor, though the previous administration rewarded them handsomely. If they did not support their leader or their cause, they were disloyal. If they did not press the evangelical agenda, they were ineffective.

 The pudding is cooked. One can only eat it now.

   In truth, whoever fills the evangelism position these days at the state convention is trapped between two generations. One insists that our commitment to evangelism is a full convention center at the Evangelism Conference, like in the old days. The other generation wants nothing to do with conventional evangelism at all.

    Nostalgia is a warm feeling. Churches are full of people who feel great nostalgia for things they no longer support.

   Evangelism/missions are dying and baptists are dying with them. No literature, no Scripture distribution in a land where almost all have an unread Bible in their home, no sudden emphasis on evangelism from a state level will overcome the perfidy of the pulpit or the apathy of the pew. We are a congregational system, as I have said in this series. The sickness is at the grass roots level. No amount of trimming at the top for uniformity will suffice. The lawn may look neat but the root is still dying.

   What to do? I have already suggested it from my understanding of American ideals. We preach life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While conventions, associations and denominations cannot provide or even support life or liberty to any enviable extent, if one assumes the pursuit of happiness (the right to live, to strive, to succeed) is made possible as central authorities do what their overseers (the people) commission them to do while not making excessive, arbitrary demands on the people, a central religious authority can still give shape and substance to the will of God through God's people on earth.

   Limited government with populist roots can be successful. You just cannot have everything you want and government cannot take all it desires.

  

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