This morning we will do an overview of “religious liberty”. This has been called by many the hallmark of the Baptist faith, as it undergirds so much of what we believe and hold dear. We will discuss our liberty and Christ and how that relates to the church and the state. I may get a little political this morning, and might say some things that will surprise you. Promise that you’ll still love me? Okay, lets begin with the Baptist Faith and Message’s statement.
"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power."
There is a lot packed into this paragraph, but we are going to boil it down to three basic points as it concerns religious liberty - the obligation of the individual, the obligation of the state, and the obligation of the church.
It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway... God expects us as individuals to be fully obedient to Him. He alone is our LORD and thereby exercises supreme authority over all of humanity. Scripture teaches that civil governments are ordained by God, and therefore made authoritative by Him. As such, we should be obedient to the commands and laws of our government as administrators of His authority. The Bible is clear - the power of the state and the church is only legitimate when it is consistent with the commands of God. While we should render careful obedience to both on most occasions, if the either the church's or the state's laws or decrees violate those of God we are obligated to follow those of the Higher Authority (God Almighty) - regardless of the temporal consequences.
The state should establish an environment that protects religious freedom. It should not regulate or legislate in the arena of religion, as that is the function of the church. It should favor no ecclesiastical group over another - treating them all equally - and should remain neutral on religious issues. The state should not impose any penalties, taxes, or any other form of coercion on religion or religious expression of any kind - so long as they do not impede on the inalienable rights of others. The government should not involve itself in the sphere of religion, but rather should adhere strictly to issues such as life, liberty, and property.
It is the church’s responsibility to feed the hungry, to provide for the needy, to comfort the sick, to tend to the widows, to care for the hurting, to educate their children, and so on. The church should not relegate its responsibilities to the state. But because it has, the state has grown increasingly larger and more powerful, while the church has become smaller and less influential. Also, as we can easily attest, the efforts of the state to do the work of the church are generally unsuccessful and grossly inefficient. This is spiritual work and the labor must be done in the power of the Holy Spirit - ie, by spiritual means. Otherwise, failure is certain.
Church and state should be separate. By separation of church and state, Baptists do not mean the separation of God and government. Christians should be knowledgeable of and involved in politics in order to insure that conscientious, moral, ethical, and upright people are serving as our leaders and decision-makers. It should not be the goal, however, for politicians to impose any particular religious view, faith, or doctrine upon the people. Rather, our public servants should strive to lead with honesty, integrity, humility, and other virtues in those limited areas expressly granted to the state.
The atoning work of Jesus Christ has freed believers from the burden of man's law - regardless of whether its source is the church or the state. We live in the freedom of God's magnificent grace, no longer slaves to sin but rather to righteousness. Our allegiance is to God first and supremely, as unhindered obedience to Him and His commands is the true meaning of religious liberty.