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Why Protestants Opposed Their Churches

At the time of the founding of America, all the mainline protestant churches believed in a state church. They believed that to be a citizen one must first be a member of the church that was sanctioned by the State. They all taught that the sword of the state should be used to enforce their religious beliefs. That being said, these men opposed what their churches believed on this issue. The question we must ask is, Why?”

Today I want to look at what influenced these men to go contrary to the teachings of their churches on freedom of conscience. There were two things that had never existed before the founding of the colonies in the New World. First, never before had the Bible been available to the common man. Secondly, the Baptists had never been a force big enough to influence the political leaders of the time.

Before I look at these, let me remind you of the text for this series.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. (Psalms 33:12)

The Hebrew word translated “God” is translated in several different ways. In this case it means the supreme God. It is also translated judge. This supreme God is the judge to whom the blessed nation submits. Lord in this passage is Jehovah, which means the self-existent eternal God. He must be the God of a nation if it expects to be blessed.

This verse is primarily talking about Israel, but I think it is safe to say that any nation who makes Jehovah their judge and lawgiver will be blessed of God. America, at the beginning, was just such a nation.

The god of modern America is no longer the God of the Bible. For most people, the god they worship is self. There is a second god that the people turn to when self cannot meet their desires, it is the government.

Although the effects of God’s blessings in America still remain to some degree, we are quickly losing them. This will continue until we turn back to God.

The Bible’s Availability

The need to return to the Bible is a subject deserving a series of its own. For the sake of time, I only want to look very quickly at four passages on this subject.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

There can be no real freedom apart from the truth. There is only one source of absolute truth, and that is the Word of God.

Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)

To sanctify means to set apart for a purpose. God sanctifies people and nations by teaching them the truth. His word is truth, and only a people who follow it can be truly free.

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. (Psalms 19:7-9)

The law of the Lord (Jehovah) is perfect. It brings the soul to salvation, makes the simple wise, rejoices the heart, and gives pure vision. It can be depended upon, it is always right, it endures forever. Its judgments are true and righteous.

Thou art near, O LORD; and all thy commandments are truth. (Psalms 119:151)

With the Bible available to the average man, each person could study the Scriptures and come to a knowledge of the truth. This caused many to turn from the mainline Protestant churches to the Baptist position. Others remained in the Protestant churches, but believe the Bible instead of their religious leaders. This is one reason they came to believe in freedom of conscience.

Our Founding Fathers knew that apart from biblical principles, there could be no real freedom because something has to bridle the passions of men. It must be either religious faith or the government.

The Baptist Influence

For time’s sake, I will only look at three Baptist preachers who brought freedom to America. There were many more that I could refer to, but these will show where the influence that brought us freedom came from. The first of them set the principle into law, the second spread the Baptist faith throughout the colonies, and the third ensured that this freedom became a fundamental principle in America.

John Clarke

John Clarke was a Baptist preacher who founded the first Baptist church in the new world. The credit for this is often given to Roger Williams, but the church in Newport was founded by John Clarke about two years before the church in Providence.

Roger Williams was opposed to the government forcing people to be part of the state church. For a short time he espoused Baptist principles, but soon left the Baptists and became what he called a “seeker.”

Most historians give Roger Williams credit for the founding of Rhode Island. It was the first colony to have a constitution that gave freedom of religion. While it is true that he started the process, had it been left to him, the charter would never have been granted.

Williams and John Clarke sailed to England to request the charter for Rhode Island. They petitioned the King but he refused to grant it. Williams returned to America without the charter but John Clark stayed in England to fight for the charter. He finally received it after twelve years of petitioning the King. This reminds me of a parable told by our Lord.

… There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. (Luke 18:2-5)

The purpose of this parable is to teach us to continue in prayer. John Clarke’s prayer to God and to the King are what won the day.

Clarke was also the one who wrote the founding documents for the government of Rhode Island. It was the first government to enshrine into law the principles of freedom of religion. It was also used as a guide for the writing of the U.S. Constitution.

Shubael Stearns

Shubael Stearns was saved under the preaching of George Whitefield in 1745. He soon felt the call to preach the Gospel. He continued as a pedobaptist (those who baptize infants) until 1751. Through his study of the Scriptures, he came to the conclusion that the Baptists were correct. He was baptized by Elder Wait Palmer, at Tolland, Connecticut, on May 20, 1751.

He continued his ministry in New England for another two or three years. He, along with his church, moved to Virginia. After a short time in Virginia, he moved to Guilford County, North Carolina. He established the Sandy Creek Baptist Church and the Sandy Creek Baptist Association. From this church and association, Baptist churches were established from throughout the southern colonies.

Gov. William Tryon was determined to rid central North Carolina of Baptists. He declared war against them. It lasted from 1765 to 1771. The government forces prevailed, but during the Revolution the Baptist forces reorganized and were a major contributor to the winning of the Revolutionary War. During the Revolutionary War they were known as the “Over the Mountain Men.” Their harassment of Cornwallis allowed Washington to prepare for the battle in which Cornwallis was defeated and resulted in victory for the American colonies.

This would not have been possible without the labors of Shubael Stearns and the Sandy Creek Baptist Association. in 17 years, the Sandy Creek Association had spread its branches westward as far as the great river Mississippi; southward as far as Georgia; eastward to the sea and Chesapeake Bay and northward to the waters of the Pottowmack (Potomac River). It was mother, grandmother, and great grandmother to 42 churches, from which sprang 125 ministers.” In a generation it is estimated that 5,000 churches were established by this Association, and only God knows how many were saved. They did this by following the example found at the church at Antioch.

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)

Stearns’ greatest contribution to the religious climate of his day was evangelism and church planting. The evangelism of Stearns and the Separate Baptists is different from that of most Baptists today. There was no plea to accept Christ, no sinner’s prayer was used, no read and sign on the back of this tract, nor psychological tricks used to get the desired response. There was only the preaching of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.

To them salvation came from the Lord through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. With none of the modern-day techniques, Stearns somehow organized and evangelized a great portion of the South. Perhaps we would have more success in our evangelistic efforts if we would return to the methods of Shubael Stearns, which are the same as we see in the New Testament. (See my book Shipwreck Soulwinning.)

It was this proliferation of Baptists that gave them the political power to affect the founding of a nation. This brings us to one of the most influential Baptists at the time of the founding of our nation.

John Leland

Leland was a Baptist preacher who was known not only for his fiery sermons and evangelical zeal, but also for his opposition to slavery and his advocacy of strict separation between government and religion. Leland preached freedom in all aspects of life, exhorting his listeners to be free from sin, to oppose slavery and free others from physical bondage, and to be free from the “spiritual tyranny” of state-established religion.

Leland advocated for religious liberty protections in the Constitution. He was a friend to both Jefferson and Madison. He and his fellow Baptists supported Jefferson’s initial bill to ensure religious liberty in Virginia and took up the cause when Madison reintroduced it some years later. Tensions arose between Madison and Leland over the introduction of similar protections in the federal constitution. Madison did not initially think that additional amendments were needed to protect religious liberty. He felt that it was not necessarily because the Constitution said there could be no religious test for public office. Leland and his Baptist followers sharply disagreed.

Despite the fact that Madison had drafted much of the Constitution, Leland had more votes than Madison for the Orange County seat at the Virginia Convention on ratifying the Constitution. Leland agreed to drop out of contest for the seat if Madison would work to include a religious liberty provision as an amendment to the Constitution. Madison then won out over his other opponents to attend the state ratifying convention. Leland’s ideas of freedom of religion were eventually included in the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia state constitutions.

Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences. (2 Corinthians 5:11)

Persuade means to convince by argument or reason. Argument does not mean to be angry, it means to present your case as a lawyer does in a courtroom.

There is an old saying that says, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” It means you can force someone to say they believe something, but you cannot force them to truly change what they believe.

The Bible way of reaching the lost is through the presentation of the truth in convincing arguments. The sword can only bring outward compliance. Persuasion brings about an inward change that shows on the outside.

Excerpts From Leland’s Writings

“Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a preeminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” – A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia.

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:36)

We will give account for everything, including every word we speak. If the government can force compliance, then the government must answer to God for what it forces. However. Each individual is responsible for what he does. The government’s job is to ensure freedom so each individual can make his own choices.

“Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free.” – Right of Conscience Inalienable.

So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:12)

Since everyone must give account of himself to God, each should have the right to follow the dictates of his conscience.

“Truth disdains the aid of law for its defense — it will stand upon its own merits.” – Right of Conscience Inalienable.

Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. (Psalms 85:11)

In the end truth will triumph.

The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment. (Proverbs 12:19)

Truth is forever established, but lies will only last for a moment.

The Government of Christ a Christocracy (1804)

The fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity, has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did. Persecution, like a lion, tears the saints to death, but leaves Christianity pure: state establishment of religion, like a bear, hugs the saints, but corrupts Christianity, and reduces it to a level with state policy. (p. 278)

Forced Christianity has done more harm than all the persecutions we suffered for our faith. Persecution separates true Christians from nominal Christians. We value most those things we must fight for. When we are forced to be “Christians,” the things of faith lose their value.

If freedom of religion has a down side, it costs nothing to believe. Until the late 1800s we had freedom, which we should have, but there was still contention between different doctrinal positions.

In the early 1900s, unity became more important than truth. The Fundamentalist movement limited truth to five doctrines. Baptists had resisted this in previous attempts at this kind of unity, but we joined the interdenominational fundamentalists and started sending our young preachers to interdenominational schools. This resulted in compromise of truth. Baptists lost their distinctive character and ceased to be a force for truth and righteousness. This was the beginning of the fall of America. If we don’t turn back to our roots, this great nation will cease to be great.

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Biblical Principles In America’s Founding

Last week we looked at what caused the Protestant founders of our nation to believe in freedom of religion when the churches to which they belonged believed that there should be a state church, and that their religious beliefs should be enforced by the sword of government. This week I want to look at some of the biblical principles these men used put into our great founding documents. For time’s sake, this will only be a brief overview of these principles and their biblical basis.

Sovereign authority of God, not sovereignty of the state, or sovereignty of man

Principle found in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is JEHOVAH, art the most high over all the earth. (Psalms 83:18)

Jehovah is the sovereign ruler over all the earth. This means that He has established what is right and wrong, and He has the right and power to punish those who transgress His precepts.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Romans 13:1-5)

All power comes from God. He has ordained civil government and we are to submit ourselves to it. The purpose of government is to punish those who do evil and praise and protect those who do good.

There is a problem with civil government. All men are sinners, and civil government is run by men. God has provided instructions for when civil government goes bad.

Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)

If there is a conflict between civil government and God’s law, God’s law is to be followed. As with the three Hebrew children in Daniel, when government demands something contrary to God’s law, we don’t comply, but we still submit to the government. For these three faithful men, doing so meant being cast into a fiery furnace.

Existence of objective moral values, Fixed standards, Absolute truth, Sanctity of life

Found in the Declaration of Independence (“unalienable” rights—life, etc., “self-evident” truths)

The Ten Commandments

  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me – Our first responsibility is to God and His law

  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image – Nothing should be worshiped but God

  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain – This is more than just swearing, it is using His name in any frivolous way.

  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. – One day of the week is to be set aside for God

  5. Honour thy father and thy mother – The New Testament shows this includes obedience

  6. Thou shalt not kill – This has to do with murder. It includes abortion

  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery – Keep yourself pure until marriage, and then be faithful to your spouse.

  8. Thou shalt not steal – Stealing is taking something that is not ours without permission, including your employer’s time

  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness – This is more than just telling a lie. When we claim to be a Christian and live like the world, we are bearing false witness.

  10. Thou shalt not covet – This is an improper desire for something that is not ours.

These commandments are but a summary of God’s law. They cover everything but need to be fleshed out to fully understand them. I have given them in their most basic form. Read them in Exodus Chapter 20 to see them in full.

The commandments are not optional. When we violate them, we suffer consequences.

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

Somethings are right and some things are wrong. Woe unto those who reverse them. Woe is an expression of coming trouble and lamentation. The trouble in our nation comes directly or indirectly from our calling good evil, and evil good.

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) (Romans 2:15)

God’s law is written in the hearts of men. Their conscience lets them know when something is wrong. We can dull our conscience so it doesn’t bother us too much.

Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; (1 Timothy 4:2)

We do this to try to avoid feelings of guilt, but we still know that certain things are right and certain things are wrong.

All men are sinners

Principle found in the constitutional checks and balances

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)

There is no person who is without sin. The essence of sin is selfishness, usually manifest in pride. People are always looking out for themselves. This includes political leaders.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Because no one can be trusted not to let personal interest influence our leaders, they built checks and balances into the Constitution. Our founders gave each branch of government rights and procedures to check the other two branches. We will look more at this later.

All men created equal

Found in the Declaration of Independence

How much less to him that accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor? for they all are the work of his hands. (Job 34:19)

God does not care whether someone is a prince, a rich man, or a pauper, they are all the same to Him. He made us all, and He judges us all the same, except that he expects more from those He gives more.

But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:48)

This is not preferring or judging differently, it is expecting us to use what He has given us for His glory. Until recently, this was the attitude in America. We have all been given freedom and we used to be expected to use it to bring glory to God. Today, this freedom is deemed to be the right to do what we want even when it is contrary to the precepts of God. We expect no consequences for our sin.

By the way, equality is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. The harder one works, the more he profits. The less one works, the less he profits. The left wants equality of outcome. This is why instead of giving winners trophies, they give trophies to everyone who participates. This foolishness stifles the desire to improve oneself.

Judicial, legislative, and executive branches

Found in the Constitution

For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us. (Isaiah 33:22)

God divides His governance into three parts. Let’s look at these three parts of God’s governance. A king is the chief of a sovereign nation. We have a president in America as the chief executive officer. He is the one that is responsible for the daily operation of the Government. He has a check on the legislative branch of government with his veto power. He has a check over the judicial branch by appointing the judges and justices of the court system.

The legislative branch makes the laws. Neither the president nor the courts have this power. It has a check over the executive branch by providing oversight and have the power of impeachment. It has a check over the judicial branch by approving the judges and justices.

The judicial branch rules on the constitutionality of the laws and judges on the application of laws. These are checks on both the legislative branch and the executive branch.

Because of the sin nature of man, our founders built these checks and balances into our system of government by the Constitution.

Freedom of Conscience

Found in the First Amendment

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; (1 Timothy 2:1-3)

The whole purpose of government is to enable people to live quiet and peaceable lives. Each member of society has the right to do as he pleases as long as he does not step on the rights of others. The first amendment gives freedom to believe as one chooses, to peaceably assemble, to speak has one pleases, and to seek redress from the government when their rights are trampled upon by another.

Republican form of government and warnings against kings

Found in the Constitution

It may surprise many of you, but our republican form of government comes from the Bible.

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: (Exodus 18:21)

Moses’s father-in-law is giving advice to Moses. He told him to take some God-fearing men and set them to be rulers over different size groups. This is what we do in America. In our elections we choose representatives to make decisions on the running of our nation.

Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. (Deuteronomy 1:13)

Since the first passage was advice given to Moses by his father-in-law, let’s look at another passage that reflects a conversation between Moses and God. Here we see the same principle, but this time it is from God.

The biggest problem with this system is that we have ceased to choose godly men. Instead, we choose those who promise to give us the most from the government. If we would choose leaders who stand for righteousness instead of leaders who promise to give us things, we could turn this nation around.

This was one of the greatest fears of our founders. They knew that there would be great problems if the people learned that they could vote themselves a paycheck or gifts from the government.

Importance of governing self and family as first level of governance

Found in the First, Second, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

Knowing the sinfulness of man, our founders knew that something had to control the sinful passions of the citizens. It would either be the government, meaning they could not be free, or it would have to be religion. When there is a fear of God, people will do what is right. When there is no fear of God, they will follow their sinful lusts.

Although it was not done by our founders, when the government started taking income tax, which required a constitutional amendment, they taxed families less than single people. The reason for this was, good families raise responsible children and, thereby, lessen the burden on the government enforcement of the law.

Fair trial with witnesses and presumption of innocence

Found in the Sixth Amendment

But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. (Matthew 18:16)

Our Constitution requires a jury trial by our peers where the accused can bring in witnesses in his defense. It also requires presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.

These two principles have fallen by the wayside in our day. Today, because of the left and political correctness, guilt is often determined by accusation. If someone accuses another of child abuse or sexual misconduct, they are presumed guilty just because of the accusation. All it takes to have your children taken away from you is an accusation of abuse. We saw a good man nearly destroyed when he was up for approval to become a Supreme Court Justice simply because he was accused of sexual abuse. All of the accusations were shown to be false, but many, especially those on the left, assumed that he was guilty simply because he was accused.

Creation not evolution

Found in the Declaration

Genesis Chapters 1 and 2 give account of how the world was created. A careful study of these chapters, and an honest look at what they say, will find that they fit perfectly with science. Back in the 1980s, there was a meeting of 160 of the worlds top evolutionary scientists in Chicago. At the conclusion of the meeting, they made the statement that all of the existing theories of evolution were scientifically impossible. This is still true today.

Had they ended there statement at that point they would have been true scientists, but they did not. They went on to say that they knew evolution was a fact, they just didn’t know the mechanism. If they don’t know the mechanism, how do they know it happened. For evolution to have happened it would have had to violate known laws of science. When they said they knew it happened, they ceased to be scientists and became priests for the secular humanism religion.

For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. (Colossians 1:16-17)

God is not only the Creator of the universe, He is the one who holds it all together. The word consist means to hold together. According to what we know about electrical charges, the universe should explode, but something greater is holding it together. That something is the power of God.

Conclusion

Our nation was founded by men who, for the most part, were God-fearing Christians. They enshrined biblical principles into our founding documents. They even corrected the theological errors of the churches of which they were members. The churches did not change, but these men did. They did so because of the influence of Baptists. It is time that we as Baptists return to our roots and begin again to have an influence on our nation.