Thursday, July 5, 2012

T. B. Maston: Separation of church and state at the heart of the Gospel

(Adapted from the TBC Baptist Briefs video, Religious Liberty, Baptists, and . . . Jesus)

In recent years, some Baptists have turned their backs on the principles of religious liberty for all people and its corollary, the separation of church and state. For the public schools, they’ve supported compulsory prayer, the teaching of creationism as science, and public school textbooks based on religious belief rather than observable and objective science and history.

And why not? Why shouldn’t Christians promote our faith through public, taxpayer-supported channels?

Well, one answer is provided in an article entitled “Faith Freely Exercised,” by T. B. Maston, found in the book, The Trophy of Baptists: Words to Celebrate Religious Liberty, edited by Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Dr. Maston focuses on a quote from Roger Williams’ The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution:
“An enforced uniformity of Religion throughout a Nation or civil state . . . denies . . . that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
“Jesus’ coming in the flesh,” Maston writes, “freed men and women to make their own decisions and then to accept responsibility for those decisions.”

Baptists who support compulsory school prayer and taxpayer support of private schools “do not give much attention to the human nature of Jesus and the life he lived, which provides the basis of humanity’s freedom of choice. . . . Any coercion toward uniformity violates the basic nature of a person. . . . Christ did not coerce; he only invited. Therefore, the proclamation of the gospel is predicated upon an uncoerced response.”

“Religious freedom to me,” he continues, “is not a luxury we can afford only when the times are good, but it is implicit in the nature of the gospel itself.”

Dr. Maston concludes with a challenge: “Let Baptists beware of pressure to control and particularly of using or supporting coercion for uniformity by political power.”