“Render unto Caesar…” What do you think?

Early Baptists believed Matthew 22:21 was our Lord’s indication that there is a two-fold form of government, civil and spiritual, and that these should be separate. How we define separation impacts how we view our society today. What do you think is meant by separation of church and state?

Most folks today will say the term “separation of church and state” comes from the phrase wall of separation appearing in a letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. However, the idea was not new. Our Baptist heritage is replete with proponents of both a “civil and spiritual state.”

In 1644, Roger Williams used the term wall of separation. [“Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered,” The Complete Writings of Roger Williams (New York: Russell & Russell Inc. 1963), Vol. 1, 108]

Thomas Helwys believed government exists for the benefit of all citizens be they “heretics, Jews, Turks, or what-so-ever.” [A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, Classics of Religious Liberty 1 (by Richard Groves), Copyright, 1998, Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, USA.] This could not be true if one religious belief became THE established faith of the land.

John Leland, leader of Virginia Baptists following the Revolutionary War, discusses the idea of a “national church” in a sub-section titled “The Reasons of Their [Baptists] Dissent.” In that book, he writes, “The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…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 pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” [“The Virginia Chronicle,” The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, G. W. Wood, 29 Gold Street, New York, 1845, p 117-118]

In his dedication to Parliament, John Clarke states the Lord Jesus has been given all power in Earth and has chosen to wield that power by a “two fold administration of power suitable to the two fold state or being of man.” [Ill Newes From New England, H. Hills, 1652, p 4-5]

What do you think is meant by separation of church and state? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Impact After the Revolution

“The Revolutionaries” is the seventh segment in The Courage of Your Faith series. What is meant by separation of church and state? What implications does that have today?

After the Revolutionary War, states faced the need to set up their own governments. Most leaders felt a Christian population was required for good government. Men like Patrick Henry wanted the new Virginia government to impose a tax that would be distributed to all teachers of the Christian religion. This bill would have passed had Baptists not opposed it, taking the stand that a separation of church and state was required.

This idea was so important to them that Baptist John Leland had a “secret” meeting with James Madison concerning the new Constitution of the United States. It was held east of the City of Orange. Baptists would not support the new Constitution unless there was an amendment guaranteeing separation of church and state. Without Baptist support, Madison would not be sent to the Constitutional Convention from Virginia. If Virginia had not voted to accept the Constitution, other states would have followed suit. And the United States would have never have been. A park commemorates this meeting. In the park is a monument to Leland and Madison. The words on the monument are here.

First Battle of the American Revolution

“The Separates” is the seventh segment in The Courage of Your Faith series. Alamance was a southern battle over taxes fought by mostly Baptist and Quaker farmers against the British supported governor. Unless you are from the south, you probably have not even heard about this battle or about the Regulators. In southern states in 1770, taxation was based on a set fee for land given to the settler. However, the governor could change it. And the tax collectors could extract more for themselves. Furthermore, taxes often had a way of disappearing once collected.

The Battle of Alamance (see pictures of the battlefield here) was fought in 1771 and is commemorated by a number of monuments in the field where, by some accounts, 3700 Regulators confronted Governor Tryon’s militia of 1500 men. The Regulators came to Alamance expecting the Governor to accede to their demands for fair taxation. When that did not happen and weapons were fired, most of the Quakers left; they hadn’t even brought guns. Baptists, on the other hand, came prepared for a hunt; they had guns but not enough rounds to finish a battle. In the end the Regulators lost. Dissatisfied and angry with England, farmers emigrated from the area, seeding the South with resentment toward the British and those that supported them.

See more at “The Courage of Your Faith,” this month featuring “The Separates.”

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