Dear Liberal Baptist Preacher,
It is my understanding that the Baptist church has traditionally believed in the “Four Freedoms.”
1) Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and is capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body (the priesthood of the believer)
2) Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (the autonomy of the local church)
3) Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and Biblical study available to the individual
4) Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion – also, religious freedom in separation of church and state.
My questions: Are these four freedoms still a part of the Baptist tradition? Do Fundamentalist Baptists believe in these four freedoms? Does the SBC endorse these traditions? If this is NOT still a part of Baptist tradition, when did it change? Thank you for your time.
There’s nothing I would enjoy more – well, that’s an exaggeration – there’s nothing I would enjoy more than raking a few Baptist fundamentalists over the coals. I went to a Southern Baptist seminary during the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. The church I serve as pastor is a former Southern Baptist Church. (We couldn’t take any more of their sexism, homophobic statements, anti-Semitism, dishonesty about the Bible, etc.)
I’d love to rake them over the coals and tell you they are not true Baptists, but I don’t think that would be accurate. During the big SBC debates there was a lot of talk about who was and wasn’t a true Baptist. True this or true that, true Baptist or a sorry excuse for a Baptist, true Christian and you aren’t a Christian – all that talk makes me nervous.
I’d like for you to read Leon McBeth’s mammoth work, The Baptist Heritage. He makes Baptist history interesting, and there is some funny stuff in it too! It’s a big, big book, though.
There are currently so many different “brands” of Baptist I wouldn’t even want to start to define Baptist these days. And I think a good case can be made for there being diversity among Baptists from the start of Baptistdom.
Walter Shurden – I once heard him give a lecture, I believe, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary - spoke of different strands or traditions among the early Baptists/Southern Baptists.
In Jane Wagner’s book, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the main character, played by Lily Tomlin on Broadway, says: “when I look at my family I feel like a detached retina.”
When I look at my Baptist kinfolk, I sometimes feel like a detached retina. On the other hand, there are more Baptists who live in my neighborhood (I’m a baptist, Jewish, Universalist, Agnostic Christian) than you might believe. Baptists, like me, stand in the great heritage of John LeLand. In 1791 John Leland, an outspoken Baptist in America, wrote his major treatise on religious liberty, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable.” In this treatise, Leland argued that the real motives for establishment of religion are not to benefit religion, but to buttress the power of civil clergy and augment the purposes of ambitious clergy. Leland concluded that: “Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods, and let government protect him in so doing.”
That’s my kind of Baptist!
But, alas, your questions.
Those four freedoms you mention are still alive and well among REAL, TRUE Baptists – O.K., among some of the modern Baptists.
I don’t speak for fundamentalist or SBC Baptists. You’ll have to ask them. But watch them. I find them squirmy. I find them dishonest. They are trying to be honest. They are good people, for the most part. They are just – they just think you have to be the way they are to be Christian and they are flat out wrong. I don’t find their Christianity very Christian. It sure doesn’t appeal to me. Or put another way, I’m not going back, but I do appreciate many wonderful things about my conservative Baptist upbringing. [I bet I can whip you in a Bible sword drill. "Sword"? - "Sword Drill"? That should have been a clue!]
When did it change? Well, that’s the old “what’s the original” angle. Christians spend too much time worrying about originals we never were or had and will never get or retrieve. What a waste of time and energy and ink.
When did it change? Did it ever change? I’m not getting into that debate too much. I spend my time using the Bible, experience, reason, science, church tradition to make persuasive arguments about what God is asking the church and Christians to believe, and more importantly, to do today.
[Speaking of the original debate, original in this case being Baptists as the originial Christians - God help us. There's a book, The Trail of Blood by J. M. Carroll, which traces Baptists all the way back to John the Baptist. I can buy that. He was one weird dude.]
What’s your next question?
You sure have a lot of questions.
That’s a good thing.
Be careful about putting “periods” at the end of your sentences, metaphorically speaking, of course.
Happy Easter! (And watch out for those Baptists)
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