It’s a rare thing when the 4th of July falls on Sunday, but what a great reminder of the privilege we Americans have to worship or not worship as we please.
Baptists have been on the forefront of the religious liberty battle in this country, a reality that I am proud of and hope that we continue in that effort. We need to remember the sacrifices and convictions of Baptists who believed in a free church in a free state. Here is a good article that helps us realize where Baptists have been and where we ought to be in the 21st century.
Baptists have stood for separation between church and state. The 1925, 1963, and even the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message confessional statement for Southern Baptists include this viewpoint. There are those who disagree with this important distinctive, citing the lapse of morals in this country and believe that repudiating this separation would help turn the country around. However, history has demonstrated that merging church and state yields a nationalized religion at best and religious persecution at worst. The church always comes out on the losing end when this occurs. The church needs its prophetic posture to call our country to prayer, worship, and service of God without having its message filtered by the government.
We have a lot of problems as a nation. You don’t have to look any farther than the oil in the gulf, terrorism, or wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The economic outlook is uncertain and unemployment keeps many families on the brink of despair. There are social issues that create division and dissension, and among Baptists there isn’t unanimous agreement on how to relate to them. Baptists aren’t usually unanimous about anything, but choose to cooperate with each other to spread the gospel. Finding common ground is a challenge, but the effort is worth it. The dialogue and spiritual journey that we are on should help us grow and deepen in our faith. We all have theological and political parameters that shape us and our relationships with others. It’s important that we maintain respect for one another.
I’ll be using Matthew 22:15-22 as a text for Sunday’s message, as Jesus challenged the Herodians and Pharisees to “render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar’s, and the things that are God’s to God.” What a remarkable response to the political/theological issue of the day: taxes. These two groups didn’t have anything in common other than their angst toward Jesus. His answer has served as a guide and foundational premise to how the government relates to the church and vice versa. The first amendment assures us of a “separation of church and state.” No doubt there remains much debate about what this means in a practical sense concerning some issues, but the tension is worth it.
I’m glad to live in a free country with a free church. With this great privilege comes great responsibility, and on this July 4th I will be thinking about both.