Baptists chose Liberty over Tolerance
The members of the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, Massachusetts, no doubt were sore grieved when their pastor, the Rev. Isaac Backus posted the following notice on July 16, 1759 which read in part, “Whereas by a late Law of this Province it is enacted that a List of the Names of those who belong to each Baptist Society (Church) must be taken each year and given in to the Assessors before the 20th of July or else they will stand liable to be Rated to the ministers where they live:…” In other words Baptists could get an “exemption” from paying the Congregational ministers salary and the upkeep of their church buildings, if they could prove that they were faithful in their own services. Backus spent a great deal of time fighting to eradicate state support for the Standing Order churches. He said that it was not only “taxation without representation” but it robbed the Baptists of their property and livestock to pay the tax that Baptists would not pay out of conviction, and also stole money from them that they could use to build their own meeting houses and pay their preachers. Baptists rejoiced in Jan. 1786 when Virginia passed their act for Religious Freedom. It said, “…no man shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.” There is a vast difference between “Tolerance and Liberty.” Tax exemption is based on the recipient asking for the privilege from a higher authority and meeting certain demands. The other is recognizing that liberty comes from God and demanding from our public servants that they guarantee those inalienable rights as embodied in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: adapted From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 291-92.
“A goodly heritage”
Andrew Gifford entered into heaven on June 19, 1784 and was buried in front of 200 ministers and a multitude of others in Bunhill Fields in the early morning of July 2, 1784. Dr. John Ryland, President of Bristol Baptist College, stood on a tombstone and delivered the funeral oration. Gifford had just completed over 60 years in the Baptist ministry in Bristol during a time of religious tolerance under the “Declaration of Indulgence” granted by King Charles II on Sept. 5, 1672. Prior to that, Andrews grandfather, his namesake, was imprisoned at least four times for preaching without state authority. His father, Rev. Emmanuel Gifford, served as a sentry as his father preached the gospel in the Bristol area. Once he was discovered and violently pursued by their persecutors. He took refuge under a staircase as his tormentors ran on by, swearing to do him physical harm if they caught him, but God gave deliverance to the young man and the Baptists in their worship. With such a heritage, young Andrew was raised in Bristol and was baptized when he was fifteen years old. He was trained at the local academy and was preaching the gospel by the time he was twenty-four. Dr. Ryland, said the following words at his grave side that morning, “Farewell, thou dear old man! We leave thee in the possession of Death until the Resurrection Day, but we will bear witness against thee, O King of terrors, at the mouth of this dungeon-thou shalt not always have possession of this dead body it shall be demanded of thee by the great Conqueror, and at that moment thou shalt resign thy prisoner. O ye ministers of Christ, ye people of God, ye surrounding spectators, prepare to meet this old servant of Christ at that day, that hour when this whole place shall be nothing but life, and death shall be swallowed up in victory.”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: adapted From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 270-272.
Massachusetts, passed a law against the Anabaptists
November 13, 1644 – The General Court in Massachusetts, passed a law against the Anabaptists that backfired against them with the general citizenry. In the body of the law, the Anabaptists were called among other things, “…incendiaries of commonwealths, and the infectors of persons in main matters of religion, and the troublers of churches…and they have held the baptizing of infants unlawful…some have denied the ordinance of magistracy, and the lawfulness of making war, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment.” However, pressures mounted on the General Court so that, though they would not repeal the law, they publicly confessed that the Baptists were ‘peaceable’ citizens amongst them.” There is a difference in the Baptist position of religious liberty based on freedom of conscience and the religious toleration allowed by some “state churches.” Baptists believe that a free church in a free state is a New Testament principle…The right of every soul to direct access to God is an inalienable right, with which the state must not interfere.” State churches have arrived at the position of allowing other churches to exist, but favorable laws and/or fiscal levies are often to be granted the favored church. This is thought by some to be “toleration,” but Baptists believe that the end of governmental administration is equal justice under law. Baptists, therefore repudiate every form of compulsion in religion or restraint of religious freedom. In 1644, a poor man, Thomas Painter, was tied up and whipped because he refused to have his child baptized. This is what led Thomas Painter to become an Anabaptist.
Dr. Greg J. Dixon from: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/ Thompson/ , pp. 472-73.