I’m preaching tomorrow at First Baptist Church of Portland, the church I belong to. I’ll be talking about the Baptist heritage of advocating for religious freedom.

Last weekend at the American Baptist Churches biennial convention, David Coffey of the Baptist World Alliance talked about early Baptist Thomas Helwys. He quoted Helwys’ work A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1612). Helwys said, “If the Kings people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all human laws made by the King, our Lord the King can require no more: for men’s religion to God is betwixt God and themselves; the King shall not answer for it, neither may the King be judge between God and man.” He sent a copy of this work to King James, and was thrown in prison where he died.

Another Baptist I admire is John Leland, a Baptist preacher in Massachusetts and Virginia. He influenced James Madison to introduce a draft amendment which became the First Amendment. The final amendment included the words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

On July 5, 1802, Leland gave a speech where he said, “Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny — the worst of despotism….it converts religion into a principle of state policy, and the gospel into merchandise. Heaven forbids the bans of marriage between church and state; their embraces therefore, must be unlawful.”

This year is the 400th anniversary of of the Baptist movement. I’m grateful for these Baptist leaders who understood the importance of freedom.

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