The Freedom and Responsibility of the Baptist Community for Relationship with the "Other"

The Freedom and Responsibility of the Baptist Community for Relationship with the “Other”


Baptists' interpretation of the relationship between the community of faith and the civil government is part of a much larger theological complex that grows out of their concepts regarding the nature of biblical faith, and also encompasses the doctrines of salvation, freedom of conscience, and the New Testament church. Baptists have long held the conviction that any church created by an act of government could never be a seedbed for true Christian faith because it fosters a forced (and therefore false) religion. The biblical church should consist of persons who voluntarily embrace faith in Jesus Christ, something that cannot be legislated. However, historical experiences also have taught Baptists that their commitment to the ideal of the separation of church and state does not mean that Baptists can avoid all political involvements. A frequent Baptist response to difference has been that of ill-considered reaction. But, the magnitude of change and discontinuity between Baptist traditions and twenty-first-century contexts cannot simultaneously sustain past patterns and a robust future. “Saving souls” for heaven often has been allowed by Baptists to substitute for the costly and equally witness-laden actions required to address the systemic suffering of “others” in the present. Baptist heritage teaches us the value of carefully considered theological and ethical priorities that would guide our witness and the importance of seeking ways to participate appropriately in political processes that uphold the message of God's concern for all people.

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