The Baptists Gave Us Religious Freedom

Dr Pierre Coovert

In my last article we saw that the Puritans and Pilgrims, because of their Protestant beliefs, could not stand for freedom of conscience or freedom of religion. Their doctrine taught that the church, through government was going to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ. They seem to have missed passages like II Timothy 3:13 which says, evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse, and II Thessalonians 2:3 which says, there will be a falling away before the return of Christ.

So, who were those who were responsible for the freedom of religion in America? It started with a man named Roger Williams. He was born and raised in England and was a graduate of Cambridge. He developed a dissenting viewpoint toward the Church of England and in 1631 moved to Boston and became pastor of an establishment church.

His dissenting viewpoint was not received any better in the new world. He was banished from Massachusetts in 1635 and in 1636 he founded the city of Providence in what is now the state of Rhode Island. He became a Baptist for a short time in his fight for religious liberty. I say for a short time because he later left the Baptist church and became what he called a “seeker.”

Along with John Clarke, the pastor of the Baptist Church at Newport (the first recorded Baptist church in America founded at least a year before the church in Providence founded by Roger Williams), Mr. Williams went to England to petition for a charter for the colony of Rhode Island. The charter was refused and he soon returned to the new world. John Clarke stayed in England to continue to petition for the charter. He finally received it after twelve years of labor in England. Here is a sentence from the charter which is inscribed on the Capital building in Providence:

That it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) told for a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments. [Emphasis added.]

Upon Dr. Clarke’s return to Rhode Island they formed the first government in the world with true freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This new colony served as a missions sending ground which resulted in the establishment of Baptist churches in the other colonies in spite of the persecution.

At this point the battle was far from over. In the year 1700 there were less than twenty known Baptist churches in the colonies. Then came the Great Awakening with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. These men were from the old establishment churches and were opposed by the Puritans for their evangelistic zeal.

Many of those converted during The Great Awakening studied their Bibles and became Baptists. The number of Baptists and Baptist churches grew rapidly in number and influence. By the time of the Revolutionary War Baptists were influential enough to make a difference. They joined the revolutionary army in great numbers because they saw the war for independence and the fight for religious liberty as one in the same. Many churches joined the continental army as a group. Although it is not made clear in the movie, the church in The Patriot was one of these Baptist churches.

Baptist pastors served as chaplains in the continental army. One of these chaplains was John Gano. He was a friend and chaplain to George Washington and convinced him of the biblical truth of believer’s baptism. He baptized Washington at Valley Forge.
The battle for religious freedom continued after the War of Independence was won. Persecution continued in the new states until the Bill of Rights was accepted.

The constitution we now have was very nearly defeated over this very issue. The Baptists, who now had enough influence to be heard, feared that it did not guarantee religious freedom. In Virginia, a Baptist pastor named John Leland was set to run against James Madison for the convention to consider the adopting of the Constitution. When Madison received word of this, knowing he had little chance of defeating the popular Leland, he met with him and after a very long meeting he convinced Leland that he would support the Bill of Rights and fight for religious freedom. Leland withdrew from the race and Madison was faithful to his word. He introduced the Bill of Rights with the first article guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The rest is history.

In this short article I have not been able to document these facts so, if you have and doubts, you will have to do the study yourselves. The bottom line is that the Puritans and Pilgrims opposed religious freedom and considered it a doctrine from Hell. It is the Baptists that gave us the freedom of religion we enjoy today. Unlike the Puritans and Pilgrims, the Baptists have always fought for freedom of conscience for all, not just for themselves.

Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
RSS Podcast