Monday, April 03, 2006

Faith-Based Initiatives: God or Mammon?

President George Bush, as far as we know, is a born again Christian. One of the goals of his administration is the expansion of faith-based initiatives.

In the year 2005, the federal government gave faith-based grants totalling over TWO BILLION DOLLARS!!!!!!!

Surely, our Independent Baptist churches could use more funds to start more churches and help more missionaries. But where should those funds come from?
• From God?
or
• From Government?

Historicallly, Baptists have opposed state aid to churches, whereas Roman Catholic churches and Protestant churches, which do not believe in separation of church and state, have not hesitated to reach their hand into the government's vouchers. To better understand the Biblical and historical Baptist opposition to state aid for churches, let us examine three Baptist voices from the past.

1. ISAAC BACKUS. This Baptist preacher from New England during the colonial and revolutionary era was the leading Baptist opponent opposing the common practice of governmental taxation of the citizenry to support churches, usually state-sponsored churches. In a 1999 article published by the Library of Congress entitled "Religion and the Founding of the American Republic," the Library of Congress described Baptist preacher Backus and his Baptist beliefs as follows:

"Backus forcefully states the Baptists’ opposition to state support of the churches. This opposition was grounded in the Baptists’ reading of the New Testament and also of ecclesiastical history which demonstrated that state support of religion inevitably corrupted the churches. Backus and other Baptist leaders agreed with their clerical adversaries in believing that religion was necessary for social prosperity and happiness but they believed that the best way for the state to assure the health of religion was to leave it alone and let it take its own course, which, the Baptists were convinced, would result in vital, evangelical religion covering the land."

Please take a moment to read that paragraph again, a paragraph written, not by a Baptist historian, but by the Library of Congress. May we Baptists continue to follow our Biblical and historical Baptist beliefs with regard to separation of church and state and opposition to state aid to churches, and may be continue to labor for Jesus in the hope of a "vital, evangelical religion covering the land."

2. PATRICK HENRY AND GEORGE W. BUSH. There are good Christian men, not Baptists, who have made misguided attempts to help churches by providing state aid. One of those good Christian men was Patrick Henry, the famous colonial and revolutionary era attorney and politican who uttered the immortal words: "Give me liberty or give me death!"

Patrick Henry, a good Presbyterian, was opposed to governmental taxation to support the officially sponsored Church of England. When he was governor of Virginia, he supported legislation that would have required the state to impose governmental taxes, which would then be distributed to the church of the taxpayer's choice. Such an idea, which sounded great to the Protestant Henry, was staunchly opposed by the large contingent of Baptists in Virginia.

In one sense, George W. Bush is the Patrick Henry of today. He is taking great measures to protect the liberty which we value so highly in America, yet he is making misguided attempts to provide government funding to churches, an attempt which would ultimately undermine the same liberty which he is trying to defend. Baptist preachers today need to realize, as Issac Backus did 250 years ago, that (1) "state support of religion inevitably corrupted the churches" and (2) "the best way for the state to assure the health of religion was to leave it alone."

3. CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON. Perhaps the most famous Baptist preacher of all time, Charles Haddon Spurgeon of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, held firm Baptists beliefs with respect to separation of church and state and opposition to state support of churches. Perhaps his most pithy statement on these issues is the following:

"Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man.

We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men."

Spurgeon's beliefs, and our beliefs, go back to Jesus, Who stated even more pithily in the Sermon on the Mount, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 6:24). As Baptists, we believe that the local church should depend upon God (and God's people), not on government. Despite the perhaps well-intentioned efforts of leaders such as Patrick Hentry and George W. Bush, we Baptists should continue to resist the temptation of faith-based grants from the government, lest we "prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government."


In next week's blog, we will examine a recent Supreme Court decision, which illuminates in a most enlightening manner, what happens to the firmly held principles of groups which feed at the government trough. See you next week!

TERRY LEE HAMILTON

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