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8-22 Isaac Backus, Religious Liberty’s Apologist

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by Justified, Aug 23, 2002.

  1. Justified

    Justified New Member

    Jul 14, 2002
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    This Day in Baptist History, E. Wayne Thompson and David L. Cummins

    8-22 Isaac Backus, Religious Liberty’s Apologist
    Scripture: Nehemiah 13

    As early as 1740 George Whitefield was preaching his revival sermons in New England. The Great Awakening had begun earlier in Jonathan Edward’s church in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Norwich pastor, Benjamin Lord, was sympathetic toward the movement at the beginning and invited several outstanding revivalists to his church. Genuine assurance of salvation came to Widow Backus. Her son, working in the fields alone and contemplating the Scriptures and the ministry of the revivalists, was converted.

    He became a full-fledged member of the Congregational church during a time of great controversy over the spiritual awakening. Those in favor of the awakening were known as “New Lights” and later “Separates,” and those opposed were called “Old Lights.” As the “New Lights” became convinced of error, they repudiated the Half-Way Covenant, embraced the need for a regenerate membership, and separated to form their own churches.

    The result of all of this, as far as Backus was concerned, was that he preached a sermon in 1748 opposing infant baptism, but he was not immersed until August 22, 1751,(1) When he proved his conviction relative to believer’s baptism. His complete, open espousal of Baptist beliefs in 1756 was no surprise because for years he had been preaching and defending the ideals for which Baptists were noted: believer’s baptism for membership in the local church, spiritual liberty, the autonomy of each church congregation, and complete freedom from government control.(2) Backus, like many others of that period, deliberated on these principles and carefully considered them for a long period of time before publicly identifying with the despised Baptists.

    At this time Backus became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, Massachusetts, where he served until his death in 1806. During his Middleborough ministry, Backus continued his campaigns against taxation of religious bodies and the use of certificates of exemption, which were being forced on some Baptist congregations by the religious authorities. Backus denounced the scheme and contended that to sign the certificates before they could secure tax exemption was as much an invasion of personal rights as the tax itself. He finally condemned the practice when he said, “In all civil governments some are appointed for others, and have power to compel others to submit to their judgment; but our Lord has most plainly forbidden us, either to assume or submit to any such thing in religion.”(3)

    He later wrote an ‘Appeal to the Publick for Religious Liberty’ in which he asserted, “It appears to us that the true difference and exact limits between ecclesiastical and civil governments is this, That the church is armed with light and truth, to pull down the strongholds of iniquity, and to gain souls to Christ and into His Church…. While the state is armed with the sword to guard the peace, and the civil rights of all persons and societies, and to punish those who violate the same.”(4)

    God grant us leadership that has the depth of conviction and the clear understanding of the biblical principles of church/state relationships to preserve religious liberty and freedom of conscience for our posterity. We must have “frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” for such to be maintained.(5) EWT

    (1) Robert C. Newman, Baptists and the American Tradition (Des Plaines, Ill.: Regular Baptist Press, 1976), p. 36.

    (2) O.K. and Marjorie Armstrong, Baptists Who Shaped a Nation (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1975), pp. 88-89.

    (3) Ibid., p. 90.

    (4) Ibid., p. 92.

    (5) George Mason, Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776.

    ”Conservatives- Theology dictates morality/Liberals- morality dictates Theology” Justified Version ;)

    [ August 25, 2002, 08:46 AM: Message edited by: Justified ]