Some of you may be familiar with the independent church in Florida (for once, it is nice that a wacky church from the States making a big splash in the news, is not an Independent Baptist one; one can be thankful for small things) that is about to conduct a burning of the Koran. This is being conducted with the express displeasure of a whole variety of religious and civil authorities and groups. But despite this, a congregation of 50 has gone viral; literally and metaphorically around the world.
It is important to go back to some principles that have governed our lives as Baptists for well over 400 years and to remind ourselves that the Scriptures tell us of God’s invitation to be in relationship with Him. This invitation is of our own choosing, not one of coercion by religious or civil authorities. As C.S. Lewis once remarked, “At the end of all time when we meet our Lord; the day of the world’s judgement, we will say to the Lord, “Thy will be done” and so enter more fully into His presence. Or He will say to us in affirming our independence from Him, “Thy will be done.”
Christians have not always behaved honourably to each other or to those in other faiths or non faiths. It would be helpful to remember, the mistreatment of Christians by many Islamic countries around the world. It might also be noted that Christians experience incredible persecution from other Christians in lands as diverse as Russia, Mexico and Bulgaria. The point here is that the burning of the Koran is more of the same intemperate nonsense. It is ill conceived. It puts Christians in Islamic countries at even greater risk for persecution then they are now, and fans the religious profiling and demonization of a particular religious group.
I’m going to share with you a series of quotations from Baptist History that might illumine this particular topic while we are in the throes of this most recent debate. I know some of you would appreciate a simple bullet points around this issue. While it is too complicated for that, let me provide some basic observations:
- Our statement of faith both from Carey Centre and the Denomination declares the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffering and dying for our sins and in rising from the dead, triumphing over death and in offering us a personal relationship to Him, eternal life.
- The Christian faith offers in its worship of the Living God the declaration of biblical truth, the celebration of life in community, and an invitation to all who do not know Christ, to follow Him.
- This invitation is just that, an invitation; not coercive, but winsome, contextualize culturally even as the incarnation was, breathed alive by the Holy Spirit; but an invitation nonetheless.
- There are extremes in all the world’s religions. While we should challenge those extremes, not only because they affect other Christians, but because they are against the biblical understanding of free choice, we must avoid demonizing others and be especially clear with the extremism within Christianity.
- Christians everywhere should carry on a vigorous and robust analysis critique of the faith and other traditions as the opportunity arises, but basic respect prevents us from desecrating or disrespecting something that another tradition calls sacred, regardless of whether we agree with them or not. Christians everywhere should condemn this unwise and unnecessary act.
A quote from the Baptist World Alliance deliberation on multi-faith dialogue: “The Church must declare with conviction that genuine love is possible between human beings regardless of ethnic characteristics, religion, nationality or economic standing.”
Our faith and commitment to Christ is between ourselves and God, not the civil authority, nor is it anyone else’s business unless it interferes with their own worship. Here are some essential quotes that are building blocks from the past, pertinent for this day.
1. “If the King’s people be obedient and true subjects, obeying all humane lawes 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.”
2. Baptists do not believe in the imposition of religious uniformity by any civil or religious authority…..
“An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”
3. Matters of faith are completely other from matters of state.
“Religious matters are to be separated from the jurisdiction of the state, not because they are beneath the interests of the state but, quite to the contrary, because they are too high and holy and thus are beyond the competence of the state.”
4. To put it more rashly, no one has the right to extend tolerance because it would suggest they have the privilege to do so. All parties in the human family must extend liberty to each other.
“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks(Muslims), Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”
Lastly, along with Thomas Helwys, whom we have just quoted, John Smythe co-founded the first church in Europe, in Amsterdam, which as Englishmen they had fled from the persecution of the English state church and King. Ironically this first group of Baptists, persecuted religious refugees, were to experienced the burning of their own books and literature in England…it is funny how twisted persecution repeats itself even this week in Florida. John Smythe felt very badly for his discriminatory words and mean spirited attitude. He didn’t take away anything from the truth he preached, but he felt he could be more loving about it. Here are his words which are a challenge to us all, to be biblical, analytical, critical, challenging yet loving.
Later in life, John Smythe wrote:
In the days of my blind zeal and preposterous imitation of Christ, I was somewhat lavish in censuring and judging others and namely, in the way of separation called Brownism. Since having been instructed in the way of the Lord more perfectly, and finding for all those hard phrases with which I have in my writings inveighed against either England or Separation…
Generally all those biting and bitter words, phrases and speeches used against the professors of the land I utterly retract and revoke, as not being of the spirit of Christ.
Now, for the Separation, I cannot justify my writings and dealings with them. What I wrote was the truth. But in the manner of my writing I have failed: for I should have instructed them with the spirit of meekness, but my words have been mingled with gall, and therefore has the Lord repaid me full measure.
From this day forward I put an end to all questions and controversies about the outward church and ceremonies, and I resolve to spend my time in the main matters related to salvation.”
Dear members of the CBWC family of churches,
We, as the board of the CBWC, wish to update you regarding the transition of Ken Thiessen as the Heartland Area minister. In late July, Ken indicated, for personal reasons and by his own choice, that he would be resigning his position effective July 31st 2010. Ken feels called to other work and ministry. That calling will surely involve his considerable gifts and skills, many of which have been applied to his work as Heartland Regional Minister. Many will miss Ken and have been thankful for his relationship and support.
The process of transition with Ken is still unfolding. It has been a challenge over the summer months, with many of our leaders on vacation, to know how to announce Ken’s transition. In the interim it is important that you know that Dennis Stone and John Prociuk will be available to assist any of the Heartland churches or members of staff that require resourcing and assistance. In addition, we very much appreciate the presence on our board of the three Heartland representatives; Devin Seghers, Mary Stuber-Doerksen and Michael Cantlon.
Thank you for your prayers in this time of change and as we seek the Lord’s guidance in the search for a new Heartland Regional Minister.
God continue to be with you all,
CBWC Board President