Defending Conscience

How Baptists Reminded the World to Defy Tyranny

We wrote The Ezekiel Decalaration, an open letter decrying segregation and the need to maintain liberty of conscience regarding matters of vaccination. This small letter was far more successful and had a far higher reach than we ever expected. But though we expected criticism, what we did not expect was how few in the more prominent roles of Baptist Church leadership around the country were willing to speak out against tyranny. Over the months after August, we recognised something; a lot of Christians had forgotten the incredible legacy of advocating for liberty of conscience in society, particularly the Baptist Church.

Deconstructing ScoMo
  • Authors: Matthew Littlefield and Timothy Grant
  • Contributor: Stephen Chavura
  • ISBN: TBA
  • Pages: 320
  • Paperback
  • Released: soon
  • RRP: $39.97 + postage

What people are saying…

John-William NOBLE

Pastor, grace baptist Church (Aberdeen), Director of Parresia, Secretary of Melville-Knox Christian School (Aberdeen) & author of “The Basics of Christianity” and “Biblical Marriage: Two Sinners and a Gracious God”

…Undoubtedly a significant contribution for our current fight to uphold Biblical truth on matters of Christian liberty and conscience…

Church history is an important study for the Christian to learn how Biblical truth has been upheld and defended throughout the centuries. It becomes increasingly pertinent when the Church becomes entrenched in vagueness and error; which has been the reality for a significant portion of the Church in following Covid-19 government measures.

In a time where some crucial Biblical teaching has been written and preached in response to this, I am delighted to commend this unique work looking at a very contemporary issue through the lens of those who have gone before us. This book is informative, challenging and relevant and is undoubtedly a significant contribution for our current fight to uphold Biblical truth on matters of Christian liberty and conscience.

Bill Muehlenberg

SOCIAL COmmentator, Bible College lecturer

…all Christians will greatly benefit from this work. The authors are to be commended…

This is a very thorough yet fully readable historical and theological account of the importance of religious liberty and the freedom of conscience. While always an important topic, the past two years of draconian statist responses to Covid have made this issue even more urgent. Despite the Baptist emphasis, all Christians will greatly benefit from this work. The authors are to be commended for this important publication.

Dr. Stephen Chavura

researcher & Lecturer (political & Church History)

This book offers an illuminating and readable account of the tradition of religious liberty in the Baptist tradition.

The Baptists are important in this history, and this book offers an illuminating and readable account of the tradition of religious liberty in the Baptist tradition. It is a book that Baptist ministers, teachers, and denominational leaders must read to appreciate the great tradition of Baptist critique of the pretensions of the state.

But it is also a book that may be read by members of other denominations, many of whom once enjoyed an established status, but now, with the rise of a new ideological establishment, find themselves not only little better off than the Baptists today, but, it must be said, may find themselves little better off than the Baptists many hundreds of years ago in countries in which to be a Baptist was enough to be persecuted.

BOB COTTON OAM

Pastor, Maitland Christian Church

The authors have presented an extremely detailed and timely study that correctly recognises the limits of the state in relation to Christian practice and worship.

The authors have presented an extremely detailed and timely study that correctly recognises the limits of the state in relation to Christian practice and worship. Today’s Christian community owes a tremendous debt to the early Baptists who stood firm on matters of the conscience. Their example ought to encourage us to confidently and faithfully resist any intrusion of Caesar into that which is God’s and God’s alone.

About the AUTHORS

Matthew  Littlefield

Rev Matthew Littlefield is the senior pastor at New Beith Baptist Church, and has been in ministry since 2009 in various roles. He has a Masters in Theology from Malyon Theological College, is a writer for Caldron Pool on history, politics, theology and social issues facings the Church of Australia, and is a co-author of The Ezekiel Declaration.

Matthew is an ardent believer that people, nations and politicians should bow for the King of Kings, Jesus Christ, and is dedicated to preaching that message, even when it is unpopular in days like ours.

Timothy Grant

Pastor Tim Grant is the senior pastor of Mount Isa Baptist Church, and has been in ministry for over a decade in various roles. He has a BMin and a MaTh from Malyon College. He is a coauthor of The Ezekiel Declaration.

Tim has recently been encouraged in reading accounts of Christians in Former Eastern Bloc countres and the choice they faced to be either faithful or succesful.

FOREWORD

by Dr. Stephen Chavura
Senior Lecturer in History
BA Hons (WSU) PhD (UNE)

Central to this story are the Baptists, whose interest in religious toleration should be obvious, seeing that they were always a dissenting tradition from established churches.

The “legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” These words written by President Thomas Jefferson are some of the most famous and influential in American history. They are often taken to summarise the proper relationship between church and state in any liberal democracy. Less known is the immediate context of the words, which were written to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, who were concerned that Jefferson might institute a mandatory day of thanksgiving, which could lead down a slippery slope of ecclesiastical establishment then the norm in Europe.

read more...

It was in the post-Reformation period that pleas for religious toleration and religious liberty became most common and influential. This is understandable given the aftermath of the Reformations in Europe: countries now deeply and widely divided by religious pluralism and yet whose governments still often sought to enforce a Reformation and pre-Reformation religious uniformity. Unsurprisingly, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were periods of great religious conflict.

And yet out of this conflict came the solution: religious liberty. As historian Perez Zagorin pointed out in his classic How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (2007), if it is true that the Christian tradition was uniquely intolerant of other religions, it is also true that it was out of the Christian religion that religious toleration and religious liberty emerged. Christians reached into their own traditions to overcome the problem. Modern religious liberty is, for the most part, a product of an evolving Christian tradition in Europe.

Central to this story are the Baptists, whose interest in religious toleration should be obvious, seeing that they were always a dissenting tradition from established churches. Among other Protestant traditions, the Baptists rejected notions of a state church and went beyond Christ’s distinction between church and state (Matthew 22:21) towards a separation of church and state. Such thinking would feed into the social ideas of the most influential theorists of church-state relations, including John Locke and Thomas Jefferson.

Crucially, the doctrine of separation of church and state was really another way of describing religious liberty or religious toleration. True, religious liberty and religious toleration are not quite the same. Religious liberty assumes that all people have a right to practice their religion regardless of what the state deems acceptable, whereas religious toleration conceived of the free practice of religion more in terms of a permission granted by the state for the sake of achieving some greater good, such as social harmony. Nonetheless, they both teach an ideal situation in which religionists enjoy a negative liberty from the state’s interference in their religious lives and institutions.

Sadly, today we have to a large extent forgotten that separation of church and state meant religious freedom, and nowadays it often means the exact opposite: forcing religious influence out of the public sphere and public institutions. This is not separation of church and state, it is secularist domination of church over state. Recent events surrounding Covid-19 should also jolt us into remembering a long history of Christian scrutiny of state domination over churches. In many liberal democracies, churches were summarily deemed “non-essential services” and physically shut down for months on end. Often when they reopened, they did so with vaccine passports, excluding anyone who did not take a vaccination. It is impossible to think of a greater level of state interference in the church in recent memory. Furthermore, with the onward march of the therapeutic state and the therapeutic totalitarianism that is increasingly describing biblical views on sexuality and gender as harmful and detrimental to mental health, a serious consideration of the Christian tradition of religious liberty is urgent.

The Baptists are important in this history, and this book offers an illuminating and readable account of the tradition of religious liberty in the Baptist tradition. It is a book that Baptist ministers, teachers, and denominational leaders must read to appreciate the great tradition of Baptist critique of the pretensions of the state. But it is also a book that may be read by members of other denominations, many of whom once enjoyed an established status, but now, with the rise of a new ideological establishment, find themselves not only little better off than the Baptists today, but, it must be said, may find themselves little better off than the Baptists many hundreds of years ago in countries in which to be a Baptist was enough to be persecuted.