I saw the following quote from Michael Haykin on Facebook recently. I think it is an interesting historical comment on religious liberty and speaks to a point I have made numerous times, only Baptists and Quakers have any historical high ground on the question of religious liberty. Those who stand in such traditions who do not want to afford tolerance to other religions, sects and denominations are denying their roots when they do so.
Of all of the major groups that survived the British civil wars, it was the Baptists and Quakers, who stood for religious liberty. As John Coffey has rightly noted, mainstream Calvinism was quite reluctant to endorse liberty of religion. Read the Westminster Confession, chapter 20.4 and 23.3. Even the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration wanted the magistrate to ensure that “men of corrupt minds and conversations do not licentiously publish and divulge blasphemy and errors, in their own nature subverting the faith and inevitably destroying the souls of them that receive them” as noted in this article in the Savoy Declaration 24:
“Although the magistrate is bound to encourage, promote, and protect the professors and profession of the gospel, and to manage and order civil administrations in a due subserviency to the interest of Christ in the world, and to that end to take care that men of corrupt minds and conversations do not licentiously publish and divulge blasphemy and errors, in their own nature subverting the faith and inevitably destroying the souls of them that receive them: yet in such differences about the doctrines of the gospel, or ways of the worship of God, as may befall men exercising a good conscience, manifesting it in their conversation, and holding the foundation, not disturbing others in their ways or worship that differ from them; there is no warrant for the magistrate under the gospel to abridge them of their liberty.”
The Baptist Second London Confession has nothing that corresponds to this. And thus, for that remarkable Christian, Roger Williams, liberty of conscience was to be extended to “the most paganish, Turkish, Jewish, or Antichristian consciences and worships.” What confidence Williams had in the power of God’s Word and Spirit to change men’s hearts. No need for the sword of the state to do God’s work.
In the present-day climate, where criticism is being made of various governmental bodies, is this the sort of freedom for which we are arguing? Or is it only freedom for our way of thinking? As Oliver Cromwell once rightly said, every sect wants freedom, but give it to them, and they will give it to no one else.
PS I deem recent remarks against religious toleration by certain Christian leaders as fundamentally against the grain of the thinking of the New Testament.