Rendering Unto Caesar God’s Things -- By: James M. Dunn

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 08:1 (Fall 1990)
Article: Rendering Unto Caesar God’s Things
Author: James M. Dunn


Rendering Unto Caesar God’s Things

James M. Dunn

Executive Director, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs

The bump of church-state separation on the head of the Southern Baptist Convention is a dent.

The elected leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention since 1979 is clearly closer to the Religious Right than to Baptist heritage. A Convention that can support a school prayer amendment to the United States Constitution, allow its Public Affairs Committee to endorse Judge Robert Bork for the United States Supreme Court and honor Senator Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.) as a champion of religious freedom is cut off from its Baptist roots.

The flaws are theological, historical and political. This article can merely hint at the magnitude of the departure of Southern Baptists from their historic moorings. Surely with time and psychic distance from current flux others will explore and analyze more fully the plight of America’s largest non-Roman Catholic denomination and the turn it has taken in the 1980’s.

The traditional Baptist insistence upon separation of church and state has been undercut by theological dilution and tepidity. Baptists have been, at least on one side of the family, a part of the Radical Reformation not the Reasonable Reformation. Baptist forebears fought for freedom not toleration. They insisted upon separation of church and state not cozy cohabitation.

Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, Issac Backus, John Leland, even the irenic George W. Truett could be righteously indignant at any attempted intrusion by government or any appeal by religion for special favors. Has one ever known a non-controversial practitioner of religious liberty? One fears being thought defensive. Yet, in the Baptist heritage there are treasures to defend. Ordinary uninformed Baptists can be turned into timid doubters by blusterers who have no grasp of the roots of religious liberty. Edgar Young Mullins gave all Baptists a short course in soul freedom in The Axioms of Religion.

Mullins’ Axioms cohere. His argument is compelling because it is biblically sound, historically accurate and sociologically useful. In fact, one must at least attempt to glimpse a Mullins-eye view of Baptists to comprehend the present turmoil.

The principles Mullins set out are a user friendly outline of a common, minimalist Baptist theology. These maxims indisputably describe the soil for a Baptist dedication to religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

One reason some people who are called Baptist can behave totally unBaptistically is that they have Puritan rather than Baptist roots. One cause of confusion among Baptists over the sepa...

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