The Development Of Religious Liberty: A Survey Of Its Progress And Challenges In Christian History -- By: Malcolm Yarnell

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 06:1 (Spring 2009)
Article: The Development Of Religious Liberty: A Survey Of Its Progress And Challenges In Christian History
Author: Malcolm Yarnell


The Development Of Religious Liberty: A Survey Of Its Progress And Challenges In Christian History1

Malcolm Yarnell2

Introduction

“But you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18b).

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12).3

In his essay, “The Christian Doctrine of Religious Liberty,” contained in a recent volume devoted to religious liberty, Barrett Duke argued that the doctrine of religious liberty is a necessary Christian teaching from a systematic perspective.4 Building on Dr. Duke’s work and filling a historical lacuna in that fine volume, this paper demonstrates that the Christian doctrine of religious liberty has not always been held consistently in Christian history. Indeed, the majority of Christian theologians have denied religious liberty, and in spite of its progress since the sixteenth century, there are many intellectual traditions, Christian and non-Christian, which are historically capable of sponsoring coercion, especially against those churches that committed themselves to being free, believing, and baptizing. Unless we are very careful to promote this doctrine consistently and continuously in our churches and in the broader society, at the local, national, and international levels, there may come a day when we find ourselves persecuted once again for holding to the New Testament as the fundamental basis of our faith.

In order to demonstrate this contention, a survey of the progress of and challenges to religious liberty is presented here. We begin with an outline of those biblical texts that have been utilized in the debate between those who would advocate the necessity of religious coercion and the persecution of heretics and those who would advocate the

necessity of religious liberty and the freedom of the human conscience. We then consider the progress of political theology with regard to religious coercion and religious liberty in the early church, the Middle Ages, the Reformation, and the modern period. Finally, we conclude with a summary evaluation of some current challenges to the exercise of religious liberty.

The Biblical Foundation Of Religious Liberty

Biblical Texts Supportive Of Religious Coercion?

Historically, theologians have drawn upon a typical group of prooftexts, ...

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