The Doctrinal Trajectory of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the First Thirty Years, Pt. 5 – Religious Freedom

Read Part OnePart Two, Part Three, and Part Four.

            The final core value that Shurden listed in The Baptist Identity is religious freedom. Shurden states, “Religious Freedomis the historic Baptist affirmation of freedom OF religion, freedom FOR religion, and freedom FROM religion, insisting that Caesar is not Christ and Christ is not Caesar.”[1] This seems to imply separation of church and state in the historic Baptist sense that there should not be a state sponsored church or denomination. Shurden confirms this in his 1993 work, The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC, “In matters of conscience, the state has no place. In matters pertaining to the first table of the Law (the first part of the Ten Commandments), the state was out of bounds.”[2] This is a core value of all Baptists.[3]

            Yet this value has evolved over the last thirty years into something else altogether. During a June 2003 breakout session at the CBF General Assembly, Charles Kimball, serving as the chair of the department of religion at Wake Forest University, was summarized by the SBC’s Baptist Press as saying, “religious groups who make absolute truth claims might pose a danger to society.”[4] Kimball concluded, “When Christians claim their understanding of salvation is the absolute truth, they can cause great harm across the globe.”[5] The same news article shares that Dr. Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school, Wake Forest University, argued that, “claims of Christian exclusivism boarder on an infringement of religious liberty.”[6]

            The CBF website today uses almost the same wording as in 1991, with an update in the language. “We believe in the freedom of religion, freedom for religion, and freedom from religion. We support the separation of church and state.”[7] Thus, while the current iteration of this value remains the same, it has been used to deny the exclusive claims of the Christian scriptures stating that Christ is the only savior of mankind, as if to state this is to somehow force a religious belief on the rest of the world.

[1] Shurden, The Baptist Identity, 45, emphasis in original.

[2] Shurden, Walter B, The Struggle for the Soul of the SBC: Moderate Responses to the Fundamentalist Movement (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1993), 34.

[3] E.g., see the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Section 21, as the first Baptist confession to espouse this truth.

[4] David Roach, “CBF Presenters: Absolute Truth Claims — Break Down; Imperil Religious Liberty,Baptist Press, July 1, 2003.

[5] Roach, “CBF Presenters.”

[6] Roach, “CBF Presenters.”

[7] Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, “Who We Are,” 2021, accessed August 19, 2021.

Note – This article was co-written by Terry Delaney and Dr. Gary Shultz, Jr.

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