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can a baptist be a christian nationalist

Can A Baptist Be A Christian Nationalist?

One of the most common objections to Christian Nationalism from Baptist is that there is an incongruency between Baptist distinctives and Christian Nationalism. This objection that Christian Nationalism contradicts Baptist theology has been levied by John Piper of Desiring God and several establishment Southern Baptists. While there exists a bevy of resources and theological precedent allowing for Presbyterians to adopt this theology, there does not exist to near the same extent Baptist resources on a theology of Christian governance. Yet rather than use a lack of precedent for grounds of dismissing Christian Nationalism, Baptists must reconcile historic Baptist theology with a label that describes biblical governance of a nation. Historically speaking, the evidence shows that Baptist distinctives reconcile amicably with Christian Nationalism.

What Is Christian Nationalism

Christian Nationalism – The belief and practice of Christianizing a nation, either establishing or restoring a Christian heritage to a people, through the spreading of the gospel, establishing of institutions, and aligning civil laws with the Law of God.

Anabaptist Roots Long Rejected

The Baptist distinctives are commonly known as follows and are the result of the early Anabaptists:

  • Credobaptism
  • Congregationalism
  • Separation of Church and State

On this third distinction, there needs to be much established clarity. The Anabaptist understanding of separation of church and state is vastly different than the views that Baptist would adopt shortly thereafter. Anabaptists believe in a Radical 2 Kingdoms approach in which they view the things of this world as sinful. The Anabaptists sought total separation from the world, which included a neglect of civil engagement and duties.

During the height of the Ottoman Empire’s extent into Europe, Anabaptists would refuse to take up arms to defend their country from Muslim invaders which was a major contributing factor to their persecution. The Anabaptist view on church and state is vastly different than the view that majority of Baptists hold today and is certainly not evident in early Baptist faith confessions, such as the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (see below).

Most Baptist have a higher today value citizenship unlike the Anabaptists of the Reformation. The reason for this disparity is not that Baptists have failed to adhere to their own theology; rather, Baptist theology has long rejected the Anabaptist view of church and state. Indeed, the “laying of hands” would become a greater Baptist distinctive in the coming centuries than a separation of church and state as the Anabaptists understood it.

Religious Liberty and Roger Williams

Within Anglo-American history, the idea of religious liberty is rooted in the teachings of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, who founded the colony for purpose of ecumenical freedom. Williams was against the enforcement of the First Table of the Ten Commandments and vehemently opposed to the linking of the State and Church, mainly through the Church of England, but also through the Puritans who required church participation as prerequisite for civic engagement.

When they [the Church] have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the Candlestick, etc., and made His Garden a wilderness as it is this day. And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and Paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world, and all that be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the World.

Roger Williams

This “wall of separation” became an inspiration for Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists where the notion of “Separation of Church and State” has gained misconstrued popularity. Roger Williams takes on an Anabaptist approach towards his employment of garden imagery in reference to Church and governance. While Jefferson’s context was more aligned with the notion of individual states possessing their own religious establishments, as was the circumstance at the time, Williams’s beliefs extended beyond Christian denominations and Catholicism.

There goes many a ship to sea, with many hundred souls in one ship, whose weal and woe is common, and is a true picture of a commonwealth or a human combination or society. It hath fallen out sometimes that Papists, Protestants, Jews, and Turks may be embarked in one ship; upon which supposal I affirm that all the liberty of conscience that ever I pleaded for turns upon these two hinges: that none of the Papists, Protestants, Jews, or Turks be forced to come to the ships prayers or worship, nor be compelled [restrained] from their own particular prayers or worship, if they practice any.

Roger Williams

Williams would express that it is a biblical that a society tolerate pagan idolatry and his version of religious liberty is more in line with modern understanding, extending it beyond Christianity to all religions, which would have made his beliefs extreme relative to his contemporaries. This is likely the credobaptist tradition that Stephen Wolfe alludes to as being a theological roadblock to Christian Nationalism. And this tradition was prevalent given that Williams was granted a charter to establish a colony.

Despite being the minority viewpoint in his day, Williams was significant in his influence, with American Baptist Churches USA stemming from his church in Providence, RI. Nevertheless, whether Baptists doctrines have historically aligned with Williams’s position on religious liberty is the determinative question.

1689 London Baptist Confession

Popular amongst reformed Baptists, like Joel Webbon and Apologia, the 1689 London Baptist Confession is a comprehensive doctrine which includes Christian theology pertaining to civic engagement. Its adoption by the Philadelphia Association of Baptist Churches in 1742 would reflect development for Baptist theology within the American colonies going into the American Revolution.

Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate

God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, has ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end has armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers.

It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called thereunto; in the management whereof, as they ought especially to maintain justice and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each kingdom and commonwealth, so for that end they may lawfully now, under the New Testament, wage war upon just and necessary occasions.

Civil magistrates being set up by God for the ends aforesaid; subjection, in all lawful things commanded by them, ought to be yielded by us in the Lord, not only for wrath, but for conscience’ sake; and we ought to make supplications and prayers for kings and all that are in authority, that under them we may live a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.

The 1689 based its doctrine from Romans 13, whereby God ordains governments to punish evil and reward good. That all authority is subject to God is thematic in the confession’s statement. There is nothing which strictly precludes the prohibition of First Table issues present, especially if such was prohibited when a Christian is called to the office of magistrate.

The 1689 Confession is Sabbatarian. Theoretically, the 1689 might encourage the institution of Sabbath Laws, or a return of Blue Laws, when Christianizing a nation. Given the state of the American church, this might not be thrusted to the forefront as doctrine on the sabbath is a secondary issue; thus it might not be encouraged to pursue imposing a 1689 understanding of the Sabbath upon a nation where this doctrine is disputed for sake of maintaining “justice and peace” so that all might “live a quiet and peaceable life.” This confession does not support the compulsion of conscious, as dictated in Chapter 21.

Nonetheless, the 1689 Confession would endorse Christian Nationalism as is defined in common discourse. In fact, this confession would encourage civic participation by Christians to be preferable to being ruled by nonbelievers. More importantly, the doctrinal basis of this confession does not conflict with Stephen Wolfe’s vision for a Christian Nation.

1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith

John Newton Brown’s New Hampshire Confession of Faith reflects post-revolutionary Baptist thought as American Baptists shifted their focus towards missions, both domestic and global. When the Triennial Convention attempted to take a stance on slavery, the Southern Baptists formed their own convention, making this confession the prevailing doctrine for the early SBC. When Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary opened, this confession served as their statement of faith and many SBC churches maintain this confession to this day. Though it is still Calvinist, it is not as Calvinist as the 1689 Confession.

XVI. Of the Civil Government

We believe that civil government is of divine appointment, for the interests and good order of human society,; and that magistrates are to be prayed for, conscientiously honored, and obeyed; except only in things opposed to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Lord of the conscience, and the Prince of the kings of the earth.

Though not as extensive as the 1689, the 1833 New Hampshire Confession lays a basis for civil disobedience when government acts contrary to the Lord, meaning that proper governance would be in accordance to God’s law. This certainly would support the enforcement of Second Table Law issues. On First Table issues, the confession is not as comprehensive, but it certainly cannot be employed to suggest that allowing Islamic mosques is “for the interests and good order of human society.”

The broad notions of religious liberty from Roger Williams are absent in this confession, meaning that this doctrine would be in support of Christian Nationalism if properly held, much like the 1689 Confession.

Baptist Faith and Message 1925

The BFM1925 is a distinctly Arminian faith statement which takes a step towards Roger Williams’ views on the state.

The state owes to the church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

This document absolutely provides leeway for a classical liberal approach to Christianity in the public sphere.

The BFM1925 was rather shortlived, a mere 38 years. It bears little similarity to the BFM1963, as the BFM1963 is more accommodating to Reformed theology.

Baptist Faith and Message 2000

Probably the most influential Baptist doctrine today, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BFM) is the most religiously broad of the major confessions within Baptist thought. Whereas the others are reformed doctrines of varying degree, the BFM has more Arminian influence than the Triennial Convention. The basis of the BFM2000 stems from the BFM1963, which contains most of the same planks as the current edition as the original doctrine was designed to combat inerrancy. In the three iterations, 1925, 1963, and 2000, the BFM language has been qualified throughout the years with added clarification in the various articles as issues arose within the denomination and surrounding culture. Whereas the BFM1963 is completely toothless, the BFM2000 fills in much of the gaps, taking very strong stances on hot button issues.

XV. The Christian and the Social Order

All Christians are under obligation to seek to make the will of Christ supreme in our own lives and in human society. Means and methods used for the improvement of society and the establishment of righteousness among men can be truly and permanently helpful only when they are rooted in the regeneration of the individual by the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose racism, every form of greed, selfishness, and vice, and all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography. We should work to provide for the orphaned, the needy, the abused, the aged, the helpless, and the sick. We should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death. Every Christian should seek to bring industry, government, and society as a whole under the sway of the principles of righteousness, truth, and brotherly love. In order to promote these ends Christians should be ready to work with all men of good will in any good cause, always being careful to act in the spirit of love without compromising their loyalty to Christ and His truth.

The Christian and Social Order was included in the original BFM, being amended to include condemnations of adultery, homosexuality, and pornography as well as articulate that Christians should be pro-life. Therefore, in order to be compliant with the BFM, combatting the homosexual agenda and abortion are requisite and this should be expected if a Christian is called to be a magistrate or civil servant. Although it is not as precise in its application as the other confessions, the BFM does explicitly condemn the sins of modern America without ambiguity. It should be expected that to be compliant with the BFM, supporting enforcement of Second Table Commandments is necessary, meaning that “what two people do in the bedroom is their business” is not in accordance with the BFM.

However, on First Table issues, the BFM2000 is stronger in language than its predecessors which undermines the practical applications for Article 15 on the social order.

XVII. Religious Liberty

God alone is Lord of the conscience, and He has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are contrary to His Word or not contained in it. Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work. The gospel of Christ contemplates spiritual means alone for the pursuit of its ends. The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.

One could argue that little changed since 1925, the BFM articulates separation of church and state under the premise of a more Christian society, yet it does not begin with the Romans 13 assertion that the 1689 and 1833 do in regards to the civil magistrate. In fact, this theological notion is that the State is subservient to God is downplayed compared to its emphasis against sectarian favoritism or taxation. While it assumes a Christian society, paganism would theoretically receive the same treatment from the government under the BFM, or at a minimum it is far more ambiguous. On the other hand the BFM2000 moves the Southern Baptist Convention more in alignment with the 1689 LBCF as it’s positions on hot button issues paired with an underlying premise of a Christian society and a government that is tasked with allowing the church to operate freely provide more of a basis for Christian Nationalism under an ecumenical vision.

Historically, Southern Baptists have not lived up to the stances held in the BFM2000. Contradiction within the BFM arose when the liberals argued it is resorting to the civil power to carry on the work of the church for the State to restrict abortion, homosexuality, or even pornography. SBC leaders like Richard Land wrote that “Separation of church and state means among other things that the church should not use the coercive powers of the state to penalize consensual infractions it considers immoral” in reference to Uganda’s criminalization of homosexuality in 2014. Land, and countless others, are entirely incorrect in suggesting that the criminalization of homosexuality is not within the realm of the civil magistrate. Additionally, Brent Leatherwood, the current head of the ERLC used the Southern Baptist Convention to fight anti-abortion legislation in Louisiana, actively opposing aligning civil law with the law of God. The “separation of church and state” that the BFM imposes provides coverage for those who would muddle the distinctions between the spheres of Church and State rather than provide precise definition of their roles.

Overall, the religious neutrality expressed in Article 17 of the BFM is ubiquitous among Baptist leadership today, and this would reflect the criticisms that Presbyterians like Stephen Wolfe have against Baptist tradition acting contrary to the Christianization of a nation.

Modern Baptist Thought

Whereas both the 1689 and the 1833 confessions emphasize government’s role in promoting the social good, which would be based on God’s law, the BFM’s emphasis on separation has led to ambiguity and antinomianism with its application for the Christian and Social Order. The theological absence pertaining to the Civil Magistrate is an overt deficiency in the BFM. Theoretically, Southern Baptists should support Christian Nationalism, but the doctrines have negatively taken on more influence from Roger Williams than the prior confessions. Liberal Baptists, stemming from the original Triennial Convention, have reduced Baptist distinctives down to the four freedoms: Bible, Soul, Church, and Religious. Without deliberating on the biblical merits of these four freedoms (or lack thereof), the tangible outcomes of these “freedoms” are pietism and antinomianism.

This might in part be due to the rise of various theological camps within Baptist thought. For instance, the early American Baptists were largely Calvinist and Reformed, as is reflected in their confessions with a minority of General Baptists sects. Arminianism and Dispensationalism arise within American theology predominantly in the 1800’s where they gained much traction. This would be under the influence of the Second Great Awakening and its prominent leaders, like Charles Finney. The rise of Methodism in the United States, dispensationalism, pietism from Europe, the (unbiblical) emphasis on temperance, and a shift away from Calvinism all seeped into Baptist thought. Naturally, new apostate sects and cults emerged in the 1800’s that still exists today, most notably the Mormons and Millerite sects. Over time, Baptists thought became disconnected from its early American roots forming denominations like Independent (or Fundamental) Baptist, Free Will Baptists, National Baptists (black Baptists conventions), and a variety of other theological factions.

By the time the Conservative Resurgence occurred, Calvinism was the minority within the SBC, though their influence gained with the “Young, Restless, and Reformed” surgency in recent decades. To their credit, Arminians like Adrian Rogers and Paige Patterson led the Conservative Resurgence. Many congregants within Southern Baptist churches and those within nondenominational credobaptist churches stem from mainline denominations which devolved into apostacy, like the United Methodist Church. This is more evident in states where the theological tradition strayed away from its foundations, like Methodism in Maryland. Many have embedded the religious liberty notions of Roger Williams to where it is extreme or abnormal to suggest otherwise. The dogma of “separation of church and state” has become self-conscious doctrine and associated with national belief and identity, despite historical evidence of religious favoritism within America. In other words, many in the pews and pulpits have adopted tenets of classical liberalism pertaining to civic order and the magistrate.

The Baptist Solution

American Baptists are rather broad in spectrum of belief, yet the civic religion of America, which subconsciously influences one’s theology, must be refuted, like the Proposition Nation, that America is an idea, or the idea of separation of Church and State as it is commonly perceived. Even democracy is viewed as sacred or ideal, despite Scripture not advocating such practice. Increasingly, many are disaffected by how America has devolved, rendering their understanding of America easier to comport with historic Christian understanding of the Nation. Antinomian ideas as Classical Liberalism, Religious Pluralism, or Moral Neutrality must be discarded entirely in favor of a return to the understandings of governance found within the historic confessions, whether it be the 1689 London Baptist Confession or the 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith.

Neither of these two confessions advocate a state instituted Church, which would avoid the  slanderous accusations of Papist integralism. Technically, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) does not condone state operated churches either. Thus remaining in the constraints of the historic confessions should engender the best outcome for both Church and State. These confessions, whether they be the Westminster, 1689, or the 1833 each provide similarly adequate guidelines for Christian political theory.

Christian Nationalism is about creating a social fabric rooted in God’s word. In order to combat the globalist decline of America, there must be a restored national interest, yet the same cultural decay is driven by the globalists interests. America requires its own Reformation, just as the church during Luther’s day. The solution to developing a proper Christian political theology should not be novel, but a continuation of the foundations laid by our spiritual forefathers.

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