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60 Jurist 46 (2000)
Baptist Internal Governance

handle is hein.journals/juristcu60 and id is 48 raw text is: THE JURIST 60 (2000) 46-62

Baptists have traditionally favored democratic forms of internal gov-
ernance just as they have favored democratic forms of public gover-
nance. They originated in the early seventeenth century and grew up as
part of the struggle toward more democratic forms of government both in
England and the American colonies so that one would expect them to
favor such forms. The first identifiable group of Baptists, most scholars
would agree, arose in the early seventeenth century out of Separatist or
Congregational Puritanism, the most radical form of Puritanism in Eng-
land. At the time England was a hotbed of social, political, and religious
controversy, much directed toward the issue of popular participation in
government. One group called themselves Levellers, and, as the name
implies, they had an intense concern to see that power got into other
hands besides those of great Lords and Ladies. Another, called
Ranters, were evidently noisy free thinkers and revolutionaries. A
third, the Fifth Monarchy Men, intended to usher in a millennial king-
dom of some kind.
What distinguished Baptists from other Congregationalists was, of
course, their insistence on baptism of believers only; but behind that con-
viction lay something much more basic, that is, the voluntary principle in
religion. God alone is Lord of the conscience, early Baptists declared.'
To be authentic and responsible, they went on to say, faith must be free.
Obedience must be voluntary. If it is coerced, it is not obedience.
Thomas Helwys, founder of the first Baptist church on English soil in
1612, penned the first treatise calling for complete religious liberty. From
the London prison where he died he challenged King James I's imposi-
tion of a certain form of worship on all English citizens.
For our Lord the King is but an earthly King, he declared in A
Short Declaration of the Mistery of Iniquity, and he hath no au-
thority as a King but in earthly causes, and if the King's people
* Retired Professor of Spirituality and John F. Loftis Professor of Church History,
Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond, VA.
1 The Second London Confession, XXI.2, in William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Confes-
sions of Faith (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1959) 279.

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