Baptists Must Extend to Others Liberty in the Non-Essentials of the Faith and Grey Areas of Life

2 Corinthians 3:17
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Is what Paul writes about in the above verse true in your church? Do members of the church have the right and privilege to disagree on matters of the conscious without consequence?

1 Corinthians 10:29

Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another man’s conscience?

I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?

For about 375 years Baptists in America have affirmed “soul liberty” as a distinctive of being a Baptist—because of numerous references to such liberty in the Bible. In response to the Church of England’s overbearing control of every aspect of doctrine and the full or partial denial of the individual priesthood of the believer, Baptists and other Bible churches have continually affirmed the right of the individual believer to be a priest unto himself before God. This distinctive goes hand in hand with the view that each soul has the liberty to disagree regarding non-essential matters and remain a member of the church in good standing.

This means that I can disagree with my friend Pastor Andy Webb on infant baptism and remain co-laborers and friends in Christ. We can agree to disagree. Baptists and Presbyterians have been doing this for hundreds of years. Moreover this applies to fellow Baptists. I can disagree with a freewill Baptist about man’s ability to lose his salvation. I will not criticize him; I will not accuse him of being an unbeliever, liberal, or bash any other area where the Scripture is not as black and white as I would like it. Perhaps if parts of Hebrews (and a few other passages) were more black and white, then I could describe what a freewill Baptist was saying as heretical. However, the fact is orthodox believers have disagreed on this matter. Therefore, according to 2 Corinthians 3:17, I am to extend to them liberty more specifically “soul liberty” for where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.

I can extend soul liberty to preferences regarding music style, skirts or pants for women, mixed co-ed bathing [swimming], inter-racial marriages, Bible translations, infant baptism and many other non-fundamental issues, debates, discussions and differences.

I can respect the fact that two born again, Christ loving, gospel centered Christians, can come to two different conclusions on a particular issue. Both are not right but this side of eternity we will not know who was right and who was wrong or if the issue was one where God permits more liberty.

So what bothers me is when the people who make the most fuss about being a Baptist are the same ones who are the least committed to extending to other Christians the liberty in which Baptist churches were founded upon centuries ago. For example, the church has always had general Baptists and particular Baptists. General Baptists believe in a general atonement (Christ died for the world) and particular Baptists believe in limited atonement (Christ died for elect). These Baptists do not share the same conviction and understanding about the atonement, yet they should extend to each other the soul liberty to be different without branding the other as a heretic. Paul said it like this:

Romans 8:21
Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Are you in a Baptist church that doesn’t extend “the glorious liberty of the children of God” to others? Is there one way or the highway on non-essential issues? Does the pastor passively shun those who do not agree with his take on the non-essentials? Is there a pugnacious, self-righteous air of superiority the ones who know all? Are some made to feel like second class citizens for not wearing skirts/dresses 24/7? When someone shows up in the assembly of believers without the right Bible (translation) are they looked down upon? Would there be an awkward silence in the air if the “wrong” translation was read aloud? Would someone feel they had a responsibility before God to set this person straight?

In Baptist and Bible churches, these things should never happen because the very distinctive things that set Baptists apart is their commitment to the priesthood of the believers, the autonomy of the local church, congregational government, and soul liberty.

Paul told the church at Galatia not to allow others to put them in bondage again.

Galatians 2:4
And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Because Paul makes specific reference to “false brethren” do not think that is ok for genuine brothers in Christ to do what Paul said the false brethren were not to be allowed to do. Do not think this is my pastor—surely it is “ok” for him to bring me into bondage. Bondage is bondage.

Christ said he came to “set at liberty those who are bruised [oppressed]” (Luke 4:18). There are far too many Baptists preachers oppressing their people with secondary rules where the spirit of liberty is supposed to be ruling.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not add this final admonishment from Paul. He said,

1 Corinthians 8:9
But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.

Nothing about the liberty or freedom I have in Christ should ever be used in a way that could cause a weaker brother in Christ to stumble. What a balance! This is a balance that I must rely upon the Holy Spirit to help me find each and every day God calls me to serve him.