8. Soul Liberty
Separation of church and state and soul liberty are often linked together. They are both issues for which Baptists have marked Baptists from the beginning. They are also issues for which Baptist have been willing to die. Thomas Helwys, one of the founders of the Baptist church in England was imprisoned by King James I (the one who commissioned the King James Bible) for daring to argue for separation of church and state and religious liberty. He died in prison. Many religious groups that fled religious persecution set up their own religious persecution in the new world. Roger Williams was different. He not only started the first Baptist church in America he also established the colony of Providence Plantation which provided a sanctuary for victims of religious persecution.
Soul liberty means that each individual has the right to choose for himself or herself what to believe and practice. Individuals are accountable to God alone. They should not be compelled to join a state church, but should be free to join which ever religion and whatever church they choose for themselves. This also means that church officials have no right to dictate what their followers should believe and practice. Unfortunately, many church officials today do exercise considerable control over their followers.
Jesus came to earth to set us free from slavery to sin. We should not replace this with slavery to church officials, but should exercise the freedom that he has won for us. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (E.S.V.) Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Question: How should churches exercise church discipline in light of this principle?