There are very few History books that include the Baptist influence in American History. Names like Obadiah Holmes, John Leland, and Shubal Sterns are unknown by history teachers and students alike, yet these Baptist men were highly influential in the early days of America.
In September, 1651, Obadiah Holmes was whipped in Boston for refusing to support the state church and the imposed tax to pay the state church’s pastors, infant baptism, and other doctrines. He and two other men, John Clarke and John Crandall went to Boston from Newport Baptist in Rhode Island to meet with and have a church service in the home of a fellow Baptist, a Mr. Witter. Later, Crandall, Clarke, and Holmes were jailed. Crandall and Clarke with the help of donations were able to post bail and leave the jail, but Holmes refused to do so on the basis of principle. Their denial of infant baptism was called by the Governor, “trash.” Before the release of Crandall and Clarke and before the whipping of Holmes, Clarke was invited to dispute with the elders of the state church. Clarke’s four points of doctrine still stand as basic Bible and Baptist doctrine. They are:
“I testify that Jesus of Nazareth, whom God hath raised from the dead, is made, both Lord and Christ; this Jesus I say is the Christ, in English, the Anointed One; hath a name above every name; he is the Anointed Priest, none to or with him in point of atonement; the Anointed Prophet, none to him in point of instruction; the Anointed King, who is gone unto his Father, for his glorious kingdom, and shall ere long return again…
Baptism is by immersion for believers only.
Prophesying and gifts are for every believer.
No, believer may infringe upon the liberty of another, or by force “smite his fellow servant.”
This last statement in principle will later be included in the Constitution as written by James Madison. Might I remind each of us that some great spiritual Baptist giants helped formulate our most notable government documents and doctrines.
Holmes, a Baptist Pastor of Rhode Island was given 30 lashes and the man executing the sentence was said to have struck with all his might, at times spitting in his hand as he wielded the three corded whip. Holmes had prayed for the Lord to give him peace as he prayed that the Lord would not lay this crime to the court’s account. Holmes said, “When he had loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart, and cheerfulness in my countenance, as the spectators observed, I told the magistrates, “You have struck me as with roses; and said moreover, although the Lord hath made it easy to me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge.” Now that is the love of God manifested in a believer. It is these events and others similar to it that are going to lead some wise men to architect a document to protect religious liberty in America. However, most of these historical events are purposefully overlooked in American History books.
That principle of religious liberty which from the beginning denied the state the right to establish and approve a state church using taxes for its welfare would in our time come to mean something different—-no church or religion should interfere or impose beliefs on the populace. At the beginning, it was the state regulating religion that was the issue; there never was a thought at that time that the church should “stay out of politics.”
Some time later, John Leland became a strong influence in the State of Virginia. Leland was a Baptist preacher/evangelist who advanced the Baptist cause so much so that the Baptist were in the majority in 1780’s. He also fiercely defended the rights of each individual. James Madison was running for the office of representative of Orange County who would help ratify the new Constitution. Patrick Henry’s party and the Baptists were leery of Madison and the new constitution because it did not include guarantees of religious liberty. Madison would not get the vote without these two influential groups. “Moving quickly, Madison arranged a meeting with Leland in which he promised the preacher that a definite declaration of liberty and rights would be added to the new constitution, to guarantee the religious liberty of all Americans. Later in a stump speech, Leland threw his support to Madison who assured the pastor of Blue Run Baptist, George Eve that the constitution should contain all essential rights, particularly the rights of conscience in the fullest latitude, the freedom of press, trial by jury, security against general warrants, etc.” Pastor Eve threw his support behind Madison. The Constitution was later ratified. This July 4th, may we remember who stood for individual liberties?
(James Beller, American in Crimson Red)