From the earliest beginnings in America, there has always existed a relationship between Baptists and civil government. Baptists have always been a voice for religious liberty, not only in the sense of freedom to worship, but in separation of church and state.
To be pointed about it, Baptists have never desired, nor do they desire now, the influence of, or approval of, civil government. Yet, Baptists, like most other denominations, have recognized that civil government is important – no, crucial – to the protection of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In the Second London Confession of 1689 Baptists stated,
God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him, over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end hath armed them with the power of the sword, for defence and encouragement of them that do good, and for the punishment of evil doers.
( Romans 13:1-4 )
It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate when called there unto; 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.
( 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalms 82:3, 4; Luke 3:14 )
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.
( Romans 13:5-7; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 )
In the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, we read :
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.
And, then, in the Philadelphia Confession, we see a restatement of the Second London Confession, in form and substance. But, it is in the 1866 Compend of Christian Doctrines Held by Baptists that we see, in catechism form this question and answer:
Q. What are the chief dangers to a free government?
A. Popular ignorance, party prejudice, and practical atheism. No government can be beneficent whose citizens are in antagonism with the laws of God. The wisest constitution, in the hands of a wicked nation, may be perverted to “sublime mechanics of depravity.”
Popular ignorance is the preference for style over substance. Added to this is the preference for acceptance and power over morality.
Party Prejudice, in this day and time, is rampant in our media and overtly majors on the opinions of those who stand in contrast to biblical morality.
Practical atheism excludes biblical morality from the creation of laws, and interpretation of laws, and places its citizens on a slippery slope towards all things immoral.
In sum, “No government can be beneficent whose citizens are in antagonism with the laws of God.”
God, in his wisdom and providence, ordains and gives authority to government. It is not feared by by those who do good, but rather by those who do bad – those who stand in opposition to biblical morality. Yet, when our government perpetuates ignorance, prejudice, and practical atheism, an approach not ordained by God in Scripture, those who desire good become the ones who fear.