The tour was well worth the time and funds spent, and I praise the Lord for the renewal it gave to my ministry. Due to the fact it was raining, I presented the following to a bus full of very patient pastors who I now consider dear brethren.
I am Jason Burton, and I am a preacher of the gospel and servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I also am also the Research Director of the Ecclesiastical Law Center, which is a ministry of Cornerstone Historic Baptist Church in Union City, IN. We help pastors and congregations as they seek to live out Colossians 1:18.
Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
For all of us, it is a tremendous privilege to stand at the grave of one who was so prominent in his stand on the truths of the Word of God. Here was a man who saw the truth of God’s word and in spite of opposition and a true cost to be a Baptist, decided that principle would overcome comfort in his walk with the Lord. He was opposed by the standing order church throughout his life and by some other Baptists toward the end of his life, those who would try to pull the Baptists into the “mainstream” and trying to make Baptists “respectable.” Of course, we realize that being “mainstream” and “respectable” to the world means violating Baptist principles.
Certainly, throughout his life, he was a man of character, and this quote from his diary gives us some insight into his influences:
“I was something affected and quickened this morning in reading some of old father Bunyan’s experiences. O that I might follow him as he followed Christ.”
As Baptists, we are accustomed to battles, and one battle he fought later in life was that of liberty of congregations from the overreaching arm of the state/church alliance of the standing order. To be something other than a Baptist meant to pitch in to pay the local state-sanctioned Congregational preacher or have your cow or land taken and sold. We see, nearly 300 years later through eyes that are used to Liberty, that this is clearly wrong. None of us would put up with having our money be sent to the local mainline protestant denomination. We aren’t taxed today to pay for faith-based programs in those churches, are we? Oh we are? None of us would allow other churches to demand of our folks to pay to build their building.
Brother Backus fought decades to try to secure freedom from compulsory government control of churches and the financial and spiritual cost that came with that environment, as is evidenced by this quote:
“God has appointed two different kinds of government in the world which are different in their nature and ought never to be confounded together, one of which is called civil and the other Ecclesiastical government.”
Combining the two was appalling to someone who stood upon the Baptist principle of soul liberty, as it is to us who are standing here right now. If you think it would be okay to force a person to be a Baptist at the threat of life and property, you are no Baptist.
During Backus’ time, there were compromises being made to make life easier on the citizens who were not members of the standing order. All they had to do in Massachusetts was to provide a certificate to the local magistrate informing them of the fact they were a Baptist and the magistrates would collect the ministers pay and redistribute it to the Baptist pastor in the town. Not a bad away to guarantee a paycheck, even for a Baptist pastor. To Isaac Backus, this was not good enough, because he recognized that by giving in and filling out the form, this violated the Baptist’s conscience.
The Baptist pastors, when they met, Backus and the others who made up the Warren Association reasoned that the State was encroaching upon the conscience and rights of Baptists, therefore the Baptists could not file the certificates.
We have records from the Grievance committee of the Warren Association from May 5, 1773. It says: “…these and other things being laid before the committee, May 5, they advised their agent to write to all their churches to consider whether or not it was their duty to refuse to give any more certificates to the powers that opposed them.”
Backus, who was the agent spoken of in the Grievance Committee, stated that most of the Baptists conformed to the certificate laws “...until they were convinced that true help could not be had in that way, and therefore they concluded in 1773 to give no more certificates, and published their reasons for so doing.”
In spite of Backus’ opposition to tax certificates, and Baptist brethren like Elijah Balkcom and Gershom Cutter, who went to jail over the matter, congregations were still supplying Parish tax men (called “certificate men”) with lists of church members in good standing. Backus wrote John Rippon in 1791, “I know not of one of our churches, especially in the Massachusetts, who are entirely free of the evil of giving in a list of their society to their oppressors.”
When it came to establishment, taxes were not the only issue discussed. At the Warren Association meeting of 1792, two Baptist churches were found to have begun seeking incorporation for their churches. During the vigorous debates as to whether or not this was acceptable, Backus won the day and the association voted to advise the churches against incorporation under the laws of the state as it placed those churches under the authority of the state. Here is a partial quote from the resolution:
“...That it be earnestly commended to the churches belonging to the association by no means to apply to civil government for incorporation... because we cannot consent to blend the kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world …”
The reason the Ecclesiastical Law Center exists is to help churches be churches according to the pattern given in the New Testament. We are not a militant organization, as we have seen a reasonable and biblical approach is effective. Our purpose is to be pastors helping pastors and thereby glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ as head of his church.