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A Research Paper on the “The Contribution of Baptists in the Struggle for Religious Freedom”

Submitted to Dr. Jason J. Graffagnino,
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the completion of

CHHI 665 – B04

History of Baptists


Elizabeth Linz Barthelemy
March 6, 2015


Introduction 1

The Baptist Origin 2-3

The First Baptists Believers in America 3-4

Significant Names of Baptist Leaders 4-5

The American Baptist Contribution to “Religious Liberty” 6-7

Rhode Island 7-8

Plymouth 9

Pennsylvania 10

The Baptist’s Struggle for “Religious Liberty” 10-12

Conclusion 12

Bibliography 13


“Religious Liberty” is a good and perfect gift.1 Contrary to populace belief, the expression “separation of church and state” did not originate with the ACLU but with the British Baptists. The honorable hunger for “religious liberty” was a God-given desire that led them to America.2 They arrived in America and carried religious freedom cupped with the horrors associated with coercive religious. They envision a country in which Christians, of different persuasion, could live in brotherly love and shared society and civil affairs. The British Baptists were true defenders of “religious liberty,” for all men, i.e., Turkish, Jewish, Buddist or any other religion.3 Their goal was not merely tolerance but only aimed at absolute, “religious liberty.”4 This paper will examine the Baptist’s contribution to America’s “religious liberty.” It will summarize Baptist origin, their religious liberty struggles, tenacity, and relentlessness in the pursuit of religious liberty. These traits earned them a place of honor in the history of America’s fight to establish “religious liberty.” The Baptists knew that, “where there was liberty, the Spirit of the Lord would be present,” and therefore, it was worthy of fighting for.5

The Baptist Origin in America

The origin of the Baptist denomination is directly connected with the English Separatist movement.6 Furthermore, the movement has its roots in the so-called, “left wing” group that favored the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Martin Luther, a Catholic monk, Calvin, Zwingli, and Brucer, influenced the religious aspect of Catholic dissenter’s lives.7 Various dissenter groups were looking for support in specific biblical doctrines from the “university of thoughts” of the day. The invention of the printing press helped accelerate and spread these new theological ideas. Nevertheless, on the account of the “priesthood of the believer,” the theme of “religious liberty” flourished and gripped the hearts of Christians, and Christendom faced the greatest crisis ever.8 The swelling of this movement throughout Europe brought a patriotic sentiment, and countries took control of their own religion—England being one of them. Notwithstanding, after the liberation of the church in England from the control of Rome, England subjugated the English society to the tyranny of the state church. The Anglican Church failed to meet the expectations of believers in England. Among dissenters, arose a distinct religious group that stood in relentless opposition to the demands of the state or civil government, called “Puritans.”9 However, later on, a more moderate group arose and became known as semi-separatists. The semi-separatists believed and understood the importance of civil government as expressed in Romans 13, however, they also held that the church had to be separated from the government. One of the first leaders of this group was John Smyth, who came to embrace believer’s baptism as he left the Anglican Church. Smyth became known as founding the first “recognizable” Baptist Church in modern times.10

The First Baptist Believers in America
The British Baptists arriving in Colonial America were fleeing the persecution of the Anglican Church, i.e., British Empire. The first one hundred, they were not well organized and therefore, Baptists were scattered. By the middle of the 1700’s, a significant organization took place. From New England to Georgia, different groups of Baptists began to form churches. They had only one doctrinal requirement that united them, i.e., the believer’s baptism by full immersion in water; also, Baptists then had different theological doctrinal beliefs. Notwithstanding, in the 1700’s, Baptist leaders sought to unify and homogenize the Baptist theology; they founded colleges and formed associations. However, the cause of “religious liberty,” was also a unanimous and significant characteristic that united the majority of Baptists. Their participation within their communities distinguished from other denominations. The Baptists were not contending for tolerance but for absolute “religious liberty.” Theirs demand was not for their right only but for the right of all dissenters and non-conformists as well. Some historians affirm that religious liberty in America was accomplished due to the diligence of the American Baptist, which now is proven to be the greatest contribution to American science and statecraft.”11 Significant Names of Baptist Leaders

New England marks the beginnings of the Baptist struggle for “religious liberty.” Baptist names such as: Roger William, John Clark, and William Screven were significant figures that advanced the cause and displayed the trials and struggle of “religious liberty.” Roger William, (who...

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