Religious Toleration demands Religious Freedom - John Locke to Alexander Campbell
The greatest threat to religious freedom is religion's institutional intrusion into the control of the state and individual Christians. There is a chain of important events leading to the discovery and establishment of a government which allows religious freedom, and religion which does not try to impose its will by force or mental coercion on the government nor any other religious society or individual. We say "religious toleration demands religious freedom" because the loss of freedom means that only one viewpoing is tolerated. John Locke implied that those who cry toleration the loudest cannot be trusted with the control of religious freedom
While there were many gradual steps to freedom including Martin Luther's daring opposition to civil control by a religious institution, we propose to begin with John Locke who had a powerful influence on both the Constitution of the United States and a daring effort to create religious toleration among groups who might hold many different private opinions. The resulting American Restoration Movement proposed to disband institutional religion including its clergy-created division. However, no path to political or religious freedom moves in a smooth, straight line. This is true because the American Restoration Movement did not disband for long the ancient clergy system.
John Locke proposed that one society of volunteers extend the right to enter when agreeable and the right to exit when the rules of the society clashed with the beliefs of the volunteer. Neither the society nor those formed in opposition had any power over the other beyond the freeIndeed, the open teaching of differing views can refine the search for truth.
For religious freedom to grow, John Locke proposed that Christian religious societies make no rules beyond direct commands of the Bible, not to limit people's options but to enable the widest participation and reduce the growth of intolerance automatically produced when people begin to ammend the Word of God. Locke based this belief on the idea that by definition a Christian relied on the Bible for its faith and practices.
Thomas Jefferson was informed by John Locke who followed the Bible and extended that principle to the Constitution of the United States. This included the right to amend the Constitution by a fairly difficult process. A primary freedom was freedom from national religions.
Thomas Paine became radicalized against religion based upon his own experience with organized religion as the Church of England which was one leg of a two-legged stool of tyrany consisting of the church and the king. He wrote is Age of Reason perhaps as a reaction to two views of inspiration. The "church" saw inspiration as the Jewish kings giving the tyrants of the nations the "divine rights of kings." Of course, they could hold power only by mortal combat with the church. Paine was a Bible student by understood that poetic language of the prophets did not meant that Scripture was inspired in the sense that it gave others the right to "proof-text" whatever it wished. For instance, "God walks upon the wings of the wind" is an inspired history but it is not inspired in giving one the authority to try to literally walk on the wings of the wind.
Thomas Paine more than any other person put his "stay making" skills to put backbone in the leaders of the Revolution and demanded a Declaration of Independance while Washington and others wanted accomodation with England. As usual it takes one to do the work and a dozen to take the credit. Paine also composed many of the ideas embodied is less severe language by Thomas Jefferson and others.
Thomas Campbell in a Declaration and Address proposed that the church eliminate everything not necessary to salvation which excluded everything not a direct command of Christ. This freed everyone to believe whatever they wished, but for that short interval during the week people of many faiths might join in freedom and toleration. Because this would eliminate the need to collect people around an individual whose support depended upon personal success, this would eliminate the intoleration which is always at the upper levels of self-appointed clergy.
With both Locke and Campbell the difference was that the Word of God was not like a man-made constitution: it does not include the authority to amend its commands. However, both Locke and Campbell noted that incidental things such as the time of meeting need not have Biblical authority.
Alexander Campbell wrote several important documents including A Sermon on the Law. This freed the Restoration Movement from religious leaders who demanded that the Old Testament intended for the Jews be imposed on Christians.
For those who do not follow authority of any kind it is tempting to ridicule those who carved out an area of political and religious freedom without understanding their risk of life and property. Therefore, it may be time to return at least to the time of John Locke to understand that the freedom we enjoy is based largely on his intellect and courage. We begin with Locke because the freedom he helped bring about in politics and religion is always threated by religious promoters who believe that they have the God-given authority to take control of both government and religion to make it possible for Christ to return and rule with a rod of iron with them sitting on the right hand and on the left.
The following links are to original documents important in the establishment of the United States of America and the Americal Restoration Movement which still seeks to free individuals from the tyrany of institutions and their builders.
Thomas Paine - Age of Reason - Prophets and Prophesying Worship and Church Bells - Selling Christianity We will add founding documents in time John Locke Reasonableness of Christianity - John Locke A Letter of Toleration - John Locke Second Treatise on Government - John Locke (1689) Jefferson Articles of Confederation The Declaration of Independance Constitution of the United States First Amendment Free Exercise of Religion Constitutional Classics Images Thomas Campbell Declaration and Address - Thomas Campbell
Proposed limiting church rules to what was specifically commanded in the Bible or which was necessary to carry out the work and worship of the church. This work was Bible based but was of course influenced by men like John Locke who had risked his life to take power out of the hand of the government and religious organizations. Agreed with Jefferson on the rejection of clergy and Calvinism. Alexander Campbell The Sermon on the Law - Alexander Campbell
Rejected the Old Testament as having binding, legalistic and therefore oppressive authority over the Christian church. This eliminated dominant, professional clergy and sacrificial rituals Luther's 95 Thesis Constitution Society Restoration Movement Page Home Page