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Thomas Jefferson and Baptists

Published Jun 15, 2005

Baptist people have been the most principled people since the time of Christ. I do not hold that the designation is nearly as important as the doctrine, but I want people to know where I stand. I am a Baptist, and am proud of my heritage that has made an incredible impact on this world.
  
Baptists have stood for the free exercise of a person’s will and against oppression (religious or political) down through the ages.
  
The English historian, Skeats wrote, “It is the singular and distinguished honor of the Baptists to have repudiated from their earliest history all coercive power over the consciences and actions of men with reference to religion. They were the proto-evangelists of the voluntary principle.”
  
While that is true, it is also true that there have always been people, since the time of Christ, who held Baptist principles. In fact, a Methodist historian, John Clark Ridpath who died in 1900 wrote, “I should not readily admit that there was a Baptist Church as far back as 100 A.D., although without doubt there were Baptist Churches then, as all Christians were then Baptists.” (Emphasis added.)
  
In 1768, five Baptist men were arrested, and in the words of the Spotsylvania County, Virginia prosecutor, “They cannot meet a man upon the road, but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat.” They were held in the Fredericksburg jail forty-three days for their “offense.” They evidently did not apply for a license!
  
Virginia Baptists even impacted Thomas Jefferson and America’s constitution! Jefferson was familiar with a Baptist church near his Monticello home and used it as a patter for the American colonies!
  
Belcher’s Religious Denominations of the United States (page 184) reports that “Jefferson said that he considered Baptist church government the only form of pure democracy which then existed in the world, and had concluded that it would be the best plan of government for the American colonies. This was eight years or ten years before the American Revolution.”
  
So people of other denominations should tip their hat to the Baptist Church as they pass if they appreciate personal freedom.
  
I do not affirm that Jefferson was a Baptist, but in doing some research at the Heritage Baptist University Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana (a university that has the largest collection of ancient Bibles in the world) I discovered an unknown (to me) letter written by Jefferson, on January 9, 1816 from his Monticello home where he affirms that he was a Christian! Oh, my that makes the deists angry since they have been claiming Jefferson for over two hundred years.

Jefferson wrote, “I, too, have made a wee little book from the same materials, which, I call Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” (Emphasis added.)
  
Note that his letter was written about seven years after his two terms as president, and ten years before his death. So our humanist critics cannot accuse him of being a young, immature idealist trying to “work the religious crowds” for political advantage.
  
So Baptists should be justly proud as they think of their impressive past.

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