Over the last few months, I and another Baptist minister Tim Grant, have been working on a book, titled Defending Conscience: How Baptists Reminded The Church to Defy Tyranny. The goal of this book is very simple, we want to remind the Baptist Churches in Australia of the grand legacy of the Baptist tradition of defending liberty of conscience. We want to remind other Christians of the source of this teaching, so that other denominations may take up the same cause, as they did in the past. We want to show how this applies to the current overreach of the Covid mandates, and the ensuing damage they have caused.
Tim and I thought it would be a good idea to publish some excerpts from the book, to show you what you will be getting, if you decide to buy Defending Conscience. Here is the preface:
Why is a book like this necessary? Just under five centuries ago, a young parish priest by the name of Menno Simons, was witnessing the early stages of the Reformation unfold around him. He was influenced by the great Martin Luther’s criticisms of the Catholic Church of that age, and he heard the debates raging around him. People from all walks of life were being captivated by the tumults of the time, and sides were quickly being formed.
First, on the side of Luther vs. the Church, or vice-versa, and then more sides formed, some Protestants did not believe Luther went far enough. In the midst of all of this, the young priest Menno was having doubts about particular teachings of the Catholic Church and eventually decided to evaluate these teachings against Scripture. What he found tore at his conscience, the Scriptures did not correlate with what he was taught to preach and practice nor did it match with everything the critics of the Church were proclaiming either.
What was a young priest do? Compounding this situation was the fact that Simons saw many people’s lives ruined and even ended forever, because of particular convictions regarding the Word of God. This struck at his conscience again and again, until after years of personal turmoil, he decided he had to make a stand, he had to speak out, he had to challenge evil as he saw it.
This is why this book is necessary today: because the authors of this book have been facing a similar challenge. All around us we have witnessed our society turn towards an unwise authoritarianism at the speed of light. A nation that once considered itself an open and liberal country, welcoming to people from all walks of life, has become fearful, divided and tyrannical.
In 2011 when large floods cascaded through the city of Brisbane and left devastation in its wake, one of the authors remembers providing assistance with a friend and seeing the city coming together with people working and laughing and striving together to clean the city and help those in need. Within a decade this Australia seems like a distant memory.
Maybe, this is only temporary, maybe we have entered into a dark time, either way, our consciences have been struggling with what we see happening around our nation and society, and more widely in the Western world, and like Menno, we decided we needed to speak.
We began with an open letter to the Prime Minister in August 2021, decrying the potential segregation that we believed was imminent. This small letter, written with another colleague and friend, Pastor Warren McKenize, was far more successful and had a far higher reach than we expected. Alongside success came criticism, which is to be expected when you speak on the national stage.
But though we expected criticism, what we did not expect was how few in the more prominent roles of Baptist Church leadership around the country were willing to speak out against tyranny. Over the months after August, we recognized something; a lot of Christians had forgotten the incredible legacy of advocating for liberty of conscience in society, particularly the Baptist Church.
Some people have asked, why have we chosen to focus on the Baptist advocacy for liberty of conscience and not the wider Church in general. It is not simply because we are Baptist pastors, though that obviously has a formative impact on our interest in particular parts of Church history. It is because the story of tolerance begins with those who were convicted of believer’s baptism first, with the Anabaptists, who in parts of Europe called themselves Baptists, followed by the English Baptists, who kindled the Anabaptist flame into a blazing fire.
The English Baptists stood before powerful churchmen, governors and kings, and declared an important truth, that God is Lord of the conscience and no man has jurisdiction in this realm. This principle of liberty of conscience became a rallying point for Baptists and other Nonconformists who held tightly to this conviction in Europe, then England, then the New world, and because of their passion and dedication to this cause, the principle of Liberty of Conscience impacted the entire Western Christian world and beyond. Yes, eventually Christians of every stripe would be drawn to the light of this principle.
In England, it was first the Arminian (General) Baptists that took up this call, and then the Reformed (Particular) Baptists, who spread it far and wide. We find that it is quite fitting then that the authors of this book stand in the legacy of these two fledgling denominations.
Matthew is Arminian and Tim is Reformed. We have a slightly different emphasis in our readings of Scripture and other aspects of theology, which may be reflected in parts of this book. However, we are both dedicated to the Gospel of Jesus, the message of salvation that can only come through the God-Man who lived and died and lived again, and we are both equally dedicated to applying the implications of that gospel to our lives, families, ministries and society in general.
Like those early Baptists, we together have the same desire, that people’s consciences should not be coerced. And as historians, we wish to remind both our own Baptist denomination and the Church in general of this wonderful Christian legacy in the world.
We look forward to going on a journey with you through history about the struggle of the Church to advocate for liberty of conscience.
You can purchase a pre-order of the book at defendingconscience.com