Baptism and Martyrdom

How many people get baptized in spite of the threat of martyrdom?  In some areas of the world this is still a very real thing but it used to be commonplace throughout the known world.  And it was part of the background that eventually contributed to the founding fathers establishing the separation of church and state. Today it is seen as keeping the church out of the state, but it was originally setup by the founding fathers of the United States to keep the state out of the church.

Theologian Erwin Lutzer opens up how baptism, martyrdom, and the state involvement in the church got connected:

With Constantine in power [in A.D. 312], Christianity was no longer a sect within the empire but was to become synonymous with the empire. One would now be a Christian simply by being born into the empire, not necessarily by having personal faith in Christ.  Infant baptism became the link by which the church and the state were united…
This is why the Anabaptists (those who were rebaptized as adults) were persecuted so severely. The dispute was not merely theological but political. During the days of Charlemagne (crowned in the year A.D. 800), those who were rebaptized after personally believing in Christ were put to death.  The fear was that if the church was considered only a group within society rather than coextensive with society, the whole unity of church and state would be fragmented. Infant baptism was the “glue” that united the church and state. (The Doctrines that Divide, pp 122-123)

This society at the time was so strongly built upon the connection of church and state that the persecution continued into the days of the Reformers.

So it was that on January 17, 1525, the city council of Zurich notified the public that all parents had to have their children baptized or be banished. Four years later, the edict of Speier decreed, “Every Anabaptist or rebaptized person, of either sex, is to be put to death, by fire or by sword, or by some other means.” Children were baptized against their parent’s wishes. Those who stood by their convictions and refused to submit to the council were drowned or executed…Unfortunately, persecution caused some of the Anabaptists to become fanatics. Such radicals gave the Anabaptist movement a bad name, which only gave cause for more persecution. (pp 125-126)

With this background a person can begin to understand more fully the desire for religious freedom of those who came to America during the colonial period as well as the original intent of the separation of church and state. It was not to keep faith out of the government as demonstrated by John Adams who said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And George Washington who declared (in I believe it was his farewell address), “Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” Rather the separation was to help ensure that the government would be limited in its interference with the religious beliefs of the church.  Though the majority of people in the United States don’t have to fear martyrdom for being baptized, it is sad to see an increase of state involvement in the church resulting in legal persecution against churches and Christian organizations for holding to a biblical standard of morality (e.g. groups kicked off of college campuses for their biblical stance on sexual morality).


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