The characteristic Baptist emphasis on individual persons is combined with and informs Baptist visions for society. A society best serves its constituents by being ordered in accord with God's will as revealed in the Bible. This includes the separation of Church and state, but not the exclusion of religion from the public arena.
Just as individual persons are best served when they order their lives in accord with the teachings of the Bible, so too, societies and the individuals who belong to them are best served when they are ordered in accord with the Bible. This means, for example, having laws and programs that honor and encourage the dignity of people.
Baptists believe in the priesthood of all believers and individual soul competency. The former applies only to Christians, but while the latter has special significance for Christians, it also reflects something of Baptist beliefs about human beings in general. Everyone, each individual person, possesses God-given dignity and accountability before God. And, neither governments nor churches nor any other institution can or should attempt to dictate an individual's conscience. In turn, individuals are to honor God-given authorities, respecting admittedly imperfect civil governments (Romans 13:1-7), except when doing so would violate their conscience as formed by the Bible.
One of the defining dimensions of the Baptist tradition from its beginnings has been the belief that churches and the state should be appropriately separated, that each has its own distinct roles and responsibilities to fulfill. Civil authorities are put in place by God with the responsibility to exercise justice and maintain civil order. Churches are to serve the public good by doing what churches are supposed to do, including providing opportunities for the worship of God, witnessing to the teachings of the Bible, encouraging and facilitating the spiritual growth of their members, and caring for both the spiritual and physical needs of those who are not members of the church. This latter task includes being concerned with both the needs of individual persons and the moral values that are embodied and encoded in society at-large.
Though their respective views and work cannot be identified as Baptist per se, the two most well-known Baptists to address issues of American society were Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918), sometimes referred to as "the father of the Social Gospel movement" of the early-20th century, and Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968).
1. What role does the Bible play in the Baptist vision for society?
2. How should Baptists interact with institutions? With the government?
3. What is the role of the Church within society?