The First Amendment
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”—The First Amendment to the Constitution.
When the First Amendment was adopted, the United States became one of the most unique nations in world history. But few people realize just how close we came to not having religious freedom. After the Revolutionary War, 9 of the 13 colonies still had state sponsored churches, and many people suffered religious persecution. Baptists were typically among those at the wrong end of a whip; perhaps this is what motivated the Baptists to champion the cause of religious liberty.
Before the Revolutionary war, Baptist pastor Isaac Backus documented many examples of religious persecutions. He formed the “Grievance Committee” in 1769, and wrote “Government and Liberty” in 1778. In Virginia, the General Assessment Bill, supported by Patrick Henry and George Washington, would have created a tax to support religious ministries, with the Anglicans as the intended beneficiaries. However, in 1784 the Virginia Baptist General Committee lobbied against the Bill. Baptist pastor John Leland lobbied and ultimately won the support and friendship of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Soon Madison drafted a petition entitled “Memorial and Remonstrance,” and in 1785 Jefferson introduced what he called one of his greatest achievements, “An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom.”
When a draft of the proposed United States Constitution was circulating, John Leland protested that there needed to be more explicit guarantees for the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. Madison agreed and helped to insure these freedoms with the passing of the First Amendment.
Today, the First Amendment is as vital as ever to our nation. Other countries have adopted similar laws guaranteeing religious freedom, and even the United Nations, at least on paper, recognizes religious liberty as a basic human right. To the American citizen, the First Amendment guarantees the right of the individual to attend the church of one’s own choosing, or to stay at home and mow the lawn.
There is, however, a downside to the First Amendment. In his book, “Shopping for God,” James Twitchell suggests that the freedom created by the First Amendment has created a free-for-all in religion. This has left each group with the task of capturing a piece of the religious market. Today religion is marketed on television, billboards, and magazines like any other commodity. When religion is turned into a commodity, the consumer is king, leaving churches scrambling to build the nicest buildings, develop the best programs, create the most exciting worship, and incorporate the latest technologies in order to capture market shares (i.e., members). This competition leaves many churches vulnerable to the church down the street that does it bigger and better.
Unfortunately, all of this marketing cheapens the Gospel of Jesus Christ by placing it on the same level as soap and exercise equipment within the broader culture. Lost in all of the marketing techniques is the pure Gospel, which the Apostle Paul calls “the power of God unto salvation.” (Rom. 1:16)
Article by Pastor Billy Elkins.