During the early 17th century the Baptists in England were being persecuted for their faith and practices. For example, Samuel Oates was arrested and charged with murder because a woman he baptized unexpectedly died several weeks after he had baptized her. The government charged that the only explanation for her death was her cold-water baptism. The charges were eventually dismissed, but later a crowd of town’s people dragged Oates out of his house and threw him into the nearby river, boasting that they had thoroughly dipped (baptized) him.
But then on this day (March 4) 1647 the English House of Lords and Commons published a declaration which, in essence, provided for some religious freedom. It read: “The name of Anabaptism hath indeed contracted much odium by reason of the extravagant opinions of some of that name in Germany, tending to the disturbance of the government, and the peace of all states, which opinions and practices we abhor and detest. But for their opinion against the baptism of infants, it is only a difference about a. circumstance of time in the administration of an ordinance, wherein in former ages, as well as in this, learned men have differed both in opinion and practice. And though we could wish that all men would satisfy themselves, and join with us in our judgment and practice in this point; yet herein we hold it fit that men should be convinced by the word of God, with great gentleness and reason, and not beaten out of it by force and violence.”
That statement sounds good, but it must be remembered that the hearts of governments are fickle. A little more than a year later another ordinance of Parliament called for the punishment of blasphemies and heresies. One article stated: ”Whosoever shall say that the baptism of infants is unlawful, or that such baptism is void, and that such persons ought be baptized again, and in pursuance thereof shall baptize any person formerly baptized … (shall) be ordered to renounce his said error in public congregation of the parish where the offence was committed and in case of refusal, he shall be committed to prison till he find sureties that he shall not publish or maintain the said error any more.”
We should thank God for the religious freedoms we have at this moment. Just because we may have liberty to worship today that doesn’t mean that we will have it next week.