A Historical Introduction to Christian Liberty | Ben Carlson

by | Nov 15, 2022 | Systematic Theology

The Historical Background of the Subject

Sam Waldron writes, “Ecclesiastical totalitarianism, civil totalitarianism and ‘perverse reactionism’ are some of the factors which formed the historical backdrop of this chapter.”[1] One of the biggest factors was the oppressive burdens laid upon people by the Roman Catholic Church concerning faith and morals. The Roman priests and popes required unquestioned and absolute belief in their dogmas and obedience to their rules and regulations. Waldron states, “The Roman Catholic church claimed excessive authority over the consciences of Christians. It demanded that men believe its pronouncements without scriptural verification and assumed the right to make laws which added to the Word of God.”[2] Some of these unscriptural traditions and laws which were pressed on men’s consciences were infant baptism, the Roman mass, penance, indulgences, fast days, holy days, prayers for the dead, the veneration of images, and the worship of Mary.

For instance, The Council of Trent, Session 25, Third Decree declares, “the sacred holy Synod teaches, and enjoins, that the use of Indulgences, for the Christian people most salutary, and approved of by the authority of sacred Councils, is to be retained in the Church; and It condemns with anathema [the curse and judgment of God] those who either assert, that they are useless ; or who deny that there is in the Church the power of granting them.”

Concerning Rome’s demands on the conscience, Samuel Bolton writes, “The Romish doctrine requires absolute submission to the authority of the Church, an authority which neither men nor angels may usurp without high treason to Jesus Christ. Says Bellarmine [an Italian Jesuit and leader in the Counter-Reformation]: ‘You are ignorant and unskilled; therefore if you wish to be saved, there is no other course open to you but to render a blind obedience to our authority.’”[3]

And concerning Rome’s tyranny over the people, Martin Luther writes, “Against this, such dispensing [the dispensing of the mysteries of God by the clergy, 1 Cor. 4:1] has now turned into such a display of power and a terrible tyranny that no national or worldly political power can be compared to it. It is as if the laity were something other than Christians. As a result of this perversity, the knowledge of Christian grace, faith, freedom, and Christ has perished entirely, only to be replaced by an intolerable captivity to human works and laws. As the Lamentations of Jeremiah puts it, we have become slaves of the vilest possible people on earth, who abuse our misery in all baseness and degradation of their desire.”[4] And, “But nowadays, using human doctrines,we are taught to seek nothing but merits, rewards, and the things that are ours, and we have made out of Christ nothing but a slave driver far harsher than Moses.”[5]

So, a major reason this chapter finds itself in our Confession is to combat the claim of the Roman Catholic Church (or any church for that matter) that it has rule over the consciences of men and can require implicit faith and blind obedience to its doctrines and dogmas. Christian liberty frees us from this kind of slavery to the traditions and impositions of men in order to follow the clear and objective Word of God. Jim Renihan states, “[Christian liberty] gives us an objective standard by which we can know that which pleases God.”[6] We can know with absolute certainly what God wants us to believe and do based off the teaching of Christian liberty without all the subjectivism, superstition, mysticism, legalism, and totalitarianism that we find in so many Christian circles today.

Outline on this Chapter

The outline of this chapter that I would like to follow is:

I.) The Doctrine of Christian Liberty

A.) Defined (para. 1)

B.) Delineated (para. 2)

C.) Destroyed (para. 2-3)

II.) The Application of Christian Liberty

A.) The Limitations of Governing Authorities over the Church

B.) The Unity of Christians in the Church

C.) The Freedom of Christians in Their Own Lives


[1] Sam Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 313.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 208.

[4] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, p. 21, [66].

[5] Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian, p. 30, [102].

[6] Jim Renihan, https://irbsseminary.org/episode-24-an-interview-with-dr-james-renihan-on-liberty-of-conscience/.

Follow Us In Social Media

Subscribe via Email

Sign up to get notified of new CBTS Blog posts.


Man of God phone
A Charge to Contemporary Apologists | Dewey Dovel

A Charge to Contemporary Apologists | Dewey Dovel

“Christians have not been called to proclaim the probable existence of a bare, generic, philosophical conception of a god. Rather, followers of Jesus Christ have been called to make disciples of the one, true, living God throughout every corner of the earth.”

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This