All power to those loyal scholars and administrators, who are set to embark on this mission to reframe the conversation about church authority in its Adventist context!
Earlier today I reviewed the story of Thomas De Laune, the first Irish Baptist martyr. This story, to my mind, highlights the blessed and noble role of dissenters and non-conformists who dissent from an enforced gospel order that doesn't allow conscience to hold sway!
Thomas was born in Cork in the early part of the seventeenth century to a poor Roman Catholic tenant farmer. Under the influence of a faithful pastor he was converted to the dissenting cause and given a classical education. He emigrated to London where he mingled with leading Baptist dissenters of the era at a time when King Charles II and particularly the Parliament were not prepared to grant any religious freedom to dissent from the gospel order of the established church. The authorities were prepared to enforce such order with harsh oppression and harrassment.
Thomas wrote many books and tracts expressing his concern for the persecution of dissenters such as the work, Compulsion of Conscience Condemned. A leading minister of the established church, Benjamin Calamy DD, preached a sermon entitled "A Scrupulous Conscience" in which he belittled the scruples of the dissenters whose conscience would not allow them to join with the worship and polity of the established Church of England. Calamy dedicated this sermon to his friend and patron, Lord George Jeffreys, Chief Justice of the King's Bench who was known as the hanging judge for his severity and harshness against rebellion which included religious dissent and non-conformity. The sermon in its attempt to try and stop the dissenting movement also issued a challenge to any such dissenters, inviting a response to counter his many points.
Thus Thomas De Laune responded to that challenge - The Plea for the Non-Conformist. Throughout the work he responded almost point by point to Calamy's sermon, "A Scrupulous Conscience." He defended the importance of his scruples, which had been said to be "little things." The gospel order the dissenters accepted was purged of many medieval trappings. The continuation of these practices in the established church warranted separation from it, according to the dissenters. The book, The Plea for the Non-Conformist is also recognized as one of the finest statements of religious freedom yet published in English.
De Laune was arrested late in 1684 as the book surfaced. He was found guilty of disobedience to lawful authority, malicious sedition and faction among other things, and imprisoned for inability to pay the fine imposed, together with his wife and two small children. It is thought other dissenters attempted to pay this fine but were prevented from doing so. De Laune actually pled not guilty, stating that he was only responding to Calamy's challenge. Within a year De Laune was to see his wife die, as well as his two children before he too, succumbed to starvation.
I'm so grateful for scholars and administrators who in their quest for discovering the true source of ecclesial unity and gospel order, do not fear to assert by their words and actions the principles of true religious freedom. God bless this Unity Conference!!