Pastor in North America, Preacher, Statesman -1603 to 1683
| Roger Williams
organized the first Baptist church in America. He was also founder
of the state of Rhode Island. Those are remarkable accomplishments
for a man who was shunned and persecuted by others who came to the New
World to find religious liberty.
Born in 1603, Williams was
raised in the Church of England. At age twenty, he was admitted to
Pembroke Hall, Cambridge University. Although, he graduated from
Cambridge in 1627, and was ordained in the
|Church of England in 1628, it was obvious
even then that his theological views were not always in agreement with
his teachers and peers.
While serving in his first
assignment as the chaplain to the Masham household in Essex County, he
came to know many powerful Puritan leaders in Parliament. Due to
their influence, he became convinced in the beliefs of separation of church
and state and separated himself from the Church of England. Soon
afterwards, Charles I began a campaign of persecution against the Puritans,
resulting in Roger and his wife, Mary, having to escape by sailing on board
the Lyon to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in America.
Upon arriving, it just so
happened that the minister of the Boston church was leaving for England.
Williams was offered the oppotunity to pastor the church during the interim
but declined because of his Seperatist views. The couple decided
to press on to Salem where Roger was offered the position of teacher in
the church there. He accepted but the governor of the colony questioned
his more radical Seperatist views, thus, resulting in the offer being rescinded.
He was then made assistant to the pastor of the church in Plymouth but
it proved to be a breif stay as his views again came into conflict with
the leadership of the church.
Besides taking a stand on
the impurity of the church, he also began to speak out publically regarding
other areas of contention he had with the government of the colony.
He challenged their right to regulate religious matters, questioned the
validity of the Massachusetts Bay charter, and asserted that the appropriation
of land from Native Americans was illegal. He also argued the civil
government should be kept separate from the state.
As a result, Williams was
brought up before the General Court. The charges that were brought against
him were as follows: "...his new and dangerous opinions, in particular
his denial of the magistrates' authority in religious matters, and his
seditious letters, one in the name of the Salem church attacking the General
Court, and the second to the Salem church urging their separation from
the other churches of the colony." Roger and Mary Williams
found themselves banished from the colony in 1635.
Along with some followers,
the Williams's traveled into the Narragansett territory to the south
of Massachusetts. Here he purchased land from the Indians and founded
Providence, Rhode Island. In 1638, Roger Williams organized the first
Baptist church in North America. The destinctinves of baptism by
immersion for believers only and separation of church and state were included
in the church's doctrinal statement.
In 1643, Williams went to
England to obtain a charter for Rhode Island. He secured the charter
on March 14, 1644.
Williams wrote a pamphlet
in 1652 entitled, "The Bloudy Tenent yet More Bloudy," which discussed
separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison
give Roger Williams the credit of being the "original thought influencer
on the first amendment" We Baptists are proud of this man of God
who endured much, stayed steadfast, founded the first Baptist church in
North America, and laid the foundation for the Bill of Rights.
Roger Williams passed away