June 12, 2007

Roger Williams and Room to Grow a Soul

A spare few days after the good ship Lyon dropped anchor in Boston Harbor a delegation from the Church (note the capital 'C') in Boston came searching for one Mr. Roger Williams to offer him the privilege of pastoring their church. Having endured a perilous journey of two months in a winter sea and thanking God for the sight of land Mr. Williams received his visitors. This delegation made their offer to young Roger with a smug assurance that this young man would certainly leap at the opportunity to lead the First Church of the New World, the ecclesiastical plum of all the Americas. They were certainly taken aback as they heard him quietly tell them that he could not accept such a position in Boston, until they became clearly "a separated people" from the despised Church of England, and until they separated Church from State in their colony.

Williams had cultivated a deep hatred for State Churches. This was the very reason he endured 3000 miles of ice filled seas. He was searching for a place where "soul-liberty" could be experienced. He was looking for a place with room to grow a soul, and he had no intention of compromising that search with his first decision in the new world. Choosing principle over prestige he proceeded to pursue his passion.

This was only the first step among many that would lead him down a road filled with disagreement with those in authority. This road finally led him to the purchase of some land from the indians and the founding of Providence, Rhode Island. This was the first city of its kind in the New World. A city in which no discipline was dispensed in the interest of spiritual conformity. A city in which the Quaker (whom Williams never liked but never persecuted) and the Puritan could walk side by side.

This principle of religious liberty, which so possessed the soul of Roger Williams, would find it's full expression in the words found in the Constitution of the United States of America:

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."


"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It was not always so in the New World. After Roger Williams it was and it remains so to this day. He is truly the father of the American dream of a genuinely free nation in which all are on an equal footing before God and the law without regard for their religious views. I am grateful to stand in the tradition of such an outstanding Christian.

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