Message to the American colonies


During the early 18th century God called an English minister named Roger Williams to deliver a profound message to the American colonies. The message he brought was not only concerned with social justice, but also a message calling for a purging of the apostasy being committed by the corporate church-state of his day. Just as the prophets of the Old Testament and the Christian martyrs, he too would suffer.

In his calling Williams succeeded bringing about religious freedom in America, and brought a greater awareness to the social issues of his day. [1] But he paid a price Williams became further isolated from Christian fellowship and more radical in his theology, this resulted in his own spiritual bondage.

Williams argued the need for social justice, religious freedom and a return to the apostolic church...if it could be found.[2] Even though the reformation was winding down Christianity was undergoing a post papal meld down of sorts. For all the hegemony, corruption and apostasy the Roman Catholic Church offered, it had been the Shepherd of virtually all Christians for more than fourteen hundred years. To Williams both the popish church and the Church of England were 'bad shepherds'.[3]

The Reformation did not come about over night, but it had been brewing for centuries in isolated pockets of Europe and Asia Minor. However, the instant that Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the Bishops door, Christendom would never be the same.[4] The schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches was gradual and almost comical. Not so with the Reformation, this would be an explosive and at times bloody affair.

The term 'reformation' means to improve, "do away with abuses and remove faults".[5] However, the term 'reformation' is a misnomer. In a sense, the reformation can be viewed as a religious revolution in which many theologians, priests and worshipers completely disassociated and set a new course. Therefore; there was nothing to be reformed...this was a complete 'declaration of independence' from the Roman Catholic Church. These religious revolutionaries formulated new doctrines, built new churches, reorganized the ecclesial structures, and rebranded.

However, it was inevitable that 'old baggage' was brought along; and as such, much of the corruption, hegemony and apostasy carried over into the new churches and religious institutions. Even though, history has shown that the reformation has been a success it has been so in spite of itself.

Roger Williams saw the failure of the reformation. Also, he rightly identified that much of the doctrine that had been part of the Roman Catholic Church for fourteen or so centuries was carried over into the Anglican Church. More so, he believed that the many of doctrines being espoused were not biblical.[6] In essence, Williams believed the church had become corrupt and had been moving towards apostasy from the time of the second century or so.[7] However, Williams was concerned with the manifestation of social justice in relation to sound biblical doctrine. He believed ethical manifestations would emanate from a separation of church and state. [8] This is what Walter A. Elwell writes "The kingdom of God is revealed through unbending moral principles, honor, and rectitude. Yet these are most clearly seen in individual lives, particularly that of the one who was the Branch on whom the Spirit rested.[9] This is in line with Williams' contention that the fruits of the Church are ungodly. In this notion Roger Williams believed that there was no process available to "purify" the church as the Puritans believed. He believed the church had been corrupt for more than a millennium and its corruption was manifested in how it had oppressed people through religious intoleration and it's usurping of Jesus' authority in the name of tyrannical secular-ecclesiastical political systems.[10] According to Dr. Gregory Dale Tomlin Williams held the belief that the Church of England and all other national churches were the embodiment of Satan.[11]

The main cause for Roger Williams was the separation of the church and state, and a secondary cause was his personal search for the apostolic church.[12] During the 17th century these ideas were unorthodox and radical.[13] It is no wonder that Williams was considered a "wild Ishmael".[14]

His idea of government was hinged on the premise that social justice must be the reason for government. This is homogeneous to the 18th century future President and Deist Thomas Jefferson's view.[15]

Williams repeatedly espoused that to accomplish this form of government its foundation must be patterned on the commandment of love for one's neighbor. He further refuted Cotton's position that the resulting product of the unity of church and state is in agreement with Christian orthodoxy.[16] In fact, Williams' believed that it was an abomination. Williams' also disagreed with the notion that the unification of secular with sacred was orthodox.[17] Williams In his quest for religious freedom and social justice became the first American proponent of social justice theology.


Roger Williams was born of the 21st of December 1603 in London, England to a middle class Anglican family. [18]When Williams was eleven or twelve years old he converted to the Puritan faith. During his late teens and early twenties Williams was the protge of Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), the famous barrister. Williams matriculated with Pembroke College, Cambridge resulting in the conferral of the "Batchelor of Arts" degree in 1627. [19] Even though, he completed the course work for the Master of Arts degree it was never conferred on him. This was probably due to the policy that the Master of Arts degree was reserved for graduates who were to be ordained by the Anglican Church. Roger Williams apparently declined ordination.[20]

Williams assisted Coke in the defense of the dissenters before the English bar. During this period the English puritans received brutal and unjust treatment under English law. The Church of England was the 'judge and jury' as far as spiritual matters. It is important to note that Cambridge was more accepting of church dissenters than Oxford and Williams almost certainly attended Cambridge because of this. Roger Williams was apparently a skilled linguist and received notice for his skills in the classical languages while attending Cambridge. In addition to several modern and classical languages, Williams acquired fluency in two or three Amerindian dialects. He is reputed to have tutored the famous English poet John Milton in the Amerindian languages in exchange Milton gave Williams lessons in Greek.[21] These facts allude to his great intelligence and do lend support to Dr. Carl Deimer's view that Williams did not receive the Master of Arts degree not because of poor scholarship, but because he declined ordination from the Anglican Church.[22] However, Anglican ordination was not needed Williams served as a minister in the Salem puritan church and co-founded the first Baptist church in America. This church named the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island is still active and recognized as the longest surviving Baptist Church in America! [23]

Into the Wilderness

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them".

Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV)

It was on the first day of December, in the year 1630, in that Mr. Roger Williams, with his wife, set sail aboard the Lyon for the America colonies. He was leaving England at the optimum time because his dissenting posture was being noticed by the Archbishop Laud who stated Roger Williams was "mad". Upon disembarkation in Boston the Governor and puritan leaders organized a feast to honor the arrival of such a promising Cambridge educated puritan who would surely fill Boston's premier pulpit, and give substance and prestige to the young colony.[24] Williams readily declined the offer and the die was cast for the turbulent years in which Williams would be banished and said to be a "wild Ishmael" and a "man with a windmill on his head".[25]

Just as well, the American continent would finally have its champion. Like the prophets of the Old Testament he too would risk life and limb to present a message...a godly message. The state of affairs in the British-American colonies was complex each colony had its own governmental systems and ecclesiastical structure more times than not the prevailing governments could be defined as type of theocracy with British oversight. Some of the prominent religious figures of this period did in fact call for theocratic rule. The civil authorities established law not only for civil order, but also to preserve orthodoxy. This effectively established the National (state) church as the sole producer of the only legally approved set of religious tenets. Uniformity, at least in the outward manifestation was regarded as essential to national unity."[26] Williams believed that with the post apostolic influx of man contrived doctrines and dogmatic constraints an ungodly unified church and state existed.[27] New England, with the exception of Rhode Island, did not shed this idealization and posture until Massachusetts legislation finally repealed and amended the original charter that allowed for a state sponsored Church.[28] This was probably more of a formality because by 1833 it was a foregone conclusion that the idea of a united Church and State was antiquated and obsolete not only in America, but also in Europe, where many secular republics were being instituted.[29] Rev. John Cotton of Boston was a well-known proponent of this theocratic system. Later, Williams and Cotton would have their famous 'pamphlet war'. The major contention between Williams and Cotton was the separation of the church and state whereas Williams believed that the state has no right to control a person's religious experience, or to dictate what religion or non religion a citizen, slave, immigrant, or indigenous person must practice. In contrast, Cotton believed in the theocratic system or the unity of the church and state his stance was that with the unified church and state civil order was kept, and orthodoxy was protected.[30] The past three centuries has looked favorably on Williams' position whereas Cottons' position eventually would fade into American history.

Even so, it is understandable how the arguments for theocratic government come about; if we look to the state of our current culture i.e. abortion, homosexual marriage, and the other post a modern symptoms of moral decay having a theocratic system does have appeal. However, that view is superficial underlying this system is its insidious demand for legalism, and oppression of mans freewill. Our Savior taught against legalism and oppression.

Upon Williams' arrival in Boston he set out to chart a new course for his life and that course was to go journey further into the "wilderness". It can be seen in the events of Williams' life that as each stage of his life passed he became more isolated from the mainstream particular in his theology. Edwin S. Gaustad in his book Liberty of Conscience points out that "Williams would travel his own path, and would often travel it alone." Gaustad also makes the observation that although the Boston Puritans believed it necessary to stay yoked with the Church of England if they were to be successful in bringing about its purification and redemption. Williams thought this notion to be illogical. For Williams' the question was how you do simultaneously tear down and rebuilt a church? [31] Especially a church that perhaps had been practicing apostasy for more than a millennia![32] It is difficult to deduce exactly when this thought was fully developed in his mind; perhaps just before he set sail for America, but more likely after his arrival to the colonies.[33]

It appears that Williams sought the treasure of religious freedom, and the ultimate treasure; the true church. His quest in some ways can be compared to the Spanish conquistadores that came to America to find wealth, and perhaps, the fountain of youth. In contrast, to the Spanish conquistadores Williams' intentions were godly and his quest produced much fruit.

There is no doubt that Williams set out for the colonies for reasons that many others in his day had. A search for prosperity and opportunity is mans nature. However, looking to the events of Roger Williams' life it is clear that he sought the apostolic church. As a product of his search, religious freedom developed in a small geographical area. Although he would find much of what he sought it he would never find the apostolic church, or spiritual rest. It is ironic that in his search for the apostolic church the further he became from any edifying fellowship with other Christians. This conclusion is supported by his membership in the Baptist church; he became convinced that the Baptist church may have been more in line with apostolic church. However, it too was not adequate.

Williams is considered by many to be a proto-restorationist. Many of Williams' views concerning the need for a restoration of the apostolic church are all but identical to the early 19th century restorationists Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. If Roger Williams had been born two centuries later it is probable that he would have been a part of the Restoration Movement.

Island of Roses

"Of all forms of persecution, religious persecution is the worst because it is enacted in the name of God. It violates the sacred rights of conscience, and it arouses the strongest passions."[34]

Williams departed Boston, for he could no longer be part of Boston colony with its affinity for the National Church. Just as Williams' knew it would be incongruent with his convictions to stay in England, so to be it with the Boston Colony.[35] Williams set out for Salem a separatist Puritan colony. In contrast to Boston, Salem was populated and offered a more amicable environment for Williams' to serve God and further his convictions. So when he was offered the position of assistant pastor under fellow Cambridge graduate Samuel Skelton, Williams accepted.[36] This could have been an ideal arrangement... if not for the disparagement of the Boston leaders. Perhaps Salem would have been the first colony to usher in religious freedom and avoided the Salem Witch trials. However it seems it was necessary for freedom to come about in the wilderness of what became Rhode Island, or the "cess pool" of the colonies as it was called by.

Never before in history had such a radical religious and civil system been attempted.[37] Roger Williams had attained what would appear to be an impossible dream. The type of government that had been established at Providence Plantation seemed unlikely. But more so, the fact that King Charles, whose own father was executed by Oliver Cromwell and his dissenting cronies, would sign a charter granting legitimacy to a group of dissidents was unfathomable![38]

Perhaps this fact alone supports the notion that God did have a hand in the establishment of religious freedom in the American Colonies. Uncommon and ironic events take place when God places His hand on the shoulder of history.

Williams believed that the national church along with her ill intended magistrates was the tool of Satan. He believed that its oppression of religious freedom and ungodly unification with the secular government nothing but the manifestation of Satan's work. The hedge of protection from the wilderness of the world, which was under Satan's influence, is the necessary separation of church and state. He was aware that social justice emanates from God and that injustice emanates from Satan. Williams is correct injustice is driven by worldly desires such as greed, idolatry, wealth, lust, envy, a quest for power, hate and indifference to others. This is the location where Williams' thinking and convictions were unique. He came to believed that there was no possibility for the restoration of the church as it existed.[39] A new apostolic church had to come about through the action of second pouring out of the Holy Spirit; in effect a second great commission had to be given.[40] An amelioration of the magisterial office was not adequate. Dr. Gregory Dale Tomlin has made the claim that Williams believed himself to be the one whom would receive the commission, or at least that is what Williams wanted. [41] To many this would seem to impute that Williams' was pretentious and that his hermeneutics were unsound. However, Williams was not a pretentious man. He was a humble and compassionate man whom was committed to religious freedom. He had the inspiration that religious freedom was the vehicle that would bring about social justice. Williams' theological perspective is not unlike that of the social science theologians of the 20th century. The restorationist views Williams held was unusual for his day, but not unique in the sense that throughout time many have made the call for people to return to God and turn away from sin. Jeremiah, Isaiah, Joel, Zechariah, and John the Baptist, our Savior Jesus Christ, the apostles all have made the call. Looking to the message Apostle Paul gave the church of he called for a restoration.

What is truly unique about Williams was his commitment to religious freedom and the courage to lead the movement towards a separation of the church and state. History has shown that a united church and state, or national church has been a dismissal failure that has led to some of the most horrendous atrocious in the name of God. The Spanish inquisition, the English reformation, and the centuries the Roman Catholic Church had sought to isolate and exterminate heretical movements i.e. the Catharsim.


  • Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • Flood, Robert. The Rebirth of America. Philadelphia: Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, 1986.
  • Gaustad, Edwin S. Liberty of Conscience. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1999.
  • H.H.Harkness. "Roger Williams: Prophet of Tomarrow." Journal of Religion (University of Chicago) 15 (October 1935): 400-425.
  • Hamburger, Philip. Separation of Church and State. Cambridge: Harvard, 2002.
  • Maclear, James Fulton. "The True American Union" of Church and State: The Reconstruction of the Theocratic Tradition." Edited by ASCH. American Church History (Cambridge University Press) 28, no. 1 (March 1959): 41-62.
  • Miller, Robert T. "Religious Conscience in Colonial New England." Journal of Church and State 50, no. No.4 (August 208): 661-76.
  • Morris, Benjamin Franklin. The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. Philadelphia: L.Johnson & Co., 1863.
  • Roger Williams Family Association. Roger Williams Family Association. Unknown Uknown, 2009. (accessed February 2, 2010).
  • Schaff, Philip. "History of the Christian Church." Vol. 7. New York: Scribner's Sons.
  • Smith, Gerald Birney. Social Idealism And The Changing Theology: A Study Of The Ethical Aspects Of Christian Doctrine (1913) . Kessinger Publishing, 2008.
  • Strong, J.D., Philip Wesley Comfort, and Donald Mitchell. Who's Who in Christian History. Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1997.
  • Tomlin, Dr. Gregory Dale. "Roger Williams: Prophet and Soon Apostle." Fort Worth: Southwestern Baptist Baptist Theological Seminary, Unknown 2001.
  • Williams, Roger. The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause Of Conscience Discussed: and Mr. Cotton's Letter Examined and Answered. Edited by Edward Bean Underhill. London: J. Haddon, 1844.
  1. I emphasize awareness because it would be centuries before social injustice would be addressed in this country. It was as if Williams was just a voice crying in the woods.
  2. Dr. Gregory Dale Tomlin in his paper, Roger Williams: Prophet and Soon Apostle Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2001) presents a convincing argument that Williams hoped for the church's full eschatological restoration. Dr. Tomlin, also points out that Williams thought that the restoration could take place at Williams' providence Plantation.
  3. Gaustad, 1
  5. William, Bloudy Tenant
  6. This is why Roger Williams was considered a "seeker". The seeker movement of the early 17th century believed that all denominations were corrupt. The seeker usually did not claim official membership in any church body simply because they believed all modern denominations were not apostolic due to the unbiblical doctrines infused into the church. This is why Williams left the Baptist fold after 5 or 6 months.
  7. Williams, 11
  8. Walter A. Elwell and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker reference library; Logos Library System (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997).
  9. Ibid,
  10. Tomlin, 2
  11. Dr. Gregory Dale Tomlin
  12. Miller, 661. Miller cites David Masson, The Life of Milton (7 vols. London: Macmillan & Co., 1859-94), III, 108.
  13. Harkness, 401
  14. I have not seen any research or historical documentation that Jefferson barrowed or otherwise influenced by Williams' writings in regards to his acquiring this idea of government. I believe Jefferson was influenced by Roger Williams.
  15. Williams, Bloudy Tenant, 28
  16. Ibid
  17. Harkness, p. 400. It is difficult to determine the year of Williams' birth. The range given by most authorities is 1601-03.
  18. Roger Williams Family Association. In my research I have observed that some scholars and historical articles do in fact claim that Williams was ordained into the Anglican. However, Dr. Carl Deimer has made a good case that by not being awarded the M.A. it is unlikely that he was ordained.
  19. Diemers, Dr Carl. Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, CHHI 692 DVD lecture series. However, Dr. Gregory Dale Tomlin, and many other historians state Williams did receive the M.A. degree. For the purpose of this paper I will agree with Dr. Diemer's position with reserve.
  20. Douglas, Confort and Mitchell,
  21. Please refer to footnote no. 8.
  22. Ibid
  23. Harkness, 401
  24. Ibid
  25. J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who's Who in Christian History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997).
  26. Williams, Bloudy Tenent 39-40
  27. Deimers, Dr. Carl CHHI 692 DVD lecture series, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.
  28. James Q. Whitman of Yale in his paper titled Church and State: Why are America and Europe so different? Argues that the majority of continental European governments do permit direct governmental involvement. He does believe that European governments do have a separation of religion and politics. This is in contrast to the accepted blending of religion in American politics, 7. Philip Hamburger, 109-189. Hamburger makes some very good points but I do not agree with many of his arguments on 'how and why' America attained religious freedom (Schaff n.d.)
  29. Cotton
  30. Gaustad, 25
  31. Dr. Gregory Dale Tomlin holds the view that Williams believed the church to be
  32. Ibid, 5. Tomlin suggests that Williams realized that he was a separatist after his marriage to Mary Bernard in 1629 just before the Williams' set sail for the American Colonies. I believe this is correct.
  33. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (3rd ed.; 7 vols.; New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1882-1910), VII, 693.
  34. Gaustad 25-26
  35. Gaustad, 26
  36. Miller, 661-2
  37. Diemers, Dr. Carl, CHHI 692 DVD lecture series lecture # 8 (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University, 2010)

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