American Minute with Bill Federer
Guilty of preaching religious liberty in England, separatist leader Roger Williams fled to Boston on FEBRUARY 5, 1631.
He pastored briefly before being banished in 1636 by Puritan leader John Cotton, who himself had been persecuted by Anglicans in England.
Befriended by the Indians of Narragansett, Williams founded Providence Plantation, Rhode Island – the first place where church government was not controlled by state government.
In 1639, Williams organized the first Baptist Church in America.
His “notorious disagreements” with John Cotton over the Massachusetts General Court censoring religious speech led Williams to publish “The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Conscience Sake” and “Mr. Cotton’s Letter Lately Printed, Examined and Answered” in 1644.
In it, Roger Williams first mentioned his now famous phrase, “WALL OF SEPARATION”:
Mr. Cotton…hath not duly considered these following particulars.
First, the faithful labors of many witnesses of Jesus Christ, existing in the world, abundantly proving, that the Church of the Jews under the Old Testament in the type and the Church of the Christians under the New Testament in the anti-type, were both SEPARATE from the world;
and that when they have opened a gap in the HEDGE, or WALL OF SEPARATION, between the garden of the Church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broken down the WALL itself, removed the candlestick, &c. and made his garden a wilderness, as at this day.
And that therefore if He will ever please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be WALLED in peculiarly unto Himself from the world,
and that all that shall be saved out of the world are to be transplanted out of the wilderness of the world and added unto His Church or garden…a SEPARATION of Holy from unHoly, penitent from impenitent, Godly from unGodly.
Rev. Roger Williams was alluding to the Scriptural pattern that when God’s people sin, He judges them by allowing the church to be trampled by an ungodly government:
Isaiah 5:1-7 My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine…
and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.
And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard…When I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?…
I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I WILL TAKE AWAY THE HEDGE thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and BREAK DOWN THE WALL thereof, and it shall be trodden down…
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but found oppression.
The understanding was that if God’s people repent “He will restore His garden” by having it “WALLED in peculiarly unto Himself from the world.”
The spiritual descendents of Roger Williams were Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, a State which had the Congregational Protestant Christian denomination established as the official State Church from 1639 to 1818.
With religion under each individual States’ jurisdiction until 1947, the Danbury Baptists complained about their discriminated status in the Congregationalist controlled State of Connecticut in letter to Jefferson, October 7, 1801:
Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty – That religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals – That no man ought to suffer in name, person or effects on account of his religious opinions – That the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.
Agreeing with the Baptists in his personal reply, Jefferson wrote, January 1, 1802:
Gentlemen…Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for faith or his worship,
that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions,
I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a WALL OF SEPARATION between Church and State.
Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man.
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.