Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Roger Williams and Massachusetts Bay

An outline of the issues raised by Williams and uncompromisingly pressed includes the following: (1) He regarded the Church of England as apostate and any kind of fellowship with it as grievous sin. He accordingly renounced communion not only with this church but with all who would not join with him in repudiating it. (2) He denounced the charter of the Massachusetts Company because it falsely represented the king of England as a Christian, and assumed he had the right to give his own subjects the land of the native Indians. He disapproved of “the unchristian oaths swallowed down” by the colonists “at their coming forth from Old England, especially the superstitious Laud’s time and domineering.” He drew up a letter addressed to the king expressing his dissatisfaction with the charter and sought to secure for it the endorsement of prominent colonists. In this letter he is said to have charged King James I with blasphemy for calling Europe “Christendom” and to have applied to the reigning king some of the most opprobrious epithets in the Apocalypse. (3) Equally disquieting was Williams’ opposition to the “citizens’ oath,” which magistrates sought to force upon the colonists in order to be assured of their loyalty. Williams maintained that it was Christ’s sole prerogative to have his office established by oath and that unregenerate men ought not in any case to be invited to perform any religious act. In opposing the oath Williams gained so much popular support that the measure had to be abandoned. (4) In a dispute between the Massachusetts Bay court and the Salem colony regarding the possession of a piece of land (Marblehead) claimed by the latter, the court offered to accede to the claims of Salem on condition that the Salem church makes amends for its insolent conduct in installing Williams as pastor in defiance of the court and ministers. This demand involved the removal of the pastor. Williams regarded this proposal as an outrageous attempt at bribery and had the Salem church send to other Massachusetts churches a denunciation of the proceeding and demand that the churches exclude the magistrates from membership. This act was sharply resented by magistrates and churches, and such pressure was brought to bear upon the Salem church as led a majority to consent to the removal of their pastor. He never entered the chapel again, but held religious services in his own house with his faithful adherents.
The decree of banishment (Oct. 19, 1635, carried into effect Jan., 1636) was grounded on his aggressive and uncompromising hostility to the charter and the theocracy, and was the immediate result of the controversy about the Marblehead land…
“Williams, Roger,” by A. H. Newman, in The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume XII, Trench—Zwingli, Samuel Macauley Jackson, editor-in-chief, New York: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1912, pp. 369

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