Only God is King!
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at what was to be named Plymouth. The history of this momentous event is well-documented. The influence of the Pilgrims on our culture and religious traditions remains intact, due especially to their interest in the Kingdom of God. Their recognition of God as the Ultimate King and Ruler of all put them at odds with those in power who enjoyed the close-knit relationship between government and religion. The Pilgrims sought a measure of freedom to follow the sovereignty of God instead of that of a politician.
But did you know that some of the Pilgrims kicked out a pastor for his “dangerous” views? His name was Roger Williams. Williams graduated from seminary in 1628 and served as a pastor for the Church of England. He quickly found out however that Charles I disdained his radical view that an earthly King should not reign over the church. Roger and his wife, Mary, soon escaped to Massachusetts where he taught school and served as an assistant pastor. By 1635, however, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had become quite suspicious of Williams, and Roger was brought before the General Court of the Colony merely for being “dangerous.”
What made Roger Williams so dangerous? He taught that a politician or governor should not legislate on religious matters. He also wrote “seditious” letters criticizing the colony’s government. And Williams also opposed how the new Pilgrim settlers grabbed land from the Native Americans. As you probably guessed, Williams was found guilty of being too dangerous and subsequently was kicked out of the colony. Yet, in 1636, Williams had his sights set on forming another colony, and this one would have a broader scope of religious freedom. On March 14, 1644, it became official. Roger and Mary founded the colony (and now state) of Rhode Island. The first Baptist church in North America still stands in Providence. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as well as other framers of the U.S. Constitution, said that Williams significantly influenced the Founding Fathers regarding religious liberty and freedom of speech.
Williams wasn’t afraid of seeking first the Kingdom of God. He came to the American colonies seeking freedom to speak, to worship, and to assemble according to the dictates of his conscience. Even though he suffered some hard setbacks, he persevered in a way that influences us still today. I’m thankful that Westoak Woods Baptist Church exists because of those like Williams did not cower to political influences. When push came to shove, they obeyed God rather than men. During this week of Thanksgiving, let’s not forget that our freedom to worship the Lord is due to the fact that Jesus Christ, and no one else, is King. We will follow Him as He leads us. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.