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Religion Library: Baptist

Founders

Written by: David Buschart

Roger Williams (c. 1603 - 1683) graduated from Oxford in 1627, and was ordained in the Anglican Church shortly thereafter.Within two years, Williams had embraced Puritan Separatist views.He immigrated to the Massachusetts colony, and there served as pastor of churches in Plymouth and Salem.However, he came to hold two views that placed him at odds with the Puritan leadership.Williams regarded Native Americans, not the British monarchy, as the rightful owners of the land where the Puritans were now living, and believed that the native peoples should be paid accordingly.Second, he embraced what became the Baptist principle of individual conscience.Individual persons are responsible directly to God, not to a civil authority, for their religious beliefs and manner of life.

As a result of his commitment to these principles, Williams was exiled from Massachusetts in 1635.He travelled south and, purchasing land from the Narragansett tribe, created Providence Plantation as a home for people seeking freedom of individual conscience.This became the center of Rhode Island colony and the site of the first Baptist church in America, founded by Williams and others around 1638.His work constituted an essential part of the foundation of genuine religious liberty in the United States.Williams eventually left the Baptist tradition and pursued an even more individualistic approach to faith and conscience.

Finally, Dr. John Clarke (1609 - 1676) was a person of many talents, working professionally at various times in medicine, law, and Christian ministry.Born in Suffolk, England, he immigrated to Massachusetts in 1637.As a result of persecution by Puritans, he moved southward and helped to found Newport, where he then established a Baptist congregation around 1648.In conjunction with Roger Williams, Clarke led in the formulation and establishment of royal approval for the Charter of Rhode Island (1663), which contained extensive provisions for freedom of conscience, including religious conscience.


Study Questions:
     1.    Who was John Smyth? What was his role in the founding of the Baptist tradition?
     2.    Who was Thomas Helwys? What was his relationship to Smyth?
     3.    How did John Spilsbury’s work modify the practice of baptism?
     4.    Who was William Kiffin? Francis Bampfield? Why are they notable in thehistory of Baptists?
     5.    What Baptist founders were influential in the New World? Describe their contributions.

 

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