Saturday, 16 March 2013

Roger Williams at the Evangelical Library

If you are interested in the roots of religious and civil liberties and the theological arguments that surrounded them in the seventeenth century, then Roger Williams is essential and very good company.

I shall be endeavouring to give a brief introduction to him on Monday 18th March at the Evangelical Library at 1.00 pm. No charge; it would be good to see you there if you can make it.

Here is a brief extract from what I shall probably say.

'Remember that it was no part of the general Puritan vision to separate from the Church of England. Winthrop and those with him, unlike the separatist Pilgrim Fathers of the Mayflower who had settled further south in Plymouth a decade earlier, strongly desired to remain attached to their nation and church, though a purified church. Indeed on leaving old England, Winthrop had been at pains to assure those he was leaving that he was no separatist. The reasons for leaving England were not merely political or economic, nor even to escape religious persecution and seek freedom. There was a strong positive sense of mission, expressed for example in Winthrop’s famous sermon A Modell of Christian Charity written and preached on the Arbella . This sermon sets out, according to Francis Bremer (The Puritan Experiment p 90) many of the key elements of the Puritan view of society – awareness of community and individual interdependence, awareness of the various callings of men, and a sense of mission. More significantly for our purposes, it sets out the strong sense of New England being a new Israel and the conviction of a commission from God and a covenant with God that the settlers had.

'Roger Williams was to profoundly challenge the Puritan status quo on just these issues: that any nation could be in the same place in relation to God as Israel had been; and that a nation could be in covenant with God. This was the great ideological and theological cleavage that divided Williams from Winthrop and the settlers in Massachusetts. It was a difference greater than eight months (i.e between Winthrop and Williams)in arriving in the new world; a difference greater than 3,000 miles across the Atlantic. It was the difference between the old and modern worlds'.

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