Introduction to “The History of Religious Freedom In America”


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 1 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment..


“[B]y the dawn of the American Revolution all the colonies were approaching or had reached a readiness to separate Church and State. Only Rhode Island had traveled no road and followed no route to reach that destination; Rhode Island had been there from the start. For Pennsylvania the route was short and direct; full civil rights had to be granted to Catholics and to disbelievers in the Trinity for full civil liberty to be achieved. In the other colonies … far reaching and profound changes in attitude were necessary before the … concept could become a possibility” (William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p. 93).


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceable to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (U.S. CONST. amend. I).


Introduction to “The History of Religious Freedom In America”

Until the colony of Rhode Island was founded, it was unusual for a civil government to provide for freedom of conscience even though God desires nations to provide for religious liberty under Him. Nonetheless, God’s people have always, regardless of the persecution of those who refuse to march lockstep with union of religion and state, come together as local churches, preached the Gospel, and helped their fellow man. Paul wrote in the midst of persecution:

  • “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Co. 4.8-9).
  • “We, having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak” (2 Co. 4.13).

In the preceding verse, Paul quoted a portion of Psalm 116.10 which says in its entirety, “”I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted:” Tied up in the liberty given believers by Christ is speaking (“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16.15)), and associating or meeting together (“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (He. 10.25a)). Furthermore, God gave mankind the Bible, which in certain times past, was banned and burned. The First Amendment was written and ratified with the intent of protecting God’s churches, the exercise of religion or Christianity (freedom of religion or freedom of conscience), the preaching of the Gospel (freedom of speech), the coming together to worship God (freedom to assemble), the dissemination of literature, mainly the dissemination of God’s Word (freedom of press), and the right to petition the civil government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment was the culmination of a long spiritual warfare between established churches and dissenters, mainly the Baptists. God’s power moved mightily during that period of conflict. Many believers suffered persecution. The roots of the struggle in America were embedded in New England, spread to the south, to Virginia, and then to the new nation.

Revisionists have obscured the true history of the First Amendment. Revisionism is not new. Of course secularists, and especially atheists, must revise in order to support their outlandish positions. Catholics and Protestants, including the Puritans, consistent with their biases have long revised in order to further their agendas. Good examples are the claims made by the Presbyterians and the Honorable William Wirt Henry near the close of the nineteenth century. Mr. Henry “told of Virginia’s leadership in bringing in religious liberty but made no allusion to the Baptists, and said it was ‘under the leadership of Patrick Henry that religious liberty has been established as a fundamental part of the fundamental law of our land’” (Charles F. James, Documentary History of the Struggle for Religious Liberty in Virginia (Harrisonburg, VA.: Sprinkle Publications, 2007; First Published Lynchburg, VA.: J. P. Bell Company, 1900), p. f.). As a result of Mr. Henry’s assertions, Charles F. James—a Baptist, who had preached that “at the date of the [American] Revolution the Baptists were the only denomination of Christians which, as such, held to the idea of religious liberty, and that, of the political leaders of that day, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were chiefly instrumental in establishing that principle in the laws of our land” (Ibid., p. e.)—set out to do a thorough historical study of the Baptists in Virginia. His studies and written work which followed set the record straight, a record which can be verified by honest historical study.

Secular revisionism has influenced the development of the modern concepts of the First Amendment. Influential constitutional “scholars” such as Leo Pfeffer, since they have no concept of God or His sovereignty, have removed the most important aspect of debate from the equation—the spiritual aspect. Pfeffer misrepresents spiritual matters because he does not understand them. He relegates the spiritual to the merely “ideological.” He attributes Madison’s positions on the issue of separation of church and state to his reliance on John Locke, and quotes Locke; then, even though Locke, in the quotes cited by Pfeffer, talks of government interference with the care and salvation of souls which belongs to God, Pfeffer never mentions God in his discussion but rather emphasizes Locke’s “social contract theory.” He overemphasizes the influence of rationalism and deism in gaining the First Amendment. He falsely proclaims that the “first four presidents of the United States were either Deists or Unitarians.” He asserts that the Great Awakening “emphasized an emotional, personal religion” which appealed directly to the individual, stressing the rights and duties of the individual conscience and its answerability exclusively to God (Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), pp. 81-93). He, like all secular scholars, simply did not get it even though he did mention God. He had no choice but to mention God, since a controversy over what God taught in the Bible was at the center of the issues. He simply did not and could not examine that true history of what went on to bring about the First Amendment. Lost men and saved men who were spiritually ignorant have led the way in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The First Amendment, in what is called the establishment clause, forbids Congress to establish a church and reinforces the establishment clause in the free exercise clause by forbidding Congress to prevent the free exercise of religion. Thus, the religion clause of the First Amendment which consists of the establishment and free exercise clauses, especially when read in the context of the entire Amendment, is a legal statement of the principle of religious freedom, or soul liberty, or separation of church and state which conforms to biblical principles. Bible-believing Christians, based upon their spiritual beliefs, fought the fight which resulted in the First Amendment. They made the spiritual Bible-based arguments which gradually convinced others to accept separation of church and state. By practicing their faith despite persecution, they paid the price. They suffered persecution; they did not deny Christ and their faith in order to avoid persecution. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Ti. 3:12).

Many of the early colonists were Protestants who thought Luther and/or Calvin were correct in their beliefs concerning church and state. Others, the Anglicans, brought the state-church concepts of England to the colonies. Dissenters believed in and fought for separation of church and state. The First Amendment was primarily the result of a spiritual warfare between those holding opposing Scriptural interpretations, the established churches versus the dissenters, primarily the Baptists.

  • “Of the Baptists, at least, it may be truly said that they entered the conflict in the New World with a clear and consistent record on the subject of soul liberty. ‘Freedom of conscience’ had ever been one of their fundamental tenets.  John Locke, in his ‘essay on Toleration,’ says: ‘The Baptists were the first and only propounders of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.’ And the great American historian, Bancroft, says: ‘Freedom of Conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first a trophy of the Baptists.’ Bancroft’s History of the United States, Vol. II., pages 66, 67.
  • “The history of the other denominations shows that, in the Old World, at least, they were not in sympathy with the Baptist doctrine of soul liberty, but in favor of the union of Church and State, and using the civil power to compel conformity to the established church….
  • “The Reformation which began with Martin Luther corrected many errors of faith and practice among those who came out of the corrupt and apostate church, but not all. It was left to the sect once ‘everywhere spoken against’ to teach their Protestant brethren the lesson of soul liberty, and this they did in the school of adversity in the New World” (James, pp. 14-15).

At times, persecuting established churches in the colonies became persecuted churches. When that happened, the persecutors generally became dissenters seeking religious tolerance or religious freedom.

The First Amendment to the Constitution resulted from “a factual relationship that was rapidly solidifying when the Constitution was amended by the Bill of Rights.” The First Amendment was the final product of a long struggle by men who believed strongly in the God of the Bible and who were willing to die rather than bow down to false religion. Their spirit was fused into the ordering of the affairs of the United States. “A wall of separation which would bar that spirit from making itself felt in secular concerns can never be built, because it would have to bisect the human heart” (Marnell, pp. xii-xiii). William H. Marnell correctly observed that:

“[t]he First Amendment was not the product of indifference toward religion. It was not the product of the deism which prevailed in the Enlightenment, however much the spirit of deism may have been present in certain of the Founding Fathers. Above, all, it was not the product of secularism, and to translate the spirit of twentieth-century secularism back to eighteenth-century America is an outrage to history. The First Amendment was rather a logical outcome of the Reformation and its ensuing developments. It was so far removed from secularism as to be the product of its exact opposite, the deep-seated concern of a people whose religious faith had taken many forms, all of them active, all of them sincerely held. It was so far removed from indifference toward religion [specifically Christianity] as to be the result of its antithesis, the American determination that the diversity of churches might survive the fact of political action” (Ibid.).

The dissidents in the colonies, chiefly the Baptists, were able to gain a foothold, and they played it for all it was worth. The theology of the founding era, initially under the leadership of Roger Williams (who was not a Baptist and who turned from his Baptist affiliations soon after founding a church in Rhode Island. See Book Review: Did Roger Williams Start The First Baptist Church In America? Is the “Baptist Church the Bride of Christ? What About Landmarkism or the Baptist Church Succession Theory By Jim Fellure and Baptist History IN AMERICA Vindicated: The First Baptist Church in America/A Resurfaced Issue of Controversy/The Facts and Importance By Pastor Joshua S. Davenport.) and John Clarke, successfully challenged the doctrines of the established churches concerning the relationship of church and state. Among the results were the establishment of the first civil government in history with religious liberty, the government of the colony of Rhode Island, and later the First Amendment to the United States Constitution which required religious freedom for churches and freedom of conscience for individuals. The First Amendment allowed churches to operate under God without persecution. The First Amendment did not apply to the states.

Primarily due to the efforts of our Baptist forefathers, a time came, as Baptist pastor and historian John Callender said in 1838, when:

  • “[e]xperience has dearly convinced the world, that unanimity in judgment and affection cannot be secured by penal laws….
  • “Indulgence to tender consciences, might be a reproach to the Colony [of Rhode Island], an hundred years ago, [that is in 1738, one hundred years before Callender wrote this], but a better way of thinking prevails in the Protestant part of the Christian church at present. It is now a glory to the Colony, to have avowed such sentiments so long ago, while blindness in this article happened in other places, and to have led the way as an example to others, and to have first put the theory into practice.
  • “Liberty of conscience is more fully established and enjoyed now, in the other New-English Colonies; and our mother Kingdom grants a legal toleration to all peaceable and conscientious dissenters from the parliamentary establishment. Greater light breaking into the world and the church, and especially all parties by turns experiencing and complaining aloud of the hardships of constraint, they are come to allow as reasonable to all others, what they want and challenge for themselves. And there is no other bottom but this to rest upon, to leave others the liberty we should desire ourselves, the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free. This is doing as we would be done by, the grand rule of justice and equity; this is leaving the government of the church to Jesus Christ, the King and head over all things, and suffering his subjects to obey and serve him” (John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 108-109).

By the time the First Amendment was added to the United States Constitution, only New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had established churches. In 1833 Massachusetts became the last state to disestablish.

Baptists wanted religious freedom. Some probably could foresee the ideal of a church under God, a civil government under God, with neither church nor state over the other. But few knew how to have a civil government under God without establishing a church. Why? Fifteen hundred years of history had witnessed “Christian” establishments made up of church-state or state-church unions. Therefore, one should not be too hard on those early Protestants in America who continued those unions, since, according to Isaac Backus:

“[many things] prove that those fathers [the leaders of the Puritans in Massachusetts] were earnestly concerned to frame their constitution both in church and state by divine rule; and as all allow that nothing teaches like experience, surely they who are enabled well to improve the experience of past ages, must find it easier now to discover the mistakes of that day, than it was for them to do it then. Even in 1637, when a number of puritan ministers in England, and the famous Mr. Dod among them, wrote to the ministers here, that it was reported that they had embraced certain new opinions, such as ‘that a stinted form of prayer and set liturgy is unlawful; that the children of godly and approved Christians are not to be baptized, until their parents be set members of some particular congregation; that the parents themselves, though of approved piety, are not to be received to the Lord’s Supper until they be admitted set members,’ &c., Mr. Hooker expressed his fears of troublesome work about answering of them, though they may appear easy to the present generation” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 37-38).

Nor should one be too critical of those leaders of the founding era who struggled with the question of how to construct this nation. They produced the best governing document of any nation in history, but that document had some serious flaws which would play out to the detriment of the nation and individuals, families, and churches within the nation. Nonetheless, because of great revivals which began shortly after ratification of the Constitution, huge numbers of people were saved and those regenerated individuals were responsible for at least postponing the spiritual and moral decline of America.

How can a civil government be under God without entanglement with the church? A civil government can choose to be under God. Since God was directly over only one nation, the nation Israel, the only way God chooses to speak to a Gentile government prior to His second return is through His Word, the Bible. Therefore, for a nation to be under God, the leader(s) of that nation must understand and apply biblical principles including those principles concerning church, state, and separation of church and state. As has been shown, only born-again believers have the power, through the Holy Spirit, to understand the Word of God. Only regenerate leader(s) of a civil government can operate the government according to those principles laid down for Gentile nations in the Bible. In America, the people choose the leaders. Therefore, America will have a regenerate leadership only if America should have a population made up of a majority of knowledgeable active Christians who choose Christian leaders.

The Constitution provided for separation of church and state, but the Constitution and the amendments thereto, even when the Declaration of Independence is considered, failed to proclaim that this nation is to be under God and that the purpose of this nation is to glorify God. The primary declaration that a nation can make in its constitution to place itself under God is that its purpose is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ through laws, prayers, and proclamations consistent with biblical principles. That nation can model its laws, including its constitution, after biblical principles and seek God’s direction in all things, including lawmaking, enforcement, and judging. In such a nation, prayers should be made at all civil governmental functions in Jesus’ name. One of the principles a nation under God must proclaim, as does the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, is that every man has free will, as ordained by God, and that, since God wants every man’s love, men are free to choose to worship the one true God, any false god or gods, or no god at all. A civil government under God must also legislate criminal law making certain acts concerning man’s relationship with man—but not acts dealing with man’s relationship with God—criminal, according to God’s Word, and provide for judging and enforcing those acts by the civil government.

The chances of a civil government being under or remaining under God’s principles before the return of Christ are non-existent as shown by the Bible and by all history. No civil government will have (a) leader(s) who believe(s) and implement(s) principles in the Word of God except in the unlikely situation where the leader(s) is (are) saved, and no civil government so structured will long remain under God. Godly leaders are inevitably replaced with carnal Christians and/or the unregenerate who cannot and will not lead according to God’s Word.

This Section succinctly summarizes the true history of religious liberty in America, initially pointing out some of the misleading teachings of secular and Christian revisionists. Ultimately, Christians can accomplish nothing with lies (Read James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004) and James R. Beller, The Coming Destruction of the Baptist People: The Baptist History of America (St. Louis, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2005) for a thorough discussion of the theology behind the lies of the Christian nationalists, whom Beller calls catholic Reformed, and a discussion of Christian nationalists other than Peter Marshall and David Manuel.).

Secular and Christian revisionism


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 2 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


Secular and Christian Revisionism

The tactics of Christian and secular revisionists do not change. As Isaac Backus noted, concerning the revisionism and lies of the leaders of the established churches in the colonies:

“[I] appeal to the conscience of every reader, whether he can find three worse things on earth, in the management of controversy, than, first, to secretly take the point disputed for truth without any proof; then, secondly, blending that error with known truths, to make artful addresses to the affections and passions of the audience, to prejudice their minds, before they hear a word that the respondent has to say; and thirdly, if the respondent refuses to yield to such management, then to call in the secular arm to complete the argument” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 150. This comment followed and preceded illustrations of how those in favor of church/state marriage, infant baptism, etc. advance their cause.  On pp. 151-152, Mr. Backus illustrated how those in favor of infant baptism argued their position, pointing out the fallacies of their arguments. Their tactics have not changed, although in America, due to the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, they no longer can call upon civil government to enforce their beliefs.)?

Religious and secular revisionists (including many United States Supreme Court Justices) of our time are using the tactic mentioned by Backus today, absent the third component which is, to their dismay, unavailable to them.

“Christian” revisionists have either reconstructed and lied about our Christian heritage or relied on “Christian” authors who have reconstructed and lied about history. They refer to what the writers of their persuasion in times past wrote and said without placing those assertions in the context of other writings and facts surrounding their sources and in the context of biblical truth. They would have one and all to believe either that all “Christians” who came to this nation worked together for religious freedom and are to be given credit for giving us a “Christian” nation, that the Puritans and other sects which followed their principle of church-state establishment gave us a Christian nation, or that those sects of which they approved, the established churches and their leaders, had the truth and dissenters, such as the Baptists and others, were proponents of dangerous heresies. The result of revisionism has been chaos and an accelerating slide down a slippery slope to destruction as individuals, families, churches, and the nation.

What is their reason for doing this? Some are probably just ignorant of historical facts and rely on what others have written (the author of this book was in this category since he relied upon “Christian” authors and speakers until he began to do an independent study). Perhaps the motive of others who may be more knowledgeable is to influence those Christians who do not share their theology concerning church and state to get involved with helping them in their attempt to unite church and state in order to make possible their ultimate unattainable goal of bringing in the kingdom of heaven prior to the return of Christ. Perhaps they believe, contrary to biblical directives for the Christian, that it is all right for Christians to lie to “those who have no right to know the truth” and that Christians can better advance the cause of Christ by lying about irrefutable historical fact which true history has recorded.

Baptist historian James R. Beller builds a strong case to show that the modern day “catholic Reformed Reconstructionists,” under the leadership of Rousas John Rushdoony, justify lying based upon a perverted interpretation of certain biblical passages (James R. Beller, The Coming Destruction of the Baptist People: The Baptist History of America (St. Louis, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2005), pp. 30-35). Rushdoony believes in “religious establishments in civil government and that it is acceptable to lie” to promote the cause he supports (Ibid., p. 32).

Andrew Sandlin calls Christian Reconstructionism “a version of the Reformed, Postmillennial Theology that emphasizes the concepts of Theonomy and Dominion” (Ibid., p. 33).  The theonomist believes that the magistrate has the duty to enforce the Mosaic law.

  • “Theonomists believe that Matthew 5:13-16 presents the Church with ‘a mandate for complete social transformation of the entire world.’ The Church is to play the key role in this transformation by spreading the gospel throughout the world, taking over the function of government, and enforcing the Mosaic Law. Thus, Chilton stated, ‘Our goal is world dominion under Christ’s Lordship, a ‘world takeover’ if you will; but our strategy begins with reformation, reconstruction of the church. From that will flow social and political reconstruction, indeed a flowering of Christian civilization.’ Again he said, ‘The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s law.’
  • “Another theonomist declared that ‘the saints must prepare to take over the world’s governments and its courts.’
  • “Theonomists optimistically believe that ‘As the gospel progresses throughout the world it will win, and win, and win, until all the kingdoms become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.
  • “This optimistic belief makes theonomy a genuine form of Postmillennialism….
  • “[R.J.] Rushdoony wrote: ‘Postmillialism thus believes that man must be saved, and that his generation is the starting point for a mandate to exercise dominion in Christ’s name over every area of life and thought. Postmillennialism in its classic form does not neglect the church and it does not neglect also to work for a Christian state and school, for the sovereignty and crown rights of the King over individuals, families, institutions, arts, scientists, and all things else. More, it holds that God has provided the way for this conquest: His Law’” (Renald E. Showers, There Really Is a Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology (Bellmawr, New Jersey: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, 1990), pp. 152-154, citing Meredith G. Kline, “Comments on the Old-New Error,” Westminster Theological Journal, p. 41 (1978), pp. 172-173; David Chilton, Paradise Restored: An Eschatology of dominion (Tyler, Texas: Reconstruction Press, 1985), pp. 12, 214, 226, 192; R. J. Rushdoony, “Government and the Christian,” The Rutherford Institute, 1 (July-August, 1984), p. 7; R.J. Rushdoony, “Postmillennialism versus Impotent Religion,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, 3 (winter, 1976-77), p. 126).

Postmillennialism teaches that the ultimate progress of history is upward. Led by the church and the spreading of God’s Word by God’s people, eventually the whole world will be brought into subjection by that message. In other words, the church, working with civilization, science, and political agencies will bring in the Kingdom of Heaven before Christ returns.

This movement promotes a strategy of lying which states that Christians have “no obligation to speak truthfully to those who have forfeited the right to hear the truth,” and that the “commandment does not say that ‘thou shalt never tell a lie’” (Beller, The Coming Destruction of the Baptist People, p. 33). “Even the famous Reformed lawyer, John Whitehead, founder of the Rutherford Institute, apparently approves of this strategy: Rahab risked everything in order to follow God, including telling lies” (Ibid., p. 34, citing John Whitehead, “Christian Resistance in the Face of State Interference,” Christianity and Civilization 3: The Theology of Christian Resistance (Tyler, TX: General Divinity School, 1983), p. 8).  Based upon their reasoning, they justify lying about historical facts. Obviously, they do not want an honest debate of American history which would reveal that the theology of the established churches justified persecution to include banishment, taking of property, imprisonment, and murder.

These Christian revisionists lie and continue to lie and also to make their secular arguments, polished with allusions to God and maybe even Jesus Christ, even when the enemy is quoting historical truth. Those who observe what is going on must shake their heads at the ignorance of Christians, especially Christian lawyers. Instead of trying to get out the whole truth, which would aid the cause of Christ (at least if Christians including pastors and Christian lawyers and scholars had stood on truth from the beginning of the nation), they lied and continue to lie.

Even the United States Supreme Court is accurate many times as to historical fact concerning persecution by church-state establishments. For example, the Court wrote in 1947:

“See e. g. the charter of the colony of Carolina which gave the grantees the right of ‘patronage and advowsons of all the churches and chapels … together with licence and power to build and found churches, chapels and oratories … and to cause them to be dedicated and consecrated, according to the ecclesiastical laws of our kingdom of England.’ Poore, Constitutions (1878) II, 1390, 1391. That of Maryland gave to the grantee Lord Baltimore ‘the Patronages, and Advowsons of all Churches which … shall happen to be built, together with Licence and Faculty of erecting and founding Churches, Chapels, and Places of Worship … and of causing the same to be dedicated and consecrated according to the Ecclesiastical Laws of our Kingdom of England, with all, and singular such, and as ample Rights, Jurisdictions, Privileges, … as any Bishop … in our Kingdom of England, ever … hath had….’ MacDonald, Documentary Source Book of American History (1934) 31, 33. The Commission of New Hampshire of 1680, Poore, supra, II, 1277, stated: ‘And above all things We do by these presents will, require and command our said Councill to take all possible care for ye discountenancing of vice and encouraging of virtue and good living; and that by such examples ye infidle may be invited and desire to partake of ye Christian Religion, and for ye greater ease and satisfaction of ye sd loving subjects in matters of religion, We do hereby require and comand yt liberty of conscience shall be allowed unto all protestants; yt such especially as shall be conformable to ye rites of ye Church of Engd shall be particularly countenanced and encouraged.’ See also Pawlet v. Clark, 9 Cranch 292” (Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, fn. 6 at 9; 67 S. Ct. 504, fn. 6 at 508; 91 L. Ed. 711, fn. 6 at 720; 1947 U.S. LEXIS 2959; 168 A.L.R. 1392 (1947)).

The Court in Everson and in other cases also wrote of the persecutions going on in the Old World prior to the settlement of America, the persecutions going on in America, and the religious turmoil out of which our First Amendment emerged. Of course, the Supreme Court placed the above facts in a case which gave a new meaning to “separation of church and state.” Additionally, the Court never addressed the false theology versus the accurate theology that resulted in religious liberty and freedom of conscience in America. They never examined the true biblical principles concerning the sovereignty of God over all governments, religious liberty, and freedom of conscience.  Had the whole truth been argued by Christian lawyers at that time, as well as before and after that time, the downfall of America may have been at least stalled. At the very least, the name of Christ would have been exalted rather than abased.

In addition, true Catholicism still despises separation of church and state. Of course, most Catholics “laymen” have no clue about Catholic theology on the relationship of church and state and Catholic interpretation of end-time biblical teachings. Catholic theology still calls for union of the Catholic “church” and state and believes that the “church,” working with civil government will bring peace and unity to the earth. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Samuel F. B. Morris discovered and publicized a Catholic political conspiracy against the United States of America (Ireneus Prime, The Life of Samuel F. B. Morse (New York: Arno Press, 1974), p. 730; Samuel F. B. Morse, Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States (New York: Arno Press, 1977), pp. 19-20, 28-29, 31; Samuel F. B. Morse, Imminent Dangers to the Free Institutions of the United States Through Foreign Immigration (New York: Arno Press, 1969), pp. 7, 8; cited in Dr. William P. Grady, What Hath God Wrought: A Biblical Interpretation of American History (Knoxville, Tennessee: Grady Publications, Inc., 1999), pp. 221-222)).  “At least 45 fanatically anti-Catholic newspapers and periodicals could be purchased in the … U.S. of A…. There were also well over 500 books and pamphlets written on this anti-popery theme as well” (Grady, What Hath God Wrought!, p. 225).

Dr. Morse [wrote]: “From whom is authority to govern derived? Austria and the United States will agree in answering,—from God. The opposition of opinion occurs in the answers to the next question. To whom on earth is this authority delegated? Austria answers, To the EMPEROR, who is the source of all authority,—‘I the Emperor do ordain,…’ The United States answers, To the PEOPLE, in whom resides the Sovereign power,—‘We the People do ordain, establish, grant,’… In one principle is recognized the necessity of the servitude of the people, the absolute dependence of the subject, unqualified submission to the commands of the rulers without question or examination. The Ruler is Master, the People are Slaves. In the other is recognized the supremacy of the people, the equality of rights themselves; the Ruler is a public servant, receiving wages from the people to perform services agreeable to their pleasure; amenable in all things to them; and holding office at their will. The Ruler is Servant; the People are Master.

“The fact and important nature of the difference in these antagonistic doctrines, leading, as is perceived, to diametrically opposite results, are all that is needful to state in order to proceed at once to the inquiry, which position does the Catholic sect and the Protestant sects severally favor? The Pope, the supreme Head of the Catholic church, claims to be the ‘Vicegerent of God,’ supreme ‘over all mortals;’ ‘over all Emperors, Kings, Princes, Potentates and People;’ King of kings and Lord of lords.’ He calls himself, ‘the divinely appointed dispenser of spiritual and temporal punishments;’ ‘armed with power to depose Emperors and Kings, and absolve subjects from their oath of allegiance:’ ‘from him lies no appeal;’ ‘he is responsible to no one on earth;’ ‘he is judged of no one but God’” (Morse, Foreign Conspiracy, pp. 34-35, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought!, pp. 226-227).

The Pope determines what writings are heretical, and reading those writings, according to the “Congregation of the Index”—an essential department of the papal court—shall be regarded as an offense against the church and against God (R. W. Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1876), p. 91, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought!, p. 227). In 1832, Pope Gregory XVI referred to “that absurd and erroneous doctrine, or rather raving, in favor and defence of ‘liberty of conscience,’ for which most pestilential error, the course is opened to that entire and wild liberty of opinion, which is every where attempting the overthrow of religious and civil institutions…. Hither tends that worst and never sufficiently to be execrated and detested LIBERTY OF THE PRESS, for the diffusion of all manner or writings…” (Morse, Foreign Conspiracy, pp. 41-42, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought, p. 228). Accordingly, the Provincial Council of Baltimore, in order to guard against error, forbade the reading of Scripture “without the advice and permission of the pastors and spiritual guides whom God has appointed to govern his Church” (Thompson, p. 79, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought!, p. 228).  If Catholic principles had prevailed in the United States, the First Amendment would never have been adopted because the two are diametrically opposed.

The Vatican planned a Romanized America. The plan was to be expedited through Catholic immigration. Although men such as Samuel F. B. Morse, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and others warned against allowing immigration of those whose principles were contrary to those upon which America was founded, their warnings were not heeded and huge numbers of Catholics came into America, bringing with them their abominable religion as well as their base morality. A lot of money was spent on the significant number of immigrant paupers, and mob violence by immigrants became a new part of the American culture. Catholic mobs disrupted meetings where those of other faiths renounced Catholicism, and Roman shepherds bartered the votes of their flocks to politicians, and fought over the reading of the King James Bible in American’s public schools (What Hath God Wrought!, pp. 229-236, 244-253). Jesuit author F. X. Weninger wrote in 1862, “One of the most glorious enterprises for the Catholic Church to engage in at this day is the conversion of the United States to the Catholic faith” (Thompson, The Papacy and the Civil Power, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought!, p. 236). “Vallestigny, a Jesuit priest and deputy of Alva, stated in his address to His Majesty:

“The mass of the human family are born, not to govern, but to be governed. This sublime employment of government has been confided by Providence to the privileged class, whom he has placed upon an eminence to which the multitude cannot rise without being lost in the labyrinth and snares which are therein found” (Morse, Imminent Dangers, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought!).

Catholic clergy themselves admitted that there was a conspiracy against the United States and that Catholicism planned to take over America.  For example:

“The Shepherd of the Valley, the official journal of the Bishop of St. Louis …, declared in 1851: The Church is of necessity intolerant. Heresy she endures when and where she must, but she hates it and directs all her energies to destroy it… If Catholics ever gain a sufficient numerical majority in this country, religious freedom is at an end. So our enemies say, so we believe” (Charles Chiniquy, 50 Years in the “Church” of Rome (Chino, Calif.” Chick Publications, 1985), p. 285, cited in Grady, What Hath God Wrought!, p. 254).

Naturally, Catholic spokesmen and writers have attacked the phrase “separation of church and state” since religious liberty and separation of church and state are antithetical to Catholic theology and power. For example:

“Father John Courtney Murray described the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ as a ‘negative, ill-defined, basically un-American [sic] formula….’ After the McCollum decision the Catholic bishops of the United States, in a statement issued through the National Catholic Welfare Conference in November 1948, called the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ the ‘shibboleth of doctrinaire secularism.’ Father Robert I. Gannon, former president of Fordham University, in an address delivered in St. Louis in November 1951, used the phrase ‘the current fraud of separation of church and state.’ James M. O’Neill, a Catholic writer whose interpretation of the First Amendment was adopted by the Catholic bishops termed ‘spurious’ the ‘so-called’ ‘great American principle of complete separation of church and state,’ and affirmed that ‘There is no such great American principle and there never has been.’ Father Thomas F. Coakely, on the front cover of a pamphlet, ‘Separation of Church and State,’ published by the Catholic Truth Society, says unqualifiedly: ‘Church and State have never been separated in America.’ Even the Attorney General of the United States, in an address before the National Catholic Educational Association, charged that the Supreme Court had ‘distorted’ the First Amendment in referring to ‘a wall of separation of Church and State’” (Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 118).

In publishing a false history, Christian revisionists have done a great deal of damage to the cause of Christ. Their theology concerning separation of church and state in contravening biblical principles resulted in the persecution of large numbers of believers by established churches and hampered the dissemination of the true gospel for over fifteen hundred years.

Satan’s emissaries have revealed to the public that “Christians” have revised history. Even the unregenerate who possess no true understanding and wisdom, although many have been given brilliant minds by God, can look at history and discover true facts when it is to their advantage. The world, or at least the unregenerate who are aware of the facts of history, even though they themselves are the masters of deceit and revisionism when it furthers their cause, must have been turned off to a “religion” which relies on lies.

The knowledgeable Christian is appalled that supposed brothers would lie about historical fact in an attempt to further the cause of the One who was tortured and killed because of His stand for truth. Our Lord never backed off from truth even though He knew that His stand would take Him to the cross. He instructed Christians to be light, not darkness:

  • “No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light. The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness. If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light” (Lu. 11.33-36).
  • “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Mt. 5.14-16).

All the apostles except John were martyred because of their stand for truth. David, who was called a man after God’s own heart, said, “I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD” (Ps. 31.6).  Other Bible verses condemn lying. “I hate and abhor lying: but thy law do I love” (Ps. 119.163).  “Deliver my soul, O LORD, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue” (Ps. 120.2). God hates lying: “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,  An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (Pr. 6.16-19).  Notice that lying is the only sin He mentions twice.

Satan is the father of lies. God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, stands for truth.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not. Which of you convinceth me of sin? And if I say the truth, why do ye not believe me? He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (Jn. 8.44-47).

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn. 14.6).

Christian revisionists seem to forget about those verses while taking other verses and perverting them to rationalize lying to promote their cause. For example, they point out the story of the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1.15-22 who were rewarded by God because they did not obey Pharaoh’s order to kill all the sons born to the Hebrews and also lied to Pharaoh as to the reason they did not kill those babies; and the story of Rahab the harlot whom God commended in Hebrews 11.31 for lying to the authorities of the land in order to help the Jewish spies (Jos. 6.22-25).  The proper interpretation of those Scriptures, taken in the context of the Bible as a whole, is that the Hebrew midwives and Rahab were confronted with a moral dilemma. The midwives could either lie or be a party to murder. They chose to lie in obedience to God and to protect innocent life. Rahab realized that the spies were of God’s chosen people on an errand for God. “And she said unto the men, I know that the LORD hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you” (Jos. 2.9). Those and other verses do not support lying as defined and practiced by Christian revisionists.

Attempts to hide truth are in vain:

“And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk. 4.21-23).

Christian revisionists are obviously not interested in honest debate because that debate would reveal that some of the founders of this nation, such as the Puritans and Anglicans, were deceived and adhered to a theology which, as the world correctly points out, advocated and practiced the union of church and state, enforced all ten of the Ten Commandments, including those having to do with man’s relationship to God, and severely persecuted dissenters such as the Baptists and Quakers whom they labeled as heretics. The author was mislead by Christian revisionism for over twenty years. When he discovered that he had been lied to by other “Christians,” he had to be willing to face the truth. In this book he is publishing what he totally believes to be irrefutable facts and conclusions based upon biblical principles as applied to those facts.

The Consequences of Christian and Secular Revisionism


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 3 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


See also, Exposing Catholic/Calvinist/Reformed Historic Revisionism


The Consequences of Christian and Secular Revisionism


“Wherefore hear the word of the LORD, ye scornful men, that rule this people which is in Jerusalem. Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place. And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it” (Is. 28.14-18).


Neither Christian nor secular revisionism will bring desirable consequences. If the Christian revisionists had their way, the church and state would be working together in America to bring in the kingdom of heaven on earth. There would be no First Amendment to the United States Constitution, no religious liberty, and the persecution would continue.

Sadly, the secularist Frederick Clarkson is right when he writes:

“[T]he Christian nationalist narrative has a fatal flaw: it is based on revisionist history that does not stand up under scrutiny. The bad news is that to true believers, it does not have to stand up to the facts of history to be a powerful and animating part of the once and future Christian nation. Indeed, through a growing cottage industry of Christian revisionist books and lectures now dominating the curricula of home schools and many private Christian academies, Christian nationalism has become a central feature of the political identity of children growing up in the movement. The contest for control of the narrative of American history is well underway” (Frederick Clarkson, “Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters,” PublicEye.org (Spring 2007): online at http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v21n2/history.html.).

He is partially correct in pointing out that:

“We’ve seen how religious beliefs (and other ideologies) inspire people to view others as subhuman, deviant, and deserving of whatever happens to them, including death Ibid. (). It is the stuff of persecution, pogroms, and warfare. The framers of the U.S. Constitution struggled with how to inoculate the new nation against these ills, and in many respects the struggle continues today” (Ibid.).

He is right when those beliefs are based upon certain false theologies. Such religious beliefs led to the murder of millions of Christians who were viewed by the established churches as dangerous heretics. However, his statement cannot be applied correctly to the true Christianity which fought for freedom of religion in America and which has effects opposite those he mentions. Christians who practiced and taught biblical principles concerning separation of church and state have been persecuted since the time of Christ and their stand in the face of persecution ultimately gave America religious liberty. This section of chapters records the history of those Christians.

Mr. Clarkson then goes on to factually tear apart some of the assertions being made by what he calls the Christian nationalists. For example, he asserts:

  • “John Blanchard [a current “Christian” leader] claims that the Jamestown landing signifies that, ‘We were started as a Christian nation and I feel it’s God’s purpose we stay a Christian nation.’ Indeed, to read the Assembly 2007 website, one would think that the King had sent missionaries to Virginia. Far from it. The London Company behind the venture pooled investors interested in making money. For years it floundered badly. Eventually, the company gave up the commercial charter and control reverted to the Crown. The gauzy view of Christians claiming the land for Christ and King is clarified by history.
  • “When news of the Assembly 2007 and Blanchard’s claim reached Joe Conn at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, he pulled out his history books in rebuttal: ‘According to Anson Phelps Stokes’s Church and State in the United States, the London Company’s November 20, 1606 ‘Articles, Instructions, and Orders’ did, indeed, demand that the prospective American colony ‘provide that the true word, and service of God and Christian faith be preached.’ But the charter added that the ‘true word’ must be ‘according to the doctrine, rights, and religion now professed and established within our regime in England’” (Ibid., pp. 2-3).

Christian revisionists Peter Marshall and David Manuel include some truth in their revisionism. They wrote, amidst many historical revisions, that Jamestown was a disaster and that the people who settled the colony were motivated by greed and not the love of the Lord (Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), pp. 80-105). As will be seen, although undoubtedly there probably were godly ministers in the established church, much of the clergy of the Anglican church in Virginia prior to the Revolution had loose morals, were mainly concerned about their financial security, and were lacking in biblical and spiritual knowledge. The clergy of that church fought to keep their establishment to the bitter end. By far their most consistent and determined opponents were the Baptists. A publication of a law firm that encourages churches to become corporate 501(c)(3) religious organizations recently led off with an article laughingly entitled (to one who knows the real facts about the settlement) “Jamestown, Where America Became a Christian Nation” (“Jamestown: Where America Became a Christian Nation,” Legal Alert (Monthly Newsletter of the Christian Law Association), April 2007, p. 1).  The author, unnamed, states some truth in the article but also gives a totally distorted view of the early history of Jamestown and fails to mention the depravity of the people who originally settled there. Neither Marshall and Manuel nor the author of the aforementioned article make mention that the theology behind the settlement was ecclesiocratic and against religious liberty: the “Articles, Instructions, and Orders” from the homeland said that the “‘true word’ must be ‘according to the doctrine, rights, and religion now professed and established within our regime in England’” (Marshall and Manuel, pp. 80-105; see Clarkson for this excerpt from “Articles, Instructions, and Orders” from the homeland.).

Some of what Christian revisionists such as Marshall, Manuel, and Rousas John Rushdoony teach is factual, but it is incomplete, intermixed with lies, and slanted to praise and promote their false theology which teaches that God’s principles for the theocracy in Israel are to be applied by the church and that the church, working with the state, will bring peace and unity to the earth. In order to further their cause, the adherents must lie and revise history. They must and do condemn the true theology and its adherents out of which came religious freedom in America.

Since they do not believe in free-will, the Christian revisionist has to attribute everything to the providence of God. Mr. Clarkson is correct when he says:

“Indeed, the general approach [R.J.] Rushdoony outlined has become widely accepted among Christian nationalists, specifically that God actively intervenes in and guides history, and that God’s role can be retroactively discerned, from creation to the predestined Kingdom of God on Earth. Historical events described as ‘God’s providence’ are then interpreted in terms of what God must have been up to. This is how Rushdoony arrives at what he called Christian history, based on ‘Christian revisionism’” (Frederick Clarkson, “Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters,” PublicEye.org (Spring 2007): online at http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v21n2/history.html, p. 2).

Of course there is such a thing as the providence of God. But the Christian revisionist concept of God’s providence is totally unbalanced by an incorrect view of the free will of man. The most that revisionists of the founding era (and probably those of today, if the truth be known) might assert about free will is that if a man has it and uses it wrongly, those with superior insight must step in to correct him, and if he refuses to be enlightened, he must, when the revisionist has the power, be banished, imprisoned, tortured, and/or killed.

Just as the church-state dilemmas of the past and those of the present have not been correctly answered by false theology, even though professed to be from God, neither is the answer supplied by secularists such as Mr. Clarkson. As expected of a secularist, Mr. Clarkson, in trashing the Christian right, adds in some of his own revisionism and inaccuracies, and uses his human reasoning. His proposals cannot and will not work. For example, he says that the rest of society needs not only to

  • “recognize the role of creeping Christian historical revisionism, but also our need to craft a compelling and shared story of American history, particularly as it relates to the role of religion and society. We need it in order to know not how the religious Right is wrong, but to know where we ourselves stand in the light of history, in relation to each other, and how we can better envision a future together free of religious prejudice, and ultimately, religious warfare”(Ibid.).

Mr. Clarkson, who by his own admission is not a Christian, understandably does not comprehend the doctrine of holiness which runs throughout Scripture. In any institution, including any civil government, anytime the unholy is mixed with the holy, the unholy will corrupt the holy. A civil government made up of true Christians who know, teach, and practice truth and lost people will be corrupted because the worldly wisdom of the lost will pollute the Godly wisdom of the Christians. The good will not prevail, at least in the long run. An unsaved person cannot know, understand, and apply truth and the wisdom which is from above. All Mr. Clarkson’s wisdom is of this world, which is “foolishness with God.” (1 Co. 3.19). “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain” (1 Co. 3.20).

Mr. Clarkson is right about religion. But what he says about religion cannot be said about true Christianity.  True Christianity is a man, the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the religious perversion of the teachings of Christ that brings all the tragedies referred to by Mr. Clarkson. The greatest tragedy is that many will never come to the One who can give them true liberty, the Lord Jesus Christ. It appears that many who have come to Him have been deceived about, for one thing, the roles of church and state and their relationship to each other and to God because they have not become partakers of the divine nature, having not added to their faith, virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge temperance, to temperance patience, to patience godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity (See 2 Pe. 1.3-9).  Perhaps an individual Christian has added some of these ingredients to his life, but what about the others? What about knowledge?

Only a civil government whose leader or leaders are truly Christian can prevent the decline of a nation. This would require solid Christian churches teaching the principles of the Bible accurately operating freely within that nation and made up of the majority of the people of that nation including the leader or leaders of the nation all of whom are sincerely attempting to understand and apply biblical principles.

When a professed believer substitutes his reasoning for reality, when he revises historical facts and/or lies to and about other believers in order to advance his underlying theology, something is wrong with his theology. The consequences of such a strategy will ultimately backfire, as it is backfiring today in America, because even secularists, when truth about facts will aid them, will reveal that truth. And when it is revealed that Christians, whom the secularist calls the “Christian right,” have seemingly borrowed a page from the secular book of tactics and resorted to revising history and to lying, the effectiveness of Christian spiritual warfare is much weakened.

The existence of Mr. Clarkson’s article and much other secular writing reveal the vulnerability of the Christian right position as it has been promoted in America. It is sad that Clarkson includes pertinent quotes (out of context) from men such as Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and even Thomas Jefferson who are not usually quoted by Christian revisionists. It is sad that Christian revisionists, in their effort to deceive the entire Christian community and advance their agenda of a united church and state so that the resulting union of church and state can bring in the kingdom of heaven, have belittled, misrepresented, and/or totally ignored great men such as Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, Isaac Backus, Shubal Stearns, John Leland and others. Their efforts have done great and irreparable damage to the cause of Christ. The author was led by Christian revisionists for over twenty years. In order to be effective in his efforts in his stand for the Lord, he had to be willing to admit that he had been mislead and that the Lord did not honor professed believers who were taking part in a spiritual battle having their loins girt about with lies. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth…” (Ep. 6.13-14a). [Emphasis mine.]

The Light Begins To Shine


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 4 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


The Light Begins to Shine

Many forces came together to bring religious freedom to America. The Protestant Reformation was one step in that direction, even though the resulting Protestant denominations took from the Catholic church the idea of the church-state—the church controls the state. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire established a church-state. England established a state-church—the state controls the church—and several of the early colonies in the South established a state-church.

With the Reformation, new light was beginning to shine over the English speaking world. The printing press made it possible to print and distribute the Bible in large quantities to the general public. The Bible became available in English and all could compare what they were told with the Word of God. Of course, this would result in some heresies, but no heresy could be more contrary to the word of God and more destructive to eternal life, temporal human life, and the glory of God than the heresies of the Catholic church. Alongside new heresies would continue the light of truth—which had before been attacked mercilessly by the establishment which had attempted to brutally stamp them out—about matters such as salvation, baptism, and the relationship of church and state. Men were beginning to study the Bible and to debate issues. Those debates were published and disseminated and the light of truth further extended.

God assures man, in His word, that one can find truth. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free ” (Jn. 8.31-32).  In fact, believers are told to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Ti. 2.15).  Of course, Catholicism would have one believe that only the clergy has the God-given ability to understand Scripture—such a belief assures the power of the clergy, but the loss of God’s power. The Jews at Berea were commended for studying the Scriptures: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Ac. 17.11).

While the debate was going on, dissenters were persecuted. These persecutions gradually began to soften even members of the established churches, as people began to realize that persecution did not stand up to the test of Bible truth. The Baptists were by far the most active of all the colonial dissidents in their unceasing struggle for religious freedom and separation.

Unlike those areas of the New World settled by Catholics where only Catholics could immigrate and hold offices, and where the official religion was maintained by the government, “the English statesmen opened the gates of their American colonies to every kind of religious faith that could be found in Europe.” Additionally, unlike church-state relationships in Spain and France where no significant change occurred, England experienced changes of religion, which ranged from Catholicism (which was a minute minority) to Puritanism during the colonization of America. As a result, only in Catholic Mexico and Catholic Quebec was uniformity of religion achieved (Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), pp. 74, 83).

“The individualism of the American colonist, which manifested itself in the great number of sects, also resulted in much unaffiliated religion. It is probably true that religion was widespread but was mostly a personal, noninstitutional matter” (Ibid., p. 85).  This contributed to the growing movement toward religious liberty since “[p]ersons not themselves connected with any church were not likely to persecute others for similar independence” (Ibid.).

In the English colonies, unlike in Mexico and Quebec, no single faith dominated the others throughout the colonies and religious uniformity was very limited. On the European Continent, “the Reformation from the start was an effort to return the Church itself to the doctrines and practices of its apostolic days.” However, while discarding some of the heresies of the Catholic “church,” Protestantism, under pressure from civil governments, soon resumed the Catholic conceived theology which united church and state. The final, logical thought of the reformers was reached at Geneva, where the church absorbed the state and the church-state originated. The state became an aspect of the church. “That is the tradition which the Puritans of England and later of New England inherited” (William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), pp. 32, 33, 37). New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut had church-state establishments—the church used the state to enforce the Ten Commandments and dissenters were persecuted.

In England, the problem was to “wean the Church in England away from the Pope, but otherwise to leave it as little changed as possible” (Ibid., p. 33).  The monarch created the state-church and became the head of the church. The church became an aspect of the state. The king was the final authority on church doctrine and practice. “[T]he Church in England [became] the Church of England, [and] the Church [became] an aspect of the State” (Ibid., p. 34). Under Queen Elizabeth, such Catholic doctrines as transubstantiation, the communion of saints, and purgatory were abandoned and the Mass was labeled a “blasphemous fable and dangerous deceit,” but ecclesiastical organization remained mainly unchanged, and episcopacy was its principle. Because she wanted a united state, Queen Elizabeth wanted a church where the Anglo-Catholics and the Anglo-Calvinists could worship together. The Anglo-Catholicism of England was later transferred to the southern colonies (Ibid., pp. 37-38).  Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia had state-church establishments—the state was over the church.

“The Calvinists who governed New England and oppressed Anglicans were themselves persecuted in Virginia, and forced to pay taxes to support the hated Anglican establishment from which they fled” (Pfeffer, p. 65). “[T]he Reformed Church was the state-church in New Amsterdam; the Quakers dominated Pennsylvania, … and, for a short time, the Catholics Maryland” (Ibid.).  In New England—Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Hampshire—Congregationalism was the established church. In Virginia and North and South Carolina, the Church of England was established. New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Georgia experienced changes in church-state establishments. “In … Pennsylvania and Delaware, no single church ever attained the status of monopolistic establishment” (Ibid.).

“From Maryland south to Georgia there were recurring periods of persecution and repression” (Franklin Hamlin Littell, From State Church to Pluralism: A Protestant Interpretation of Religion in American History (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1962), p. 12). In Maryland, the Calverts tolerated the Puritan settlers who later suppressed Catholicism. Anglicanism was established in 1689 after conflict in charters granted the second Lord Baltimore and William Penn (Ibid.).

The Anglican Church was established in North and South Carolina much as in Virginia. However, dissenters were allowed to immigrate into those states due to the need for settlers. From 1700 on the major political conflict in South Carolina was shaped up around the conflict of the establishment and the dissenters, with the latter growing in the back country and a pronounced shift to Anglicanism on the coast. In 1704 a bill was jammed through to exclude all dissenters from the legislature. In 1706 the Church Act was passed, with dissenters excluded from voting; the land was divided into parishes…. Anglican clergy were frequently immoral and guilty of gross neglect of their people. In 1722 nearly one fourth of the taxes went to the established church. With independence in South Carolina came disestablishment(Ibid., p. 14).

Emigrants from the persecuted Baptist church in Boston came to Charleston, South Carolina in 1683. The second Baptist church in South Carolina was Ashley River founded in 1736.  By 1755, there were four Baptist churches in South Carolina and the second Baptist Association in America, the Charleston Association, was founded in 1751 (James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red: The Baptist History of America (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), pp. 139-140, 142).  The General Baptists established several churches in North Carolina between 1727 and 1755. All but three of those churches converted to Particular Baptist churches in 1755 or 1756. By 1755, there were only twelve Baptist churches in North Carolina (Ibid., pp. 141-142).  However, as will be seen, this was about to change with the arrival of some Baptists from Connecticut.

New York colonial history was unique in some ways. Until 1664, the Dutch reformed church was established and supported by the state. Imprisonment was required for those who failed to contribute to the support of the church minister. All children were required to be baptized by a Reformed minister in the Reformed Church. Only the Reformed, the English Presbyterians, and the Congregationalists could build church buildings. Lutherans were imprisoned for holding services and Baptists were subject to arrest, fine, whipping, and banishment for so doing.

In 1664, New Amsterdam surrendered to the English, and New York extended its jurisdiction over all sects. The Protestant religion, and not one church, was established as the state religion. The head of the state was head over every Protestant church. All Protestant churches were established. Only four counties conferred preferential status upon the Church of England after attempts to confer such status throughout the state were unsuccessful (Pfeffer, pp. 70-71).

“In New Jersey agitation by Episcopal clergy for the legal establishment of the Church of England failed to attain even the partial success achieved in New York” (Ibid., p. 71).

“In Georgia, the original charter of 1732, which guaranteed liberty of conscience to all persons ‘except Papists,’ was voided in 1752, and the Church of England was formally established” (Ibid.). Nonetheless, Georgia had a history of public hostility toward dissenters even before the church-state establishment. Jews and Moravians were persecuted to the extent that nearly all of these peoples fled that state in 1740 or retreated to their own enclaves. “In 1754, the colony reverted to the status of a royal province and several efforts were made to enforce the Anglican establishment” (Littell, p. 15). There were no Baptist churches in Georgia in 1755 (Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 142).  In 1758 the law of Anglican Establishment was passed. By 1786 there were not over five hundred active Christians in Georgia: “there were three Episcopal parishes without rectors and three Lutheran churches, three Presbyterian churches, three Baptist churches—all small and struggling” (Ibid., pp. 16-17).  The Constitution of 1798 provided for complete religious freedom including Catholicism.

Maryland, established in 1631 and settled by both Catholics and Protestants, practiced a degree of toleration. Catholics attempted to procure the preferred position possessed in European countries with Catholic establishments, but they were unsuccessful since they were never in the majority. Although the Maryland Act of Toleration of 1649 has been lauded as “the first decree granting complete religious liberty to emanate from an assembly,” “even a superficial examination of the law shows quite clearly that it is far from a grant of ‘complete religious liberty.’” The first three of the four main provisions of the act “were denials rather than grants of religious liberty; only the last four dealt with toleration.” The first imposed death for infractions such as blasphemy, denying Jesus Christ to be the son of God, using or uttering any reproachful speeches, words or language concerning the Holy Trinity,” etc. The second imposed fines, whipping, and imprisonment on any who called another any one of certain names. The third imposed fines or imprisonment for profaning the Lord’s day. By 1688, the Anglicans had the upper hand and the Church of England was established in Maryland (Pfeffer, pp. 71-75).

Pennsylvania, like Maryland was colonized partly as business venture and partly as a “holy experiment.” The proprietor of the colony, William Penn, joined the Quakers while a student at Oxford. Penn opposed coercion in matters of conscience and provided for it in the fundamentals of the government of Pennsylvania. “Nevertheless, profanity was penalized, and Sunday observance for church, scripture reading, and rest was required. Political privileges were limited to Christians, and complete freedom of worship, at least at the beginning, was not allowed Catholics or Jews. As in Calvert’s Maryland, Penn’s motivation was at least partly his desire to reap substantial profits and this required attracting large numbers of settlers (Ibid., pp. 78-79).

King James made New Hampshire a royal colony in 1679. Liberty of conscience was allowed to all Protestants, but the Church of England was “particularly countenanced and encouraged.” Each town in New Hampshire determined the church to be supported with its tax revenues. Dissenters, with submission of a certificate proving regular attendance and financial support of a dissenting church, were exempted from the tax.  However, the assembly was slow to accord financial recognition to dissenting sects Mark Douglas McGarvie, One Nation Under Law: America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005), p. 153).

The Pilgrims and the Puritans in Massachusetts


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 5 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


The Pilgrims and the Puritans in Massachusetts

Contents:

I. Introduction: from the storm resulting from the Reformation emerged separation of church and state
II.
John Calvin’s belief’s about the relationship of church and state, his influence in the colonies upon the issue; John Knox’s beliefs on the subject and the impact in America
III.
Old World patterns of church-state union were transplanted to the colonies through the Puritans, Episcopalians, and others; the story of the Pilgrims who arrived in America in 1620, the Mayflower Compact; the theology and goals of the Puritans who arrived in America in 1629
IV.
The application of the Puritan theology included laws which enforced the whole table of the law and thus persecution of dissenters (banishment, jail, confiscation of personal property, unjust taxes, hanging, etc.); the results of the theology of the Puritans soon came to fruition
V.
The atmosphere in Massachusetts begins to shift toward toleration and even freedom of tolerance; the second Massachusetts charter which provided for freedom of conscience to all Christians except Papists was secured in 1691; nonetheless, only in Boston was freedom of conscience honored; establishment remained in Massachusetts until 1833


I. Introduction: from the storm resulting from the Reformation emerged separation of church and state

Being the continuation of the religious upheaval in Europe, the early history of New England was one of religious turmoil:

“It is acknowledged, on all hands, the first settlements of New-England were a consequence of the disputes which attended the Reformation in England; and therefore we must observe, that during this time, viz. 1517, learning having revived all over Europe, the Reformation was begun by Luther, and others in Germany, and carried on in several parts of Christendom, particularly in England, where, after a long struggle, it was finally established, by act of Parliament, under Queen Elizabeth, who began to reign November 17, 1558.
“As the whole Christian religion had been corrupted and disfigured by the inventions and impositions of Popery … it could not but be expected that many, who were justly and equally offended, at the horrid corruptions of Popery, should yet be unable entirely to agree in their sentiments, of what things were to be reformed, or how far they should carry the Reformation at the first” (John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 60-61).

The theological turmoil that resulted from the Reformation continued in the new world, and out of that storm emerged a separation of church and state that had never before existed in any nation in the history of the world.


II. John Calvin’s belief’s about the relationship of church and state in America, his influence in America upon the issue; John Knox’s beliefs on the subject and the impact in America

John Calvin had the greatest influence of any continental reformer on the relationship of church and state in America. The founders of the Massachusetts Bay Company modeled the Massachusetts church-state after the church-state constructed by Calvin. Calvin taught predestination—that God predestined men to heaven or hell—and effectively denied freedom of human will. He further taught that the Prince, to whom God grants his power and who is responsible directly to God, is God’s leader on earth, and men had a duty to absolutely honor and obey him. Those who rebel against the ruler rebels against God, even if the ruler rules contrary to the Word of God.

The state, according to Calvin, must enforce God’s spiritual and moral laws. That is, the state is responsible for enforcing all of the commandments, including the first four. Therefore, the state must suppress, for example, “idolatry, blasphemy, and other scandals to religion.” Church and state must work together although the church is “competent to declare what is the godly life.” Calvin believed that “there is but one possible correct interpretation of the Word of God, and it is the only interpretation possible for an honest man of sound intelligence to reach” (Ibid., pp. 21-28; see also, Verduin, Anatomy of a Hybrid, pp. 198-211 for insight into Calvin’s church-state theology.).

At the same time, “we should obey God rather than men;” when the law of the ruler contradicts the law of God, according to Calvin, man should obey God, but only passively. The Calvinistic ideal, the superiority of an aristocratic republic form of civil government, led naturally to election of both pastors and civil rulers and was implemented in the Mayflower Compact the night before the Pilgrims first came onto shore in America. Subsequent leaders of Calvinistic thought “added the right of rebellion against the wicked Prince to their spiritual arsenal. The United States of America was born when that right was exercised, and none exercised it with greater enthusiasm that the Calvinists of Boston” (William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), pp. 21-28).

One inheritor of Calvinism, John Knox, most forcefully added:

“the one conviction at which the legalistic mind of Calvin quailed…. If the Prince does not perform [his God given duty] said Knox, the people have the duty to put him to the sword of vengeance. In Calvinism the Church is the State, but in Knox far more than in Calvin the State and the Church both are the People. In neither man is there the faintest glimmer that even suggests to the backward-looking eye the distant dawn of tolerance. But in Knox the sword of the Almighty’s vengeance in the hands of an outraged People is the first strange symbol of what some day will be democracy” (Ibid., pp. 28-30).


III. Old World patterns of church-state union were transplanted to the colonies through the Puritans, Episcopalians, and others; the story of the Pilgrims who arrived in America in 1620, the Mayflower Compact; the theology and goals of the Puritans who arrived in America in 1629

Jesus said, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (Jn. 16.2) In fulfillment of prophecies of the Lord, the established churches thought they were doing God’s will. “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me” (Jn. 16.3). The Old World patterns of church-state union and religious oppression were transplanted to the New World with all their rigor (Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 63).  Eleven of the original thirteen colonies established a church prior to the Revolution. One of those eleven was Massachusetts which was founded by Puritans who were Congregationalists. All New England colonies, except Rhode Island, had established churches based upon the same theology. As noted by the Rhode Island Baptist, John Callender, in the early nineteenth century:

“[The Puritans] were not the only people who thought they were doing God good service when smiting their brethren and fellow-servants. All other Christian sects generally, as if they thought this was the very best way to promote the gospel of peace, and prove themselves the true and genuine disciples of Jesus Christ—‘sic,’ who hath declared, his kingdom was not of this world, who had commanded his disciples to call no man master on earth, who had forbidden them to exercise lordship over each other’s consciences, who had required them to let the tares grow with the wheat till the harvest, and who had, in fine, given mutual love, peace, long-suffering, and kindness, as the badge and mark of his religion” (Callender, p. 71).

The fight for religious liberty started in the New England colonies and then spread throughout the other colonies. The seventeenth century ended with firmly established church-states in all New England colonies except Rhode Island. The ecclesiocracies there were as absolute as the world has known, with persecution of “heretics” but, because of intervention by England, not as brutal as past ecclesiocracies in Europe.

The Church of England was established in the southern colonies. In the Southern colonies, “the church enjoyed the favor of the colonial governors but it lacked the one pearl without prce which the Congregational Church had. No Anglican ever left England to secure freedom of worship; no Virginia Episcopalean had the fervent motivation of a Massachusetts Puritan. In Massachusetts the church was the state. In Virginia and, to a lesser degree, in the rest of the South the Church was formally part of the State although hardly a part that loomed large in southern minds” (Marnell, pp. 63-64).

The theology of the established churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire led to a combining of church and state; infant baptism; taxing for payment of clergy, church charities, and other church expenses; persecution of dissenters such as Baptists; and many other unscriptural practices (William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 1; Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, Mass., Toronto, Canada: Little, Brown and Company, 1958). Persecution of dissenters follows the example of the theocracy in Israel where, for example, Moses killed the three thousand who turned from the Lord into idolatry and immorality while he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32.27), and Elijah had the four hundred and fifty false prophets of Baal killed (1 K. 18.40).

The original settlers of Massachusetts were the Pilgrims who landed at what was to become Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims were Separatists in England who had left the Church of England in the Autumn of 1608 and formed their own church. They were considered dangerous radicals by the Bishops of the Church of England. “They believed that the Reformation had not gone far enough, that the Reformers had assumed an infallibility no more palatable when lodged in a ruler than when lodged in the Pope, that the Church of England had rejected the Pope but not Popery, that the bishops of the Church of England had no more authority than the bishops of the Church of Rome” (Marnell, p. 44).

Under James I, the Bishops were given a free hand to suppress the less than a thousand Separatists before they got out of hand. Peter Marshall and David Manuel, who approved of the persecutions of the dissenters by the Puritan established churches in the colonies, complained that these were “dedicated followers of the Lord” who were:

“hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground. They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied upon. In the little Midlands town of Scrooby, persecution finally reached the point where the congregation to which William Bradford belonged elected to follow those other Separatists who had already sought religious asylum in Holland” (Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), pp. 108-109).

As a result of the persecution in England, some Separatists went elsewhere, going first to Leyden, Holland. After over ten years of a hard life in Holland, they decided to try to go to America. They reached an agreement with an English merchant named Thomas Weston under which they were able to set sail. They could not obtain assurance of liberty of their consciences. “However, they determined at length to remove, depending on some general promises of connivance, if they behaved themselves peaceably, and hoping that the distance and remoteness of the place, as well as the public service they should do the King and Kingdom, would prevent their being disturbed” (Callender, p. 64).  One hundred and one Pilgrim souls sailed from Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, arriving at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620, and at a place they named Plymouth, in December, 1620 (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 27-28). Upon arrival, they drafted the Mayflower Compact:

“In the name of God, amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyall subjects of our dread Soveraigne Lord King James by ye Grace of God of Great Britain, France, Ireland king, defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for the generall good of ye colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd, ye 11. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James of England, France, & Ireland, ye eighteenth, and by Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620.”

As a matter of human compassion, the Pilgrims were hospitable to all; and, at first, grudgingly tolerated those of other creeds. However, they gradually began to close their doors to those of other creeds. “Plymouth was a Church-State ruled by a governor and a small and highly select theological aristocracy, a Church-State with various grades of citizenship and non-citizenship” (Marnell, p. 48). By 1651 the government of Plymouth colony was enforcing the laws of Congregationalist Massachusetts. “By the time Plymouth was united with Massachusetts in 1691 all major differences between the two had disappeared” (Pfeffer, p. 66, citing Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America (New York: The McMillan Co., 1902), pp. 70-71).

The Pilgrims overcame much adversity, such as hunger, drought, and heat which caused their corn to wither, and the failure of delivery of much needed supplies from England (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 28-29).  They increased to three hundred souls and obtained a patent from the New England Company on January 13, 1630. The comparative handful of Pilgrims who were eventually absorbed by the Puritans are much admired by Americans.

The Puritans, unlike the Pilgrims who wanted to separate from the Church of England, wanted to purify the Church from within. “The State, in their view, had the duty to maintain the true Church; but the State was in every way subordinate to the Church” (Marnell, p. 40).  King James I was far more belligerently opposed to the Calvinistic church-state than even Queen Elizabeth had been, and his “determination toward the Puritans was to make them conform or to harry them out of the land” (Ibid., p. 42).  The Puritans who suffered under the combined pressure of accelerated persecution and the advanced moral decay in their society began to flee England for the new world (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p. 146).  “There was no ground at all left them to hope for any condescension or indulgence to their scruples, but uniformity was pressed with harder measures than ever” (Callender, p. 66).  Cheating, double-dealing, the betrayal of one’s word were all part of the game for London’s financial district. Mercantile power brokers loved, honored, and worshipped money, and accumulated as much of it as possible and as fast as possible.  The ends justified the means. “London was an accurate spiritual barometer for the rest of the country, for England had become a nation without a soul” (Ibid., p. 148). England was morally awful, and this came about under the auspices of a state-church practicing its theology (Ibid., pp. 147-148).  1628 marked the beginning of the Great Migration that lasted sixteen years in which twenty thousand Puritans embarked for New England and forty-five thousand other Englishmen headed for Virginia, the West Indies, and points south (Ibid., p. 148).

A young Puritan minister named John Cotton preached a farewell sermon to the departing Puritans:

  • “He preached on 2 Samuel 7.10 (KJV): ‘Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime.’
  • “‘Go forth,’ Cotton exhorted, ‘… With a public spirit,’ with that ‘care of universal helpfulness…. Have a tender care … to your children, that they do not degenerate as the Israelites did….’
  • “Samuel Eliot Morison put it thus: ‘Cotton’s sermon was of a nature to inspire these new children of Israel with the belief that they were the Lord’s chosen people; destined, if they kept the covenant with Him, to people and fructify this new Canaan in the western wilderness’” (Ibid., p. 157).

The Puritans landed at Salem at the end of June, 1629. They were motivated by religious principles and purposes, seeking a home and a refuge from religious persecution (Roger Williams and Edward Bean Underhill, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848), p. v).  Having suffered long for conscience sake, they came for religious freedom, for themselves only. “They believed [in] the doctrine of John Calvin, with some important modifications, in the church-state ruled on theocratic principles, and in full government regulation of economic life” (Marnell, p. 48). The Puritan churches “secretly call[ed] their mother a whore, not daring in America to join with their own mother’s children, though unexcommunicate: no, nor permit[ed] them to worship God after their consciences, and as their mother hath taught them this secretly and silently, they have a mind to do, which publicly they would seem to disclaim, and profess against” (Williams and Underhill, p. 244). In 1630, 1500 more persons arrived, several new settlements were formed, and the seat of government was fixed at Boston. Thinking not of toleration of others,” they were prepared to practice over other consciences the like tyranny to that from which they had fled” (Ibid., p. vii).

Although they differed from the Church of England and others on some doctrines, “[t]he Puritans brought 2 principles with them from their native country, in which they did not differ from others; which are, that natural birth, and the doings of men, can bring children into the Covenant of Grace; and, that it is right to enforce & support their own sentiments about religion with the magistrate’s sword” (Backus, A History of New England, Volume 1, pp. 34-35).

John Cotton was called upon to arrange the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the colony (Williams and Underhill, p. xii).  They set up a ecclesiocracy in which no one could hold office who was not a member of an approved church (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 35; Williams and Underhill, pp. x-xi). “The civil laws were adjusted to the polity of the church, and while nominally distinct, they supported and assisted each other” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xii-xiii).

“‘It was requested of Mr. Cotton,’ says his descendant Cotton Mather, ‘that he would from the laws wherewith God governed his ancient people, form an abstract of such as were of a moral and lasting equity; which he performed as acceptably as judiciously….  He propounded unto them, an endeavour after a theocracy, as near as might be to that which was the glory of Israel, the peculiar people’”(Ibid., footnote 8, pp. xii-xiii, citing sources).

The goal of the Puritans was to build the Kingdom of God on Earth. Two modern day Covenant Theologians wrote:

  • “They determined to change their society in the only way that could make any lasting difference: by giving it a Christianity that worked. And this they set out to do, not by words but by example, in the one place where it was still possible to live the life to which Christ had called them: three thousand miles beyond the reach of the very Church they were seeking to purify.
  • “[T]he legacy of Puritan New England to this nation, which can still be found at the core of our American way of life, may be summed up in one word: covenant….  [O]n the night of the Last Supper, to those who were closest to Him, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins…” (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p. 146).

Covenant cannot be found, as understood by the Puritan theologians, now or anytime in the past, at the core of our American way of life. The idea of covenant at the core of our American way of life was that of the Baptists as expressed by the Warren Association at the close of the War for Independence:

“The American Revolution is wholly built upon the doctrine, that all men are born with an equal right to what Providence gives them, and that all righteous government is founded in compact or covenant, which is equally binding upon the officers and members of each community…. And as surely as Christianity is true, Christ is the only lawgiver and head of his church…” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 265-266).

Nor is there a biblical principle that allows a nation to covenant with God contrary to the principles laid down in God’s Word. The Puritans incorrectly believed that every nation is in covenant with the Lord to enforce his principles, all of them. They misunderstood the biblical teachings that God gives every nation a choice as to whether to follow His rules, and that nowhere in Scripture is there authority for a nation to initiate a non-biblical covenant with God. God alone initiated the Old Testament covenants to which He was a party, thereby, among other things, establishing Israel as a theocracy, and He made no such covenant with any other nation. All other nations, as is shown in Section I of God Betrayed which is reproduced on this website, are called Gentile, and are judged by God primarily based upon their treatment of Israel.

As has been pointed out, Covenant Theology asserts that there are only two covenants, or three, in the Bible, with the other covenants which came after the Covenant of Grace being only a continuation thereof. The Covenant of Law, according to the covenant theologian, was made in the Garden of Eden. Covenant Theology superimposes the New Testament over the Old. Herein lies some of the fatal flaws in this interpretation of the Bible. In the Puritan formulation of those covenants, the principles and practices of the nation Israel and the Jewish religion were applied to the church and state. As has been shown, this presents irreconcilable conflicts with Old and New Testament teachings concerning law and grace and the relationship of church and state.

God permits a mutual compact or covenant between a ruler or the rulers and the people—a covenant that does not include God and His principles and that is not initiated or ordained by God.  God allowed even the people of the theocracy of Israel to reject Him and, like the Gentile nations, to have a king (See 1 S. 8).  Isaac Backus taught as follows:

“Now the word of God plainly shows, that this way of mutual compact or covenant, is the only righteous foundation for civil government. For when Israel must needs have a king like the rest of the nations, and he indulged them in that request, yet neither Saul nor David, who were anointed by his immediate direction, ever assumed the regal power over the people, but by their free consent. And though the family of David had the clearest claim to hereditary succession that any family on earth ever had, yet, when ten of the twelve tribes revolted from his grandson, because he refused to comply with what they esteemed a reasonable proposal, and he had collected an army to bring them back by force, God warned him not to do it, and he obeyed him therein. Had these plain precedents been regarded in later times, what woes and miseries would they have prevented? But the history of all ages and nations shows, that when men have got the power into their hands, they often use it to gratify their own lusts, and recur to nature, religion or the constitution (as they think it will best serve) to carry, and yet cover, their wretched designs” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, APPENDIX B, p. 530).

The Puritan ideal is disproved by correct interpretation of the Word of God, by biblical history and prophecy, and secular history, including the history of the colony of Massachusetts. Israel, populated by God’s chosen race, was directly under God, yet the Israelites rejected His theocracy so that they could have a king like all the other nations. Israel fared ill when they did things their way and were ruled by kings. Under both God and king, Israel refused to do things God’s way, and rejected his commandments and statutes. After the death of King Solomon, the nation divided in two. All of the kings of the northern kingdom, Israel, were bad. The southern Kingdom, Judah, had twenty kings—eight were good (Mannessa started out bad, was judged of God, then did good, making him the only bad king in Judah or Israel to repent and turn from his wicked ways. See 2 K. 21.1-18; 2 Chr. 33.1-20.) and twelve were bad.  Both Israel and Judah, in accord with God’s philosophy of history, experienced religious apostasy, moral awfulness, and political anarchy. They failed to keep the commandments and statutes of God and were taken into captivity as a result.

The Puritans failed to correctly interpret both the Old and New Testaments and secular history which clearly show that all nations that have ever existed have been judged by God, are in the process of being judged by God, or will be judged by God. They misinterpreted prophecy concerning the end times to say that the church, working hand in hand with the state will establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. Oh, had and would they (have) realize(d) that the New Covenant for the church had so much better promises and procedures than the Old Testament covenants. “But now hath he [Jesus Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (He. 8.6; See all of He. 8).

The Puritans wrongly, but truly, believed they could build the Kingdom of God on earth, in their lifetime—all they needed, they felt, was “the right time, the right place, and the right people” who “were willing to commit themselves totally” (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory,  pp. 145-146).  The Puritans did not realize that the philosophy of history in the Bible and the basic nature of man rendered their goal impossible. God describes the cycle of every civil government, Jewish and Gentile.

  • “The book of Judges is a philosophy of history. ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people’ (Proverbs 14.34)” (J. Vernon McGee, Joshua and Judges (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Books, 1980), p. 111).
  • “We see that philosophy in the book of Judges. Israel at first, for a short time, served God.  Then they did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth. The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of their enemies. Israel then entered into a time of servitude. Israel cried out to God in their plight and distress.  They turned to God and repented. God heard their prayers and raised up judges through whom they were delivered.
  • “This cycle was repeated over and over. The book of Isaiah opens with God giving his philosophy of history.  Isaiah outlines three steps that cause the downfall of a nation: (1) spiritual apostasy, (2) moral awfulness, (3) and political anarchy” (Ibid., pp. 112-113)
  • “Every nation goes down in this order: (1) religious apostasy; (2) moral awfulness; (3) political anarchy. Deterioration begins in the [church], then to the home, and finally to the state.  That is the way a nation falls” (Ibid, pp. 113, 203).
  • “In Judges 17-21, we have presented that philosophy of history [that was mentioned above]. In Judges 17-18, we see spiritual apostasy. In Judges 19, we see moral awfulness.  In Judges 20-21, we see political anarchy. This period ends in total national corruption and confusion. ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21.25)’ (Ibid., pp. 203-214).
  • “If you want to know just how up-to-date the book of Judges is, listen to the words of the late General Douglas McArthur: ‘In this day of gathering storms, as moral deterioration of political power spreads its growing infection, it is essential that every spiritual force be mobilized to defend and preserve the religious base upon which this nation is founded; for it has been that base which has been the motivating impulse to our moral and national growth.  History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline.  There has been either a spiritual reawakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster’” (Ibid., p. 113).

All nations, prior to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, are doomed to judgment because of the depravity of man which always seeks the lowest common denominator, the principles of the god of this world. As to the nature of man, the Word of God points out that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3.23. The fact of the depravity of man is shown throughout the Bible.).  Even after salvation, men have a great struggle with the flesh. False teachers from within and without the church immediately began to introduce heresy and apostasy into the first churches. God’s people, led by compromising pastors, have been deceived by many pernicious doctrines. The church, as is shown in Section II of God Betrayed and which is reproduced on this website, will become lukewarm before the rapture and many professing members of the church will be unregenerate.

The Puritans felt that they were dedicated to serving the Lord and to doing things His way. They believed that they could set up a civil government modeled after biblical principles. They did not realize that even should they have been upright in God’s eyes, future leaders would depart from the faith and lead the  church and the civil government downhill into depravity just as happened in Israel and in all church-state marriages starting with the Catholics and up to the established churches after the Reformation, including the Church of England from which they were fleeing.


IV. The application of the Puritan theology results in persecution of dissenters (banishment, jail, confiscation of personal property, unjust taxes, hanging, etc.); the results of the theology of the Puritans which soon came to fruition

Soon after the founding of Massachusetts, events there proved the folly of their false theology and the truth of accurate biblical and historical interpretation. As Isaac Backus reported, by 1660 or 1670 Puritan theologians and pastors in New England were pointing out the “general religious declension” that was already taking place as the first generation of settlers passed away (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 457-464. Examples of what the religious leaders were saying are given in those pages).  “Mr. Willard published a discourse in the year 1700 entitled, ‘The Perils of the Times Displayed,’ in which he said:

  • “That there is a form of godliness among us is manifest; but the great inquiry is, whether there be not too much of a general denying of the power of it.  Whence else is it, that there be such things as these that follow, to be observed? that there is such a prevalency of so many immoralities among professors? that there is so little success of the gospel? How few thorough conversions [are] to be observed, how scarce and seldom…. It hath been a frequent observation that if one generation begins to decline, the next that follows usually grows worse, and so on, until God pours out his Spirit again upon them.  The decays which we do already languish under are sad; and what tokens are on our children, that it is like to be better hereafter…. How do young professors grow weary of the strict profession of their fathers, and become strong disputants for the [those] things which their progenitors forsook a pleasant land for the avoidance of.
  • “And forty years after, Mr. Prince said, ‘We have been generally growing worse and worse ever since.’  The greatest evils that [the founders of New England] came here to avoid were the mixture of worthy and unworthy communicants in the churches, and the tyranny of secular and ministerial Courts over them; but these evils were now coming in like a flood upon New England” (Ibid., p. 461).

The Halfway Covenant, established by the Massachusetts synod in 1662, was witness to the spiritual decline of the Puritan Congregationalist church. This resulted in a large number of church members being baptized into the church without conversion. Any person who professed belief in the doctrines of Calvinism and who lived an upright, moral life was allowed to join the parish church and sign the covenant or membership contract. Such persons were only allowed halfway into the church—they could have their children baptized but they could not take communion or vote in church affairs. This was the method practiced in the church to which Isaac Backus’ parents belonged (Ibid., pp. 264-268; Lumpkin, pp. 1-2; William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), pp. 5-6).

The Puritans, unlike the Separatists, although continuing to acknowledge canonical authority, desired to purify the church from within. Puritans were enlisted by the Massachusetts Bay Company, a trading corporation with powers of ownership and government over a specified area. The leaders of this company devised a plan to effectively remove the colony of Massachusetts from control of the Crown (Mark Douglas McGarvie, One Nation Under Law: America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005), p. 46). Their purpose was to become a self-governing commonwealth able to enforce the laws of God and win divine favor—a citadel of God’s chosen people, a spearhead of world Protestantism, a government of Christ (Ibid., pp. 46-47, 48).  They believed this was a common goal which all must seek together, with church and state working side by side (Ibid., p. 132).  They believed that the pure church they intended to establish in New England would someday, somehow, rescue its English parent from the mire of corruption (Ibid., p. 51).

Since the Puritans believed that every nation existed by virtue of a covenant with God in which it promised to obey His commands, as a modern legal scholar has pointed out, “They knew, in the most elementary terms, that they must punish every sin committed in Massachusetts. And punish they did, with the eager cooperation of the whole community, who knew that sin unpunished might expose them all the wrath of God” (Ibid., p. 71) Sins punished included those in the first four commandments, those dealing strictly with man’s relationship to God, as well as other sins, including those dealing with man’s relationship to man. Thus, the churches were thronged every Sunday with willing and unwilling worshipers—everyone was required to attend (Ibid.). Although the church could not enforce the commandments, the state, which was charged with the colony’s commission, had the final and supreme responsibility for suppressing heresy as well as drunkenness and theft and murder (Ibid., p. 82).

In 1629 the trading company in Massachusetts was transformed into a commonwealth (Ibid., pp. 84-100). According to the Puritan theology of these early Massachusetts settlers, after the people joined in covenant with God, agreeing to be bound by his laws, they had to establish a government to see those laws enforced, for they did not have enough virtue to carry out their agreement without the compulsive force of government (Ibid., p. 93).

  • “[They] soon discovered themselves as fond of uniformity, and as loath to allow liberty of conscience to such as differed from themselves, as those from whose power they had fled. Notwithstanding all their sufferings and complaints in England, they seemed incapable of mutual forbearance; perhaps they were afraid of provoking the higher powers at home, if they countenanced other sects; and perhaps those who differed from them took the more freedom, in venting and pressing their peculiar opinions, from the safety and protection they expected, under a charter that had granted liberty of conscience.
  • “In reality, the true grounds of liberty of conscience were not then known, or embraced by any sect or party of Christians; all parties seemed to think that as they only were in the possession of the truth, so they alone had a right to restrain, and crush all other opinions, which they respectively called error and heresy, where they were the most numerous and powerful; and in other places they pleaded a title to liberty and freedom of their consciences. And yet, at the same time, all would disclaim persecution for conscience sake, which has something in it so unjust and absurd, so cruel and impious, that all men are ashamed of the least imputation of it. A pretence of public peace, the preservation of the Church of Christ from infection, and the obstinacy of the heretics, are always made use of, to excuse and justify that, which stripped of all disguises, and called by its true name, the light of nature, and the laws of Christ Jesus condemn and forbid, in the most plain and solemn manner…” (Callender, pp. 69-70).

After arriving in Massachusetts, they quickly formed churches. Mainly under the leadership of the Reverend John Cotton, they arranged ecclesiastical and state matters. “Whatever he delivered in the pulpit was soon put into an order of court, if of a civil, or set up as a practice in the church, if of an ecclesiastical concernment” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 33).  The established Congregational church differed from other churches in four main points:

  1. “The visible church was to consist of those who made an open profession of faith, and did not ‘scandalize their profession by an unchristian conversation.’
  2. “A particular visible church should preferably explicitly covenant to walk together in their Christian communion, according to the rules of the gospel.
  3. “Any particular church ought not to be larger in number than needed to meet in one place for the enjoyment of all the same numerical ordinances and celebrating of divine worship, nor fewer than may conveniently carry on church work.
  4. “Each particular church was subject to no other jurisdiction (Ibid., pp. 33-34).

“But this people brought two other principles with them from their native country, in which they did not differ from others; which are, that natural birth, and the doings of men, can bring children into to the Covenant of Grace; and, that it is right to enforce and support their own sentiments about religion with the magistrate’s sword(Ibid., pp. 34-35).”  Compulsive uniformity “was planted at a General Court in Boston, May 18, 1631 when it was ordered that no one could be admitted ‘to the freedom of [the] body politic’ who was not a member of a church” (Ibid., p. 35).  “This test in after times had such influence, that he who ‘did not conform, was deprived of more civil privileges than a nonconformist is deprived of by the test in England’” (Ibid., p. 35). Since rulers, however selected, received their authority from God, not from the people, and were accountable to God, not to the people, their business was to enforce the nation’s covenant with God (McGarvie, p. 94). Ministers were not to seek or hold public office, but were counted on to give the people sound advice and to instruct them about the kind of men who were best fitted to rule (Ibid., pp. 95-96).  Although only church members had political rights, this was a larger group than had political rights in England (Ibid., p. 92).

By 1635, the General Court regulated the affairs of the local churches and passed on the qualifications of preachers and elders, since:

“[t]he civil authority … hath the power and liberty to see the peace, ordinances, and rules of Christ observed in every Church, according to His word…. It is the duty of the Christian magistrate to take care that the people be fed with wholesome and sound doctrine” (Pfeffer, p. 66).

The Court continued to put its theology into force by act of law. At the General Assembly held March 3, 1636, it was held (1) that no church would form and meet without informing the magistrates and elders of the majority of the churches of their intentions and gaining their approval and (2) that no one who was a member of a church not approved by the magistrates and the majority of state-churches would be admitted to the freedom of the commonwealth (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 61).

Soon thereafter, the Court passed an act that stated that they were entreated to make “a draught of laws agreeable to the Word of God, which may be the fundamentals of this commonwealth, and to present the same to the next General Court,” and that “in the mean time the magistrates and their associates shall proceed in the courts to hear and determine all causes according to the laws now established, and where there is no law, then as near the laws of God as they can” (Ibid., pp. 62-63). This act immediately led to the persecution by banishment, disfranchisement and the forbidding of speaking certain things, removal from public office, fines, and the confiscation of arms (Ibid., pp. 64-70).  Soon to that act was added that anyone convicted of defaming any court, “or the sentence or proceedings of the same, or any of the magistrates or other judges of any such court, would be punished by ‘fine, imprisonment, or disfranchisement of banishment, as the quality and measure of the offence shall deserve’” (Ibid., pp. 69-70).

The banishment and the voluntary exile of many dissidents “did not put an end to the unhappy divisions and contentions in [] Massachusetts” (Callender, p. 75).  As a result of animosities and contentions between what were called the Legalists and the Familists or Antinomians, a synod was held, eighty erroneous opinions were presented, debated, and condemned; and a court was held which “banished a few of the chief persons, among those who were aspersed with those errors, and censured several that had been the most active, not it seems, for their holding those opinions, but for their pretended seditious carriage and behavior; and the church at Boston likewise excommunicated at least one of her members, not for those opinions, but for denying they ever held them, and the behavior which these heats occasioned”(Ibid., pp. 75-76).

On September 6, 1638, the Assembly at Boston made 2 laws: (1) anyone excommunicated lawfully from a church would, after six months and if not restored, be presented to the Court and there fined, imprisoned, banished or further “as their contempt and obstinacy upon full hearing shall deserve;” and (2) that every inhabitant would be taxed to pay for all common charges as well as for upholding the ordinances of the churches; and, if not so doing, would be compelled thereto by assessment and distress, to be levied by the constable or other officer of the town. The first law was repealed the next fall, but the second remained (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 79-80).

On March 13, 1639, acts were passed which fined, disenfranchised if no repentance made, and/or committed certain men for certain acts or pronouncements against the established churches (Ibid., pp. 93-94). On November 13, 1644, the General Court passed an act which provided

“that if any person or persons, within this jurisdiction, shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the ministration of the ordinance, or shall deny the ordinance of magistry, or their lawful right and authority to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, and shall appear to the court willfully and obstinately to continue therein after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment” (Ibid., p. 126).

As to this law, Isaac Backus appropriately commented:

“A like method of treating the Baptists, in Courts, from pulpits and from the press has been handed down by tradition ever since.  And can we believe that men so knowing and virtuous in other respects, as men on that side have been, would have introduced and continued in a way of treating their neighbors, which is so unjust and scandalous, if they could have found better arguments to support that cause upon? I have diligently searched all the books, records and papers I could come at upon all sides, and have found a great number of instances of Baptists suffering for the above points that we own; but not one instance of the conviction of any member of a Baptist church in this country, in any Court, of the errors or evils which are inserted in this law to justify their making of it, and to render our denomination odious. Much has been said to exalt the characters of those good fathers; I have no desire of detracting from any of their virtues; but the better the men were, the  worse must be the principle that could  ensnare them in  such bad actions” (Ibid., p. 127).

In 1644 a law against the Baptists was passed asserting that the Anabaptists “have been the incendiaries of the commonwealths, and the infectors of persons in main matters of religion, and the troublers of churches in all places where they have been” (Ibid., p. 205).

In 1646 the General Court adopted the Act, imposing “banishment on any person denying the immortality of the soul, or the resurrection, or sin in the regenerate, or the need of repentance, or the baptism of infants, or ‘who shall purposely depart the congregation at the administration of that ordinance’ or endeavor to reduce others to any of these heresies.” Also, in 1646 an act against “contemptuous conduct toward’ preachers and nonattendance on divine service were made punishable, the former by ‘standing on a block four feet high’ having on the breast a placard with the words ‘An Open and Obstianate Contemner of God’s Holy Ordinances’” (Pfeffer, pp. 66-67, citing Cobb, pp. 176-177).

The magistrates passed a bill in March, 1646 which required “the calling a synod to settle … ecclesiastical affairs” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 155), the synod to be convened not by command, but to motion only to the churches (This was agreed because some questioned the power of civil magistrates over the churches.). In August 1648 the synod met and “completed the Cambridge platform; the last article of which sa[id]:

  • “If any church, one or more, shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the communion of other churches, or shall walk incorrigibly or obstinately in any corrupt way of their own, contrary to the rule of the word; in such case the magistrate [Josh. 22,] is to put forth his coercive power, as the matter shall require.”

“This principle the Baptists and others felt the cruel effects of for many years after” (Ibid., p. 159).

The Assembly passed laws against gathering churches without the consent of the assembly, and another “wherein they enacted, ‘that no minister would be called unto office, without the approbation of some of the magistrates, as well as the neighboring churches’” (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 214).

In 1657 laws were passed which imposed fine or whipping on those who entertained a Quaker, required citizens to report Quakers, fined those who allowed Quakers to meet on their property, and fined anyone who brought in a Quaker or notorious heretic(Ibid., fn. 3, pp. 263-264). Although these laws were repealed on June 30, 1660, they were reenacted immediately, “with slight modifications, or to give place to new laws quite as oppressive” (Ibid.). In September, 1658, the Commissioners of the United Colonies recommended that all the New England colonies “make a law, that all Quakers formerly convicted and punished as such, shall (if they return again) be imprisoned, and forthwith banished or expelled out of the said jurisdiction, under pain of death” (Ibid., p. 253). In October 1658, the Assembly at Boston passed a law banishing “Quakers on pain of death” but no other colony passed such a law (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 249; pp. 254-255).

“Many [Quakers] were whipped, some were branded, and Holder, Copeland and Rouse, three single young men, had each his right ear cut off in the prison at Boston….”  Three of them who were banished, on pain of death returned again to Boston, and were condemned to die. Two of them, men, were executed. One, Mary Dyre, was released and sent away. She returned and was hanged on June 1, 1660. William Leddra was hanged on March 14, 1661. Charles II ordered that such persecutions cease, and that Quakers that offended were to be sent to England to be tried. “How justly then did Mr. Williams call the use of force in such affairs, ‘The bloody tenet!’” (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 252; pp. 258, 262-263, 265).

Members of the first Baptist church in Boston were imprisoned. Thomas Gould, Thomas Osborne, William Turner, Edward Drinker and John George were imprisoned for starting that Baptist church without approbation from other ministers and their rulers…. Isaac Backus recorded:

“But when their ministers were moved to exert such force against Baptists, though they saw the chief procurers of that sentence struck dead before the time came for its execution, and many more of them about that time, yet their posterity have approved their sayings even to this day. Robert Mascall of England wrote his Congregationalist brethren in Massachusetts pointing out that they, in England, admitted those who practiced believer’s baptism to their churches as required by the Love of God, that their persecutions of the Baptists were contrary to Scripture, that they themselves had been persecuted, and now their brethren were persecuting so that ‘Whatever you can plead for yourselves against those that persecute you, those whom you persecute may plead for themselves against you,’ and ‘Whatever you can say against these poor men, your enemies say against you;’ that ‘[Y]ou cast a reproach upon us, that are Congregational in England, and furnish our adversaries with weapons against us;” and ‘Persecution is bad in wicked men, but it is most abominable in good men, who have suffered and pleaded for liberty of conscience themselves’” (Ibid., pp. 287, 298, 299, 311-313).

The persecutions of the Baptists in Massachusetts for withdrawing from public meetings continued.

“On May 15, 1672, the Assembly ordered their law-book to be revised and reprinted.” In it, banishment was required for those who broached and maintained any damnable heresies among which were denying justification by faith alone, denial of the fourth commandment, condemnation of or opposition to infant baptism, denial of the power of the magistrate to punish breaches of the first four commandments, and endeavoring to influence others to any of the errors and heresies mentioned in the law (Ibid. pp. 321-322).

After some Baptists organized a church in Boston, and erected a meeting house there, the General Court ordered:

“That no persons whatever, without the consent of the freemen of the town where they live, first orderly had, and obtained, at a public meeting assembled for that end, and license of the County Court, or in defect of such consent, a license by the special order of the General Court, shall erect or make use of any house as above said; and in case any person or persons shall be convicted of transgressing this law, every such house or houses wherein such persons shall so meet more than three times, with the land whereon such house or houses stand, and all private ways leading thereto, shall be forfeited to the use of the county, and disposed of by the County Treasurer, by sale or demolishing, as the Court that gives judgment in the case shall order” (Ibid., pp. 383-384).

However, a special act was procured to exempt Boston “from any compulsive power for the support of any religious ministers.” As a result, the Baptist church in Boston, which had begun in 1665, was able to build a meeting-house (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 418).  Thus Baptist churches in Boston had equal liberties with other denominations since 1693, but this liberty was denied throughout the rest of Massachusetts (Ibid., p. 424).

As a result of these repressive laws, the king of England sent a letter requiring that liberty of conscience should be allowed to all Protestants, that they be allowed to take part in the government, and not be fined, subjected to forfeiture, or other incapacities, “whereas,” he said, “liberty of conscience was made a [one] principle motive for your first transportation to these parts” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 384).

Soon a synod was called which condemned Quakers and Anabaptists. The General Court agreed. The magistrates had the doors of the Baptist meeting house boarded up, fined some of their members, forbade the Baptists to meet anywhere else, and fined some who were found to have gone to Baptist meetings. Following this came much controversy between the Baptists and the establishment(Ibid., pp. 384-404).

The established church ignored pleas to leniency toward those with whom it disagreed. For example, they ignored the plea Sir Henry Vane wrote John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts, in 1645: “The exercise and troubles which God is pleased to lay upon these kingdoms, and the inhabitants in them teaches us patience and forbearance one with another in some measure, though there be difference in our opinions, which makes me hope that, from the experience here, it may also be derived to yourselves…” (Ibid., p. 147).

Because of their strong bias, the Congregationalists wrote much against the dissenters, their method being asserting the disputed point taken by them:

“for truth, without any evidence, they blended that with many known facts recorded in Scripture, and thereupon rank the opposers to that point with the old serpent the devil and Satan, and with his instruments Cain, Pharoah, Herod, and other murderers; yea, with such as sacrifice their children to devils! This history contains abundant evidence of their adding the magistrate’s sword to all these hard words, which were used in their prefaces before they came to any of the Baptists arguments” (Ibid., p. 151. Mr. Backus gives examples of such establishment arguments on pp. 148-150. On pp. 151-153 he thoroughly debunks the argument for infant baptism as well as arguments that the subjects of the new covenant are the same.  For example, Backus points out that “God says his new covenant is not according to that he made with Israel. Heb. viii. 8-11…. By divine institution a whole family and a whole nation were then taken into covenant; now none are added to the church by the Lord but believers who shall be saved. Acts ii.41, 47….”).


V. The atmosphere in Massachusetts begins to shift toward toleration and even freedom of tolerance; the second Massachusetts charter which provided for freedom of conscience to all Christians except Papists was secured in 1691; nonetheless, only in Boston was freedom of conscience honored; establishment remained in Massachusetts until 1733

The atmosphere in Massachusetts, amidst the persecutions and debate of the issues, began to shift toward toleration and even freedom of conscience. Even Governor John Winthrop, who had been a leader of the Puritans from the beginning of the colony, refused on his death bed in 1649 to sign a warrant to banish a Welsh minister, “saying, ‘I have had my hand too much in such things already’” (Ibid., p. 436).  “The second Massachusetts charter, which was dated October 7, 1691, allowed equal liberty of conscience to all Christians, except Papists” (Ibid., p. 445).

Many of the establishment resisted the allowance of liberty of conscience contained in the 1691 charter. The ministers of the established churches construed the liberty of conscience provided for in the 1691 charter to mean “that the General Court might, by laws, encourage and protect that religion which is the general profession of the inhabitants” (Ibid., APPENDIX B, p. 532).  “For thirty-six years after … Massachusetts received [the 1691 charter], they exerted all their power, both in their legislative and executive courts, with every art that ministers could help them to, in attempts to compel every town to receive and support such ministers as they called orthodox.” Thus, despite the new charter, on October 12, 1692, in 1695, 1715, and 1723, the Assembly in Massachusetts enacted new laws requiring that every town provide a minister to be chosen and supported by all the inhabitants of the town, gave the Assembly and General Court power to determine, upon recommendation of three approved ministers, the pastor of a church, and a law requiring the towns of Dartmouth and Tiverton to tax to support ministers.  In 1693, the 1692 law was changed to allow each church to choose its own minister and exempted Boston from the requirement that all citizens be taxed to support that pastor (Ibid., pp. 446-448, 499-505).

Thus, equal religious liberty was enjoyed in Boston, but was denied in the country. Many, including Baptists and Quakers, were taxed to support paedobaptist ministers. Those who did not pay the tax were imprisoned for failing to pay the tax, and some officials were taxed for failing to assess the tax. The cattle, horses, sheep, corn, and household goods of Quakers were from time to time taken from them by violence to support the approved ministers. In 1723, Richard Partridge presented a memorial to King George requesting that inasmuch as the Massachusetts charter allowed equal liberty of conscience to all Christians except Papists, the laws contravening the charter be declared null and void, and the prisoners who refused to pay the tax be released. In 1724, the King ordered that the prisoners be released and the taxes remitted. The Massachusetts assembly passed an act in November 1724 requiring the release of the prisoners held for failing to assess the tax (Ibid., pp. 501-505, n. 1 pp. 501-503).

In 1728, the Assembly passed a law exempting poll tax for ministerial support and forbidding imprisonment of those Baptists and Quakers, who gave their names and regularly attended their church meetings, for failure to pay ministerial taxes assessed on their “estates or faculty.” In November 1729, an act was added that exempted their estates and faculties also, under the same conditions (Ibid., pp. 517-519 and appendix B, pp. 534-535).

The law exempting Baptists was renewed when it expired and persecutions continued. The law exempting taxes to Baptists expired in 1747, but was renewed for ten years. Nonetheless, the establishment found ways to persecute members of Baptist churches in various towns in Massachusetts for not paying the tax—some imprisoned, and property such as cows, geese, swine, oxen, cooking utensils, implements of occupation such as carpenter’s tools and spinning wheel, etc. of some was confiscated (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 94-98 and fn. 1, p. 97).  The law expired in 1757, but a new one to continue in force thirteen years was made which exempted Baptists and Quakers if certain requirements were met. The law was renewed in 1771, even though Isaac Backus wrote Samuel Adams, never a supporter of separation of church and state, warning that the Baptists “might carry their complaints before those who would be glad to hear that the Legislature of Massachusetts deny to their fellow servants that liberty which they so earnestly insist upon for themselves’” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 128). Isaac Backus said of the oppressions under this law, “[N]o tongue nor pen can fully describe all the evils that were practiced under it” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 141). Baptists, including single mothers with children, were unjustly taxed in violation of the law, property was unjustly taken from Baptists to pay established ministers, lies were disseminated about Baptists and their beliefs, and courts of law conducted grossly unfair trials and rendered obviously unjust opinions against Baptists (Ibid., pp. 141-166).

In 1786 the legislature passed a law which allowed each town to tax for the support of ministry, schools, and the poor, and other necessary charges arising within the same town.  This tax resulted in collectors’ efforts to get their taxes, which caused much business in courts, and a great increase in lawyers. Some citizens arose in arms but were subdued by force of arms. Before fourteen men who were condemned for their rebellion could be hanged, the Governor and over half the legislature were voted out and the men were all pardoned (Ibid., pp. 330-331).

On February 6, 1788, delegates from Massachusetts who were meeting in Boston voted to adopt the newly drafted and proposed constitution for the states. One of the greatest objections against it had been that no religious test for any government officer was required. During debate, prior to adoption, a Congregational minister, Reverend Philips Payson, of Chelsea, arose and said, “… I infer that God alone is the God of the conscience, and consequently, attempts to erect human tribunals for the consciences of men, are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God” (Ibid., p. 336).  Isaac Backus arose also and said:

“Nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the Holy Scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of Christianity as an engine of State policy. And let the history of all nations be searched, from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world…. The covenant of circumcision gave the seed of Abraham a right to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, and to take their houses, vineyards, and all their estates as their own; and also to buy and hold others as servants.  And as Christian privileges are much greater than those of the Hebrews were, many have imagined that they had a right to seize upon the lands of the heathen, and to destroy or enslave them as far as they could extend their power.  And from thence the mystery of iniquity carried many into the practice of making merchandise of slaves and souls of men” (Ibid.).

By 1794, very few if any were collecting taxes to pay ministers (Ibid., p. 379), but establishment remained in Massachusetts until 1833.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution did not prevent establishment on the state level. Opponents of establishment in Massachusetts never gained a majority. Rather, law, under the contract clause of Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States of America proved to be the tool used by the legal system to bring about disestablishment in that state. Massachusetts held a constitutional convention in 1820, but declined to eliminate a religious test for officeholders, control of Harvard, and public support for religion. However,

“[i]n 1821, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, in [Baker v. Fales, 16 Mass. 487 (1821) (known as the Dedham case),] a holding consistent with the Supreme Court of the United States in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (3 Wheat) 1 (1819), ruled that only corporations could hold property, not amorphous societies of believers. Only in response to these court decisions did the citizens support disestablishment, putting all the churches on equal footing in 1833. Contract law succeeded where politics would not, in overcoming support of religion (McGarvie, pp. 17-18).”

It should be noted that even with disestablishment, a church was not forced to incorporate and other methods of possessing (not owning) property on which to assemble as a body of believers were available. In reality as shown in Section II of God Betrayed which is reproduced on this website, a true church is a spiritual, not an earthly, entity. Therefore, a New Testament church cannot own property. Said another way, an entity that owns property cannot be a New Testament church. This concept is developed further in Section VI.

The Baptists in Rhode Island


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 6 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


The Baptists in Rhode Island

Contents

I. Introduction
II.
Treatment of Roger Williams by Covenant Theologians
III.
Roger Williams: His arrival in Massachusetts; beliefs and differences with the Puritans; banishment; founding of Rhode Island, the first government in history with complete religious freedom
IV.
Rhode Island: Settlement, hated by Massachusetts, Dr. John Clarke, the Portsmouth and Providence Compacts, the question of the first Baptist church in America, the 1644 and 1663 Rhode Island charters
V.
More on Puritan persecutions including the beating of Obadiah Holmes and Puritan rationale for persecution
VI.
Dr. John Clarke’s beliefs concerning separation of church and state and his successful efforts to secure 1663 Charter of Rhode Island which granted “unprecedented liberties in religious matters”
VII.
Conclusion: The effect of the Rhode Island government thus established


I. Introduction

As pointed out by John Callender in 1838:

“Bishop Sanderson says [] that ‘the Rev. Archbishop Whitgift, and learned Hooker, men of great judgment, and famous in their times, did long since foresee and declare their fear, that if ever Puritanism should prevail among us, it would soon draw in Anabaptism after it.—This Cartwright and the Disciplinarians denied, and were offended at.—But these good men judged right; they considered, only as prudent men, that Anabaptism had its rise from the same principles the Puritans held, and its growth from the same course they took; together with the natural tendency of their principles and practices toward it especially that ONE PRINCIPLE, as it was then by them misunderstood that the scripture was adequate agendorum regula, so as nothing might be lawfully done, without express warrant, either from some command or example therein contained…” (John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 113-114).

History certainly proves that to have been the case in the English colonies, as shown by the establishment of Rhode Island. Biblical disagreement with Puritan theology was the force behind the creation of the first government in history with religious freedom, the government of the colony of Rhode Island.

“Mr. R[oger] Williams and Mr. J[ohn] Clark[e], two fathers of [Rhode Island], appear among the first who publicly avowed that Jesus Christ is king in his own kingdom, and that no others had authority over his subjects, in the affairs of conscience and eternal salvation” (Ibid., p. 70). “Roger Williams was the first person in modern Christendom to maintain the doctrine of religious liberty and unlimited toleration” (Ibid., Appendix IV, p. 190).  Although America owes its present form of government to Roger Williams, along with Dr. John Clarke, as much or more than to any men, Mr. Williams is vilified and Dr. Clarke is generally ignored by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, who assert, against the facts, that the “Puritans were the people who, more than any other, made possible America’s foundation as a Christian nation” (Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), p. 146).


II. Treatment of Roger Williams by Covenant Theologians

Because Roger Williams disagreed with those in the established church in Massachusetts, Marshall and Manuel condemn him as a hopeless heretic. For example, Marshall and Manuel, in condemning and lying about Williams, reveal that the Christian nationalist or revisionist condemns, in a way that praises their own views, anyone who disagrees with their contorted interpretation of Scripture and justifies the intervention of the civil government, at the behest of the established church, into spiritual matters. Marshall and Manuel sharply criticize Williams for his views and for refusing to change his views because those views were contrary to those of the established church in Massachusetts:

  • “Williams insistence upon absolute purity in the church, beyond all normal extremes, grew out of his own personal obsession with having to be right—in doctrine, in conduct, in church associations—in short, in every area of life. This need to be right colored everything he did or thought; indeed, it drove him into one untenable position after another. For the alternative—facing up to one’s self-righteousness and repenting of it on a continuing basis—was more than he could bring himself to accept.
  • “For Williams, then, Christianity became so super-spiritualized that it was removed from all contact with the sinful realities of daily living. In his view, the saints of New England belonged to a spiritual Israel, in the same way as did all Christians everywhere. But there should be no talk of any attempt on God’s part to build His Kingdom on earth through imperfect human beings. For Winthrop and the others to even suggest that God might be creating a new Israel in this Promised Land of America was to ‘… pull God and Christ and Spirit out of Heaven, and subject them unto natural, sinful, inconstant men…’ (Ibid., p. 193).”

Never do they glorify Roger Williams, as they glorified the Puritans for disagreeing with the established Church in England. Never do they condemn the Puritans for persecuting dissenters as they condemn the Church of England for persecuting the Puritans and Pilgrims.

Their account of Williams not only is given from their incorrect theological point of view which believes that the church, working with the civil government, is going to bring in the millennium before the return of Christ but also is a downright distortion of facts. Williams did not super-spiritualize Christianity. He just pointed out that the church operates under different rules than did Judaism. He did not remove Christianity from all contact with the sinful realities of daily living. He just correctly argued that the church and a Gentile nation is directed by the Word of God to deal with those realities in a manner differing from that of Judaism and the nation Israel in the theocracy. He did believe that Christians everywhere belonged to a “spiritual Israel” called the church. He did not believe that there should be no talk of any attempt on God’s part to build His kingdom on earth through imperfect human beings. Rather, he believed that man should have freedom of conscience in all things spiritual, a concept diametrically opposed to the theology of the established church of Massachusetts. He believed that the state should punish those who violate penal laws which should deal only with man’s relationship with his fellow man. He also believed, contrary to Puritan theology, that the church should not merge with the state for any reason, and that the church should not use the arm of the state to enforce the first four of the Ten Commandments which deal with man’s relationship to God and that the state was to punish only matters involving man’s relationship to man.

Marshall and Manuel continue their distortions and inaccuracies. They define liberty of conscience as meaning, “Nobody is going to tell me what I should do or believe” (Ibid.). As to the issue of “liberty of conscience” they state:

“Liberty of conscience is indeed a vital part of Christianity—as long as it is in balance with all the other parts. But taken out of balance and pursued to its extremes (which is where Williams, ever the purist, invariably pursued everything), it becomes a license to disregard all authority with which we do not happen to agree at the time.  This was the boat which Williams was rowing when he landed at Boston. Since, at its extreme, liberty of conscience stressed freedom from any commitment to corporate unity, Williams was not about to hear God through Winthrop or anyone else. (And tragically, he never did.)” (Ibid., p. 194).

Williams did not believe that liberty of conscience becomes a license to disregard all authority with which we do not happen to agree. Rather he believed, contrary to the beliefs of John Winthrop and the other leaders of the establishment in Massachusetts, that the church and state were separate—that is, that God ordained both church and state, each with its sphere of authority, the church over spiritual matters and the state over earthly matters, and both with totally different God-given guidelines.

Williams believed that both church and state were to be under God. He wrote and taught this extensively. Here is one example:

“I acknowledge [the civil magistrate] ought to cherish, as a foster-father, the Lord Jesus, in his truth, in his saints, to cleave unto them himself, and to countenance them even to the death, yea, also, to break the teeth of the lions, who offer civil violence and injury to them.
“But to see all his subjects Christians, to keep such church or Christians in the purity of worship, and see them do their duty, this belongs to the head of the body, Christ Jesus, and [to] such spiritual officers as he hath to this purpose deputed, whose right it is, according to the true pattern. Abimelech, Saul, Adonijah, Athalia, were but usurpers: David, Solomon, Joash, &c., they were the true heirs and types of Christ Jesus, in his true power and authority in his kingdom” (Roger Williams and Edward Bean Underhill, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848), pp. 100-101. In this book, The Bloudy Tenent …, Williams addresses the arguments presented by Covenant Theology.).

Marshall and Manuel attribute the qualities of the leaders of the established church in Massachusetts to Roger Williams instead. They assert that he “desperately needed to come into reality and see his sin—how arrogant and judgmental and self-righteous he was” (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p.194).  They assert that he could have been “a great general in Christ’s army” since “he was tremendously gifted: in intellect, preaching, personality, and leadership ability” (Ibid., pp. 194-195). But he had one tragic flaw: he believed in freedom of conscience and held other views contrary to that of the established church and could not be persuaded otherwise, or, as Marshall and Manuel put it:

“[H]e would not see his wrongness, and he was so bound up in his intellect that no one could get close to the man, because he was forever hammering home points on ‘the truth.’ Trying to relate to him on a personal level was like trying to relate to cold steel—highly polished and refined” (Ibid., p. 195).

As to the Puritans on the other hand, Marshall and Manuel have nothing but praise. Every page of The Light and the Glory dealing with the Puritans and their leaders are filled with praise and notations as to how the providence of God was opening the door for the right people, at the right time, in the right place to correct all the errors of Christendom. For example, they write:

  • “Since God’s will was made known to them [the Puritans] through His inspired Word in the Bible, they naturally wanted to get as close to a Scriptural order of worship as possible. Indeed, what they ultimately wanted was to bring the Church back to something approximating New Testament Christianity.
  • “The Puritan dilemma was similar to that of many newly regenerate Christians of our time. They faced a difficult choice: should they leave their seemingly lifeless churches to join or start a live one, or should they stay where they were, to be used as that one small candle to which William Bradford referred?
  • “God was bringing the Puritans into compassion and humility.
  • “As historian Perry Miller would say, ‘Winthrop and his colleagues believed … that their errand was not a mere scouting expedition: it was an essential maneuver in the drama of Christendom. The [Massachusetts] Bay Company was not a battered remnant of suffering Separatists thrown up on a rocky shore; it was an organized task force of Christians, executing a flank attack on the corruptions of Christendom. These Puritans did not flee to America; they went in order to work out that complete reformation which was not yet accomplished in England and Europe’” (Ibid., pp. 150, 151, 152, 159).

The Puritans grew into such compassion and humility that they were able to horribly persecute Christians and others who did not agree with their unbiblical doctrines which the Puritans proudly believed to be inerrant.

Williams, in his relationship to the religious leaders of Massachusetts, was a lot like the Lord Jesus and the apostles in their relationship to the religious Jews. The religious leaders of Massachusetts made a mistake—they did not call upon the civil government (which was at their disposal) to kill Williams as they did with some other dissenters. Had they done so, we might not have our present form of civil government. They only banished him, a tragic error of highest proportions from their point of view.

As to the issue of persecution by the established church, Marshall and Manuel are hypocrites. They condemn the persecution of the Separatists (later called Pilgrims) and the Puritans in England, but then glorify the Puritans when they were persecuted and when they became the persecutors and persecuted those dissenters such as the Baptists and Quakers who did not conform to their theology in the New World. They complain that the Separatists:

  • “were hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground. They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied upon. In the little Midlands town of Scrooby, persecution finally reached the point where the congregation to which Bradford belonged elected to follow those other Separatists who had already sought religious asylum in Holland”(Ibid., pp. 108-109).
  • As to the Puritans … they write, “[The Puritans accepted the pressure of the mounting persecution] with grace and, as persecution often does, it served to rapidly deepen and mature the movement, bonding them together in common cause and making them more determined than ever to live as God had called them…. For a number of Puritans, [the marking of the Puritans for suppression by Charles I] was a watershed. It appeared no longer possible to reform the Church of England from within” (Ibid., p. 152).

Marshall and Manuel condemn the Church of England for persecuting Puritans and Pilgrims, but glorify the Puritans for persecuting Baptists.

Under the theology of Marshall and Manuel, and those of like mind, the government of Rhode Island—the first civil government in history which guaranteed religious liberty and freedom of conscience and which provided much more a model for the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America than did the government of the Puritans or that of any other established church—would not have existed nor would the United States exist in its present form. America would have no First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the amendment which was written to guarantee freedom of conscience. Men would still be forced to accept infant baptism, pay taxes to support the established church, attend the established church, proclaim allegiance to the established church, etc. Dissenters would still be persecuted. The church would still be working with the state to “bring in the kingdom,” something that the Word of God teaches is never going to happen.


III. Roger Williams: His arrival in Massachusetts; beliefs and differences with the Puritans; banishment; founding of Rhode Island, the first government in history with complete religious freedom

Roger Williams, like the Puritans, fled tyranny over thought and conscience and sought refuge for conscience amid the wilds of America. He arrived in Boston on February 5, 1631. He was highly educated and well acquainted with the classics and original languages of the Scriptures, and had been in charge of a parish in England. Immediately upon arrival, Mr. Williams, not being a man who could hide his views and principles, declared that “the magistrate might not punish a breach of the Sabbath, nor any other offence, as it was a breach of the first table” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 41; Williams and Underhill, p. ix, noting in fn. 1 that “Such is Governor Winthrop’s testimony. Knowles, p. 46.”).  He also, contrary to the practice of the church at Boston, hesitated to hold communion with any church who held communion with the Church of England. “He could not regard the cruelties and severities, and oppression, exercised by the Church of England, with any feelings but those of indignation” (Williams and Underhill, p. x).

Mr. Williams remained at odds with the established church and government ministers in Massachusetts. He was accepted by the church at Salem, but that was blocked by the General Court of the Colony. Plymouth warmly received him into the ministry where he labored two years. Exercising their right under congregational governance, the church at Salem called him, over the objections of the magistrates and ministers, to be their settled teacher. At Salem he filled the place with principles of rigid separation tending to Anabaptism (Backus, A History of New England, Volume 1, p. 44).  In spite of the fact that “Mr. Williams appears, by the whole course and tenor of his life and conduct [], to have been one of the most disinterested men that ever lived, a most pious and heavenly minded soul” (Callender, p. 72), the Court soon summoned him “for teaching publicly ‘against the king’s patent, and our great sin in claiming right thereby to this country’” by taking the land of the natives without payment (Backus, A History of New England, Volume 1, pp. 44-46. Williams and Underhill, p. xiii). The colonies held their land under the royal patent. Under the royal right of patent, Christian kings (so called) were given the right to take and give away the lands and countries of other men (Thomas Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volumes 2 (Springfield, Mo.: Baptist Bible College, 1977 Reprint),pp. 638-639)); “and for terming the churches of England antichristian” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xiii-xiv).  Charges were brought. “He was accused of maintaining:

“(1) That the magistrate ought not to punish the breach of the first table of the law, otherwise in such cases as did disturb the civil peace.
“(2) That he ought not to tender an oath to an unregenerate man.
“(3) That a man ought not to pray with the unregenerate, though wife or child.
“(4) That a man ought not to give thanks after the sacrament nor after meat” (Ibid, p. xiv; Callender, p. 72; Backus, A History of New England…, Volume I, p. 53 (Backus adds item 2, as, according to footnote 1, p. 53, his is from Governor Winthrop’s Journal, Vol. 1, pp. [162, 163])).

The ministers of the Court, when Mr. Williams appeared before them, “had already decided ‘that any one was worthy of banishment who should obstinately assert, that the civil magistrate might not intermeddle even to stop a church from apostasy and heresy’” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xv, 387-389). The “grand difficulty they had with Mr. Williams was, his denying the civil magistrate’s right to govern in ecclesiastical affairs” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 53; Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volume 2, pp. 627-640).

He was banished from the colony and ordered to board ship for England. Instead, he went, in the dead of winter, to what was to become Rhode Island where he was supported by the Indians whom he, throughout his long life, unceasingly tried to benefit and befriend (Williams and Underhill., p. xxiii).  He bought land from the Indians and founded the town of Providence where persecution has never “sullied its annals” (Ibid.).  “[T]he harsh treatment and cruel exile of Mr. Williams seem designed by his brethren for the same evil end [as that of the brethren of Joseph when they sold him into slavery], but was, by the goodness of the same overruling hand [of divine providence] turned to the most beneficent purposes” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 59).

“[W]hat human heart can be unaffected with the thought that a people who had been sorely persecuted in their own country, so as to flee three thousand miles into a wilderness for religious liberty, yet should have that imposing temper cleaving so fast to them, as not to be willing to let a godly minister, who testified against it, stay even in any neighboring part of this wilderness, but it moved them to attempt to take him by force, to send him back into the land of their persecutors” (Ibid., p. 56)!

Thirty-five years later Mr. Williams wrote, “Here, all over this colony, a great number of weak and distressed souls, scattered, are flying hither from Old and New England, the Most High and Only Wise hath, in his infinite wisdom, provided this country and this corner as a shelter for the poor and persecuted, according to their several persuasions” (Williams and Underhill, p. xxv, citing in fn. 5: Letter to Mason. Knowles, p. 398).  By 1838 in Rhode Island there were no less than thirty-two distinct societies or worshipping assemblies of Christians of varying denominations, including eight of the Quaker persuasion, eight Baptist churches, four Episcopal, and three Presbyterian or Congregationalist (Callender, pp. 121-122).

Roger Williams has been praised for his contributions in the quest for religious freedom. For example:

  • Isaac Backus wrote that Rhode Island “was laid upon such principles as no other civil government had ever been, as we know of, since antichrist’s first appearance; “and ROGER WILLIAMS justly claims the honor of having been the first legislator in the world, in its latter ages, that fully and effectually provided for and established a free, full and absolute LIBERTY OF CONSCIENCE” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 75-76).
  • “We cannot forbear to add the oft-quoted tribute paid to Roger Williams by the historian Bancroft:—‘He was the first person in modern Christendom to assert in its plentitude the doctrine of liberty of conscience, the equality of opinions before the law; and in its defence he was the harbinger of Milton, the precursor and the superior of Jeremy Taylor. For Taylor limited his toleration to a few Christian sects; the philanthropy of Williams compassed the earth. Taylor favored partial reform, commended lenity, argued for forbearance, and entered a special plea in behalf of each tolerable sect; Williams would permit persecution of no opinion, of no religion, leaving heresy unharmed by law, and orthodoxy unprotected by the terrors of penal statutes…. If Copernicus is held in perpetual reverence, because, on his deathbed, he published to the world that the sun is the centre of our system; if the name of Kepler is preserved in the annals of human excellence for his sagacity in detecting the laws of the planetary motion; if the genius of Newton has been almost adored for dissecting a ray of light, and weighing heavenly bodies in a balance,—let there be for the name of Roger Williams, at least some humble place among those who have advanced moral science and made themselves the benefactors of mankind’” (Ibid., p. 76, fn. 1; Armitage, The History of the Baptists, Volume 2, p. 644).

IV. Rhode Island: Settlement, hated by Massachusetts, Dr. John Clarke, the Portsmouth and Providence Compacts, the question of the first Baptist church in America, the 1644 and 1663 Rhode Island charters

Rhode Island was settled in 1638 by others who were driven from Massachusetts by the ruling clerical power. Massachusetts had such great hate for Rhode Island that it passed a law prohibiting the inhabitants of Providence from coming within its bounds.

Another leader instrumental in the formation of the government of the Rhode Island colony was Dr. John Clarke, a physician. Dr. John Clarke of England moved to Boston in November of 1637. He proposed to some friends “for peace sake, and to enjoy the freedom of their consciences, to remove out of that jurisdiction” (Ibid., p. 71. See also, John Clarke, Ill News from New-England or A Narative of New-Englands Persecution (Paris, Ark.: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Reprint: 1st printed in 1652), pp. 22-25).  Their motion was granted & Dr. Clarke and eighteen families went to New Hampshire which proved too cold for their liking. They left and stopped in Rhode Island, intending to go to Long Island or Delaware Bay. There Dr. Clarke met Roger Williams. The two “immediately became fast friends and associates, working together in a most harmonious manner, both socially and politically, throughout the remainder of Clarke’s life” (Louis Franklin Asher, John Clarke (1609-1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religious Liberty (Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc.), p. 27; Clarke).  With the help of Mr. Williams they settled in that colony at Aquidneck. “The first settlement on the Island was called Pocasset; after the founding of Newport, it was renamed Portsmouth” (Asher, p. 29; Clarke).

Perhaps Marshall and Manuel had good reason, from their point of view, for making not a single mention of Dr. Clarke in The Light and the Glory. Isaac Backus found it to be very extraordinary that he could find from any author or record no reflection cast upon Dr. Clarke by any one (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 349).  Dr. Clarke left as spotless a character as any man [Isaac Backus] knew of, that ever acted in any public station in this country (Ibid., p. 348).  “The Massachusetts writers have been so watchful and careful, to publish whatever they could find, which might seem to countenance the severities, they used towards dissenters from their way, that [Mr. Backus] expected to find something of that nature against Mr. Clarke”(Ibid., p. 349)

The first government in history that was to have complete freedom of conscience and religious liberty also declared that the government was to be under the Lord Jesus Christ. Signed on March 7, 1638, the Portsmouth Compact read:

  • “We whose names are underwritten do swear solemnly, in the presence of Jehovah, to incorporate ourselves into a body politic, and as he shall help us, will submit our persons, lives and estates, unto our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and to all those most perfect and absolute laws of his, given us in his holy word of truth, to be guided and judged thereby” (Ibid., pp. 77, 427.  On p. 427 is the exact copy from Rhode Island records.  In the margin are citations to Exodus 34.3, 4; II Chronicles 11.3, and II Kings 11, 17). [19 signatures followed: Thomas Savage, William Dyre, William Freeborne, Philip Sherman, John Walker, Richard Carder, William Baulstone, Edward Hutchinson, Sen., Henry Bull, Randal Holden, William Coddington, John Clarke, William Hutchinson, John Coggshall, William Aspinwall, Samuel Wilbore, John Porter, Edward Hutchinson, Jun., and John Sanford.].
    Three passages were marked in support of the compact: Exodus 24.3, 4; II Chronicles 11.3; and II Kings 11.17.

The chief architect of this concise and powerful piece of political history was either William Aspinwall or Dr. John Clarke, probably Dr. Clarke (Asher, p. 23; James R. Beller, America in Crimson Red (Arnold, Missouri: Prairie Fire Press, 2004), p. 24. Mr. Beller states that the author was John Clarke. Mr. Asher asserts that Clarke was probably the writer since the passages referenced in support of the agreement were marked in Dr. Clarke’s Bible).  This compact placed Rhode Island under the one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ and His principles and laws given in the Bible. That Dr. Clarke “sought to help establish a government free of all religious restriction, one which in no way infringed upon the freedom of any religious conscience” is “evident from his remarks to the leaders of the established colonies upon his first arrival in Boston and by his subsequent activities throughout New England” (Asher, p. 27). A civil government under Jesus Christ with freedom of religion is consistent with biblical principles.

Isaac Backus commented on this compact:

This was doubtless in their view a better plan than any of the others had laid, as they were to be governed by the perfect laws of Christ. But the question is, how a civil polity could be so governed, when he never erected any such state under the gospel” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 78)?

Mr. Backus asked a good question. Too bad our founding fathers did not find and apply the answer.

On the same day the Portsmouth Compact was signed, “[n]ineteen men incorporated into a body politic, and chose Mr. Coddington to be their judge or chief magistrate” (Ibid., p. 72; Asher, p. 27).  The first General Meeting of the Portsmouth government convened on May 13, 1638. “The apportionment of land, a mutual defense of territory, and provision for a ‘Meeting House’ were ordered” (Asher, p. 29).

Soon, a civil government was formed which invested power in the freemen, none of whom were to be “accounted delinquents for doctrine,” “provided it be not directly repugnant to or laws established” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xxvii-xxviii).  In August of 1638, the people of Providence approved the first public document establishing government without interference in religious matters, the Providence Compact:

“We whose names are here underwritten being desirous to inhabit in the town of Providence, do promise to submit ourselves in active or passive obedience to all such orders or agreement as shall be made for public good to the body in an orderly way, by the major consent of the present inhabitants, masters of families, incorporated together into a township, and such others whom they shall admit into the same, only in civil things” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 74; cited in Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 13; Armitage, A History of the Baptists,  Volume 2, p. 643). [Signed by Stukely Westcoat, William Arnold, Thomas James, Robert Cole, John Greene, John Throckmorton, William Harris, William Carpenter, Thomas Olney, Francis Weston, Richard Watearman, and Ezekiel Holliman.]

As James R. Beller proclaims, the document was “the first of a series of American political documents promulgating government by the consent of the governed and liberty of conscience” (Beller, America in Crimson Red, p. 13).  Thus, liberty of conscience was the basis for legislation in Rhode Island, and its annals have remained to this day [when Underhill wrote this] unsullied by the blot of persecution (Williams and Underhill, p. xxviii).

Rhode Island was ruled according to the original covenant, “til on January 2, 1639, an assembly of the freemen said:

“By the consent of the body it is agreed that such who shall be chosen to the place of Eldership, they are to assist the Judge in the execution of the justice and judgment, for the regulating and ordering of all offences and offenders, and for the drawing up and determining of all such rules and laws as shall be according to God, which may conduce to the good and welfare of the commonweal; and to them is committed by the body the whole care and charge of all the affairs thereof; and that the Judge together with the Elders, shall rule and govern according to the general rules [rule] of the word of God, when they have no particular rule from God’s word, by the body prescribed as a direction unto them in the case. And further, it is agreed and consented unto, that the Judge and [with the] Elders shall be accountable unto the body once every quarter of the year, (when as the body shall be assembled) of all such cases, actions or [and] rules which have passed through their hands, by they to be scanned and weighed by the word of Christ; and if by the body or any of them, the Lord shall be pleased to dispense light to the contrary of what by the Judge or [and] Elders hath been determined formerly, that then and there  it shall be repealed as the act of the body; and if it be otherwise, that then it shall stand, (till further light concerning it) for the present, to be according to God, and the tender care of indulging [indulgent] fathers” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 427-428).

In March 1639 Mr. Williams became a Baptist, together with several more of his companions in exile (Williams and Underhill, p. xxvi; Isaac Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 86-89).  Mr. Williams, who was baptized by one Holliman, in turn baptized ten others. Thus, according to some accounts,was founded the first Baptist church in America.

“Others suspect “that Mr. Williams did not form a Church of the Anabaptists, and that he never joined with the Baptist Church there. Only, that he allowed them to be nearest the scripture rule, and true primitive practice, as to the mode and subject of baptism.  [Some who] were acquainted with the original settlers never heard that Mr. Williams formed the Baptist Church there, but always understood that [certain others] were the first founders of that church….  [Some asserted that this church hereupon crumbled to pieces.] But [John Callender] believe[d] this to be a mistake, in fact, for it certainly appears, there was a flourishing church of the Baptists there, a few years after the time of the supposed breaking to pieces; and it is known by the names of the members, as well as by tradition, they were some of the first settlers at Providence[.]” (Callender, p. 110-111). Since writing God Betrayed, the author has done more study on the matter of the First Baptist church in America was founded by Roger Williams (See Did Roger Williams Start The First Baptist Church In America? Is the “Baptist Church the Bride of Christ? What About Landmarkism or the Baptist Church Succession Theory By Jim Fellure and Baptist History IN AMERICA Vindicated: The First Baptist Church in America/A Resurfaced Issue of Controversy/The Facts and Importance By Pastor Joshua S. Davenport for more on these matters.).

Mr. Williams stepped down as pastor of the church after only a few months because his baptism was not administered by an apostle, but the church continued (Williams and Underhill, p. xxvii; Isaac Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 89). Isaac Backus commented on the requirement of apostolic succession for baptism at length, stating, “And if we review the text (II Tim. ii. 2-Ed.) that is now so much harped upon, we shall find that the apostolic succession is in the line of ‘faithful men;’ and no others are truly in it, though false brethren have sometimes crept in unawares” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 91).

Mr. Williams “turned seeker, i.e. to wait for the new apostles to restore Christianity.  He believed the Christian religion to have been so corrupted and disfigured in what he called the ‘apostasy, as that there was no ministry of an ordinary vocation left in the church, but prophecy,’ and that there was need of a special commission, to restore the modes of positive worship, according to the original institution. It does not appear to [Mr. Callender], that he had any doubt of the true mode, and proper subjects of baptism, but that no man had any authority to revive the practice of the sacred ordinances, without a new and immediate commission” (Callender, pp. 110-111).

Mr. Williams set sail for England in June 1643, to attempt to secure a charter for Rhode Island. With help from his friend, Sir Henry Vane, he quickly obtained a charter, dated March 14, 1644 which empowered the Providence Plantations “to rule themselves, and such as should inhabit within their bounds, by such a form of civil government as by the voluntary agreement of all, or the greater part, shall be found most serviceable, in their estate and condition; and to make suitable laws, agreeable to the laws of England, so far as the nature and constitution of the place shall admit, &c” (Ibid., p. 98).

The knowledge which was being disseminated through the power of the press was affecting the religious leaders as well as the general population in America. People were now able to read the Bible and other works and thereby make decisions as to the accuracy of what others were asserting. “Many books [were] coming out of England in the year 1645, some in defence of anabaptism and other errors, and for liberty of conscience, as a shelter for a general toleration of all opinions, &c…” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 145, quoting Hubbard, [413-415.]).  Mr. Williams wrote The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience which was published in London in 1644. “In this work he maintains the absolute right of every man, to a ‘full liberty in religious concernments,’ supported by the most luminous and powerful reasoning … [w]hich have excited admiration in the writings of Jeremy Taylor, Milton, Locke and Furneau” (Callender, Appendix IV, p. 191).  John Cotton’s reply, The Bloody Tenent washed, and made white in the Blood of the Lamb, was printed in London in 1649. Mr. Williams reply entitled The Bloody Tenent yet more Bloody, was published in 1652 (For an excellent summary of some of the more important arguments presented by both sides see Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 134-145).  “The same clear, enlarged and consistent views of religious freedom are maintained in this last work, as in his preceding, with additional arguments, evincing an acute, vigorous, and fearless mind, imbued with various erudition and undissembled piety” (Callender, pp. 191-192).

“To the point we have arrived, the history of Roger Williams and the state he founded were indissolubly allied together. Others imbued with his principles henceforth took part in working out the great and then unsolved problem—how liberty, civil and religious, could exist in harmony with dutiful obedience to rightful laws” (Williams and Underhill, p. xxx).

The first Baptist church in Newport was formed under the ministry of Dr. John Clarke. According to some who suppose that the church was founded by Clarke and his company upon their arrival in Rhode Island, it could have been established as early as 1638 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 125-26 and fn. 1, p. 125; see also, Beller, America in Crimson Red, pp. 31-33 (Mr. Beller argues that the Baptist church in Newport, meeting in the wilderness in 1637 with Dr. John Clarke as pastor, was the first Baptist church to meet in America.  Mr. Beller considers the writings of Isaac Backus, John Callender, and John Winthrop on this subject.)).


V. More on Puritan persecutions including the beating of Obadiah Holmes and Puritan rationale for persecution

Under the leadership of Dr. Clarke, Rhode Island became a government of religious liberty. Dr. Clarke added law and politics to his already crowded professions of medicine and religious ministry when he was elected General Treasurer and General Assistant for Newport in 1650. “As a servant of the people, Dr. Clarke would steer the colony toward a government of unprecedented civil and religious liberty—convinced that any other move would be in the direction of a self-centered autocratic theocracy” (Asher, p. 35).  Under his leadership, the people followed him as he steered a course between democracy with its “attending threat of anarchy and all of its evils of disorder, violence, and ultimate chaos,” and aristocracy and its restrictions on all forms of liberty (Ibid., pp. 35-36).

When Dr. Clarke and two friends went to Massachusetts they were persecuted. In 1651, he, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandal went to visit a friend in Boston. (Obadiah Holmes moved from England to Massachusetts. He and several others decided the Baptist way was right and were baptized. He and others were excommunicated in 1650. They moved to Rhode Island where Mr. Holmes became a member of the church pastored by Dr. John Clarke.) They were on “an errand of mercy and had traveled all the way from their church in Newport to visit one of their aging and blind members, William Witter” (Asher, p. 57; See Clarke, pp. 27-65 for a full account of the event).  They stayed over, and held a service on Sunday. During that service, they were arrested and jailed. Before they were brought to trial, they were forced to attend a Congregational Puritan religious meeting. There, they refused to remove their hats, and Dr. Clarke stood and explained why they declared their dissent from them. They were charged with denying infant baptism, holding a public worship, administering the Lord’s Supper to an excommunicated person, to another under admonition, proselytizing the Baptist way and rebaptizing such converts, and failing to post security or bail and other ecclesiastical infractions. He asked for a public debate on his religious views, which the Puritans avoided. “Clarke said they were examined in the morning of July 31 and sentenced that afternoon without producing any accuser or witness against them,” and that “Governor John Endicott even insulted the accused and denounced them as ‘trash’” (Ibid., p. 59, citing John Clarke, Ill News from New England: or a Narative of New-Englands Persecution…Also four conclusions touching the faith and order of the Gospel of Christ out of his last Will and Testament, confirmed and justified (London: Printed by Henry Hills, 1652), pp. 30-31, 33).  Dr. Clarke was “fined twenty pounds or to be well whipped;” Mr. Crandal was fined five pounds, only for being with the others; and Mr. Holmes was held in prison, where sentence of a fine of thirty pounds or to be well whipped was entered (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 180, 187; Asher, p. 60).  A friend paid Mr. Clarke’s fine. Mr. Clarke and Mr. Crandal were released.

Mr. Holmes was beaten mercilessly. His infractions were denying infant baptism, proclaiming that the church was not according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, receiving the sacrament while excommunicated by the church, and other spiritual infractions (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 189).  Mr. Holmes refused to pay his fine, prepared for the whipping by “communicat[ing] with [his] God, commit[ting] himself to him, and beg[ging] strength from him” (Ibid., p. 190).  Holmes was confined over two months before his whipping. He related the experience of being whipped for the Lord as follows, in part:

“And as the man began to lay the strokes upon my back, I said to the people, though my flesh should fail, and my spirit should fail, yet my God would not fail. So it please the Lord to come in, and so to fill my heart and tongue as a vessel full, and with an audible voice I broke forth praying unto the Lord not to lay this sin to their charge; and telling the people, that now I found he did not fail me, and therefore now I should trust him forever who failed me not; for in truth, as the strokes fell upon me, I had such a spiritual manifestation of God’s presence as the like thereof I never had nor felt, nor can with fleshly tongue express; and the outward pain was so removed from me, that indeed I am not able to declare it to you, it was so easy to me, that I could well bear it, yea, and in a manner felt it not although it was grievous as the spectators said, the man striking with all his strength (yea spitting in [on] his hand three times as many affirmed) with a three-corded whip, giving me therewith thirty strokes. When he had loosed me from the post, having joyfulness in my heart, and cheerfulness in my countenance, as the spectators observed, I told the magistrates, You have struck me as with roses; and said moreover, Although the Lord hath made it easy to me, yet I pray God it may not be laid to your charge” (Ibid., p. 192; Clarke, pp. 50-51).

Mr. Holmes “could take no rest but as he lay upon his knees and elbows, not being able to suffer any part of his body to touch the bed whereupon he lay” (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 193. (This from a manuscript of Governor Joseph Jencks)).

Beating of Obadiah Holmes

Pastor Jason Cooley, “Sermon Commentary on Dr. John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, the Articles of Faith of the First Baptist Church in America (the Newport, R.I. Baptist Church),” December 26, 2012

Two men who shook Mr. Holmes’ hand after the beating were, without trial and without being informed of any written law they had broken, sentenced to a fine of forty shillings or to be whipped. Although they refused to pay the fines, others paid their fines and they were released (See Clarke, pp. 55-62 for the personal accounts of John Spur and John Hazell).

Of course, the Puritans were fully persuaded of the righteousness of persecution. Here are two examples of their reasoning. Sir Richard Saltonstall wrote to Messrs. Cotton and Wilson of Boston condemning them for this tyranny in Boston, for “compelling any in matters of worship to do that whereof they are not fully persuaded” thus making “them sin, for so the apostle (Rom. 14 and 23) tells us, and many are made hypocrites thereby,” etc. (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1,pp. 198-199).  Mr. Cotton replied in part:

“If it do make men hypocrites, yet better be hypocrites than profane persons.  Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward nor inward man.  We believe there is a vast difference between men’s inventions and God’s institutions; we fled from men’s inventions, to which we else should have been compelled; we compel none to men’s inventions.  If our ways (rigid ways as you call them) have laid us low in the hearts of God’s people, yea, and of the saints (as you style them) we do not believe it is any part of their saintship” (Ibid., p. 200).

A second example occurred when some protested being taxed to support the state-church with which they did not agree. The main point of the answer received was as follows:

“What we demand of you is equal and right; what you demand of us is evil and sinful; and hence we have the golden rule upon our side, while you are receding and departing from it; for if we were in an error, and out of the right way, as we see and know that you are in several respects, and you see and know it is of us, as we do of you, we think the golden rule would oblige you to tell us of our error, and not let us alone to go on peaceably in it, that is without proper means to recover and reclaim us; whether by the laws of God, or the good and wholesome laws of the land, as we now treat you” (Ibid., p. 201).


VI. Dr. John Clarke’s beliefs concerning separation of church and state and his successful efforts to secure 1663 Charter of Rhode Island which granted “unprecedented liberties in religious matters”

In November 1651, Dr. Clarke went to England with Roger Williams to promote the interests of Rhode Island. The objects of their commissions were different, but they mutually aided each other in removing a dangerous threat to their experiment of democracy—a Parliamentary Commission granted Governor Coddington, whose autocratic rule threatened the future of Rhode Island, on April 3, 1751, which installed him as governor of Aquidneck for life. “Mr. Clark[e] was the sole agent of the island towns, to procure a repeal of Mr. Coddington’s commission” and “Mr. Williams was the sole agent of Providence and Warwick, to procure a new charter for these two towns” (Asher, p. 72).

Dr. Clarke published his book Ill News from New-England: or a Narative of New-Englands Persecution…Also four conclusions touching the faith and order of the Gospel of Christ out of his last Will and Testament, confirmed and justified shortly after he arrived in London.

The work clearly demonstrated “Clarke’s subjection to an orderly state” showing that, to “him the secular rule is ordained of God, but it should not interfere with one’s religious convictions” (Ibid.).  “Both the church and the status of mankind, he argue[d], are ‘a two fold administration of power suitable to the two fold state of being of man.’ Love and conscience are emphasized by Clarke as inducements toward state honor and subjection rather than as engagements by force and fear. He implore[d] rulers to distinguish between these two ‘administrations of Christ’s power here on earth’ and to leave the spiritual realm to the control of God’s Spirit” (Ibid.).

“The book combines a spirited defense on liberty of individual conscience toward God in religious matters, with pleas directed to England’s consideration in such matters” (Ibid., p. 66). “While the letter appears as an apology for the Baptist faith, it seems that Clarke probably intends it as a timely and effective instrument, aimed at drawing British sympathy” (Ibid., p. 67).  Of Dr. Clarke’s book, Louis Franklin Asher commented, in part:

“Clearly and forcefully, Clarke calls attention to what he conceives as the necessary separation between the two real administrations of Christ’s power as exercised in the world—that is, the sword of steel, ‘whose Sword-bearers you are,’ as he styles the magistrates. The other administration he calls Scripture, the ‘sword that proceeds out of the mouth of his servants, the word of truth.’ Thus Clarke views ‘this spiritual administration as far as it concerns the outward man…[as] managed not by a sword of Steel,’ he argues, but by the Scripture of truth.
“In a bold but subservient manner, Clarke sets forth four simple but imploring proposals to the British Counsel of State. He begs the magistracy not to forcibly inhibit spiritual ministers but allow time to minister according to each one’s own conscience toward God. In so doing, he advises—even if they are heretics—they merely represent the tares among the wheat, to which Christ referred in his prohibition of their harvest or persecution by the secular arm of government. Clarke then asks that the secular power or ‘sword’ be withheld from use against the spiritual ‘tares’ rather than heaping abuse on them. In the fourth proposal, Clarke compares his majesty to that of a prophetic nursing Father in the Old Testament; thus he pleads for encouragement by spiritual ministers….
“[Included in the book is a letter to the Puritan clergy at Massachusetts.] [That] letter served as a fitting climax to Clarke’s encounter with the Bay officials and, it seems, he made use of it to maneuver the Rhode Island Colony into an advantageous posture with the English government. [He pointed out his persecution, contrasting it with] “the much kinder treatment and other ‘curtesies with far greater liberties in point of conscience,’ which previously the Puritan messengers had enjoyed on their tour through Rhode Island….
“[He also] denounces the Puritan church order …, and [t]he firm allegiance of the Puritans to the magistrates in matters of religion…. Clarke’s entire letter appears as a scorching public censure against the Massachusetts Puritanical system and its integrated form of civil power over ecclesiastical liberties.
“Never, under any circumstances, Clarke preached, should Christians force their persuasion on others nor should they resort to obeying magistrates in matters of religious concerns” (Ibid., pp. 67-68).

Through Mr. Clarke’s mediation and statesmanship, Coddington’s commission was revoked in 1652. Mr. Clarke was then further commissioned to stay in England to obtain a better and more substantial safeguard against “any further encroachments on their new [] way of life” (Ibid., p. 73). Mr. Williams returned to New England in the early summer of 1654.

Mr. Clarke remained in England until, on July 8, 1663, he secured a new charter from Charles II. “By this Charter all the powers of government were conferred on the Colony, the King not having reserved to himself the right of revising its proceedings” (Callender, Appendix XXI, pp. 261-262).  This charter was in effect until the constitution, which was adopted in November, 1842, became operative the first Tuesday of May, 1843. In addition to other matters, the charter cleared up land disputes with Massachusetts and some of the other colonies, provided for the organization of the government, and provided for freedom of conscience (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 277-280). That charter stated, in part:

Inhabitants of Rhode Island “pursuing, with peaceable and loyal minds, their sober, serious, and religious intentions, of godly edifying themselves, and one another, in the holy Christian faith and worship, as they were persuaded … did … transport themselves out of this kingdom of England into America,” and did then “leave their desirable stations and habitations, and with excessive labor and travel, hazard and charge did transport themselves into the midst of Indian natives” … “whereby, as is hoped, there may, in time, by the blessing of God upon their endeavors be laid a sure foundation of happiness to all America: And whereas, in their humble address, they have freely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted) to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained, and that among our English subjects, with a full liberty in religious concernments; and that true piety rightly grounded upon gospel principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignty, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyalty:… and to secure them in the free exercise and enjoyment of all their civil and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loving subjects; and to preserve unto them that liberty in true Christian faith and worship of God, … that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony” (See Callender, Appendix No. XXI, pp. 241-262 for the complete charter; see also, Beller, America in Crimson Red, Appendix D, pp. 505-506). [Emphasis mine.]

The charter granted:

“unprecedented liberties in religious concerns. Moreover representation for the people and the limit of power to public officials provided a basic check and balance to popular sovereignty. The Royal Charter of 1663 proved to be distinctive, installing safeguards in the election process through the governing body of the State Assembly, made up of a governor, deputy-governor, assistants, and representatives from each of the towns” (Asher, pp. 78-79), each elected by the people.

The most important biblical principle of the government they founded was incorporated into the supreme law of the United States of America by the First Amendment to United States Constitution. Sadly, America’s founding documents, although the best governing documents ever conceived, as a whole fell short of the ideal. For example, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution blended some enlightenment with many biblical principles. The Founding Fathers hoped for virtue, not piety. The Founding Fathers desire was to secure the “happiness of man,” whereas, under the Portsmouth Compact and the Rhode Island Charter, the goal was the Glory of God; that is, they desired that the colony be under God and His principles contained in the Bible.

VII. Conclusion: The effect of the Rhode Island government thus established

As to the effect of the Rhode Island government thus established, John Callender wrote in 1838:

  • “The civil State has flourished, as well as if secured by ever so many penal laws, and in inquisition to put them to execution. Our civil officers have been chosen out of every religious society, and the public peace has been as well preserved, and the public counsels as well conducted, as we could have expected, had we been assisted by ever so many religious tests.
  • “All profaneness and immorality are punished by the laws made to suppress them; and while these laws are well executed, speculative opinions or modes of worship can never disturb or injure the peace of a State that allows all its subjects an equal liberty of conscience. Indeed, it is not variety of opinions, or separation in worship, that makes disorders and confusions in government. It is the unjust, unnatural, and absurd attempt to force all to be of one opinion, or to feign and dissemble that they are; or the cruel and impious punishing those, who cannot change their opinions without light or reason, and will not dissemble against all reason and conscience. It is the wicked attempt to force men to worship God in a way they believe He hath neither commanded nor will accept; and the restraining them from worshipping Him in a method they think He has instituted and made necessary for them, and in which alone they can be sincere worshippers, and accepted of God; in which alone, they can find comfort and peace of conscience, and approve themselves before God; in which alone, they can be honest men and good Christians.  Persecution will ever occasion confusion and disorder, or if every tongue is forced to confess, and every knee to bow to the power of the sword: this itself is the greatest of all disorders, and the worst of confusions in the Kingdom of Christ Jesus.
  • “[T]his Colony with some since formed on the same model, have proved that the terrible fears that barbarity would break in, where no particular forms of worship or discipline are established by the civil power, are really vain and groundless; and that Christianity can subsist without a national Church, or visible Head, and without being incorporated into the State. It subsisted for the first three hundred years; yea, in opposition and defiance to all the powers of hell and earth. And it is amazing to hear those who plead for penal laws, and the magistrate’s right and duty to govern the Church of Christ, to hear such persons call those early times the golden age of Christianity” (Callender, pp. 163-164).

Mr. Clarke, on his return to Rhode Island, was elected Deputy-Governor three successive years. “He continued the esteemed pastor of the first Baptist Church of Newport, till his death” on April 20, 1676 (Ibid., Appendix IX, p. 211).  Of Mr. Clarke, Isaac Backus wrote: He “left as spotless a character as any man I know of” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 348).  “The testimony which Backus proceeds to give of the purity of [Mr. Clarke’s] character and to his good name, even among his enemies, has been fully corroborated by later writers” (Ibid., fn. 1, pp. 348-349).  “To no man, except Roger Williams, is Rhode Island more indebted than to him” (Callender, p. 212).

“An eminent American historian justly observed:

“The annals of Rhode-Island, if written in the spirit of philosophy, would exhibit the forms of society under a peculiar aspect.  Had the territory of the State corresponded to the importance and singularity of the principles of its early existence, the world would have been filled with wonder at the phenomena of its early history” (Ibid., Appendix XVI, p. 230, citing Bancroft’s History of the United States, vol. 1, p. 380).

An example of the manner in which Rhode Island honored the doctrine of freedom of conscience is the way they upheld the standard in regards to the Quakers. Other colonies persecuted the Quakers from 1656 until 1661. Massachusetts hanged four Quakers who returned to the colony after being banished. The Commissioners of the United Colonies threatened Rhode Island with cutting off all commerce or trade with them if Rhode Island did not likewise persecute the Quakers by enacting penal legislation against them. Rhode Island “refused, and pointed out that it had no law for punishing people because of their utterances ‘concerning the things and ways of God, as to salvation and to eternal condition’” (Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 75, citing Evarts B. Greene, Religion and the State :(New York: New York University Press, 1941), pp. 24-25). The Commissioners of Rhode Island notified John Clarke. As a result, King Charles II ordered that “neither capital nor corporal punishment should be inflicted on Quakers, but that offenders should be sent to England” (Callender, Appendix XIX, pp. 234-236).  This decree of the King probably saved the lives of other dissenters.

All that was happening was not for naught. Isaac Backus wrote, “It is readily granted that the sentiments of Mr. Williams and Mr. Clarke, about religious liberty, have had a great spread since that day, so that men of a contrary mind cannot carry their oppressive schemes so far now as they did then” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 202-203), but they still had a ways to go to achieve religious liberty.  It was not until 1838 that John Callender declared “[t]he principles of religious freedom, which they [of Rhode Island] clearly and consistently maintained, are now the rule of action adopted by all Christian sects” (Callender, Appendix XIX, p. 238).

 

The Separates and the Baptists in New England


Jerald Finney
Copyright © December 31, 2012


Click here to go to the entire history of religious liberty in America.


Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 7 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.


The Separates and the Baptists in New England

Contents:

I. George Whitfield and the Great Awakening in New England
II.
The Separate movement, the New Lights and the Old Lights, Isaac Backus separates, persecution brings more to the New Light position
III.
The Separate movement had enduring consequences; Baptist churches sprang from it in New England; Isaac Backus became a Baptist and a Baptist leader, stood for Baptist principles, and was vilified and persecuted for his stand
IV.
The Separates and Baptists divide in love
V.
The revival died out; Separate churches disappeared; the Baptist denomination experienced unprecedented growth; the Warren Association was formed to obtain religious liberty; Backus led the fight for religious liberty, and was opposed by John Adams; Backus sought the same end as George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as to a Bill of Rights, but from a pietistic as opposed to a humanistic point of view
VI.
The Baptists fought on, the certificates, the Baptists went to the courts, the Cutter case and other cases, persecution of Baptists continued but the Baptists continued to grow in numbers, in 1818 state support for the Congregationalist church was withdrawn in Connecticut


I. George Whitfield and the Great Awakening in New England

“Congregationalism claimed a large class of inferior church members by 1720, baptized into the churches without conversion” (William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 2).  Generally speaking, by 1740, religious decay had spread throughout New England. However, “the relentless preaching of Jonathan Edwards of complete surrender to the will of God introduced the novel phenomenon of revival in Massachusetts” (Ibid.). The revival spread down the Connecticut Valley into Connecticut (Louis Franklin Asher, John Clarke (1609-1676): Pioneer in American Medicine, Democratic Ideals, and Champion of Religious Liberty (Paris, Arkansas: The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc.), p. 21). Between 1635 and 1640 Congregationalism had been planted in the Connecticut colony: “As the country was more fully discovered, the lands on Connecticut river grew so famous for their fruitfulness, and convenience to keep cattle, that great numbers from New-Town, Dorchester, &c., removed there, under the conduct of Mr. Hains, Mr. Hopkins, Mr. Ludlow, and Mr. Hooker, &c., and through inexpressible hardships, through famine, and weariness, and perils of the enemy, they at length settled at Hartford, 1635 and 1636, which was the beginning of the Connecticut colony; and, in 1637, New-Haven colony was begun by a people directly from England” ((John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 67-68). The initial revival was of short duration … and did not touch the people of New England generally (Lumpkin, p. 2). Then, George Whitefield, the world-famous English evangelist arrived at Newport. Great crowds greeted Whitefield wherever he went to preach. In Connecticut, he was greeted with great enthusiasm. All Connecticut was at his feet.

As a result of that great revival, many were converted and churches experienced unprecedented growth. The Great Awakening emphasized individual conversion and the new birth (Ibid., pp. 3-5). “[T]he new converts were dubbed ‘New Lights’ by their critics because the awakened people emphasized the immediacy of the Holy Spirit’s illumination and leadership in their personal lives” (Ibid., p. 7).  The members of the old churches were called “Old Lights.” “The former favored Whitefield’s type of evangelism and the idea of the regenerate church; the latter opposed revivalism and defended the state church order” (Ibid.).

Many itinerant preachers arose as a result of this revival. Consequently, the General Court of Connecticut “forbade all itinerant preaching under penalty of loss of the right to collect one’s legal salary and imprisonment. Itinerant lay preachers or strange ministers were to be silenced or expelled from the colony” (Ibid., p. 8; see also, for the actual wording of the act against itinerant and other preachers, Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 44-46). “In Connecticut, legal action was taken against the revivalists, their churches were deprived of legal status, and some of the preachers were thrown into jail” (William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), p. 87).

The Great Awakening brought as many as 50,000 new converts, and brought into being, between 1740 and 1760, one hundred and fifty new Congregationalist churches and added to the number of Separatist and Baptist churches. “It brought the personal and pietistic religious tradition into a section previously dominated without challenge by Calvinistic rationalization…. As always and everywhere, the New England situation shows that such separation and disestablishment arose out of religion and not its opposite” (Ibid.).


II. The Separate movement, the New Lights and the Old Lights, Isaac Backus separates, persecution brings more to the New Light position

A number of New Lights who initially tried to influence the church to return to the concept of the pure church were forced out of the established churches. The term “Separates” referred to those who believed that the church should only include regenerate members and those who separated from the state-churches on this conviction. The Separate movement started in Connecticut and moved to Massachusetts. Separate churches began to appear at various towns.

There was great prejudice against Baptists. England forced New England to exempt Baptists from taxation in 1728, but the establishment found ways to circumvent this exemption. Operating clandestinely because of opposition by the authorities, Baptist preachers had come into Connecticut from Rhode Island, as they had done in Massachusetts, starting in 1674. They made some converts and even started some churches in Connecticut in 1704, 1710, 1735, and 1740. All dissenters were taxed to support the established church unless certified to pay the tax to their own churches. To be exempted they had to attend regularly their own church and live within five miles of their meeting place. Those who belonged to no church were also assessed the tax (Lumpkin, pp. 11-13). However, Separates were not given the privileges accorded Baptists, Quakers, and Anglicans.

One of the most prominent of the Separates was Isaac Backus. Although he spent much of his ministry in Massachusetts, he was a native of Norwich, Connecticut. In the new movement, he became the leading figure; and his shift from the Separate to the Baptist camp is central to the religious history of New England (William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967); Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 60-61).

Mr. Backus was saved in 1741. On August 24, 1741, Mr. Backus, in his own words, speaking of himself, realized:

“that he had done his utmost to make himself better, without obtaining any such thing; but that he was a guilty sinner in the hands of a holy God, who had a right to do with him as seemed good in God’s sight; which he then yielded to and all his objections against it were silenced.  And soon upon this a way of relief was opened to his soul, which he never had any true idea of before, wherein truth and justice shine with luster, in the bestowment of free mercy and salvation upon objects who have nothing in themselves but badness. And while this divine glory engaged all his attention, his burthen of guilt and evil dispositions was gone, and such ideas and inclinations were implanted in his heart  as were never there before, but which have never been rooted out since, though often overclouded” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 107).

Two years later, he, his mother, and some of his other relatives walked out of the established Norwich Church they belonged to and started holding meetings of their own. They left the church because the church voted to admit new members by a majority vote without evidence of conversion, the minister appeared to think that the Lord’s Supper was a converting ordinance, and the church exhibited a “strong affection for the Saybrook scheme.”

A revolution had begun.

“The essence of the religious revolution which the Separate movement began (and the Baptists finished) lay in church government and not in theology—though it became necessary eventually to modify Calvinism in order that it might conform more nearly to the unforeseen ramifications of the new practices in church discipline and polity. The major issues involved in church government were the autonomy and purity of the church, the nature of the ministry, and the relationship between Church and State” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 23-24).

The church and state were interwoven in New England. Into the eighteenth century the Puritan tradition continued in greater strength in Connecticut than elsewhere. All citizens were taxed for the support of religion. The Saybrook Platform was ordained by the Connecticut legislature in 1708. Under it, county associations of ministers met frequently to deal with matters of common interest, regional bodies called consociations were to handle all kinds of ecclesiastical difficulties, and a general state association exercised a general superintendency over churches and ministers. Under the Saybrook Platform, the county associations approved, licensed, and ordained the ministers of the parishes (Lumpkin, p. 11; Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 472-474; Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 319). The state supported the actions of the county associations, and could deny the right of a minister to preach and collect his salary (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 24).

Various struggles arose. In 1742 and 1743 laws were passed forbidding itinerant preachers from preaching without permission of the parish minister with penalty of imprisonment, excluding settled ministers who preached in any other parish without consent of the parish minister from any benefit of the laws for their support, removing from Connecticut any minister from any other colony who preached in Connecticut, and giving the legislature authority to license dissenting churches which complied with the British Toleration Act of 1689 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 319-320). The Legislature disciplined members of the Council and General Assembly known to sympathize with the New Lights. “Unauthorized schools and colleges were forbidden and only university graduates were eligible for ministerial standing before the law” (Lumpkin, p. 15; see also, Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 57, fn. 3). The county associations began to act. The New Haven Consociation in 1742 expelled pastors of established churches for preaching to a group of Separates and Baptists against the wishes of the established minister. In Canterbury, Windham County the majority of the church, New Lights, voted for a certain man to be pastor, but the Old Lights who were the majority in the parish voted for another. By law, both the church and parish had to concur, but the Windham Consociation declared that the minority of Old Lights in the church were the true church and ordained their choice (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 68-74; McLoughlin, p. 26). In Plainfield, the Windham Consociation “reversed the position it had taken in Canterbury and sided with a minority of Old Lights in the church to choose an Old Light minister over the objection of the majority of New Lights in the parish” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 26-27).

The inequities and the persecutions by the established church and civil government resulted in more and more defections to the New Light position. The civil government used repressive measures to compel the Separates to return to the fold. “Revivalistic ministers were shut out of meeting houses; members were moved from civic office and, when they refused to pay taxes for support of the regular ministry, imprisoned” (Lumpkin, p. 14, citing Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 176).  At first most Separates that left the state-churches seemed destined to become Baptists. However, great disagreement arose between those who still adhered to infant baptism and those who insisted upon believer’s baptism—baptism after a confession of faith only. As a result of this disagreement, the Baptist members left the Separate churches and formed their own churches.


III. The Separate movement had enduring consequences; Baptist churches sprang from it in New England; Isaac Backus became a Baptist and a Baptist leader, stood for Baptist principles, and was vilified and persecuted for his stand

This Separate movement had enduring consequences. One writer appropriately noted:

“[T]he Separatist movement is not appreciated as it deserves. We have too nearly forgotten our obligations to those men who dared to break away from the corrupt and worldly churches of the Standing Order, though they were armed with all the power of the State, of which they were a part, and to establish other churches in which vital godliness was the condition of membership. It was a transition movement, it is true, and of necessity only temporary, but its results were enduring. Many of the Baptist churches in New England spring from it directly, and through them, indirectly, almost all the rest; and other evangelical churches are largely indebted to it for their vitality and efficiency.—ED” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 1, p. 64).

From the point of his conversion, Mr. Backus gradually became a leader of the Baptist movement. He was asked to preach to a church at Titicut in 1748, a revival resulted, people were saved, and a Separate church was formed in February, 1748 in defiance of the authorities. Mr. Backus and sixteen men signed the church covenant which provided for election and dismissal of the ministers, deacons, and elders by a majority vote, repudiated the claim that the minister was superior in authority to the brethren, stated that the minister was to be supported by free contribution of the members, and asserted the priesthood of all believers and the right and duty of all members to exercise any ability they had to preach or pray in public (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 42-43).

Mr. Backus was opposed by scurrilous opposition. As he said, “I had many things thrown upon me to represent my Carecter odious and hinder me in this glorious Work.” Lies were told about him, such as that he had a wife and children in the country, that he had “bastards in this place or that, that there was a girl or two with his child (Ibid., p. 46).

The members of the church were taxed to support the established church. The church protested the tax, but parish committee refused to exempt Mr. Backus and his followers from religious taxes. Their rationale was basically that the golden rule required them to do so, and that the committee would want their neighbors to force them to pay such a tax if they were in error. “[N]either doth God himself countenance or give Liberty to any men to follow the ‘Dictates of a misguided Eronius Conscience’” (Ibid., p. 52). The reply gave an argument over the separation of church and state with which Backus had to wrestle the rest of his life.

“Oppression ‘can’t mean and intend that Tis unwarrantable or sinfull for men to urge and press others to a compliance with their Duty as it is pointed out by the Laws of God or the good and wholesome Laws of the Land and in case men through obstinacy and willfulness [refuse] and so will not make good either Lawfull Contracts [&] Covenants the original good and Design of their being incorporated into Distinct [religious] societies [or parishes] and so Tis no oppression….’ Under the Golden Rule the committee said it would want their neighbors to force them to do their duty if they were in error. ‘Liberty of Conscience according to the word of god is not for men to Live as they list or Do as they please while they maintain Erors in Judgment, Disown the truth of god, Exclaim against a faithful ministry, make Light of that good order and government which Jesus Christ has set up in his church; neither does God himself countenance or give Liberty to any men to follow the Dictates of a misguided Eronius Conscience….’ ‘Let it be observed that there is a great difference between persecution and prosecution’ (Ibid.).”

In February, 1749, Backus was arrested for not paying a ministerial tax, but someone paid it for him, and he was released. Other members of the church were imprisoned or had their property confiscated for failing to pay the tax.

“Three-quarters of a century were to pass and Backus was to be in his grave before the people of Massachusetts yielded to the radical New Light view that the state should indeed allow individuals to ‘act and Conduct as they pleas’ in matters of religion even if it meant imperiling their souls, the destruction of the parish system, the end of compulsory religious taxation, and the abandonment of the Puritan ideal of a corporate Christian commonwealth” (Ibid., pp. 52-53).

Backus struggled with the issue of baptism, studied Scripture, rejected infant baptism, and was baptized by dipping on August 22, 1751 (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 108-111).  He set out to refute the anti-pedobaptist position by first turning to the Bible, and then to the claims of Baptist scholars in England that infant baptism was a corruption brought into the Christian church in the 2nd or 3rd century. What he found surprised him.

Next, Backus examined the Covenant Theology which lay at the heart of New England Puritanism. The relevance of this theology to Backus was mainly its effect on the church-state issue (McLoughlin, pp. 61-63):

First, “[T]he Jewish church was clearly a national church, a theocracy in which Moses and Aaron ruled together, and thus the Puritans were able to utilize the covenant theology to justify their ecclesiastical laws and their system of territorial parishes and religious taxes.  Second, the covenant theology provided the Puritans with justifications for the Halfway Covenant, thus polluting the purity of the mystical body of Christ. And in the third place the covenant theology, by emphasizing that grace ran ‘through the loins of godly parents,’ that the baptized children of visible saints were somehow more likely than others to obtain salvation, thereby established a kind of hereditary spiritual aristocracy; it also undermined the sovereignty of God by implying that God was bound by this covenant to save certain persons rather than others. [Etc.]” (Ibid., pp. 62-64).

The Puritans supported the unity of the Abrahamic Covenant in Romans 11.17:“Here, the apostle Paul spoke of the Christian covenant as being grafted on to the Jewish covenant as a branch is grafted on to an olive tree, from whence the Puritans ‘argued the right of professors now to baptize their children, because the Jews circumcised theirs.’ This Backus rejected as misinterpretation. ‘The Jews were broken off thro’ unbelief, and the Gentiles were grafted in, and stand only by faith.’ Faith was essential to baptism. What Puritans stressed as organic continuity, Backus and the Baptists stressed as a complete break” (Ibid., p. 76).

Backus concluded that the Separates must explicitly reject the Covenant Theology, the whole conception of the corporate Christian state which the Puritans had so painstakingly constructed in the wilderness of New England. Backus decided against infant baptism and was baptized. “[H]e rejected the Covenant Theology of the Puritans by arguing as the Baptists had long done that the Bible contained two covenants, the old Covenant of Works made with the Jews, and the Covenant of Grace made with those who believe in Christ….” “[T]he Puritans had confused the gospel of grace with the doctrine of works and transformed the gospel church of visible saints into a national church with a birthright membership” (Ibid., pp. 73-76). “Backus and the Baptists stressed the discontinuity, the antithetical nature of the two, the complete and distinct break between the past and the present dispensations. That Americans were ready to grasp this new outlook after 1740 and to pursue it to its logical conclusions marks the real break with the Old World, the medieval mind and the Puritan ethos…” (Ibid., p. 74).


IV. The Separates and Baptists divide in love

At first the Separatists and Baptists desired to meet together. This proved untenable.

“[They] were bound together by the closest ties. The [Baptists] left the [Separate Congregational churches] with no ill feeling but with heartiest love, and this love continued, on both sides, after their separation. Their members had been converted together in the Great Awakening; together they had come out from the Standing Order; together they had suffered and were still suffering for the truth; they had the same enemies and oppressors; they felt the force of the same unjust and cruel laws; their plundered goods were sold at the same auctions, and their bodies confined in the same prisons; they had many kindred views and feelings, by which they sympathized most closely, and in which there were no others to sympathize with them. Moreover, they mutually desired inter-communion. Council after council and conference after conference recommended it, and there seemed to be no voice against it. And yet it failed. Practical difficulties arose…. The truth could not be escaped that Baptist churches, by renouncing infant baptism and sprinkling, and then practically recognizing them again as a proper declaration of discipleship and initiation to membership in the visible church, placed themselves in a position of direct inconsistency. One by one, reluctantly, but at last universally, they abandoned the untenable ground.—ED” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 1, p. 115; on pp. 116-119 Backus gives further arguments.).

By 1754, “the alliance between the two groups within Separatism was practically at an end, and the Baptist members left to form new churches or join existing ones” (Lumpkin, p. 18).

A Baptist church was instituted in Middleborough, Massachusetts by a number of brethren led by Mr. Backus from the Titicut Separatist church who were convinced communion should be limited to believers baptized upon a profession of their own faith. On July 23, 1756, Mr. Backus was installed as their pastor.

“He … published a discourse from Gal. iv. 31, to shew that Abraham’s first son that was circumcised was the son of the bond-woman, an emblem of the national church of the Jews; in distinction from regenerate souls, the spiritual seed of Abraham, of whom the Christian church was constituted; into which neither natural birth, nor the doings of others, can rightly bring any one soul, without its own consent. Upon these principles was the first Baptist church in Plymouth county then founded” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 117-118).


V. The revival died out; Separate churches disappeared; the Baptist denomination experienced unprecedented growth; the Warren Association was formed to obtain religious liberty; Backus led the fight for religious liberty, and was opposed by John Adams; Backus sought the same end as George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison as to a Bill of Rights, but from a pietistic as opposed to a humanistic point of view

The revival died out almost as fast as it had appeared. Conversions became rare. People turned their attention to politics and controversy. The Separate churches and groups either died, or found their way into the Baptist camp. The Baptists denomination experienced an unprecedented growth. In 1740 no more than six Calvinistic Baptist churches existed in New England; but by 1800 there were more than 325 Baptist churches, most of them Calvinistic (Lumpkin, p. 20).

The Warren Association, an association of Baptist churches, was formed in 1770. The main goal was to obtain religious liberty. This marked an important movement in the history of New England. An advertisement to all Baptists in New England was published requesting them to bring in exact accounts of their cases of persecution to the first annual meeting on September 11, 1770. The establishment feared the association and countered by dealing deceitfully with it and spreading lies about the association (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 154-156; see also, pp. 408-409 concerning formation of the Warren Association).

Isaac Backus was the key member of the grievance committee of the Warren Association in September, 1771. “[He soon] became the principal spokesman for the Baptists in their efforts to disestablish the Puritan churches. As such he did more than any other man to formulate and publicize the evangelical position on Church and State which was ultimately to prevail throughout America” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 109).

“An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty Against the Oppression of the Present Day” was the most important of the 37 tracts which Backus published during his lifetime and was central to the whole movement for separation of Church and State in America. “It remains the best exposition of the 18th century pietistic concept of separation” (Ibid., p. 123. The entire contents of the tract are in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), pp. 303-343.). In that tract, Backus argued, among other things:

“Basic to the Baptist position was the belief that all direct connections between the state and institutionalized religion must be broken in order that America might become a truly Christian country. Backus, like Jefferson and Madison, believed that ‘Truth is great and will prevail’—but by ‘Truth’ he meant the revealed doctrines of grace. His fundamental assumption was that ‘God has appointed two different kinds of government in the world which are different in their nature and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.’ The two had been ‘confounded together’ by the Emperor Constantine and the Papacy and had ultimately been brought to New England by the Puritans ‘who had not taken up the cross so as to separate from the national church before they came away.’ A ‘Brief view of how civil and ecclesiastical affairs are blended together among us [in 1773] to the depriving of many of God’s people of that liberty of conscience which he [God] has given us’ utilized also the long–forgotten arguments of Roger Williams to defend the doctrines of separation” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 123-124).

Amidst persecutions of Baptists for failing to pay ministerial taxes, the association met on September 1773 and voted to refrain from giving any more certificates for tax exemption to pay the established minister. Backus listed the reasons why they would no longer obey “a law requiring annual certificates to the other denomination.” “Jefferson in his preamble to the Religious Liberty Act of Virginia and Madison in his famous Remonstrance of 1785 utilized essentially deistic arguments based upon reason and natural law. Backus’s arguments were pure pietism” (Ibid., p. 126):

1. [To get a certificate] “implies an acknowledgement that religious rulers had a right to set one sect over another, which they did not have.” 2. Civil rulers have no right to impose religious taxes. 3. Such practice emboldens the “actors to assume God’s prerogative.” 4. For the church, which is presented as a chaste virgin to Christ, to place her trust and love upon others for temporal support is playing the harlot. 5. “[B]y the law of Christ every man is not only allowed but also required to judge for himself concerning the circumstantials as well as the essentials of religion, and to act according to the full persuasion of his own mind.”The practice tends to envy, hypocrisy, and confusion, and the ruin of civil society (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 178, citing “An Appeal to the Public for Religious Liberty.”).

An Appeal to the Public was pietistic America’s declaration of spiritual independence. Like Jefferson’s Declaration three years later, it contained a legal brief against a long train of abuses, a theoretical defense of principle, and a moral argument for civil disobedience” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 127). No answer was ever given to “An Appeal to the Public” which was published in Boston. The collection of taxes for support of the established religion continued with confiscation of property and imprisonments occurring (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 178-182).

Attempts to gain religious freedom continued. The Warren Association sent Isaac Backus to the Continental Congress in 1774 where he met with an Association of other Baptist churches from several adjacent colonies which had elected a large committee to assist. They presented their appeal for religious liberty. John Adams and Samuel Adams, neither of whom was a friend to separation of church and state, falsely asserted that Massachusetts had only a “very slender” establishment, hardly to be called an establishment, that the General Court was clear of blame and always there to hear complaints and grant reasonable help (Ibid., pp. 200-202, and fn. 1, p. 201).  While Mr. Backus was gone, the lie was spread that he had gone to Philadelphia to break the union of the colonies.

All the time these happenings were going on, the issues were being debated in the newspapers. The Warren Association continued to publish to the public instances of persecution as well as to actively seek religious liberty from the government. The Warren Association presented a memorial on July 19, 1775 requesting religious liberty and pointing out the inconsistency of rebelling against England for taxing without representation while doing the same thing in the colonies. Ultimately, nothing came of this. In 1777, Mr. Backus prepared an address which was supported by a large number from various denominations urging religious liberty to the Assembly which had been empowered to frame a new Constitution which was accomplished in 1780. The Third Article of the new constitution “excluded all subordination of one religious sect to another,” but imprisonment, and confiscation of property from men who refused to acknowledge such subordination continued (Ibid., pp. 203-204, 219-220, 225-229, 228-229).

In 1778 Mr. Backus wrote “Government and Liberty Described and Ecclesiastical Tyranny Exposed.”He quoted Charles Chauncy:

“We are in principle against all civil establishments in religion. It does not appear to us that God has entrusted the State with a right to make religious establishments…. We claim no right to desire the interposition of the State to establish that mode of worship, [church] government, or discipline we apprehend is most agreeable to the mind of Christ. We desire no other liberty than to be left unrestrained in the exercise of our principles in so far as we are good members of society.” This, said Backus, was all that Baptists asked (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 140.  The entire tract is reproduced in Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, Pamphlets, 1754-1789, Edited by William G. McLoughlin (Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968) pp. 345-365).

“Perhaps as a result of this tract, the General Assembly tried to conciliate the Baptists by appointing a Baptist minister to deliver the election sermon in May, 1779. That minister, in his sermon, remained faithful to the principle of separation” (Ibid., 141).

Massachusetts began efforts to adopt a new constitution in 1777. The proposed constitution was defeated, but a new effort which began in 1779 proved successful. John Adams worked against the Baptist position at the convention. Mr. Backus, although not a delegate, went to Boston to stand for Baptist principles during the constitutional convention. He lobbied, wrote newspaper articles, published new tracts, and informed his brethren of what was going on (Ibid., p. 142).

Mr. Backus worked at the convention for a Bill of Rights. The first basic rights he listed were:

  • “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, among which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and persuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
  • “As God is the only worthy object of all religious worship, and nothing can be true religion but a voluntary obedience unto his revealed will, of which each rational soul has an equal right to judge for itself; every person has an unalienable right to act in all religious affairs according to the full persuasion of his own mind, where others are not injured thereby. And civil rulers are so far from having any right to empower any person or persons to judge for others in such affairs, and to enforce their judgments with the sword, that their power ought to be exerted to protect all persons and societies, within their jurisdiction, from being injured or interrupted in the free enjoyment of his right, under any pretence whatsoever” (Ibid., pp. 142-144).

Backus’ position, although seeking the same end, was from a different point of view than that of George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison:

  • “Three years earlier George Mason, with Jefferson’s approval and Madison’s amendments, had written a statement on religious freedom into the Bill of Rights in the Virginia Constitution:
  • ‘That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.’
  • “Backus’s tone was that of a New Light pietist; Mason’s that of an Enlightened latitudinarian. The Virginians spoke of the ‘Creator,’ Backus spoke of ‘God.’ Mason stressed reason and duty, Backus stressed ‘religious worship.’ Backus referred directly to God’s ‘revealed will’ and to the ‘soul.’ Mason omitted any reference to them.
  • “The difference was obvious and fundamental. The Virginia separationists were interested in leaving the mind free to follow its own rational direction. The Massachusetts pietists believed that separation was necessary in order to leave the ‘rational soul’ free to find ‘true religion’ as expressed in the Bible, ‘the revealed will’ of God. Implicit in both statements was a belief in God, in natural law, in man’s ability to find them. But the deistic separationists of Virginia trusted entirely to man’s reason and free will. The pietists insisted that only through the supernatural grace of God would men find the Truth that is in Jesus Christ. Though both views were individualistic, the deist was anthropocentric, the pietist theocentric” (Ibid., pp. 142-144).

The humanistic view of Mason, Jefferson, and Madison, that man, through his reason could successfully address all his problems, and the humanistic goal of the “happiness of man” were inherent in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the two greatest governing documents of all time, although blended with biblical principles. The goal of “the glory of God” was not in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Again, the Constitution is the greatest governing document ever conceived by a nation, but the biblical principle of “leaven”—bad doctrine always corrupts the good—has proven again, by the national experience, to be true. To understand and address a problem, one must be willing to face all the facts head on.

The Warren Association, on September 13, 1780, published a remonstrance, authored by Mr. Backus, against Article Three of that proposed constitution stating, among other things, that the provision therein requiring the majority of each parish “the exclusive right of covenanting for the rest with religious teachers,” thereby granting a power no man has a right to; and further stating that “the Legislature, by this Article, are empowered to compel both civil and religious societies to make what they shall judge to be suitable provision for religious teachers in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 2, pp. 229-230). But support for ministry could only be through voluntary support, not coercion which denied freedom of conscience. Backus and other Baptists “did not object to the view that Massachusetts should remain a Christian commonwealth; piety, religion, and morality could only be maintained with the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality” were “generally diffused throughout the community” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, pp. 148-149).

“Jefferson, Mason, and Madison, designing the creation of a secular state, not only opposed all such practices but also objected to the use of chaplains in the Congress and armed forces, the authorization by the state of certain days of fasting, thanksgiving, and prayer; and the compulsory religious services in state universities. Jefferson explicitly stated that America was not and ought not to be a Christian country…. Backus never qualified his belief in a Christian commonwealth. He consistently argued for ‘a sweet harmony between’ Church and State. ‘It is readily granted,’ he wrote in 1784, ‘that piety, religion, and morality are essentially necessary for the good order of civil society’” (Ibid., pp. 149-150).


VI. The Baptists fought on, the certificates, the Baptists went to the courts, the Cutter case and other cases, persecution of Baptists continued but the Baptists continued to grow in numbers, in 1818 state support for the Congregationalist church was withdrawn in Connecticut

The Baptists fought on. They took their case to the courts. Attleboro, Massachusetts assessed a religious tax on everyone. Some members of a Baptist church in Attleboro refused to file a certificate and refused to pay the tax. The property of some was sold to pay the tax. Elijah Balkcom, after being arrested, paid the tax under protest, then sued to test the constitutionality of Article Three. They won an initial victory in county court.

However, the case was overturned two years later on appeal of the favorable trial court decision in the case of Cutter v. Frost. Cutter also held that only incorporated religious societies were entitled to legal recognition. Since most, if not all, of the Baptist churches in Massachusetts were unincorporated, they were not qualified for exemption (Ibid., pp. 160-161; see Backus’ reaction to the decision in the Balkcom case in McLoughlin, Isaac Backus on Church, State, and Calvinism, “A Door Opened for Christian Liberty,” pp. 428-438).  A lawyer advised Mr. Backus and the grievance committee to file the certificates, pay their taxes, and sue if the parish treasurer refused to turn the money over to their own pastor. The committee voted to follow this advice, Mr. Backus casting the lone negative vote. This was a reversal of the 1773 stand against giving of the certificates. “The spirit of the times did not call for martyrdom and fanaticism. The other members of the committee were more interested in improving the status and respectability of their denomination” (Ibid., pp. 163-164).

As a result, three cases were brought in three different courts and the Baptists prevailed at trial court and on appeal. In other cases over the years, much time and expense was expended to get tax money earmarked for Baptist ministers. One case required fourteen lawsuits before the town treasurer yielded the taxes. In some towns, when it was shown the Baptists would sue, the “Standing Order” ceased to argue the matter (Ibid., pp. 164-165).

Mr. Backus, being disappointed with his twelve-year battle against certificates, turned his zeal to other outlets—to fighting the threat to Baptist doctrines.

As new Baptist churches continued to be constituted, and the number of Baptists continued to increase, the persecution continued in Connecticut. In 1784 Connecticut made a new law continuing the support of established ministers by taxation. However, another act exempted all persons from that tax who filed a certificate to the effect that they regularly attended and supported worship services in any type of gospel ministry. Mr. Backus said of this act, “[I]s not this a mark of the beast? … Blood hath ever followed the support of worship by the sword of the magistrate…. And how can any man keep himself unspotted from the world, if he forces the world to support his worship” Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 320-321 ()?

Then, in May of 1791, Connecticut passed an addition to the ineffectual law of 1784 which held that “no certificate could be legal, until it was approbated by two justices of the peace, or only by one, if there was no more in the town where the dissenter lived,” and that such certificate was ineffective as to taxes granted before the certificate was lodged (Ibid., p. 345).  However, after a remonstrance and petition were presented, the law was repealed in October 1791 and another law made to allow every man to give in his own certificate, if he dissented from the ruling sect.

The quest for religious freedom in Connecticut continued until 1818 when state support was withdrawn from the Congregationalist Church (Marnell, p. 114).