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     It’s exciting to embark again on the season of Advent, to prepare our hearts to celebrate the incarnation of the Son of God. The meaning of Advent, linguistically, is nothing more profound than “coming.” When we factor in the coming of the King, however, we have a very special event indeed. Though we are celebrating the coming of a baby, we also know that this baby grew up to show Himself the promised Messiah. He laid down His life to destroy our deadly enemy, sin. One day, He will come again as the conquering King of the world. His reign will mark the end of injustice and evil. Peace and righteousness will be victorious, and each person’s life will be weighed in His perfect scales.

     When a King was on the way, tradition holds that a herald would precede His arrival. This herald made the bold proclamation, “The King is coming! Prepare the road for him!” Major road construction would immediately take place. Potholes would be filled in, bumps would be smoothed out, and often the road itself would be altered to be straight enough and wide enough for the King’s carriage to come through smoothly. The townspeople wanted to welcome him properly.

     During Advent, we recognize a herald who prepared the way for the coming of King Jesus: John the Baptist. He is the one who proclaimed, “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Is. 40:3-4). Advent is a time to make ready for the coming of the infant King, Jesus. It is also a time to prepare for His soon coming again as the eternal King of the world. We must heed the voice of John the Baptist; it is time for major road construction. But where is the road? It is in you—in your heart. Advent means that we seek to do exactly what the Christmas carol says: “Let every heart prepare Him room.”

     The Bible says that there have been many who were unwilling to prepare room for Jesus. The innkeeper, flustered by his hectic work, was unwilling to offer room in the inn. King Herod wanted to stay on the throne. He wanted to call the shots—not some infant upstart, prophecy or no. So he did not make room, either. The rich young ruler loved his wealth too much to leave everything and follow Jesus; all that concern for money left no room. The religious bigwigs were not inclined to make Jesus room, either. All they cared about was their traditions and rituals. They cared so much about their set order of worshipping God that they would not make room when God Himself stood among them.

     Each of these offered perfectly logical excuses for not making room for Jesus the King. Logical or no, they still missed the most important event in world history. How about you? Have you made room for Jesus in your heart, or do you have your own excuses, which may seem quite reasonable to you? Do not be fooled: no matter what the excuse, it is still missing the coming of the King. Prepare the road of your heart by giving it to Jesus. Make room for Him, and in His eternal Kingdom, He will prepare a room for you!

Your Brother and Servant,
Pastor Scott.

Baptist Bites: Roger Williams’ “Dangerous” Ideas

     When we last checked in with Roger Williams, he had left the Plymouth church, in 1633, and was made pastor of the church at Salem, Massachusetts.  But though he found the Plymouth church to be insufficiently “separated” from both the Anglican tradition and all those who remained in fellowship with them, his time in Plymouth had brought him into proximity with the Native American population of the area. Williams believed he had a Gospel responsibility to reach out to them, and so he began a course of learning their language. His work and writings in that area were quite helpful to other colonists; many unnecessary battles were prevented because of Williams’ primer on the language. Understanding what a stranger is actually saying is key to peaceful relations with him.  During his time with the tribes people, however, Williams’ conscience was affected in the same manner as William Penn. He began to hold the conviction that English colonists could not lay claim to the land just because their King said so. The land belonged to the Native Americans, and if the English colonists wanted to acquire some land, they should be treating with its rightful owners.

     For two years, Williams continued as pastor of the Salem church. But its proximity to Boston made him more susceptible to the attention of the ruling civil/religious authorities in the city.  In 1635, he was brought before the court to answer four charges. First was the matter we just discussed: who owned the land. Williams proclaimed that the colonists should repent of the notion that they could take the land from the Native peoples, just because the King said so.  This understandably ruffled feathers and made him some enemies. The second thing that made Williams unpopular was that he had been speaking against taking oaths to the civil authorities. He reasoned that many people in the colony were not true Christians, and that it was blasphemous to ask unbelievers to take oaths in the name of God. He did not believe that civil authorities should be bound by oaths to God in the first place; such vows should only be taken to God in service to His Own Kingdom. The third charge brought him into direct conflict with established church authorities: Williams preached that it was sinful to sit under the teaching of any minister connected with the Church of England. He further taught that true believers should also separate from anyone who would not separate from Anglicans themselves—even if it was a family member! And fourth: that the civil authorities only had sway over the bodies and property of citizens. When they attempted to make laws compelling the consciences and religious affiliations of its citizens, they were treading on ground that belonged only to the Kingdom of God. 

     There was really no question as to whether Williams was “guilty” or not: he’d taught these things openly, and he made no attempt to disguise it.  The judgment of the court was that Williams would be exiled from the colony within six weeks; if he behaved himself and refrained from these teachings, they would give him until spring of 1636.  But by now we’ve come to understand how bold Williams was. He continued to meet secretly with his flock and teach them just as before. When authorities found out, they sent officers out to arrest Williams and place him on a ship bound for England. This was January of 1636.  But here is an interesting twist: apparently, Massachusetts Bay Governor Winthrop had some liking for Williams and sent word to warn him.  Williams fled to the wilderness.

     For the better part of four months, Roger Williams had to face the brunt of a harsh winter.  He faced hunger and exposure to the elements; as he said, “…not knowing what bread and bed did mean…exposed to a winter’s miseries in a howling wilderness of frost and snow.”*  His choice to honor the Native communities by learning their language and addressing them as sovereign owners of their own lands, however, reaped a reward. It was their kindness that made the difference between life and death. It was a terribly uncomfortable experience, but Williams did survive.  Spring came, and by June of 1636 Williams had arrived at the place we now call Rhode Island. He and some followers from Salem worked to establish the colony of Providence Plantations.  He chose the name to give thanks to God, who had provided for his escape from his Massachusetts Bay persecutors and kept him alive through a terrible winter.  When we return next month, we’ll cover the colony and church he started, and the principles that made it truly unique for the time.  Many of those principles are still part of our DNA as Baptists.

Your Brother and Servant,

Pastor Scott.

*My sources for this article include The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness by H. Leon McBeth (Broadman Press, 1987) and Roger Williams: New England Firebrand by James E. Ernst (The MacMillan Company, 1932)

Series Introduction

Overview of Formative Baptist Beliefs

Anabaptist Forebears

John Smyth and the English Separatists

Thomas Helwys

Particular Baptists and Immersion

Theocracy and Persecution in the New World

Roger Williams’ Formative Years

The Good and the Bad of Roger Williams’ Separatism

Roger Williams’ “Dangerous” Ideas