Some have believed John Clarke deserves to be called the first real Baptist leader in Rhode Island although Williams founded it. While Williams was a Baptist only for a few months, Clarke remained faithful for nearly forty years. Williams concluded that no visible church was valid until Christ sent a new apostle to restore it; therefore, he never affiliated with any other church. Many also believed the church Clarke founded at Newport deserves to be called the first pure and permanent Baptist Church in America although history proves otherwise, since Roger Williams resigned the church in Providence before Clarke even started the church at Newport.
The idea of separation of church and state has been perverted by secularists in our day and age. However, his view did pave the way for religious liberty for all groups and made America a safe haven for religious toleration. We learn from Williams that state religion cannot be regulated without abuse. When people are free to choose and voluntarily affiliate with a church it makes freedom of conscience a tremendous truth that leads to genuine and sincere religious practice. For this reason freedom of religion without any state control has been a cherished belief of Baptists because of men like Roger Williams who were willing to take a stand for it.
One wonders with the preponderance of Baptist churches everywhere today how they grew to such a number with such small beginnings. Truly we can say the hand of the Lord was upon Baptists despite efforts to suppress them. This may seem strange to some who have not studied the lay of the provincial land held by certain religious groups in the early days of this nations colonial American History.
The pagan people of Germany once believed that the power and presence of Thor resided in a giant Oak tree. Under its sinister shade, ancient religious rituals were conducted. One missionary had the courage to chop it down!
Pilgrim Marpeck represents the hard-working makeup of a lot of Anabaptists. His retaining a secular job all his life and also starting congregations as well as his writings are truly amazing. His defense of Anabaptist thought and practice was a needed emphasis after the early days of ruthless persecution and martyrdom. We, like Marpeck, don’t need to divide our lives into the secular and sacred. We must intersect both worlds with the truth that will set people free the way Marpeck did in spite of the costs that it entailed.