Apostolic Authority, Baptism, and the Indians

Roger Williams and eleven friends formed the first Baptist Church in America in Providence, Rhode Island. Ezekiel Holliman was one of them. He baptized Williams by immersion in March of 1639. He had followed Williams from the Salem, Massachusetts church where Williams had briefly taught several years before. Williams then proceeded to baptize Holliman and ten friends. Shortly after this, however, he came to a most remarkable conclusion. Let’s hear an eyewitness account of what happened:

I (Richard Scott) walked with him in the Baptists’ way about three or four months, in which time he brake from the society, and declared at large the ground and reasons of it; that their baptism could not be right because it was not administered by an apostle. After that he set upon a way of seeking (with two or three other men that had dissented with him) by way of preaching and praying; and there he continued a year or two, till two of the three had left him.1

Roger Williams’ actions declared what his later words would make abundantly clear: all Christian baptisms were and are invalid, unless apostles, like those of the Jerusalem Church, administered them. Roger Williams understood this in his radical statement regarding the conversion of the Indians of New England:

How readily I could have brought the whole Country to have observed one day in seven; … to have received a Baptism … to have come to a stated Church meeting,  maintained priests and forms of prayer, and a whole form of Antichristian worship in life and death … Why have I not brought them to such a conversion as I speak of?2 I answer, woe be to me, if I call light darkness, and darkness light … woe be to me if I call that conversion unto God, which is indeed subversion of the souls of millions in Christendom, from one false worship to another, and the profanation of the holy name of God.3

What then would be the hallmarks of the apostolic authority Roger Williams waited for? Paul put it this way, "… through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake."4 Apostles communicate saving faith which enables a man to obey the Son of God. Such preaching reveals the worth of the Savior to the heart of those who are willing to do the will of God.5 It comes from those who have no deceit or hidden sin,6 and even pierces the heart of the most religious people who still have a heart for God.7

Not many in Roger Williams’ day, or since, have had the courage to face what history’s testimony plainly tells, that Christianity is totally condemned by the words of the Scriptures. The Christian Church has lost its authority because of the blood she has shed, the corruptions she has allowed in her own midst, and the fornication she has commited with the kings of this earth in exchange for worldly favor and power. No denomination that accepts the historic Christian Church as legitimate can be free of the guilt of the blood she has shed. Nor can they possibly escape the corruptions that have ensnared her since she began in compromise with the Roman Empire.8 This is the unambiguous essence of Roger Williams’ thinking about Christianity, and it is valid.

  • 1.
    Sydney Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, volume 1, page 222.
  • 2.
    The trust the Indians accorded him because of his friendship, fair dealing, and the effort he put in to learn their language, made him uniquely qualified to do this.
  • 3.
    “Christenings Make Not Christians,” The Complete Writings of Roger Williams, volume 7, pages 36-37.
  • 4.
    Romans 1:5; Paul reiterates this thought three more times in Romans 10:16; 15:18; and 16:26.
  • 5.
    John 7:17
  • 6.
    2 Corinthians 4:2
  • 7.
    Acts 2:36-40
  • 8.
    From this compromise have sprung the three main divisions of Christianity: Roman, Eastern, and the Protestant branch, with its multitude of denominations.