William Tyndale, the persecuted Bible translator, pledged that if God spared his life he would see to it that a plough boy would know more of the Word of God than the high churchmen who, (at that time), opposed the scriptures being translated into English. The English Puritans as well as the Pilgrim separatists came out of the very same Biblical Christianity that arose in the 1500's. The coming of the English Bible was a great national blessing. New Life began to spring up among the English speaking people on both sides of the Atlantic. This Biblical revival sparked the Reformation. Then followed a series of Awakenings which have continued ever since. All this came in with the ready availability of the Holy Scriptures for the common man.
They came out of the same Biblical Christianity. The Puritans were, (and are today), politically engaged. They were committed to to work within the world system and to change it. The Pilgrims were dubious about this. They were,(and are today), separatists and not as politically engaged as the Puritan Christians on the right and the Ecumenical Christians on the left. Down through the centuries they have always affirmed the teaching of Jesus, "No man can serve two masters". Accordingly, while attending to their civic duties as good citizens, Pilgrim Christians have been primarily committed to a life of personal consecration to Jesus Christ, the Gospel witness, and missions abroad.An essay by Gavin Finley MD
|1. Puritan History, Past, Present and Future. An Introduction to this study.|
|2. John Winthrop and the Puritan dream of a shining 'city upon a hill'.|
|3. 'Manifest Destiny' is rooted in the Puritan dream of a 'nation under God'.|
|4. The Puritan belief in a 'Nation Under God' goes back to ancient Israel.|
|5. Gutenberg, Bibles and the Reformation bring in the Pilgrims and Puritans.|
|6. The Puritans rise up in the 1600's to dominate English Parliament.|
|7. The Puritan Army goes to battle against the king in the English Civil War.|
|8. The Puritan Army wears yellow ribbons and sashes in the English Civil War.|
|9. The Puritan Religion supports Parliament in the English Civil War.|
|10. Puritans vs. Pilgrims. Similarities and differences.|
|11. The Puritans in the New World and the signing of the Mayflower Compact.|
|12. Puritan belief and the American Revolution vs. the French Revolution.|
|13. America's Puritans today and the 'Religious Right'|
|14. The abortion issue and America's Puritans today|
|15. Today's Puritans and the expansion of America's global peacemaking role.|
|16. Today's American Puritans and the rise of Dominion Theology|
|17. Puritan belief and the future history of America.|
THE COMING OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES TO THE COMMON MAN IN THE 1500'S GIVES RISE TO BIBLICAL CHRISTIANS IN EUROPE AND IN ENGLAND. THESE INCLUDED THE 'NON-CONFORMIST' PILGRIM SEPARATISTS AND THE PURITANSSchoolchildren are told some things about the Pilgrims and the Puritans. Unfortunately, (due to state censorship of historical information of a religious nature), they are not given the spiritual dimension to the story. They are not given details as to why Biblical Christians were so maligned when they emerged in the 1500's and 1600's. Many Non-Conformists, as they were called, had been uprooted and were leaving Europe. Here is a brief thumbnail sketch of what happened during that extraordinary period of time.
The coming of the English Bible to the common man in the 1500's was a spiritual bombshell. It had an enormous impact on European and English spiritual life and its history. The Holy Scriptures in the hand of the common man was unprecedented in history. And so was its effect on society. The immediate effect was soon evident. It spawned a great evangelical revival.
Of course there were political and social consequences as well. Out of this Biblical Revival came the Reformation which powered up in England during the 1500's. Unfortunately the political upheaval led to military actions in central Europe. Rome mustered armies against the Reformers as they gathered in various German and Swiss cities. The German princes in the north were inclined to side with the Reformers. The Reformation wars were a great tragedy. This was followed in the early 1600’s by the awful 30 Years War. It too was driven by strong religious elements. All these wars just about wrecked Germany. It was left in such a ruined state that it would not recover for 200 years.
The 1500's were years of great tumult and change. The Turks were moving against European Christendom from the east. Islam's Second Jihad against western Christendom was under way. Constantinople had already fallen to the Islamic powers in 1453. For a while things looked very grim. The Islamic armies were actually threatening Vienna.
The war against the Turks called for the raising of armies and high taxes. Throughout central Europe there was misery. Plague and famine stalked the land. Not surprisingly the hard pressed peasants revolted against their overlords. This series of conflicts would come to be known as the Peasant Wars. It was against this background that the Anabaptists began to make their stand.
This frame, showing the secret printing of English Bibles in Germany during the 1500's, was captured from the Gateway Films classic 'God's Outlaw'. This wonderful video is a biography of the English Bible translator William Tyndale. It exposes the ecclesiastical intrigues against the Holy Scriptures to tell a wonderful story. It is available from Vision Video.
The 1500's was a time of great political and social upheaval. Many people, in their distress, cried out to God. And He answered them. This was an era of great trials and hardship. But during that time some truly wonderful things happened. The Bible translators were bringing the Holy Scriptures out of the Latin, the dead language of the Roman Empire. Gutenberg’s printing presses were hard at work. These were some very fine examples of German engineering. They were the first printing presses with movable type..
The impact of this wonderful new invention coming together with the new translations of the Bible was enormous. The Holy Bible was now being printed in large numbers and at low cost in German, French, Dutch, and English as well as other languages of Europe. For the first time in history the scriptures were available for the laity. This had been the dream of Johannes Gutenberg back in the 1400's. Now it was becoming a reality.
The Biblical revival led on to the Reformation. Unfortunately, due to the politicization of religion, the Reformation led on to some terrible wars in central Europe. The successive campaigns by Catholic and Protestant Armies went on for decades. Christians of the sword took sides in the struggle. And each army in succession pillaged the countryside. The armies came into the valleys. They took their provisions from the people and took their young men off to war. After decades of this internal warfare Germany and the Swiss valleys were left in in a shambles. Many people from central Europe were now migrating out of the country. Peace loving Christians were among them. Many began to take refuge in Holland. At that time the Dutch were beginning to take a dominant role in European history. During the 1600's their peaceful trade and their mastery of the seas had made the Netherlands the new superpower in Christendom. This newly blessed country now became a haven and a place of refuge for refugees from the Reformation Wars, including many evangelicals.
The Reformation wars in central Europe saw many monstrous and shameful acts. Many Christian believers were revolted and appalled by what they had seen. They had seen enough of Christian savagery and barbarism to last several lifetimes. It was in histories such as these that the Pilgrims and Anabaptists arose. In baptism many came to make their pledge to serve Christ and Him alone. Many separatist evangelical Christians became radically apolitical in those times. It got to the point where they didn’t care which army won. They had read the scriptures. They had come to believe that Christianity was Christ's kingdom. He was, after all, the coming King of kings. It was in this radical evangelical devotion that Christ took His throne in the hearts of men, women, and children. Personal faith was the main covenant issue for these Christian believers. Covenants with established national churches were shunned. And since infant baptism was not biblical and since it was linked to state citizenship they began to shun this as well. Pilgrim Christians also began to show indifference to religiously motivated military campaigns. These peace loving evangelicals were becoming separatists. To them, Christian holiness was very much a matter of separation from the systems of this world. Christian faith, to these people, was not about which church or cathedral you belonged to. It was all about an eternal covenant relationship with the indwelling Christ. It was about a personal faith walked out daily with Him. For this they were persecuted bitterly. not only by Rome, but by the Reformers as well.
These Christians were motivated by a personal Biblical faith. Their faith was a journey through history. It was a pilgrimage. And they were happy to be referred to as Pilgrims. They were going to live in this world as good citizens. They would witness to their faith in Christ to all who would hear. But like the Amish and Mennonites today they would separate themselves from the dark machinations of politics and all its evil outworking. They would reject the sword. They would heed the instructions of Jesus and take up their cross. This is was what made them Pilgrim separatists. They were a covenant people consecrated to Jesus Christ, and Him alone. They were sojourners, travelers in a land of dark shadows. They loved their families and their homes. But they were also prepared to leave the land of their present dwelling. They would set forth by faith along on a "highway of holiness". (Isa.35) They were walking toward a City which had foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.
It was here that some of these Pilgrim Christians began to get into political trouble. In England Pilgrim separatists and Puritans all came to be labeled as "Non-Conformists" by the state Church of England. But while the Puritans wanted to change the system the Pilgrims wanted to worship in a church that was entirely free and separate from state control. Like Christians in China today, these committed evangelicals did not trust state churches. Pilgrim Christians favored the newly emerging Congregational and Independent church system. They did not want any overseeing Episcopal bishops, or a church hierarchy in league with the king. Congregational and independent church gatherings were springing up all over England. But, there was a problem. They were illegal.
The fact that their meetings were illegal did not stop the Non-Conformist Pilgrim Christians. They had a divine mandate for what they were doing. The biblical pattern for the Church was laid out in the New Testament. It was outlined in the Gospels, in the Book of Acts, and in the writings of the Apostle Paul. The Church was a global fellowship of believers. Pilgrim Christians were decidedly independent. They got their orders directly from Jesus Christ Himself in the Great Commission.
The Pilgrims were committed to walk out their Christian faith on a higher level than just the Church-State politics of Rome, the Reformers, and even the Presbyterians. Biblical Christians believed that salvation came by faith, and not by the rituals of the established church. Their personal relationship with Jesus Christ was the key. He was the crux of their faith. They knew Him. And they were committed to walk with Him in a life of total commitment. This was the Gospel. It was their top priority. And they were excited about it.
High churchmen looked down their noses at evangelicals and other Non-Conformists. They spoke out loudly from their pulpits against their radical idea of Christians being separated. They had no time for their consecration to God and spoke disdainfully about their "Enthusiasm". To these churchmen this enthusiasm for God was unreal. It was mere emotionalism. It seemed that these people were either irrational or hypocritical or both. But Pilgrim Christians couldn't help themselves. They had stumbled into a serendipity. They were happy with the One whom they had discovered. They were going to walk out their newfound faith, come what may. Here was a new and exciting personal dimension to Christian faith. They had often wondered about Jesus Christ. And now they had found Him!
The deadly side to the information war being waged against the Holy Scriptures. The evangelical Cambridge scholar and Bible translator William Tyndale is condemned by the Church of England and burned at the stake in 1536. This image is from the video 'God's Outlaw'. Click on the image to go to the video.
Pilgrim Christians were a persecuted minority. But they were bright eyed and full of hope. These individually guided Christians were well represented among the innovators of their time. They were also people who would travel. Quite understandably they were drawn to the English colonies in the New World. As well as being individualists the Pilgrims were very loyal to their church fellowships. Whole congregations of Biblical Christians sailed out to America together. They were just the sort of people who would do very well as settlers. They had the personal qualities necessary for the task of opening up the wilderness.
As the Pilgrims sailed out to a new life in America their future was uncertain. But they were glad of the opportunity. Over there in the New World God had given them sanctuary. The English colonies would give them a chance for a new life. And they would have a chance to enjoy the religious freedom which had eluded them back in Europe and in England.
THE PILGRIM SEPARATISTS; THEY DIFFERED FROMThe Puritans and the Pilgrim separatists came to America together. Both of these communions were Christians on a mission. The Pilgrims were Separatists. They were similar to the Puritans in their enthusiasm for Biblical Christianity. But the Pilgrims did not have the Puritan political zeal for hammering out a Christian church-state system. They simply saw themselves as sojourners in the land. They were travelers on a pilgrim pathway leading onwards into history. Their ultimate destination was the Holy City and a destiny far more glorious than anything that the systems of this present world could ever offer. The Pilgrim dream was a holy one and one that would give meaning to their journey through life, even right through to the end of the age. For the Pilgrims their dream was not something that could be attained in this present world system. No political machinations on their part could bring it into being. Pilgrims believed that all their efforts to sanctify their nation, (or any of the kingdoms of this world for that matter), would have only limited success until Messiah came. The city they sought was the one that Abraham looked for. They were looking for a city not made with human hands. They were fellow heirs of the same divine promise given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So the Pilgrims would walk by faith just like the patriarchs of the faith who,
THOSE OTHER NON-COMFORMISTS, THE PURITANS."waited for a city which has foundationsIn England during the 1600's the Puritans and the Pilgrim Separatists suffered together. They were persecuted by the state and by the church that had been hired by the state. And yet the Puritans believed in the state and had faith, hope, and love for the state. The Puritans believed that they could work within the system and turn things around. But the Pilgrims were under no such illusions. Because of what they saw in the scriptures and because of the history they had seen they were more radical in their Christianity. Many of them believed in the separation of church and state. Pilgrim Non-Conformists had some sharp disagreements with their fellow travelers, the Puritans. And Puritans sometimes saw the Pilgrims separatists as unpatriotic.
whose builder and maker is God". (Heb.11:10)
Pilgrim separatists, however, had good reasons to be suspicious of entanglement with politics. The Anabaptists, the Amish, and the Mennonites had suffered severely in central Europe during the Reformation wars, Pilgrim separatists in England were also feared and hated by the church-state system. And they were persecuted very severely by their fellow Christians who had become established in the system. The reason is quite clear. Pilgrims showed an unwillingness to "work with" the system. For this they were despised. They were imprisoned, they were burned, and they were hanged. Many were fined to the point of financial ruin. John Bunyan, who had served in Oliver Cromwell's Puritan Army were forbidden to preach without a license. He spent many years in prison at Bedford Jail in England. There he wrote the 'Pilgrim's Progress' which is still a best seller Their was no doubt that Pilgrim separatists suffered more than did the Puritans. See this article. They were committed to stay within the Church of England. They believed that they could refine it or "purify" it from within.
The Pilgrims and Puritans had similar dreams. Both wanted to see their country blessed. But each had different views of how to go about it. In serving their God they had a different set of priorities. Fortunately the New World was a big land. And America provided a lot of elbow room for people of different persuasions to go about their business. It also offered many new opportunities. And so when they came to America the Pilgrims and Puritans began to flow together and complement one another.
Pilgrims were glad to see their Puritan friends making the effort to set up a Christian nation. In fact many of the Pilgrims would become politically involved and join the ranks of the Puritans. Many of them signed political covenants and contracts when they reached the New World. A classic case of this was the signing of the Mayflower Compact. The Pilgrims and the Puritans were destined to go out and tame the wilderness together.
The Pilgrims would benefit greatly from living alongside their politically active Puritan friends. They were companions together in the Christian faith. But politics was a secondary issue for the Pilgrims. It did not have the same priority as the Gospel. Politics was not their main burden or motivation. They believed that no matter what the political system was, the country would only be as good as the moral integrity of it's individual citizens. National politics, to the Pilgrim, was like an egg omelet. The quality of the resulting dish was not so much how the ingredients were mixed as on how good the eggs were . As evangelicals they were going to live peaceably within whatever system they found themselves. They would go along with the politics of the land as much as their consciences allowed. If insurmountable problems were to arise the Pilgrims would not make waves or take up arms in protest. They would quietly step away from all the fracas and move on. They were prepared to pack up and leave the land of their present encampment if they felt that God was calling upon them to do so. Their hopes were not bound up in the land in which they found themselves living. Nor was their ultimate hope to be found in the flags and standards they saw raised before them. After all, they were Pilgrims. They were sojourners in the land. Theirs was not the yellow brick road and a pathways made by men. They were Pilgrims. As evangelicals they were called to a difficult passage through a strait gate and along a narrow way up onto a highway of holiness. They knew that it would not be easy. But in their Pilgrim devotion all this extra effort was no burden at all. In fact it was a joy. Because they were on the road to glory.
The Pilgrims had a long view of history. They believed that they were in a continuous stream of faithful Christian believers extending all the way back to the Apostles. When they were arrested by Roman Catholic or Reformist church authorities this was the usual testimony they brought. Even under torture, the attempts to find ringleaders among Pilgrim Separatists usually led nowhere, except to Jesus Christ Himself. But He was a radical that church dignitaries could hardly come against. The Pilgrims also pointed to the Gospel as their over arching mission. And they had been commissioned by Jesus Himself in the Great Commission. That commission had been given to the early Church back in the first century. And it extended right on up to the very last day of the age. Even if the political climate of their land turned against them the Pilgrims were going to remain steadfast. They would still keep their peace and operate in the graces. Pilgrims were loathe to pick up the sword against their fellow man.
Many evangelicals were Pilgrim separatists. They had committed themselves to a lifestyle of Christian consecration. Many of them, having gone through the Reformation Wars in Europe, were not impressed with Church politics. They had seen enough Christian blood spilled in the 1500's to last several lifetimes. They also had a collective memory of past history. Established religion had persecuted devoted Christians during the 4th century after the Council of Niceae. Persecutions of true Christians by the state and by their hired church authorities was the sad legacy of this compromise. So the Pilgrim Christians were not easily moved by the passionate appeals for the support That came from the earthly powers. They were wary of religious party spirit and those who came in to manipulate the fears of Christians. Pilgrims were just not trusting of politicians at all, whether they were making their play from within the church or from the outside. Nor were they convinced that the state would deliver on its promises. So Christians of Pilgrim devotion were wary of the political agents of the nation. The knew that the land of their present dwelling was not their ultimate security. It was just their present encampment. The country they now found themselves in was not their final destination. It was historically important, to be sure. But in the long view it was still just a waypoint on the epic journey of the saints toward the Holy City.
It is important to realize that the John Bunyan's book, 'Pilgrim's Progress', was, and is today, the second most popular book in the history of the English speaking people. It was published in the late 1600's and came out to America onto the frontier with the early English settlers. Like the main character in "Pilgrim's Progress" the American Pilgrim separatists were not too embroiled in earthly politics. They had a higher agenda, even the high calling in Jesus Christ. They were headed for that Holy City, the New Jerusalem. And as they grasped their Bibles and walked on their eyes had that faraway look, the 'thousand yard stare'. The Pilgrims had chosen the Way of the cross. And they knew what it meant. If a situation arose that called upon them to do so they were not going to get angry or rise up and kill. They had a collective memory of being among people who did that in the past. And they were not going to do it again. They were willing to suffer persecution for their faith, even to the point of laying down their lives for their Redeemer. During the Reformation wars they had seen enough of so-called Christians taking up the sword and spilling blood. And after all the horrors the Pilgrims had seen they were not going to repeat this. Many of them had come through a passage which led through the haven of the Netherlands. And they had found the Prince of Peace. As they came on through England and on to America they had gone through further awakenings. So for the Pilgrims the Way forward was clear. The Gospel mission was now their number one priority.
In this context the story is told of an incident that occurred during the English Civil War. It was at the Battle of Marston Moor that the Puritan Army had taken their standard, 'In God we trust' and their yellow ribbons onto the battlefield against the king. In that decisive battle the Puritan Army of Parliament had defeated the King Charles I and his royalist Army had been forced to retire. As the battle was coming to its end Oliver Cromwell came upon a young Puritan soldier as he lay dying on the battlefield. Here is an excerpt from the book 'A Short History of the English People' by 19th century Oxford scholar John Richard Green."A young Pilgrim who lay dying on the field told CromwellThe interface between Pilgrims and Puritans has always been porous.
as he bent over him that one thing lay on his spirit.
'I asked him what it was', Cromwell wrote afterwards.
He told me that ”God had not suffered him to be anymore an executioner of His enemies."
In that moment of epiphany that young Puritan underwent a transformation.
He crossed over a spiritual threshold to become a Pilgrim.
The Pilgrims and the Puritans came to America together. These twin streams of Biblical Christians can still be seen in the USA to this day. It is the thesis of this series or articles that the Puritans and the Pilgrims are still with us. The two groups overlap to some degree. They are not watertight at all. Many Christians operate in both camps at different times. But the categorization as 'Pilgrim' or 'Puritan' still provides a helpful way to differentiate Christians in America today. The spirit, essence, and character of the two communions have really not changed in their passage through the centuries.
There was no doubt that the Pilgrims were different from the Puritans. Their main priority was the spreading the Gospel. This was the Good News of personal salvation by faith in Christ. But the scope of the task they had been given went far beyond their own community. The Pilgrims had a responsibility to take the Gospel to the heathen out in places beyond their own shores. They had been commissioned personally by Jesus Christ Himself. He had charged them personally with the Great Commission. They were to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth, - and even to the end of the age.
For the Pilgrims there could be no higher calling than this. Their mission assignment was not limited to the land of their present encampment. They were on a pilgrimage. And their journeying would go on. They would go on beyond this New World in which they now found themselves. They would continue their witness even through the New World Order that would follow.
The geographical scope of the Pilgrim task was a global one. It extended out beyond the Puritan agenda which was set by the Monroe doctrine. Theirs was a global mission. If they were questioned on this by their Puritan friends the Pilgrim Christians would simply point to the book of Acts and the church celebration of the Day of Pentecost. This was also the birthday of the nation of Israel, the day Moses brought the Law down from Mount Sinai. As the New Covenant unfolded on this fourth of the Seven Feasts of the Lord, the birthday of Israel, it would also become the birthday of the Church. Pilgrims would say that the Church was not just a national entity. The Church, and their primary identity, was with a people who went global from that first epic day nearly two millennia ago.
Through the Pilgrims the Christian message was destined to go out beyond the nation. The Pilgrim vision extended out across the mountains and beyond the comfortable valley of their present dwelling. During the 20th century American Christian believers of both Pilgrim and Puritan persuasion would busy themselves in the Gospel outreach. And after World War 2 they would initiate the greatest evangelical outreach this world has ever seen. It would even eclipse the remarkable explosion of missionary activity seen during the former era of the British Empire. The Gospel would go out towards the far corners of the world.
PURITAN ZEAL AND THE POLITICAL IMPERATIVE.The Puritans held the sharing of the Gospel as important just as the Pilgrims did. But they were also prepared to give a lot of their time, money, and effort to the political goings on right there in their own new nation. Politically active Christians had taken a leading role in the founding of America and they made a huge contribution to its subsequent stability and wonderful growth. They had left "Old Europe" and the Old World behind. They wanted to see an entirely new order established in the New World. Puritan Christians worked hard to ensure that the politics of their nation stayed true to the sound Biblical principles they believed in so very strongly. Their burden was to see America stay under the covering protection of the God of Abraham, Isaac. and Jacob. They wanted very much for America to enjoy His divine favor and His blessing.
The Puritans were spiritually alive and Biblically informed. They were very aware of the spiritual realities at work in the broad sweep of history. They knew very well what had happened to nations who had forgotten their God. They had read about it in their Bibles. And they had seen it in history.
This important lesson had been well demonstrated in the history of Israel. Israel had been a great nation under King David and King Solomon. But their power and riches had corrupted them. Then they forgot their God. Their godlessness and idolatry brought them down in the following generation. When the glory departed so did the Kingdom, the power, and the money. Through a tax revolt under Jeroboam the once proud nation of Israel was divided into two kingdoms. Then later it was conquered. The ten northern tribes of Israel were led away captive to Assyria in 722 B.C.. Later, in 605 and 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar took the Southern Kingdom of Judah captive into Babylon. Only Judah returned.
The ten lost tribes of Israel are still out there somewhere. They do not know who they are. They have amnesia and suffer from partial blindness. They will continue in that state until the end time drama when this, (and many other mysteries), will be revealed. The gold will be refined in the crucible of the End Time. And the fire that burns the wood, hay and stubble will reveal all 12 jewels. They will all be recovered.
In this context John saw two women in his visions of Revelation. He saw a harlot. (Rev. 17 & 18) He also saw a woman in travail. (Rev.12) Upon her head was a starry crown, a diadem of 12 stars. He also saw the 12 gates of the New Jerusalem. All of them were fully restored and functioning. (Rev.21)
So Pilgrim Christians have had a very broad view of history as it extends out from Israel and on into the Apocalypse. The Apostle Peter spoke of glorious climax to all this in "a royal priesthood and a holy nation". (1Pet.2:9) This grand conclusion to holy history was precisely what Moses had spoken about. (Exo. 19:6) But the covenant people of God had a rather patchy track record so far. The nation of Israel had been blessed, had risen to national greatness, and had then fallen. This same pattern had been repeating itself in the history of the European nations of Western Christendom. Israel had been partially blind and had not seen her Messiah in His first coming as the Suffering Servant. And lost Israel had been blind to their place in the Commonwealth of Israel. (Eph.2:12-13)
Christendom has had its high points and its low points. Through the centuries each nation in the west has taken their turn as the dominant power and standard bearer. The Spanish, the Dutch, the French, and the British had each risen to power in their time. Each had achieved superpower status and taken western history along with them for the ride. But on every occasion it was the wealth and their power that came with superpower status that had corrupted them. Each one of those nations had risen and fallen in succession, just like dominoes.
Pilgrim Christians in America today continue the tradition. They realize that it is now America's turn as the superpower. What will she do? If America should stumble and fall, what will happen to the world? Is there another great nation in Christendom to which America can hand the baton? Or will it be as the hymn writer saw when she wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic?
Pilgrim and Puritan Christians in America ask the same questions today. Since Hiroshima and Breton-Woods in 1945 we have lived in a period of history that could well be called the Pax Americana. America has led the world since World War 2 through its huge multinational network of global business, including oil. After the Cold War ended in 1991 it is now the sole remaining superpower. America is now entering a military phase as it comes up against a resurgence of the Third Jihad and occupies the cradle of civilization in the Euphrates Valley. What is to be America's heritage and her destiny as she seeks to maintain peace in the world?
Pilgrim and Puritan devotion is still with us today. It rests on the knowledge and fear of the Sovereign God of Israel. It is the source of Puritan zeal. This is what drives them and makes them willing to get involved in national politics.
This social expression is not a new phenomenon. It has been this way among Biblical Christians for 500 years. As American Christians have seen it, the choice before them is a stark and simple one. Their new nation in the New World could choose to go with God. If America did go with God then it would become a great nation and prosper. Or their nation could take the low road. But if their country was to drift spiritually and be a nation without God they knew the inevitable result. Their beloved America would slip down the chute into national disaster.
After the events of the 1700's the lessons of history were even clearer to American Christians. Americans could mimic the French in the Old World. They could choose the pathway of godless self-serving humanism and Nature worshiping man. Like the French they could put 'human reason' at the top of their totem pole for their mind’s worth-ship/worship. Their new nation could choose this humanistic selfism. It would be installed in their own heads as their god. But the consequences would be tragic. Their new nation would blow its opportunity for true greatness. America would slip into oblivion, just as the nations before it had done. Abandonment of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would lead to moral decline. And this would lead to national disaster.
So, not surprisingly, the Puritans emerged out of Biblical Christianity to become politically active. And they remain so to this day. Puritan zeal is very much a present reality in America. The Puritan desire and their motivation is to see their new nation in the New World established on the firm foundation of Biblical Christianity. Their dream since the days of John Winthrop, Puritan preacher aboard the Mayflower, has been to see America as a 'city upon a hill' and for it to flourish as a 'nation under God'.
PILGRIMS AND THE GOSPELThe Pilgrims appreciated the virtue of this political action and leadership as well. But it was not for them. Their motivation was the evangelical fire for its own sake. They were out to spread the Light of the Gospel. Their passion was to see the indwelling Christ established in the hearts of men, women, and children. Their belief was that only when a significant number of citizens had their roots deep down into the bedrock of Biblical Christianity could the politics really be expected to bring peace and prosperity to the land. For the Pilgrims their national integrity was based on the personal integrity of its citizens. And that, according to them, was based on fear of God and citizens that knew their God. The Pilgrims believed that only a citizenry established in God would provide the sure foundation for national greatness.
The coming of the French Revolution would later prove them right. In the late 1700's the French attempted to forge a republic based on human reason, Nature (with a capital "N"), and secular humanism. But it turned out to be a complete disaster. The Reign of Terror was the result. It was a national tragedy.
They believed that personal Christian faith in the heart of the individual citizen was a necessary pre-requisite for national greatness. Only by bringing a nation's individual citizens into personal faith could integrity be expected to be assured within the nation. Pilgrim s were convinced that personal Christianity established in human hearts by the indwelling Christ was the key to all this. Their nation would then be established on a sure foundation. God would then bless their efforts. As well as enjoying happiness and prosperity they would have the means to extend the Gospel outreach. These were, and are today, the Pilgrim priorities.
There is no doubt that the Pilgrims worked at a different level than the Puritans. The burden of the Puritan was to see the New World become a 'city upon a hill'. The burden of the Pilgrims was first and foremost this Gospel. As American history moved forward the work of the two communions would work together fairly harmoniously. In their passage through American history they have complemented each other quite well, so far.
All evangelicals longed to see God come into the lives of people. But the Pilgrim desire was to see the world changed "soul by soul and silently", one heart at a time. Once invited into human hearts the indwelling Christ would then proceed to do His marvelous work of grace. God would change people, (and quietly change the nations they lived in), from the inside out.
The Pilgrims were not as politically involved as their Puritan friends. They saw politics and their social obligation to the nation in very simple terms. They would pay their taxes, embrace their civic duties and be good citizens wherever they sojourned. But their main agenda was not the politics of the land. Nor were they keen to see the Church go to bed with the state. They considered that they as Pilgrims were called to live a life of consecration to Jesus Christ and personal holiness. They were to live a life of Christian witness before men. Their zeal was to see the Gospel spread to the ends of the earth. They were glad to be out there sowing the seed God's Word. After all, wasn't this the original calling and the main purpose of the Christian church?
PILGRIMS AND PURITANS;The Pilgrims and the Puritans shared many of the same dreams. They both saw the Millennial vision of a world under Christ, of peace on earth, good will among men and a restored creation. As to whether it could be attained in this present evil age well that was where the Pilgrims and Puritans differed. Many Puritans believed that establishing a Godly nation, and perhaps even taking over the world with the Gospel, was entirely possible. For them it was a realistic goal. Some of them even had dreams
DIFFERING VIEWS OF THE DESTINY OF THE NEW WORLD.
The Pilgrims looked at the world and then shook their heads. They were dubious about this. To them such a notion was an impossible dream. Jesus Christ was their coming Messiah. As they read their Bibles they saw a big crisis at the end of the age, not an American Millennium.
Today's Pilgrim separatists have come through another 500 years of history. They are also getting a handle on Bible prophecy and a clearer view of how the age will come to its climax. They may see the Pax Americana achieving some sort of global dominion for a season. But they do not see themselves establishing an American Millennium with "peace on earth, and goodwill among men". As they read their Bibles they see a returning Christ who will re enter this cosmos as Messiah. He will come in the midst of a global crisis of monumental proportions. He will pour His wrath on the wicked and deliver His saints. Messiah Himself will then personally establish His Millennial Kingdom. Pilgrims agree here. They say,
"HE would do it.
As they read the scriptures the Pilgrims saw that Christ's second coming was going to come as a rescue of God's people amidst a raging of nations. It was not going to be an awards ceremony for hierarchical Church unity leaders. Dominion Theology was not supported in Holy Scripture. So their nation, wonderful though it was, would not be wrapping up history. A 'church victorious and triumphant' would not pre-empt the returning Messiah. Pilgrims could never see another state ordained church system ruling over the kingdoms of this world. The Church in its present state could never be expected to bring in Christ's 'Kingdom Now'. Only the returning Messiah could be expected to do that. A plain reading of scripture made it clear to Pilgrims that Jesus will be returning into a seething politico-religious cauldron, a raging of nations. (Psalm 2) Only He could be expected to straighten out this increasingly hellish humanistic mess. The climax of history would not be a lasting global peace under a glorious triumphant world church. The book of Revelation revealed an entirely different scenario. John saw a harlot church in league with a false messiah. And this end time drama would come to a head at a place called Armageddon.
To Pilgrims the return of Messiah would be serious business. His return would involve the judgment of the wicked. (Mat.13:40-43, Isa.63) It was also clear to many as they read their Bibles that the saints would be under the gun, perhaps even incarcerated or in some sort of exile when Christ returned. The run-up to the Second Coming would be more exciting than many supposed. The times to come would be the best of times and the worst of times. It was clear to the Pilgrims that Christianity in its present form was not going to be taking over the world. As they read their Bibles they saw that only the intervention of the returning Christ would save the day. The end time drama would be a day of vengeance and deliverance. (Mic.2:12-13)
So, that being the case, why should they, as Pilgrims, try to stop this inevitable incoming tide of international evil by using worldly political methods? For the Pilgrims the ship of state in the sea of nations was ultimately doomed. Playing politics, to the Pilgrim, was not their burden. Pilgrims, even today's Pilgrims, would say that playing politics is like polishing the brass banisters on the Titanic. For them, it is a wasted effort.
The Pilgrim mission has not changed. It was, and still is, the Gospel. It was similar to the one with which God would later charge Dwight L. Moody. God was in effect saying to them,
"I have given you a lifeboat".
"Save all you can."
PILGRIMS AND POLITICSFor the Pilgrims the exercise of politics to uplift the Christian faith has always been a nice thought but a questionable one. For them the job at hand was simple and straightforward. They had been given their marching orders in holy scripture. Their priorities had been set by Jesus Himself in the Great Commission. If there was any 'kingdom of the church' to be set up then Christ Himself would be the One to bring it into being. And He would do that when He came back. He Himself would establish His Millennial Kingdom. This would be after the judgment of the wicked and His second coming. Only after His return in judgment and deliverance would Christ's Kingdom on earth be established. Messiah Himself would officiate in this matter. Only Christ would be capable of establishing a Millennial Paradise. Any attempt by the Church to do so was doomed to failure.
The Pilgrims have been proven to be correct here. History has demonstrated repeatedly that humanistic Utopian Christians, whatever their political flavor, tend to pick up the sword. And when they do so a lot of innocent men, women, and children get hurt and many die. And in those days Christian grace dies with them in the street.
From the Pilgrim perspective it seemed that Puritan Christians in their politicking were risking serious compromise. They felt that the Puritans could push too far and probably would. Usurping Messiah's role as the God-man and King of Kings was a real worry to them. For the Church to try to rule the world before the Second Coming seemed a tall order to Pilgrim Christians. As they read their Bibles the whole idea seemed very dark and dangerous. Jesus Himself said that it would be after the Tribulation that He would return. (Mat.24:29-31) He, and He alone, would judge the wicked. He, and He alone, would establish His glorious Millennial Kingdom. And His reign upon the earth would last for a thousand years. ~ Rev.20
For the Pilgrims these were fairly simple and straightforward observations. Any diligent Christian could draw these conclusions from a plain reading of the Holy Scriptures. So job #1, for the Pilgrims, was the Gospel. They had been commissioned to do a job. And that task was to spread of the Good News of salvation across the world.
THE PURITAN VIEW OF WORLDLY POLITICSFor the Puritans, however, this Pilgrim goal was all very nice. But in their view it was quite insufficient. They themselves had a more complex and earthier agenda to hammer out. For the Puritans, a Christian republic in the New World, a 'nation under God', was not just a religious pipe dream. It was a very present necessity. If they were going to establish a new nation in the New World then they must stick together. Pilgrim separatism just would not do.
There were important politico-social issues involved here as well. This "strait gate" and the "narrow way" (Mat.7:13-14) of the Pilgrims was not all encompassing enough for nation building. This "highway of holiness" (Isa.35) would never be popular enough to be voted in with the 51% or 66% majority required for a democratic system. And Pilgrim separatists would not compromise and deal. So Pilgrims would never make it politically. Nor would they ever make the grade as a religious consort for the emerging political powers in the New World.
The way of holiness would never be popular. It would never carry the bulk of the citizenry coming into America. So as a matter of political pragmatism the Pilgrim way was not going to "cut it" in the real world or church-state politics. It was just too exclusive and restrictive. Puritanism, on the other hand, being somewhat broader, and comprised of Christians who were a tad more worldly wise and politically savvy just might pull it off. Their Pilgrim friends would have to be sidelined.
This was just fine with the Pilgrims. They never wanted political power or leadership in this world system anyway.
The Puritans, though, had big plans. They were out to establish a new Christian nation in the New World, a new order based on the Bible. Accordingly they must make very sure that as much of their "Christian nation" as possible came into unity. They must bind themselves into "one body politic'. This was precisely as the Mayflower Compact had stated. That was the political reality.
The Puritans were concerned about spiritual issues as well. They realized that it was absolutely essential that their new colony had God's favor and continued to keep it. They were in a hostile wilderness. They were far away from home with few comforts, few assurances of survival, and many dangers to face. If they lost God's favor their colony could easily be wiped out in one winter and in any of a number of ways. This put them on their knees. There was a tremendous burden on them to ensure that their colonies were and remained a company of Godly people both in personal devotion and in their behavior. And towards this end they set about to establish their Christian 'Church in the wilderness' with the most ardent zeal.
The Church in the New World would be different from the European Church pattern they had left behind. It would not be shepherded by a hierarchical system of bishops. That was the way of Old Europe. Their Puritan Church would be guided and upheld with the close and supportive ministry of a number of Godly Christian servant leaders. This was a wonderful new ministry style in which ministers were held responsible for the people they ministered to. The form of church government the Puritans were now adopting in the New World came to be called 'Congregational'.
Pilgrims and Puritans in the 1600’s were hard pressed Christian people, often lacking food and shelter. They were subject to disease and attack by hostile Indians. So not surprisingly they spent a lot of their time on their knees before God. From out of this devotion came their blessings. This they knew to be a fact from the Holy Scriptures. They knew their Bibles better than Christians in America today.
The early colonization of America saw great miracles of Providence. The Puritan colonies flourished. They very nearly achieved the formation of that great theocratic society they had sought. The Massachusetts Bay colony and early English Puritan colonies of the New World were very close to becoming to be the 'nation under God' John Winthrop had dreamed of. But could it be preserved?
That was the burning question back then.
And it remains so to this day.
PILGRIM CHRISTIANS AND THE DOCTRINAL ISSUE OF INFANT BAPTISMThere was another element to the church-state antagonism towards Pilgrim Christians. It involved patriotism. The Kingdom of God, to which the Pilgrims had given their first devotion was not a part of the present world system. So these people were not the best patriots. They could not be depended on to take up the sword when called upon. They were sometimes seen as somewhat lacking in good citizenship.
Of course with the Bible now open to the common man there was more. Some of these Pilgrims brought up another point of contention. They were against this practice of infant baptism that Rome had instituted. For the Church of Rome and the Reformers, (such as Ulrich Zwingli in the Canton of Zurich), infant baptism, despite lack of a scriptural foundation, was a continuing necessity. For any church leader infant baptism provided governmental stability. It was an easily accountable and all embracing initiation into Church-State citizenship. Citizenship, (and taxation), was ensured by infant baptism. It was a system that guaranteed that much desired church-state unity (or ecclesiastical monopoly) that politically motivated church leaders and political princes all strive for.
Radical Pilgrims disagreed with infant baptism. For them, the act of baptism was an personal and outward sign of an inner decision to follow Christ. These Pilgrims held to the biblical institution of adult baptism upon personal profession of faith. They were very vocal in stating these opinions. And so it was that they were pegged with the name "re-baptizers" or "Anabaptists".
This higher standard of Christianity was nothing new. Indeed it had been practiced by a small stream of saints down through the centuries. Whenever an Anabaptist was arrested and asked who had indoctrinated them they could not point to any great teacher or religious leader of their day. Apparently these Biblical practices had been handed down through the families. The Pilgrim ethic had been passed on in a personal way down through the generations by faithful men and women. This was a story of which history has made no record. The Church of Rome left very little record of any other Christian communion other than themselves. Dissenters were all just labeled "heretics" and that was that. But the Christians in Europe during the 1500's now had the scriptures in their own language. So this was the first time the issue of baptism had come up for any major corporate discussion in Christendom.
The initiation of adult baptism practiced by these radical Christians was as laid out in the book of Acts. It was the main issue for the temporal and ecclesiastical powers. This baptism in to Jesus Christ, more than any other, caused Pilgrim Christians to be feared and hated by the ruling powers. To the established Church, both Rome and the Reformers, this matter of baptism upon confession of faith was the ultimate betrayal. The reason for this is quite obvious. Adult baptism was an assault against their "system". It threw a spanner in their politico- religious machine. Infant baptism was the means by which the established powers and their churches could scoop up the vast bulk of their populace. Citizens were in effect branded at birth through the auspices of infant baptism. They were in the church rolls. So they were marked as belonging to the church and the canton as well. No commitment was required of the infant. But that didn't matter. They were baptized. And they were now on the church rolls. Church rolls became state rolls for governmental and taxation purposes.
This was the church-state system that had been going on all through the Middle Ages. Rome baptized infants. And when the Reformers came along in the 1500's they did too. They refused to change it.
Biblical baptism upon profession of faith would not work out well in the Old World. It was too individualistic and could not be used for marking the masses and for determining church-state citizenship. Baptism upon confession of faith called for a more robust Christianity. And this was good. But baptism upon confession of faith also led to a more exclusive Christianity. For a state church and its systems this would never do. It would have called on a higher level of devotion and commitment to Christ than was possible for the average citizen. And a state church needed to enroll as many of the population as it possibly could.
These church leaders knew their ecclesiastical business very well. They knew that adult baptism called for a high standard of faith. They also knew that this would not be too popular or sustainable with the crowds. If they, as state churchmen fell down on the job of providing religion for anybody and everybody they would be in trouble. They would soon be called on the carpet before the kings and princes. After all, these were the ones they were beholden to.
PILGRIMS AND PURITANS;Established state sponsored Christendom seeks to strike a happy medium to include as many citizens as possible. True Christian devotion usually languishes in this carefully crafted 'middle of the road' state religion. State Christianity is usually mediocre at best. This also explains why revivals are always breaking out and Pilgrim Christians are forever breaking loose of constricting church walls. It explains why Pilgrim Christians are inclined to walk on ahead of the crowd. The standardized state Christianity of the 'lowest common denominator' eventually begins to lose it anointing. And so the glory departs. But God is not going to leave His people alone. Nor does He want them locked up in religious boxes. And just as hard, dry, and unyielding wine skins cannot contain new wine fresh religious ferment always calls for new wine skins. If the new wine is placed in the old wine skins they will burst.
THEIR DIFFERING RESPONSES TO BIBLICAL REVIVAL
The histories and migrations of people are not just related to war or economics. Revivals in Christendom are at the source of a lot of the migrations of people into new lands. New nations, like new wine skins accommodate the boisterous new spiritual action, the good and the bad. This is the way it was as the Old World gave up a lot of its energetic and individualistic people to the New World.
This is also the way it is in Church history. It is normal for churches in revival to split off from the old wine skins and to find rest in new wine skins. It is less destructive when the church splits this way. The split is normal and good. That is what the word "ekklesia" (Gr. church) means. The word "church" means "called out" ones. The Pilgrim knows this. He understands that His God is behind the splits. He is showing them a fork in the road and the one that leads upwards is the one he should take. Because God is behind the changes and only some want to change. He is calling His people onwards and upwards towards the gates of splendor.
Here are the facts of holy history. Certain people can be expected to respond to the call of God. This is called faith. And faith comes by the hearing of the Word of God. (Gal.10:17) When God's Word comes to such people they receive it with joy. This then produces a revival of faith. Such people are motivated to walk on beyond their present circumstances, sojourning on as Pilgrims. If they are Pilgrims then they are not unduly perturbed about this. They want to move on as individuals or families. If they are Puritans then the movement is on a broader scale. They want their church and the nation to move on. Others are happy to sit right where they are.
Revival ferment always strains the religious system. God and His people always push against the religious boxes of men. When Christian people are in revival they are often opposed and put under duress. They are told to "settle down". So in their distress they cry out to God. He usually answers with more revival. This is how true revivals are sustained.
When Christian revival comes it brings with it a new higher level of faith in the people. This causes expectations to be raised. Spiritual life is bolstered and this in turn gives a boost to the economy. Calls for reform and social redress are first heard in the hearts of Christians in revival. Then they are heard in church. Ten the new ideas spill out into the society at large to be either picked up or trodden underfoot. This is God's agenda. It is a dynamic and ever changing process. In politics Christians may win or they may lose. But they move forward one soul at a time.
There is really no holding God's purposes back. But God's Word is continually breaking forth the Bread of Life. In times of change and times of revival the status quo is always challenged. That is the nature of a true revival. Revival brings cries for reform not only inside the human heart but in the wider society as well. We saw this with the evangelical revivals calling for the abolition of slavery.
Here is another truth relating to revival and reform. New wine cannot go back in the same old hardened container of a previous ferment. Jesus taught that new wine must be put in an entirely new and more flexible wineskin. The ferment of new wine is very vigorous. It can burst the more rigid old wine skins. (Mat.9:17) Accordingly it is God's purpose for new moves of God to have their own structure and not try to "reform" the old structure. This always causes disruption and grief. Pilgrim Christians understand this very well. They are wary of the Puritan desire to sanctify old church systems and reform old political systems.
Nevertheless, politics, as usual, has its agenda, both in church and in state. Calls for 'unity' are forever going out. Calls for unity in Christ are one thing. But the "church unity" based on charismatic personalities we are seeing promoted today does not seem to be that true unity of the faith. It is heavily compromised. Church wheeler dealers are more politicians than ministers of God's Word. The game is on to gather the largest numbers of people. Church leaders strive to make the largest bundle. They are then in a position to wheel and deal. They offer up the people they have gathered to the ruling princes, or merchants, as the case may be.
Since the Council of Niceae there has always a determined campaign for church-state unity. This keeps the people all together, controlled, and "quiet" for the emperor, king, or ruler. It also ensures the maintenance of the status quo. This ensures the continuation of the ruling position of the politico-religious powers.
In the world of religion there were certain church traditions which helped to keep things running smoothly. But Biblical Christianity was opening up whole new vistas. The Christians who cared to look into these things found great new inspiration and encouragement. This was a big reason why the Pilgrims were being persecuted. And it explains why they were turning up in large numbers in America.
RADICAL PILGRIMS. THE ANABAPTISTS COMING OUT OF CENTRAL EUROPEAs we have discussed, the Anabaptists were the ultimate Christian radicals. While most of them paid their taxes to the governing powers the Anabaptists resolved to take no oaths of allegiance with the political princes or with their ecclesiastical church consorts, whoever they might be. Nor would they take up arms with or against any army coming into their valleys, whether they were Protestant or Catholic. These are the main articles of the "Schleitheim Confession". This document was penned by one of the leading lights of the Anabaptist movement, Michael Sattler at the ill-fated gathering at Schleitheim, in the mountains of Switzerland in February of 1527.
For their stand in the peace of Jesus Christ the Anabaptists were bitterly persecuted from both sides. Millions of Anabaptists died at the hands of Catholic and Protestant powers alike. They continued to die for over 200 years. This story has not been told. It has been cut clean out of the history books. From these determined Christian separatists came the peace loving Amish and Mennonites along with the Brethren and some primitive Baptists of the Free Church tradition. If you care to ask them they remember this history. We, in mainstream Christianity do not remember them. But we shall in times to come.
Let us make no mistake about this. These Pilgrim saints who had rejected the sword were still full of Christian zeal. But they had given up on a church that had corrupted itself by going to bed with the state. They were separatists. This was not because they wanted to be quaint or different or non-team players. They were consecrated to Christ. That meant something to them that others often did not understand. So they would prefer to go to their secret Christian meetings, even if they were under the constant threat of being arrested. If an Anabaptist met another on the pathway one would challenge the other with the scripture,
"You cannot serve two masters".
If the other man was an Anabaptist he would smile and reply,
"You cannot serve God and mammon".
The pathway the Anabaptist Pilgrims had chosen was a 'highway of holiness'. ~ Isa.35:8-10. They resolved to keep their little church pure in devotion to Christ. They were weary of seeing the hideous mixture of the cross and the sword played out before their eyes year after weary year. The sword had been stained with Christian blood. To their mind it had become a despised and shameful thing. It no longer had the sacred power of chivalry it once held over them. They had seen its dark side. It had come to the point where they were going to turn their back on politics and make the peaceful preaching of the Gospel their prime concern come what may.
The way of the Pilgrims in Europe and in England, as separatist Non-Conformists, was a hard one. They lived under constant threat of arrest, imprisonment and even death. So when the opportunity came to sail to America and live a life freely before God and their fellow man how might we suppose they responded?
Apparently they were interested. Because when the early voyages to the New World began the Pilgrims were there, along with their Puritan friends and fellow travelers. During this same time the first missionary outreaches were organized. The Mennonites, the Primitive Baptists, the Brethren and many other Christian groups began to send out missionaries beyond European shores for the first time since the days of the early church. A new era in Christian missions had begun.
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