Today Robin and I had a Thanksgiving lunch with our daughter Beth at her school. When I arrived I found her standing in the lunch room waiting on us wearing a solid white paper Pilgrim’s (actually Puritan) bonnet. After getting our lunches we went back to her classroom where her teacher had made tables ready for the children and their parents to eat. It was a special time, which we began with prayer as the Pilgrim’s themselves expressed their thankfulness to God.
Upon arriving back home I decided to refresh my memory a bit on the Pilgrims, their plight, and their history leading up to that time of thanksgiving in the Plymouth Colony. And, as much as our schools have steered away from influence of faith, their roots lie very strongly there. Over the next few days I will tie in various pieces of this history from Duane Cline’s, “The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony: 1620.”
For starters, let’s go back to their earliest beginnings.
“Until the latter part of the sixteenth century, the only Bibles available were printed in Latin. After the Reformation began the Geneva Bible was published in English. For the first time the common men were able to read the Scriptures for themselves. The Geneva Bible is the version that would have been most familiar to the older generation of Pilgrims. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, King James authorized another translation of the Bible into English, which still bears his name [The King James Version]. Until these English versions came into being, the common man was not able to read or understand the Scriptures. It was necessary for the ministers and church officials to tell the worshippers what was in the Bible and interpret the Scriptures. As the English translations became more readily available, the people were able to read the Scriptures for themselves, and controversies began to arise concerning the interpretation of many passages in the Bible. Other controversies arose concerning the rituals of the church service.
“At the time the Pilgrim Fathers were living in England there was only one church approved by the English rulers. Everyone was required to attend that church - and ONLY that church - every week. If the English ruler were Protestant, all people of the realm were required to follow the Protestant beliefs and attend those church services; if the ruler were Catholic, everyone in the kingdom was required to practice the Catholic faith and rituals. All religion in the kingdom was strictly dictated by the government. This is what we call a “State Church.”
“The reigning ruler appointed the archbishop of his or her choice and every church in the kingdom was under the direct orders of the ruler and the archbishop. There was no freedom to choose what a person believed or how he could worship.
“Anyone who objected to the beliefs of the state church or the forms of the church services could be arrested, questioned and thrown into prison. If they refused to give up their personal beliefs, they could be tortured in an effort to make them agree with the state church. If they still refused to give up their convictions after torture, they could be executed. Many people were imprisoned, tortured and put to death. Those who were executed for their religious beliefs died painful deaths. Many were hanged and quartered, some were burned at the stake, while others were crushed to death under heavy weights.
“There were two major groups of believers who disagreed with the beliefs and practices of the Church of England. One group wanted to stay in the church, but hoped to change its forms of worship: This group was called “Puritan” because they wanted to “purify” the church. The other group did not believe the state church could be changed: This group was called “Separatist” because they wanted to separate completely from the Church of England.
“At the beginning of the 1600s, a group of Separatists began to gather at Scrooby in the northeastern county of Nottingham. Scrooby was located on the main post road which ran between Scotland and London. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 and James VI of Scotland was to become James I of England, he traveled the post road on his way to be crowned.
“James I was a Protestant and the Separatists were hopeful he would be more tolerant of differing religious views. It was not long, however, before the Separatists learned that differing religious views would not be allowed under the new king.
“One group was called the Separatists because they demanded a complete separation from the Church of England. They wanted to worship in a very simple manner without all of the ritual and symbols which were used in the Anglican Church. In their study of the Bible they had decided the original church in New Testament times had been a simple church and they wished to follow that example in their own worship. They believed there were so many changes needed to be made in the Anglican Church that it could not be accomplished to their satisfaction. Therefore, the only possibility for them was to “separate” completely from the state church.
“Their pastor, Richard Clyfton, had guided this religious community into a form of democratic self-government. Various points of view were tolerated, but the will of the majority ruled in decision-making. The members of this group believed in equal rights and equal duties for members of its congregation. Our modern concepts of a democratic system of government began with Pastor Richard Clyfton. It was their Pastor John Robinson who first coined the word "independent" in the matter of self-government.
“The Pilgrims were warm, generous and thoughtful in their dealings with their fellow citizens and with the Indians they met in America.
“Their manner of dress was typical of the ordinary fashions in England at that time. We know from Wills and Inventories of that early period that some of the leading men wore brightly colored clothing. Some even wore breeches of red, green or violet. This is a far cry from the dark, somber clothing of the Puritans which we see pictured every Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were a good-natured, fun-loving people who loved life and insisted on the freedom of choice.
“It was the Pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony. It was the Pilgrims who celebrated that first Thanksgiving with the Indians. It was the Pilgrims who brought our American principles of democratic government into being - not the Puritans.” ("The Pilgrims and Plymouth Colony: 1620" is available at http://www.rootsweb.com/~mosmd.) Mr. Cline is a well-regarded authority on this topic, and I am looking forward to continue reading of his work.
So far we have the history of a group of people who had been given the Bible in their own language to discover that some of what they had been taught did not line up with what they had then be enabled to read in their own Bibles, and they had to decide what to do. They had to decide how to live under a government who dictated their belief and even dictated when that belief might change. And for them, the Separatists at least, the answer was to step away from the authorized church and adopt their own simple form of worship.
I imagine for many first century Jews who came to faith in Christ they had to make similar decisions. Like these early believers in England, we also know that the early followers of Christ were not accepted with their new faith and were even dispersed throughout the land in the face of aggressive persecution and even death. But also, as we know from history, as people have stood firm in their faith and have been persecuted and dispersed that God has used this for His glory and the advancement of the gospel to those who otherwise would not hear. What man intended for destruction, God intended for the furtherance of His plan as we read even Jesus telling His disciples, “but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8, NASB95)
James, in writing his letter primarily to Jewish believers, wrote, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” (James 1:1, NASB95)
Peter started his first letter with the following, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,” (1 Peter 1:1–6, NASB95)
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NASB95)
The reality is that the world opposes the gospel and at times this resistance has been established firmly in the government and a prescribed religion (even one in which there were faithful believers) and has been accompanied with intense persecution. Our God has long used persecution to spread His Word. It was true of the apostles. It was true of early believers, and it has been true of believers throughout history even continuing today. This is one way God sends out the message that His Son died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again also according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3)
People need to hear and God even uses the evil of man to send out His preachers. “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”” (Romans 10:14–15, NASB95)