Thursday, November 26, 2015

Plymouth's Pilgrims and Their Christian Faith


Using some airline miles we were able to start our last trip off by going first to the East Coast of the US for just a small extra fee—“you’re using miles we must charge you something.”

I kept thinking, “I can't believe we got all the way across the country for just 15 bucks, wow, not a bad deal!"

So we were able to stop in New England and see some historical places along the way as we started on our latest mission trip to Europe before we ministered in Scandinavia, England, and France.

One place we visited was in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where the Pilgrims from the Mayflower ship landed in 1620 and started the first sustaining colony in the New World.

A couple of other colonies had been attempted, one in Jamestown that ended with most of the colonists starving or freezing to death and the colony folding. There was also another attempt  at a colony by the French actually, at a Protestant colony called Fort Caroline in what would later become the area of Florida.

That French colony was planted and financed by an influential French Protestant Huguenot sympathizer. However, rabid Spanish Catholic fanatics got wind of it, and led by Don Pedro Menendez De Aviles, they went in and put to the sword and massacred every last person, including women and children.

So, one was facing some pretty stiff odds to attempt another colony: possible starvation, death by freezing, or massacre, none being attractive prospects. That, along with the dangers of crossing the Atlantic, surely would give one pause about leaving the homeland to go and found a new place to live in a wild land across the sea.

Persecution, however, was increasing against those who were fully embracing the Protestant Reformation in England.

The English Church had made some reforms: First under Henry the VIII, but especially under his son Edward when he took the throne; however, when Bloody Mary rose to power, she returned with a literal vengeance back to Catholicism and had Protestants hunted down and executed. Included in her massacres was the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, amongst many others.

The country would turn back Protestant under her half sister Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn, but her successor King James from Scotland was indifferent to reform. Even though he had authorized a new translation of the Bible into English, King James was no friend of the Puritans and had no tolerance for them, even though many were beginning to win seats in Parliament.

Those, like the Puritans, who wanted a full reformation, found themselves on the outs (the word Puritan came from their desire to purify the church back to New Testament design).

So, in spite of the grim prospects, the Mayflower set off from England in 1620 after its occupants had tried Holland for a time as a refuge from persecution. These Puritans, Separatists, and Independents aboard the Mayflower, were products of the Protestant Reformation and were under threat as Reform-minded believers in England, who wanted a full Reformation and not half measures.

They were part of the Reform movement, which was a return to biblical faith that was going on in Europe in their day, sparked originally by the influences of people like Martin Luther in Germany. It is remarkable what a chain of events were set in motion when that little unknown monk in Germany named Martin Luther found peace with God and set out to communicate about that. The History Channel recently said in a program on the Reformation and its worldwide impact “without Martin Luther and the Reformation there simply would be no America.”

The Reformation’s influence finally came across the channel to England and grew with William Tyndale, Thomas Cranmer, and others on England’s soil, when those reformers were touched by the Holy Spirit and given revelation of the Gospel.

The Puritans had been a revival movement in England that was sparked by the Reformation. They held to the main principles of the Reformation: salvation by faith through grace, through Christ alone, the Scriptures as the sole authority for matter of faith—no pope nor priest had the right to contradict God’s word.

The Puritans, however, also felt that Christ must touch the heart; mere head knowledge alone about God was not sufficient in their view. Mere cerebral acquiescence to a set of doctrines could not substitute for the reality of experiencing God’s touch in the heart. As stated by historian Sydney Ahlstrom, they could be seen as some of the early Protestant mystics.

They sought to purify and return the church back to a New Testament model like in Acts. There were those Puritans that wanted to reform from within the English Church, and those that wanted to separate (Separatists) or be completely independent (Independents). All of these Puritans though, sought as they put it, to “avoid the errors of popery in the new world.”

Like most movements and denominations, they did get formal later in their history; however, early on, they were vital, alive, and revived!

Those that came across the Atlantic were heavily influenced by the Puritan preachers in England and their focus on the Great Commission.  They were thus inspired and willing to face starvation and brutal winters even with the knowledge of how miserably those before them had suffered and how so many had died.

They were taking quite the huge step of faith. Imagine leaving everything to go to a desolate wilderness where most before you had either starved, or frozen to death, or been massacred.

A quick look at the winter Boston experienced last season with all that snow dumped every few days will give you an idea of just how rough it really could get. We happened to grab a few waves in Maine, and man, that is some very cold water and air over on the East Coast of America and that was not even in winter!

The Puritans came in spite of all the dire prospects, moved by the Great Commission and the hope for freedom to worship as they desired. Another large group of Puritans came across later to what would become Boston, as well as other areas a decade later, making up large parts of the population of the early colonies.

Thus, the Puritan revival movement and its influence loomed large in the early colonies. Their influence would continue to be visible in later revivals through people like Jonathan Edwards in the Great Awakening. Benjamin Franklin himself would be baptized in a Puritan church in Boston.

Coming across the Atlantic, these Puritan Pilgrims, contrary to what you may have been taught in school, actually sought to advance the Gospel in the new world and spread the Christian faith.

In fact their written statement on the Mayflower, which they called a Compact that they drew up and signed aboard the Mayflower declared that they were undertaking the new colony: “…for ye glorie of God and advancement of ye Christian faith…”

“…advancement of ye Christian faith…” is pretty straightforward. The earliest settlers came here and founded the first sustaining colony as believers with a prophetic intention that it would work in God’s design as a place that would advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

That original purpose and prophetic intention still remains over this land in spite of all the attack to undermine, and obscure, and blind people, from that truth. 

Through the Holy Spirit’s power we are still to carry that prophetic intention forth and see this land, that has experienced so much revival in the past, be revived again!

Video: Plymouth's Pilgrims and their Christian Faith
Direct link to video:
(We shot this video on location in Plymouth, MA.
It is packed with some good information. Check it out!)