Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It is hard to resist the temptation to simply write a book about the history of Thanksgiving. My friends, do yourself and your family a very large favor…study it. I’m serious, you will be stunned. Now most of you know that I typically encourage people to understand theology before anything else…because it is from proper theology that a sound grasp of reality flows. But the history of Thanksgiving…which is really the history of the Puritan Pilgrims…which is ultimately the earliest history of what is now the United States is fascinating and very hard to believe. If Hollywood would ever get a clue from the success of The Passion of the Christ and The Chronicles of Narnia, they would make a series of high budget movies displaying the rich history of The Mayflower. The problem of course is that a true depiction of the people, their words and their motivations can not be divorced from their uncompromising Reformed faith. Isn’t it amazing that Hollywood is so blinded by its hatred of the truth that they would allow their anger towards God to keep them from cashing in? I guess money is not their god...their hatred of God Almighty is their chief's an even bigger god than money. Wow.

Anyway…study The Mayflower. I can not take the time right now to lay everything out so I challenge you to look into it. You will be blessed.

The reason such a topic is so vast is because its roots go so far backwards. The roots of The Mayflower voyage stretch back to Christ Himself, if you can imagine that. That is what makes this so truly daunting. Understand, as Christendom became more and more institutionalized, especially in the West, the heart of the gospel message had become blurred in its proclamation. As we’ve alluded to before, Christian leaders, teachers and bishops often spoke from both ends of their mouths…many times in the same teachings or books! The idea of an infallible Church solidified with disastrous consequences spread world wide. This of course led to the glorious Reformation of Christ’s one and only Church we’ve spoke about so often here. This was sparked on a grand scale in 1517 by Saint Martin Luther (I decided to canonize him, lol). Follow the time line here…in 1534 (about 17 years later) King Henry VIII officially separated England from “papal” rule…in other words…he broke England from the Roman Catholic church. This of course initially thrilled English Protestants but they were quickly frustrated when old Henry installed himself as the Supreme Head of the English Church. They rightly saw this as fundamentally no different as simply calling himself the new “Pope”. These “separatists” were also called “Puritans”. They had a passion for the Purity of Christ’s One Church…and so they refused to submit to the Church of England any more than they would submit to the Roman Catholic church. Our friend Zac is correct…they would not celebrate either Christmas or Easter because of their zeal for Purity (they saw these “holidays” as intermingled with Roman paganism and therefore they abstained). Their abstinence was not necessarily right nor wrong of course, there is no Biblical instruction to officially celebrate either holiday on any particular date (if at all)…so they were free to abstain and instruct others to abstain as well…and they did.

After 60 or 70 years of turmoil and persecution from the Church of England many of these Puritans fled to Holland in 1608. They spent about 12 years there working, teaching, seeing conversions and producing and smuggling materials back into England which outlined the Biblical basis for rejecting the official Church of England. Make no mistake…the freedom they sought was absolutely a religious one.

Keep in mind…these people were Reformed. You can not ever divorce the foundation of the great experiment we call America from its Reformed roots. The separation of Church and State was a natural result of the Reformation. The Reformers held to Sola Scriptura. They did not believe in an infallible or inerrant Church…THERFORE…the State had no grounds or basis to establish an official Church…THEREFORE…people should be free to follow their conscious regarding issues of faith. It can not be stressed enough how significant the Reformation of Christ’s True Church was on the forming of the greatest nation the world has ever known…America. The freedom of worship and the separation of Church and State is not rooted in Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism. Nor is it rooted in Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m sorry if that offends you. Study was not a good thing to be a dissenter who fell into the hands of “THE Church” in either the east or west during the dark ages I assure you. The right of religious liberty, political dissent and freedom of speech is firmly rooted in the Reformation. Go around the world and see how people live where the Reformed Church is not a strong if not the strongest influence.

Let’s cut to the chase…these Puritans felt the call to separate, physically, from the direct gaze and influence of England. They were concerned about the wicked influence the Dutch were having on their children. William Bradford also explained this voyage, not surprisingly, had the “great hope, for the propagating and advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world”. God was leading them…besides…the heat was increasing due to ticking King James off real good with their literature smuggling and they were not keeping their heads above water in Holland economically. So…they put their hands to the plow (so to speak) and did in fact hastily hook up with some crooks…who owned a ship called The Mayflower. From what I understand the Pilgrims got the old “bait and switch” pulled on them at the last minute….I won’t get into all of that…but they had to sell off tons of butter just to make the final installment to the company. The voyage was to be made by The Mayflower and sister ship the Speedwell (which they had taken from Holland back to England in order to meet up with The Mayflower). Both The Mayflower and the Speedwell were to make the trip…but the Speedwell began to increasingly take on water…they set attempted to take off twice and both times turned back. This delay took a month or so to remedied…which they did by ditching the Speedwell. Everything and everyone from that smaller ship was loaded onto The Mayflower which increased the crowding problems…and really put the timing of the voyage into massive problems. They would land in December…in what is now New England…with nothing and no friends waiting for them. You go figure the problems that would cause.

So…they barely made it. Sick with scurvy the Pilgrims stumbled onto the beaches Cape Cod. After fumbling around they finally came upon a small and abandoned Indian village. They fooled around and stole stored corn seed and unearthed a burial spot or two…they even stole some things from the Indian sepulture. I’m sure they were desperate…but this was desperately stupid. The Indians did return to find their stuff rummaged through, disrespected and stolen…which of course they rightly found the Pilgrims days later and attacked them. The Pilgrims returned fire. This was not a good start with the “savages” they had hoped to make friends with and possibly convert…they wisely decided to get back on The Mayflower and set sail…they started south but almost ship wrecked and then by God’s grace pulled through and turned north and finally landed at Plymouth.

I lied…I am going to stop for now. Please forgive me. Consider this part duex. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up with understanding why about half the original Pilgrims died and the other half almost starved that first winter. We also need to re-discover Squanto. There is just too much right now to get through without causing your eyes to glaze over. The point for now is that the heritage of separation of Church and State that was brought here way back on The Mayflower is the natural social and political outcome of the influence of Christ’s gloriously Reformed Church. Had there not been the Reformation the United States would have never become the worlds greatest nation…if we do not return to the Puritan roots of our fathers we will crumble as did England and Rome.


Zac said...

Hey Gary, decent post although I don't think that Puritans (or Reformed Christians, for that matter) are the originators of the separation of Church and State.

Freedom of Religion is actually another separate matter entirely, since there are many places with State-endorsed (supported) religions but which impose no penalties on other groups which disagree with the state religion. This is the usual history of Orthodox nations-- the governments endorse and support the Orthodox Church, but everyone is free to believe and preach something else too.

Nevertheless, Puritans didn't really believe in either of these concepts (separation of Church and State and Freedom of Religion). Plymouth was quite theocratic, with the church's hierarchy being intimately connected to the coercive power of the civil government.

And this is consistent. Calvin didn't believe in separation of Church and State, either, which is why he turned Geneva into his own little Vatican and staged a government-sponsored heresy trial (and execution... his own friend Servetus).

Separation of Church and State is, rather, a French Enlightenment idea. It was a natural reaction to the abridgment of the other thing, Freedom of Religion, which is probably why you're getting the two confused in this post. Rouseau and Montesquieu, among others, figured that the only way that freedom of (and from) religion could be secured was to totally divorce it from state sponsorship.

You also use another French Enlightenment term in this post: "dark ages." What exactly do you mean by this? For the enlightenment deists it was a caricature of the history of Christian Europe up until the Renaissance, or the "Age of Reason," whichever one. It was to conjure up mental images of an impoverished, illiterate, diseased mass of people who blindly followed whatever the Vatican said. There were no real "dark ages" in Europe or elsewhere, and I encourage you to look up an essay called (i think) "the myth of the dark ages" for more information.

Although, probably needless to say, the Orthodox had no "dark ages," either. Religious freedom was most often far more protected in the Greek East than it was in the Latin West. Remember that the Orthodox had no Inquisitions or Crusades. Jews and Muslims often lived peacefully alongside the Orthodox, when the Orthodox were in power (up till 1453 A.D. in the crumbling remnants of the Byzantino-Roman Empire). Then in Russia, too, which carried on the legacy of Orthodox Byzantium, the amount of religious freedom for people was alarmingly great. This is why Catholics and Lutherans were both respected in Russia.

This lack of compulsion in religion is also the reason why, despite the fact that most of Russia had become Christian, there were "pagans" in Russia even up until the 13th and 14th centuries.

I guess my caution to you with all of this is maybe to shy away from caricatures-- either of the brave, godly, bible-believing Puritans who never persecuted anyone or the "dark ages" superstitious, ignorant Catholics and Orthodox with all their intolerance and un-biblical-ness. Let's go to the truth of matters and perhaps hedge our statements out of humility concerning things we don't fully understand, or perhaps haven't fully researched.

Also, I'll just add that the act of formal separation from the Vatican on the part of England's government and its making the English monarch the titular head of the English Church are one and the same (I'm pretty sure)-- both are part of the Supremacy Act, which was legislated by parliament, not the King himself. I only bring it up because it sounds in the essay like perhaps you thought these were two separate events.

Also, it is interesting to note that the original Anglican Church did not consider itself protestant or a part of the reformation that was transpiring on the Continent. It continued to burn Lutherans at the stake, for example!

irreverend fox said...

hey Zac,

thanks for your comment, seriously! it is good to get a well rounded view.

I also certainly don't believe that the Reformed Pilgrims were the originators of the doctrine of separation of Church and State. And nor do I believe that what they had going on was what the United States has had going on.

Rather I would suggest that the seeds of Religious Tolerance and what led to the doctrine of separation of Church and State were planted in America by the Pilgrims, and other such seeds were of course planted later along with much thinking, praying and watering from other influences. I don't think they demonstrated either consistently. But when you take their political agenda to it's logical conclusion you will arrive at what we have enjoyed in the US regarding freedom of religion.

Same with Calvin and the rest of the early Reformers. You see...we do not feel any real compulsion to justify their actions because we don't hold to an "infallible" Church doctrine. Those early Reformers were on the ball in many ways but really blew it and taught unBiblical things on others. They were fallible sinners. We do not judge them by today's "enlightened" No...Calvin, the early Reformers and the Pilgrims are held to one standard that does not change...The Bible. (And so are today's Reformers). You see...we don't see "The Reformation" as a one time event in history that happened way back yonder. No...we believe the Church has always been in a state of Reformation and always will be till He returns. "Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei!" Sometimes the Reforming hand of God is sudden and moves quickly and sometimes it is slow...but He has always been building His Church and will present her spotless someday.

So what I am suggesting is not that the Pilgrims had it all together or mapped out...cause they clearly did not. But, by God's grace, I believe they set the trajectory for these freedoms to come to fruition.

I'm sure that in the "Christian East" religious tolerance was far more consistent than in the West. No doubt about it. But I wonder if Jews and Muslims were simply tolerated or if they were truly equal, politically, with the "Christian" citizens. I'm sure this varied both in time of history and in nation...but I'm not so sure any "Eastern Orthodox" nation ever allowed non-Christians to serve politically as has the United States. I believe the Reformation set that trajectory�and the Pilgrims were part of that development�for better or for worse I guess. Maybe you disagree�and that�s ok. Maybe the Reformation had nothing at all to do with true freedom of religion?

Zac said...

I'll just respond briefly by noting that the concept of citizenship as we know it today is very different from the pre-democracy world which most of our human ancestors knew. To us, a citizen is someone who is guaranteed certain things, with certain rights, who also has political power because the elected officials are chosen collectively by the citizenry.

Roman citizenship was different, although in the Christian Roman Empire, even pagans could be citizens. Citizens had certain rights, like theoretically equality under the law and rights to trial, but mostly citizen simply meant something like "subject." A subject is accountable to the government. In Christian Rome, Jewish and Muslim Roman citizens were equals at law with their Christian neighbors, but their religions did not receive the government support that the Church did.

I would just be sure to shy away from broad generalizations, because these are areas of history that are easily caricatured, and the result is a distortion of the truth.