Historical Insight to Consider for the Believer in Messiah Yeshua
Taken from selected portions of an essay by Gavin Finley MD, titled Puritans and Pilgrims
Click here to read the essay in its entirety: http://endtimepilgrim.org/puritans10.htm
It was in histories such as these (The Reformation Wars of central Europe of the 1500 and 1600’s), 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. 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 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.
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.
The 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,
“waited for a city which has foundations
whose builder and maker is God”. (Heb.11:10)
In 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.
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.
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 its 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 pathway 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.
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. They 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.
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.
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’.
The 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.
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. Pilgrims 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.
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.
For 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.
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.
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.