American Heritage: A ‘state religion’ historyPublished 7:35pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012
“Section 1. Be it ordained by the United States in Congress assembled…”
“Article 3 — Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” (Northwest Ordinance 1787 by Congress)
After the death of Columbus more and more expeditions were made to the New World. However, the reason for the expeditions had now changed from the original purpose of Columbus. Now the purpose was to get to the gold, silver and riches that were found in the new land.
Each time the ships would arrive on the shores of the Caribbean islands or the shores of Mexico, the same thing happened. The natives were forced to work the gold fields and the silver mines.
Many of the natives died because of a lack of food being grown in the fields because the men were laboring in the mines. Crops were not being grown for food.
Widespread famine and disease killed many of the natives. The Spanish Conquistadors were very cruel, who were now coming to the new lands. They killed many of the natives of the places where they landed.
With any of the Conquistadors came Franciscan and Dominican friars. These men loved God and their genuine mission for coming along was to serve God and to spread their faith to the natives.
In the old world, things began to heat up in the religious realms because of “state-religions.” Christians who would not recant their beliefs and join with the state religion would be tortured and ultimately killed along with their family.
This was nothing new. The persecution of Christians dates back to the time of Jesus. Jesus established a group of followers into a local New Testament church during the last three years of his life. He commanded them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit to come to lead them and guide them in their ministry, during his absence. They were to go into the whole world and make disciples, immerse them and teach them to observe all the things that Jesus taught during his ministry.
Since he would no longer be with them physically, the Holy Spirit would take his place as her leader and the leader of each local New Testament church that would spring forth from her. The ministry of Jesus started around 30 A.D.
Jesus was a martyr because he would not buckle under to the religious tradition of his time. He stood for the truth and would not bend, even to the slightest degree. The persecution started with him and continued on through time towards those who followed his teachings and stood firm against the “state religions” and religious traditions of their time.
Christians first got their title “Christian” from their enemies in Antioch, Syria. The members of the church there acted so much like and believed so much like Jesus that the enemies gave them the tag “Christian,” which means “Christ-like.” This happened during the time and ministry of the apostle Paul. It was around this time that another apostle by the name of James (the son of Zebedee and brother of the apostle John) was killed by King Herod Agrippa I because he was a Christian.
The group that Jesus started and placed in Jerusalem, grew into groups, that believed and taught the same things that the Jerusalem assembly did.
Assemblies (churches) like these spread out all over the known world and ultimately into Europe. Overall, they were known as Christians, but as people would turn their backs on the teachings of Jesus, they would break away and start their own groups, but still kept the title “Christian.”
Soon the groups that remained true to the teachings of Jesus were hunted down and their members were killed because they would not buckle under to the teachings of the larger and more powerful religions.
They began to be tagged with other names besides Christian by their enemies. They became known by the tags of Montanists, Novations, Puritans, Cathari and Donatists along with many other brands given to them by their enemies, usually named after their pastors or leaders.
Ultimately, they were tagged as “Ana-Baptists.”
You may ask what this has to do with our subject of American Heritage. Well, it is very simple. The persecutions that began around 30-33 A.D. continued to grow as these Christian groups spread and the state-religions that despised them continued to become more and more powerful.
When the smaller groups refused to unite with the religions that became state-religions, the members were brutally beaten, tortured and murdered.
During the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries there was almost a continual revolution going on inside the Roman Catholic Church which had become the state church under Constantine in 313 A.D. Constantine saw a vision of a fiery cross with the words “By this thou shalt conquer” and thought that was
God’s message to him to make “The Christian” religion the religion of the whole world.
Constantine, therefore, tried to force his type of Christianity upon all religions and peoples. The Christians who would not forsake their beliefs and unite with his church were put to cruel deaths.
So, the persecution continued to grow. A man by the name of John Huss, born in 1373, “…aroused the fear and hatred and opposition which resulted in his being burned at the stake” (“The Trail Of Blood,” J.M.Carroll) because he took a stand against the state church in the old world. He was killed in 1415. Many of his followers were killed as well.
The bones of John Wycliff were dug up and burned and his ashes were scattered upon the waters because of his stand against the state church prior to his death.
Then came a man by the name of Sanvonarola who was born in 1452. He also took a stand against the leaders of the state religion in his homeland of Italy. “…by his mighty eloquence, succeeded in awakening some conscience and seeing a considerable following” (Trail of Blood; J.M. Carroll).
Savonarola was burned at the stake in 1498, six years after Columbus sailed for the New World.
During the time of the Reformation, many of the religious groups that broke off from the state church kept some of their false beliefs and they also began to persecute people who believed differently and would not renounce their beliefs and join with them.
As the persecutions continued to grow, according to the Trail of Blood, “These Christians were the perpetual objects of bitter and relentless persecution. History shows that during the period of the ‘Dark Ages,’ about 12 centuries, beginning with A.D. 426, there were about 50 million of these Christians who died martyr deaths.” Things did not improve.
What happened because of these persecutions? What did the Christians decide to do? What did all of this have to do with the “New World”? We’ll continue from here in our next article.