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American Heritage: America was a hotbed for religious reform

Published 10:33pm Wednesday, February 8, 2012

“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, France and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc. having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honour of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering and preservation, and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete and convenient for the generall good of the Colonie unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.  In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cape-Codd the 11 of November, in the year of the raigne of our sovereigne lord, King James, of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fiftie-fourth. Anno Dom. 1620.” (The Mayflower Compact, Nov. 11, 1620. Note: Spelling and punctuation errors as in original document)

There were two main reasons for people coming to this continent.

One was the desire for wealth. The word had spread over Europe that America was loaded with gold, silver and many other riches. Many wanted to benefit from these riches so they formed companies and financed expeditions to the newly found continent.

The second was because of the religious persecution that was going on in Europe, especially in England.

At this time, the Church of England (the Anglican Church) was becoming quite concerned.  There were two different groups within the church (besides those who never were a part of the church) that were causing some severe problems. One group was fairly large. Its main idea was to reform the Anglican church from within the church. They were tagged with the name “Puritans” because they considered what they were doing was attempting to purify the Anglican church from within, instead of breaking away from the church into a separate group.

The other group that was causing a problem for the Anglican church, from within, was a smaller group, but considered to be a problem of a more serious nature. This smaller group had now broken away from the Anglican church because they felt that the church was beyond help or repair.

They also rejected any head over the church besides Jesus Christ. This group became known as the “Separatists.” The Separatists adopted their own method of worship by doing away with the traditions of the Anglican church. They used the old-fashioned style of preaching and teaching.

They had an open style of praying and open singing.

The persecution of Christians in Europe had a great influence on who came to the “New World” and why. Several groups of Christians made the decision to relocate. This New World seemed to be the place for either religious reform of the Church of England or for breaking away from the Church of England and beginning another church. Others who would not recant their beliefs and join in with the Church of England were severely persecuted as well. In order to continue worshipping God as they interpreted the teaching of the Word of God, they knew they could not stay in this country any longer.

This was the case for 102 people who belonged to a group called “The Pilgrims,” or “Separatists.”

This group was known for their desire to live a life that was one of being completely faithful to the word of God. They were a people of compassion.

A young, English farmer by the name of William Bradford became one of the leaders of this group.
Bradford had become an orphan in the early part of his life and went to live with an aunt, uncle and his grandparents. He lived with them until he became 12 years old. It was at that time that he committed his life to Christ under the preaching of a man by the name of Richard Clyfton. When he was 14 years old, William was beginning to grow in his spiritual beliefs and mature in his spiritual life. After doing so, he joined a small group of what was considered to be “radical Christians.” This group took a deadly step in England. They made the choice to separate from the Church of England and go out on their own.

This step brought Bradford a serious problem. His relatives did not like what he had done.  They were faithful to the Church of England. The result was a threat that he would be disowned if he did not repent and come back to the Church of England.

But, his mind and conscience were made up.  So at age 14, he went to live with a printer by the name of William Brewster in a town called Scrooby. He had to continue with his new found spiritual way of life. He wrote that even though this was possibly going to threaten his life, he had to go with his decision. It did not matter what others did to him, or felt about him. He was resolved to obey what he considered to be God’s will. He had to do what he felt was prescribed in God’s Word. This was more important to him than life itself.

William Bradford had now become a member of the Pilgrims’ church.

At this point, they only had about a thousand members. The concept and beliefs of the Pilgrims began to spread. Soon, there were more and more of these groups developing all over. Queen Elizabeth, however, did not clamp down on these groups of Pilgrims. Every now and then, a member of the Separatists would be executed for heresy. She felt that by doing this, it would keep them in check. She wasn’t right, however. They continued to grow and spread.

Things were about to change. King James I came into power. He had a different view of the situation. He began to put the squeeze on the Pilgrims by leveling assessments on them so that they’d have to pay the Church of England money, similar to taxes. They were constantly hounded and pushed around. Many were thrown into prison on false charges. Many were put to death.

Soon, they were no longer able to meet in open meetings. Their meetings had to be kept a secret. These people knew what severe persecution was all about. They either had to leave their homeland or be murdered.

They gave up all that they had and moved to Leyden, Holland, to get away from the severe persecution that they were undergoing. This wasn’t a move to the Garden of Eden. They lived in poverty with little chance for a better life. They were subjected to sporadic, and inadequate labor of little pay.  They were a people of poverty. They remained in this condition for nearly 12 years, until 1619. A change was necessary.

We will continue with our look at the Pilgrims and what they did in our next article.

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