Chapter 1: The Churches Arrive
A few days before Christmas, 1606, three small ships sailed from London. As they slowly passed down the Thames River toward the great open sea, excitement aboard ran high. These were Englishmen on their way to establish a plantation in America, the first in a long line of men and women who were to seek their fortune and freedom in the New World. Their religion was brought with them as naturally as their provisions of food and clothing. As good Englishmen planting a colony under the name of King James, they brought with them the official religion of England -- that of the Anglican Church, or the Church of England.
What fate lay in store for these 105 men? They were adventuresome, seeking glory and fortune, certain in the conviction that they were acting in behalf of God and the king. Had not the Spanish and the French found fresh strength and resources in the New World? If England was to remain safe and secure, it too must venture forth into unknown rich lands. In 1570, Sir Walter Raleigh had failed to establish an English settlement in America, but this time a large company of men would succeed where a single man failed.
Aboard one ship was Rev. Robert Hunt, clergyman of the Established Church of England. Englishmen were out not only to make their fortune but also to win the savages to Christ. Was it not a shame that only French and Spanish followers of the pope sought to win Indians to Christianity? The precious souls of the natives must be saved from the Catholicism of the pope as well as from their own heathen practices.
So it was that the original instructions for the plantation demanded that the "religion now professed and established within our realm of England" should be regularly practiced by the colonists and spread "as much as they may amongst the savage people" around them. These were the instructions to be followed in the new colony of Jamestown soon to be founded.
One hot summer morning of the following year, the burning Virginia sun beat down on the Jamestown settlement. From under an old sail, stretched between several trees, a reverent voice was lifted in prayer. Jutting from the ground to form three sides were irregular rows of rough posts serving as the walls of the church. Uncut trees, lying where they were felled, provided the pews on which the worshipers sat with bowed heads. Standing behind a length of wood nailed to two trees was the minister, Robert Hunt. So the people gathered each morning and evening to worship according to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The Church of England had come to America.
Jamestown grew slowly and painfully. Within a year, fever, plagues, and Indian attacks had killed almost two thirds of the settlers, but under the leadership of Captain John Smith the little group that remained struggled courageously. Additional ships brought ever greater numbers of men. The charter of the colony was revised, and leadership changed hands as new governors were appointed. But death continued to make the greatest gains. Between the years 1607 and 1624, of the 14,000 who came, about 13,000 died.
The Church stayed with the struggling settlement. After the death of Mr. Hunt, the first pastor, a new chaplain was found. But the most impressive work was done by a later pastor, Alexander Whitaker, "the apostle to Virginia." By the time of his arrival, things had taken a turn for the better. Tobacco was introduced and proved to be the economic salvation of the colony. More settlers arrived, including a number of "marriageable" women who landed in 1619. The same year that beheld the joyous welcome of the women witnessed an event of profound importance -- the first Negro workers were imported.
Whitaker began to extend the work of the Church. He contended that the preacher of the good news of redemption should be located in such a place that he could minister both to the natives and to the Englishmen. So he boldly sailed over fifty miles up the James River and there established his parsonage and took over the farm land given to him by the colony. Nearby was the new settlement of Henrico. Work among the Indians made some progress under Rev. Alexander Whitaker, who was respected and trusted. Most famous of his converts was Pocahontas, daughter of the great chief, Powhatan. She married a planter, John Rolfe, and returned with him to England, where she was living proof of the effectiveness of Christian work among the Indians. Curious men and women crowded around to catch a glimpse of her. She was introduced to King James and his queen and made a fine impression. Unfortunately she died at Gravesend before returning to America. As one observer put it, "At Gravesend she met her end and grave."
In addition to the living example of Pocahontas, the written pleas of Whitaker appeared in England. He cried for more and better pastors for the New World to do the vast amount of work in the Lord’s vineyard. Though his untimely death cut short his career, work among the Indians was not forgotten. It was very slow work and made few converts, but the intention of the ministers and people remained steadfast. In 1619 a college was proposed for the colony, one of the primary purposes being to teach the Indians; and a large grant of land at Henrico was given for its support.
On the surface everything appeared peaceable between the Indians and settlers, but early on Good Friday morning, March, 1622, the quietness of the scattered plantations was rent by bloodcurdling shrieks and savage attacks of the Indians. Within a few hours flames and smoke rolled into the sky as numerous homes and barns were put to the torch. Taken completely unprepared, the settlers were massacred before they knew what had happened. For a number of years they had lived peacefully among the Indians, hoping to convert them by a friendly attitude. Thus, some were killed at the breakfast table after they had finished sharing a meal with the Indians.
The attack was not unprovoked. A favorite of the chief had been slain a few days before. Probably his death was justified, but the Indians had no knowledge of that; so they planned revenge and hoped to drive the white men off their lands. They even borrowed the settlers’ boats to attend a rendezvous at which plans were laid. So sudden and unexpected was the onslaught that 347, almost one third, of the colonists were slain.
Thanks to the faithfulness of a Christian Indian, Jamestown and several of the outlying districts were warned. Men at these places were prepared for the attacks and easily defeated the Indians. But the damage was done. "Why did we not listen to the advice of Master Stockham?" Englishmen cried. "He told us that kindness would never make Christians of the Indians. Only when their priests and chiefs are killed will there be any hope to convert them."
So a new theory developed: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Plans for an Indian school were abandoned, and sincere efforts at Indian missions were to be a thing of the past for some time to come. The massacre of 1622 gave a legitimate excuse to carry out more fully what many men had long hoped to do -- seize the Indians’ land and handle them on the basis of force. Thus the early policy failed, not because too much kindness was used, but because it was used unwisely. Rather than correct the defects of a basically sound policy, the settlers in their sorrow, hate, and greed instituted a new approach of naked force.
Though work among the Indians came to a standstill, clergymen continued to work among the settlers. The bishop of London early accepted the responsibility of finding pastors who were willing to go to the Virginia settlements. The very charter governing Virginia stated that worship was to be according to the usage of the Church of England.
Also, at an early date the minister received his support from the state. Every settlement was required to provide land for the upkeep of the ministers; furthermore, every male over sixteen years of age was assessed in tobacco and corn to help to pay the pastor’s salary. Thus the pastor’s function appeared to be one related to the entire community.
The great difficulty was that the minister was not quite certain of his position. It was true that he had to be certified by a bishop before coming to America. In that way, the Church assured itself that the man was correctly ordained by a bishop, and that he supported the practice and the faith of the English Church. This also protected a new land from unscrupulous frauds.
A basic difficulty arose when clergymen arrived in America. Each local parish soon adopted the practice of electing a group of laymen as a "vestry" to govern the affairs of the congregation. It was their duty, when the church found a minister duly ordained and sent by bishops, to present him officially to the governor, who would then legally install the minister in the parish. Once he was so inducted into the parish, the pastor was secure for life unless he taught incorrect doctrine or became immoral.
The vestries, however, were usually unwilling to present a man to the governor, either because they were not certain of his merit or because they wanted to make certain that they retained a good share of control in local matters. So they simply hired the minister on a year-to-year basis and never presented him for induction.
Thus the ministers easily remained under the control of a small group in each parish -- the vestry. How could the Church through its pastors and people present the full impact of its mission and message? The pastors were never certain of their status, and the vestry was jealous of its control of parish affairs. The governor carried on many functions that normally belonged to the bishops. The governor inducted ministers into office, deprived unworthy pastors of their parishes, suspended others, granted licenses to marry, and probated wills.
The result was that unworthy or lazy men often found their way into these insecure positions. There was a constant struggle for power between the clergy and vestry on one hand and between the vestry, clergy, and governor on the other hand. Many excellent pastors served in these early years, but they worked under great handicaps. In spite of the lack of bishops and Church courts, they did a magnificent job of ministering to the people and the society of the Southern colonies. Often at the mercy of the governor or of the vestries, they continued to preach, to baptize, and faithfully to guide their congregations.
Meanwhile, in England, another group of believers were driven to seek haven in the New World. In 1608, a group of Protestants called the Separatists fled from England and settled in Holland. There they hoped to find freedom to worship as they believed.
"Separatist" was the name given to those people, a type of Puritan, who were dissatisfied with the worship and practice of the Church of England; consequently, they withdrew from the Church and formed their own congregations. They argued that the Church was composed only of people who could be recognized publicly as Christians. There was no room for halfhearted believers. How could the Church of England be a true Church when it claimed that every citizen of the nation was also a member of the Church. Obviously, many of these so-called believers were not really committed to Jesus Christ.
They argued that God, in his goodness, had determined to save mankind, which had rebelled against him. Jesus the Christ was sent among men in order to make known God’s saving will. So the Church was founded, the Bible was given, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper -- the sacraments -- were offered, all that men might respond to God’s call.
That was the way God had chosen to redeem rebellious and sinful mankind, if only they would avail themselves of God’s way. This way was called a covenant or a compact. It was a type of agreement which was concluded not between two equal partners but between one who laid down all the conditions and one who was called upon to accept and fulfill those conditions. The reward was eternal life. Yet even the reward was a gift because God finally determined who would or would not respond to his covenant. They were the "elect" of God, known in the churches as the "saints."
Chances were that all people who found themselves living within God’s covenant and sincerely striving daily after holiness in heart and life were among God’s "elect." If they had responded to the love of God in Christ, had accepted his covenant, then they were driven to profess this faith and to join with others of the "elect" in order to found a congregation.
A local congregation was founded on yet another agreement or covenant. A group of believers confessed their respective experiences of faith to one another and determined to form a congregation as the Bible commanded. All who wished to join first had to give satisfactory proof in public of their living within God’s covenant, and then they were allowed to sign the covenant which bound them together in a church. Thus the Church was composed only of the proved elect, gathered together in congregations that excluded the halfhearted and lukewarm.
This was a direct repudiation of the Church of England, which insisted that nobody could be absolutely certain of the elect or the damned. To be sure, replied the Separatists, one cannot be absolutely certain, but one can easily tell the really convinced Christians from the wicked. A whole nation cannot belong to the Church. One is not physically born into Christ’s Church; one enters only through a spiritual rebirth; and until that happens one is not a full-fledged Christian and so not one of the saints.
Furthermore, these Separatists contended that the Bible provided a blueprint for the form of Church government and for worship, which the Anglicans ignored by continuing to use Romish practices in worship and to uphold bishops as the highest authority in the Church. Those things, the Separatists argued, were not Biblical.
There was no need for bishops who exercised vast powers, both spiritual and temporal, over the local congregations. Every group of converted believers was a complete church in itself. It could select its own pastors and set them aside through ordination for the task of preaching, counseling, and administering the two sacraments. No bishop’s hand was needed here. Also, the Separatists refused to use the vestments of the Anglican clergy because they were continued from Roman Catholicism. The Book of Common Prayer, the Anglican book of worship, contained much that was taken bodily from the Catholic Mass. All this was to be swept away. Worship was to be simple and strictly Scriptural.
In vain did the Anglicans argue that those things not contrary to Scripture were permissible in worship. The Separatists replied that only things commanded in Scripture were allowable. Again, men might argue that of all systems of Church government that by bishops, called episcopal, was most successful, of widest use, and of greatest antiquity. "Non-Scriptural" was the retort.
In face of this, the Separatists refused to worship in the Established Church of England. They called upon true believers to separate themselves from the corrupt Church and to form independent local congregations. English authorities would not permit such deviation from the law of the land; therefore, they sought to force the Separatists into line. Because of such persecution they fled to Holland where they found freedom of worship.
After ten years of Dutch hospitality the small group began to worry about retaining their identity as Englishmen. They also felt that they did not have an opportunity to develop their type of Christianity to its fullest extent. So, when they read Captain John Smith’s account of Virginia and heard from English merchants wondrous tales about America, they considered the possibility of moving.
But how to get to America? These were relatively poor men coming from the lower and lower-middle classes. Moreover, how would their religious beliefs be accepted? Negotiations with the Virginia Company, which owned the land around Jamestown, failed because the king refused to guarantee them liberty of conscience. After investigating several other possibilities, they finally accepted the offer of an English merchant, Thomas Weston, and associates. In order to get their fare paid and to preserve part ownership in the project they went into a voluntary joint stock company. The merchants provided all the equipment and passage and the Separatists provided their bodies and labor; thus, both owned stock jointly in the project. They were not servants or slaves, but partners!
A congregational meeting was held to determine the time and method of departure. It was impossible for the entire group to go at once, so a real problem arose concerning those who should go and those who should remain behind. It was generally agreed that the youngest and strongest members with the fewest personal ties should go ahead and prepare the way. Another problem was the location of their dear old pastor, John Robinson.
After discussion it was decided that if those volunteering should outnumber those remaining behind, then the pastor should accompany the volunteers. If a minority went over, then Mr. Robinson should remain behind and Mr. Brewster, the ruling elder and assistant to the pastor, should go. The majority decided to stay behind, so Mr. Robinson remained in Holland.
On July 21, 1620, the congregation met together for the last time. Their ship, The Speedwell, was ready in the port of Leyden. John Robinson preached a heart-warming farewell sermon and gave stirring advice to those departing. He reminded his congregation that they must follow him no farther than he followed Christ, and he urged them to be open to all truth from the ministry of others who live in Christ.
"Let us be certain, brethren, that the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word. It cannot be possible that we have so recently come out of such great anti-Christian darkness and already stand in the full light of divine truth.
"Is it not a pity," he said, "that the Churches of the Reformation, starting so gloriously, have stopped short in their reforms? Lutherans stop with what Luther saw. Calvinists cannot be drawn beyond what was revealed and imparted to Calvin. God has not revealed his whole will to these men.
"If Luther and Calvin were living," he cried, "they would be as ready and willing to embrace further light, as that they had received. Search the Scriptures and learn the depth of the covenant God has worked out," he exhorted.
With the prophetic utterance ringing in their ears, "There shall yet be more light," the Pilgrims sailed for England, where, after abandoning the unseaworthy Speedwell, 101 of them crowded aboard the Mayflower and sailed for America.
As the ship approached America, it became evident that there was discontent among some who were not members of the Church. In order to assure a stable government, a majority of the men signed a civil compact, the Mayflower Compact, based on the Separatists’ Church covenant. In it they covenanted and combined themselves into a civil political body with power to pass necessary and just laws. Thus their religious beliefs determined the basis of their political society.
The Pilgrims were landed farther north than they had planned and found themselves on the territory of the Council for New England. But they determined to remain, and they named their settlement "Plymouth," in honor of the last English city in which they had been. At last they were in a land where they could practice their faith to the fullest and live their lives as Englishmen. They were the first Puritans to come to the strange new world; truly they were as strangers and pilgrims, so they were named "the Pilgrims."
The first winter was dreadful. Nearly half the settlers died, and only because of help from the Indians did the others manage to pull through. At the time of the fall harvest in 1621, after a moderately successful summer, they had a grand banquet to praise God and celebrate their successful triumph over the wilderness. This was the origin of our American Thanksgiving Day.
Additional recruits joined them, but their beloved pastor, Mr. Robinson, was taken by death while still in Holland. Spiritual leadership fell on the shoulders of Elder Brewster. He proved an excellent leader, but the group were hampered by his inability to administer the sacraments and to perform marriages. He was not prepared for the ministry and was not called, so the Plymouth Colony got along without the sacraments for four years before an ordained clergyman arrived. He proved to be an Anglican and was rejected. Not until 1629 did they find a satisfactory pastor.
Under the leadership of Governor William Bradford the small group of Pilgrim church members retained control of the government. They argued that the purpose of the colony was to worship God according to his Word. All other things were secondary. The Church must be protected. Though the church members were in the minority, they allowed no religious alternative for the majority of the colonists. The Pilgrims stood secure in their understanding of God’s Word, and it was offered to all on their terms. Any who did not like the Pilgrim practices were free to depart.
Plymouth Colony continued to grow, and soon became a settlement composed of a series of small towns. All were governed by the patents which the Pilgrims and their merchant partners had procured from the king. In 1626 they succeeded in buying out their partners in London, so they gained complete control over the enterprise. The purpose behind this move was to assure the continuation of their Church and faith. Nothing should be allowed to interfere with this.
As more settlers poured in, the Separatists held firm. Their Church stood open to all who could confess a satisfactory faith before the believers and would publicly own the covenant. But such people were few; thus, within a few years the Separatists were in a minority. They seemed satisfied with the light they had found years before.
Back in England a much larger and more powerful group were beginning to stir anxiously and to cast longing glances toward a new world of freedom. They too were Puritans, but, unlike the Pilgrims, they did not come from the poorer classes but were largely gentlemen holding estates of land and preachers who held university posts or great pulpits.
In most respects they believed exactly as did the Pilgrims. They were shocked at the vestments and worship service in the English Church. "Romish!" they cried. They deplored the inclusion of the whole nation in the Church regardless of the evil in many people’s lives. Only membership in God’s covenant and active participation in a local congregation marked one as a Christian.
But, in one important respect these upper-class Puritans differed from the Pilgrims. They did not want to separate from the Anglican Church, for in spite of all its corruption they thought it a true Christian Church. The Puritan aim was not to cut themselves off but to change the Church by remaining in it. This they tried to do by constant agitation in the English Government, by the appointment of so-called Puritan "lecturers" who would preach their views each Sunday afternoon, and by constantly protesting against the worship of the English Church.
Several times the powerful Puritan party was almost successful. When James I ascended the throne in 1603, he threatened to chase them out of England. It was an empty threat. But when his son, Charles I, became king, 1625, he selected as his right-hand man William Laud, bishop of London. It was Laud’s intention to enforce the use of the English Prayer Book and to strengthen the rule of the bishops over the local clergy. This he hoped would produce one great, unified, well-ordered Church throughout England. In order to accomplish his goal, Laud used every measure of power available to him.
Under increasing pressure from Laud’s new policy, the Puritans felt that they had little opportunity of changing the English Church, so they looked about for a chance to escape. They would find a way to purify God’s Church; they would not be denied! Being men of some wealth, they bought enough stock in a company that possessed land in America to gain control of it. Within a short time they sent John Endicott with a group of Puritans to settle on some of this land. It was named "Salem," Massachusetts.
But the Puritans were not satisfied -- they were only members in a commercial company which had a claim to land in America. How could they safely establish a purified Church on that insecure basis? Before they could take such a risk they had to be sure of two things. First, they had to be certain that they controlled the company so they would not be outvoted on any matter that pertained to their Church. Secondly, they had to have control of the new Government which they intended to establish in the New World.
A strange thing occurred in the spring of 1629. Somehow, the Puritans managed to get Charles I to grant them a charter for a new company, the Massachusetts Bay Company. This gave them the power of state to rule and govern all the king’s subjects residing within the limits of the colony which they were to establish. On the basis of the charter they hoped to try a holy experiment -- to found a Church and a State based on God’s revealed Word.
Under the leadership of John Winthrop, the Puritans determined to make positive and unbreakable their control over the company and the charter. Unless they could protect themselves from all interferences from the crown and from their non-Church partners in the company, they could not freely go ahead with the holy experiment.
Late in the summer of 1629, Winthrop and his fellow Puritans persuaded all those not intending to sail for America to sell their stock in the Massachusetts Bay Company and to withdraw from it. Thus, there were to be no men left behind who might form an opposition group to the experiment in America.
When a great fleet of eleven vessels sailed, March, 1630, John Winthrop’s boat, the Arabella, had a precious cargo aboard -- the charter! This was the final step, and it was utterly new. Never before had a company set out for the New World carrying the king’s charter with them. The Puritans felt that with the charter in their own hands it could not easily be seized by the Government, and revoked for some technical reason. Furthermore, there would be no opportunity for the company’s English business representatives to surrender the charter at the first sign of trouble.
The charter was the symbol of the Puritans’ new-found freedom. It was to be their constitution which prevented England from interfering with their Church and State. Based on it, the holy experiment was to go forward. Safe and secure in their rights, they poured vast numbers of talented and gifted people into the Massachusetts Bay area. In ten years over 20,000 men and women fled from England to their Puritan colony. Among them were 65 ministers of such high caliber and educational attainment as John Cotton, John Wilson, Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, John Davenport, and Richard Mather.
They did not cut themselves off from English culture and the Anglican Church. Rather, they carried the best of English educational ideas and books with them. They hoped to transform and purify the English Church and State, to create a holy Church and nation dedicated to the will of God.
Before leaving for Salem, Pastor Francis Higginson had said: "We will not say, as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving England, ‘Farewell, Babylon!’ . . . but, . . . ‘Farewell, the Church of God in England!’ . . . We do not go to New England as separatists from the Church of England; though we cannot but separate from the corruptions of it."
John Winthrop joined in a declaration which called the Established Church of England "our dear Mother" and referred to the Puritans as "members of the same Body." What the Puritans really wanted was a chance to establish a Church free from all corruptions. They never separated from it in England though they criticized it severely. In America they would rebuild it.
The churches they formed at Salem, Boston, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Watertown looked suspiciously like the Separatists’ churches of Plymouth. It was to be expected, for the Puritans argued that that was what the true Church of England ought to be. Within definite limits, each local church was independent and sufficient to itself. It was run on a democratic basis. That is, all who became members through a public profession of their faith and adopted the covenant were eligible to discuss and vote on all important problems of the church. From time to time councils of churches could be called for mutual advice and unified support, and their decisions were rigidly enforced by the civil magistrates as fathers in the Church.
Furthermore, the covenant of grace given to mankind through Christ Jesus held the same place in Puritan belief as in Pilgrim. It formed the basis of the believer’s faith and also of that of the local congregation. All those who had an experience of God’s saving grace and adopted his covenant made an agreement or a covenant with each other to form a local church based on God’s will as revealed in the Bible. The purpose of the church made up only of God’s chosen ones was to worship him, to spread his Word, and to strengthen each other’s faith.
This local congregation elected and installed its own officers, often with the help of officers from neighboring churches. The officers were a pastor, a teacher, a ruling elder, and deacons. The pastor had oversight of the spiritual welfare of the people and also preached. The teacher preached and instructed children and adults in the fundamentals of the faith. The ruling elder performed many functions of an assistant pastor, though he could not administer the sacraments. Deacons took care of the finances and other material affairs of the congregation and saw to it that the widows, children, poor, and helpless were cared for.
The basic reason why the Puritans came to America was to reform completely the Church of England and to found a pure Church after God’s design. To be sure, they wanted to improve their economic standards, but in these early years religion usually triumphed in a clash with profits. The way the Puritans used their charter was a good illustration of that. It was really a charter for a business enterprise, but to them was a charter giving freedom to establish a pure Church and a godly commonwealth.
So they started the holy experiment. God had shown man what he wanted in a Church and in a State. Did not God give man Scripture and reason as guides? What did God want? He demanded a Church of his chosen people faithfully converted to his true worship and carrying out his true will. And, God wanted a nation striving to live after holiness, righteousness, and justice. There could be a Christian nation as well as a Christian individual. God would settle for no less; his covenant demanded that much!
How was this ideal to be attained? The Puritan answer was at once simple and profound -- the rule of the saints. The elect of God who formed the Church would also rule the nation; thus, the will of God would be done in private and in public Christian lives. Just as all problems in the Church were to be decided by all the believers searching and discussing Scripture, so in the State. The saints governed!
The only effective opposition to the holy experiment could come from two sources, the king or non-Church members. The Puritans rejected all attempts at English Governmental interference by appealing to their charter. The real danger lay in the requirement of their charter to elect freemen, who would have the right of participating in the election of the governor, deputy governor, and other magistrates. Thus, freemen had to be created, and the original requirements for freemen were only those of position and wealth.
In 1631 the Puritans took the only step possible to guarantee the success of their ideal. They worked out an oath that upheld the charter and religious view of the Puritans, and added a new requirement for freemen. Henceforth, only church members could become freemen or voting citizens. In this way the Puritans guaranteed that those men who held the real power of the State would be favorable to the religious experiment. As Governor John Winthrop put it, "we are bound to keep off whatsoever appears to tend to our ruin or damage."
The holy experiment progressed at a rapid rate. As a steady stream of people poured in, settlements sprang up in the Massachusetts Bay area, pushed inland and south to Connecticut. Ten or twelve growing communities were founded within a decade. In all these settlements the local church was the backbone of the community, and through its freemen the final authority in all matters civil.
The Puritans, unlike the Pilgrims, demanded a learned ministry and recognized all knowledge as a gift from God. Within six years after landing, the Puritans established a college, the first in America, in order "to advance learning and to perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust." They named it after a patron, John Harvard, minister of the church in Charlestown.
The Puritans and Pilgrims did not forget their work with the Indians. The charters of both groups professed the desire to win the natives to knowledge and obedience of the only true God. The seal of the Massachusetts Bay colony pictured an Indian uttering the cry of the Macedonians to Paul, "Come over, and help us!" This work was carried on entirely by individuals on a personal basis. Though it never reached large proportions during the first ten years, it was, nevertheless, real. It was but one more example of the Church reaching out its arms with the good news of redemption.
So another great Church planted deep roots in America. It soon spread to absorb the Pilgrim group and with it laid the foundation of American Congregationalism. A great and powerful Church, rich in the fruits of the Spirit, dedicated to God’s will in every aspect of life, it sought through its holy experiment to develop a nation and a Church that would guide people according to God’s holy laws.
Early in 1634, a strange thing happened. A boat docked in what is now Maryland, bringing 2 Jesuit priests and 16 Catholic families, along with some 200 other people. Soon word spread through. neighboring colonies: "Roman Catholics have arrived!"
All the Protestants in the colonies hated and feared the Roman Catholics. It was against Rome and its corruptions that Puritans and Anglicans had protested. Terrible wars had raged between Protestants and Roman Catholics during the previous century. Coupled with the deep religious difference was patriotic fervor. Spain and France, the two great Catholic powers, had explored America long before the English, Dutch, or Swedes. At the very time when Virginia was settled, Spanish Catholicism was reaching its golden era in Florida, and the French were pushing along the St. Lawrence waterway and through the Great Lakes region. There was bound to be fear, hatred, and warfare between the two religious groups.
Thus, the coming of the Roman Catholics to Maryland placed the problem right in the midst of the Protestant colonies. Lord Baltimore, a Roman Catholic English nobleman, had been given a huge tract of land just north of Virginia, and the king had granted him absolute control over the area. Baltimore hoped to make it a place of refuge for Roman Catholics.
His son Cecil, anxious to make it a paying venture, laid plans to colonize the vast domain. He recognized that he could not find enough Catholics to settle the territory and make it a financial success. Furthermore, Cecil understood that it would be impossible to erect a Catholic colony between Anglican Virginia and the rapidly expanding Puritan New England. Thus, in order to entice Protestant laborers to the colony and in order to provide a safe haven for Catholics, he determined to pursue a policy of toleration toward all Christians who believed in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. His plan was doomed to failure from two sides. The Jesuits were dissatisfied with their position and that of the Roman Church in the colony, and the Protestants were very uncomfortable with a neighboring colony which tolerated Roman Catholics.
Meanwhile, in the heart of the Atlantic seaboard another drama was unfolding. Between New England and the South the Middle colonies began to develop. These were to grow into such great colonies as New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Jersey. They were to be the home of no one great Church, such as the Puritan, the Anglican, or the Roman, but they were to become the center of many Christian groups living together peacefully -- the Dutch Reformed, the Lutheran, the Quaker, the Baptist, and the Presbyterian.
It was to be some time before all these Churches arrived on the scene, but in the earliest days, in the 1620’s, the Dutch succeeded in establishing friendly relations with the Indians. Trading posts were developed on what is now Manhattan, and at several other places such as Albany, and near Philadelphia.
Trade brought settlers to the Dutch colony. In 1626, Peter Minuit was appointed governor by the Dutch trading company that held the land under a Dutch charter, and also through purchase from the Indians. He brought two deacons to visit the sick. But it was not until several years later that a Dutch Reformed pastor arrived. Dutch, German, and Scandinavian Lutherans were in the colony from the beginning, but they were allowed no freedom to worship in public. These Dutchmen were strict adherents of John Calvin and they would brook no opposition.
Unlike the Puritans and even the Virginia Anglicans, these Dutch Reformed did not provide an adequate house of worship for over twenty years. Their first church was the upper floor of a horse barn. Niggardly in their own provision for worship, they would allow no others on Manhattan to provide for any other public worship services. Also, they made little provision for work among the Indians. The Church was there, but it was unable to perform its full function as long as it remained under the governor’s control.
Lutherans first carried on independent worship in a settlement of the Swedes on the Delaware River. Three Swedish Lutheran pastors were busily at work when the Dutch captured these settlements in 1656. After the Dutch triumph, only one Lutheran pastor was allowed to remain.
Thus the early years witnessed the planting of the Christian Church in America. The Church came in many ways, using many languages. It came with the Anglicans, with the Puritans, with the Dutch Reformed, and with the Swedish Lutherans. To this day there is no one Christian group that embraces all the American people. It is strange, because each group thought that it was establishing its form of Christianity as the true and final form for the New World. This was not to be.
The great lesson these various groups had to learn in America was that the Christian Church brought its message of God’s judgment and redemption in Christ through all Christian groups which faithfully attempted to carry that message and live under it. By 1646, 18 languages could be heard along the Hudson River alone. The gospel was preached in all tongues. The Christian Church was there preaching to the individuals, attempting to shape their lives and the life of their society. It was part and parcel of the life of each colony. It ministered to every side of life. It was seeking yet more light from God’s Word for a new people and a new land.