16 September 2009

Chapter 1 ; On the "Separatist Interpretation of the Reformation in England", 1550-1607

...1.Thus begins chapter one in Bradford's Diary. These diary entries are recorded long after the events they attempt to explain. Bradford begins with an explanation, he wants to immortalize the reasons the Puritans left England for Holland, and eventually the New World. In his own words - "Of Plymouth Plantation. And first of the occasion and inducements thereunto; the which, that I may truly unfold, I must begin at the very root and rise of the same. The which I shall endeavour to manifest in a plain style, with singular regard unto the simple truth in all things; at least as near as my slender judgment can attain to the same."

...Phew, If Bradford's judgment is "slender" then I dare not wonder what my margin will be.

...The time frame in which he wrote these words is roughly 1630 A.D. But the events he is writing about happened nearly eighty years before, long before William Bradford was born. He begins with mention of the reformation, persecution under Bloody Mary, and in general the "Separatist Interpretation of the Reformation in England", the chapter title.

...2. Define your Terms!

Separatist; NOT a person with a vendetta against fat in their creamer. This term actually means " one of a group of 16th and 17th century English Protestants preferring to separate from rather than to reform the Church of England." Webster Dictionary

...B. Saint; "Bradford uses the word saint in the Biblical sense, as one of God's chosen people, or a church member, not one of those canonized by the Roman Catholic Church" Samuel Morison.

...C. Professor; You're probably thinking a teacher at college or something, but this term was actually used by the Puritans in general to mean one who professed Christianity.

...3. What exactly happened in this chapter? I know that's sort of what I was thinking half way through, after all, it doesn't bring us up to date with anything happening to the Puritans now. (Which was then) In reality this is a very important chapter. It explains the reformations roots in England, why it started, and how it grew. Interestingly enough Bradford does not being with pointing fingers, nor does he begin with exact dates and facts. He begins with a very biblical form, explaining still without names, the persecution and terrors the gospel and its followers endure during these hard times.

..."Ever since the first breaking out of the light of the gospel in our honourable nation of England, what wars and oppositions ever since, Satan hath raised, maintained and continued against the Saints, from time to time, in one sort or other." William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Chapter 1.

...He goes on to compare the modern saints with martyrs of old, during the time of the Roman emperors, and mentions the bloody Arian controversies; quoting Socrates Ecclesiastical History to back up the comparison. Then, in one breathtaking sweep, he pulls the cloud of ambiguity away from our eyes revealing a name, a time placement. Bloody Mary. Yet he does not criticize Mary herself. Perhaps he will in some later chapter, but here he merely points out that Satan sought whatever and whoever he could as tools to accomplish his age old labor, to destroy the true church of God. Bradford also mentions that the Prince of Darkness tactics have changed, instead of seeking to utterly annihilate the church, he has chosen in these days subtler tactics. Hear Ye, Hear Ye, this following quote of Bradford's is no less valuable to us today, if not more so!

..."When as that old serpent could not prevail by those fiery flames and other his cruel tragedies, which by his instruments he put into practice everywhere in the days of Queen Mary and before, he then began another kind of war and went more closely to work; not only to oppugn but even to ruinate and destroy the kingdom of Christ by more secret and subtle means, by kindling the flames of contention and sowing the seeds of discord and bitter enmity amongst the professors and, seeming reformed, themselves." William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Chapter 1

...Truly we should lend ear to this warning. Now we know when Satan switched his tactics !(at least according to Bradford) But I'll leave this for section 4.

...Onward into the meatier portions of this chapter! We now come to mention of Mr. Fox, renowned as the man who wrote Fox's Book of Martyrs. It is always interesting to read contemporaries comment on each other! Bradford begins to list the grievances Christianity is suffering from, namely, discord over the order of worship.To paraphrase his words "One side" labored to have right worship of God in church, simple, no service books, strict adherence to the listed customs in Scripture, and keeping only the offices of Pastors, Teachers, Elders, etc. (We must I assume he forgot to mention the first ban on electric guitars being used in worship, no wait, they weren't invented yet. )

...The Catholic, or rather, "Anglican Church of England", basically the Roman Catholic Church under new government and with some minor adjustments, "Through many colors and pretences" went on to oppose the Separatists, or Puritans as they came to be called. Eventually they began to bring false charges of "rebellion and high treason" concerning the Puritans, hoping to get the attention of the Monarchy. Persecution was hot in many places.

...It appears the Puritans waited out the tide for awhile, hoping. But when Queen Mary died the contention did not. Bradford explains that many Puritans who had fled under Bloody Mary, now "returning into England under gracious Queen Elizabeth" received promotions and the like, and were for a time in favor. Then, of course, jealousy arose. Plots and devices were used to paint the Puritans in a bad light and the Queen and State were aroused. Indeed, it is not crystal clear in the text when these plots truly affected the Puritans, but they almost certainly did so increasingly after Elizabeth's reign, during James I.

...As with Mary, Bradford's personal opinion concerning Elizabeth herself is withheld. I find it interesting that he does not lay blame on either queen, very gracefully mentioning the pressure and plots laid around them. Was this a biblical conviction concerning speaking against the authorities that God had put in place? It certainly wasn't a custom of the time, Knox's thundering treatise titled "The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women" had been published scarcely a century before. It leaves one to wonder. However he does give Elizabeth the title "gracious", unlike Mary.

...Apparently the Anglican church's ploy was to keep certain "divers harmless ceremonies" to win the weak and superstitious, for "though it were to be wished that divers things were reformed, yet this was not the season for it." At length more and more corruption crept back into the church, according to Bradford, until zealous Christians began to be persecuted once more. During time of James I, things had become intolerable. As a last resort the true professors "shook off this yoke of antichristian bondage" and made a covenant to be a people set apart. Thus begins the history of the pilgrims that sailed in the Mayflower and landed on Americas soil. But before setting out for such a distant shore, they set their sights on a place closer to home, Holland. Chapter one ends in the year 1607.

A picture of the house where William Bradford was born...

"When as that old serpent could not prevail by those fiery flames and other his cruel tragedies, which by his instruments he put into practice everywhere in the days of Queen Mary and before, he then began another kind of war and went more closely to work; not only to oppugn but even to ruinate and destroy the kingdom of Christ by more secret and subtle means, by kindling the flames of contention and sowing the seeds of discord and bitter enmity amongst the professors and, seeming reformed, themselves." William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Chapter 1

The following verse from 1 Peter comes to mind, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. " 1 Peter 5:8-9 The enemy NEVER rests, he wants the church to fall. He wants Christs blood to be poured out in vain, he cannot accept defeat. The Prince of darkness refuses to see that God has already won the victory, that all the Lords purposes will come to pass.

...With this in mind it is ever important that we set a guard over our hearts, and watch carefully the road beneath our feet. In these days, as in the time of the Puritans, it would appear that the deadliest weapons in Satan's arsenal are; divisions and dissensions within the church; and the temptation of an "easier" walk with God.

...I'm not saying we should allow heresies in the church for the sake of peace, but it is a fact that ever since the reformation the church has become increasingly divided with different factors warring among themselves. What warrants leaving a fellowship of believers or breaking off into new church bodies? When do we gracefully shrug something off as simply the conviction of a 'weaker' brother, but not worth splitting over? These are grave questions we must all ask ourselves as we prayerfully seek to walk in the fullness of the gospel and maintain the peace and purity of the people of God. I don't pretend to have any of the answers, I'm just asking questions.

...The second matter of importance is the temptation of an "easier" or "worldier" walk with the King of Kings. God doesn't want us to come half way to the cross. He isn't seeking lukewarm lovers, He wants a bride wholly committed to Him. We are a church of sinners, that's why we're in the church, we recognize our need for the Savior. It is not possible for us to earn our own salvation, or be perfect, but we are called to "be holy" as He is holy, and to advance in our stages of sanctification. The christian walk begins at conversion, but it doesn't end there.

...Its so easy to say with our mouth, "There but by the grace of God", and then turn around and abuse the grace we proclaim. Remember Romans 6:1-4, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." I think this is what the Puritans were trying to do, "Walk in the newness of life."

...Later on in the chapter Bradford states "[the Anglicans bringing many excuses] to stop the mouths of the more godly, to bring them on to yield to one ceremony after another, and one corruption after another; by these wiles beguiling some and corrupting others till at length they began to persecute all the zealous professors in the land both by word and deed, if they would not submit to their ceremonies and become slaves to them and their popish trash, which have no ground in the Word of God, but are relics of that man of sin." William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Chapter 1

...Relics of that man of sin. What is Bradford referring to? Here are the next couple verses from our passage in Romans, "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. " Romans 6: 5-6

...And what is Bradford talking about? The extra biblical practices used in worship by the church at large then. The Puritans wanted a clean break from Catholicism, and they went to great ends to ensure it. This brings up another question; what practices did the Puritans preach and or maintain that were extra biblical? Though I believe their hearts were in the right place, it was hard to completely reform the church with such controversies going on at the time. For example, the Puritans adamantly opposed the theater, which in these days might equate to going to the movies. Why? Mainly because at the time many of the plays were about immorality, or encouraged inappropriate behavior. (Most not all) But no where in Scripture does it say that we are not allowed to act, or go to dramas. We are commanded to guard our eyes and hearts, which would mean reading movie reviews and asking ourselves if the entertainment would be profitable. But the Puritans called all drama wrong. And it was more than a conviction, it was a teaching.

...Is this right? Should the church elders be allowed to decide what is right and wrong for their members outside the evident commands in Scripture? How much Christian liberty would we have today if every time someone wanted to watch a movie, (a good movie), they were ostracized by the church?

...So we see the Puritans weren't perfect. Their stance on drama was just one of the more legalistic approaches they took in their day which helped to raise hard feelings against them, and ended up possibly doing more harm than good to the body of God.

...To end I think we can sum things up like this. What can we learn from the Puritans example? Our innocence and purity in the ways of the world are priceless and to be holy and bring glory to God is of utmost importance. But human dogmatism and pride can get in the way of holy ambition. Fear is another corrupter of faithful works that brings out the worst in us. We need to remain diligent and awake, carefully searching the Scriptures as the Bereans did, neither living in sin or stifling each others walk with extra biblical requirements. (whether "popish" or "puritanical") Beware the enemy!

5. Apparently Bradford had a rather "English" biased view of the reformations history! I came across this quote on the first page and had to do three double takes to determine if he had just said what I thought he said!

..."It is well known unto the godly and judicious, how ever since the first breaking out of the light of the gospel in or honorable nation of England, (which was the first of nations whom the Lord adorned therewith after the gross darkness of popery which had covered and overspread the Christian world), what wars and oppositions ever since, Satan hath raised, maintained and continued against the Saints..." William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation, Chapter 1

...Correct me if I'm wrong, but, wasn't Germany the first nation for the light of the true gospel to break upon? He can't be talking about government, that I would understand, because he stated in the first part of the sentence the "light of the gospel", which is what the Lord supposedly first adorned England with! These things are funny....To me anyways.

6. Thanks for bearing with me in this long, somewhat tedious, post! Next time I'm going to keep things a little more succinct, as we enter the arena of "Holland"!

No comments: