Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 30 - What Kind of Christianity Came to America? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-030 PROFESSOR LAWRENCE REST PROFESSOR WILL SCHUMACHER Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***** >> DAVID: That historical overview was extremely helpful. What was the result theologically? What kind of Christianity was transplanted to America? >> SPEAKER: Well, David, again, the answer to that depends a great deal on what part of America you're talking about. Let me, in my answer, just leave aside for moment the Roman Catholic influences in Florida, for instance, or in Canada as the French colonized Canada and concentrate instead primarily on the English colonies on the eastern seaboard of America. Part of the picture there can be seen in the example of Virginia which, of course, was the first site of a permanent English settlement on the North American continent, the little town of Jamestown founded in 1607. Since the official Church of England had accepted a more or less Calvinist version of the Reformation during the reign of Henry VIII already in the early 1500's, it seemed natural enough that an English colony would essentially duplicate that kind of Christianity, this kind of Anglican protestant Christianity, in their colonies in the New World. So naturally enough, the English started to organize Anglican parishes among the small villages and plantations along the James River as the settlement grew. Other varieties of religion were not permitted in Virginia. Anglicanism was the official religion. Beginning already in 1619 and then continuing with additional laws in 1642 and 1662, the colonial legislature of Virginia established the Church of England as the official church of the colonies. What did that mean? What did it mean for the Anglican Church to be the official church? It meant that it was the only church that would receive official public support. Doctrinally, it meant that the Church of England's 39 Articles would be the only officially tolerated standard of doctrine. So this was a Protestant largely Calvinist church patterned doctrinally exactly on the Church of England. Only clergy who had been approved by a bishop in England were permitted to preach or teach in the colony of Virginia. Any clergyman who arrived and wanted to conduct services or preach or teach had to present the governor of the colony with his credentials showing he was an authorized Anglican clergyman. Worship was to be conducted only in accordance with the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer. Non-Anglican clergy who preached or taught in Virginia were actually subject to punishment or expulsion from the colony while Anglican clergy and churches were supported by public funds. Such measures made Virginia the most thoroughly Anglican of all the American colonies, of all the English colonies in America. And by the middle of the 1600's, this is less than half a century after Jamestown had been established, there were about 30 Anglican parishes in Virginia, and that number continued to grow as the colony did so that there were more than 60 by the end of that century. And by the middle of the 1700's, there were over 100 parishes in the colony of Virginia. The official establishment of the Anglican Church in Virginia should not really surprise us, however, since that model of having an official church was, in fact, the model that was followed in every European country. Religious diversity within one country was really not a popular idea. It was seen as an unsettling and revolutionary idea. So the Anglican Church naturally replicated itself in the New World. As we see from the example of Virginia, there was a tendency to make this Anglican Church, this Church of England, the established and official church in the colony as well. Just because the Anglican Church became the official established church in the colony of Virginia and the southern Colonies shouldn't lead us to suppose that all of the English colonies followed the same model. As a matter of fact, there were great differences between the English colonies in how they handled religion as a part of colonial life. The Puritans that you mentioned a few minutes ago in one of your questions were an example of this. The Puritans were dissenters, those who didn't agree with the majority and prevailing opinion and theological climate in the Church of England and sought to conduct themselves in a more purified style still following the theological tenets of the Reformed or Calvinist Protestantism of the Church of England, but as they would see it, purifying elements of their worship and hierarchy. Those puritans found themselves out of step with the prevailing climate in the Church of England and sought permission to emigrate and settle in the American colonies in search of a place to practice their faith according to the dictates of their conscience. And they persuaded the king to allow them to travel to the New World and establish their own colony for that purpose. This right away distinguishes the Puritan colonists from those in Virginia because remember, the colonists in Virginia were there trying to make a financial or economic foothold, and they were looking for ways to turn a profit. The primary motivation wasn�t religious but economic and political, if you will, extending English political power to the New World. The Puritans came really driven by religious motives and in search of a place to put into practice the kind of Christianity they thought best. The plan to sail further south along the coast somewhere closer to Virginia where the climate was milder, but they made a landfall in what is today Massachusetts. In 1620, a small band of separatist Calvinists that were known as pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and set up their colony there, and about 10 years later, an additional group of Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. That colony actually turned out to be more successful and grew faster than the Plymouth colony and eventually absorbed the Plymouth colony into it. The Puritan mindset, like the Virginia mindset, was not necessarily following an ideal of religious liberty, although they wanted the freedom to practice their own version of Christianity. They didn't draw the implication from that that they should extend this kind of religious freedom to others who disagreed with them. So the colony did enforce a rather strict conformity to the Puritan ideal of Christianity. Sunday attendance at worship, doctrinal purity was enforced. Those who had different ideas or sought to teach in some different way were not permitted to stay in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In that way, they sought to keep themselves a genuinely pure Christian outpost. In fact, they understood themselves as a city set on a hill, a visible outpost of the kingdom of God in the New World. That formed their identity and motivated their colonizing efforts. Of course, there were those in the colony who had different opinions and even reached different theological conclusions. The most important figure among them is Roger Williams who was a Puritan himself but became convinced by the arguments of the Anabaptists and became the first Baptist in America. He was expelled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony and got permission to establish his own plantation or colony in nearby Rhode Island. He set up a settlement known as Providence, and the colony was officially known as Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations. What's different about Roger Williams�s colony was that he, from the outset, decided that this colony would not enforce religious conformity but instead would deliberately allow religious freedom to all views. He was a strong believer in the liberty of conscience and especially the liberty of religious conscience and objected to any effort to try to coerce anyone in terms of their religious beliefs. So he didn't enforce any particular kind of religion. Even Christianity was not enforced so that Roger Williams's community became one of the first places in the New World where Jewish settlers came and established a synagogue at a very early date and where Roman Catholics could find a welcome and Baptists and others. An amazing variety of religious groups found a home and a peaceful political atmosphere in this colony of Rhode Island. That was a revolutionary idea. The whole idea of religious liberty and not just toleration of different religious ideas seemed to many people at the time almost subversive. And it was by no means certain that this colony would be a success. Roger Williams, however, argued that in the political and legal affairs of the colony, it was important to make a separation between the acts of the legislature in setting up laws in the colony and the practice of religion. He used the metaphor of a garden wall, a wall built around a garden, to protect the garden from the wilderness and overgrowth of the surrounding world. In Roger Williams's image, the garden is religion, the most important and fruitful and vulnerable part of human life. And the wild outside would be the rough and tumble of political debate and legal action. When he separated religion from legal life or political life, he did so to protect religion from interference. And that idea of religious liberty and the limitation of government became very important later as part of the American ideal. I talk about that here because it was an idea that originated in colonial America and gives you an idea of some of the variety that existed even among the English colonies that were all, more or less, Protestant. But Roger Williams's idea of separation of church and state or separation of religion and politics would become important later, of course, in American public life and is still, actually, a rather important and sometimes controversial part of our life as Americans and Christians today. So those ideas have their roots in early colonial Christianity in America. ***** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communications Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *****