Full Text for Church History 3 - Volume 31 - The Christian Church in Europe and America (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CH3-031 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. ***** >> JOSHUA: As we've mentioned before, at the present time there seems to be a clear difference between the activity and, dare I say, vitality of the Christian church in Europe and here in America. I'm sure that this difference is rooted in history in the ways and means by which the church grew. Can you help me understand this? What was different about the churches as they true root in America? >> SPEAKER: Joshua, that's a great and actually a really far-reaching question, and I probably will only be able to give a preliminary answer to that. Really exploring all of the distinctives of religion as it took root in America, of Christian religion as it took root in America; that would really be the work of a lifetime. But I'm sure we'll have more opportunities to talk about it, but I thank you for bringing this up. Joshua, there were, of course, some really new and innovative religious ideas that grew up in America. We've talked about Roger Williams and his idea of religious liberty in his colony of Rhode Island. That was a provocative idea in his time. And certainly by no means the consensus among Christians in America or in Europe. In our day and age, we take for granted so many of the tenets that Roger Williams put forward in the freedom of conscience, the desirability of religious freedom as part of a political system. This is, in fact, even enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. This is regarded by the whole world as a fundamental human right, the freedom of individuals to practice any religion or to practice no religion. But in the mid 1600's, that was a controversial idea. It was an idea that really got its beginnings in the American colony of Rhode Island. So that was really different. Other differences between the Christianity in America and the Christianity in Europe arose because of the radically different conditions under which the church lived. I've mentioned that in Virginia, there was an attempt to duplicate the Church of England in its structure and doctrine and church life in this new colony. On paper, that looks fine. One would think that an English colonist could make the voyage and settle in this colony in the 1600's and have his Anglican parish church nearby so that his life would go on, more or less, as it had while he lived in England. But that would not be the case for several reasons. For one thing, the Virginia colony was very sparsely settled. A single parish might be an area as much as ten miles wide and forty miles long. This would have a widely scattered population as the colonists spread out to find good farm land and to clear fields and to plant their crops and so forth. And all of the people living in that area would have to be served by a single clergyman, or in some cases, a parish and didn't even have its own clergyman but was sharing it with another parish. That leads me to the second problem: the difficulty that churches in America had in providing themselves qualified clergymen. In Virginia, one of the problems that they had was that the clergymen that were willing to come to Virginia often were only willing to do so to escape from scandal or bad debts or some other problems that they had in England. So you didn't exactly have the cream of the crop signing up to be Church of England priests in the colony of Virginia. And once they got there, these perhaps underqualified and undermotivated men were given extremely taxing responsibilities over a wide area. So it's not too surprising that the results were sometimes unimpressive. One of the results of this was that whereas in England, church life had been at the center of each community. Church life in the colonies, at least in Virginia, was very much on the periphery. This was sort of the edge of your life. You wouldn't necessarily attend a Sunday service every week. Perhaps it wasn't available. Perhaps it was too far to travel to the church where a service would be held. So church life wasn't as central to community life in the colony as it was in England. If we shift our attention to the New England colonies, the Massachusetts Bay and the Puritan colonies there, we find a slightly different picture and different ways in which their situation was a change from what they had experienced in Europe. For the Puritans, their identity had been shaped in England by the fact that they were a minority. They were a minority that struggled to maintain their integrity and their existence over against a much larger majority in the Church of England. Well, these Puritans, once they got to their colony, found themselves not as a struggling minority, but actually the establishment. And they proceeded to behave like an established church. The Puritans then, as I said, did not promote religious toleration of other groups. They enforced with legal measures as well as public sentiment the obedience to outward covenant and so forth. Sunday worship was mandatory for everyone in the colony, and everyone had to give evidence that they were genuinely converted to have full rights as a citizen of the colony. That existence as a majority in the colony strengthened this Puritan idea and gave it a great deal of self-confidence which probably was not possible in the way Puritanism had lived as a minority movement in the Church of England. So those were some differences in the environment in which they lived that changed in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways the expression of Christianity that they lived out in the New World. Over all, because there were such differences between the colonies, and Virginia was a very different place from Massachusetts which was a very different place from Rhode Island and so forth, what you had in the colonies as a whole was a new picture of religious diversity. And this religious diversity, lots of different denominations, lots of different confessional groups was something new. Most European Christians knew only the church that they were a member of in the place where they lived. But in the colonies such as Rhode Island, and then to a lesser extent also in Pennsylvania and the middle colonies where there was more religious toleration. An individual Christian might come into contact with many different religious groups in his daily experience. And that was something really new for the way that Christians lived in America. Most of the Christians who came from Europe thought of themselves as simply transplanting their variety of Christianity to the New World. But the new circumstances in the colonies changed the practice and life of that faith in ways they couldn't foresee. ***** 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. *****