For something to be deemed not relevant is the kiss of death in some evangelical Christian congregations across this country. As churches try to influence culture the Church at the same time is often swallowed up by it. The Pilgrims certainly would be categorized by many as severely irrelevant in lifestyle, separatist ways, and by their manner of worship in today’s culture.
The pastor of the church I attend preached an excellent two part series sermon on the Pilgrims. He discussed several lessons the Pilgrims can teach us, one was their wariness concerning the growing power of the state and how the state’s influence over the Church is harmful to religious liberty and freedom of worship.
The Pilgrims were a separatist sect committed to breaking away from the Church of England; the differences to them were irreconcilable. Freedom for the Pilgrims might be different than the freedom many of us envision for ourselves. Freedom for them was the freedom to worship in spirit and in truth, free from outside government intervention and the Church of England’s influence.
One the most important lessons that can be transferred to our era is that the Pilgrims understood that the more power that is centralized at the state level, the more power the government has to influence houses of worship and religious conduct. Understanding and defending our own Constitution and rights is essential to protecting the liberties and freedom we enjoy today. It is important to also note that there is a relationship between economic and social freedom. There is a danger of losing additional rights and freedom when a large segment of the population relinquishes economic freedom. There then becomes a greater dependency on centralized power. The ability of the person to create, innovate, and flourish becomes limited, as well as the ability to stand steadfast against the creeping loss of liberty.
Because of the great persecution religious dissenters in England faced, the Pilgrims who landed in Plymouth also taught us that maintaining freedom is very costly. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth half of those who made the voyage would be dead by spring. Yet none of the Pilgrims returned with the Mayflower when it sailed back to England in 1621. With the help of Native Americans, the Pilgrim tradition of Thanksgiving was strong and vibrant because their great sacrifice and commitment to religious freedom bore fruit. The burdens they would bear were tolerable to them because their strong belief that ultimately it would bring glory to God. We can surely find inspiration and motivation in understanding that if you want to keep your freedom you have to sacrifice and pay something for it.
In 1647, Plymouth Governor William Bradford wrote in his notable historical work Of Plymouth Plantation:
Last and not least, they cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least making some ways toward it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in the remote parts of the world, even though they should be stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.
Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here are kindled hath shone unto many, yea is some to our whole nation, let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.