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Thanksgiving and those darn Pilgrims

Last Sunday I went on a little bit of a rant about the pilgrims, though not for the usual reasons. The Pilgrims were, as you probably learned in school, Puritans from the Church of England who came to these shores looking for “freedom from persecution”, but they began in England as Separatists who worshipped in secret away from established churches and fled to the Netherlands before coming to the New World.

Church history is a little different in its telling of those cardboard hat wearing Calvinists. Puritans were Calvinists who wanted to reform the Church of England along Geneva lines. That is, they wanted to have their own version of the Bible used in services, wanted to ban vestments, and wanted the church to be headed not by the archbishops, bishops, priests and deacons of the English and Catholic models current at the time, but by presbyteries of lay leaders in local congregations. They also wanted to get rid of images in church and much in the way of decoration. Some even wanted to rid the services of music and sacraments. 

Puritans wanted to purify the church, and the Pilgrims (a name given later) wanted to separate entirely, seeing the church structures as ungodly, perhaps even evil.

They were persecuted by the English laws of compliance that insisted that they attend worship at the Church of England and endure these vestments, music,  and sacraments, along with a theology that was never purely Calvinist.  

In fact, they were accommodated at times and persecuted only if they did not attend church in the Church of England at minimum three times per year.  

They did not look to create some oasis of spiritual liberty where people could worship as they wished, but rather they wanted to create a Puritan society. They sometimes get accused of being utopian, but they would never see any human society as perfect because we are sinful.

The Anglican tradition, of which we are the American variant, has had a long argument with these two sister traditions. We hold to the catholic structure of the church as understood to have originated in the Bible, and we see salvation at work within and through the traditions of the church, as stated in the creeds.

The deeper argument has to do with how God is involved in the world. The Puritan and Separatist traditions saw the world as totally depraved and the church needing to separate from the world. The Anglican tradition sees the world as the place where God has placed us to be his children at work in the world.

The world is sinful. But the question is “What is our role in the redemption of the world?”

We also see humanity and the world as fallen, but not totally depraved. Humanity and the world were made by God and pronounced good in Genesis. Our fall was from that blessed state, but we are redeemed in Christ and set about the work of redeeming the whole of humanity and Creation in his name, knowing that our work will not be done until Christ returns. 

This is our theme as we come to the end of the liturgical year with Christ the King and his expected return. This is our hope as work at making the world a better place, a more Godly place by bringing the presence of God, the forgiveness of God, the grace of God in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit to our family, neighbors, and the structures of human society and the natural world.

That is a large order. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 28, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 28:18–20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

So, don’t be a Separatist. Come to church, in person or online. Join us in that great work as we come this Sunday to crown him Christ the King and rejoice together.

The Very Reverend Daniel P. Richards

Rector, Christ Church of the Ascension