The good ship Mayflower brought to the shores of America those who wanted a religious freedom.
They came from England, by way of the Netherlands.
Because they went to the Netherlands first, and it was there that they first experienced religious freedom. They weren’t harassed. They weren’t maligned. And they certainly weren’t persecuted. Their persecution ended when they left their homes in England, and migrated to the great town of Leiden. And there, in those small pastoral communities, they found their freedom.
It was a different brand of freedom, though. They were extremely conservative — for they were Protestants who believed that England had not gone far enough in its dramatic transformation from a Catholic empire to a Protestant one. Once they believed their rebellious thoughts and ideals would continue to warrant persecutions from mainline Anglicans, they left England for the quaint little town. But not before they had their say.
There was a little conference where they were given an opportunity to voice their displeasure with the Church of England, and they were discounted on all arguments, with the exception of their desire for a new English translation of the Bible.
England obliged. And from that conference a slightly well-known version of the bible was produced. Specifically, the King James version.
Seeing they were at an impasse, though, they left. They could not change an institution so great as the Church of England. And though their persecution may have been difficult while in England, most scholars believe that they were never physically harmed.
Their community in Holland, though, was not their supreme ideal. It afforded them distance from England, but they weren’t exactly happy. William Bradford himself, in some of his own journals, lamented the influence the local culture was having upon the children of these Separatists. Here’s what he wrote:
But that which was more lamentable, and of all sorrows most heavy to be borne, was that many of their children, by these occasions (and the great licentiousness of youth in that country) and the manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evil examples into extravagant, and dangerous courses, getting the reins off their necks, and departing from their parents. Some became soldiers, others took upon them far voyages by sea; and others some worse courses, tending to dissoluteness, and the danger of their souls; to the great grief of their parents, and dishonor of God.
Their decision was made. They must leave. They must go to a place where they could organize a community in a cultural vacuum, where their children could forever escape any vile influences. But they couldn’t escape them entirely.
Aboard the Mayflower were others. Entrepreneurs. Soldiers of fortune. And these people did not share the intense beliefs of the Separatists. So the boat ride across the Atlantic became their second attempt (if you count their experience in Holland) at mixing with heathens.
They had an interesting word for those on the boat that didn’t share their beliefs, as well. They called them “Strangers.”
And, of course, they called themselves “Saints.”
And their settlement in Massachusetts, in Plymouth, mirrored that. They had a charter, and a government, and implemented a settlement that, within a few short years, dictated anyone who lived in their colony must worship in their churches. Those sanctioned churches received tax money from the colonists. Attendance was strictly enforced. And competing churches, or beliefs, were declared illegal under colonial rules. Colonial laws were passed to ban these faiths, and those in disagreement could be punished with death.
A few people paid that price. Read Mary Dyer‘s story on Wikipedia.
How interesting, then, that the very people escaping repression soon enacted their own repressive system.
The early colonies set a powerful precedent that still exists in America. Going to church is a very hard thing to do.
Right now, only 16% of Americans attend a traditional church. In ten years, and based upon current trends, that number will shrink to 14%. That even includes the new, hip churches with soaring attendance. Those churches, rapidly growing, aren’t helping the sliding numbers at all.
And right now, in America, based upon fiscal budgets of churches, and the number of those baptized into Jesus, it costs $1.5 million in church budget monies to lead just one person to Jesus. In churches at least ten years old, it takes 85 people to lead just one person to Jesus, based upon the average numbers in growing attendance.
So what, then, is the solution?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.