Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Puritan

Chapter 3 – My father

The time has come for me to write about my father, but I don’t want to. I’m afraid that I’m going to make him sound like an ogre, and he really wasn’t. Most of the time he was a pretty decent sort, but I grew up living in dread of the times when his internal volcano would erupt. He never physically harmed my mother or me, he was kind to animals and polite to others. His anger was only words, but those words would peel the paint off your self respect and wither your soul.

You see? I’m already off on the wrong foot if I want to portray my father in anything like a sympathetic light.

Let’s start over. My father was of New England Puritan stock, had high moral ideals and strong religious convictions. He was a tireless worker, he could fix anything mechanical and build most anything of wood with just a few hand tools. Sometimes he could laugh at himself, but only once did I hear him come close to admitting he’d made a mistake. He’d always had cattle and chickens on the farm and one time when he was about done with farming he said it might have been better if he’d kept a few pigs, too.

His mother was Franco-American, the granddaughter of a man who settled in New York state after serving as a maître d’armes, a master swordsman, in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. My father believed the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, namely English. He only learned a few words of French from his mother, but had a warm spot in his heart for his French heritage because the USA could not have won the revolutionary war without help from France.

My grandparents were from St. Lawrence county, New York and moved to the Newell, Iowa area shortly after they married. Five children were born to them there, then they moved to Pipestone county, Minnesota. In 1908 they came to Canada and homesteaded near the south-west end of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. My father built a house across the road from the estate house where his widowed mother lived and cared for her until her death.

He was 49 when he married and 50 when I was born. Perhaps that half century between us was too much to bridge. Or perhaps he expected a son who would be just as robust as he was and was disappointed to find himself the father of a sickly wimp.

There were good times. Our farm at Bishopric had rows of trees between the yard and the road on the west. All our kinfolk in the area would come once a summer for a family gathering and picnic in an open area among the trees. In the winter, the snow would accumulate in the trees and our driveway became impassible. Then we would travel by team and sleigh with horsehide robes to protect us and maybe a big stone or two at our feet that had been warmed in the oven.

One ice-cold Monday morning, when walking the mile to school was not an option, my father hitched up the sleigh and took me across country to the little brick schoolhouse in the village of Bishopric. When we go there, there was not another person there, no foot prints in the snow. Then I remembered: “Uh, Dad, I forgot. Today is a holiday.” The ride home was quiet, but Dad was not angry and never mentioned the incident.

Once when I was in my teens, Dad started talking about the evils of a white person marrying a black person. “Their children will be mixed colours, one leg white, the other black.” I found that a little hard to take. “I don’t believe that is possible. Did you ever see anyone like that?” He didn’t answer, but that was the last I heard of people with Holstein markings.

I was maybe 15 when he got me to change the water pump on the truck. He told me what to do, then I crawled under the truck and went to work. He wasn’t anywhere near to answer questions, so I figured out what tools to use and which way to install the pump, and it worked. Another time, he got some grinding compound and had me grind the valves and the valve seats on a Briggs & Stratton engine that had lost power. That worked too. But usually Dad didn’t have the time or patience to teach me how to do all the things he could do.

Dad was a Wesleyan Methodist whose church got sucked into the church union fever, eventually being incorporated into the United Church of Canada. Dad talked of attending a United Church in Edmonton, sometime in the later 1920’s. As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he was getting his direction from somewhere else than the Bible. The creation, miracles, virgin birth of Christ and the resurrections were only fables meant to teach a lesson. And the lessons this preacher drew from them bore no resemblance to Bible teachings. Dad walked out into the street, tears streaming from his eyes.

Soon he visited the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute and become an ardent follower of William Aberhart. When Aberhart created the Social Credit Party and led it to power in Alberta in 1935, Dad was convinced that this was the way forward. The churches had become corrupt, what was needed was to elect Christian statesmen to office.

As a true believer of Social Credit principles, it was hard for him to listen to someone expound a contrary philosophy. Occasionally I would see him clench his jaw and tremble in striving to maintain an outward civility when the fire inside was on the point of bursting forth.

I guess it didn’t always work. One day he came walking home from Mr Harlton’s. Mr Harlton was David’s father and a member of the CCF party, at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Social Credit. The Harltons lived two miles from us; I’m not sure why my father stopped there on his way home from town, but they got into a political discussion. My father became so agitated that Mr Harlton decided it wasn’t safe for him to drive and took his keys. Dad walked back the next day, in a somewhat calmer frame of mind, and got his keys back.

The Social Credit movement never got close to political power on the national level and eventually declined. When we went to Moose Jaw, Dad would go to Charlie Schick’s barber shop for a haircut and a religious discussion. Mr Schick was a fervent Lutheran and his influence gave Dad the impetus to start looking for a church again. That led to us joining the Anglican Church when we moved to Craik.

Dad’s eyesight began to fail in his 60’s and pretty soon he let me drive the family half ton to church. There was an RCMP officer attending the same church and I’m sure he was aware that I was nowhere near old enough to have a license. I wonder if he thought it might be safer to let me drive those short distances around home than to have Dad drive. When I turned 16 and got my drivers license, Dad gave me permission to drive the truck to school and to band practice.

My father was really a decent man and he meant well. He would accept advice from a few people, but for the most part he was the judge of what was right and wrong. One evening when we had family devotions he prayed that God would show others that he was right.

Every once in awhile the volcano within would come spewing forth and for three days, every time he came into the house, he would rant about all the things my mother and I had done that he didn’t like. We walked on eggshells to avoid triggering such outbursts, but never actually knew when they would happen. Most of life was normal, but I grew up with an overriding fear that anything I would say or do might be exactly the wrong thing to say or do at that moment.

The last best hope of mankind

Twenty-five years ago, as I walked the dirt streets of Plimoth, Massachusetts, Samuel Fuller fell into step beside me and began to visit.  “The churchmen in England say that we have no church here because we have no ministers.  A church is made up of Christian people; they don’t have a church over there.  Who made them ministers and bishops when they don’t even have a church?”

Samuel Fuller was a doctor who came on board the Mayflower.  He was also a deacon, the only ordained leader of the Plimoth church.  Of course I was strolling through the re-created Plimoth Plantation and Samuel Fuller was an actor.  Yet the original Samuel Fuller no doubt often repeated those very words as he travelled among the churches of the Plimoth and Bay colonies.

The law in England at that time required people to attend their local parish church.  In 1636, Edmund Goodenough of Donhead St. Andrew, Wiltshire was hauled into court and found guilty of attending church in a neighbouring parish where the minister was of a more evangelical persuasion.  The Goodenough family determined they would no longer live under such oppressive laws and in 1638 three brothers and two sisters arrived in Boston harbour aboard the Good Shippe Confidence.  I am descended from Thomas, a brother of Edmund.

The passengers on the Confidence became the founders of the town of Sudbury.  As in all the early settlements in the Plimoth and Bay colonies, they organized their church on congregational principles.  Their intention was to establish a New Jerusalem in the wilds of North America, a city set upon a hill to give light to all the world, showing the path of true Christian faith.  Only those who could give a credible testimony of being born again were admitted as members in the new church.  The members then engaged a minister for their congregation.

The idea of separation of church and state did not enter their minds; they were intent on building a new and truly Christian society.  Only church members were eligible to vote for town councillors.  The laws of their new society were based on the Bible and rigorously enforced on all.  Unwittingly, they created a society much like the one they left behind, except that they were now the ones in charge.

And they carried right on baptizing their babies.  Contrary to their expectations, many of those baptized in infancy failed to come to saving faith as they came to adulthood.  This is not the place to go into subsequent events, such as the Halfway Covenant and the Great Awakening.  Suffice it to say that there was a great decline in religion, followed by a mighty revival.  Through it all, there remained this glittering ideal of a city set upon a hill that would be a model for all mankind of the benefits of true religion.

When one Massachusetts minister, Roger Williams, began to speak of believer’s baptism, he was deposed from his pulpit and forced to flee in the dead of winter.  He established a new colony, Rhode Island, which offered freedom of worship.  When Quakers came to Massachusetts, trying to teach a milder, more peaceful way, they were rudely chased out of the colony.  They kept coming back and finally it was found necessary to condemn some of them to death by hanging to maintain the purity of the Massachusetts faith.

Some idea of the strength of their conviction that they were called of God to establish a new and better society can be found in the minutes of the town meeting of Milford, Connecticut in 1640: “Voted, that the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof; voted that the earth is given to the Saints; voted, that we are the Saints.”  Thus they extinguished any qualms they may have felt about claiming ownership of lands that had been used by the native peoples for generations.

The ideal of a city set upon a hill imbued all of the thirteen colonies when they purposed to throw of the shackles of English rule.  They could not agree which church should be established in the new nation: the southern colonies were Church of England; New England was Congregational; Maryland was Roman Catholic; only Rhode Island and Pennsylvania permitted freedom of religion.  Thus, more or less by default, the Continental Congress was led to formulate the doctrine of separation of church and state.

Many of the leading lights of the revolution, such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin, were not Christians, but deists.  That is, they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ or the authenticity of the supernatural portions of the Bible, yet they believed in God and in the moral teachings of the Bible.

It was during this period that the notion of a city set upon a hill appears to have been transferred from the church to the new nation.  All the leaders of the new nation believed that they were establishing something new in the world, a nation under God that would show the way in establishing a free and peaceful society.

The churches wholeheartedly supported this endeavour and believed that it would somehow usher in the millennium after which Christ would return to claim His own.  This belief is called post-millenialism and it was the prevailing view until the nineteenth century.

The civil war, the rise of unbridled capitalism and the inequalities found throughout the nation tended to dampen this utopian view.  In this setting, the dispensational pre-millennial views of John Darby found a fertile ground.  This doctrine seemed to promise to evangelicals that they would still be victorious and reign with Christ, even though conditions at the moment seemed to indicate otherwise.  Many proponents of pre-millenialism continued to believe that the United States of America had a special place in God’s plan for this world.

A competing doctrine, the Social Gospel, arose around the same time, teaching that the Bible’s denunciation of sin did not apply to individuals, but to society as a whole.  The key to America’s greatness would lie in eliminating the evils in society so that all people would be free to live as Christians ought to live.  According to this doctrine one of the greatest sins was the private ownership of businesses that were run for the profit of the owners.  Over time, the social gospel expanded to include many inequities in society, either real or imagined.  Governments used slogans such as New Deal and Great Society in their attempts to implement the social gospel.  In later years the movement has gone from advocating women’s right to vote, to advocating for the women’s movement and gay rights.  In the process it has distanced itself ever more from any claims of a Christian foundation.

Both dispensationalism and the social gospel still claim to be the embodiment of the old ideal of a city set upon a hill.  Both still claim a special place for the United States of America on the world stage as the last best hope for mankind.

This post is not an anti-USA diatribe.  As noted at the start, my ancestors were involved at the very beginning of the American experiment.  There is much that has been noble, and still is, about this experiment.  However, it is perhaps time to admit that it has not been a Christian experiment.  The attempt to integrate Christian faith and secular society was doomed to failure from the beginning.  The last best hope for all mankind is the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ, free of all nationalistic pretensions.

I have a funny name

I belong to an old family, the various spellings of the name revealing to which genealogical line we belong.  Our ancestors came from Wiltshire to Massachusetts on 1638.  The descendents of Edmund spell their name Goodenow or Goodnow and are mostly still found in New England.  Another subgroup of this line spells their name Goodeno or Goodno.  The descendents of Thomas, brother to Edmund, spell their name Goodenough or Goodnough and are found all over North America.  In the case of my particular family, the ‘e’ was dropped by the children of my great-great-great grandfather Ebenezer.  There is a Bob Goodenough in Michigan who is descended from Ebenezer’s brother Levi.

As can be imagined, each variation gives rise to jokes: Goodnow, bad later; Goodno, bad yes; Goodenough, bad enough.  And that’s it, there is really only one joke that can be made about each name.

Nevertheless, it often happens when I meet someone for the first time, that he feels a compulsion to display the originality of his wit by making a wisecrack about my name.   Now, it doesn’t make for a lasting friendship to inform my new acquaintance that this is the 1,723rd time that I’ve heard this particular joke and I’m all laughed out.  It works better to smile politely and try to direct the conversation onto a different topic.

The same joke has probably been told as long as the name has existed.  One theory is that the name began as a nickname for someone who was easily pleased.

There are a couple of examples from two centuries ago that rise above the  jokes that I  hear today.  The first was occasioned by a sermon preached to the House of Lords in England by Samuel Goodenough, bishop of Carlisle, in 1809:

‘Tis well enough that Goodenough
To the Lords should preach;
But sure enough, full bad enough
Are those he has to teach.

The second dates from 1822, when Ira Cooper of Manchester, Vermont married Miss Betsey Goodenough of Hancock, Vermont.  This poem has fun with both names, as the original meaning of Cooper is barrel maker.

Hoop poles with us are rather low,
And times we own are tough,
Since Coopers must to Hancock go
To get one Good-enough.

The head or the heart?

The year is 1620, we are on board the Mayflower, anchored at Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Several ladies are sitting on the deck beside their possessions, waiting to disembark.  Suddenly there is an intrusion from the 20th century, several young girls dressed in the manner of young girls in 1990.

The ladies gasp in shock, “Were you shipwrecked?”

“No,” they reply, somewhat mystified.

“Then where are your clothes?”

“We’re wearing them.  This is how we always dress.”

“And your mother allows you to go around half naked like that?”

The girls have no answer.

A while later we are walking through Plimoth Plantation, the town site as it was in 1627.  All the people we have read about in history books are here, speaking with the authentic accent of their county of origin in England.

We stop and talk to a young couple seated on a bench in front of their small home.  We ask about the singing in their church services and they oblige by singing a Psalm.

Later a man falls in step beside me and introduces himself as Samuel Fuller.  i recognize the name, he is the physician, deacon and church leader at Plymouth.  He complains about how the church leaders in England say Plymouth doesn’t have a proper church, because they don’t have a minister.

“Who made them ministers and bishops?  A church is made up of Christian people, they don’t even have a church.  Who made them ministers and bishops?”

A little later my wife and I come across a group of tourists questioning William Bradford.  He tells them emphatically, “If you know that something is wrong and you continue to do it, that is sin!”

That evening we were at a supper of the Goodenow – Goodnough cousins from all over North America.  Cousin Cynthia, who is part of the cast at Plimoth Plantation, came dressed as Mrs. Edmund Goodenow and spoke of the reasons they had left England in 1638.  “We wanted to be free to worship God the way the Bible teaches, rather than the way man teaches.”  Edmund had been brought before the courts in England for going to worship at a neighbouring parish of the Church of England where the minister was more evangelical than the minister of his home parish.  That was illegal in England in those days.

Cynthia is a descendent of Edmund and his wife, I am a descendent of Edmund’s brother Thomas, so we cannot be any closer than tenth cousins.  After the supper we asked her about the other role players at Plimoth Plantation.  Everything seemed so genuine, the buildings, the clothing, the accents, the faith.  But I had to ask, do the people playing those roles put on their Christian convictions with the costume, and then take them off again when they remove their costumes at the end of the day?  I especially asked about the man playing the role of Samuel Fuller.

She thought just a bit, then said, “I believe he has it in his head, but not in his heart.”

It would be worthwhile to ask myself that question.  After more than forty years of being a Christian, have I grown comfortable in living a Christian life in the way that I know will be considered acceptable in my setting?  Or am I free to live and speak as the Bible and the Holy Spirit speak to my heart?

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

Maybe No

The date and most of the customs associated with Christmas originated with the Roman Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival celebrating the rebirth of the Sun.  Schools were closed, great feasts were prepared, gifts were exchanged, all in honour of a heathen god.  Early Christians considered this an abomination, but somehow it has crept into the churches.

The fir tree, the holly and the ivy, all evergreens showing evidence of life in the depth of winter, were considered symbols of this reborn god.

Jolly old Santa Claus is a fraud, a false god who promises happiness that he cannot deliver.  Toys and other gifts may bring momentary delight, but no lasting happiness.  We are deceiving our children if we teach them to expect to find happiness in material things.

The star was a sign to the magi, to bring them to Jerusalem to announce the birth of the Messiah.  The star did not lead the magi to Jerusalem, they knew where to find it, there is no mention of th star guiding them until they left Jerusalem.  It was most definitely not God’s purpose to provide another god for us to worship, as some Christmas songs appear to do.  The Bible does not say there were three wise men, the idea that each brought his own gift is not found in the Bible account.  And they most certainly were not kings.

And so it goes for the rest of the Christmas mythology, all the heart-warming tales told to give us a warm fuzzy feeling about mingling heathen practices with a remembrance of the birth of Messiah.

Maybe Yes

Where I live there are seven and a half hours from sunrise to sunset on December 25.  I see no harm in a winter solstice festival to lighten this period a little, as long as we do not associate it with its pagan ancestry.  It is not wrong to exchange gifts, send letters and cards to family and friends, to hold family gatherings.

My Puritan ancestors shunned Christmas altogether, considering it purely pagan.  I think we can enjoy this season as long as we take care not to claim that we do this because God gave us Jesus.  There is not a shred of encouragement in the Bible for that notion.

At the same time, there is a stir in the air at this time of the year.  Our society still has a remembrance of the angels’ message of “peace on earth, good will to men.”  All hearts long to experience this, and they find precious little of it in the Christmas celebrations.

This provides a window of opportunity for us as Christians to testify in word and song that “peace on earth, good will to men” is something more than a story told to entertain children.  May we examine ourselves to see if we are truly living in the reality of this promise before we proclaim it to others.


The book of Leviticus describes three major festivals for which every adult male was to be present in Jerusalem.  The first was the Passover, observed the fourteenth day of the first month, roughly equivalent to April in the Julian calendar.  This was a celebration of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt.  Grain was seeded in fall and this also marked the time of the beginning of grain harvest.  The second day of the Passover festival, they were to offer the first sheaf of barley from the harvest.

Seven weeks later, or fifty days, came Pentecost, in celebration of the completion of the grain harvest.  It is not specifically mentioned in Leviticus, but the timing coincides with the day when Moses came down from Mount Horeb with the tablets of stone upon which God had written the Ten commandments.

The feast of tabernacles came on the fifteenth day of the seventh month.  By this time the grapes and olives had been gathered in and the wine and oil were in storage.  This was also a celebration of how God had cared for them during the forty years in the wilderness.

All three of these festivals combined giving of thanks for the fruits of the earth with giving of thanks  for God’s providential care.

The English Harvest Home festival began when the last cart of harvested grain was brought in from the field.  It became the custom in the Church of England to bring sheaves of grain and garden produce to church the Sunday after the end of harvest and to have prayers of thanksgiving for the harvest.  France and most other European countries had similar customs.

The first recorded thanksgiving service in Canada was in 1578 when explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew held a service on the shore of what is now Newfoundland to give thanks for having survived the Atlantic crossing.  There was a Church of England minister on the ship and communion was observed as part of this service.

In 1606 Samuel de Champlain and the settlers at Port Royal in what is now Nova Scotia organized l’Ordre du Bon Temps (Order of Good Cheer) to give thanks for their first harvest.  They continued with periodic celebrations through the winter months to keep their spirits up.  These celebrations included prayers of thanksgiving offered by ministers of the French Reformed Church who were with Champlain and the settlers.

I have come across at least four earlier claimants for the first Thanksgiving in what is now the USA, but the one held at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 has taken on a mythic status.  Since the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving became their one big annual celebration.  Thanksgiving still seems to be a more important holiday than Christmas in the USA.

Here in Canada, we have been influenced by the English and French traditions plus the US tradition.  Thanksgiving is observed the second Monday in October.  Our congregation will gather Monday evening for a traditional Thanksgiving feast.  Neighbours and friends are invited to join us.

English Christianity – Part 5

In May of 1610 there was a conference between the Waterlanders and John Smyth’s congregation. At this time a confession of faith was drawn up and signed by those participating and it appears that the Englishmen were now accepted as part of the Mennonite church. It may be that they were not all baptized by the Mennonite church, though this was their desire. The historical records are not clear on this point. Smyth’s baptism of himself was not regarded as valid by the Mennonites. 43 members of John Smyth’s congregation signed the confession of faith. Some later fell away. In the next 40 years about 80 more English people were baptized in the Amsterdam Mennonite church. Some of these were children of the original members, others were new arrivals from England or converts from the other English Separatist groups in Holland.

John Smyth died in August of 1612. His last book, published posthumously, was an answer to those critics who accused him of false doctrine and of constantly changing his beliefs. He admitted he had constantly revised his beliefs, but believed he had always moved toward further light as he and others had covenanted to do five years earlier. He did not admit of any error in the accusations he had earlier made against the Church of England and other groups, but repented of the harshness of those accusations.

For another 28 years there was an English-speaking Mennonite congregation in Amsterdam. Their elder Thomas Pygott died in 1639 and within a year the English congregation was amalgamated with the Dutch-speaking congregation. By this time they had learned Dutch, intermarried with the Dutch Mennonites, some had even changed the spelling of their names in order to sound Dutch.

Robinson’s followers in Leyden also began to integrate into the Dutch society around them, but not so willingly. Holland was the leading mercantile nation in the world and at the height of its prosperity. They feared that they were being drawn into the materialistic spirit of the Dutch people and began to look for a way out. To return to England was out of the question, but they began to think longingly of the new world across the ocean. They did not have the financial resources among themselves, but finally they were able to line up financial backing from English merchants and enrol additional settlers from England. In 1620 the Mayflower set sail for Massachusetts. John Robinson and the remainder of his congregation fully intended to follow soon after, but financial difficulties encountered in the new Plimoth and the religious prejudices of the sponsoring merchants made that so difficult that only a few individuals were able to go. Having sent the bolder and most courageous portion of their congregation to the New World, the remaining group gradually dispersed, most joining the Dutch Reformed, some joining other English Separatist groups in Holland, a few returning to England.

A replica of the original Plimoth Plantation has been built in Massachusetts and it is populated by highly trained actors playing the roles of the original settlers. It is possible to go there and hear William Bradford tell a group of tourists with ringing conviction that “if you know that something is wrong and yet continue to do it, you are living in sin!” Or to speak with the deacon, Samuel Fuller, about criticism by the Church of England that the separatist church had no properly ordained ministers to administer the sacraments. His reply: “Who made them ministers and bishops? A church is made up of Christian people. They have no church, where did they get the authority to ordain themselves ministers and bishops?”

In 1634 it was reported to the archdeacon’s court that Gabriel Sanger, parson of Sutton Mandeville in Wiltshire, had expressed the following sentiments over the pulpit: “there is a narrow way that leadeth unto heaven and there is a broad way that leadeth unto hell, and many there be that enter therein; and the papists and protestants do meet in that way and may shake hands in hell”.

Edmund Goodenow was one of the church wardens of Donhead St. Andrew, a neighbouring parish to Sutton Mandeville. In 1636 he was fined for attending worship at a parish other than his own. In 1637 he was called before the archdeacon again for attending services at Shaftesbury, just across the county line in Dorset. The following spring Edmund Goodenow, along with two brothers and two sisters, left England forever, to make their home in the New England across the water, where they could worship God according to their conscience. These families were among the founders of the town of Sudbury, west of Boston.

In 1990 we attended a Goodenow family reunion in the Sudbury area. One evening one of our cousins, who plays a role at Plimoth Plantation, portrayed her ancestor, Mrs. Edmund Goodenow. Cynthia had the authentic costume and accent and gave us some insight into what it must have been like to live in those times. She was asked why she and her husband had left England? “We wanted to attend church where we could hear the Word of God, not the word of man. But when some of us attempted to attend churches in England where we believed we could hear the Word of God, they were brought before the courts and forbidden to ever do so again. So we left our homes for this unknown world where we believe we will be free to hear the Word of God preached.”

The Goodenow’s, like other settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, were Puritans, not Separatists. But once in the New World they faced the task of regulating their collective spiritual activities so as to avoid the difficulties which had caused them to leave England. Samuel Fuller from Plimoth Colony visited the new settlements as they were organising their churches and apparently was well received. The churches were established on the basis of local authority – no longer would bishops lord it over them! The minister was to be chosen by the town council, and only church members would have a vote in town affairs. In essence they had established exactly the same religious intolerance they had fled Britain to escape, only now they were the ones in charge!

The unique feature of the New England churches was the requirement that only those with saving faith were eligible for communion. The settlers had to be able to tell an experience of repentance, saving faith, and assurance of salvation, before being admitted to membership. Thus were the Congregational Churches of New England established, almost upon a Scriptural foundation. But they continued to baptize their babies, and within a generation faced the quandary of a large proportion of church members who did not have saving faith.

English Christianity – Part 4

John Smyth, a minister of the Church of England, was dismissed as a preacher of that church in 1602. He continued to preach without a license, becoming the spiritual leader of a number of like-minded people from Lincolnshire and adjoining areas of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. For a time these people continued as members of their local parish churches, also meeting privately among themselves. But a conviction developed that the Church of England was not a true church at all. Late in 1606 or early 1607 this group covenanted together to form a true church, pledging themselves to walk in all the ways of the Lord known to them and that would be made known to them. By this step they moved from Puritanism, essentially a faction within the state church, to Separatism, renouncing the very concept of a state church. This little congregation contained at least 4 or 5 others who had formerly been ministers in the Church of England.

This move soon brought harassment by the authorities. In the spring of 1608 the entire congregation fled to Amsterdam in Holland. Some had been wealthy in England, but had to leave much behind and lost title to their properties. In Amsterdam they were relatively poor people, living in the wealthiest city in the world, and unable to understand the language of the land. At some point in the winter of 1608-09 John Smyth renounced the baptism he had received as an infant in the Church of England, baptized himself and then baptized all those in the congregation who were united with him in desiring believer’s baptism. Part of the congregation, led by John Robinson, did not accept this innovation and in spring they left Amsterdam for Leyden.

John Smyth himself soon came to regret his action. He had believed that the Church of God had ceased to exist on the earth. But as he and his congregation began to learn the Dutch language they became acquainted with the Waterlander Mennonite congregation in Amsterdam and realized that here was the Church of God. Early in 1610 they wrote to the Mennonites that they”now admit their error and repent of it, that is, that they began to baptize themselves contrary to the order instituted by Christ; and . . . henceforth desire to unite with the true church of Christ as quickly as possible.”

At this time a group of 8 or 10 withdrew from John Smyth’s congregation. The leader of this group was Thomas Helwys. He accused John Smyth of numerous doctrinal errors. Helwys rejected the idea that there was such a thing as a true church and that it was necessary for true believers to receive baptism and ordination from this church. Helwys also rejected the Mennonite teaching regarding the incarnation, insisting that Jesus received His flesh from the virgin Mary. Thirdly, he rejected the Mennonite teaching on the separation of church and state. On all these points John Smyth and his congregation were in full unity with the Mennonites.

Helwys and his followers returned to England and established the first Baptist church. Many Baptist historians attempt to prove the Baptists to be an offshoot of the Mennonites, by way of John Smyth, in order to show a lineage of the Baptist church back to Apostolic times. In actual fact the first Baptists emphatically rejected both the Mennonite faith and the whole idea of a lineage. There was a division in 1638, with one group of Baptists introducing the Calvinist doctrine of election, from which the eternal security doctrine originates. Three years later the first Baptist church to practice immersion was formed. For the first 30 years of Baptist history, this most characteristic practice of modern Baptists was unheard of!

English Christianity – Part 3

In 1529, while the Catholic church was under attack from Lutherans and Zwinglians on the continent, King Henry VIII persuaded Parliament to pass an act separating the Church of England from the authority of the pope. There were many in the English Church who hoped for a reformation, some motivated by true faith and some by a desire to neutralize the appeal of Lollardy to the common people. A considerable number of the ordained ministers of the state church espoused Puritan views. But very little changed, every living soul in England was by law a member of the Church of England. The realm was geographically divided into parishes, and people were required by law to attend their local parish church and no other, and to pay their tithes to the minister of their parish. It was even considered an offense to expound the Scriptures in a private home.

In the 1530’s the first Mennonites (or “Anabaptists”) appeared in Britain. They had a place of meeting in London, where their minister was a Fleming named Bastian. In 1534 Anabaptist ministers from England were at Amsterdam. In 1535, 14 Dutch Anabaptists were burned in London and other towns. Nevertheless many more continued to flee across the North Sea from the persecution in Holland. In 1538 the printing and possession of Anabaptist books was forbidden and all rebaptized persons ordered to leave the realm. On November 29, Jan Mathijsz a leader of the Anabaptists in England was burned at the stake at Smithfield. In 1540, Collins, an Englishman and Maundeveld, a French groom of the Queen, were burned at the stake.

The relationship between Mennonites and Lollards is difficult to discern. The doctrines were identical. In all probability Lollardy had become severely disorganized and weakened and the influx of Mennonite refugees served to revitalize and regather the remnants of the native English church. The King issued a pardon in 1539 for all heretics except those from abroad. It would appear that the new wave of persecution had succeeded in spreading an awareness of Anabaptist beliefs through the Kingdom. Another edict in 1540 condemned all those who believed that baptism was not for infants, that it was wrong to swear oaths or serve in civic office, and that Christ did not take His bodily substance from Mary. In 1550 Joan Boucher, probably of noble blood, was burned at the stake for her belief that Jesus did not take His substance from Mary.

During the Catholic restitution under Queen Mary (1553-1558) there was severe persecution of Protestants and Anabaptists alike. Some estimates place the proportion of Anabaptist martyrs as high as 80%. Most of these came from the counties close to the North Sea and were artisans or tradesmen. Two Anabaptist ministers can be identified, Henry Hart and Humphrey Middleton. Middleton died as a martyr in 1555. Hart was imprisoned for many years and carried on written debates with prisoners in other parts of the prison.

On Easter Day in 1575 a group of 20 people were arrested as they were gathered for worship. Some were released, two escaped and on July 22 Jan Pietersz and Hendrick Terwoort were burned at Smithfield. Two years later Hans Bret, an English Anabaptist, was captured at Antwerp. During his interrogation he was asked what kind of people they were who were put to death in England. He replied, “I believe they were Menno’s.”

Massachesetts Melodies

Three hundred and seventy-four years ago, the good shippe Confidence landed at Watertown in Boston Bay and disembarked a group of men and women come to establish a new home in a new land.  They moved inland to an area along the Musquetaquid River and established the town of Sudbury, the second town above tidewater in the Bay Colony.  English Puritans, they had come to escape the oppression of the church hierarchy in their native land.  One of these settlers was my ancestor Thomas Goodenowe.

They built a meeting house and gathered every Sunday to worship, walking in winter blizzards and spring floods, for it would have been a sin to stay home and a sin to make their beasts work on the Lord’s Day.  There was no stove in the meeting house; that would have been making too much provision for the flesh.  The worship services were long, with much singing.  The singing was hearty, but not necessarily harmonious.  People sang more or less the same melody, each at their own pitch and tempo.  When the thought was advanced some years later that it would improve the singing if a hymn was sung in unison, with everyone reaching the end at the same time, the idea was denounced as worldly.

Ten generations later, I belong to a brotherhood which places much importance upon singing in four voice harmony, correctly pitched and at the right tempo.  Can you imagine how utterly worldly this would seem to my Puritan ancestors?

However, it seems that my brethren have much the same attitude toward writing as my Puritan forbears had toward singing.  Grammar, punctuation and spelling are deemed of little importance, the main thing is to tell the story.

But the story is sometimes hard to find, much as the words of a song must have been lost in the cacophony of Puritan singing.  Too many sentences are constructed in the passive voice, possibly due to a misguided belief that vagueness denotes humility.  Weighty adjectives are thrown in to impress upon the reader the seriousness of the thought the writer is endeavouring to convey.  This can easily result in writing that sounds pompous and bombastic.

We who are members of this brotherhood have become accustomed to this form of writing and are usually able to decipher the meaning.  But what about the people outside our brotherhood?  What do they get out of our writings?  If we were somehow transported back to the seventeenth century, what would we get out of the singing in a Puritan meeting house?

Consider the language of the Authorized (“King James”) Version of the Bible.  Psalm 23 contains six sentences, all in the active voice, 118 words, 92 of them words of one syllable, adjectives are used only when absolutely necessary.  The beauty and power of the English language are lost when we steer away from this simplicity.

We have a story to tell to the nations.  The disciplines of grammar, spelling and punctuation are not medieval torture methods.  They are useful tools for making our meaning clear.  We should have the same consideration for those who read our writings as we do for those who listen to our singing.

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