Summary: We, like those pilgrim forefathers of the Church in America and the Early Church, are called to be fools for Christ!
The Pilgrim’s Path Part-8, Mathew 5:1-12
One hundred Puritans sail across the ocean on the “Mayflower” and in New England find a home where they can serve God according to the dictates of their conscience. Persecution in England being continued, men cross the Atlantic to join the Pilgrim Fathers, in a land where religion and liberty have found a sure home. In ten years twenty thousand persecuted Englishmen find a refuge in that Western land. A Protestant colony is founded by sturdy, resolute men; not only were they religious men, but they were the noblest class of emigrants who ever left the shore of any land, and in that new land God’s Church prospered, and today Protestant America is the result of men flying from one land to another for liberty to serve God. He guided the Mayflower across the sea and watched over the infant colony and founded His church on free American soil.
You and I stand as direct heirs to the legacy of those men and women who fled from Europe in the hopes of finding a place where they might worship God according to the mandates of their own conscience as they followed after Christ according to God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible alone and by the leading of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
It occurs to me that we are living in a day and in an age when the roots of our heritage are either ignored or simply misunderstood. We have all heard that the Puritans fled Europe because of religious persecution and subsequently established colonies in New England where they could worship freely.
But what was it for which they were persecuted? Why was it that they had to flee to be able to worship freely? The Puritans are more specifically not those who fled but are those people who stayed and sought to purify what was a corrupt Anglican Church. The Pilgrim Fathers of this land are more rightly referred to as Separatists. Perceiving the Church in England and elsewhere to be beyond reform, they fled to America to establish a place of pure worship.
They and the other reformers were persecuted by a corrupt church that had seized political power and for centuries kept the Bible out of the hands of the people. They were persecuted, among other reasons, for translating the Bible into the language of the people and for denouncing papal authority in favor of Christ authority over His Church alone.
But perhaps most grievous of all, they were persecuted, hunted, exiled from their homes, branded as heretics, even tortured and killed, for declaring that each man and woman can go to God directly through the blood of Christ according to the grace of God as made available through the gift of faith alone. Grace alone, Faith alone, the Bible alone, Christ alone, to the glory of God alone!
The Pilgrim Fathers laid the foundation of our great nation as well as the foundation of The Congregational Way, that is, they built not only a means of national liberty by way of an elected government and free society, they also were used of God to reestablish the autonomous nature of the local church as found in the Bible and practiced by the early Church.
In the Pilgrim Fathers we see but one among countless examples of those faithful followers of Christ who have been persecuted for their faith. Throughout the history of the Church God has used persecution to build His Church.
The early Church Father Tertullian said that, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” This statement has a depth of insight which is all too often lost on believers today. We have no trouble thinking of persecution and martyrdom as a great obstacle to the spread of the gospel which will not, however, be successful in hindering Church growth. We would have no problem affirming that the blood of the martyrs is a hurdle which, by God’s grace, can be overcome. But to say that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church is an altogether different concept.
Church History affirms that in fact persecution does build the Church. Whether in ancient Rome or in modern day Communist China, when the Church is persecuted it grows. It is as thought the pressure of persecution is necessary for the Church to truly flourish. When the Church becomes too comfortable, Christians become complacent and the Church loses intensity.
This morning we will wrap up the Pilgrim’s Path with the last principal of the beatitudes. “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
From the very foundations of the Church persecution has built the Church. In Acts 5:41 we read that the Apostles rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ. The Apostles had the perspective that when they were persecuted it is an honor to be counted worthy of such persecution.