Following The Pilgrim Path

The following is my talk at last nights SPCC Thanksgiving Celebration.

Pilgrim Fathers boarding the Mayflower for their voyage to America. After a painting by Bernard Gribble (1872 – 1962). (Photo by Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images)

William Bradford, when talking about the church of which he was a part, calls them, “these reformers.” And that is how we should think of them. They arrived at Plymouth in 1620, 23 years before the highest attainments of the Second Reformation took place at the Westminster Assembly which met from 1643-1648. Actually Bradford makes a reference to the work of the Assembly and the attainments of the Second Reformation in his “Of Plymouth Plantation” where he writes,

Little did I think the downfall of the Bishops, with their courts, canons, and ceremonies had been so near, when I first began these scribbles writings- which was about the year 1630, and continued as leisure permitted,- or that I should have lived to see and hear it. But it is the Lord’s doing and it ought to be marvelous in our eyes…. Do you not see the fruits of your labors, O all ye servants of the Lord that have suffered for His truth, and have been faithful witnesses of it, and ye little handful amongst the rest, the least among the thousands of Israel? You have not only had a seed time, but many of you have seen the joyful harvest. Should you not rejoice, then, yea, and again rejoice, and say Hallelujah, Salvation, Glory, and Honor, and Power be to the Lord our God, for true and righteous are his judgements (Rev 19:1-2…. The tyrannous bishops are ejected, the courts dissolved, their canons forceless, their service cashiered, their ceremonies useless and despised; their plots for popery are prevented, all their superstitions discarded and returned to Rome from whence they came, and the monuments of idolatry rooted out of the land. Their proud and profane supporters and cruel defenders (bloody papists, and wicked atheists and their malignant consorts) are marvelously overthrown. And are not these great things? Who can deny it”? 

Written by William Bradford in 1646

We can take a lot of encouragement from these men and women regarding what they saw in their time. We are not the first to face, “atheists and their malignant consorts.” We are not the first to struggle believing that God can do great things in relatively short periods of time. Twenty three years after their landing under the Dread Sovereign King James, as they refer to him in the Plymouth Compact, the Westminster Assembly will be seated to provide a Confession for the three major Kingdoms of the British Isles, England, Ireland, and Scotland. Scotland itself will undergo a national reformation and will be a full Covenanted Church and civil body politic by 1638 only 18 years later. We live in a “seed time” as Bradford would call it, we may yet live to see the “joyful harvest” too!

We must remember that they were much as we are and we should seek to be much as they were. Listen to Bradford’s description of them again.

O all ye servants of the Lord that have suffered for His truth, and have been faithful witnesses of it, and ye little handful amongst the rest, the least among the thousands of Israel?

Little handful… least among the thousands of Israel. We are like them. The Mayflower carried 102 persons across the Atlantic… both Saints and Strangers. The fact is that we are about as large or larger as the Separatist Church that made up of the group called, “Saints” that were aboard. I have mentioned every year (this is our 4th year as a body as Nov. 29 2020) that the pilgrims have always been our model. I often say that I’m a follower of the Puritans, but in truth, I’m really a Separatist. And Solomon’s Porch is really a Separatist body.

The Puritans maintained their positions in the Church of England seeking its reformation until they were en masse ejected from their pulpits in 1662 on Black Bartholomew’s Day and forced into Separatism. The Pilgrims were voluntary Separatists, seeing no way to meaningfully reform the Church of England, and so they left it in 1604-5, nearly sixty years before the Puritans were forced out.

There’s a place for both types of reformers. Reformers from within, like the Puritans, and reformers from without, like the Pilgrims. We, congregation, are the latter. We are seeking to place a small distance between ourselves and the American culture and American evangelicalism, which is an American cultural development in and of itself. We are not trying to “reform” evangelicalism We are fully separating from it as an act of “reformation.” Separatism is separating ecclesiastically from a corrupt church not civil separation from a corrupt government.

The Mayflower Compact was 400 years old on Saturday November 21st, 2020 and it began with these words,

“In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, Defender of the Faith, etc. Having undertaken for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together in a Civil Body Politic,”

What does it mean when I say we are a separatist body? It means we are separating ourselves from the 20th and 21st century backslidings of the modern American evangelical tradition. We believe the non-confessional, charismatic, and dispensational church traditions that were developed in the recent past and are now still present are neither rooted in the teaching of sacred Scripture nor the historic Christian Faith handed down by our forefathers. We are choosing to maintain the Christian Faith as it was held by the best of the magisterial reformers from the 1st Reformation in the 16th century, to the lofty accomplishments of the 2nd Reformation in the 17th century.

It also means we are committed to maintaining a Historic Traditional Christian Worldview as it has been held by Christians since the beginning, and even Jews since creation. This is called a “Judeo-Christian Worldview. We accept the order of the World as it was created by God…. with hierarchy and authorities, subsidiary responsibilities, binary gender, recognition of traditional gender roles, the moral authority of the Law of God, and the order and discipline of the apostolically established church.

It also means we believe the Church is primarily for God and so the worship of God is our centering practice with all other practices flowing out from our worship…. like mission for instance. We believe the Missional Reformed Church movement championed by Tim Keller and the Seeker Church Movement championed by Rick Warren spring from the same root. That root is making the church primarily about reaching men rather than worshiping God. We will be taking no accommodating actions to make ourselves relevant to the culture, as the church is inherently irrelevant to the lost and no strategies could ever change their hearts and minds only the Gospel and the Holy Spirit can change the hearts of men …. In other words we believe in Total Depravity and we believe in Sola Scriptura.

We will not be using consumer metrics to measure our success and therefore we will not encourage religious consumption on our members part but we will encourage them rather to be consumed by the glory of God with a complete surrender to the Faith once delivered to the Saints.

We hope to facilitate other areas of cooperation within the body in the future like ministry, the education of our children, and even work as we grow and we become more financially able to do so. We also hope to plant other like minded churches, filling our community, and other communities with smaller intimate bodies that are built on the Historic Christian Faith not the cheap modern evangelical knock-off that is event based. We may even have to pioneer new forms of agreed upon separation as technology and its uses and abuses are a great concern to us 

All these things we consider non-negotiables because we consider them indispensable as we have a strong desire to pass the historic Christian Faith on to the generation to come. Again, this was one of the pilgrim’s great concerns and was listed as a chief reason for their separation from the Church of England and for their leaving the city of Leyden, their home for twelve years in the Netherlands to come to the new world. Bradford again writes,

“But still more lamentable, and of all the sorrows most heavy to be born, was that many of the children, influenced by these conditions, and the great licentiousness of the young people of the country, and the temptations of the city, were led by example into dangerous courses, getting the reins off the necks and leaving their parents. Some became soldiers, others embarked upon voyages by sea and others upon worse courses tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of the parents and the dishonor of God. So they saw their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and become corrupt.”

We want to keep our children and the future of the Faith always before our faces not putting them on the altar of Church growth or cultural accomodations.

After a long year for every one I wanted to take this opportunity to spell out again who we are, who our heroes are,  and what we hope to become. We are a community to be a part of, not an event to attend. 2021 and going forward may be possibly more rocky than 2020 has been. Our principles maybe tested and some new avenues of cooperation could be forced upon us whether we are prepared to initiate them or not. Which brings us back to the examples of our forebearers the Pilgrims of Plymouth.

“they left the goodly and pleasant citie which had been their resting place near 12 years; but they knew they were pilgrims and looked not much on those things, but lift up their eyes to the heaven, their dearest countrie and quieted their spirits.” 

This is what we must do as well, consider ourselves pilgrims and “lift our eyes up to heaven, our dearest country and quite our spirits.” Becoming like those faithful pilgrims in Scripture who came before us and who looked for a “city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10) Let us “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” so that God will not be ashamed to be called our “God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Hebrews 11:16)

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