For centuries Europeans, like Africans traded with the far East, travelling to China, India via the East-West trade route cutting through the middle east often the tiny land of Israel – with Africa to the south, Russia to the north, Europe on the west and Asia to the east.
Few centuries in the run up to the 17th century the Muslims took control of the middle east and virtually blocking the global highway.
Since the world is a round globe Christopher Columbus believed that he could get to Asia the longer way by sailing in the opposite direction, going to east via west around the globe. At the time the map of the world centred around Eurasia and Africa (old world) – little or nothing was known about other continents, most early maps had the rest of the world as bare oceans.
Columbus’ calculations grossly underestimated the transverse distance, then no ship was big enough to carry people, food and supplies for such a long distance/time hence no government was willing to sponsor the trip until Spain agreed. In a leap of faith Columbus sails the violent Atlantic Ocean with three wind driven ships not certain if he will arrive. After a long time, they landed on the shores of the then ‘unknown’ central America believing it to be the eastern Islands of India.
He was credited with ‘discovering’ the New World- north, central and south America – even though there were local people who had been living there for thousands of years. Many locals were poisoned, diseased or shot with the gun – recently invented in China for which other continents didn’t possess yet.
Spain was still the western super power and its ships ruled the Atlantic seas alongside Portugal (both were Catholic) with the Portuguese colonising Brazil and sailing as far as southern and east Africa. Spain conquered most of present day southern USA, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and ‘all other guays’ ? Soon other Europeans came to America – Dutch, French, England established colonies, some of the settlers were fleeing persecution from the Reformation-sparked religious conflicts of mainland Europe.
At the same time Roman catholic church instituted an internal counter reformation to defend the church or renew/purify its theology and orders such as Jesuits, Augustinians , Franciscans and Dominicans rose to the occasion and with missionary zeal set to evangelise China and the Far East. Internally, the inquisitions continued eventually gaining the notoriety of being an infamous way of dealing with heresy and heretics.
The Protestant lands at the beginning of the 1600s were concentrated in northern Europe e.g. Germany, Scandinavia, Scotland, Switzerland etc.
Protestant Europe was largely divided into Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) areas, with the Church of England (Anglican) maintaining a separate position.
Events in England are key as its religious model was exported to its colonies in Africa when it became a global empire.
According to the BBC, England King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife, the pope refused and Henry divorced England from the Pope declaring the King/Queen to be the head of the church. However, it was under the reign of his son King Edward VI that reformation took off in England. He abolished many rituals, stripped church artefacts and priests no longer had to be unmarried. When he died his Catholic half-sister, Queen Mary took over and set history into reverse. England once again became Catholic. Under Mary’s orders hundreds of Protestants were burned alive at the stake. Then after five years Mary died, she had no heir so her sister Elizabeth took the throne. The nation once again became Protestant and the Protestant simplicity of the churches was restored by force.
Her successor, James signed or ‘authorised’ a newly translated English Bible the King James Version (KJV) of 1611. He did not do the translation project, the puritans did, it was only presented to him because he was king and ‘head of the state church’. Its success owes much to William Tyndale earlier translation. When the Bible was in Latin and available only to priests/nobles he said “By the grace of God I will cause the boy who pushed the plough in England to know more of this book than the pope himself”.
At the beginning of the 17th century three key groups had emerged in England, two were within the church of England i.e. Anglicans and Puritans and outside it were Independents.
The Anglican could be described as the slightly reformed Catholics as it was as mixture of reformers beliefs and catholic ways with the queen instead of pope as head. Puritans desired to see a much purer church and wanted to abolish vestments (robes), candles and wanted the Word of God at the centre. Over the decades most puritans left Anglican and moved to the third group.
The Independents also known as Separatists, Congregationalists because they rejected the idea of a national church and believed each local congregation of Christians should be entirely in charge of its own affairs.
These recognised that the church is made up of only Christians who follow the Lord Jesus Christ and concluded that a person should only be baptised after believing in Christ not at birth. Some independents formed the first Baptist church in England in the same year Puritans produced the KJV.
Many of them paid with their lives.
While the deadliest European religious war took off in the continent – the Thirty years (1618-1648) the independents also suffered in England. They were misunderstood, alienated, denied jobs, and persecuted, some of them left for the New World i.e. America to establish a land of liberty and these pilgrims landed in Plymouth, USA.
No wonder America became free from the state church and everyone is free to worship their way including cults.
In 1646 George Fox started the Society of Friends known by the mockers name of Quakers for their trembling and shaking during their meetings. They ‘rediscovered’ the power of Holy Spirit to guide into all truth labelling this the inner light.
After rediscovering that God can speak inwardly through the Holy Spirit Fox went on to say “the sure word of prophecy is the Holy Spirit and not the Scriptures” which alarmed everyone. They too like others had weaknesses. Martin Luther and reformers rarely talked about the Holy Spirit and did NOT talk about baptism/receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 19v2) or mention the Gifts of the Spirit etc, and since then protestant churches mentioned the Holy Spirit only passively if at all.
The Quakers were persecuted and are now considered the left wing or stepchildren of this era. They too fled to America and founded state pf Pennsylvania.
George Fox wrote the Foxe’s book of Martyrs narrating graphic stories of persecution and death of Christians. Even in modern times there has not been a period of 10 years since people have not been martyred somewhere in the world people are still dying for Jesus.
Another great book from this era, written from prison is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan.
In 1689 the English parliament passed the Toleration Act giving non conformists – protestants who left the church of England – freedom of worship and their own teachers and places of worship if they accepted certain oaths of allegiance. It moved the battles from physical to mental, from swords to ideas/doctrines as a new way of destroying the church. From the times of the first Apostles in the first history seem to follow this cycle: physical to intellectual to spiritual battlefields.
Most misleading doctrines are generally born out a repeat of the historical battles/issues often by stretching Scriptures to overshadow other important verses that balance the truths. The classical historical case being Calvinism vs Arminianism who emphasise two sides of the same coin (the Sovereignty of God and the free will/choice of Man) and often miss the balance leading to extremes on either end. Many new doctrines still emerge from these two ends. Only the whole Bible, the full counsel of God will make a whole (healthy) Christian. Anything you add to the truth subtracts from the truth.
If the 16th century is to be remembered for the reformation which ensured that Christianity is no longer concentrated in Rome and its Catholic precepts then the 17th century probably freed Christianity from being concentrated in Europe, other continents (re)entered the main scene but the critical foundations for Christianity for the next 400 years had been laid.
…to be continued
This is part 8 of #ThisGospel a Church history series by Talent Mbedzi (Whatsapp +27624740015)