Over the last few weeks I have been writing about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. If you are wondering why I care so much, it is not just because I am a history nerd (which I am), but because our understanding of salvation is directly traced back to it; indeed, the greatness of this country is traced back to it.
Luther’s reformation spread throughout Europe, giving rise to many smaller groups striving to reform their respective homes. One group in particular, the Puritans, left England and ultimately settled in the New World, believing it to be a place where they could worship God the way the Reformers taught, free from the corrupted influence of the papists and the state-run churches. Their leader, John Winthrop, referred to their Massachusetts colony as a “city on a hill,” invoking biblical terminology; he warned, “If we shall deal falsely with our God in this work…we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.” They are much more than that today.
But didn’t they come here and kill the Native Americans and steal their land? No, not the Puritans. The Puritans developed relationships and partnerships with the locals, including Squanto and Samoset. The Puritan plan was to evangelize the Natives, whom they recognized as “the rightful owners of the country.” It was the traders sent from their respective monarchies that brought harm to the “savages,” a position widely condemned by the Protestants at that time.
The Puritans, and later the Pilgrims (more Protestants) wrote that “the propagation of the gospel to the Indians” was what they “profess above all.” They desired to teach them “the knowledge of the true God.” This led to the first Thanksgiving (a holiday not so titled until the days of Lincoln), as the Native Americans and Christian settlers worked together to bring forth a great harvest.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful for the brave Protestants who came to this new land with the desire to spread the gospel; that mission statement that was “above all” is what paved the way for our enduring religious liberty in this great country.