The Church in History by Dr. T.Y. Hiter

A Somewhat Slanted Look at the History of the Christian Church

Imagine it’s 1600 or so and you’re a Christian in England. Your family and the families of everyone you know have been Catholic since well before you can remember. Linus, you may recall, was the first Christian Bishop in Rome. Paul mentions him in his letters. In fact, Paul converted him. In any case, he was British (not English, but British), and returned to the Isles to be part of the Celtic Christian Church while the Romans were still in charge of the government. Then, you may or may not recall, the Romans left England and the Saxons came roaring in, killing off all the Christians they could find. Pope Gregory sent Missionaries to convert the Saxons in 597, and they ended up in competition with the native British Church for four hundred years. When William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066, he began appointing Bishops who were friendly to the French, like himself. A hundred years later, more or less, another Norman-French king of England, Henry II, invaded Ireland, which was still predominantly Celtic Catholic, at the time. He had a deal with the then Pope: If the Pope would recognize his claim to Ireland, he’d convert everybody to Roman Catholic faith.

So, the Pope ran the English Church from 1171 until the 1530s. Call it 350 years. Then, along came Henry VIII, who left Rome but kept the Catholic faith. That brings us up to date. The point is, the English had always been Catholic, but rarely had they been satisfied with anybody else’s ideas about how to practice that faith.

When Luther proposed a new way to worship in the 1500s, many Englishmen went along. When Calvin did the same a couple of decades later, Presbyterianism was born. Still other Englishmen disliked Presbyterianism but were fully Calvinistic, and became the basis for the Puritan movement. When Queen Elizabeth I tried to impose some sort of uniformity on the whole mess, even more Englishmen established Churches that were, generally, Protestant, but far from either Luther or Calvin. Some were vaguely Anabaptist, like the Pilgrims. Others went completely off the reservation and started entirely new Church movements. John Smyth was one of those. Smyth believed in complete congregational independence within a Calvinist framework, and wrote in a requirement for adult baptism, and called his Church “Baptists”. A young man named George Fox started a Church which he called “Friends”, but over time they became known as “Quakers”. Even later, an Anglican priest named John Wesley came to the Colonies as an Anglican missionary and on the way encountered a group of Moravians, who practiced congregational singing. Wesley was entranced, and upon returning to England began using the “Wesley method” in his Anglican Churches. A Century later, many of these separated to form what we know as “Methodist” Churches.

All of these and others ended up coming across the Atlantic to colonize. French and Dutch Huguenots, Scottish Presbyterians, New England Pilgrims and Puritans; Pennsylvania Quakers, Rhode Island Baptists; Moravians and other Anabaptists: all flocked to the Colonies, and many came to escape Elizabeth’s “uniformity”. In other words, “freedom of religion”.