Jamestown: The Balance

Yesterday, I wrote about the founding of Jamestown and pointed out that it wasn’t exactly an evangelical enterprise. Most of those involved were nominally Christian—born Anglican—and never had committed their lives to the Lord. I left you with some hope, though. I said there was another part of the story. That’s where I’m going today.

First, the Virginia Company that sent out the Jamestown settlers did have in its ranks some genuine Christians who wanted the new colony to help convert the natives to the faith. The Company also gave some instructions to the settlers that stemmed from a concern for Christian conduct. If you go to historic Jamestown today, the large monument that was dedicated back in 1907, with President Theodore Roosevelt in attendance, sports a comment from the Company. I’ve posted a picture of it here; since it is a little hard to read, I’ll transcribe it below:

Jamestown--Advice of London Council

It says, “Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper and achieve good success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your country and your own, and to serve and fear God, the giver of all goodness. For every plantation which our heavenly father hath not planted shall be rooted out.” This was not only an instruction, but a warning.

The minister who came on those first ships was Robert Hunt, by all accounts a truly godly man respected by everyone. He is credited with helping to save John Smith’s life on the voyage over when others wanted to hang him. Upon landing at what is now Virginia Beach, Hunt erected a cross and held a service of thanksgiving. Smith writes fondly of him and mourns his early death in 1608. At the historic site today is a memorial to Hunt, depicting him officiating the Lord’s Supper.

Robert Hunt Memorial

Other dedicated ministers followed Hunt—Alexander Whitaker and Richard Buck. Whitaker became the primary teacher for Pocahontas as he led her to the Christian faith. A famous painting of the baptism of Pocahontas can be found in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC.

Baptism of Pocahontas

Sadly, Whitaker drowned trying to save the life of another. All indications are he was a genuine Christian. As for Pocahontas, her conversion wasn’t just a show. She took her new faith seriously, changed her name to Rebecca, and married John Rolfe, one of the settlers. She then went to England. Unfortunately, she died there, probably from pneumonia, but the testimony of her death shows she was calm and peaceful, accepting it from God’s hand.

When she arrived in England, Pocahontas had an entourage of natives with her, one of whom, a young teenage boy, was adopted into the family or George Thorpe. The boy died soon after, victim of some disease for which he had no immunity apparently, but his new “father,” Thorpe, took that as his cue to do God’s will by going to America and helping establish a college for native youths, teaching them not only the English language but seeking to lead them to the Christian faith.

Thorpe (for whom no portrait exists) dedicated himself to befriending the natives for the gospel’s sake. He was kind to them, reached out to the chief, Opechancanough, and shared the faith. All seemed to be going well, but Opechancanough deceived the settlers by staging a surprise uprising in 1622, hoping to wipe out all English settlers:

Massacre of 1622

George Thorpe, tragically, was one of the victims that day. Opechanacanough, though, did not achieve his objective for one reason. A plaque on the wall in the Jamestown church tells the story:

Chanco

One of the natives, his life changed by the Christian faith, was the hero of the day. This shows also that the real divide in this world is not between races or ethnicities, but between those who have submitted themselves to the Lord and those who have not.

So, even though Jamestown was not primarily a Christian settlement in the way I would view a Christian endeavor, nevertheless some of the individuals involved were decidedly Christian and helped pave the way for the gospel message in a new land.

Jamestown: A Christian Settlement?

Today I begin that journey through American history I wrote about yesterday. Skipping over Columbus and other non-U.S.-related events, I go straight to the settlement at Jamestown. We often call this the first permanent English settlement in the New World, a correct name if you take into consideration it eventually developed into the colony of Virginia, yet no one lives in Jamestown today. It’s a historic site, but not a permanent residence for anyone.

What lay behind the founding of this settlement? Was there a Christian character to it or was it purely secular in nature? Since this is the first place Englishmen set foot to stay, it is tempting to want to romanticize the event and say it was primarily a Christian endeavor. It would be satisfying to tell the advocates of secularism that a vibrant Christian faith inspired the initial voyage and the society that came about afterward. Satisfying, yes, but not altogether accurate.

Jamestown FortThe Virginia Company’s foremost goal was to establish a trading post in the New World. The first three ships that arrived in 1607 were conspicuous for their complete absence of women and young children. This wasn’t a family affair. While most of the men struggled to erect a fort and find a way to survive in this unknown wilderness, the main task of the captain of the ships, Christopher Newport, was to find a passage to the west so Asia would be more accessible. Others, whose station in life as gentlemen didn’t require manual labor, were more content to search for riches than put their hands to a plow. Research has indicated they weren’t all necessarily lazy, but their status in society did contribute to a certain hierarchy of labor that wasn’t helpful when starting a colony from scratch.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to find a passage to Asia for trade; neither is there anything inherently sinful about wanting to enrich oneself. That all depends on the motive of the heart. But another criticism of these settlers is one we will come across constantly in our travels through our history: they sought to annihilate the natives.

If genocide really was a goal of this expedition, why did they not uncrate their weapons upon arrival? Why did they not immediately set to work on a fortress for self-protection? Actually, the Company had given explicit instructions to be friendly with the natives for the purpose of trade and for the propagation of the Gospel. I believe that latter purpose was in the hearts of some on the Company’s board, but not so much on the minds of the first settlers.  Yet if they were dead set on genocide, what would be the rationale for a trading post? If you killed all potential trading partners, with whom would you trade?

In fact, as the leaders attempted to carry out the instructions they were given, they were set upon by some of those natives they sought to befriend. The attack was swift, brutal, and would have conceivably wiped out the colony before it even had a foothold. The only thing that saved them was the shooting off of the cannons on the ships, thereby scaring the natives and leading to their retreat. It was only after this incident that the colonists decided they needed to haul out the rest of their guns and quickly build a fort for protection.

John SmithInternally, the leadership was a mess, fighting continually amongst themselves. No true leader emerged until Capt. John Smith was allowed to be the president of the council. He did a lot of things right—forcing the gentlemen to work, maintaining military drill, storing food for the winter, forcefully trading with the natives, developing a worthwhile friendship with Pocahontas—yet making a lot of those under his authority angry with his no-nonsense approach. His commitment to solid principles to save the colony from disaster could be called Christian, but he was no more than a typical Englishman who considered himself a Christian due to the good fortune of being born in a “Christian” country.

Jamestown CrossWhen the real test came, in the Starving Time during the winter of 1609-1610, Christian virtue and behavior seemed to be in short supply. Eating the corpses of recently deceased neighbors is hardly the spiritual thing to do. One man was executed for killing his pregnant wife and eating her. This descent into cannibalism was only one indication among many that the veneer of Christianity that most of the men possessed was exactly that—a veneer.

So does this mean that Jamestown was an utter failure and that Christians should view it as such? Or is there another side to the story? Can anything be said to offer some balance to the account? I’ll come back with additional information on this important American beginning tomorrow.

Interpreting American History

My time off from blogging during June was most welcome. It’s not that I don’t enjoy doing this; I certainly do. A break, though, can be helpful at times. As I contemplated how to proceed with this blog, I realized that even though, as a historian, I have delved time and again into American history on this site, I haven’t done so systematically.

Here’s what I propose to do.

I want to go through American history from the beginning and offer my take/interpretation of people and events. This will be a long process because there’s so much to comment on. I propose to intersperse these interpretations of our past with commentary on current events, as I’ve always done, and as developments require. So for those of you who are more inclined to read about the present than the past, be assured that won’t change. However, I will have more posts dealing with the past than I’ve had previously. Perhaps I’ll do a couple per week, as events allow.

What I hope to do with these historical posts is provide a basic Christian framework for understanding our history. As regular readers know, I consider myself a conservative who believes the roots of our nation do lie within the Christian faith, to a great extent. I will differ, though, with some conservative Christians on certain points. For instance, I cannot, with integrity, try to make non-Christians into Christians, nor can I wink at those aspects of our history that violated Biblical principles. I must be honest with my sources. As a practicing historian who has read extensively on American history, I believe I have greater depth of knowledge than those who dabble in it, yet I seek to remain humble about my knowledge, always staying open to new information.

I can be wrong.

American History SymbolsYet I want to share the conclusions I’ve reached on a wide variety of subjects. Did Jamestown begin with a Christian worldview? Were the Pilgrims and Puritans people to be admired unconditionally? How great was the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century? Was there a proper Biblical basis for the American Revolution and how Christian was it? Were key individuals in our Founding grounded Biblically? Is the Constitution a document with Biblical origins? What about western expansion? Was it carried out in a Christian manner? How do we deal with the treatment of the natives? Naturally, I’ll have to tackle slavery and the Civil War. How should a dedicated Christian understand those?

After the Civil War, did the rise of big business push us in a positive direction as a nation or negative? Was immigration beneficial or harmful? How did progressivism affect our view of government? Along the way, I’ll need to offer my evaluation of key presidents such as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Jackson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Wilson, Coolidge, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and others. Which ones remained tied to our Founding principles and which did not? What about their policies? Cultural changes are just as important as political programs. In fact, the culture may have more of an impact on the policies than vice versa.

I was planning to do this anyway, yet I received another confirmation of the importance of this series when I watched the new Dinesh D’Souza film America on July 4. It was an appropriate day to view it.

America Poster

I loved virtually everything about this documentary—the visuals, the quick pace, the thoughtfulness, the music. What’s more, D’Souza’s approach was excellent. He allowed detractors of America to have their say and proclaim their critiques first; then he answered those critiques most effectively in the last half of the film.

I will do the same, in one sense. I will tell you what others think about these various people and events in American history, then give my response. I hope to be fair; I hope to make you think. I will start tomorrow.

Insights from Tozer

A. W. TozerNormally, on weekends, I draw from C. S. Lewis and Charles Finney for some thoughtful quotes. I’m not home this weekend, and therefore don’t have my usual sources to use. However, I have a habit of collecting quotes from all sorts of people who have offered wise and sound insights. One of those is A. W. Tozer, a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor whose books have encouraged many and have guided them into a closer relationship with the Lord.

Let me just offer some of my favorite Tozer quotes for your pondering on this Lord’s Day. As much as I value correct theology, Tozer issues this warning to all of us:

You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as one spiritually.

Whenever we fall into the error of thinking that all that is necessary is proper theology, we miss the mark. If our life doesn’t exemplify that theology, we are deceived.

In our day, with many churches preaching an “easy” gospel that doesn’t require a true change of heart, another of Tozer’s admonitions hits home:

The idea that God will pardon a rebel who hasn’t given up his rebellion is contrary both to Scripture and to common sense.

God gave us both—Scripture and common sense—and they confirm each other. Tozer brings that common-sense approach to the subject of prayer also:

To pray without expectation is to misunderstand the whole concept of prayer and relationship with God.

Prayer is not just a discipline we practice for our own good. It should be offered in the expectation that God actively listens and wants to respond. He looks to our hearts to see how genuine they are, and we need to understand that what we should have with Him is a relationship and not merely head knowledge of how to get one’s sins forgiven. That distinction is significant. It echoes the cry of Tozer’s heart:

There are rare Christians whose very presence incites others to be better Christians. I want to be that rare Christian.

That’s where the Lord wants to lead all of us.

One final Tozer quote worth pondering:

A. W. Tozer Quote

That’s where I seek to be: firm on the truth, yet gentle and inviting enough to draw others to the truth. Take these few thoughts with you today. May they make a difference in how you handle life.

Eternity Begins Now

I’m so glad that, as a Christian, I don’t perceive this world as all there is to life. Frankly, if I thought there were nothing more, and this is the best it would ever get, I would be in constant depression. I certainly wouldn’t get up early enough each morning to write a blog in the hope that it would make a difference, however slight, in shaping people’s beliefs and worldviews. Instead, I would see my “activity” as rather worthless and a waste of time.

There’s also the chance that I would decide I don’t really care what happens and, quite selfishly, abandon all concern for others, focusing solely on personal pleasure. I would argue that since nothing really changes for the better anyway, why not live it up?

But when Christ enters a life, one can’t give in to that type of thinking.

First, we are told by Him that the world needs His life, and we are the hands, feet, and voices entrusted with the sacred task of letting everyone know He sees and He cares. He seeks to draw each broken, sinful person to Himself and provide a new life.

Salt & LightSecond, He wants us to take that new life into the world and affect the way it operates. Salvation is not just personal, it’s societal. There should be a ripple effect as His new life in individuals begins to infect—I use that word in a positive sense—everything it touches. We are salt; we are light—through Him.

And finally, He shows us that the current state of this world—fallen, bitter, vicious—is not the ultimate reality. There is an existence awaiting us that is free from the ravages of corruption. We will be in His presence forever.

That’s what it all comes down to—His presence. He is what life is all about; there is no life without Him. Eternity begins now.

Lord, help us today to see beyond the daily grind; give us Your eyes to view every person with whom we come into contact as someone made in Your image; show us how to be Your hands, feet, and voice in every situation we encounter.

Go with His blessing today—and make a difference.

Letter from an Iranian Prison

Saeed AbediniHe is Iranian-born, but now an American citizen. His Christian faith has put him in prison. Pastor Saeed Abedini sought to take the gospel to his homeland, a nation that is vehemently opposed to that message. Sentenced to eight years in prison after being arrested in 2012, he hasn’t seen his wife and children since then. While his wife and concerned Christians worldwide work for his release, he has been subjected to brutal treatment—beatings and other physical abuse—that has now landed him in the prison system’s hospital. Probably the only reason he is receiving any medical aid at all is the pressure from world opinion being brought to bear on his behalf.

Yet, in the midst of this severe trial, his faith remains vibrant and strong. Abedini follows in the footsteps of other Christians throughout history who have been imprisoned for their faith. From his hospital bed, he penned an Easter letter that has recently been made public. The apostle Paul wrote letters from his prison; Pastor Abedini’s letter has Paul-like qualities. Here it is, in its entirety:

Saeed Abedini 2Happy Resurrection Day.

On the Eve of Good Friday and Easter I was praying from my hospital room for my fellow Christians in the world.  What the Holy Spirit revealed to me in prayer was that there are many dead faiths in the midst of Christians today. That Christians all over the world are not able to fully reach their spiritual potential that has been given to them as a gift by God so that in reaching that potential, the curtain can be removed and the Glory of God would be revealed.

Some times we want to experience the Glory and resurrection with Jesus without experiencing death with Him.  We do not realize that unless we pass through the path of death with Christ, we are not able to experience resurrection with Christ.

We want to have a good and successful marriage, career, education and family life (which is also God’s desire and plan for our life). But we forget that in order to experience the Resurrection and Glory of Christ we first have to experience death with Christ and to die to ourselves and selfish desires.

Jesus said to His Disciples:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

This means that we should not do things that we like to do (that God does not want us to do) and to do things that we do not like to do (but God wants us to do) so that He may be glorified.

So in addition to spending our days and night in doing the works of faith as described above, we should also transform our dead faiths into living and active faiths through the resurrection of Christ which is an active and constructive love that is effective.

In conclusion, let us resurrect our Dead faiths to living faiths by first dying to our selfish “resurrected” self and experiencing the cross of Jesus. Then we are able to experience the Glorious resurrection with Christ.

A Glorious life with Christ starts only after a painful death (to self) with Christ.

We will start with Christ.

Pastor Saeed Abedini Prisoner in the Darkness in Iran, but free for the Kingdom and Light

Abedini’s Christian witness is extraordinary. May the Lord use this witness to draw people to Himself. And may Abedini be freed and reunited with his family. That is my prayer.

Scott Walker: Christian Public Servant

Scott WalkerScott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, has chalked up an amazing record. He first entered the national news cycle when he stood firm against unreasonable union demands in his state and won. Then he had to face a recall election. He won again. Wisconsin has prospered under his administration, with an unemployment level plunging below the national average, state coffers with a surplus, and tax money being returned to the citizens of the state. Further, he has been a staunch defender of life, signing bills restricting abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood.

In almost every way, Walker has been an outstanding governor, and a model for Republican public servants throughout the nation. His success also has made him a target of hatred on the extreme Left (a term becoming more redundant with each passing day). Walker, a dedicated Christian, raised the ire of the Freedom From Religion Foundation the other day by offering this short tweet:

Scott Walker Tweet

That Scripture simply affirms what Christians always have believed: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Pretty offensive, right? That foundation has demanded Walker remove the tweet from his account. Here’s part of the official response from the Freedom From Religion atheist leaders:

To say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” seems more like a threat—or the utterance of a theocratic dictator—than a duly elected civil servant.

A theocratic dictator? Simply for thanking God for the strength to carry out his duties? Is this really where we are now as a nation? We’re seeing more and more the public manifestation of anger toward those who hold to Biblical beliefs, and there is no limit to how anything Christians say can be willfully twisted into something “hateful” or threatening. Let’s be clear: it’s not the Christians who are threatening anyone (except with the truth about their sinfulness). The threats are pretty much one-sided nowadays against those who remain firm in the faith.

To Walker’s credit, he refuses to take down the tweet. May there be more public servants who will follow his example.