Thursday, 15 November 2012

Of Pilgrims and Separatists

Since we’re nearing Thanksgiving, it seemed appropriate to talk about the Pilgrims' idea of holiness. Should we follow their example, or did they get it wrong?

Though we know the early settlers of Plymouth Colony as “Pilgrims,” they probably referred to themselves as Dissenters or Separatists. They saw the Church of England as corrupt and distanced themselves from it—quite literally—by holding their own services, and eventually emigrating to Holland. They feared corruption by the people they were living among, and at last settled in one of the emptiest places possible, the New World.

File:Flickr - USCapitol - Embarkation of the Pilgrims.jpgI’m sure you’re familiar with the idea that “here we are but straying pilgrims,” and this world is not our home. I think many Christians can identify with the Separatists’ frustration with the modern church, and we long to somehow set ourselves apart from the rest and declare that at least we have it right.

If holiness means to be “different” or “separate,” then how does that relate to being “in the world, but not of it”? Jesus told His disciples, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19), but he also prayed to the Father, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Sounds a bit paradoxical, doesn't it?

What it comes down to is this: are we called to look differently, act differently, talk differently, sing differently, cook differently, read differently, and write differently than the world? I believe so. The Jesus-life in us should permeate every thread of our being and make us altogether separate. But does that mean that we should get together with our Christian homeschool friends, build a boat, and sail off to an uncharted wilderness?

I don’t think so.

164/365  After the Storm  (+1) by martinak15
164/365 After the Storm (+1), a photo by martinak15 on Flickr.
“For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of lifeis not of the Father but is of the world.” There is no place on earth so empty that can be perfectly holy as God is holy (remember what happened with the Pilgrims and Native Americans in the years after that friendly Thanksgiving dinner?). We'll always have ourselves to contend with, and much of the time we actually don't "have it right." 

However, there’s another part to that verse, “And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15). We may not be perfectly holy here on earth, we are still in the world, but we have the promise that all the filth around us will be purged away, and God’s holy ones left standing in the brilliance of His grace.

Remember: God didn't put us here to be hermits! He called us to go “into all the world” (Mark 16:15). 

Do you think that the Pilgrims were "in this world but not of it"? How are you going to heed that call today?

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