“One hundred fifty years.” It is the number of years for Christianity to be settled in the New World. Today, there are missionaries around the world that are still expanding the kingdom of God. Missionaries are abandoning their old life to assimilate themselves into a new environment in order to spread the gospel. Missionaries are willing to die, be persecuted, and isolated for being different. During the colonial times, explorers and colonists faced persecutions, adjustments, and rejections when they brought Christianity to America.
Historically, the first recorded mission work in America was by Dominican friars, monks, and priests to Florida in 1549. This occurred three years after Martin Luther’s death and about seventy years before Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Professor Will Schumacher from Concordia Theological Seminary also added that the first protestant service was held at Roanoke Island, North Carolina. The major reason that Christianity was brought to America was through explorers and colonists. They were not all motivated to spread the gospel. The Spaniards were also focus on searching for gold and silver in the South America. The French were eager to look for furs and explore northern passages in Canada. Other than setting up colonies, the English were also concerned about sea routes, and to provide military threat against France and Spain. Others explorers were simply seeking adventures, and fortunes in this new land. According to Schumacher, many of the colonists had in their minds the necessity of spreading the gospel. Religion was a very important part of their lives. When explorers made contact with non-Christian natives they found a way to bring the gospel to them. Different churches of Christianity came to America that led to the spread of the gospel.
The Anglican Church came to Jamestown in 1607. Earle E. Cairns, the author of Christianity through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church provides historical events regarding this settlement. According to Cairns, Chaplain Robert Hunt gave the first Lord’s Supper under the protection of an old sail while the worshipers sat on logs. Alexander Whitakers became the leading minister of the Anglican Church in Virginia between 1611 and 1617. Whitaker also baptized native Pocahontas, and gave the blessing to her marriage with John Rolfe. One development that the Anglican Church provided was creating libraries in the Colonies. The Anglican Church was the strongest established church in the southern colonies before the American Revolution (Cairns 358).
In 1620, New England Congregationalism came to America. However, it took courage and bravery for these settlers to survive the travel that they went through. Most of the Pilgrims were from Scrooby, in the north-central part of England. Around 1606, they formed an organization that was considered unlawful against the Church of England. It was considered as a treacherous act that caused persecution against the Congregationalist Church. They needed to find another place, and heard that Holland had religious freedom. They migrated to Amsterdam, but did not stay long. The pivotal cause to migrate to another place was parents were afraid that the young ones were assimilating to the Dutch culture. There was confusion and separation within the Congregationalist Church, others wanted to go back to England, others wanted to find a new place somewhere else. After much debate, some Congregationalist decided to migrate to America. Despite fear of diseases, sea travel, and wellbeing living among the American Indians, they landed at Plymouth Rock. Cairns state that the Mayflower landing at Virginia was providential, for if the colonists had landed in Virginia, they could have been persecuted as much as they had been in England (359). Elder William Brewster served as their religious leader. The church flourished, and it became the center of their communal life.
Another person who strongly influence brings Christianity to America was Roger Williams, the founder of Baptist church in America. He went through persecution and trials in order to maintain his stance. The beginning of the Baptist church in America was also the same with the Congregationalist Church. Roger Williams, an educated Anglican ministry at Cambridge, came to America in Boston in 1631. However, he started preaching about Indian ownership of land, he opposed a state church, and he insisted that the magistrates had no power over a man’s religion (Cairns 362). He was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He wandered about the forest until saved by Indians. In 1639, a church was founded in Providence, Rhode Island. Early Baptist pastors greatly influenced the church with great emphasis on the separation of church and state. Other leaders also founded Universities such as Rhode Island College (Brown University). It was hard for several churches to establish their church due to rejection from other Christian churches.
For example, the Quakers appeared in Boston in 1656, but were rejected by the Puritans because of their doctrines. They mostly stayed in New Jersey until William Penn’s effort led Pennsylvania the great Quaker refuge (Cairns 363). Charles II was in debt to Penn’s father. To pay him off, Charles II gave over control of Pennsylvania in 1681. Other Christian churches also started coming to America. The Presbyterian Church came to America in 1710. Pittsburgh was the center of American Presbyterianism. Methodism arrived 1760 in New York and Maryland. The Catholic Church was mainly in Central and South America, and had a short-lived sprout in New Mexico, Arizona, and California. It was not until 1634, that it took root in one of the thirteen colonies in Maryland.
Cairns mentions in his book, “The various churches created by the Reformation were transplanted from Europe to America, with England as the bridge, during the first 150 years of the history of the colonies.” The early Christian fathers took a leap of faith coming to an unknown land to worship. The spiritual dryness in the Catholic Church, and the Church of England before the Great Awakening moved people to different directions. Exploration and colonization were tools that the Holy Spirit used for the body; the church, to move. Persecution and rejection were instrumental in directing the church to transplant into a new land. Even the persecution dynamics for religious freedom in America led different churches to spread their beliefs across America.
Today, Christianity in America has impacted the world. In Matthew 28: 19 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (NIV). The meaning of the verse became more alive and powerful because the spread of the gospel was clearly impactful during the great exploration. Today, America is a powerful nation that provides Christian missionaries across the world. It shows that no matter what are the consequences, trials, persecution, hardship, and difficulties one may face, when it comes to the gospel, the Holy Spirit will move mountains. The history of Christianity of coming to America should be an example to all believers that with Christ the focus and the center of our being, nothing is impossible.
Cairns, Earle E. Christianity Through The Centuries: A History of the Christian Church. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1996.
Gaustad, Edwin Scott. A Religious History of America. Harper and Row Publisher. New York. 1966.
History.com Staff. “Roger Williams Arrives in America.” A+E Netwok. 2010. History.com. 11 Sept. 2015. Web. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/roger-williams-arrives-in- america>
NIV Study Bible. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2011.
Schumacher, Will. “Church History 3: How Did Christianity Come to America?” Media Sources. Concordia Theological Seminary. 2004. Video Clip. <http://media.ctsfw.edu/Video/ViewDetails/38>.