LEWISVILLE, TX: This Thursday many Americans will sit down for a Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and dressing, pumpkin pie, whipped cream and a day packed with football.
At the end of dinner, someone may remind the stuffed guests of the origin of Thanksgiving, or perhaps. a person-by-person reminder of what we are thankful for. But the real meaning of Thanksgiving may be lost.
The first Thanksgiving celebration took place in September 1620
When the Mayflower landed on the shores of the New World of America. Aboard were 102 passengers and a collection of religious separatists seeking freedom of worship. All anticipating a new land of plenty. The long voyage, sleepless nights, and bouts of seasickness washed away in the swirling surf as the weary Pilgrims left their ship, wading ashore into the New World.
Weeks of hunger, cold, and overcrowding had come to an end. Their eyes drank in the sight of the shoreline, trees, and solid ground—a place their small band could call home.
The hardship had been worth the wait.
Before lying down to sleep their first night in the New World, men, women, and children offered prayers of thanks. Utopia awaited in this land far from the grip of the British throne, the influence of the Anglican Church, and the repression of corrupt church papal authority.
Worship in this new land could take place without discrimination, harassment, or persecution. With their Bibles and the promise of God’s Spirit among them, the Pilgrims set their hopes on a bright future. With a dedication to God and commitment to forging a new life infusing their souls, failure was not an option.
They envisioned a New World governed by God’s Word.
A time of “thanksgiving” was in order.
The image of the Plymouth colonists sitting down with the Wampanoag Indians and sharing an autumn harvest feast as the first Thanksgiving celebration may be more fiction than fact. Nevertheless, it paints an idealistic setting for the great American tradition. The meals tasty banquet came, no doubt, from the larders of their Indian hosts.
With the Church of England an ocean away, the Pilgrims saw their new home as a sanctuary from persecution.
The Puritans preferred the Geneva Bible (1560) with its compact style and Calvinistic commentary notes; linking the sacred text with study notes gave added credibility to the Puritan emphasis on piety.
Historically, church leaders had viewed laity reading the Bible as a potentially dangerous practice. However, new attitudes and thinking among the Puritans brought a change. The laity was now reading the Bible.
With the Bible as their guide
Taking seriously the doctrine of the authority and infallibility of Scripture, Puritans attempted to apply the Bible to every area of political, religious, and social life.
The King James Version (1611) provided a translation that was accurate and scholarly without including theologically biased notes. The Puritans’ application of oversimplified religious principles to social and religious society led to what many consider the darkest era in American religious history. The Salem witch trials became forever identified with Puritanism.
In 1630 John Winthrop brought the first recorded copy of a King James Version to America (a 1614 edition).
Henry Dunster (1609–59), the first president of Harvard College (1640–59), owned another early copy of the King James Version, which is now housed in the Harvard University Library. Within just a few years, the King James Version became the Bible of the American colonies—Puritanism had rivals.
Some critics of religion suggest the early colonists forced their “Christian God” on the native Americans
The charge them with stealing the native American’s lands, bringing deadly diseases that the natives had no natural defense against. While natives were harmed by the Pilgrim’s arrival, the benefits may outweigh the negatives. Certainly, the new arrivals did not intentionally bring diseases in order to destroy the indigenous population.
Imagine an America without the advantages of technology, modern science, and medicine.
In addition, if one accepts the authority of the Bible, the “great commission” commands Christians to share the Gospel of Christ throughout the world—not by coercion or force but with peaceful persuasion. Early colonists wanted the freedom of religion and the opportunity to share the life-giving message of the Scriptures.
Thanksgiving is a great time for everyone sharing in the land of plenty to offer gratefulness to God for His blessings. Those blessings go beyond material prosperity and a 15-pound turkey. Those blessings should be recognized with gratefulness to God for providing the Bible and His plan for the redemption of the World.
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