“Separatists”, they called themselves.
Everyone else calls them “Pilgrims”.
They pioneered a worship service, based on the verses below, which was a forum so open that it launched the Freedoms of Speech and Religion that we take for granted today.
It mixed politics and religion – thoroughly. It was an assembly in which all topics of interest to the community were welcome – even the theological and political.
In a world in which only a tiny percentage of citizens voted, the Separatists gave the vote to every man, and to every female Head of Household. My 12th generation ancestor, Elizabeth Warren, was the first woman to vote in America when her husband, Richard, died in 1627, leaving her Head of Household over seven children.
In a world where no man had freedom of speech to criticize his political or religious leaders unless he didn’t mind being burned at the stake, the Separatists created freedom to criticize both. The Separatists gave even their theological opponents a vote and a voice: a voice even to respectfully criticize both church and state, without being punished. They responded to criticism with reason, not censorship. They didn’t pre-screen every idea allowed at the podium for nonconformity or controversy.
The Separatists created a forum for robust Freedom of Speech by instituting Sunday afternoon discussions, from which are descended Town Meetings which persist today in that corner of the United States.
In the centuries since, America’s political institutions adopted that free, robust verbal interaction (rather than, for example, the Puritan model where the right to vote or own property depended on claiming you had a particular kind of conversion experience). But that interaction gradually died out of America’s churches, where worship became dominated by uninterruptible sermons, and in all meetings, “controversy” (that is, discussion of any issue important enough for disagreement to be troubling) became improper.
Freedom. What a funny idea. Everyone else in the world knew it could never work. Only the Bible told them it would.
Or did it? Does the Bible really say what they thought it says? Do we indeed have God to thank for Freedom?
Or is our freedom just an accident based on their bad interpretations? Are claims of Freedom’s Biblical beginnings merely the wishful thinking of looking back in time and hoping to validate what we have created?
In other words, does God actually care about our freedom, or is freedom destined to fade away as Jesus returns and takes charge as the world’s King because freedom is not God’s eternal plan after all?
Or, did the Separatists mistake something God never thought of for His Plan, but now God likes it too and will let us keep it?
Has political freedom always been urged by God, important to God, and holy? To be valued, exercised, and protected by God’s people?
The Separatists claimed they got the idea for their freedoms from the Bible. What verses did they quote? How did they assemble those verses into Freedom?
<> How the Bible word “Prophesying” launched Freedom of Speech and Religion – 842 word summary
<> Their own words: The Pilgrims’ Catechism on Freedom 418 words if you just read the catechism questions and answers; 1956 words if you also read the Scriptures cited and their Geneva notes.
<> Summary of the Freedom Verses noticed by the Pilgrims and how Pastor Robinson understood them – a 1097 word summary of the complete Biblical evidence in Chapter 8, Book 3, “Of the exercise of Prophecy”
<> Just the paragraph headings, 148 words, of the complete Chapter 8, Book 3, “Of the exercise of Prophecy”. This article is already so long it scares me, but Robinson’s complete chapter would more than double that length if it were posted here. So it is posted at www.Salltshaker.US/Salt/VersesThatLaunchedFreedom.pdf. Robinson’s words number 1569. 6822 words if you also read all the Scriptures he cited in the Geneva version, with Geneva notes.
Credits. These are the Separatist Bible studies explaining why they thought such an open forum belonged in church. They are from “The Works of John Robinson”, the Separatist’s pastor in England and Holland who was unable to sail to the New World. His preserved writings fill 1,000 pages which you can download at http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/robinson-the-works-of-john-robinson-3-vols. The official title of their first publication in a single set of volumes: The Works of John Robinson, Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers, with a Memoir and Annotations by Robert Ashton, 3 vols (London: John Snow, 1851). Vol. 3. The portion of his writings presented here is taken from Book 3, Chapter 8, “Of the Exercise of Prophecy”, followed by four articles from the Separatists’ Catechism.
How the Bible word “Prophesying” launched Freedom of Speech and Religion
Seven verses in 1 Corinthians 14, the Bible’s most detailed order of a worship service, urge “all” to “prophesy”.
Today there are many different assumptions about what that means. Not many of them define “prophesy” as something that everyone is able to do.
Pastor Robinson defined “prophecy” as having two levels: one, a supernatural “gift” which only a few “prophets” have, as described in 1 Corinthians 12; and the other, a natural capacity which everyone has and should be allowed to contribute, whether or not they hold any official church position, as described in 1 Corinthians 14.
It was this second kind of ordinary “prophesying” which turned the Separatists’ “Sabbath Afternoon Prophecying Services” into a wide open forum.
But in the years leading to 1620, when Freedom was reborn, (see the documentary at www.1620.US), “prophesy” meant only one thing in the Geneva Bible, the most up to date English translation, and the only Bible with notes (explanations and cross references in the margins).
According to the Geneva note on 1 Thessalonians 5:20 which says “Despise not prophecying”, it was the consensus of the translators that “prophesying”, as described in the Bible, simply means “The explaining and interpreting of the word of God.” (The verse continues the thought begun in verse 19, “Quench not the spirit”, which is cited in Question 30 of the Separatist catechism as evidence that God welcomes “prophesying” from anyone and everyone, not just church officials. .)
That is something everyone can do.
“The gifts of teaching and applying the doctrine” is another way “prophesying” was described, in the Geneva note on 1 Corinthians 14:3, which is cited in the Separatist catechism. The note says “prophesying” is “most excellent” among all God’s gifts because they “profit the greater part of men”.
So how did that interpretation launch Freedom of Speech and Religion? It did so in four ways:
1. That interpretation gave a voice to all. It was not limited to a handful of church leaders as if it were a supernatural, miraculous, extraordinary, exotic or rare “Holy Spirit Gift”.
2. That interpretation opened up the scope of topics which could be raised by anyone, since Biblical principles may be found which apply to any topic.
3. That interpretation allowed very average laymen with no official power, authority, or credentials to speak about all kinds of topics with great authority, simply by reasoning persuasively how verses apply to a topic.
4. Since the Bible routinely corrects even its most beloved heroes, from priests to prophets to kings, and suppressing truth is treated as evil while telling the truth even at great cost marks God’s heroes, a forum open to all where the Bible is uncensored will not shirk from correcting religious and political leaders as needed.
Every culture allows “freedom” to say what doesn’t bother anybody. The test of freedom is how much you can correct the people in charge of the police without being punished.
But is that definition of “prophesying” correct? Is “opening and applying the Scriptures” how the Bible defines the word?
Just about. As Robinson points out, the definition of “prophesying” in the context of a worship service is found in 1 Corinthians 14:3 “But he that prophesieth, speaketh unto men to edifying, and to exhortation, and to comfort.”
The Greek word for “edifying” is oikodomh. It combines oikia, meaning house, and doma, meaning gift. It means “building up”. It means helping people mature. It means to challenge. The Geneva note on this verse says “edifying” “may further men in the study of godliness.” What better way is there to do that than to “open and apply the Scriptures”?
“Exhortation” means a wide range of conversation that may inspire, persuade, warn, or comfort. The Geneva note on “he that exhorteth”, in Romans 12:8, says “who in other places is called the ‘pastor’”. That must refer to 1 Timothy 4:13, where the Geneva note says “The private exercise of pastors, is the continual reading of the scriptures, from which they may draw water out of wholesome doctrine and exhortation, both for themselves and for others.”
(Except that the “prophesying” of 1 Corinthians 14 is not reserved for pastors, but is for everyone.)
What better way is there to “exhort” like a pastor, than to “open and apply the Scriptures”?
And what better way is there to “comfort”, than to “open and apply the Scriptures”?
The Separatists didn’t let the uninformed babble on unaccountably. They had a moderator, and the more learned among them could answer questions and respond to error. The only thing they didn’t have was someone whose job it was to be the only one who could talk.
Question 32 of the catechism said the time for “prophesying” was “after the public ministry by the teachers, and under their direction and moderation, whose duty it is, if anything be obscure, to open it; if doubtful, to clear it; if unsound, to refuse it; if unprofitable to supply what is wanting as they are able. 1 Cor. xiv. 3, 37; Acts xiii. 15.”
Their own words: the Pilgrims’ Catechism on Freedom
Official title: “AN APPENDIX to MR. PERKINS’ SIX PRINCIPLES OF CHRISTIAN RELIGION.”
Questions and answers #29-32 of the Separatists’ catechism summarize their theology of Freedom of Speech and Religion in 418 words. To read just that, read just the indented paragraphs.
For evidence of its claims, the catechism cites Bible verses, which are interleaved below in italics. The verses are in the Geneva translation, which is the version the catechism relies on to make its points. The Geneva margin notes are included, since they are part of the catechism’s evidence. These verses and notes, added to the four questions and answers, bring their total word count to 1956.
A catechism is a learning tool for children and new adult members to catch up with what the group they are joining has been studying. Placing these questions and answers prominently in their catechism shows the importance they placed on it.
Q. 29. Who are to open and apply the Scriptures in the church?
A. 1. Principally the bishops or elders, who, by the Word of Life, are to feed the flock, both by teaching and government. Acts xx. 28.
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto your selves, and to all the flock, whereof the holy Ghost hath made you Overseers, to feed the Church of God, which he hath purchased with that his own blood.
Geneva note: “Feed”: To keep it, to feed and govern it. “He”, the holy Ghost, or perhaps God, who “hath purchased with his own blood”: A notable sentence for Christ’s Godhead: which shows plainly in his person, how that by reason of the joining together of the two natures in his own person, that which is proper to one is spoken of the other, being taken as deriving from one another, and not in the original: which in old time the godly fathers termed a communicating or fellowship of properties or attributes, that is to say, a making common of that to two, which belongs but to one.
2. Such as are out of office, [Those who hold no official church position or title are to open and apply the Scriptures in church] in the exercise of prophecy.
Q. 30. How is that exercise [the opening and application of Scriptures by those holding no formal office or title] proved [supported] in the Scriptures?
A. 1, By the examples in the Jewish Church, where men, though in no office, either in temple or synagogue, had liberty publicly to use their gifts. Luke ii. 42, 46, 47; iv. 16—18; Acts viii. 4, xi. 19—21, xiii. 14—16, xviii. 24 —26.
Luke 2:42 And when he was twelve years old, and they were come up to Jerusalem, after the custom of the feast,…46 And it came to pass three days after, that they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions: 47 And all that heard him, were astonished at his understanding and answers. ]
Luke 4:16 And he came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, and (as his custom was) went into the Synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And there was delivered unto him the book of the Prophet Isaiah: and when he had opened the book, he found the place, where it was written, 18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me, that I should preach the Gospel to the poor: he hath sent me, that I should heal the broken hearted, that I should preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, that I should set at liberty them that are bruised:
Acts 8:4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad, went to and fro preaching the word.
Acts 11:19 And they which were scattered abroad because of the affliction that arose about Steven, went throughout till they came unto Phenice and Cyprus, and Antiochia, preaching the word to no man, but unto the Iews only. 20 Now some of them were men of Cyprus and of Cyrene, which when they were come into Antiochia, spake unto the Grecians, and preached the Lord Iesus.
Acts 13:14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antiochia a city of Pisidia, & went into the Synagogue on ye Sabbath day, & sat down. 15 And after the lecture of the Law & Prophets, the rulers of ye Synagogue sent unto them, saying, Ye men & brethren, if ye have any word of exhortation for the people, say on. 16 Then Paul stood up and beckoned with the hand, and said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, hearken.
Acts 18:24 And some were persuaded with ye things which were spoken, and some believed not. 25 Therefore when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, to wit, Well spake the holy Ghost by Isaiah the Prophet unto our fathers, 26 Saying, Go unto this people, and say, By hearing ye shall hear, & shall not understand, and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive.
2. By the commandments of Christ and his apostles. Luke ix. 1, x. 1; Rom. xii. 6—8; 1 Pet. iv. 10,11; 1 Cor. xiv. 1.
Luke 9:1 Then called he his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to heal diseases. ]
Luke 10:1 After these things, the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them, two and two before him into every city and place, whither he himself should come.
Romans 12:6 Seeing then that we have gifts that are diverse, according to the grace that is given unto us, whether we have prophecy, let us prophecy according to the portion of faith: 7 Or an office, let us wait on the office: or he that teacheth, on teaching: 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that distributeth, let him do it with simplicity: he that ruleth, with diligence: he that sheweth mercy, with cheerefulness.
1 Peter 4:10 Let every man as he hath received the gift, minister the same one to another, as good disposers of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, let him speak as the words of God. If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God ministreth, that God in all things may be glorified through Iesus Christ, to whom is praise and dominion for ever, and ever, Amen.
1 Corinthians 14:1 Follow after love, and covet spiritual gifts, and rather that ye may prophesy.
3. By the prohibiting of women, not extraordinarily inspired, to teach in the church: herein liberty being given unto men (their husbands or others). 1 Tim. ii. 11, 12; 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35.
1 Timothy 2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 I permit not a woman to teach, neither to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
Geneva Note: The first argument, why it is not lawful for women to teach in the congregation, because by this means they would be placed above men, for they would be their masters: and this is against God’s ordinance.
1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the Churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speake: but they ought to be subiect, as also the Law sayeth. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the Church.
4. By the excellent ends which, by this means, are to be obtained: as
1. The glory of God in the manifestation of his manifold graces, 1 Pet. iv. 10, 11.
1 Peter 4:10 Let every man as he hath received the gift, minister the same one to another, as good disposers [Geneva note: “stewards”] of the manifold grace of God. 11 If any man speak, let him speak as the words of God. If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God ministreth, that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom is praise and dominion for ever, and ever, Amen.
Geneva note: v. 11 He reckons up two kinds of these gifts as chief, that is, the office of teaching in the Church, and the other ecclesiastical functions, in which two things especially are to be observed: that is, that the pure word of God be taught, and whatever is done, be referred to the glory of God the Father in Christ, as to the proper mark. He shows the use of charity, that is, that every man bestow that gift which he hath received, to the profit of his neighbour. A reason, because that whatever gift we have, we have received it from God on this condition, to be his disposers and stewards.
2. That the gifts of the Spirit in men be not quenched, 1 Thess. v. 19.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 Quench not the Spirit. 20 Despise not prophecying.
Geneva note: v. 19, The sparks of the Spirit of God that are kindled in us, are nourished by daily hearing the word of God: but true doctrine must be diligently distinguished from false. v. 20, “prophecying”: The explaining and interpreting of the word of God.
3. For the fitting [equipping] and trial [testing] of men for the ministry, 1 Tim. iii. 2,
1 Timothy 3:2 A Bishop therefore must be unreproveable, the husband of one wife, watching, temperate, modest, harberous, [loves to harbour guests] apt to teach,
Geneva note: “Husband”: Therefore he that shuts out married men from the office of bishops, only because they are married, is antichrist.
4. For the preserving pure of the doctrine of the church, which is more endangered if some one or two alone may only be heard and speak, 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25.
1 Corinthians 14:24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
5. For debating and satisfying of doubts, if any do arise.
6. For the edifying of the church, and conversion of others, Acts ii. 42; Luke iv. 22, 23.
Acts 2:42 And they continued in the Apostles doctrine, and fellowship, and breaking of bread, and prayers.
Luke 4:22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words, which proceeded out of his mouth, and said, Is not this Joseph’s son? 23 Then he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thy self: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, doe it here likewise in thine own country.
Q. 31. Who is a prophet in this sense?
A. He that hath a gift of the Spirit to speak unto edification, exhortation, and comfort. 1 Cor. xiv. 4, 24, 25.
1 Corinthians 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church. … 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
Q. 32. What is the order of this exercise?
A. That it be performed after the public ministry by the teachers, and under their direction and moderation, whose duty it is, if anything be obscure, to open it; if doubtful, to clear it; if unsound, to refuse it; if unprofitable to supply what is wanting as they are able. 1 Cor. xiv. 3, 37; Acts xiii. 15.
1 Corinthians 14:3 But he that prophesieth, speaketh unto men to edifying, and to exhortation, and to comfort. …37 If any man think him self to be a Prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge, that the things, that I write unto you, are the commandments of the Lord.
Geneva note: “Spiritual”: Skilful in knowing and judging spiritual things.
Acts 8:15 Which when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the holy Ghost.
Summary of the Freedom Verses
noticed by the Pilgrims
and how Robinson understood them
John Robinson’s actual study, with the Geneva translation of Scriptures he cited, being nearly 7,000 words counting the verses he cites, is not posted here but at www.Saltshaker.US.
Just like everyone is invited to sing in church, but only those who do it very well are called “singers”, 1 Corinthians 14 invites everyone to “prophesy”, but 1 Corinthians 12 says only a few have the “gift” of prophesy and are called “Prophets”.
1 Corinthians 14:3 defines “prophesy” as to challenge, correct, and comfort. In our weak churches, “prophesying” by everyone is a goal. Very few are ready and willing to do that publicly, at this point. Yet those few must be allowed. As 2 Corinthians 4:13 observes, we fill the hearts of our people with eternal hope! How then can we ask them to remain silent?!
This liberty for everyone who is able to teach and correct error to do so publicly even if they don’t have a seminary degree, and even liberty to question and dispute, was the practice for nearly 3,000 years in Jewish synagogues and in the Temple. Several verses describe this practice and the use of it made by Jesus and His Apostles! (Would Jesus be allowed in today’s pulpits to disagree with the pastor?)
The Jews certainly didn’t let Jesus speak because they believed He was the Son of God! It was for that claim that they murdered Him! Yet until they did, they still let Him speak! And after that they still let His followers speak, in between murdering them! Why did they, and do they, open their forums as if openness were given by God?
Some kind of national forum serves the Biblical need of providing “counsel” from the “wise”, as Jeremiah 18:18 puts it. Counsel from the wise is compared with administration of law by the priests, and updates from God from prophets. Except that we don’t have to open up administration of law to everyone: we know who the priests are who are prepared for the job. And we don’t need to open up revelations from God to everyone: we know whose prophecies have an established track record. We give prophets and priests titles to let everyone know who gets to do those things.
But we don’t know who will say something wise next. And even if we thought we knew who would, he might, just as we turn around, say something stupid. In fact, our most treasured nuggets of wisdom are not from isolated individuals who sit around saying wise things, but from people engaged with others in a struggle to do good or oppose evil. That’s why Proverbs 15:22 says nothing good about even the wisest man listening only to himself, but “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (TLV version)
That kind of forum, full of uncensored counselors, is what 1 Corinthians 14 calls “orderly”. 1 Corinthians 14 says the Corinthians had been violating an orderly worship service, but the order to which they were challenged to return was much like the order followed in Jewish synagogues.
In particular, verse 31 says “For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” As 1 Corinthians 14:3 says, it served the practical purpose of building up [challenging, edifying] the Church.
Verses 24, 29, and 31 describe those able to “prophesy” in the Corinthian church as so numerous that rules had to be set up so that they could take turns in an orderly manner!
There are many spiritual benefits available from “prophesying” that are available in no other way. Here are seven:
1. That God may be glorified by everyone sharing the Gift he has received with one another, as 1 Peter 4:10-11 says, and that the Spirit be not quenched by dislike of prophesying, as 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 warns. The verse means that when allowed, prophesying produces spiritual fruit that excels what pastors alone can produce.
2. That members may develop the relationship skills to become pastors, and that members, seeing who reasons well, may base their selection of their next pastor on this observation and experience.
3. That future church teachers may learn by experience to teach, and be selected after observation to teach – teaching ability being one of the qualifications of a church leader according to 1 Timothy 3:2.
4. That the teachings of the church may be saved from error. Error is much more likely when no one is allowed to expose it, because only one or two are allowed to speak, and no one else is allowed to say what they think. 1 John 4:1 warns us – ALL of us – to test those who claim to be inspired. In Revelation 2:2, Jesus praised people who did that. That kind of Revelation 2:2 “examination” is meaningless if it only means each individual can try to figure it out all by himself, but is not allowed to discuss what he notices with others!
5. That through discussion, those who present information can find out where they have not been persuasive so they can give more evidence; they can find out what was confusing so they can be more clear; they can be corrected when they say something wrong or crazy. Truth happens, through questions, answers, and even modest disputes. Truth is beautiful in the assemblies of saints. Truth is the work of God.
That kind of dialog is how Jesus began His ministry at the age of 12. Those kinds of disputes were the habit of Paul during Sabbath services. Apollos spoke boldly, refuting error with great vehemence, and God put that in His Book as if it were a big compliment.
6. For the development of relationship skills among believers, to enable them to convert unbelievers. Turning “wolves into sheep” is the job of everyone, according to 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, so everyone needs a forum where they can develop discussion skills to be able to reason with people who disagree. The job of pastors is to moderate the forum where they can acquire these skills, according to Acts 20:28.
7. The final reason to encourage all to prophesy is to give all members a voice in matters of concern to all, so that decisions will have as much support as possible from as many as possible, fostering, unity.
Love has a chance to grow deep roots where people can talk freely about what matters to them. Fellowship is condemned to superficiality when any issue so important that the discovery of disagreement could make some people angry – the definition of “controversial” – is suppressed.
Open conversation also allows leaders and the congregation to know each other better and to enjoy a relationship of partners.
Chapter VIII: OF THE EXERCISE OF PROPHECY
These are just the paragraph headings from the complete Chapter 8, Book 3, “Of the exercise of Prophecy”. This article is already so long it scares me, but Robinson’s complete chapter would more than double that length if it were posted here. So it is posted at www.Salltshaker.US/Salt/VersesThatLaunchedFreedom.pdf. Robinson’s words number 1569. 6822 words if you also read all the Scriptures he cited in the Geneva version, with Geneva notes.
People can “prophesy” who aren’t “prophets”.
Not everyone can “prophesy”.
Anyone who can – church officers or laymen – may.
Jews have always opened their forums to everyone – even to Jesus!
Wisdom isn’t correlated to credentials. To get wisdom, a forum must be open to people without credentials.
1 Corinthians 14 explicitly says “ye may all prophesy”.
1 Corinthians 12 talks about formal, inspired “prophets”, but chapter 14 is about ordinary “prophesying” by anybody. The difference is consistency and quality. The similarity is the involvement of the Holy Spirit.
LOTS of people “prophesied” at Corinth!
Ordinary “prophesiers” need correction from each other.
The “Prophets” of chapter 12 spoke for God infallibly.
The silencing of women proves that men could speak.
Not all the ordinary prophesiers spoke for God, distinguishing them from the formal Prophets.
Prophesying offers unique benefits.
1. Better preaching.
2. Relationship skills.
3. Teaching experience.
4. Better scrutiny of error.
6. Witnessing skills.