Thanksgiving 400 Years Ago
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving and a time to look back at God’s consistent faithfulness to America. Those who traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a new nation were guided by the Lord to establish a place where He would be worshiped, and freedom of religion would be practiced. One of the meanings of the noun pilgrim is "a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons." Our national holiday had its origins from the 1621 autumn feast held by the Pilgrims and the local Indians. The feast was meant to celebrate the harvest and the blessings of the past year. Included in the first Thanksgiving were 53 Pilgrims made up of four women, 14 young boys and girls, 13 infants and young children, and 22 men according to David Barton, the founder of Wall Builders. They joined 90 Indian warriors from the Wampanoag tribe. For three days they dined on game, vegetables, corn bread, and berries. In between eating, they engaged in competitions including running, wresting, and shooting. As students of the Bible, the Pilgrims sought to apply its principles. They spent time thanking God for delivering them from a land of persecution and bringing them to America where the native people taught them how to survive and prosper in their new land.
Looking back to the time when the Pilgrims were instituting a way of life in the "New World," we can see that their civil government started with the Mayflower Compact. Their belief in equality for everyone was demonstrated when all the passengers on the ship signed the Compact. Jon Hamill, a descendant of a Pilgrim and co-founder of Lamplighter Ministries, described the atmosphere when the original signers of the Compact gathered together: "The move of the Holy Spirit was with them. In fact, when they wrote the Mayflower Compact...they said, 'In the presence of God, and one another.' They honored the presence of God, knowing that God had sent them apostolically across the waters to found a nation in freedom, to found a nation in covenant with Christ."
There is no doubt that a Christian heritage formed the basis for our country. As America prospered, those from other nations began to take note of her successes. Dr. Ben Carson, in his book, America the Beautiful, shares that in 1831 a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville came to decipher the secrets of America's success. He wrote, "I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...in her fertile fields and boundless forests, in her rich mines and vast world commerce, in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if American ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
Alexis also wrote, "The religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention...In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But in America I found they were intimately united and that they reign in common over the same country." I think we can see evidence that 400 years after the first Thanksgiving and the enactment of the Mayflower Compact, our foundations are under attack. Religion and freedom are marching in opposite directions. The model for the laws incorporated into our Bill of Rights and the basis for all education—the Bible—has been cast aside. We must ask ourselves why many of today's pulpits are not flaming with righteousness and the goodness of America is compromised. The foundations of America must be rebuilt! It is time for us to embrace the legacy that the Pilgrims left for us. This Thanksgiving we should be on our knees in repentance for our cavalier attitude toward God and His Word. It is time for us to shore up our foundations with prayer and declarations from the Bible. Jesus told His disciples, "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart." (Luke 18:1 - NKJ) We must thank God for our Christian heritage and be faithful in our prayers for our nation and the church.
Joan E. Mathias