People are told never to talk about politics or religion because these two topics above all others pull out options which creates animated discussion and arguments. If the truth be told our modern Thanksgiving holiday was created through discussions about both religion and politics. The topics are enduring and have survived the ages.
We can read about discussions on religion and politics in both the Old and New Testaments. Fighting began in the early camp of Israel when Korah refused to accept the leadership of Moses. We see undercurrents in the book of Judges as various men sought to bring the nation back from idolatry. Various prophets continued the cause including Gad, Iddo, and Elijah. Under Ezra Israel reached a period of reformation and the people found new ways to practice their faith.
In the New Testament the Pharisee movement grew out of troublesome times. The Roman government was pushing paganism, the Temple elite were corrupt, and the nation was ruled by a contemptuous dictator named Herod who was married to multiple wives, even killing one of them because she (or he) was not quite right. The Pharisees sought to purify a nation from both external Roman and Idumean rule as well as internal corruption of the Sadducees. The title of Pharisee comes from the Hebrew word פָּרַשׁ which means to make distinct, declare, distinguish, separate. They desired many changes such as reading the word of God, practicing outward holiness, and bringing the faith to every community by participating in the Synagogue.
The puritan movement sprang from a similar environment during the fifteenth century in England when changing rulers brought in state churches like a daily change of clothing. Henry VII was Catholic, Henry VIII started as a Catholic but became an Anglican, Edward VI was an Anglican, Mary I was a devout Catholic, James IV, Elizabeth I were Anglicans as, King Charles I appeared a Catholic, Oliver Cromwell and his son Richard were a Puritan Protestants, Charles II and James II were Catholics, Mary II was an Anglican. As can be seen there was much religious discussion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
The time period of the English Puritans contained all the elements which would bring about this discussion. The Catholic church itself was rather boring and mundane. Leaders of the Church of England were more political than they were religious, and looked for position, power and prestige. King Henry VIII became embroiled in a fight with the Pope over his marriage which led to a break with the Catholic Church. And mainland Europe was experiencing religious changes during the Reformation. Teachers like Martin Luther and John Calvin were talked about even in England.
Some in England saw abuses in the church. The movement toward Puritanism had its roots in John Wycliffe and English theologian who lived in the fourteenth century and translated the Bible to English. He urged the citizens of England to follow the Bible and not the church. He and his followers, called the Lollards, objected to the power of the clergy and sought religious reform.
William Tyndale followed in the footsteps of John Wycliffe about a hundred years later. He also translated a Bible into English, the vernacular language of the people, having been influenced by Martin Luther who had translated the Bible into German on the continent. Tyndale as Wycliffe ran into problems with the church because he condemned the Pope. He also condemned King Henry VIII on his marriage annulment. These two issues lead to his death.
Based on the Bibles and beliefs of John Wycliffe and William Tyndale British ministers and citizens began to step forward with a desire to follow a more purely biblical pattern. They wished to rid themselves of the Pope, they desired the Bible in their own language, they wanted liturgical practices such as circumflecting and kneeling removed from practice, they objected to special days (like Christmas, Easter and Saint’s Days) because they have no scriptural justification, they felt ministers should dress like the rest of the population, and they desired more emphasis on preaching of the word rather than liturgy. And within the church they fought to bring purity of faith and practice.
The fight for purity within the church can be a long and difficult process. Both Puritans and Pharisees fought battles and were put down as they attempted to reform the faith to something they felt was more pure. Within faith communities the desire for purity continues even to today. In North America we have experienced purifying movements during the first and second great awakenings, and more recently in the conservative resurgence. People have and will continue to fight for what they feel is true and right. And the fights will involve the right to read the Bible, to bring the faith home to the common man, and the live a pure and holy life.