The Export of Protestantism after the Reformation

Reformation Protestants engaged in practically no missionary activity outside their home market (Europe) before the eighteenth century. They were too busy fighting Catholic forces in the struggle to survive, or quarreling among themselves in their quest for identity. As Protestantism became established throughout Europe, and the inevitable process of product differentiation proceeded apace, the field was opened for various forms of religious outreach.

By far the most important overseas market for Protestantism was the New World, and the chief form of expansion into that market was through emigration. Because the monopolizing spirit of Protestantism was greatest in England, it is not surprising that the first major wave of emigrants came from that country. In the New World, religious groups like the Pilgrims and the Puritans not only found more freedom to worship, they also began to proliferate in freedom's soil. Oddly enough, the Puritans championed individual freedom within their ranks but were intolerant of opposing creeds. Still, they could not establish a monopoly religion in a country as vast and resourceful as North America. Moreover, the new nation that we now call the United States enshrined religious toleration in its constitution and, over the next three centuries, in an ongoing process of product differentiation, spawned and nurtured many new branches of Reformed Protestantism. Having been erected on the twin pillars of individual and religious freedom, America became an important laboratory in a bold new experiment of religious pluralism. Many of the new denominations derived their substance and structure from one of the major Protestant churches of northern Europe.

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