Archive for October, 2012

The Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) was the first of the great church councils and perhaps the most important because it established the divinity of Christ as taught in Scripture.

This was opposed to Arianism, which subordinated Christ to the Father as a created being.  According to R.J. Rushdoony in “Foundations of Social Order (p.11,12),” the three main points of Arianism were, first, Christ was a created being; second, He was not eternally existent; and, third, Christ was not of the same essence with the Father.

The battle was waged over the key words homoousion (being of one essence, i.e., with the Father), and homoiousion (of like essence).   The change of a single letter by Arius had monumental consequences.  If Christ was a mere man then his claims on earthly kings were more easily dismissed than if He were of the same essence with God and thus King of kings.

Initially, Athanasius stood alone for the orthodox position.  His bold stand for truth inspired the phrase, “Athanasius against the world.”

This great triumph of orthodoxy at Nicea is somewhat obscured by various myths about the Council, in particular one perpetuated by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code:

Myth:  Constantine collated an entirely new Bible at the Council of Nicea, containing only books that speak of Jesus as divine.

Paul Pavao tackles this myth and several others in the following article:

The Council of Nicea: Dispelling the Myths

By Paul Pavao, Expert Author

Myths about the Council of Nicea proliferate on the web. My Google Alert for “Council of Nicea” yields up to 3 new blogs a day, many of them filled with misinformation.

There are three primary myths:

That the Council of Nicea determined which books would be in the Bible.

That St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, was at Nicea and slapped Arius.

That the emperor Constantine changed the Sabbath day to Sunday at the          Council of Nicea

Before we look at these, why should you believe me?

HOW WE KNOW ABOUT THE COUNCIL OF NICEA?

There are major sources for knowing about the council of Nicea:

The letter of Eusebius the historian to his home church at Caesarea explaining the council’s decision

A discussion of the council in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine

A letter to the churches from Constantine after the council

Minor references to the council in Athanasius’ later letters.

Three church histories from about a century after Nicea, referencing sources, some of which we no longer have available

The creed and the 20 canons [ecclesiastical rules] of Nicea

A multitude of letters from before and after Nicea that make it clear what controversies led to the council

Anything not found in those sources is made up.

BASIC FACTS

The Council of Nicea took place in A.D. 325, and it convened to address two major topics:

The doctrine of Arius that the Son of God did not exist before being begotten of God in the beginning.

The day on which Passover (Easter) should be celebrated.

It was called by Constantine. The three people who attended and gave numbers said it was attended by over 250 bishops, approximately 270 bishops, and 318 bishops.

DID THE COUNCIL OF NICEA DETERMINE

WHICH BOOKS SHOULD BE IN THE BIBLE?

This myth was popularized by Dan Brown in his book, The Da Vinci Code. There he wrote:

Constantine collated an entirely new Bible at the Council of Nicea, containing only books that speak of Jesus as divine.

The truth is that the issue of which books should be in the Bible is not even mentioned in any of the sources above. As a matter of fact, except for some of the general epistles, which books should be in the Bible had been settled for well over a century. A document called the Muratorian Canon has been found dating from around A.D. 160 which gives a list of books very similar to our modern New Testament. A search of which books were quoted by 2nd and 3rd century church fathers shows that their Bible was already almost exactly the same as ours.

There was no reason for the Council of Nicea to discuss the books of the Bible because it was not a controversial subject.

WAS ST. NICHOLAS AT THE COUNCIL,

AND DID HE SLAP ARIUS?

Nicholas, too, is not mentioned by any of the contemporary historical sources, though it’s possible he was at Nicea. Stories about him are not told until the 6th century, 200 years after Nicea, and the story of him slapping Arius did not arise until 500 years after Nicea.

Jolly St. Nick did rap the psychologist with his cane according to Miracle on 34th Street, but it’s best to treat the slapping of Arius as a complete fabrication.

DID CONSTANTINE CHANGE THE SABBATH TO SUNDAY?

 The issue that was addressed at Nicea was whether Passover should be celebrated on Nisan 14, on the day it fell on the Jewish calendar, or whether it should be celebrated on a Sunday near Nisan 14.

The council did decide that Passover would be celebrated on a Sunday by all churches, but it did not address the weekly meeting of the churches.

The churches had been meeting on Sunday since apostolic times. Justin Martyr mentions Sunday as the Christian meeting day by name in A.D. 150 (First Apology 67), but Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, addresses the issue even earlier:

Those who have been brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e., converted Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath but living in observance of the Lord’s day. (Magnesians 9, c. A.D. 110)

Entire books have been written trying to propagate the myth that it was Constantine who changed the Sabbath to Sunday, but anyone familiar with early Christian history knows that there is abundant and unanimous testimony that Christians met on Sunday, not Saturday, and that they did not require physical rest on any day.

REVIEWING THE SOURCES YOURSELF

A good, short explanation of the early Christian understanding of the Sabbath is contained in the early 2nd century Letter of Barnabas, chapter 15, which are available for free, along with all the other sources I mention here, at the Christian Classic Ethereal Library at.  Look for the Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen, and Theodoret, and you can follow the notes to the sources they use that are available today.

Christian history isn’t boring! History is, by definition, the most exciting stories and interesting facts of all time.

Paul Pavao’s Christian History for Everyman is dedicated to telling you those stories. You can learn more than you ever wanted to know about first ecumenical council at his Council of Nicea pages.

Archeological evidence is still piling up to disprove the theories of professional skeptics of the Biblical miracles.  These skeptics are “professional” in the level of skill and creativity they have brought to the task of inventing naturalistic explanations for the miracles of God.

One such explanation involves the famous Red Sea crossing of the Children of Israel.  After four centuries the Hebrew slaves had been released from bondage, but their exodus was seemingly thwarted by the Red Sea.  The hard-hearted Pharaoh had changed his mind and was bearing down hard on the defenseless Children of Israel.  God miraculously opened a path through the Red Sea for His people, then closed it on the Egyptians drowning their entire army.

Myth:  The Red Sea crossing can be explained by an exceptionally strong wind that piled up waters in the shallow “Reed” Sea.

To deal with this myth, we’ve called on the services of Aaron Kolom, a former NASA  aerospace engineer.  In evaluating such evidence it is important to remember that it is illustrative rather than corraborative.  If we use scientific or other evidence to “prove” the Bible, we are inadvertently elevating the authority of that evidence above that of the Bible.

2000AD UCLA Study Group – Science Vs Bible, Wrap-Up

By Aaron Kolom, Expert Author

“Well,” said Professor Barrett, “We have examined the scientific, archaeological evidence of an Hebraic, Semitic people who lived in Egypt, the Goshen area, in ancient times; also that similar people, centuries later, conquered cities in Canaan; and there is much proof that the Hebrew Kings: Saul, David and Solomon did exist – therefore, in between, these Hebrews had to have exited Egypt, somehow and sometime.” He paused, “Thus, there seemingly, is solid, corroborative evidence of the beginning and end to the Exodus story.

Science and knowledge also, in just the past decade, have uncovered hard, artifact and iconoclastic evidence of Egyptian chariot wreckage in the Gulf of Aqaba; also, we see an amazing cleft stone boulder; and a Mount Sinai – so many details that validate the Bible story. What is interesting, as challenges to theology, is that we have not come upon any real conflicts. However, we have no clue about the “miracle” food ‘manna’ by which the Hebrews were supposedly sustained for forty years of roaming the desert wilderness; nor do we know if alkaline water can really be sweetened by the bark or sap from a tree.”

“Before a final wrap-up -” Lawrence was raising his hand, “- I’ve run into something that tends to lend scientific credence to the Exodus story in general.” He paused, “In his book, ‘The Mountain of Moses’, Larry Williams says he hired a scientific research company to analyze areal photos of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gulf of Aqaba, taken by a French satellite. The procedure was a military development, now employed in all archaeological research of Earth surfaces – it discriminates subtle differences in heat patterns using special filters on photographic negatives.

The analysis reported a clear trail, estimated as being thousands of years old, going to the seashore, and resuming on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba. The trail discloses numerous large campsites, continues parallel to the Gulf and then inland to Mt. Jabal Al Laws, with an extremely large campsite nearby. The same analyses for the accepted and traditional sites for Mt. Sinai in the Sinai peninsula show much smaller trails, and are only a few centuries old with few campsites.”

“And so,” the professor looked at each of his students, “this has been quite a journey for us this past, extremely interesting year – very enjoyable, and we all learned quite a lot about ancient peoples and Egypt. There would be no surprise to me if the number of items which corroborated the Bible narrative by artifacts and archaeological discoveries – comes close to a hundred*.

Therefore, how about an average of our personal estimates?” The professor paused. “What percentage of all the biblical stories – even what seem to be miracles, anecdotes, or what-have-you – do we think have been validated with pretty solid 21st century reality? How about a show of hands for 50% or over?” All raised their hands and kept them up; “60% or over?” – the hands remained up. The final score was one at 70-80%, four including the professor, at 80-90%; two, at over 90% – the average 86%.

“Just think” said Bethe, “if we could come upon some writings of a Hebrew who lived through that Exodus period, describing the events – as we have the Amarna letter by the widow of Pharaoh, and the Ipuwer papyrus scroll, and the Egyptian chroniclers Manetho and Cheremon – and with our 21st century verification keeping pace. Now, wouldn’t that have been interesting?”

_____________________________________________________________________

*In fact, 107 separate confirming discoveries are cited herein – each of the following numerous items is given only a single count: the total of all the coral-covered chariot wheels; the total of all the skeletal bones of horses and men; the Ipuwer scroll describing many of the Ten Plagues; the Brooklyn Papyrus with about fifty Semitic names of slaves, Amarna letters containing many biblical names; stela listing numerous ancient Hebrew cities, etc.

Aaron Kolom qualifies as a “rocket scientist” with over 50 years aerospace engineering: Stress Analyst to Chief of Structural Sciences on numerous military aircraft, to Corp. Director Structures and Materials, Asst. Chief Engineer Space Shuttle Program through first three flights (awarded NASA Public Service Medal), Rockwell International Corp.; Program Manager Concorde SST, VP Engineering TRE Corp.; Aerospace Consultant.

Visit website at http://www.brainwashedandmiracles.com to learn a bit about Science vs the Bible, from conflict to confirmation. http://www.definingmoment.tv for two book interviews.

It is unfortunate, but true that the failures of Christians are sometimes used as an excuse to reject Christianity.  Paul wrote, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,….” (Rmn. 2:24).

Related to this are those who point to the Puritans’ aborted attempt at applying the law of God to their culture in order to condemn those advocating for the law of God today.

A fairly recent example is “Notes on Christian Reconstructionism – Roots of a New ‘Christian’ Inquisition?” by Biblical Discernment Ministries.  This essay used the Puritan massacre of the Pequot tribe in the Connecticut River valley to condemn modern efforts to apply the law of God in American culture.  The following excerpt is typical:

“…. the Puritans were the direct forerunners of today’s Kingdom/Dominion/ Reconstructionist heresy. The Puritans believed that they were carrying to America true Christianity as decreed by God, especially as written in the Old Testament. They believed too that they were on a divine mission to America, a place specially appointed by God to be the “New Israel,” a theocratic “city upon a hill.” The Puritans viewed themselves as God’s special people, replacing national Israel, and that the American Indians were the “new Canaanites.” The fruit of the Puritan’s theology was brutal. They saw their mission as convert these “Canaanites” to Christianity, or slaughter them in the name of Christ. For example, the Puritan massacres of the Pequot Indian tribe on May 26, 1637, and again on July 14, 1637, were deemed by the Puritans to be directed by God — Captain John Mason declared, “God laughed his enemies and the enemies of his people to scorn, making them as a fiery oven … Thus did the Lord judge among the heathen, filling the place with dead bodies” (Segal and Stinenback, Puritans, Indians, and Manifest Destiny, pp. 111-112, 134-135). “Converting the pagans for God was acceptable to the Puritans, but killing the pagans for the Lord was also acceptable!”

Myth:  Puritan abortive attempts to apply the now defunct law of God illustrate why it is so dangerous to attempt any application of the law of God to modern governments.

When MythBusters first accepted this case we didn’t know what to expect.  We had heard rumors of Puritan alleged atrocities toward the Indians, but didn’t have any details.

We noted initially that the excerpt above ignores the possibility that the Puritans may have been engaged in a “just war” prosecuted to avenge repeated Pequot atrocities.  Many if not most historical critiques downplay this possibility, but there is one at least by historian Clayton Cramer which suggests otherwise.

Puritan Failures to Conform

to Biblical Law In Civil Government

 Nonetheless, however just the war may have been, the Puritan prosecution of it appears to have ignored the restraints on “total warfare” imposed by passages such as Deuteronomy 20:10-16.  This passage forbids slaughter of women and children and wanton destruction of property except in the special case of those in the land of Canaan at the time of the original Israelite invasion.  This could have contributed to the Puritan Declension.

This is not the only instance of the Puritans’ falling short of the Law of God to which their government was formally committed.  For example, the MythBusters investigation found these unbiblical provisions in the Abstract of the Laws of New England, penned by John Cotton in 1641:

  • A tax on property in Chapter III, paragraph 3, which is a denial of private ownership.  Part of this went to the salary of the local pastor, who typically was headmaster of the local public schoolhouse:  “By the yearly payment, first, of one penny, or half a penny an acre of land….”
  •  Wage and price controls in Chapter V, paragraph 3, which is a denial of the free market and restraint of trade:  “…to set reasonable rates upon all commodities, and proportionably to limit the wages of workmen and labourers….”
  • A system of jurors untrained in Biblical law in Chapter IX, paragraph 3, which cannot be found in the Bible:  “The jurors are not to be chosen by any magistrates, or officers, but by the free burgesses of each town….”

It is unfortunate that an otherwise excellent effort to apply the Law of Moses to a modern legal system, contains these fundamental assaults on human liberty, also contributing to the Declension.  This code became the model for many of the other colonies.  These seemingly harmless compromises at the very foundation of the nation have devolved incrementally to the grossest perversion in the modern public school system.

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MythBusters also identified some other examples of unbiblical government policy on the part of the Puritans:

  • Restrictions on immigration, contrary to Biblical law concerning “strangers” (Puritan Economic Experiments, p.10).
  • Implementing a state welfare system, contrary to the Bible’s system of “poor laws” (Ibid., p10).
  • Laws requiring church attendance and payment of a tax to support ministers, contrary to the Biblical separation of church and state (The Guise of Every Graceless Heart, p.76).
  • A tariff levied on prosperous peddlers in response to the complaint of larger merchants (From Puritan to Yankee, P.113).

 Puritan Declension Confirms the Law of God

All of these problems with Puritan government no doubt contributed to the declension of the Puritan’s Holy Commonwealth during the 17th Century.  But does this prove the danger of any attempt to base a system of civil government on the law of God, as asserted in the opening excerpt from the article by Biblical Discernment Ministries?

On the contrary, the Puritan Declension serves as a verification of Biblical Law found in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere.  This passage confirms the judgment of God on nations in history for their submission to His law, or lack thereof:

“Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth…But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Dt. 28: 1,15).

Case Closed:   The puritans did many things right in conforming their government to the Law of God.  They modeled most of their Law code on the law of God and required their elected officials to swear allegiance to God in enforcement of His perfect law of liberty.

Unfortunately, they also failed to apply, or misapplied the Law of God in many instances, which no doubt led to the gradual declension of the Biblical Commonwealth.   Rather than disproving the abiding validity of the Law of God for government, The Declension confirms the authority of His law in the providential judgments associated with disobedience.   MythBusters Rating:  Red Flag to Biblical Discernment Ministries for failing to discern the permanent authority of God’s law.

Once upon a time our Pilgrim forefathers sailed on the Mayflower and established a tiny village on the shores of Cape Cod.  Because their charter required all produce be kept in a common storehouse, a lot of them didn’t work very hard and half the colony starved to death in the winter.

The next summer everybody grew their own food in their own garden and they all had plenty to eat.  And that was how the Pilgrims learned the bitter lesson of socialism and free enterprise flourished in America happily ever after.

That little story has become a favorite of American Christians as they gather around their annual Thanksgiving tables.  Unfortunately, while the story is true the moral of the story is not.

The Puritan refugees, who settled 10 years later just up the coast in Boston learned little about economics from their Pilgrim brethren.  In fact, Puritan experiments with economic control and price fixing during their first half century in the New World were a primary factor contributing to the Declension of the Holy Commonwealth.

Ironically, these experiments drove the more worldly grandchildren of the pioneers to embrace a more Christian, capitalistic system of economics, but divorced from its Biblical base.  Thus, the Holy Commonwealth became associated with an unpopular system of social and economic control.  To the modern Christian mind, this unfortunate development has been obscured by the popular myth.

Myth:   After the disastrous winter of 1621, and the Pilgrims’ experiment with the common storehouse, the New England colonists abandoned socialism.

The story of the Puritan’s 50-year dalliance with a controlled economy was documented by Dr. Gary North in his doctoral dissertation in the early 1970s.  The work appeared originally as a number of short articles and then in book form in 1988.   MythBusters relied heavily on this research for purposes of the investigation of the Puritan economic experiments.

The Puritan end or goal was a Shining City Set on A Hill, a model of statesmanship to which all the world would look.  Concerning the laws of God, they sought to “keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people'” (Dt. 4:6).  This is the law as a tool of evangelism.

Unfortunately, their means did not match their ends.  Their application of the law was faulty.  Nowhere was this more apparent than in the realm of economics, in particular common ownership of land and price fixing.

Common Ownership

To secure their goal the Puritans tried to structure their new society so as to maintain maximum oversight by the church.  This extended to the physical layout of their towns and fields.  This was challenging because most were obviously farmers.

In order to keep everybody as close to possible to the church, all of the homesteads were located in town, with fields extending out in long narrow parcels.  Some of these extended out as far as two or three miles, often in a wedge or cone-shape.

This arrangement enabled the clergy and neighbors to hold one another accountable, but it was very inconvenient for farmers who had to waste a lot of time traveling to the farthest reaches of their fields.

Moreover, the legitimate desire for profit, led inevitably to animal husbandry in addition to simple agronomy.  Raising of crops was sufficient for little more than subsistent agriculture.  It was more profitable for farmers to increase their planting and utilize the grain to feed the livestock.

It was initially deemed more efficient to run all the livestock in a common pasture.  Less fencing would be required to keep the cattle out of the crops in a commons than in individual plots.  The unforeseen drawback was that individual cost-benefit analysis associated with private property was eliminated.

Thus there was strong incentive for individuals to take advantage of the benefits and shirk the costs.  Illicit benefits included midnight tree cutting and overgrazing.  Shirked costs were associated with keeping the fences repaired and compensating the herdsman.

All of this led to unenforceable regulation and bureaucratic wrangling that went on for half a century until the commons was distributed to private owners.  This inefficient use of public property has been called “the tragedy of the commons.”

Price Fixing

Puritan economic control went even further in attempting to establish the “just price” of various products by law.  This concept stemmed from the tension in Puritan social theory between a strong sense of diligence in one’s calling and unscrupulous exploitation.

Magistrates sought to regulate the tendency of men to slip over the fine line between devotion to their calling and avarice or greed.  The latter was said to find expression in price gouging or charging an “unjust price” for one’s produce.

The problem of course lies in defining exactly what is the just price.  It is the arrogance of the bureaucrat that tells him he is capable of such knowledge. The price fixing regulations took the form of caps on wages that could be charged by artisans and laborers and a 33% profit margin for businessmen.  This was America’s first excess profits law.

The immediate effect of this price fixing was suppression of productivity and an increase of demand over supply.  When officials deemed that citizens had learned their lesson the controls were relaxed, only to be imposed again later.  The cycle of economic disruption by price fixing  repeated itself endlessly until King Phillips War in 1675-76.

When the Puritans finally abandoned their heavy-handed control and price fixing, the economy boomed.  The unfortunate by-product was the self-sufficient Yankee of the third generation who now regarded the Holy Commonwealth of his grandparents as quaint, but impractical.

Case Closed:  MythBusters concluded that Puritan economics failed because it was not based on Biblical law.  Rather it was based on the early scholasticism and natural law reasoning of Thomas Aquinas.  Had the Puritans been more cognizant of Biblical law, their experiment would have succeeded because “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God…that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished for every good work” (II Tim. 3:16).

If the Puritans had paid attention to a few basic Biblical principles of economic theory they could have saved half century of grief.  As seen in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, God gives property to individuals to manage on His behalf (Acts 5:4).  In one of His parables Jesus established the principle that the private land owner has the right to set the wages for his laborers.

 

 

With the best of intentions our Puritan forefathers set foot on the shores of New England determined to become a Shining City On a Hill – an example to the world.  Yet before the 17th Century had run its course the Holy Commonwealth was as good as dead.

Although the Puritans did many things right, they did enough fundamental things wrong to exclude the blessing of God on their enterprise.  But what?  What did they do or fail to do?  It is incumbent on us to learn from their errors in order that we might “get it right” the next time God provides an opportunity to build from the ground up.

This is the first in a 3-part MythBusters series exploring the fatal errors of the Puritans:  1) covenant errors, 2) economic errors, 3) political errors.  The Puritan’s most fundamental error is found in a place you might least expect it.  It is found with the Puritan children.

Myth:  Children of believers should be excluded from the Lord’s Table until they have matured to the point of being able to examine themselves.

MythBusters noted first that Abraham is the father of our faith.  God’s covenant with Abraham included His children.  “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant to be God to you” (Gen. 17:7).

The Testimony of Scripture

This being the case, we surmised that God’s covenant with Abraham would demonstrate how He expects believers to treat the children that are providentially born into their families.  Circumcision, the sign of covenant initiation was given to Abraham (Gen. 17:10) and Passover, the sign of covenant continuation was given to Moses.  Children participated in both.  MythBusters looked carefully at the Old Testament and arrived at the following summary points:

1) Infants were circumcised without any knowledge or faith. They were thus branded by the Father as included in the covenant He made with Abraham (Gen 12). This was the ordinance of covenant initiation, signifying God’s choice, rather than man’s.

2) The youngest children — boys and girls — shared in the Passover meal without any knowledge or conversion experience. Exodus 12:24 clearly states that, “you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever.”  God used the Passover as a teaching aid to nurture their knowledge and faith, when He instructed the youngest son to ask his father what this rite meant to him (Ex. 12:26). Growing up children were treated as believers and assumed to be believers until or unless they apostasized. Their faith was grounded in God’s promise to Abraham, whether or not they experienced a religious conversion.

3) Adult converts to the faith were circumcised as adults (e.g. Shechemites of Gen. 34). Thus, the Old Testament gives us both “infant circumcision” and “believer’s circumcision.”  This carries over in the New Testament as “infant baptism” and “believer’s baptism.” Both are Biblical depending on the situation.

Why would God change in the New Testament, we asked?  Did God suddenly realize that He had been doing it all wrong in the Old Testament?  The answer seemed obvious, but we decided to dig deeper into history.

The Testimony of History

A survey of church history revealed that many churches practiced paedo-communion until the appearance of the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation prior to the Reformation.  At that point laymen started to shy away from handling “the very body and blood of Christ.”

Tommy Lee in “The History of Paedocommunion:  From the Early Church Until 1500″ quotes one scholar who summarized the evidence at hand by saying that “it is now well established that in the early days of Christianity it was not uncommon for infants to receive Communion immediately after they were baptized.”  Even John Calvin, who was adamantly opposed to paedocommunion had to admit that “this permission was indeed commonly given in the ancient church.”

MythBusters concluded that the Puritans were obedient to step 1) above in that they baptized their infant children, baptism being equivalent to circumcision (Col. 2:11,12).  However, they departed from the Biblical pattern, point 2), by refusing to let their children participate in the communion meal, formerly called Passover.  This was the halfway covenant.

This communicated to the boys and girls that they were not part of the kingdom of God until they had an experience that would satisfy their parents. This practice directly contradicted Jesus’ command to “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk. 10:14).

Cultural Implications of the Halfway Covenant

By this hindrance the Puritans drove many of their children out of the covenant and into an unbiblical “halfway covenant” in which they were baptized, but not permitted to participate in the Lord’s Supper. Instead of Salvation being God’s choice and baptism being His brand on His children, the emphasis in the halfway covenant shifted to man’s ability to describe how he chose God and what that experience felt like.

The Puritans paid a steep price for failing to do it God’s way, as Jesus warned.  “And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea” (Mk. 9:42).

Not allowed to simply rest by faith in the promise God gave to their fathers via Abraham, many of the children in the halfway covenant never experienced an emotional “conversion” that would pass muster with their parents or the congregation.

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Under the halfway covenant the entire congregation had to vote their approval of every conversion experience, the vote often preceded by a questioning period.  This democratic procedure is the hallmark of the Congregational denomination.  Rather than run this spiritual gauntlet, many young people gradually drifted out of the church and out of the Holy Commonwealth.

Thomas Lechford in his “Plain Dealing; or News from New England, stated that, “…some are so bashful, as that they choose rather to go without the communion, than undergo such public confessions and trials, but that is held their fault.”  [Quoted by Terrill Elniff on page 63 of “The Guise of Every Graceless Heart.”]

The Halfway Covenant was formalized when the children of the second generation were born. The question arose: should these third generation children be baptized?  It was formalized by a synod of 17 ministers in 1657 and then…..

“The general court of Massachusetts eventually intervened in 1662, summoning a synod of churches to decide the issue once and for all. After a long debate, the Halfway Covenant was established. A person could be a voting member of the church and community simply by being baptized. One no longer had to exhibit proof of Christian conversion. And as long as a person’s children were baptized and of legal age, they could vote, too.” 

By refusing them the Lord’s Supper in the halfway covenant, the church alienated its own children and drove them away from its nurturing arms.  It led to gradual separation of people from the authority of God in the church.  As instructed implicitly by the church, they regarded themselves as autonomous individuals fully capable of choosing how they would approach God and everything else in life.  As they were weaned away from the church by the halfway covenant, they looked to other institutions to fill the vacuum, civil government in particular and democratic participation in its process.

Conversionism is preoccupied with discerning the work of God in children.  It places the hope of salvation in experience rather than the Word of God.  This effects us in every way possible because the covenant is all encompassing.   Conversionism grounds salvation on individual human experience.  Consequently, an individualistic, sociological outlook on life takes hold by which the young person interprets reality and evaluates political claims.  Rights rather than responsibilities move to the forefront; what God demands, rather than rights is central to the covenantal approach..

This explains why so many Christian young people today are falling away from the faith. Surveys indicate that as many as half leave the church after graduation from high school.

In the formative years they were “hindered” by their parents from inclusion in the kingdom of God, contrary to the promise of God and the command of Jesus. In many cases they are denied both baptism and the Lord’s Supper, even worse than the halfway covenant.  Is it any wonder that so many fall away.  God told the Philippian jailor to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved and thy house” (Acts 16:31).

Case Closed:  MythBusters concluded that the practice of excluding children of believers from the Lord’s Table until they are able to examine themselves is based on a dangerous myth.  The implications of this myth extend far beyond the four walls of the church into every nook and cranny of the culture.  Because of this practice many Christian children are driven out of the church never to return.  God’s requirements for adult converts cannot be applied to the children of believers.