MythBusters Case#21c: Puritan Government – Things To Avoid When Starting A Nation

Posted: October 14, 2012 in American History
Tags: , , , , ,

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.

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