Posts Tagged ‘Puritans’

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.

***************

Don’t Settle For Halfway Education

In The Public Schools!

Get Full Covenant Blessing At

Kings Way Classical Academy Online

Only $500 Annual Tuition

***************

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.

The church of the Puritans was a dynamic force in society.  Men and the rulers of men looked to the church of our forefathers for guidance in the conduct of public affairs, indeed in every arena of life.

In those days the Kingdom of God was a culture-wide phenomenon known as Christendom.  The Puritans held that Church and state were independent institutions, but both were subject to God.  The church taught the magistrate the requirements of God’s holy law, but did not dominate.

But something happened in the Great Awakening of the 1740’s that changed all of that.  Unlike the Puritans the itinerant preachers typically set up their pulpit outside town in the open countryside, symbolically declaring that the Kingdom was beyond the concerns of organized society.  Little effort was made to team up with the established church in the community.

Moreover, the message was limited to a personal call for individual conversion with no challenge to the convert’s devotion to the idols in the culture.  Thus, it was possible for a person to have a personal salvation experience without embracing the implications of Christ’s kingly reign in the wider social context.  People could be born into the kingdom without growing up to become productive citizens within the kingdom (Christendom) like the Puritans.

Instead of using the law to convict the sinner of his wretched standing before God, more often than not the message was along the lines of “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  A psychology of persuasion was employed, which drowned out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit in the soul.

These problems were especially acute in the Second Great Awakening just after the turn of the Century.  Unfortunately, they have persisted to the present day and have been perfected in the methods of the great crusade evangelists.

MYTH:  A renewed crusade in personal evangelism and proclamation of the “simple” gospel is the only thing that will save America at this desperate hour.

That is the message being promoted online by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) at the present time.  Here is the message in its entirety:

“IN [JESUS’S] NAME THE NATIONS

WILL PUT THEIR HOPE” (Mt 12:21NIV)

            If you live in the typical American community–with 100 average neighbors–here’s   the reality: 7 of your neighbors struggle with depression, even contemplating        suicide; 7 abuse or are addicted to drugs or alcohol; 8 are struggling with      unemployment; and 60 don’t profess to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

            The picture is bleak, but there is hope. Jesus Christ can transform lives that are       burdened with fear, insecurity, uncertainty, and pain and offer joy and peace, now          and for all eternity. By signing this declaration, you stand with Billy Graham in          proclaiming that our nation needs this Good News.

            In November 2013, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Christians across the U.S. and Canada will host My Hope with Billy Graham, a            massive media and friendship outreach, to proclaim the Gospel. Submit the form          on the right, and we’ll send you updates on this outreach and other ways we are             sharing the lifesaving message of Jesus Christ.  I will join you in declaring, “I          have hope for America because of Jesus Christ.”

We’ve been here before.  In the 1970s a nationwide “I found It!” crusade was launched with similar goals.  Results were anemic.  With all due respect, we would point out that the above is an appeal to personal peace and prosperity.  As such, it is a man-centered appeal.  It says nothing of the broken law, the offended Deity, the neglect of Biblical justice that has provoked the judgment of God on America.  These themes were characteristic of the Puritans and the prophets (Micah 3:1,5,9,11).

The verse Dr. Graham quotes is addressed to the nations, but his appeal is the same exclusively personal, pietistic approach that we have heard for years.  It completely neglects the Kingship of Christ over the nation and the broader realm of Christendom.  Moreover it does not address the sins of the nation or its leaders, as did the Puritans.  Our MythBusters’ investigation found that the Bible presents a more comprehensive message in both Old and New Testaments.

The Old Testament Gospel Was Not Strictly Personal

The preaching of the Old Testament prophets was not strictly personal.  Men of God throughout the Bible addressed their message to the sins of the nation and its leaders, not just the individual.  For example, the Prophet Micah called the rulers in Israel to repentance with these words, “Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!  Is it not for you to know justice?  You who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people….” (Mic. 3:1,2).

The Melchizedekan ministry of Christ is pictured in both Old and New Testaments as priestly and kingly.  In Genesis 14:18 we are told that Melchizedek was both “priest of God Most High” and “king of Salem.”  In Hebrews 7:2 we learn that the name Melchizedek translated means both “king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.”

Christ is both Priest and King.  Thus, any presentation of the gospel that fails to set forth the cultural peace flowing from the kingly ministry of Christ is a truncated gospel.  Unlike the so-called “social gospel,” the work of Christ on the cross is central to the comprehensive gospel preached by the Puritans.

The New Testament Gospel Is Not Strictly Personal

Mary’s magnificat announcing the birth of the Messiah in the New Testament was not strictly personal.   Mary began with a declaration of the “good news” that “His mercy is upon generation after generation.”  (Lk 1:50), but the thrust of her message was the social-political impact of the kingly reign of her Son.  Already with His advent, He has “scattered the proud,” “brought down rulers,” and “sent away the rich empty-handed.”

A gospel message that does not include the kingly ministry of Christ over men and nations is incomplete.  A strictly personal gospel message is a truncated gospel message.  A truncated gospel message is an inaccurate gospel message.  An inaccurate gospel message is but one variety of “another gospel” that Paul denounced in Galatians.  Men will respond to a comprehensive gospel, whereas crusade evangelism has contributed to the feminization of the church.

Martin Luther, a forerunner of the Puritans, left us these words, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battle field besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

Case Closed:  The ineffectiveness of crusade evangelism is remarkable, although not generally known.  Studies have shown that only a tiny percentage continue on with the Lord (cf. Ray Comfort).  Dr. Graham has no qualms about sending those who do respond back into the liberal churches from whence they come to be devoured by spiritual wolves among the leadership.  MythBuster Rating:  For this reason the BGEA is assigned the MythBusters’ red flag warning.

More of the same is not what America needs at this critical hour of national judgment.  Needed is a comprehensive gospel like that of the Puritans that sets forth the claims of Christ in all of life and culture, not just the life of the individual soul.

The crusade evangelism model focused exclusively on the individual cannot be found in Scripture.  It is a huge diversion of time and resources.  Our resources would be better expended on the “Adopt A Politician” program described in the “Apolitical Pastor” series elsewhere on this BLOG.

If every evangelical pastor were to adopt one politician in their town or city and share the whole counsel of God, the battle would be won.  That is the Biblical model pioneered by John the Baptist in the New Testament.