Paul's Passing Thoughts

Reformed Caste System: The Puritans Saw Violation of Caste as Equal to Violation of the 5th Commandment

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on October 4, 2012

“But with this considered, the Puritans believed that the idol of upward social mobility was a specific violation of the 5th commandment. Yes, wanting to improve the lot you were born into was dishonoring one’s parents.” 

There is a reason for everything. I like reasons; the “why.” I understand that “Stupid is—is stupid does,” but I want to know why people are stupid. “They’re just stupid”; that’s easy, discovering why they are stupid can enable us to save them from their stupidness and thus give them hope. See, I really am a loving, hopeful kind of guy.

Why do New Calvinists constantly quote and point to the Westminster Confession to make their points? And why does that irritate us so much? The second why is easy; they act like the Confession has the same authority as Scripture. An added third why changes our irritation to fear: the Westminster Confession was a standard of civil law compiled by Calvinistic Puritans at the beckoning of the Church of England. Hence, when New Calvinists cite the confession, they are exposing their kinship, knowingly or ignorantly, to a theocratic document (“Theocracy is a form of government in which official policy is governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or is pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religion or religious group”[and I will give you three wild guesses as to who the New Calvinists believe are the “divinely guided” ones]).

Later, the Church of England and the Puritans had a lovers quarrel over control of European mutton, and the Puritans were labeled, “nonconformists.” Other groups of Baptist origin were labeled the same regardless of their devotion to the same totalitarian principles as the Church of England; ie., The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith which was drawn from the Westminster Confession and written by Puritans as well. After this totalitarian plague landed in America, another document was drafted from the Westminster model, this time by the “Pilgrims” (alien European Puritans): The Savoy Declaration.

These documents encompass a conviction for state and church to rule together at the supposed pleasure of God, and with all of His authority by proxy. Ooopsies and boo-boos are covered by diplomatic immunity. Be not deceived: the spirit of the Westminster Confession is the lust of every New Calvinist. That’s the why behind their obsessive citation of it.

However, the central idea of the Westminster Confession that totally depraved mankind must be ruled with a divine iron fist is going to manifest itself in a number of different applicable elements. New Calvinists use this for cover; the “fact” that they don’t “agree with everything” in the Confession supplies cover for the fact that they are totally sold out for the central idea that is the foundation of the document. That would be the control of the totally depraved by the “Westminster divines” of whom they are kin.

The heart of the document and its sentiment is revealed in the applicable elements—one being a caste system modeled after the extreme European social caste system of that day. Misrepresenting your social class to marry into a family that was in a higher social stratum was a capital offence.  Different social classes dressed differently, and entitlements were also determined by class as well.

The Puritans were really, really big on the whole idea of being content with were God had sovereignly placed you in life. In all caste systems, your social stratum is determined by what stratum you were born into; ie, determined by the social stratum of your parents. The system disallowed mobility between the social strata, or for all practical purposes: improvement. Of course, there were rare exceptions born of the milieu of life combined with intentionality for those who dared.

Notwithstanding, the Puritans saw a desire to climb the social strata as a “heart” problem: pride, discontent, thinking that your totally-depraved-self deserves more than your sovereignly appointed lot in life—which is a magnificent gift compared to what you deserve: hell. Today’s New Calvinist Puritan wannabes would say that you have “idols of the heart.”

But with this considered, the Puritans believed that the idol of upward social mobility was a specific violation of the 5th commandment. Yes, wanting to improve the lot you were born into was dishonoring one’s parents:

The essence of the Puritan idea of status is found in the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith, that comprehensive body of theology hammered out by the Puritan scholars of Cromwell’s England in the mid-1640′s. The question of status was basic to the Puritans’ interpretation of the Fifth Commandment, “honor thy father and thy mother.”

By father and mother, in the fifth commandment, are meant not only natural parents, but all superiors in age and gifts; and especially such as, by God’s ordinance, are over us in place of authority, whether in family, church, or commonwealth…. The general scope of the fifth commandment is, the performance of those duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals (Gary North: The Freeman; June 1974 • Volume: 24 • Issue: 6).

The logical conclusion is borne out by what the Americanized Puritans (Pilgrims) instituted as civil law in their own New England old England way. Undoubtedly, due to European influence that connected dress to status,  the Pilgrims included what is known as Sumptuary Laws (laws regarding what one may or may not wear) in their theocratic laws:

Colonial Laws of Massachusetts, 1651

Sumptuary Laws (Laws Regarding What One May or May Not Wear)

ALTHOUGH SEVERAL DECLARATIONS and orders have been made by this Court against excess in apparell, both of men and women, which have not taken that effect as were to be desired, but on the contrary, we cannot but to our grief take notice that intolerable excess and bravery have crept in upon us, and especially among people of mean condition, to the dishonor of God, the scandal of our profession, the consumption of estates, and altogether unsuitable to our poverty.  And, although we acknowledge it to be a matter of much difficulty, in regard of the blindness of men’s minds and the stubbornness of their wills, to set down exact rules to confine all sorts of persons, yet we cannot but account it our duty to commend unto all sorts of persons the sober and moderate use of those blessings which, beyond expectation, the Lord has been pleased to afford unto us in this wilderness.  And also to declare our utter detestation and dislike that men and women of mean condition should take upon them the garb gentlemen by wearing gold or silver lace, or buttons, or points at their knees, or to walk in great boots; or women of the same ran to wear silk or tiffany hoods, or scarves which, though allowable to persons of greater estates or more liberal education, we cannot but judge it intolerable. . . .

It is therefore ordered by this Court, and authority thereof, that no person within the jurisdiction, nor any of their relations depending upon them, whose visible estates, real and personal, shall not exceed the true and indifferent value of £200, shall wear any gold or silver lace, or gold and silver buttons, or any bone lace above 2s. per yard, or silk hoods, or scarves, upon the penalty of 10s.  for every such offense and every such delinquent to be presented to the grand jury. And forasmuch as distinct and particular rules in this case suitable to the estate or quality of each perrson cannot easily be given: It is furtber ordered by the authority aforesaid, that the selectmen of every town, or the major part of them, are hereby enabled and required, from time to time to have regard and take notice of the apparel of the inhabitants of their several towns respectively; and whosoever they shall judge to exceed their ranks and abilities in the costliness or fashion of their apparel in any respect, especially in the wearing of ribbons or great boots (leather being so scarce a commodity in this country) lace, points, etc., silk hoods, or scarves, the select men aforesaid shall have power to assess such persons, so offending in any of the particulars above mentioned, in the country rates, at £200 estates, according to that proportion that such men use to pay to whom such apparel is suitable and allowed; provided this law shall not extend to the restraint of any magistrate or public officer of this jurisdiction, their wives and children, who are left to their discretion in wearing of apparel, or any settled militia officer or soldier in the time of military service, or any other whose education and employment have been above the ordinary degree, or whose estate have been considerable, though now decayed.


By 1674, Cotton Mather’s father, Increase Mather, was convinced that the continual violation of the Fifth Commandment — the status commandment — was the chief sin of his generation. (That someone named Increase could take this position only serves to emphasize the irony.) Inferiors were rising up against superiors in the commonwealth — in families, schools, churches. It was not an uprising that he feared, but this incessant rising up. “If there be any prevailing iniquity in New England, this is it…. And mark what I say, if ever New England be destroyed, this very sin of disobedience to the fifth commandment will be the ruin of the land.” Samuel Willard agreed with Mather.

The problem, as the Puritan divines saw it, was that men were not satisfied with their lot in life. Daniel Dension’s last sermon, appended by another famous preacher of his day, William Hubbard, to Hubbard’s funeral sermon for Denison, cities ambition as the curse of the land, along with envy:”… Ambition is restless, must raise commotions, that thereby it might have an opportunity of advancement, and employ envy to depress others, that they fancy may stand in their way….” Such ambitious men are unwilling “to abide in the calling, wherein they are set; they cannot stay for the blessing, nor believe when God hath need of their service, he will find them an employment, whatever stands in the way of their design, must give place…”(Ibid).

Of course, New Calvinists would reject this outwardly, but what they can’t deny is that they are merely rejecting a nuance of the central idea that they embrace with all passion.

Caste is king.


15 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on October 4, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch.


  2. Hester said, on October 4, 2012 at 7:36 PM

    You may also want to look into the trial of Anne Hutchinson, if you haven’t already. Short version: they charged her with violating the fifth commandment after she started teaching doctrine contrary to the minister’s (because she was undermining an authority figure), and they banished her to Rhode Island. No idea whether her theology was anywhere close to correct, but that’s what happened.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 4, 2012 at 7:47 PM


      Very Interesting. Would you recommend a specific source?


  3. said, on October 4, 2012 at 8:10 PM

    Paul, What are you suggesting? If you take away their confessions and the content of the historical councils you basically take away their whole reason for existence and debate content. :o)

    American Jezebel is one good source

    Yep she was bannished for holding bible studies in her home even though her husband approved and was attended. And she was not necessarily teaching them either. The problem is that they were unauthorized. When she was bannished, Roger Williams welcomed her to Providence even though he disagreed with her and said so publicly.

    But since the Puritans believed in a determinist God, they thought she got her punishment when her family were killed by Indians after they moved on to a new settlement. Sort of like John Piper’s tornado’s and bridge collapse’.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 4, 2012 at 8:30 PM


      Does that book get into what she taught specifically? I know she believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which wouldn’t have gone over big with the puritans.


  4. said, on October 5, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    No that book does not go into detail on that at all. It touches on it but is a more historical narrative. She did believe strongly in the guiding Holy Spirit but it seems she used more “Quaker” type of wording such as our “inner light”, etc. One of the reasons for that could be that teaching on the function Holy Spirit in a believers life was practically NIL by the Reformers. The Quakers were upsetting that apple cart and that was a threat to the Puritan leaders who acted as the Holy Spirit for people

    At that time, the Quakers were very much being persecuted by the Puritans and they were having a lot of influence in the colonies even though there were not high in number.

    The problem is that most sources for what was being taught in her home are from opposing Puritan sources who wrote about it so we have to know what they believed to discern whether or not what was being taught in her home was heresy. From my POV, it was not heresy. From a Puritan reformed position, it would be. But the whole point is why were bible discussions in homes outlawed the Puritans? That is the point that needs to be driven home.

    Whether Anne Hutchinson was a heretic or not is hardly the point. Roger Wiilliams who was a bannished Puritan for questioning the leaders welcomed her to Providence as he welcomed unbelievers and even Quakers. He once canoed 20 miles at age 70 to DEBATE the Quakers. The Puritans simply bannished them, scourged them, took their land or killed them.


  5. Hester said, on October 5, 2012 at 5:26 PM

    She also apparently believed (at least by the end of her life) that she could identify for certain who was and was not saved. So kudos to Anne for standing up for religious freedom, but I wouldn’t get too gung-ho about her theology just yet.

    As for “evidences” the Puritans used afterwards to “prove” she was a heretic, yes, she and her family were killed by Indians in New Netherland. She also had a rather bizarre miscarriage (a “monstrous birth” in the language of the time) that they viewed as further proof that she was out of God’s favor. The New England Journal of Medicine wrote an article about it in 1959 (sadly not available online) diagnosing it as a “hydatidiform mole.” You can read about it at the link below.


    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 5, 2012 at 6:16 PM

      I have been researching it. The information I have right now is that she was a, in a manner of speaking, 10 point Calvinist. This needs to be verified, but it makes sense because she was a follower of John Cotton who was of the radical New Calvinist-like strip of our day. But, none of that is the point. The point is that they did use the 5th commandment to excommunicate her based on their Puritan/European caste system. During the trial, she mocked them for that absurd translation and application. Though there were more moderate Puritans involved that saw a role for the law in sanctification (and John Cotton was subtle/nuanced enough not to be detected), it was probably just an excuse to excommunicate her for breaking the cast system of not leaving all of the teachings to the elders. In other words, the cover was “The Great Antinomian Controversy” (which would have had merit), but that didn’t end up being the reason that she was excommunicated.


  6. […] Reformed Caste System: The Puritans Saw Violation of Caste as Equal to Violation of the 5th Commandm…. […]


  7. doremifasogirl said, on October 31, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    Did she not also claim direct revelation and the gift if prophecy? Just finishing up a unit on early American colonies with the kiddos, and ran across a brief mention of her…



    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 31, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      You mean Hutchinson? Perhaps, but all of that is residual. The present-day authentic Calvinist movement is chock full of cessationist / nonessationist etc., etc., etc., fill in more blanks. The core issue that is the crux is infused grace versus ALL righteousness remaining outside of the believer predicated on Platonist presuppositions.


      • doremifasogirl said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        Would you say that ALL of widely known Christian leaders are Neo Calvinist? Thinking of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference at which he drew very direct lines between charismatics and reformed. Are the non-cessationists (charismatics) such as TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Cindy Jacobs, Mike Bivkle, and the like ALSO (unwittingly ) Neo Calvinist? Or, are they another flavor of wrong entirely? I am working my way through your presentation (with dual drawings of man) from June…it is difficult to grasp the idea that the intellectually vacant people in that non-cessationist list might also be another form of Platonist, would you also describe Groeschel, Furtick, Nobel as NC (although I think they would be bothered by such a label)? They certainly fit the hierarchy/control model to a T! Aaaaaaugggggghhhhhh!!


      • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 31, 2013 at 12:31 PM

        Well, let me answer your question this way: MacArthur and Joseph Prince believe the same gospel. They have the same soteriology. The Bible wasn’t smart enough for Augustine. But he found Plato. He then used the Bible to sell Platonism. The two man illustration is a representation of the Centrality of the Gospel Completely Outside of Us. COGOUS. COGOUS is a Platonist concept. All matter is evil, only that beyond the 5 senses is good. By the way, Plato’s theory of forms posits the idea that the spiritual is the only unchangeable, OBJECTIVE truth. As the true, good, and beautiful, are applied to this imperfect world through ideas, they are subjective. Subjectivity is the only attainable standard of perfection for an imperfect world. Well, guess what another name is for COGOUS among the Reformed? “The subjective power of an objective gospel.” SPOG. Do you want to understand Reformed theology? Understand Plato.


  8. Raymond said, on October 1, 2014 at 2:12 AM

    I know this thread is a year old, but I only just came across it today. I don’t wish to resurrect the current thread, but I am finding it difficult to work out what you believe. I know much of what you don’t believe, but not much of what you do believe. This is not meant to be a criticism, but are you able to point me either to resources of your own or to some line of thought that you subscribe to so that I understand where you are coming from? I am not trying to be critical, I just want to understand this.



    • paulspassingthoughts said, on October 1, 2014 at 3:36 AM

      “I know much of what you don’t believe, but not much of what you do believe. This is not meant to be a criticism, but are you able to point me either to resources of your own or to some line of thought that you subscribe to so that I understand where you are coming from?”

      Really? Ray, I wrote a commentary on the first 8 chapters of Romans. Plastered on this blog’s front page is a link to a our catalog of teaching resources. Also, if you go to our fellowship website,, there is a page for our doctrinal statement. When looking for something, you might try looking. Hope that helps.


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