Paul's Passing Thoughts

Susan Dohse: Colonial Puritanism; TANC 2014 Sessions 1-3

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 10, 2015

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Do any of you remember the popular show Myth Busters? Well, Myth Busters was a popular show at our house, and the goal of that team of men was to disprove popular myths by using a scientific, investigative approach. And often, they would take legend, superstition, or even a stunt that had been re-done on television to see if it could really happen without the effects of Hollywood. And they would break it up into a scientific investigative approach and then determine if the myth was definitely a myth, could probably happen or that it would occur all the time.

Now I would like to provoke you to take on the role of a myth buster and rather than accept what’s in our textbooks or what you read on your online blog spots and what you hear from the pulpit, rather than accept that as factual, biblical or true. And this is why we call TANC a discernment ministry. It’s a ministry that encourages believers to become Bereans, searching the Scripture daily to verify what is taught from the authority of God’s word.

Well, the topic that I have chosen to present to you is based on a historical research approach, and I have selected three myths that I would like to try to bust. And I assure you that I could have and should have delved deeper into my topic, but I allowed time restraints to hinder me–cooking, cleaning, playing with the grandbaby. But I did read eight books and twelve inches of material that I printed from online resources. But what I want to do really is just to plant a seed. I want to plant a seed and hopefully provoke you to germinate that seed. You take my point of view, you look at my references, and then you go and research for yourself and see if you come up with the same or similar conclusions that I have.

Well, there’s a plethora of myth surrounding the early history of America, some from secular humanist research, many from the Christian historians, but you have to be careful. You have to be careful when you elevate historical figures to the rank of hero and you begin hero-worshiping historical figures without knowledge. Or you hold a group of people in such high regard that we are encouraged or we are told to encourage our children to emulate them. So therefore, it was important for me to frame any research that I did with dependable historical records, direct quotes from personal writings, sermons and speeches. Now the word “dependable” is – I glean that from a colonial historian who wrote the book The Times of Their Lives: The Life, Love, and Death in Plymouth Colony by James Deetz – Now he said that if three or more historical documentations from firsthand accounts–court and church records, personal diaries, pamphlets and books–if three or more of those documentations agree fully or mostly, then the assumption can be made that that source is probably reliable, more reliable than not reliable. So I try to do the same as Mr. Deetz in preparation for this talk. I tried to look at historical documents, church and court records, personal diaries, pamphlets and books.

There is a resurgence of interest and emphasis on the Puritans today–their beliefs and their practices. In our Christian schools, heavy in the homeschool movement, and in our churches, there is a push to pattern how we study the Bible, their theology and how to contend for the truth from the Puritans in order to make significant changes that will reap eternal results. I quote from a professor at Southern Baptist Seminary, “No greater tribute to them could be made than to follow their example in this regard.” And “in this regard” is referring to how to study the Bible, their theology and how to contend for the truth. Well, that emphasis is causing me to have some grave concern, because there is a lack of foundation based on fact and true historical perspective. Myths are being presented as facts, and the same criticism that’s heaped upon those secular humanists who want to shape America’s history by eliminating and covering its Christian roots need to apply to those who try to shape America’s history by eliminating and covering its Calvinist roots.

Here are the three myths that I would like to bust. And if I don’t bust them, at least poke a hole in the balloon.  Myth number one: “The Puritans came to New England because of religious persecution and a desire for religious freedom.” Myth number two: “God could make any people his chosen.” And myth number three: “The Puritans have a biblical worldview.” These are three key foundational truths to what the Puritans believed. They believe they – why they came to New England, that God could make them his chosen, and what their worldview was.

Well, myth number one, the Puritans came to the New World because of religious persecution and a desire for religious freedom. The Puritans immigrated to establish God’s commonwealth on earth, a community of visible saints following the Bible and to found churches on a congregational model. The king gave permission for the migration in order for England to acquire new materials, to check the power of Spain, to find a new route to the Orient, and to convert the Indians. It’s very important to remember what was in their charter, the Massachusetts charter that was given to those colonial-minded people. Acquire new materials, particularly gold and silver, to check the power of Spain, to find a new route to the Orient, and to convert the Indians.

Now English history reports that the Puritans back in England wanted to purify the Church, the Church of England. And that’s how they got that nickname “Puritans.” The pilgrims, who were called separatists, chose to break away from the Church of England and many even left England for Holland. The pilgrims of Plymouth are not the same as the Puritans of Massachusetts. Both were Calvinists, but they were not the same. The pilgrims of Plymouth were Puritans, seeking to reform their church, and the Puritans of Massachusetts were innocent pilgrims who moved to this land because of religious conviction, not persecution. The name Puritan, it was initially an insulting moniker, very much like when the believers in the New Testament were first called Christians. It was really not a praiseworthy title. It was to make fun of them. Well, the same was the title Puritans. That title was to poke fun at them.

The Puritans believed the reforms being made in the Church of England did not go far enough. The liturgy was still too Catholic, bishops lived like princes, ecclesiastical courts were corrupt, and the king was the head over both church and state. When the Puritans set out for America, they did not break with the Church of England. They sought to reform it and that reformation would happen in America. They couldn’t do it in England. They just would come over to New England and reform the Church of England there. They would be a city upon a hill. “The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so calls him  to withdraw his presence from us, we shall be made a story in a byword through the world,” John Winthrop sermon on board Arabella as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. They saw the simpler form of worship, a return to the virtues of primitive Christianity. These included the following: The Bible, not the Church hierarchy, was the ultimate authority. Membership by choice, and therefore, limited by some degree because of religious motivation. And an active clergy who carried out teaching, as well as liturgical functions. That all sounds very acceptable, doesn’t it? We certainly want the Bible, not Church hierarchy, to be our authority. We want our membership in the church to be voluntary and by choice. And we want our pastors to carry out teaching, as well as some other functions like performing marriages and baptism and things like that.

Well, the 1620s were a time of political and religious turmoil in England. And during this time, official pressure was applied on religious dissenters, notably the separatists, affectionately called “The Pilgrims,” and pressure was applied on the Puritans. The protracted struggle for supremacy between the monarchy and parliament received new heights in 1629 when Charles I disbanded parliament and ruled alone for eleven years under the auspices of the Divine Right of Kings. Now official pressure was applied on these religious dissenters, and some of the Puritan ministers were imprisoned for their non-conformist views. We hear of John Bunyan writing in his book while in prison, and others lost lucrative official positions. There were Puritans in Parliament, and because of their Puritan theology, they were dismissed from their official positions and a little financial pinch was made in their pocket book. Now the separatists, though, who wanted to break away from the Church of England, they moved to the Netherlands in search for freedom of worship.

So I taught for fifteen years in a Christian school, and I taught everything from fifth grade to high school social studies and I never heard any myth of this information. Never read it, never studied it from secular texts or Christian textbooks. I thought the Pilgrims and the Puritans were the same group of people. I didn’t know that they were Calvinists. It was kind of an eye-opener for me, and the research that I did, I could kind of do the “Duh!” smack yourself on the head thing. But this is what I said previously. Secular humanists fabricated history and so did the Christian historians fabricate parts of history.

In 1628, a group of distinguished Puritan businessmen formed a venture called “The Governor in company of Massachusetts Day,” which was initially conceived as a profit-making endeavor in the New World. A land grant was received from the Council of New England, providing rights to the area between the Charles and Merrimack Rivers and westward to the Pacific Ocean. Did you know that the Massachusetts Bay colony were given the land rights all the way to the Pacific Ocean? From sea to shining sea… The preliminary voyages were made in 1628 and 1629, and it resulted in the establishment of a small colony on Cape Anne and in another smaller colony called Salem, which you all know, that name does sound familiar, doesn’t it?

Here’s a quote from the charter. “All that part of America, lying and beneath in breadth from 40 degrees north latitude to 48 degrees of the said north latitude, inclusive and in-link of and within all breadth aforesaid, throughout the Main Lands from sea to shining sea.” In other words, Oregon, along with Massachusetts. The charter also expressed an optimistic view of the prospects of finding gold and silver. Yielding and paying unto us our heirs and successors the one-fifth part of the ore, gold and silver, which shall, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, happen to be found, gotten and had and obtained in any of those said lands.” While still in England, the company members signed an agreement called the Cambridge Agreement in which they said, “We will undertake the rigors of the Atlantic voyage if full authority over the charter and colony will be vested in the members themselves only.” So the stockholders who did not want to migrate to the New World sold their shares to immigrants. The members who held the charter held the authority. The careful wealthy Puritan businessmen who sought additional protection for their scheme by requesting and receiving a charter from the king, the king who had been misinformed about their religious views. So they sought a protection for this scheme, if we can get a charter, if we can go the New World and we can establish a colony and make whatever government we want.

So from this action, the new Massachusetts Bay venture was transformed from a trading company into an organization dominated by staunch Calvinists, Puritans, and they had a religious agenda. Political power in the new colony was limited to fellow believers and effectively created a theocracy, a government run by religious officials who would enforce religious principles. Later, they refer to it as a holy commonwealth. So beginning in 1630, Governor John Winthrop, with the company charter tightly in hand, guided the arrival of a thousand colonists to the new world. The initial parties stopped first at Salem but soon established a permanent settlement in the Shawmut Peninsula in Massachusetts Bay, later was called Boston.

Now initially, circumstances were extremely difficult, and I think we know and remember a lot of the peril that was there that they went through, how many died in that horrible first winter, starvation, cold, disease. But overtime, gradual improvements in living conditions led to an influx of new colonists, mainly English Puritans, that totaled more than 20,000 over the next decade. The Puritans arrived in this land of promise. They would be eager to live godly lives. Within a decade of their arrival, they had accomplished a great deal. They controlled more land, they had defeated the nearby native neighbors, troublesome believers had been banished, and radical thinkers have been tamed. But there was a price for this success. The godly saw their neighbor as savages, and evangelism virtually stopped. And the radical thinkers were called heretics and excommunicated not only from the church but from the colony itself. In the new land, the Puritan government was becoming more and more established, while a few believers changed its laws and actions. It would appear that becoming so rigid and domineering was the only way for the Puritans to survive and prosper. The charter granted to John Winthrop and company, through careful planning and engineering, was seen as the King’s permission to establish a colony, organize it in any fashion desired by the shareholders listed on the charter, as long as the spirit of the charter was followed. In the background was the future threat of persecution by the king and the archbishop. In the forefront was an agenda to create a theocracy, a holy commonwealth according to the interpretation of Old Testament scripture.

Now I realized I condensed English history and early American history in three typed pages. But that was background information I didn’t know even in college and in teaching high school history, that these Puritan shareholders manipulated the king in order to acquire permission to begin a colony, not because they wanted religious freedom or freedom from being persecuted but because they wanted to create a theocracy based upon their belief in the Old Testament covenant.

Myth number two: “God could make any people his chosen.” And that is a quote from Cotton Mather, and that’s one of the famous Puritan ministers. So how is this a myth? Aren’t believers chosen before the foundation of the world? Well, this the theological myth Puritan ministers preached as a motivational speech to encourage the immigrants to never give up, never give in, keep going on. And this idea was based on their hermeneutic, their method of interpreting Scripture. Well, the Puritans’ hermeneutic was a redemptive historical one. Like Augustine, they used allegory and symbolism to sanction their existence, their decisions and their doctrine. And that’s key–allegory and symbolism to sanction their doctrine, their decisions and their existence. The ministers and leaders of Puritan Calvinism traveled the Atlantic Ocean to establish colonies under charters given to them by the English parliament. They taught the Bible as one story, a meta narrative about the redemptive plan of God in which every part is organically related and finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Well, this hermeneutic does not look at the context, the grammar or the history of Scripture. The Puritans took the intended meaning of God’ s word and they used allegory, symbolism and typology to justify and gain approval of their cause. If God’s word was a narrative, just put yourself in the narrative. We’ve heard this from Neo-Calvinist preachers all the time. It’s nothing new. This is the same old Calvinism that came over on the Arabella. It’s not new. This is what the Puritans believed and taught. And I quote from Cotton Mather, “Become the actor in a divine drama. Play a determined role. Ultimately, all deeds are acts of God. A man is but an actor playing the part which has been assigned to him. He cannot miraculously escape the structure of the drama to which he belongs and act on his own freewill.” Cotton Mather described the leaders of New England as actors in a divine drama. God had elected them from all eternity to play just this role and none but the supernatural explanation could explain it. These Puritans experienced exuberance and wholehearted devotion in the beginning. You read accounts of what they went through to establish that colony. It is grievous. The hard work, the labor, the sacrifice, children dying, starvation, problems with their neighbors, the Native Americans, but they just got into the play and played their part well. And when tragedy reared its ugly head, they showed heroic intensity and pride. For you see, the Puritans believe they were God’s chosen people, the Israelites who had been led from Egypt to the Promise Land to build the new Jerusalem, Zion, a city upon a hill. They were the elect of God, selected to build the theocracy, a holy commonwealth.

One of the highly regarded preachers in England was John Cotton, and he came to South Compton when the Arabella was getting ready to cast sail across the Atlantic Ocean. And he gave them a rah-rah speech and to address the fears, that it’s going to be all right; it’s going to be okay. He charged them with this mission. If they were true to his path, God would aid and protect them. America was a Land of Promise, and Cotton found the proof. The Bible recounts the story of the Jews fleeing slavery in Egypt, wandering in the wilderness, and then finding their destined home in Israel. Cotton told them that under the tyranny of King Charles and Archbishop Laud, they were re-living the Jews’ oppression and bondage, which meant that in leaving the mother country, England, Egypt, they were surely following God’s plan. They were not cowards in leaving England; they were a chosen people on a divine mission.

Well, John Winthrop raised an interesting question. What of the people already living in America? He really struggled with taking away land that rightfully belonged to original inhabitants. Cotton’s answer and argument to that, “The Jews had been right in driving out the Canaanites, so the Puritans were free to do the same with the Indians. The godly deserve the land as long as they lived up to the promises of God.” Winthrop’s image of this loving community required each person in a colony as a whole to strive endlessly toward perfection. A Puritan’s most basic belief is that no human could ever escape his or her sinful nature. They had to balance these two concepts: labor ceaselessly to live by God’s laws with the constant threat of his justified anger if they failed. Each second of every day as weak human beings, they were sure to fail and fail and fail again. They were told this. Presented with this painful and difficult challenge, it motivated these colonists to overcome every obstacle they faced. For the New England clergy, the meaning of the continent was an issue of prophetic history. America’s name, they declared, America’s destiny, they declared, is seen to be fairly recorded in Scriptures. And they found that proof text in Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel and, of course, the Book of Revelation. They believed in Scripture and they believed in history. And history was the fulfillment of Scripture. For decades, English Protestants in general and Puritans in particular had no doubt that God had chosen England as his own land and themselves as God’s new chosen people. Okay? I want to repeat that. English Protestants, now we’re back to the mother country, English Protestants in general and Puritans in particular believe that God had chosen England and they were God’s chosen people. John Foxe in his Book of Martyrs had portrayed England as replacing ancient Israel as God’s chose and had said that the English had a special covenant with God. The bishop of London said, “God is English.” God had proven his love for England by delivering her. Thomas Hooker, this name is familiar because he came over the Atlantic Ocean, actually was asked to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony after a while and established the colony of Connecticut. Thomas Hooker, a leading Puritan minister, explained, and I quote, “Above all other deliverances, in ’88 the Spanish armada was a great deliverance because God worked through covenants. God expected England to abjure sin.” So Hooker preached from Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. If we, English, keep the law, he will bless us abundantly in all things. When the plague struck, the Puritans believed it was an explicit warning from God. Yet England did not come back to God. England escaped war, but the English hearts did not bow and did not break. The Crown and Parliament grew more corrupt, and attacks were now being made on the Puritan ministers. So Hooker warned them, when the sin of a nation comes to a full rightness and perfection, then the truth is the Lord will save and deliver them no more.

Now here’s a side bar. We hear similar sermons like this, sometimes around the Fourth of July, sometimes around the time of the National Day of Prayer. God’s going to pull his favor from the nation of America as a judgment for the nation’s sinfulness. And we hear clarion calls for repentance, national repentance here in America. And it’s an…

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Okay, George Santayana is credited with saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” How many of you have heard that? It’s very popular catchy phrase has taken on several variations. Now many moons ago when I taught high school history and social studies, I would sometimes introduce the classes by saying my teacher variation of that quote. First day of U.S. History, “Welcome to U.S. History. It is important for you to do well in this class for remember, those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” One particular year, this one poor guy in the back of the room put his head down on his desk and went, “I’m doomed! I’m doomed!” And his friend is faking compassion patted him on the back, “It’s okay, man. She always gives extra credit.” “But you don’t get it. I hate History and Mrs. [UNINTELLIGIBLE 0:01:12] is the only history teacher in the school. I’m double doomed!” Not only having to repeat history but having to have me for two years, but he did pass the class, and I do believe he still dislikes history.

But that phrase though, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” is impressive, is common and is difficult to disagree with. If it is true and if history is so ugly and objectionable, then this proverbial quote ought to be a guide to public and private policy. For example, couples who do not learn from their fights, break up. People who don’t learn from their mistakes, they don’t mature. Revolutions that give an individual absolute power inevitably end up as brutal dictatorships. After repeated wars between Germany and France, France made harsh demands on Germany and their terms of surrender after World War I, then the Second World War happened. After Stalin’s brutal regime of secret police and leader worship, Cuban revolutionary has allowed their charismatic revolutionary leader to seize absolute power, and Castro still hold the seat of dictatorial power in Cuba today. History shows that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

What about this idea? And what about those who do learn from history? Are they still doomed to repeat it? If the converse is true, then the saying has no power and adds nothing at all to the discussion. What adds power to that quote is the word “learn” because with learning, with knowledge, there’s a hope of change. But will it, can it happen? Will knowledge lead to change? Will learning what history taught us provoke us to make the changes necessary to keep it from being repeated? Can it be that all the good and bad things about people and the way we organize ourselves simply creates patterns as we make history? Could it be that we are given to a certain irrationality which leads us down paths, some disastrous, again and again?

Now consider this different approach. When you look back through history and you see man taking the exact same steps, coming to the exact same conclusions generation after generation, millennia after millennia, what were their root assumptions? “It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas. It doesn’t matter how insane the rationale. They will act until the logic is fulfilled. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, find the assumptions and you will find the cause.” That’s the gospel according to John Immel, chapter 3 verses 1 through 3. I did learn something from our first conference.

Knowing the cause should provoke us to take some kind of action, hopefully, preventative action, proactive action, and proactive changes. WXY and Z now I know my ABCs. Tell me what you think of me… Well, I think you know your ABCs. Now tell me what are you going to do with that knowledge? Will you take action and make meaning of the letters, connect them with sounds and letter combinations and create words and words that build sentences and ideas? Will you take your ABCs to that ultimate conclusion and learn to read and write? Will we learn the lessons of the history past and use that knowledge to take action to stay off those irrational and destructive past? Maybe yes maybe no. I do know some children who know their ABCs. Blaine [SOUNDS LIKE 0:06:05] knows his ABCs, but he has not yet learned to read. There are those who know history and are dooming themselves and us by repeating it or causing it to repeat.

So, are we like the Calvinists who believe and hold on so tenaciously to the doctrine that we are predestined to live in this time and space with no choice, no say in the direction we are to take and no say in how we stand, no chance for change. Are we to take up that clarion call, become like the Puritans of old and all things will be set to right? Now why not consider the assumptions and logic and end results of the Puritans? Remember what George said, “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it” because their patterns of irrationality, their faulty root assumptions are leading the institutional church down the same disastrous paths again.

What I’ve been reading from Christian homeschool blogs and from leaders in the homeschool movement, this is what I’ve been reading. Let’s return to the Puritan way and put our children on the road to better education. I’ve read that more than once. A Southern Baptist seminary professor wrote, “We can learn from the old, namely the Puritans, for the doing of theology, for the life and health of the church today,” Stephen J. Wellum, Editorial: “Learning from the Puritans,” Theology Professor at Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. And without some understanding of Puritanism, there’s no solid understanding of dominionism, the patriarchy movement and the downward spiral of our Christian institutions. And without understanding Puritanism, you really have a partial knowledge of New Calvinism. And without understanding Puritanism, there is no solid understanding of America either.

Remember what you learned in U.S. history? The New England colonies was started under of austere circumstances. Other colonies with more financial support from their mother country, more material resources suffered collapse. The Puritans faced severe climate, a howling wilderness, yet they made themselves physically secure and began immediately to lay the foundations of government, education, thought and literature that outdid the achievements of all the other colonies. The Puritans made New England the intellectual leader of the nation at that time. Their belief in God’s sovereignty and of divine predestination provided a measure of comfort and stimulus to these early settlers. Did this consciousness that they were not ultimately responsible but that they were being led by God, have anything to do with their success? It is a shining example of human discipline and energy that in the face of circumstances would have discouraged and ruined most other adventurers. Could it be that holding fast to a doctrine that man is not free, he is a not free agent provided, them with a more powerful stimulus to exert extreme effort and a more moral force than any doctrine of human freedom?

Perhaps this is one of the ironies of history. If you compare Americans of the 18th and 19th century to the Puritans, one would have to say that the Puritans were theology-minded. Now I would say they were Calvin-minded. The doctrines of the fall of man, of sin, of salvation, predestination, election, conversion were their meat and drink. But what distinguished them is they were less interested in theology than in the application of Calvin’s theology to everyday life and especially to society. They became consumed with making the society in America embody the truth that they thought they already knew and less concerned with perfecting how they form truth. So Puritan New England was a grand and noble experiment in applied Calvinism.

A sidebar, the Puritans did not learn from history past. John Calvin tried this noble experiment in Geneva, enforced a theocracy, a holy commonwealth. If you read any part of Calvin’s Geneva experience, they did take Calvin’s faulty assumption. They applied a faulty logic and they tried to enforce their theology of theocracy, a holy commonwealth, and the end result was the same.

New England offered a rare opportunity for the Puritans in the New World. The Calvinistic theology was their point of departure when they left England, and they did not waver from it. Life in this New World was life in the wilderness, away from the great university libraries and the higher institutions of learning of their motherland. Daily threatened by hardships and the perils of a savage America, elaborating a theology and disputing its finer points was not practical. It was not the writing of books that was impossible for New England. New England flowed with an abundance of sermons, textual commentaries, collections of providences, statutes and works of history which were of themselves quite remarkable. Cotton Mather wrote 400 books.

With the exception of Roger Williams, who is not in the stream of New England orthodoxy anyway, Massachusetts Bay did not produce, I’m going to repeat, did not produce a major figure in theology until Jonathan Edwards. And when he arrived on the scene, by then the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritanism was waning. Now during the great days of the New England Puritanism, there was not a single important dispute which was primarily theological. There were arguments over who should rule New England, whether John Winthrop or Thomas Dudley or Harry Vane should be governor, whether the power representation of different classes in the community should be changed, whether the Child Petition Act should be accepted, penalties for crimes by fixed statutes, whether outlying towns should have more representation in the general court. If they were theology-minded, what they argued about was institutions.

Let me do a comparison. At this time in history, the Puritans in England, the mother country, were discussing the fine points of their theory. What was the true nature of liberty? When should a true Puritan resist a corrupt civil government? When should diversity be tolerated? Now the debates of these topics expand the social classes in England for not only the John Miltons but the officers in Cromwell’s Puritan army reveal how different the intellectual atmosphere in England was from that of New England. Soldiers, men of action stopped to debate the theory of revolution and the philosophy of sovereignty. But let’s remember this crucial difference. Puritanism in England was more complex than Puritanism in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans in good old England had representatives from a wide range of doctrines–Presbyterians, Independents, Separatists, Levellers, Millenarians. So, naturally, Puritanism in England was a matter of dispute. But consider this. In England, any community they built would have to find some space for the dozens of sects, from Quakers to Papists, because England was their home, too. Now Massachusetts Bay Colony did not possess this vigor. They possessed orthodoxy. It was organized and ran as a community of self-selected conformists.

In 1637, the general court of Massachusetts passed an order forbidding anyone from settling within the colony without first having his orthodoxy approved by the magistrates. These immigrants were required to be free from contamination. John Winthrop was bold and clear in defending this ruling. This community was formed by free consent of its members. Why should they not exclude dangerous men or men with dangerous thoughts? Now take for example Reverend Wheelwright. His brother-in-law’s wife was Anne Hutchinson. We all read about Anne Hutchinson in our history books. He and Anne accused the majority of the colony’s ministers and their magistrates of preaching a covenant of works. So, both he and Anne were banished from the colony. The Governor John Winthrop said, “If we conceive and find by sad experience that Wheelwright’s opinions are such and by his own profession cannot stand with external peace, may we not provide for our peace by keeping of such as would strengthen him and infect others with such dangerous tenets?” This was a peculiar opportunity for the Puritans of New England. Why not see what true orthodoxy could accomplish? In one unspoiled corner of the world, declare a truce on doubts and on theological debate. Here at last, man could devote their full energy to applying Christianity, not to clarifying doctrine, not to build Zion.” Puritan Nathaniel Ward wrote, “I dare take upon me to be the herald of New England so fair as to proclaim to the world in the name of our colony that all Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, and other enthusiasts shall have free liberty to keep away from us and such as will come be gone as fast as they can, the sooner the better,” taken from his pamphlet, Simple Cobbler, 1647.

A dissension in England would have created a new sect of Puritanism. In America, dissension simply produced another colony. In England, the Puritans had to find a way to live with dissenters. In New England, the Puritans found ways to live without them. What truly distinguished Massachusetts Bay was its refusal to develop a practice of toleration. Unlike England of the 17th century, the leaders of Massachusetts enjoyed their pure and simple orthodoxy. And that orthodoxy was conformity with established and accepted Calvinistic standards. Now let’s consider another side of the coin. Intolerance was a source of strength for the New England Puritans. This was not a philosophical enterprise they were engaging in. They were community builders. They were building the New Jerusalem. They were building Zion, a city upon a hill. All the energy their counterparts in England were using to debate and war over compulsive and restrictive powers in religion between matters essential and matters indifferent, these are still being debated today by political science students. The American Puritans put all that energy to mark off boundaries of their new towns, enforce criminal laws and to fight the Indian menace. Theology and metaphysics were not going to distract them because they had no doubt and they had no dissent. Had they spent as much energy debating with each other as their English counterparts, would they have still had the single-mindedness to overcome the perils of the wilderness and build a nation? I hold three things that held Massachusetts Bay Colony together initially made them successful–notice I said initially–no toleration, democracy was of the devil, community and unity over individual freedom.

In England the various sects of Puritanism were daring each other to extend and clarify their doctrines, but there was little of this in America. In New England, the critics, the doubters and dissenters were expelled from the community. Roger Williams, I read a wonderful book about Roger Williams. He was expelled for confronting the leaders about separation of Church and State, not doctrinal issues. He agreed in doctrine point by point by point with Calvinistic doctrine. They did not have a problem with his doctrine, but he was relentless in preaching from the pulpit and talking to the magistrates and the civil leaders in public and in private that the Church had no business in civil government, that there had to be a separation. He was expelled for confronting the leaders about this issue. Later, he established the colony of Rhode Island.

Whereas in England, the Puritans had to find ways to live together, which in turn helped to develop a theory of toleration. In New England, they transcended theological preoccupation because what was it? There were no doubts. They allowed no dissent. They just could not be distracted from these practical tasks of theology and metaphysics. In 1637, the General Court passed an order forbidding anyone from settling within the colony, and I’ve said this without having this orthodoxy approved, okay?

Number two, the goal of creating a democracy in Massachusetts had never stirred the leadership except the opposition. The idea that authority and sovereignty came from below, from the government as opposed to from above, from God was completely foreign. Winthrop believed that the magistrates even though being called freemen, we have our authority from God. And by the way, I was kind of misled in my reading when it said the freemen could vote, the freemen elected their magistrates, and then the next paragraph defined what freeman was, a member of the Puritan church. If you were not a member, you were not a freeman. Therefore, you could not vote. So, the freemen were an elite few, who made the decisions for the entire colony. “Freeman, even though being called by you freeman, we have our authority from God; therefore, they must be obeyed,” Governor John Winthrop. “So, shall your liberties be preserved in upholding the honor and power of authority among you.” And he declared, “Democracy amongst civil nations accounted the meanest and worst form of government.” He called it a breach of the Fifth Commandment and noted that history records it has always been of least continuance and fullest of troubles. Now Cotton, John Cotton wrote, “Democracy, I do not conceive that God ever did ordain as a fit government, either for a church or commonwealth. If people be governors, who shall be the governed? As for monarchy and aristocracy, both of them clearly approved and directed by Scripture.”

An example of this lack of tolerance practice is witnessed in the life of Roger Williams. He claimed the people were sovereign. I infer that the sovereign original and foundation of civil power lies in the people. Now these were hardy and rebellious ideas that ended Williams being expelled from the community in the dead of winter during the blizzard, and if it had not been for the Native Americans who rescued him, he would have perished. And he does pay them tribute for aiding him in his time, and he spent the entire winter with them, nursed back to health and taken care of.

Now consider these ideas. The Puritans were concerned with the organization of their New Jerusalem society with making their communities effective. Now three problems which worried them in New England: 1) how to select their leaders and representatives. They had to decide who were the fit rulers and how should they be selected. 2) The proper limit of power: John Cotton said it is therefore more wholesome for magistrates and officers in the church and commonwealth never to afflict more liberty and authority that will do them good and the people good. It is necessary therefore that all power that is on earth be limited. 3) And how power should be distributed between local and central [organs 0:26:21]. Now are not these three problems you hear addressed in the constitution? How to select the leaders and representatives, okay? How much power that they have and how to separate federal and state government?

Though denying democracy is a valid way to address the community’s organizational needs, they unknowingly used democratic ideas to solve these worrisome problems. To the Puritans, the American destiny was inseparable from the mission of community building. It always sounds good to say we need to build a community, you know. What’s her face said a village raises your child, you know. The community is – yeah, it takes a village. It takes a community to raise your child. So to the Puritans, this mission of community building was inseparable from the ongoing relationship among man. Individualism threatened the delicate strings that held the community together. A main component of the emerging American ideology from the Puritan through the Enlightenment was focused on keeping the community united while trying to find some place for individualism.

There was the need for community involvement in the church. They had to show unswerving devotion to the church, perform good works, have unquestioned obedience to the church leaders. Good works and charitable acts would not lead a person to salvation, but was necessary to show their natural grace to prove that they might be considered one of the elect. The concept of unity as a community was communicated, and it was sermonized aboard the Arabella on their way over crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Winthrop: “We must knit together in this work as one man, mourn together, labor, suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.” John Winthrop: “If one part of the community was ill, then the entire community would suffer. Each individual was responsible for their actions because it would affect the entire community. A person could not do simple things without harming the community.” Well, we know we have examples of this from the Bible. Achan, in the camp of Israelites, when he took spoil from Jericho in disobedience, read the results in Joshua. That action had a devastating community result in the Book of Joshua. They lost the next battle, death, judgment from God in a sense, and then of course they had to put the family on trial, and earthquake and execution and all of that. So individuals do affect the community, but it’s not the sole reason for having a community.

Family, community, and nationalism are principles that we can find in God’s word. No person has ever been commanded to isolate themselves. No person in God’s word has been commanded to pursue total individualism, deny and forsake the community. The entire Book of Genesis shows historically how mankind as individuals they formed families, they formed communities, cities, nations. Danger comes to a community when control becomes punitive, leadership turns into tyranny, and unity, unity becomes total conformity. There’s difference in the meaning of those two words. Unity is not total conformity. The Puritans felt that conformity was essential to keeping the community together. The leaders not only felt, it demanded conformity. The leaders not only felt, it demanded conformity and enforced it. Dissention and divisiveness were silenced. The community could not thrive if too many independent thinkers attempted to change the power structure of the community. Individual beliefs and liberties would have to be sacrificed in order to promote a strongly linked community. Individual beliefs and liberties would have to be sacrificed in order to promote a strongly linked community, according to the Puritans.

Eventually out of necessity, the role of the individual evolved and was seen as an asset and not a threat, not until the Enlightenment and revolutionary eras, that’s the 1700s, was individualism recognized. The emphasis focused on individuals using their unique abilities to better the community. One of the Founding Fathers, James Madison, warned of absolute individualism in his federalist paper. In essence, he wrote that there was a delicate balance between expressing individuality and hurting another member of the community. Now during the Puritan era, individualism was suppressed in order to keep that delicate community balance, and individualism was suppressed to assert the power of the church. As the colonies grew and prospered, new ideas began to arise and some individualistic thoughts and ideas were seen as important and necessary for the growth of the community. The puzzle though, the Puritans had to put together, was how to balance individualistic expression and the welfare of the community. Intolerance grew the nation. Distaste of democracy organized their communities and community building necessitated individualism…

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There were three key ideas the Puritans who first settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony believed. They believed other ideas, too, but I picked out these three key ones. They believed that every aspect of their life, both the personal and social was grounded in sacredness. Their very presence in the New World was posited on the assumption that God in His Providence had saved the discovery of the New World until after the reformation of his church. Secondly, the Puritans believed that they were called by God to settle in the New World and to establish a “due” form of government, both civil and ecclesiastical, John Winthrop Christian Charity. This government was to be grounded in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. They believed and affirmed that society existed only and through Divine Providence. They held to an intense commitment to a morality, a form of worship, and a civil society designed to conform to God’s commandments.

One of the most important values in the Puritan cultural system is covenants. They held to the concept and the belief in covenants. It was the most basic and pervasive symbol in the Puritan society, and it touched every aspect of their life. Three covenants became the foundation of private, social, and civil life in the Puritan culture: the covenant of grace, the church covenant, and the civil covenant–three distinct covenants but in practice Trinitarian, three but one. The covenant of grace is the individual church of saints by calling, the whole body of God’s elect. God only knows who were saints and who were not. The church covenant is the visible church, a visible political union of saints. It is the duty of every saint to join a church. For as Thomas Hooker put it, “Though the saints constitute the matter of Christ’ kingdom, its form is only by a mutual covenant.” Saints were such as have not only attained the knowledge of the principles of religion and are free from gross and open scandals, but also due together with a profession of their faith and repentance walk in blameless obedience to the Word so as that in charitable discretion they may be accounted saints by calling. Though perhaps some or more of them be unsound and hypocrites inwardly, as from the Cambridge Platform.

I saw a lot of works in there sprinkled with a profession of faith. Those who remained outside of the church covenant, though they attended church regularly, were spoken of as unregenerate. Cotton Mather, Thomas Hooker, and Governor Bradford of Plymouth regarded the church covenant as a covenant of grace so you can see how they’re flipping and merging and melting these covenants together. Now the civil covenant, in theory, kept churches’ state distinct but in practice, not. The Puritans held to the practice that God set up ministers to declare his will and magistrates to execute his will. Ministers had authority to counsel, advice, and admonish, and magistrates had the authority to command, judge, and punish. The civil covenant was in reality the physical enforcement and public advancement of whatever the churches desired. The church was not just part of one’s social life. It was the end and aim of all life. Therefore, all institutions were subordinated to the church. The Cambridge Platform states as it is unlawful for church officers to meddle with the sword of the magistrate, so it is unlawful for the magistrate to meddle with the work of the proper church officers. It is the duty of the magistrates to take care matters of religion and to improve his civil authority for the observing of the duties commanded in the second table. They are called gods. The end of the magistrate’s office is not only the quiet and peaceable life of the subject in matters of righteousness and honesty but also in matters of godliness, yea of all godliness. So though they stated it in the civil covenant that church affairs were separate from the civil affairs, they qualified it after they stated it by saying that the end of the magistrate’s office is not only the quiet and peaceable life of the subject but in all matters of righteousness and honesty and all matters of godliness.

The church covenant gave form to the covenant of grace, and the civil covenant gave power to the church covenant. So society in New England was organized this way with these three covenants into their Holy Commonwealth. The church members chose the magistrates, but the ministers knew who the godly were and greatly influenced who the members elected. The covenant of grace they held tenaciously. We’ve been talking about this on and off microphone, of predestination and election. They held tenaciously to those two doctrines. All the events are foreknown and foreordained by God and God would save who he chose to and damn those he chose to as well. The question foremost in the mind of a Puritan was, am I saved? Constantly reminded that they were born sinners and remained sinners unless redeemed by God, the Puritan heart was constantly in search of a sign from God that they might be one of the elect. Faith in God did not assure salvation and even the faithful could be damned. It was taught by the Puritan preachers that the gift of salvation was given at birth. You were given one of the souls that was to be saved. Believing is salvation by faith alone. The Puritan hoped and prepared for an experience of conversion. So they believed in that faith alone is what provides or gives us salvation. And so once they desired salvation, they prepared for the experience of conversion.

Well, conversion defined by the Puritan mind was the soul is touched by the Holy Spirit so that the heart is turned from sinfulness to holiness. Conversion represented human consent to the reality of divine election. It was God’s will that man consent to the reality of his sinfulness and in the experience of that recognition of his total depravity, consent to the reality of divine forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Conversion was an intense, even mystical experience through which God revealed signs that you were one of the saved. The theme of consent runs throughout Puritan society. Man consents to God’s judgment and divine activities, so man’s consent is required at all the key points in human existence.

When one joined a congregation, one had to demonstrate the truth and validity of one’s consent to divine will. And upon acceptance by the congregation, one had to consent to join and abide by its rules. To be a member of the Puritan Church, you had to convince the elders that you had experienced conversion. I guess in the modern church, you give a testimony of how you were saved. To be a member of the Puritan Church though, the word “convince” is very important. You had to convince the elders. An application was made and a conversion narrative written that provided evidence that you had received divine grace. Because human nature was depraved and self-deceived, even after conversion there was always doubt. How could you be sure your conversion was real and not self-deception? How does one distinguish the real thing from the counterfeit? For this reason, the Puritans fostered a culture of intense self-scrutiny. Self-discipline and introspection was stressed. These were spiritual strivings practiced to determine if they carried genuine marks of sainthood. Events of everyday life were to be examined constantly for signs of confirmation of one’s election. Conversion was a rejection of the worldliness of society and a strict adherence to biblical principles. That’s in a nutshell the church covenant.

While repression was evident in their actions, God could forgive anything, they were taught. But man could only forgive by seeing a change in behavior. God could forgive anything, but man could only forgive by seeing a change in behavior. Actions spoke louder than words. So actions had to be constantly controlled by the individual and by the laws of the community. In order to have faith, it was as important to cultivate good works and strive to become a more spiritual person. Works were to prepare an individual to receive grace, if he was so predestined. Many also argued that anyone who had received God’s grace would naturally be inclined to good works. The grace of God’s gift would inspire that soul to act in giving and loving ways toward others. The experience of conversion did not happen suddenly. It proceeded in fits and starts, punctuated by doubt as the divine power worked its way on that fragile human material.

Much of Puritan preaching was concerned with the experience of conversion–why not everyone will be converted, how conversion comes about whether in a blinding flash as with Paul on the road to Damascus or following well-defined stages of preparation, how can one distinguish real conversion from the counterfeit. These were sermon topics frequently, and they heard it often. Although assurance of salvation could never be obtained, the hope of being chosen by God fortified the Puritans to contend with the reckless abandon in society, faithfulness in the church and to endure the hardships in trying to create a Christian Commonwealth in the New World.

The clergy advised their church members to pray, study the Bible, and hope to receive grace. He or she is quite aware of the powerful experience of grace and conversion, but they must also accept that if an individual is not predestined to be saved, there is nothing he or she can do about it. Many may have lived virtuous lives, but if they do not experience grace and conversion, they will not be saved. To be sure that the church leaders were not fooled into admitting hypocrites, they were required to give a personal narrative of their conversion experience before the congregation and answer questions. This was to weed out those who were genuinely converted from the hypocrites. So the clergy had a list of specific elements of narratives of conversion that they expected to hear. And when the candidates’ narrative did not adhere to the model, they were denied membership.

Because many who did not experience grace became discouraged, the clergy tried to find ways to encourage good behavior, even if they knew that only the few were predestined for salvation. This is where we get a lot of the devotional step and those intense prayers that we read online, you know, that we should start emulating and praying, it was this daily self-introspection, searching the heart to get a clue or hint of actual conversion.

PAUL DOHSE:  So let me get this straight. Like in ancient times where they made up book of dreams where they got in everybody’s dreams and compared and whatnot kind of in the same way these Puritans with various sundry testimonies of salvation that were impressive, they put them in a book and that was made the standard for whether or not to let somebody in the church.

SUSAN DOHSE:  Yeah. They had like a little checklist when the person – they had to not orally give their narrative, they had to present it in written form so that when the elders went behind closed doors, they could review that narrative and check off whether or not they had met all the requirements. And what they were looking for, they had to be convinced this person was totally depraved, evil, defiled. They were looking for certain words and terms. And then they were also looking for some mystical experience described. One applicant said that he had reached conversion upon the use of tobacco. So while using tobacco, the experience of using tobacco had given him a conversion experience, that mystical experience. Maybe he was smoking pot. I don’t know.

ANDY:  What you described is very similar to the entire process that exists in churches today as far as membership goes. Citing church covenants notwithstanding, you’re still required to go and sit before the board of elders, give your testimony, convince them that your conversion experience passes the testimony. They determine whether you’re truly saved. They decide or whether or not they’re going to accept you for membership.

SUSAN DOHSE:  And the church votes on you. And some churches do – I’ve been in two churches where I did fill out an application, an application, and had to submit my testimony in written form. They reviewed it, and then I met before the deacon board and presented an oral testimony and questioned. They asked questions, and then was later called by the pastor whether or not I was accepted, and next Sunday night, we will present you to the church, be voted, and receive the right hand of fellowship.

PAUL DOHSE:  The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. But in Puritan times, even though, as Andy had said, and you just bring in and write your own experience, correct me if I’m wrong, Susan. Since being a member of a church was synonymous with being saved, you were not saved unless you were official membership in the church. In fact, the logical conclusion of this is that these Puritan elders were in fact sitting in judgment as to whether they would allow that person to be saved or not.

SUSAN DOHSE:  And that is true. Yeah.

PAUL DOHSE:  And by the way that is Calvin. That’s right out of…

SUSAN DOHSE:  Right. It’s in the Institute, right.


SUSAN DOHSE:  Thomas Letchford [SOUNDS LIKE 0:18:26], it’s a lengthy quote, but it’s significant because he was an elder and he is – I took his quote from how the elders are supposed to receive applications. “When a man or woman cometh to join unto the church so gathered, he or she cometh to the elders in private. And if they satisfy the elders in the private assembly that they be true believers that they have been wounded in their hearts for their original sins and actual transgressions and can pitch upon some promise of free grace in Scripture for the ground of their faith and that they find their hearts drawn to believe in Christ Jesus for their justification and salvation and this in the ministry of the word reading or conference and that they know completely the sum of Christian faith, and sometimes though they be not come to a full assurance of their good estate in Christ then afterwards, in convenient time in the public assembly of the church, the elder turneth his speech to the party to be admitted and requires him or sometimes asks him if he’d be willing to make known to the congregation the work of grace upon his soul and bideth him as briefly and audibly to as good hearing as he can do the same.” In other words, keep it short. They could preach for four hours, but when you stand before the assembly to testify of your conversion, you had to keep it to approximately a quarter of an hour. Therefore, the party if it would be a man speaks himself. But if it would be a woman, her confession is made before the elders in private and it’s read by the pastors. She does not read her narrative herself. She sits in front of the elders, submits her narrative, they read it, okay, who registered the same for the most part in the church but [UNINTELLIGIBLE 0:20:39] said–oh, get this–they do this upon the weekdays and nothing is done on Sunday by the woman, okay, but their entrance into the covenant. So they have a separate meeting for women on weekday where she is interviewed in private without her husband present. She presents her narrative, and they judge her on the basis of what is written.

Well, this ordeal was regarded as a sufficient barrier to all who were not saints, and it kept out of the church many who really were saints but who disliked these public professions and confessions. Those who remained outside of the church covenant, though they attended regularly, again, they were called unregenerate so that for all practical purposes for them, the elders and ministers could know who the invisible and the invisible church was. They could identify it by who were official members. You were a visible saint if you were accepted as a member of the church. And if you were not a member, either by personal choice or rejection, you were unregenerate.

PAUL DOHSE:  And many, many, many, many, many, many evangelical churches today, to give your public testimony is required to be a member.

SUSAN DOHSE:  Right. Thomas Letchford again, he questioned Cotton Mather. He said, “What do you do about the visible saints who are really hypocrites, that they could write a good narrative, that they could give a good profession of faith, say the right things, what do you do about those?” Cotton Mather replied, “Better a hypocrite in the church than a man who is profane.” And Mather goes on to explain that hypocrites are useful to God and the church. Well, everybody had to go or be fined, but even if you were a hypocrite, you were useful in the church. You could be used by God, their very presence there, to be used by God. This goes hand in hand with Augustine and Calvin’s doctrine that salvation can be found in the church.

Now, my sidebar here. I’m going to give you the sad results of some of this Puritan dogma, okay? In his journal, John Winthrop records the strange case of Annie Needham Hett, a woman so troubled by doubts as to whether or not she was saved that she decided to prove it to herself that she was damned. By the way, this is not the same illustration I gave on Friday. This is a different woman. Here is the entry…

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