Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Tragic Results of Puritan Ideology

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 19, 2018

Originally published January 19, 2017

The following is a transcript of Susan Dohse’s third session from the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernement and Spiritual Tyranny, originally presented on June 22, 2014.
~ Edited by Andy Young

susanThe Puritans, who first settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, believed three key ideas. First, 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. Second, 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. Third, 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. Covenants were 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
  • 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…For purposes of Church Covenants, therefore, 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 do together with the 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).’”
~ The Cambridge Platform

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 flipped and merged these covenants together.

puritan-civil-covenantThe civil covenant kept a churches’ state distinct in theory but not in practice. 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. With these three covenants, society in New England was organized into this Holy Commonwealth. The church members chose the magistrates, but the ministers knew who the godly were and greatly influenced whom the members elected. The covenant of grace they held to tenaciously, which included the doctrines of predestination and election. All events are foreknown and foreordained by God and God would save whom He chose to and damn those He chose to as well.

The question foremost in the mind of a Puritan was, “Am I saved?” Being endlessly 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, for 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 that “faith alone” is what provides or gives us salvation, and 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. This 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. 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. In today’s modern church, you give a testimony of how you were saved.

pur1To 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.

While repression was evident in their actions, they were taught that God could forgive anything. While God could forgive anything, 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 one can 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 was quite aware of the powerful experience of grace and conversion, but they also had to accept that if an individual was not predestined to be saved, there was nothing he or she could do about it. Many may have lived virtuous lives, but if they did not experience grace and conversion, they would not be saved.

thanksgiving-paintingBecause 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.

To make 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. When the candidates’ narrative did not adhere to the model, they were denied membership.

“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 and 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 these 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 of him, if he’d be willing to make known to the congregation the work of grace upon his soul; and biddeth him, as briefly and audibly, to as good hearing as he can, to do the same…

“Whereupon the party if it would be a man speaks himself; but if it would be a woman, her confession made before the elders in private is most usually read by the Pastor who registered the same. At Salem the women speak themselves for the most part in the church; but of late it is said they do this upon the weekdays, and there is nothing done on Sunday, but their entrance into the covenant.”
~ Thomas Letchford

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.

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, were called unregenerate so that for all practical purposes 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.

Thomas Letchford, in questioning Cotton Mather, 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.” Mather goes on to explain that hypocrites are useful to God and the church. Well, everybody had to go to church or be fined, so even if you were a hypocrite, you were useful in the church. This goes hand in hand with Augustine and Calvin’s doctrine that salvation can be found in the church.

Sidebar: Here are some of the sad results of this Puritan dogma:

“August 1637: A women of Boston congregation, having been in much trouble of mind about her spiritual estate, at length grew into utter desperation and could not endure to hear of any comfort. So as one day she took her little infant and threw it into a well and then came into the house and said now she was sure that she should be damned, for she had drowned her child. But some stepping presently forth saved the child.”

“May 1642: A cooper’s wife, having been long in a sad melancholy distemper, near to frenzy and having poorly attempted to drown her child, but prevented by God’s gracious providence, did now again take an opportunity, being alone, to carry her child, age three, to a creek near her house. And stripping it of the clothes threw it into the water and mud. But the tide being low, the little child scrambled out. And taking up its clothes, came to its mother who had sat down not far off. She carried the child again and threw it so far as it could not get out. But then it please God that a young man coming that way saved it. She would give no other reason for it but that she did it to save her child from misery, and withal that she was assured she had sinned against the most Holy Ghost and that she could not repent of any sin.”

Preaching for the Puritan ministers was vital to the community, for they viewed it as the means to regeneration. From behind the pulpit, leaders in the new world sought to bring their community steadily closer to that Christian model. The “meeting house” was the place of instruction where the community learned its duties. It was the geographical and social center and a place to learn how to build their Zion in the wilderness. The Puritans refused to call their church a “church” so as to distinguish themselves from the Church of England.

The sermons were thoroughly theological and thoroughly practical based upon common acceptance of Calvin’s theology. It was left to the minister alone to discover the practical applications of it. There was hardly a public event in which a sermon was not featured. There were election day sermons, artillery sermons, fast day and thanksgiving day sermons where they would explain why God was humbling or rewarding them, execution sermons, funeral sermons, and dying men’s sermons. Puritan preachers were instructed to preach much about the misery of the state of nature. Arthur Dent’s instruction about the nature of man said that man was nothing but a gulf of grief, a sty of filthiness.

Puritan men and women of the upper and middle class became prolific writers. They kept diaries and wrote poetry and prayers. Puritan personal literature was devotional in nature, centering on the “contemplative” life. Everyone had to speak honestly of his own experience as they experienced a growing manifestation of a growing self-consciousness. Puritan writings yielded three things:

  • self-examination
  • self-hood
  • self-identity

Self-examination was not to liberate the mind and heart, it was to constrict, confine, and control your mind and heart. Self-hood was a state to be overcome and obliterated. Self-identity was found only through the act of total submission to God. This contemplative life was a process. Puritan literature carried the single message of all Christians sharing the same plight, all Christians having the same calling, all Christians undertaking the same wayfaring pilgrimage.

“Nature of one makes many, but grace of many makes one. For the Holy Spirit, which is as a fire, melts all the faithful into one mass lump.” ~ William Dell

By much beholding the glory of the Lord in the glass of the gospel and acting out our perceptions, we are changed into the same image” ~ Richard Mathers

When they saw Christ, which they called the “mirror of reflection”, they were to see no reflection of themselves. They were to disappear. Using a faulty interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8, to the Puritans, sin disfigured that reflection. They spoke not of the stain of sin but of the dunghills, the lumps of lewdness, the slough and slime. When you looked into that “mirror” of self-reflection, you were to see yourself in this manner.

“[God] will have our hands actively in it, and in it not for one instance but for the whole course of a man’s life. We must be soaked and boiled in affliction if we would have some relish acceptable unto God.” (uncited author)

“First take a glass and see where it is dirty and labor to discern your very crime. Experimentally persuade yourself that you are the biggest sinner in the world. Plunge yourself into the foul waters of your heart till you know there is none worse than thyself.” ~ John Bunyan

The Puritans’ humanity was fulfilled as it was plunged and purged, “washed clean of the vomit in its cheeks,” its sullied flesh destroyed, its whole body of sin transformed, emptied, melted, rendered a pure and shining surface on which the individual in his daily thoughts and actions would reflect back an unstained image of his redeemer.

Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter

Self versus God becomes the motivating force of their activism. In their language of the day and in their writings and in their sermons they added many “self” compounds to their language: self-credit, self-fullness, self-honor, self-intended, self-practiced, self-safety, self-confident, self-sufficiency, self-trial, self-denial, self-acquaintance, self-abhorring, self-abasing, self-determinism. The redeemed are marked by self-emptiness and self-revenging. Man’s fall was his turning from God to himself, and his regeneration consists of his returning of himself to God. Hence, self-denial and the love of God is the same thing.

“Understand this, and you understand what original and actual sin is, and what grace and duty are. It is self that the scripture principally speaks against. The very names “self” and “own” should sound in the watchful Christian’s ears as very terrible awakening words that are next to the same name as “sin” and “Satan”.
~ Richard Baxter, “The Benefits of Self-Acquaintance”

What they unknowingly created was this force of “I” –ness in their violent vocabulary of self-abhorrence. The state of mind they reveal in their devotional writings might be described in modern terms as schizophrenic single-mindedness. The struggle between God and man entail the relentless psychic strain, and in Puritan New England, where Calvinistic theology insisted upon this, anxiety about election was not only normal but mandatory. Hysteria, breakdowns, and suicides were not uncommon.

Their meditative literary works, or “spiritual biography”, provided a guide for living up to the demands of dogma. But in the process of emphasizing “I” –ness, in the end all it did was minimize Christ rather than exalting him.

Two more sad results of Puritan dogma:

Increase Mather, leading Puritan minister, as he lay “feeble and sore-broken upon his deathbed”, faced his life’s end with desperate fear and trembling. He was tormented by the thought that he might be bound for hell.

John Tappin, who died in Boston in 1673 at the age of 18, suffered a bitter spiritual torment as well in the face of death. All the while he had been a godly youth, professing to be a believer, he bemoaned his hardness of heart and mildness of mind and feared he was headed for eternal damnation.

hangeddrawnquartered21From the earliest upbringing Puritans were taught to fear death. Ministers terrorized young children with graphic descriptions of hell and the horrors of eternal damnation. “At the last judgment, your own parents will testify against you.”

Fear of death was also reinforced by showing young children corpses and taking them to public hangings. Accordingly, young children were continually reminded that their probable destination was hell. Cotton Mather put the point bluntly.

“Go unto the burying place, children. You will see graves as short as yourselves. Yes, you may be at play one hour and dead, dead the next.”

Even their schoolbooks repeatedly reminded Puritan children about death and hell.

“’Tis not likely that you will all live to grow up. Learn the alphabet this way – ‘T’ is for ‘time.’ Time cuts down all both great and small.”

“Surely there is in all children, though children are not all alike, a stubbornness and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride which must be in the first place broken and beaten down so that the foundation of their education can be laid in humility and trapableness, and other virtues may in their time be built thereon.” ~ Reverend John Robinson.

Parents and other adults begin to break the child’s will beginning somewhere around the age of one or two years old. Also at this time, while the child is being weaned from his mother’s milk, the parents began to establish limits, all in the effort to break the child’s compulsive and assertive nature. The parents were very eager and very forceful to make the child walk, because they believed that if the child crawled on all fours he was too close to the animal kingdom.

To enforce this purity of doctrine the Puritans needed a network of schools throughout the colony to teach the younger generation the Puritan beliefs and Calvin’s doctrine. The first task was to establish a college to graduate suitable rigorous ministers and to train schoolmasters for lower education. The Puritans referred to such a school as a “School of the Prophets”. (It is no coincidence that the title “professor” is derived from the word “prophet”) One such school was called “New College” or “the college at New Towne.”   It was a divinity school that grew into what is now known as Harvard University. The school was meant to superintend the lives of the colonists and prevent any further deviations from “proper” doctrine.

With Harvard established, they had the supporting structures in place. They implemented aspects of their Platonic paradigm of community child-rearing. One such structure was indentured servitude. In 1645, each town was compelled to provide a schoolmaster to teach a wide range of subjects. There was no point for government schools if there were no masses to be taught, so another law was established compelling every child in the colony to be educated – compulsory education. Parents ignoring the law were fined. Wherever the government officials judged the parents to be unfit, the government had the power to seize the children and apprentice them out to other families. Children were regarded as the absolute property of their parents, for if they were “property” then they could be confiscated.

A practice common among the English Puritans was called the ‘putting out” of children. This is where children were placed at an early age in other homes where they were treated as an apprentice. It was done by parental consent. This custom was practiced with the pretense of the parents’ desire to glorify God by avoiding the formation of strong emotional bonds with their children, bonds that might temper the strictness of the child’s discipline. In reality, the teaching was that if you loved your children too much you were sinning because you are taking away from glory that rightfully belonged to God. You were allowing your children to be an idol.

English poor laws of 1563 and 1601 stated”

“Permit the poor children to be taken out of the hands of their parents by the statutes for apprenticing poor children that are placed out by the public for the advantage of the commonwealth”

As a result of all this a controlling a punitive culture emerged. Laws were written and enforced that curtailed parental rights, creation of community schools, established Puritan precepts as a civil requirement, imposed community taxation, encouraged citizens to report on non-conforming relatives and neighbors. Informal snooping was considered to haphazard, so an “official snooper” was formed. These officers were called “tithing men”, because each one had supervision over the private affairs of his ten nearest neighbors. Of course the tithing men were appointed by the ministers of the churches who would then be sufficiently armed with enough material with which to derive a sermon for the following Sunday, preaching about the evils that were occurring within the community.

I will remind you once again of the gospel according to John Immel:

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

If you want to understand why mental disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicide were epidemic in the Puritan community, you need only look to the environment of control, fear, and condemnation their Calvinist orthodoxy produced. It is no coincidence then that we see the same patterns of anxiety and depression occurring among the laity in today’s institutional church, particularly in those churches where authentic reformed Protestantism dominates or is making a resurgence. To borrow a phrase from James Carville in the early 1990’s, “It’s the theology, stupid.”

When we closely examine the real history of the Puritans, their lifestyle, and the necessary results of their theology, we must ask ourselves why any rational person would want to emulate them. I strongly urge you to consider once again the statement by George Santayana, which I cited in my previous session, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

~ Susan Dohse

How To Debate A Calvinist: Part 4 – By John Immel

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 30, 2017

The following is part four of a five-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s fourth session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
Click here for part two
 Click here for part three
Click here for part five

In Defense of the Individual

We started out addressing the central fulcrum of almost all Calvinist arguments – an ongoing quest for an undisputed authority so they can ultimately redefine reality however they see fit. Their endless appeal to all things “biblical” is because they believe that is where they borrow their authority so that they can dictate to you whatever it is they think they want you to know.

We then went on to talk about specific arguments that Calvinist use to control you in context to my “web of tyranny” so that you can understand how Abolition of Ambition and Collective Conformity are used together to keep you intellectually subservient and willing to abandon your individuality.

At then end of part three I stated that you had to successfully advocate for your own individuality. This is so crucial because tyranny cannot thrive in a world of self-confident individuals. Tyranny requires your deliberate subordination – your willing sacrifice of self – to whoever is in charge. So the confident individual, the thinking man, will not be willingly subdued, but he will fight back. We have to get comfortable with the fact that we must defend our individuality.

John Locke is a key figure in the course of human events. Locke made a series of arguments that laid a very profound foundation that culminated in the U.S. Constitution, specifically the separation of Church and State. This foundation has given America political autonomy and political freedom. This is essential to understand in the defense of your individualism because Locke’s arguments are the validation of the individual within the context of a civil society.

I did a full evaluation of John Locke’s philosophy at the 2014 TANC conference. But in this lesson I simply want to focus on some primary points. The first thing I want to discuss is an excerpt from “A Letter Concerning Toleration.” This document was originally published in 1689 which appeared amidst a fear that Catholicism might be taking over England. Locke is responding to the problem of religion and government by proposing religious toleration as the answer. This “letter” is addressed to an anonymous “Honored Sir”, but it was actually Locke’s close friend Philipp van Limborch, who published it without Locke’s knowledge.

“Since you are pleased to inquire what are my thoughts about the mutual toleration of Christians in their different professions of religion, I must need answer you freely that I esteem the toleration to be the chief characteristic mark of the true Church. For whatsoever some people boast of the antiquity of places and names, or the pomp of their outward worship; others, of the reformation of their discipline; all, of the orthodoxy of their faith – for everyone is orthodox to himself – these things, and all others of this nature, are much rather marks of men striving for power and empire over one another than of the Church of Christ.

“In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgment that they have framed of things.

“It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments, and thereby, draw the heterodox into the way of truth and procure their salvation. I grant it; but this is common to him with other men. In teaching, instructing, and redressing the erroneous by reason, he may certainly do what becomes any good man to do. Magistracy does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity, but it is one thing to persuade and another to command, one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties. This civil power alone has a right to do; to the other, goodwill is authority enough.”

This is a powerful argument against the algebra of orthodoxy that I discussed in part one of this series. Historically, orthodoxy and the people controlling the definition of orthodoxy has always been about merging political force with doctrine. This is why almost immediately after John Calvin writes his “institutes” he becomes one of the main political figures in Geneva, and in very short order they have a religious theocracy. In every instance Protestant Christianity must push for solidarity between civil government and religious orthodoxy because it must be able to control the definition of reality. You can only do that if you can burn people at the stake.

John Locke correctly identifies that the role of the magistrate cannot be the role of the “soul-saver.” He accepts the premise that human reason is sufficient to the cause of his own consciousness and that man cannot be compelled by force to believe any given orthodoxy. Locke makes a clear distinction between the role of religion and the role of government (force). When these philosophical tides roll across the Atlantic and land in the New World, the closest America ever got to the Dark Ages was the Puritan theocracy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The framers of our Constitution were absolutely sure that such a theocracy should NEVER be allowed the opportunity to grow in ascendancy. The separation of Church and State was designed to limit that fundamental power. They didn’t want the magistrate using force to compel people from heterodoxy into orthodoxy (a.k.a. “political correctness” in religious terms).

“It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical. This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at all. Every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous and heretical.”

This is the fundamental conflict within all of Protestant Christianity. Everybody wants to pretend that their definition of “orthodox” is the correct one, so everybody outside that specific definition is, by definition, in error. So the only question within Protestant Christianity is about who has the authority to compel you to believe their definition. The only way to answer that question is to ask who has the biggest guns? It is always a question of who has the most force.

“So the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge, either at Constantinople nor elsewhere upon the earth, by whose sentence it can be determined.”

John Locke’s argument successfully made toleration the fundamental principle of Christian doctrine. He pointed out that those bragging of their spiritual pedigree and doctrinal orthodoxy were really seeking political power and hiding behind the name of Jesus. The only thing that saves man is what happens by persuasion of the mind. Souls cannot be won with government force.

Notice, Locke fully believes that man’s salvation resides in his choice to follow rational arguments.

Notice how these arguments go the heart of our 21st century conflict.

At every turn, Calvinists are returning to the primordial ooze of these historical doctrines; the right to sustain dictatorial power over the course of your intellectual individuality. The point here is they all think that their orthodoxy is the sum of their own mind. You have no obligation to subordinate your mind to theirs.

In Locke’s second treatise on government he goes on to lay the foundation for the nature of government. In chapter two on the State of Nature, Locke says that to understand political power correctly man must first understand his natural state. The natural state is equality. We all, as individuals, reside in our own existence. This is not to be confused with “abilities” or “outcomes” specifically. All men have a right to their own existence by virtue of being individuals. By extension, this means that God would not have appointed some men to subjugate others. This is a root argument against the premise of slavery.

The law that governs the State of Nature is Reason. This is the way man interacts with his own existence and solves the problems of his life. Reason touches that all men are equal and independent. The State of Nature is a state of liberty. The law of Reason says that no man may harm another man’s life, health, liberty, or possessions. There is no subordination of men that authorizes one to destroy the other. Inasmuch as man preserves his life, he must also seek to aid in the preservation of another’s liberty, health, limb, or property.

This is a very different social organization than had ever been conceived before. Up until this time, man was the by-product of the collective. But Locke understood that all of us solve our problems by reason, and because man must be free to solve those problems in order to survive, that means there is a reciprocal responsibility to not cause harm to other individuals as they seek to do the same.

Reason wills peace and the preservation of man, therefore the Law of Nature puts into everyone’s hand the right to punish the transgressor of Reason and to hinder the violation of Reason with violence. This is a crucial distinction. I do not have the right to impose myself upon you and steal what you have, but in the event that I do that you have the moral right to defend against it and to prevent it by violence. Any such man who has violated Reason has thus entered into a State of War. It then becomes the obligation of free men committed to reason and liberty to use violence to repel that action.

Locke’s definition of “property” is an essential evolution of thought. He correctly establishes the roots of “private property.” Property is the product of labor. As you go about using reason to solve the problems of existence you have artifacts of that process. That is your work product; the outcome of your labor. Individuals employ their industry to create the substance of their life. Men in the State of Nature must work to survive.

There is an unbreakable relationship between your reason, the product of your labor, and your ability to enjoy that labor unharassed. Seizing man’s property is the same as seizing man’s life. Locke correctly identifies that man is indivisible from his work. He correctly integrates human existence by identifying that reason is the root of man’s production. Thus man’s life and man’s property are corollaries of existence. By contrast, historically man has always been a cog in the wheel of the collective, therefore the work that he does is the rightful property of the collective.

Locke goes on to discuss the beginning of political societies. He identifies the correct order in social relationships. Historically it was assumed that the State was the social primary. Men were born into the State, and their lives were disposed of at the will of the State. Locke says otherwise.

“Men, being by nature, all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate, and subjected to the political power of another, without consent. A man can only divest himself of his natural liberty, and put on the bonds of civil society, by agreeing with other men to join and unite for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties.

“This any number of men may do, because it injures not the freedom of the rest; they are left as they were in the liberty of the State of Nature. When any number of men have so consented to make one community or one government, they are thereby presently incorporated, and make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”

Why do men agree to join and unite? According to Locke it is for the comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one among another. Here is his fundamental point. The reason we enter into civil societies is to enjoy the fruits of our labors. You will recognize this concept expressed in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Notice the individual comes first.

Here is the progression: Man is first a free, sovereign agent; he labors to create property to satisfy his survival and enjoyment; he seeks social relationships to expand his freedom; he consents to social contracts; government is by consent of the governed.

Here is where I think John Locke did the world a favor. He identified the root of all civilized societies. The root is the individual. The individual’s proper State of Nature is Reason. Private property is a by-product created by rational effort. Government and social contracts are the consequence of individual life, liberty, and happiness. You enter into government contracts to protect yourself from encroachment. Thereby government is subordinated to the individual.

John Locke laid the foundation for a peaceful society by placing theological issues firmly in the realm of personal conscience and delimiting the government purpose. That foundation set the minds of men free, and a light was set forth throughout the earth.

But there was one thing that John Locke did NOT do. He did not tell people how to be effective individuals.

And it is for this reason we will now turn our attention to the last building block of individual defense.

…To be continued.


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The Difference Between “Conservatives” and “Liberals”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 31, 2017

I use quotes in the title around the labels for these two political ideologies because traditionally they don’t have the same connotation that they do today.  Still, when it comes to understanding one’s politics it is necessary to understand the philosophical progression of thought that produces either an individualist or a statist/collectivist.

In summary, one’s assumptions about man and the individual determine one’s inter-personal relation with other individuals. In other words, conservatives in general believe in the individual ability of man to self-govern. Liberals in general believe that individual choice must be sacrificed for the benefit of the state/collective.

It should also be noted that while many “Christians” would claim to be “conservative” (or even libertarian) politically, such a belief is rationally inconsistent with the “religious” idea of “total depravity”, because total depravity is a liberal assumption that produces a completely different outcome. Therefore, the idea of total depravity is incompatible with the idea of man having value.

It should also be obvious that there is no philosophical difference between religion and politics. Both are the result of a philosophical progression of thought.

Is it any wonder why “Christians” are so confused?

~ Andy

 

The Tragic Results of Puritan Ideology

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 19, 2017
The following is a transcript of Susan Dohse’s third session from the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernement and Spiritual Tyranny, originally presented on June 22, 2014.
~ Edited by Andy Young

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Click here for Part 2


susanThe Puritans, who first settled the Massachusetts Bay Colony, believed three key ideas. First, 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. Second, 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. Third, 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. Covenants were 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
  • 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…For purposes of Church Covenants, therefore, 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 do together with the 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).’”
~ The Cambridge Platform

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 flipped and merged these covenants together.

puritan-civil-covenantThe civil covenant kept a churches’ state distinct in theory but not in practice. 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. With these three covenants, society in New England was organized into this Holy Commonwealth. The church members chose the magistrates, but the ministers knew who the godly were and greatly influenced whom the members elected. The covenant of grace they held to tenaciously, which included the doctrines of predestination and election. All events are foreknown and foreordained by God and God would save whom He chose to and damn those He chose to as well.

The question foremost in the mind of a Puritan was, “Am I saved?” Being endlessly 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, for 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 that “faith alone” is what provides or gives us salvation, and 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. This 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. 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. In today’s modern church, you give a testimony of how you were saved.

pur1To 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.

While repression was evident in their actions, they were taught that God could forgive anything. While God could forgive anything, 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 one can 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 was quite aware of the powerful experience of grace and conversion, but they also had to accept that if an individual was not predestined to be saved, there was nothing he or she could do about it. Many may have lived virtuous lives, but if they did not experience grace and conversion, they would not be saved.

thanksgiving-paintingBecause 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.

To make 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. When the candidates’ narrative did not adhere to the model, they were denied membership.

“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 and 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 these 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 of him, if he’d be willing to make known to the congregation the work of grace upon his soul; and biddeth him, as briefly and audibly, to as good hearing as he can, to do the same…

“Whereupon the party if it would be a man speaks himself; but if it would be a woman, her confession made before the elders in private is most usually read by the Pastor who registered the same. At Salem the women speak themselves for the most part in the church; but of late it is said they do this upon the weekdays, and there is nothing done on Sunday, but their entrance into the covenant.”
~ Thomas Letchford

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.

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, were called unregenerate so that for all practical purposes 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.

Thomas Letchford, in questioning Cotton Mather, 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.” Mather goes on to explain that hypocrites are useful to God and the church. Well, everybody had to go to church or be fined, so even if you were a hypocrite, you were useful in the church. This goes hand in hand with Augustine and Calvin’s doctrine that salvation can be found in the church.

Sidebar: Here are some of the sad results of this Puritan dogma:

“August 1637: A women of Boston congregation, having been in much trouble of mind about her spiritual estate, at length grew into utter desperation and could not endure to hear of any comfort. So as one day she took her little infant and threw it into a well and then came into the house and said now she was sure that she should be damned, for she had drowned her child. But some stepping presently forth saved the child.”

“May 1642: A cooper’s wife, having been long in a sad melancholy distemper, near to frenzy and having poorly attempted to drown her child, but prevented by God’s gracious providence, did now again take an opportunity, being alone, to carry her child, age three, to a creek near her house. And stripping it of the clothes threw it into the water and mud. But the tide being low, the little child scrambled out. And taking up its clothes, came to its mother who had sat down not far off. She carried the child again and threw it so far as it could not get out. But then it please God that a young man coming that way saved it. She would give no other reason for it but that she did it to save her child from misery, and withal that she was assured she had sinned against the most Holy Ghost and that she could not repent of any sin.”

Preaching for the Puritan ministers was vital to the community, for they viewed it as the means to regeneration. From behind the pulpit, leaders in the new world sought to bring their community steadily closer to that Christian model. The “meeting house” was the place of instruction where the community learned its duties. It was the geographical and social center and a place to learn how to build their Zion in the wilderness. The Puritans refused to call their church a “church” so as to distinguish themselves from the Church of England.

The sermons were thoroughly theological and thoroughly practical based upon common acceptance of Calvin’s theology. It was left to the minister alone to discover the practical applications of it. There was hardly a public event in which a sermon was not featured. There were election day sermons, artillery sermons, fast day and thanksgiving day sermons where they would explain why God was humbling or rewarding them, execution sermons, funeral sermons, and dying men’s sermons. Puritan preachers were instructed to preach much about the misery of the state of nature. Arthur Dent’s instruction about the nature of man said that man was nothing but a gulf of grief, a sty of filthiness.

Puritan men and women of the upper and middle class became prolific writers. They kept diaries and wrote poetry and prayers. Puritan personal literature was devotional in nature, centering on the “contemplative” life. Everyone had to speak honestly of his own experience as they experienced a growing manifestation of a growing self-consciousness. Puritan writings yielded three things:

  • self-examination
  • self-hood
  • self-identity

Self-examination was not to liberate the mind and heart, it was to constrict, confine, and control your mind and heart. Self-hood was a state to be overcome and obliterated. Self-identity was found only through the act of total submission to God. This contemplative life was a process. Puritan literature carried the single message of all Christians sharing the same plight, all Christians having the same calling, all Christians undertaking the same wayfaring pilgrimage.

“Nature of one makes many, but grace of many makes one. For the Holy Spirit, which is as a fire, melts all the faithful into one mass lump.” ~ William Dell

By much beholding the glory of the Lord in the glass of the gospel and acting out our perceptions, we are changed into the same image” ~ Richard Mathers

When they saw Christ, which they called the “mirror of reflection”, they were to see no reflection of themselves. They were to disappear. Using a faulty interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8, to the Puritans, sin disfigured that reflection. They spoke not of the stain of sin but of the dunghills, the lumps of lewdness, the slough and slime. When you looked into that “mirror” of self-reflection, you were to see yourself in this manner.

“[God] will have our hands actively in it, and in it not for one instance but for the whole course of a man’s life. We must be soaked and boiled in affliction if we would have some relish acceptable unto God.” (uncited author)

“First take a glass and see where it is dirty and labor to discern your very crime. Experimentally persuade yourself that you are the biggest sinner in the world. Plunge yourself into the foul waters of your heart till you know there is none worse than thyself.” ~ John Bunyan

The Puritans’ humanity was fulfilled as it was plunged and purged, “washed clean of the vomit in its cheeks,” its sullied flesh destroyed, its whole body of sin transformed, emptied, melted, rendered a pure and shining surface on which the individual in his daily thoughts and actions would reflect back an unstained image of his redeemer.

Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter

Self versus God becomes the motivating force of their activism. In their language of the day and in their writings and in their sermons they added many “self” compounds to their language: self-credit, self-fullness, self-honor, self-intended, self-practiced, self-safety, self-confident, self-sufficiency, self-trial, self-denial, self-acquaintance, self-abhorring, self-abasing, self-determinism. The redeemed are marked by self-emptiness and self-revenging. Man’s fall was his turning from God to himself, and his regeneration consists of his returning of himself to God. Hence, self-denial and the love of God is the same thing.

“Understand this, and you understand what original and actual sin is, and what grace and duty are. It is self that the scripture principally speaks against. The very names “self” and “own” should sound in the watchful Christian’s ears as very terrible awakening words that are next to the same name as “sin” and “Satan”.
~ Richard Baxter, “The Benefits of Self-Acquaintance”

What they unknowingly created was this force of “I” –ness in their violent vocabulary of self-abhorrence. The state of mind they reveal in their devotional writings might be described in modern terms as schizophrenic single-mindedness. The struggle between God and man entail the relentless psychic strain, and in Puritan New England, where Calvinistic theology insisted upon this, anxiety about election was not only normal but mandatory. Hysteria, breakdowns, and suicides were not uncommon.

Their meditative literary works, or “spiritual biography”, provided a guide for living up to the demands of dogma. But in the process of emphasizing “I” –ness, in the end all it did was minimize Christ rather than exalting him.

Two more sad results of Puritan dogma:

Increase Mather, leading Puritan minister, as he lay “feeble and sore-broken upon his deathbed”, faced his life’s end with desperate fear and trembling. He was tormented by the thought that he might be bound for hell.

John Tappin, who died in Boston in 1673 at the age of 18, suffered a bitter spiritual torment as well in the face of death. All the while he had been a godly youth, professing to be a believer, he bemoaned his hardness of heart and mildness of mind and feared he was headed for eternal damnation.

hangeddrawnquartered21From the earliest upbringing Puritans were taught to fear death. Ministers terrorized young children with graphic descriptions of hell and the horrors of eternal damnation. “At the last judgment, your own parents will testify against you.”

Fear of death was also reinforced by showing young children corpses and taking them to public hangings. Accordingly, young children were continually reminded that their probable destination was hell. Cotton Mather put the point bluntly.

“Go unto the burying place, children. You will see graves as short as yourselves. Yes, you may be at play one hour and dead, dead the next.”

Even their schoolbooks repeatedly reminded Puritan children about death and hell.

“’Tis not likely that you will all live to grow up. Learn the alphabet this way – ‘T’ is for ‘time.’ Time cuts down all both great and small.”

“Surely there is in all children, though children are not all alike, a stubbornness and stoutness of mind arising from natural pride which must be in the first place broken and beaten down so that the foundation of their education can be laid in humility and trapableness, and other virtues may in their time be built thereon.” ~ Reverend John Robinson.

Parents and other adults begin to break the child’s will beginning somewhere around the age of one or two years old. Also at this time, while the child is being weaned from his mother’s milk, the parents began to establish limits, all in the effort to break the child’s compulsive and assertive nature. The parents were very eager and very forceful to make the child walk, because they believed that if the child crawled on all fours he was too close to the animal kingdom.

To enforce this purity of doctrine the Puritans needed a network of schools throughout the colony to teach the younger generation the Puritan beliefs and Calvin’s doctrine. The first task was to establish a college to graduate suitable rigorous ministers and to train schoolmasters for lower education. The Puritans referred to such a school as a “School of the Prophets”. (It is no coincidence that the title “professor” is derived from the word “prophet”) One such school was called “New College” or “the college at New Towne.”   It was a divinity school that grew into what is now known as Harvard University. The school was meant to superintend the lives of the colonists and prevent any further deviations from “proper” doctrine.

With Harvard established, they had the supporting structures in place. They implemented aspects of their Platonic paradigm of community child-rearing. One such structure was indentured servitude. In 1645, each town was compelled to provide a schoolmaster to teach a wide range of subjects. There was no point for government schools if there were no masses to be taught, so another law was established compelling every child in the colony to be educated – compulsory education. Parents ignoring the law were fined. Wherever the government officials judged the parents to be unfit, the government had the power to seize the children and apprentice them out to other families. Children were regarded as the absolute property of their parents, for if they were “property” then they could be confiscated.

A practice common among the English Puritans was called the ‘putting out” of children. This is where children were placed at an early age in other homes where they were treated as an apprentice. It was done by parental consent. This custom was practiced with the pretense of the parents’ desire to glorify God by avoiding the formation of strong emotional bonds with their children, bonds that might temper the strictness of the child’s discipline. In reality, the teaching was that if you loved your children too much you were sinning because you are taking away from glory that rightfully belonged to God. You were allowing your children to be an idol.

English poor laws of 1563 and 1601 stated”

“Permit the poor children to be taken out of the hands of their parents by the statutes for apprenticing poor children that are placed out by the public for the advantage of the commonwealth”

As a result of all this a controlling a punitive culture emerged. Laws were written and enforced that curtailed parental rights, creation of community schools, established Puritan precepts as a civil requirement, imposed community taxation, encouraged citizens to report on non-conforming relatives and neighbors. Informal snooping was considered to haphazard, so an “official snooper” was formed. These officers were called “tithing men”, because each one had supervision over the private affairs of his ten nearest neighbors. Of course the tithing men were appointed by the ministers of the churches who would then be sufficiently armed with enough material with which to derive a sermon for the following Sunday, preaching about the evils that were occurring within the community.

I will remind you once again of the gospel according to John Immel:

  1. All people act logically from their assumptions.
  2. It does not matter how inconsistent the ideas or insane the rationale. They will act until that logic is fulfilled.
  3. Therefore, when you see masses of people taking the same destructive actions, if you find the assumptions, you will find the cause.

If you want to understand why mental disorder, anxiety, depression, and suicide were epidemic in the Puritan community, you need only look to the environment of control, fear, and condemnation their Calvinist orthodoxy produced. It is no coincidence then that we see the same patterns of anxiety and depression occurring among the laity in today’s institutional church, particularly in those churches where authentic reformed Protestantism dominates or is making a resurgence. To borrow a phrase from James Carville in the early 1990’s, “It’s the theology, stupid.”

When we closely examine the real history of the Puritans, their lifestyle, and the necessary results of their theology, we must ask ourselves why any rational person would want to emulate them. I strongly urge you to consider once again the statement by George Santayana, which I cited in my previous session, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

~ Susan Dohse


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An Examination of Colonial Puritan Collectivism

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on January 17, 2017
The following is a transcript of Susan Dohse’s second session from the 2014 Conference on Gospel Discernement and Spiritual Tyranny, originally presented on June 21, 2014.
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 3


susanGeorge Santayana is credited with saying “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The very popular phrase has taken on several variations. 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.   For example, on the first day of U.S. History I would begin with, “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 said, “I’m doomed! I’m doomed!” And his friend, faking compassion patted him on the back and said, “It’s okay, man. She always gives extra credit.” “But you don’t get it. I hate History, and Mrs. St. Dennis is the only history teacher in the school. I’m double doomed!” It was bad enough not only having to repeat history but also having to have me for two years. In the end he did pass the class, and I do believe he still dislikes history.

While the above phrase is impressive and common, it 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 do not learn from their mistakes do not 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, setting the groundwork for the Second World War. 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 holds the seat of dictatorial power in Cuba today. History shows that indeed, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

history-picWhat 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 and with knowledge there is a hope of change. The question remains, 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 that leads us down similar paths, some disastrous, again and again?

Consider a 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.”
~ The Gospel According to John Immel, chapter 3, verses 1-3

Knowing the cause should provoke us to take some kind of action, hopefully preventative action, proactive action, and proactive changes. It is one thing to know your ABCs, but what are you going to do with that knowledge? Will you take action and make meaning of the letters, connecting them with sounds and letter combinations that 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 paths?

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, to 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? Their patterns of irrationality, their faulty root assumptions, are leading the institutional church down the same disastrous paths once again.

What I have been reading from Christian homeschool blogs and from leaders in the homeschool movement is a desire to return to the Puritan way with the intention of putting 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.

But without some understanding of Puritanism, there is no solid understanding of Dominionism, the patriarchy movement, and the downward spiral of our Christian institutions. Without understanding Puritanism, you only have a partial knowledge of New Calvinism. Without understanding Puritanism, there is no solid understanding of America either.

What were we taught in U.S. history?

  • That the New England colonies were started under austere circumstances.
  • That other colonies with more financial support from their mother country and more material resources suffered collapse.
  • That the Puritans faced severe climate and 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.
  • That the Puritans made New England the intellectual leader of the nation at that time.
  • That 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? Is it 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, that 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?

puritan1304910119820Perhaps this is one of the ironies of history. If you compare American of the 18th and 19th century to the Puritans, one would have to say that the Puritans were theology-minded. I would say they were Calvin-minded. The doctrines of the fall of man, of sin, of salvation, predestination, election, and conversion were their meat and drink. But what distinguished them is that 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. Puritan New England was nothing more than a grand and noble experiment in applied Calvinism.

Sidebar: The Puritans did not learn from history past. John Calvin tried this noble experiment Geneva of an enforced theocracy, a holy commonwealth, in Geneva. If you read any part of Calvin’s Geneva experience, they took Calvin’s faulty assumption, they applied a faulty logic and 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. But with the exception of Roger Williams (who is not in the stream of New England orthodoxy) Massachusetts Bay did not produce a major figure in theology until Jonathan Edwards. And when Edwards arrived on the scene, by then the Massachusetts Bay Colony Puritanism was waning.

During the great days of the New England Puritanism, there was not a single important dispute that 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, and whether outlying towns should have more representation in the general court. If they were theology-minded, what they argued about was institutions.

puritan-spirituality-e1420904314379Consider this comparison. At this time in history, the Puritans in England, the mother country, were discussing the fine points of their theory such as what was the true nature of liberty? When should a true Puritan resist a corrupt civil government? When should diversity be tolerated? The debates of these topics expanded the social classes in England, and it reveals how different the intellectual atmosphere in England was from that of New England. Soldiers and other men of action stopped to debate the theory of revolution and the philosophy of sovereignty. But let us 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. 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? Take, for example, Reverend John Wheelwright. His brother-in-law’s wife was Anne Hutchinson. 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. 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 off 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 to be gone as fast as they can, the sooner the better.”
~ taken from the 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; a conformity with established and accepted Calvinistic standards.

Let us consider another side of the coin. While intolerance was a source of strength for the New England Puritans, this was not a philosophical enterprise in which they were engaging. They were community builders. They were building the New Jerusalem. They were building Zion, a city upon a hill. Their counterparts in England were using all their energy to debate and war over compulsive and restrictive powers in religion and between matters essential and matters indifferent. These are still debated today by political science students. Instead, the American Puritans put all that energy to mark off the 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 contend that there were three things that held the Massachusetts Bay Colony together that made them successful initially.

No toleration
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 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, so the colony leaders did not have an issue with his doctrine. Their problem was his relentless 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.) 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.

The idea that democracy was of the devil
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 governed as opposed to from above, from God was completely foreign. Winthrop believed that the magistrates, even though being elected by “freemen,” had their authority from God. A “freeman” was defined as one who 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.

“So shall your liberties be preserved in upholding the honor and power of authority among you.”
~ Governor John Winthrop

Winthrop declared democracy “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.

“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.” ~ John Cotton

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 origin and foundation of civil power lies in the people. These were hardy and rebellious ideas that ended in Williams being expelled from the community in the dead of winter during the blizzard. Had it 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. He spent the entire winter with them being nursed back to health.

maxresdefaultCommunity and unity over individual freedom
The Puritans were concerned with the organization of their New Jerusalem society with making their communities effective. Three problems 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.

Are not these same three problems addressed in the U.S. Constitution? While denying democracy as a valid way to address the community’s organizational needs, the Puritans unwittingly 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. Hillary Clinton was famous for saying “it takes a village to raise a child.” Though Individualism threatened the delicate strings that held the community together, a main component of the emerging American ideology, from the Puritans 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- showing unswerving devotion to the church, performing good works, having unquestioned obedience to the church leaders. Good works and charitable acts would not lead a person to salvation but were 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. It was sermonized aboard the Arabella on their way over crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

“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.

Certainly, there are examples of this from the Bible. One example is when Achan took spoil from Jericho in disobedience, as recorded in the book of Joshua. God brought chastisement upon Israel when He declined to help them in the very next battle, and the results were devastating. Nevertheless, no person has ever been commanded to isolate themselves. And though no person in God’s word has been commanded to pursue total individualism, danger comes to a community when control becomes punitive, leadership turns into tyranny, and unity becomes total conformity.

The Puritans felt that conformity was essential to keeping the community together. The leaders not only demanded conformity and enforced it, but 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. It was not until the Enlightenment and revolutionary of the 1700s that individualism was 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. But 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 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, but community building necessitated individualism.

~ Susan Dohse


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