Continuing in the Tradition and Theology of Calvin, Beza, and the Reformers of the 16th Century, the American Puritans believed that the construct of civil government and the cultural order could never be neutral. While they held to a blend of Natural Law, human reason and Scripture, it was Scripture that was always used as the Foundation of Truth.
Unlike the natural Law theorist’s of today, where Human Reason, Natural Law and self reliance is the Foundation of Truth – and where the Supremacy of Scripture is diluted, negated or questioned, the American PURITANS began with Scripture. The problem was that over time, i.e. the beginning point (the epistemological starting point) for Truth, was inverted from Scripture to Natural Law. The Puritans, however, knew that Scripture was not only the Truth of God’s Word but it could be trusted since it was inerrant and infallible. Furthermore, they knew that since Neutrality is a myth. There could be no such thing as Neutrality – especially when it comes to Theological and Religious ideas. They knew that Man will think, act and live according to his own particular religious presuppositions which, IF NOT FORMED BY SCRIPTURE, it would be formed by his depraved mind.
They also knew that Man will either be Covenantally mindful, or Covenantally rebellious. Accordingly, the cultural order will either be conformed to the Word of God or it will be conformed to the mind of man, and in order for the culture to be confirmed to the Word of God the individual and consequentially the family had to conform to the Word of God. Too often, Christians think that they can by-pass Individual and Family order and go straight to fixing the culture.
Fixing the culture Begins at home.
The Puritans were able to focus culturally only because they had a Biblical handle upon their own selves and their families. Despite the Puritan Dilemma, (whereby they sometimes mixed Scripture with natural law to arrive at Truth) they knew that the Social order had to be based either in God and His Just laws, or man, who, without regeneration, was trapped in a fallen, sinful state and entirely unpredictable. For the Puritan, Education, Government, Law and Public policy could not be neutral. It had to be either Christ-o-centric or Anthropo-centric. This the Puritans knew.
They also understood that every soul functions according to a religious Lordship operating principle. Either man is God, or God is God. The Lord of the Old Adamic nature of the flesh is the autonomous man. In his natural state of rebellion, man desires to be like God, and to be as God is his battle cry. Instead of THY will be done, rebellious man declared, MY WILL BE DONE.
“I will not have this man to rule over me – I will be as God, and I will interpret God and His Law according to my Will, not God’s.”
If the societal order was to be properly maintained God ward, the sphere of civil government, and the societal order at large, had to function according to a set standard of principles, which, when applied, launched the actual development of institutions and the execution of policy. This Puritan Societal Order was known as a Theocratic Republic which was a commonwealth under Theonomic Principles. (or Biblical law principles). And since Ideas have consequences, and those ideas are ultimately based upon a network of religious presuppositions, commonly called worldviews, it was critical that those ideas came from a Divine source that could be trusted, i.e. The Law Word of God.
Every institutional establishment, since they are directly based upon certain ideas, which are directly based upon a network of philosophical presuppositions, which in turn make up a particular world and life view, are fundamentally religious in nature. Everything goes back to what you believe. The Puritans sought to implement this set of philosophical and Theological presuppositions into New England America during the 17th century. Their Ideas about God’s involvement in Government and Law is reflected in the early Puritan State Constitutions. These constitutions prove that the Puritans, as well as the Founders, understood the importance of a culture’s Theological Underpinnings.
Accordingly, every institutional structure, including every foundational idea upon which an institution is based, is, at its root, religious. In order to protect the Liberty of the individual, the family, and the future generations, Liberty had to be based upon the LAW OF GOD. Simply put: Everything known to man is born out of religious ideology. Religion is an inescapable aspect of Life. Everyone has a religious view point whether they know it or not, and whether they want to admit it or not.
Human societies are characterized and established by a religious foundation. This foundation provides cohesion and a basis for law. Depending upon which religion is used as the social foundation to that degree you either have liberty or tyranny. And since Law is used to identify good and evil and the punishments thereupon to be enforced, all Law and public policy has a religious basis.
RJ Rushdoony observes,
Every state has its law order and every law order represented an enacted morality with procedures for the enforcement of that morality. Every morality represents a form of theological order. It is an aspect and expression of a religion. The church thus is not the only religious institution; the state also is a religious institution.
In any culture, the source of Law is the God of that culture.
Because law governs man and society, and because it establishes and declares the meaning of justice and righteousness, law is inescapably religious in that it establishes, in practical fashion, the ultimate concern of a culture.
As Rushdoony clearly points out, “the life of a culture is its creed. Even though the Puritans of England were in the minority they were a minority that could not be ignored.
Author Paul Seaver explains,
…The impact of Puritanism was, if not revolutionary, at least pervasive and inescapable….they were a minority that could not be ignored.
Lay Englishmen looked to the Puritan Clergy not only for personal spiritual guidance but for direction for a new way of life. That meant, engaging the world and all of its institutions, especially government, with the Holy Scriptures.
Essentially Puritanism offered a new view of man’s relationship to God and hence of man’s relationship to the world and to his fellow man.
So popular was the Puritan pulpit in England, that within the City of London some preachers attracted larger audiences week after week than even Shakespeare in his prime. During this era there was a hunger not seen for many years. For the Puritan, the pulpit was sacred and its control was a matter of survival. People were not only hungry to hear the Word of God they were hungry to obey it as well.
The great Puritan pastor Richard Sibbs once remarked,
The sense of the love of Christ in pardoning of sins will constrain one to holy violence in the performing of all duties.”
This wording of Holy Violence was used to describe an energetic way of being obedient and in performing holy duties in the advance of the Kingdom of God. It was with this passion that Puritanism came into the Colonies in the 16oo’s setting the stage for the colonists of the 17oo’s.
The Rev Steven Wilkins observes,
“The spiritual convictions which prevailed in 1775, were crucial in convincing the people that they must fight to preserve their independence. These convictions were present largely as a result of the Great Awakening of the 1740s. This revival had the effect of restoring the foundations laid by the Fathers. The nation was again focused upon the ‘chief end of man’, ‘to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. There was, as a direct consequence of the Great Awakening, a renewed theological consensus and unity that had been missing for some time. This unity was critical for both the War of Independence and the settling of the form of government later. The great awakening had two very important results in this nation: it restored both Puritan theology and the Puritan vision.”
What needs to be understood here is that the Puritans were not prudish. They enjoyed their beer and strong drink and they spoke openly about the wonders of intimacy within the marriage Covenant. They were regular people except for the passion they had for GOD’s Honor.
Between the period of strong Puritan influence in America and the Great Awakening, there was a progressive downward spiral into the adoption of a man centered, Humanistic, Natural law, Enlightenment thinking. By 1775 the Great Awakening seemed to have succeeded in changing the direction of the nation to a more Theocratic Theonomic structure as envisioned by the early Puritanism of John Cotton, John Winthrop, Cotton Mather and many of the others during that period. The Great Awakening rekindled the idea that individual obedience and family order would spread into the surrounding culture. They knew that whenever the societal construct is built upon the mind of man, and NOT the Law of God, liberty slowly erodes and tyranny beings its ascent. Liberty, in order for it to be genuine, must be defined Biblically. For Liberty to be genuine it must be also established by the DIVINE Standard of Scripture.
The Reformers, Puritans, and now this group of Awakened Colonists sought for an EPISTEMOLOGICAL BASIS FOR LAW AND LIBERTY, and that Basis was God’s LAW. Scripture gives us a straightforward explanation of Liberty:
..where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
Fully aware of this David the Psalmist says the same thing:
Ps 119:45 ¶ And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.
The Puritan Theology, which was rekindled by the Great Awakening harmonized with the Doctrine of Scripture that Calvin, Beza, Virret and others had so vehemently declared during the European Reformation of the 1500’s. Along with the basics of the Depravity of Man, the Sovereignty of God and man’s covenantal obligation to the Lord of the Universe, they also posited that:
● All belief systems are either based in man or in God.
● All beliefs systems find their originating seed in either Reason or Revelation.
● All beliefs systems are either Humanistic or Theistic.
● Political policy (along with every other public policy) is organically religious.
Greg Bahnsen comments:
“Any conception of the role of civil government that claims to be distinctively Christian must be explicitly justified by the teaching of God’s revealed Word. Anything else reflects what the unbelieving world in rebellions against God may imagine on its own. If we are to be Christian disciples, even in the political realm, it is prerequisite that we abide in His liberating Word.” God and Politics Gary Scott Smith pg 21 Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers 1989
The Puritans sought to enforce a structure of Godly Education, Government and laws, (beginning in the home with the family) in order to ensure liberty under God, so as to safeguard against the tyranny of man. This is why the Puritan ministers were so emphatic about protecting the Commonwealth by being so vocal and active in the affairs of State. They understood that whenever a social construct is structured, maintained and protected Biblically, that society will never become wicked nor will its government become tyrannical. And this is why they sought to exercise what some thought to be a heavy hand of control in matters of Doctrine and Practice. For the American Puritans, the civil and cultural order of society had to be based upon a Christ Centered theological presupposition. It was upon that basis that would insure liberty for all.
In light of this, the Puritans did not retreat from involvement in the civil realm, nor did they ever imagine that the societal order, including education, politics and law, should ever be dominated by the ideologies of humanism. In fact, the motive behind the Westminster Standards was to craft a National Creed calling for a Covenantal allegiance to the Word of God and the King of Nations. The Puritans refused to abandon the culture, for to abandon it would be to shirk their duties as Christians. America was to be God’s World. It was God’s America. This Cultural Transformation, however, had to begin with the Individual and the Family.
Author and Historian Bernard Bailyn notes,
Puritanism carried on into the 18th century and into the minds of the Revolutionaries the idea, originally worked out in the sermons and track of the settlement period, that the colonization of British America had been an event designed by the hand of God to satisfy His ultimate aims.
Reinvigorated in its historical meaning by newer works, this influential strain of thought, found everywhere in the 18th century colonies, stimulated confidence in the idea that America had a special place in the architecture of God’s intent.
America was to be the hope of a New Heaven on Earth which had to be conformed to the mandates of the Inerrant Word of Truth if it ever was to survive. It was to be the City upon a Hill with Christ as its Lord and Sovereign.
IN 1630 the passengers of the Arbella left England with their new charter and with it, a great and glorious vision which would endure throughout the colonial era despite some of its difficulties. Future governor, John Winthrop, stated their purpose quite clearly when he stated:
“We shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.”
The Arbella was one of eleven ships carrying a thousand Puritans to Massachusetts that year. It was the largest original venture ever attempted in the English New World and the passengers were determined to be a Christian beacon for the rest of Europe. In the words of Winthrop, they were to be, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Like Calvin, they believed that Every aspect and Sphere of Life has its root and reason in GOD. In other words, nothing exists outside of Christ’s Dominion and they were determined to show the world that they were right.
The Puritans also understood that God had not created a Dualistic Universe where there was a division between things secular and things sacred. Nor had He created the Universe and then left it to some naturalistic mechanism of the Laws of nature as the Deists would suppose. Everything and every institution was sacred and was accountable to God. According to their theological understanding of God’s Covenant, they understood that God is Covenantally interactive with His Creation, and according to His Eternal Decree, He providentially executes all things in heaven and on earth, for the Glory and advancement of His Kingdom. They also knew that whenever man sinned there would be chastening consequences. That was an essential truth. They viewed Deuteronomy 28 as the operating sanctions for obedience and rebellion both for men and for nations. They were epistemologically self aware, that whenever a nation sinned, or resorted to an anti Christian governing structure, God’s Judgment would fall upon that nation. This motivated the Puritans to be very particular about how America would be structured. It was the Church; those faithful pastors that were given the Divine mandate to act as the prophets of God in order to keep a close eye on the civil magistrates.
The understanding of the doctrine of man’s sinful nature was also a fundamental doctrine that the Puritans embraced. If the social order was to function properly, in righteousness, holiness and peace, man could not be left without restraints.
That restraint would come by way of God’s Law according to A Theonomic Law Structure. Puritan America was to be structured as a Theonomic Commonwealth based upon Biblical Covenantalism and not on Natural Law
Historian and Theologian Archie Jones states:
“Abstract theories of natural law can provide no such protections for the individual’s life, person, and property of liberty, nor for the family or church.
Rev William Einwechter observes:
“All natural law theories of law and justice lead, in practice to a form of legal positivism.
It wasn’t until the ideas of the Enlightenment took a firmer hold on 18th Century American thought, that things really began to unravel. The Enlightenment proved to be the philosophical stranglehold upon Puritanism and the application of Theonomy for a Constitutional Theocracy. Until that time Calvinist and the Puritan influence was clearly seen in English and American thought, structuring the political, constitutional, legal and cultural framework. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion was declared by the Genevan City fathers and adopted by the governing magistrates as Holy Writ, thereby structuring Geneva according to Theonomic principles. The ethical values, including the penology of the Old Testament became the basis of the Law in Geneva. This was to be the Puritan model for the New World. This was the intent of John Winthrop who brought to America in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay colony in the mid 1600s the Biblical notion of a Theocratic Commonwealth.
Winthrop believed that in order to actually make America a City upon a Hill, America had to attain God’s blessings. In order to do that, a community had to abide by Biblical Law. This would establish the community as a Christian community in Covenant with God. As long as the community was obedient it would receive the blessing of God. If it rebelled, the entire commonwealth would receive harsh chastisements for breaking the oath. He understood that there were positive sanctions for obedience as well as negative sanctions for rebellion. Winthrop believed that only by obeying God’s law could real liberty be established.
In Winthrop’s Model of Government, he posited:
- A Christian community exists in Covenant with God.
- This Covenant is an agreement to live in accordance with God’s Law. In this way true liberty would be secure.
- The government is to enforce God’s Law.
- Citizens are to obey the government as long as they are faithful to Theonomic Law. But when Tyranny became Law they believed Rebellion became Duty.
- Civil liberty is freedom UNDER GOD alone. It is not anarchistic liberty whereby every man is a law unto himself, nor is it extreme libertarianism whereby every man does what is right in his own eyes, but rather it is Liberty Under God’s Ethical jurisdiction and His Divine limitations.
- Pure Democracy is a corruption of God’s will and cannot bring about just government since natural man, as a result of the fall, cannot be trusted.
- Only the elect, God fearing individuals, should be considered to govern since only they are able to understand the Law of God, and its proper application to the modern world, as were the Levites in the Hebrew Republic.
- All others must obey the Laws of God and be subordinate to just government.
Winthrop saw God’s Law and Liberty as Inseparable. He believed that liberty flowed from a moral observance Old Testament lawbecause only God’s Law could show man what was good. The “good” (he believed) was external to man and must be imposed upon him by God’s Good and His Holy Law Word. A community would then be measured by its obedience to God’s Word. If a community, or an entire nation for that matter, remained faithful in its governing structure and execution, it would become a City upon a Hill as a gift of God to all of mankind.
Professor John Huffman comments,
These words of Winthrop uphold the Biblical view that “lawful liberty” is found only in obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. It is not based upon rights, but rather upon duty. When this is understood, all questions of morality become crystal clear. Christians should not oppose abortion because babies have a “right to life.” Rather, we oppose abortion because God says, “Thou shalt not kill.” When we argue human rights, our enemies will take our own rationalistic argument and use it against us, demanding a right to worship as they please, a right to engage in immorality, and a right to speak and live as they choose.
Winthrop’s idea of the City upon a Hill, much like Calvin’s Geneva, was the quintessential model of what the Kingdom of God would look like on earth beginning in America. It would not be perfect by any means, but it would be Righteous and Just.
It might also be argued that the philosophical ideology of this era was strikingly Reconstructive. And so, whenever we hear that Christian Reconstruction is a new idea or an unattainable construct, we need only to point back to history in order to show that it not only isn’t new, it is the bedrock of our nation and every other nation that desires liberty, justice and peace. We must also realize that America is NOW being Reconstructed along anti-Christian totalitarian lines.
Sadly, the dominance of Winthrop’s Puritan position waned as the 17th century advanced. Along with the adoption of rationalism, and natural law theory, part of the reason for this falling away was also in a large part due to divisions in the Protestant churches. Infighting and schism made many of the people bitter and cynical about the faith. So, what we have by the end of the 17oos is a nation, and a people, ripe for a societal system based upon humanistic principles and the politics of pluralism.
So, what can be done? Where do we begin? How can we begin the long journey back forming and installing a working cultural model based upon Scripture which will ensure liberty?
- First: The Church needs to wake up to its obligation as Cultural leaders and cultural warriors. She needs to break free from simply identifying and analyzing cultural problems and begin to actually DEVELOP BIBLICAL SOLUTIONS and THEN IMPLEMENT THEM in the real world.
If she refuses by remaining pietistic, or by following a Two Kingdom Rapture mentality, NEW CHURCHES MUST be planted as it was during the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s.
- Next: Those churches, along with para church organizations must develop concrete alternatives to the various intuitions that have either been usurped by the humanists or perverted by the humanists.We need to build working institutional models in the areas of Education, Economics, Welfare, Medicine, law and Justice, politics, government, history, Science, the visual Arts, Movies and Theatre, the Media, Psychology and every other area known to man.
Christians are called to create something which will ensure a Christ centered world for the generations to come. We dare not celebrate liberty, unless we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for liberty.
May God be pleased to challenge us in these times by giving us the wisdom, stamina and necessary financial tools to do valiantly for His Truth. AMEN