This Puritan view is essentially the project of the Christian Right. From Peter Marshall to David Barton, to Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell, from Pat Robertson to Albert Mohler, the basic goal is the same. They believe that by Christianizing society we can somehow bring the blessings of God on America. Somehow America will please Him... as if America were the apple of His eye, the nation which somehow bears the 'blessing' which was in truth applied to Israel because it pictured Christ's Kingdom. To expect this blessing for America is to establish another messiah... a false god with a false gospel.
Blind to the sins and crimes of America their hearts have been hardened. They see the sins of the lost so clearly but in their romanticization and mythologization of American history they fail to see the host of sins they have approved of, participated in and celebrate. America is an empire and all empires are predicated upon theft and murder. That's what empires are and that's what they do. There have been worse empires than America and there have been better. Just because one thief or murderer isn't as heinous as another doesn't suddenly make him virtuous.
But spiritually speaking (which is how we are to think) America occupies a special place. All too often she has claimed to have God on her side and that God has sanctioned her deeds. The Christian church has largely been part of the imperial project, blessed it and prayed for it. This means that spiritually speaking America and its older cousin the British Empire as Protestant versions of this phenomenon are actually far worse than most of the evil empires of history. Spiritually speaking the American empire does more harm to the Church than the Mongols or the Soviets ever could.
America has always been schizophrenic and it's showing in our own day. The founders crafted documents to create the first explicitly non-Christian nation in the post-Constantinian era. That was remarkable and yet a large portion of the population has always resisted this. The battle goes on.
Mohler and others decry the secularization of our society. While we lament the sinful state of this Sodom and are vexed by it, Sacralization or Christianization does nothing to help the lost. Forcing lost women to stay with their husbands, forcing people to be hypocrites, forcing them to speak a certain way, forcing the arts to conform to a code does not help their hearts. It simply forces them into hypocrisy. They are still profane.
I think it engenders bitterness and I believe we are feeling the backlash. Eventually all the unbelievers will realize they outnumber their Christian masters and begin to revolt. It's been happening for decades. It didn't suddenly come out of nowhere in the 1960's. This idea that some kind of surreptitious Leftist plot suddenly became manifest in the 1960's is pure fiction and demonstrates an ignorance of American social history and its repeated pendulum swings. The present swing is a vicious one.
The Puritan experiment failed...thankfully! Thought not a Baptist I too would have suffered at the hands of the Puritans as I would have been among those who denounced their deeds and the heretical Constantinianism they espoused.
Today their land is under judgment and has become the Northeastern Sodom. In some ways it is very fitting.
We decry the sin that besets our society but secularization (like post-modernism) are in some ways blessings in disguise. It simply means we are reverting to a different social model, frankly a more honest one and one in which the Church can be the Church and witness to the lost and glorify God through witness and suffering. Rather than fight back with the lawsuit or build arsenals (which are forms of apostasy) we need to be prepared to suffer the cost.
If the Church would band together and actually live as a community, without class division and American/worldly economic thinking and social values... we would find ourselves to be quite resilient. But alas, the time for this (if it is to come at all) has not yet come for the Church in the West. There are those in other lands who I believe are already learning this lesson but they are also in grave peril. The cancer of Dominionism is spreading quickly and polluting the pure fonts of many young Christian communities.
The Sacralists will not accept the Biblical order and pattern for the Church and they continue to fight the battle for Babylon and their desire to build a pseudo-temple on its idolatrous hills. They will bring suffering upon us. Spiritually speaking they represent the greater enemy. They cross sea and land to make proselytes but instead make them the children of hell. Their converts care more about Tea Party politics and the latest handgun models than they do about Justification or the Kingdom of God. Instead of helping others die to self and wage spiritual warfare they think serving God is to kill Muslims, politic and scream at Sodomites.
Let the dead bury their dead but for us the great enemy is the wolves who pervert the gospel and proffer a false kingdom and call it Zion.
Returning to John Cotton statement:
"You think to compel men in matter of worship is to make them sin. If the worship be lawful in itself, the magistrate compelling him to come to it, compelleth him not to sin, but the sin is in his will that needs to be compelled to a Christian duty. If it do make men hypocrites, yet better be hypocrites than profane persons. Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane person giveth God neither outward nor inward man."
This statement is grossly unbiblical. He's assuming that everyone in the society is somehow covenanted and Christian and that by utilizing magisterial force they are simply exercising Church discipline. This is Judaizing. This is a form of Christian Zionism. I'm not referring to Dispensational Christian Zionism and support for the Middle Eastern state. This is another way of expressing Christendom the idea that a nation, group of nations or civilization are somehow Christian or covenanted. This is a grave error and a Kingdom heresy.
Do you see what it leads to? This is the ghost of Theodosius in Puritan New England.
The problem here is not the Invisible/Visible Church distinction or the doctrine of Infant Baptism. These notions were held by Medieval Dissenters who categorically rejected Constantinianism. The Bohemian Petr Chelcicky would be the most explicit example of this that I would cite. While Augustine is not above critique his ideas were not wholly erroneous. In fact he's rather balanced and though not worshipped by Chelcicky, the Waldenses or Lollards, he was appreciated. Remember Rome has largely rejected the teaching of Augustine and continues to do so. The Eastern Orthodox Church loathes him and always has. To simply dismiss him as a Neo-Platonist is an injustice both to Augustine and the doctrines of the New Testament.
The problem is not the Visible/Invisible distinction, but an abuse and distortion of the doctrine of the Visible Church. It's the equation of the Visible Church with Christendom, the very same error Rome made and the very error that led thousands of protestors to their deaths.
This is the error of the Christian Right and it needs to protested and loudly. The lines are being drawn. Our weapons are Word, truth and prayer. Are we willing to be put out of congregations? To suffer poverty? While I do not relish a powerful state trying to force conformity, the visions of Santorum are hardly different and theologically far worse because his evil would be stamped with the label 'Christian'.
My own hope is that the idol of America will break and the power of the state will fail and the idolatrous vision of both the Left and Right and especially the Christian Right will collapse and turn to dust.
But at the same time the destruction of an empire always leads to bloodshed and destruction and so I pray for the peace of Babylon but I do pray the quest to make hypocrites dies the death. We're at a critical juncture. If they don't capture the next generation their vision will be dead soon enough.
The Remnant Church will be by definition small but no longer distracted it can function as the Church does in many other societies... it can focus on the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Puritan New England reminds us that even if the Christian Right took over, it wouldn't be long before the different factions started in on each other. You would have Baptist towns seeking to suppress Catholics and vice versa. The struggle would not end.
It's ironic though how so many Evangelicals most of whom are Baptist have misread their own history. Their spiritual forefathers condemn them.