19 February 2015

Better Be Hypocrites Than Profane: John Cotton, Puritan New England the Christian Right

In the mid 17th century there were Baptists remaining in Massachusetts that had not ventured to the newly founded safe-haven of Rhode Island. Rejecting many aspects of Puritan theology they met in homes on Sunday morning. They refused participation in the official state-sanctioned Church.

This was abhorrent to the Puritan authorities, an unacceptable manifestation of Pluralism, and as a result some of these Baptists were arrested, fined and for those who refused to pay... whipped.

This sparked some letters of outrage from both North America and Britain. Not a few voices were critical of the New England Puritans. Had they learned nothing? They had despised Archbishop Laud and his treatment of them and now they seemed quite keen to treat others in the same fashion. And to this the Puritan John Cotton replied:

"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."

Please note the most important phrase in this statement.

"...better be hypocrites than profane."

In other words, it's better that people be forced to outwardly conform, even if their hearts are in rebellion, than the alternative which is to let them go on in their sin.

Now at this point being a paedobaptist, I actually disagree with the Baptists on many points of their theology. But I also just as strongly disagree with the Puritan stand regarding the state and society.  

Please do not confuse the Pilgrims with the Puritans. While similar there are essential differences that cannot be overlooked.

The Puritans were heirs and perpetuators of the Christendom ideal. They believed in a so-called Christian society. They were Sacralists that believed all aspects of a society were mandated to be sanctified or Christianized (whatever that means). We've written extensively about this error and how it ends up distorting the theology of the New Testament and ultimately distorts the Gospel message itself. It warps the doctrine of the Church and actually ends up creating a Pseudo-Zion, a false Church and ends up persecuting the true Christian faith.

But to put it simply the Puritans had no problem with an enforced Christian society. They weren't opposed to the state going after 'heretics'. They just wanted to be the ones calling the shots.

What Cotton missed is this and it is fully applicable to our own day...

When people are forced to outwardly conform, saving them from profaneness (he would argue)... they are still profane. Forcing people to outwardly conform to the Christian faith and its spiritual ideals can at best create hypocritical Pharisees who though outwardly conforming to something, in their hearts they are still children of the god of this age, the devil.

Unlike the Baptists we ought not to reject God ordained visible and temporal means. But it is critical to grasp these means are God ordained, not man-made. God never ordains the state to sanctify, he never ordains the state to participate in the building of the Kingdom of God. The state will perish in the fires of the Parousia. It's a temporary man-made labour and all such models are doomed to fail. There is no such thing as a 'Christian' state.

In terms of worship, we are given some outward forms, but ultimately worship is a matter of the heart. Those that approach God must believe that He is and they must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Outwardly conforming, ostensibly sanctified pagans cannot do this.

The Scriptures are explicit: God rejects the worship of the heathen. Forcing people to behave and speak in a certain way does not make them less heathen. The very notion of Christianization is extra-Biblical. There is no evidence for it (even on a conceptual level) in the New Testament. It is the fruit of speculative theology and the child of Constantinianism.

This view reduces the commandments of God and frankly His Kingdom to an earthly level when in truth it is a heavenly Kingdom, not of this world, not one that unregenerate eyes can see or grasp. The Kingdom is participation in and fellowship with the Holy Spirit. You can't bring that about through legislation and compulsion. There is no way that men through the state can bring about this relationship.

By applying the Covenant (as it were) to society at large you're not Sacralizing or Sanctifying the society, you're actually profaning the covenant. You pulling the covenant down to a base level and stripping it of its spiritual and heavenly foundations. The Puritans were guilty of profaning the New Covenant or the Covenant of Grace, to speak of it in its trans-historical or eschatological sense.

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 15.8)

God rejects the faux-worship of the wicked. Compelling people to 'serve' or worship God is futility, does not glorify God and overthrows the Great Commission.

The Sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination (Proverbs 21.27)

If we attempt to utilize legislation (the force of law) to compel people to worship God then we actually are encouraging them to sin. Their false worship just brings judgment on them and by compelling them to do so (under threat) we harden them to the true gospel.

In addition, the Great Commission commands that the Church venture out to the nations (outside Israel) to bring the gospel message and create Christians or Disciples.

There have been some incredible attempts to pervert this passage. Many Dominionists argue that we're to disciple 'the nations' by which they mean school societies and bring their political and cultural spheres under the sway of Christian power. This is basically the Sacralist reading of the passage. Modern Dominionism is just a more focused and elaborated Protestant re-casting of the old Constantinian/Theodosian project.

Making disciples of the nations simply means reaching out to the peoples of the gentile world and converting people. The power of Satan to deceive the nations (the people of the world) is limited during the time of the Last Days, the period between the 1st and 2nd Comings of Christ. In that sense he is indeed bound. This does not mean he has no power whatsoever. Knowing the time is short, he's still a roaring lion seeking to devour people and all those who are not in Christ are in fact bearers of Satan's mark.

But, unlike the time of the Old Covenant, Satan cannot stop the progress of the Gospel. He cannot hold the entire world in his sway. In the Old Days, in the ancient world, with the exception of one tiny Middle Eastern nation, he did hold the whole world under his power. That changed with the Resurrection and Ascension.

The gospel goes out but this does not mean the 'nations' become reconstituted versions of Old Covenant Israel in any sense. There are degrees of expectation on the theological spectrum from the Theonomists who would make the Old Testament the constitution of the land to positions like what is found in many of the Protestant confessions that seek to emulate (in a general sense) the laws of Old Testament Israel.

This too is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. The Law has been fulfilled. Its temporary purpose was served and thus it has been eradicated and annulled. To return to it is (according to the New Testament) a rejection of Christ and His work. It's saying that we are not under the ministration of the Spirit, i.e. the eternal/eschatological Kingdom of God. Instead we are under a temporal pre-Messianic system that was rooted upon and rested in the physical forms and in a system of sacrifice and priesthood, the veil still being whole and covenantal discipline was that of the sword.

Old Covenant Israel being a picture of Jesus Christ showed through forms the pictures of Redemption (the Tabernacle/Temple) and Judgment (wars of conquest and penal laws). These acts of blood would be murderous under normal circumstances. They were right because they were in the context of God's ordained and just judgment. They were pre-pictures or foreshadows of the Final Judgment. The Israelites as a type of Jesus Christ were bringing Judgment on the earth and breaking the delay that the rest of the world enjoyed. It has been rightly called an Intrusion of the Judgment in the days of the pre-Parousia. In that sense the wars of Israel were truly 'Holy' wars. Man cannot ordain that for any nation today.

And in terms of ethics, the Church is not called to bear the sword but to turn the cheek, suffer and live the lives of martyrs... even if we don't actually experience execution. We are called to mortification, self-denial, a living death as it were... so that we might live unto Christ.

Nations cannot be baptized and the unregenerate (let alone societies) cannot be taught to observe Christ's commandments.

Romans 8 is explicit.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, not indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (vv. 7-8)