Puritanism as a Political Concept

In the eyes of the Puritan New England majority, theology translated best into all areas of life. As we have previously asserted, the Calvinistic tendencies of Puritanism created a number of significant implications for society. The theological thought of Puritanism not only impacted the religious sphere of life but, rather, all areas of society. The spiritual was not and could not be separated from the secular.

Understanding Basic Puritan Political Thought  

To Puritans, it seemed virtually non-Christian to assert that one could separate the theological from the temporal. In other words, the theological aspects of life were not just one slice of the pie but the pie itself. Thus, this cohesive formation of theology fostered the pivotal Puritanistic belief that God governed humanity as one unified body rather than two separate organisms. God’s uniformal governance could not be neglected.  

A Puritan who found himself working as a tradesman did not merely view himself as a tradesman but a theologian disguised as a tradesman. Through his vocation, he was ultimately on mission and not business. The theological implications of God’s rule could not be separated from the reality of everyday life and politics. 

Total Depravity and Puritan Life

To best understand the Puritan political theory, we must first wrestle through the waters of total depravity. For the majority of seventeenth-century New England, a thorough understanding of human nature has proved to be an instrumental piece of knowledge in the task of grasping how the world functioned. This apparent instrumental piece of knowledge hinged upon the idea that human nature lacked any sense of natural virtue.

Children were not taught to disobey, slander their parents, or crudely function in their own self-interest. These attributes were a result of the fall and, therefore, embedded naturally within humanity. The only scapegoat, in finding freeing from such dreadful bondage, was through God’s mercy of regeneration. This traditionally Calvinistic way of understanding the rhythm of humanity profoundly impacted Puritan politics. In fact, a large majority of Puritan theologians asserted that God’s people were best governed not by an “orthodox” conceptualization of democracy—although Massassuchetts Bay would come to accept some form of democracy amidst the revolutionary period—but through the governing principles of God’s law.

The Massachusetts Bay Legislative Structure 

The political structure of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was quite complex. Through the colony’s royal charter, instituted under the reign of King Charles I, highfalutin Puritan politicians were granted the right to establish a “Great and General Court.” All legislative, administrative, and judicial duties were to be held within this institution. During the court’s first meeting in October of 1630, a lonely total of eight representatives took action to establish the Council of Assistants. A subsection under the canopy of the General Court, the Council of Assistants would theoretically function as a pre-Revolutionary Senate. Although, prior to 1644, the Council sat collectively with representatives from the General Court. 

In 1642, a court case regarding a widow’s missing pig was reversed by the General Court and then later that very bill was vetoed by assistants. It was here that representatives resolutely decided that the Council should sit separately from the Court, as an upper house. Therefore, the General Court, otherwise known as the House of Deputies, operated as a pre-Revolutionary House of Representatives while the Council of Assistants closely resembled our modern Senate. Yet, the subjection of the Council of Assistants did not negate the fact that both bodies must agree, via majority voting sessions within each chamber, before legislation could be passed.

Understanding the Theocracy  

Why, then, is the political structure of Massachusetts Bay commonly understood as a theocracy? The theocratic tendencies of Puritan New England are best recognized when looking at the key requirements for political office. In that, not everyone could be a state representative in colonial Massachusetts. Those of African descent, ethnic minorities, women, and those who did not acquiesce to the statutory form of theology were restricted from holding public office. In short, holding office was dependant upon satisfactory meeting these requirements.  

Political representatives, who happened to be of the Puritan creed, believed that the government should dutifully enforce a universal law that was properly molded by the inerrant Word of God. Thus, anyone who broke the law was not only violating the authority of the sovereign but also disregarding God’s will in the process. In this way, God actively played a part in the everyday affairs of humanity. The implementation of a biblically-oriented political structure was, in a strictly Puritan view, a prerequisite in Winthrop’s utopian pursuit of a “city upon a hill.” 

Puritans believed that a theocracy was best for the believers’ own personal battle with holiness and the collective’s wellbeing as a spiritual unity. This system was not only fixed to keep colonists in check with everyday law, but it also served as a spiritual check for Christians who desired to serve God with reverence and awe. Laws regarding the regulation of church attendance, protection of theological ideas, condemnation of trivial practices, and the protection of the Sabbath are all examples of rules established in order to promote the spiritual welfare of the state. 

An Unfortunate Irony 

The enforcement of a theocratic structure, along with the numerous theological requirements for political office, created a social rhythm marked by an expansive scope of government and limited freedom of conscience. Puritans ironically reasserted a “medieval” political Catholicism when they institutionalized a religious government that chastised those who did fall in line with the beliefs of the theological majority. The irony of Massachusetts Bay is best understood as the accidental implementation of the very aspects of medieval Catholicism, such as a limited focus on individual interpretation of Scripture, that the Puritans’ spiritual forefathers—being the European Reformers—sought to separate themselves from.  

Rather than adhering to Tertullian’s idea that religion “is of human right and natural liberty,” Puritans deviated from the political genius of their ancient church fathers and simulated an environment in which the conscience was subject to spiritual tyranny. To reference Tertullian’s treatise Ad Scapulam, religion was not treated as someone’s ius humanum (human right) or within one’s potestas naturalis (natural capability) for Puritan Massachusetts. The chief end of both governing houses of colonial Massachusetts, both the Council of Assistances and the General Court, was a commitment to the idea that society must remain theologically pure. 

Synthesis and Conclusion 

Seventeenth-century Puritan political theology engineered a social fabric that resolutely intertwined all things together. The things of Caesar were the things of God and vice versa. There was no clear distinction between the two. Although we may understand this muddled formation of a society to be an idea of the past, does any such thing resemble it today? I speak, of course, not of modern politics. But, rather, of social and political church structure.     

Have church governments entrapped faithful believers under a nonsensical canopy of perpetual ignorance? Is freedom of conscience really viewed as a virtue in today’s protestant church culture? As we may pridefully scoff at the foolish collapse of Massachusetts Bay, let us first consider our own culture. Do we truly value the freedom of thought that Christ speaks of when he urges us to love God with our whole mind? Do the blinding stage lights of contemporary evangelicalism hinder our ability to reasonably glorify and understand the Divine? 

These are the questions we need to be asking ourselves. As we dive further into the history of Puritanism, let us more accurately make connections between the past and the present. History, accurately understood, is not merely the study of the past. More precisely, history is the lens through which we may view the present.   

How Children’s Ministry Forms the People of God

What Does Jesus Say About Children?

Jesus’ helpers tried to send them away. ‘Jesus doesn’t have time for you!’ they said. ‘He’s too tired.’ But they were wrong. Jesus always had time for children.  ‘Don’t ever send them away!’ Jesus said. ‘Bring the little ones to me.’ …You see, children loved Jesus, and they knew they didn’t need to do anything special for Jesus to love them. All they needed to do was run into his arms. And so that’s just what they did.

In this sweet excerpt from The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones begins to answer the question we must start with when we discuss children’s ministry: “What does Jesus have to say about children?”

When the disciples try to hurry the children away so that Jesus can focus on his “more important work,” Jesus stops the disciples and welcomes the children in his arms. If Jesus “always has time for children,” we must ask, do we? 

Many people today view children’s ministry as glorified childcare, a place to drop off your children while you socialize, or a place to volunteer in order to spend time with sweet and adorable children. Some even flippantly disregard children’s ministry by remarking that while we should strive to give children decent information, we should rely on adult ministry to fix all of the inaccuracies they absorb as children. This must not be the case, not only for the children’s sake, but for ours as well. 

Children Are Image Bearers

We must take children seriously because first and foremost, they are image bearers. Running around our church hallways are a bunch of little children , who were uniquely created in the image of God. Every conversation we have with a child is a new opportunity to know God more deeply. How would children’s ministry change if we remembered that every child who enters our ministry is an image bearer of the God of the universe? 

More than that, if these children know and love Jesus, then they are our brothers and sisters with whom we will spend eternity. C.S. Lewis famously writes, 

It is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

We love and serve children because God created them in his image, and they are worthy of our care and our time. 

Children Need Us to Teach Them

In Psalm 71 the psalmist writes, 

With the mighty deeds of the Lord I will come;
I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. 
Oh God, from my youth you have taught me, 
And I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to my old age and gray hairs, 
O God, do not forsake me, 
Until I proclaim your might to another generation, 
Your power to all those who come. 

In this chapter, the psalmist asks to live long in order that he can tell the coming generation of all God has done. Similarly, we must have a similar desire for the little ones to know and trust in the good news of the gospel. 

Children have malleable hearts. They are sponges of information. They are constantly amazing us with the amount of detail that they can remember and repeat. They are always listening, watching, and applying what they learn making us some of their biggest influences and role models. The responsibility of a role model is one that we should steward well. 

We can steward and love  their listening hearts well by teaching them faithfully. While we do not need to aim to teach them with the same theological density that comes from the pulpit, we should teach them with the same theological accuracy. Children listen and they remember.

Children Show Us Need

Children are more attuned to their needs than we are of our own. They rely on adults for their most basic needs. From the minute they are born, they are utterly helpless. While children’s ministry should be full of teaching and discussion, it is, on a basic level, fulfilling children’s needs like food, water, and safety while their parents are elsewhere. This may seem like a mundane aspect of the ministry, but our hearts need it. As Joseph Hart says in his hymn, Come Ye Sinners, “All the fitness He requires is to feel your need of Him.”

We need this “need.” We naturally want to prove our independence and self sufficiency, but Jesus works on our hearts in order to show us that we are insufficient and in utter need of Him. We are helpless without him. When we are near to children who are so aware of their own needs, we will be reminded of our own needs.

Children Show Us Wonder

A few years ago, I was teaching 3-year-old Sunday school on Heaven and this sweet little boy in my class said, “Miss Emily! Guess what? I’m going to Heaven someday!” Without missing a beat, the little boy’s best friend exclaimed, “No way! Me too!” They spent the next few minutes in complete excitement that they would get to “play together forever with Jesus.” I remember sitting there watching them thinking, “Wow, do we get this excited about Heaven?” 

If we are being honest, we may not even thinking about Heaven everyday, much less get so excited we can barely stand it. We need children to be examples for us of what it looks like to be in awe of the good news of the gospel. We need to begin to recapture a childlike wonder for the beautiful truths that become mundane to us as life goes on. Children are vital gifts to us in this way. As we teach them the stories we have known for many years, we must watch their glittering eyes and pray that the Lord would restore in us a wonder we once had when we first believed. 

Be Like Children

The Jesus Storybook Bible says it well:

Well, after all the laughter and games, Jesus turned to his helpers and said, ‘No matter how big you grow, never grow up so much that you lose your child’s heart: full of trust in God. Be like these children. They are the most important in my kingdom.’

Children’s ministry has deep effects on our souls. Let us not only serve the children of our church well, but also watch them intently. They show us more about who God is, who we are, and how we can relate to Him. They are made in the image of God and show us need and wonder. Even in our pursuit of further biblical knowledge, may we never lose our child’s heart for God and for the gospel. May we continue to marvel at our own salvation and the promise of the new heavens and the new earth with a childlike wonder. Jesus loves the little children and so must we.

How Community Forms the People of God

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
-Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Over the past four years, I have spent my summers involved in camp ministry. While all vastly different, my summers at camp have each brought such a sweet community that has encouraged me and pushed me to grow in my walk with the Lord.

During this time, fellow believers have sharpened, stretched, and challenged me in how I view myself and others in light of the gospel. I have come to see an immense amount of grace and revelation of my own sin as I have learned to rely on others. This has given me the perspective to truly see the body of Christ at work. Through my experience, I have come to see the importance of community in a believer’s life and how it is a way to experience growth and grace in a believer’s life.

Why is Community Important?

Community Brings Encouragement

First, community brings encouragement into believer’s lives. There will always be times in our lives when we feel distant from the Lord or “spiritually dry.” However, it is during these times where community will help us to continue in our walk with the Lord. While we are not to rely on others fully for our spiritual nourishment, our brothers and sisters in Christ can help encourage and challenge us by publically living out their faith. Romans 1:11 says:

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

We see in this passage the place of community in a believer’s life. Community with others is a way to bring mutual encouragement by seeing one another walk with the Lord. Seeing the Lord use others as His vessel, and seeing Him use their different gifts and talents for His purpose and Glory will encourage us in knowing how the Lord has made us equally unique for His glory. In 1 Corinthians, Paul discusses this in reference to the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 reads:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
-1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Community is an incredible picture of the body of Christ at work. While we see others’ differences and gifts, we can be comforted in knowing we serve the same God and see a glimpse of His nature.

Community Brings Accountability

Community not only brings encouragement, but it also brings accountability. When we surround ourselves with fellow Christians, it will be easier to notice our own sin. However, we should not grow discouraged by this. At camp, we have the phrase “It’s a privilege to see your own sin.” This simple phrase has grown to become a sweet reminder to me in my walk with Christ. It is a privilege because, in the revelation of our own sin, we can take comfort knowing the Holy Spirit is at work. In John 12:46, Jesus states that “whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”

The work of sanctification in a believer’s life is one that continues to draw sin out of our lives and shine light into the darkness.
When we notice our sin, it is not just a privilege, but a comfort, as we see our need for Christ. Charles Spurgeon put it well when he stated that:

The person who is a sinner is the kind of person Jesus Christ came to make clean.

When we see our own sin, we see our desperate need of a savior. Community helps in the revelation of this. As we are in a relationship with others, God uses others to show us our faults and point us back to the gospel.

We are also called into accountability through community as we are pushed to be more like Christ by finding people also seeking Christ. Proverbs 27:17 speaks of this when it states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

When we choose those chasing after Christ as friends, we can be brought into accountability with our own weaknesses. As we speak truth into each other’s lives and pray for one another just as Scripture commands, we will be challenged to become more like Christ, and held publically accountable for the recurring sins in our life.

What is True Biblical Community?

Community is a way in which God brings about spiritual growth among believers. Without community, we lack both accountability and encouragement. True biblical community is one that constantly and consistently points to Christ while displaying the grace of God to others in their lives. Community that seeks to glorify Christ should be united, prayerful, and Christ-exalting.

United

When we are striving to live for Christ together, we should be striving for unity. Community brings about an opportunity to both extend grace to others and receive it from them when we fall short. It is easy to get caught up in our differences, to focus on the faults of others, and to remain in our division. However, we should strive to seek peace with fellow believers. In Colossians 3, Paul reminds us of this by saying,

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
-Colossians 3:12-14

Prayerful

Secondly, we can be brought into a deeper community with believers by praying together. God promises that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).  I have seen the Lord most clearly at work when believers pray together. If you are discouraged by pre-existing division or attempting to find God-honoring friendships where you are, I suggest that you start praying with and for people.

Ask others how you can pray for them and set aside time with them to pray specifically for them. Prayer can be a tool for God to bind us more closely together. When God uses prayer to bring us together, we are shown our collective need for Him. There is unity when believers come together in the adoration of God and humbly place their needs before Him.

Christ-Exalting

Lastly, community should be focused on exalting Christ. Community allows us to see a glimpse into the kingdom of God as [ultimately] the goal of it should be the glorification of Christ and a celebration of His work on the cross. When we experience a genuine, Christ-exalting community, we see a foretaste of what’s to come in eternity. We see a glimmer of Revelation 7, which says:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.
-Revelation 7:9-12

What a picture of what is to come and what believers must long for! How gracious that our loving Father would give us each other as we continue to walk in our faith. It is essential that we know we do not have to do life alone, but we are able to lean on each other, bearing with one another our burdens as we continue to point each other to Christ. The song “We Will Feast In The House of Zion” illustrates this, as it says:

We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more

May we all seek a community that is centered around Christ, unified in His love, and aimed at bringing glory to Him, for this is a picture of eternity.