Thursday, August 18, 2011

Puritan Culture in Early America

In the olden days there existed a group, who lived out their faith. The reason they came to America was to escape persecution from the established church of England. These people are the puritans and they have left a legacy that is to be studied. Without them, our country as we know it would not have existed and much of the theological thought in Reformed church today would not have developed. Because the puritans have laid the foundation for much in America today, it is important to study their life and culture.

To start off, there is a foundation on which men build their beliefs on. Cornelius Van Til, Westminster Theological Seminary professor and Christian apologist, puts it as, “There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy.”1 Theonomy takes two latin words theos(God) and nomus(law) simply meaning God’s laws. Autonomy means self-law. When it comes to building a society and culture, it all boils down to whether it is going to be build on God’s laws, written in His Word, or is it going to be established based on man made rules and laws. As it pertains to the puritans, their foundation for life and culture was based upon the word of God. It was the puritans who set the example of liberty, ethics, and the spirit of capitalism in our society.

One of the contributions of puritan thought is the rule of law. In his book, Lex Rex, puritan statesman Samuel Rutherford makes the case that the heads are state are under the law. All law is given by God and no one, not even a king, is above the law or a law unto himself. Rutherford writes , “All civil power is immediately from God in its root; in that, 1st, God hath made man a social creature, and one who inclineth to be governed by man, then certainly he must have put this power in man's nature; so are we, by good reason, taught by Aristotle. 2nd, God and nature intendeth the policy and peace of mankind, then must God and nature have given to mankind a power to compass this end; and this must be a power of government.”2 Rutherford was also a commissioner to the Westminster Assembly, which means he was also one of the master minds behind the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Catechisms(Larger and shorter), and the Directory for Public Worship. These documents have made profound impact on American culure and the formation of our country. Lex Rex influenced many of America’s founders such as John Witherspoon and Thomas Jefferson.3 In the Declaration of Independent it states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Law is given by God and not by the state. If the state can give rights, it can also take them away. This was what Rutherford argued and this was what the founding fathers put into practice in our country through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Westminister Confession of Faith also gave way to the American Revolution. Reformed theology and doctrine was ingrained in the American way of life, “When Joseph Galloway, friend of Franklin and eminent Philadelphian, gave testimony before a committee of the House of Commons in 1779, he was asked what was the underlying cause of the revolution. He replied that it was the activity and influence of the Presbyterians.”4 At one point, a member of Parliament even confessed “Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson![referring to John Witherspoon]” The puritans had a different view of government than what most Christians today believe in. They were more open and vocal on political and social issues. In fact, the American revolution would not of happened if they just preached theology and not encourage congregants to get involved in social issues. Men like John Witherspoon, who was a Presbyterian Minister, who was on many committees in the founding of our country and the only pastor to sign the Declaration of Independence. He was a professor to James Madison, the man who was the architect of the U.S. Constitution, at Princeton University. It was men like Witherspoon, pastors and clergy, that made the difference in those who started this country.

The work ethic of the Puritans is another influence they had on American cultures. In the Larger Catechism of the Westminster Confession it states:
The duties required in the eigth commandment are, truth, faithfulness, and
justice in contracts and commerce between man and man; rendering to every one
his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained from the right owners thereof;
giving and lending freely, according to our abilities, and the necessities of others;
moderation of our judgments, wills, and affections concerning worldly goods; a
provident care and study to get, keep, use, and dispose these things which are
necessary and convenient for the sustentation of our nature, and suitable to our
condition; a lawful calling, and diligence in it; frugality; avoiding unnecessary lawsuits,
and suretiship, or other like engagements; and an endeavour, by all just and
lawful means, to procure, preserve, and further the wealth and outward estate of
others, as well as our own.5

This is raising the bar when it comes to vocation and work. In W.K. Jordan’s Philanthropy in England, 1480–1660, he demonstrates that through the proclamation and application of the Gospel actually resulted in private charity in society. 6 Jordan makes note of Puritan preacher Hugh Latimer’s
Sermon “Sermon on the Plough”. In this message, he strongly condemned the rich and nobility for indulging in their wealth while there are less fortunate people dying in the streets of London:
In times past men were full of pity and compassion but now there is no pity, for in London their brother shall die in the streets for cold, he shall lie sick at their door between stock and stock. I cannot tell what to call it, and perish there for hunger, was there any more unmercifulness in Nebo [Jer. 48:1]? I think not.… Repent therefore repent London and remember that the same God lives now that punished Nebo, even the same God and none other, and he will punish sin as well now as he did then, and he will punish the iniquity of London as well as he did then of Nebo.7

Through technological advancement, the Puritans seek to improve the quality of life by starting up schools, training the poor for a better life, and improved public works. They had compassion for the poor and wanted to improve the quality of life for them. Max Weber, in his book, The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he makes note of the economical development between Calvinists and Roman Catholics. He wrote, “Examples of the condemnation of the pursuit of money and goods may be gathered without end from Puritan writings, and may be contrasted with the late mediaeval ethical literature , which was much more open-minded on this point. Moreover, these doubts were meant with perfect seriousness; only it is necessary to examine them somewhat more closely in order to understand their true ethical significance and implications. The real moral objection is to relaxation in the security of possession, the enjoyment of wealth with the consequence of idleness and the temptations of the flesh, above all of distraction from the pursuit of a righteous life.”8 In the mind of the Puritan, laziness and idleness from one’s vocation and family reflects his relaxation in seeking the Lord and growing in holiness. Puritans believed that their labor was to foremost to God. When wealth is grown, idleness and all sorts of sins tend to grow along with it.

The puritans eschatological views were different then what most Christians today believe in. Today, most Christians embrace a pre-millennial dispensationalist view that the world is getting worse and that Jesus will return in our lifetimes . He will rapture his people and those left behind will have to endure a seven year tribulation and put up with an end time super villain called the Anti-Christ. There is more to this but I won’t write on it right now. Those who embrace this viewpoint include John MacArthur, Tim LaHaye, Joel Rosenburg, Brannon Howse, and Ray Comfort. The puritans have a different idea in mind when it comes to the second coming. The writings of puritans such as Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, and Samuel Rutherford reflect a postmillennial view of the second coming of Christ. What this means is “Christ will return after a future golden age of prosperity on the earth, during which time the gospel will have been fruitful in all the world, bringing peace and security to all.”9 Also, many bible commentaries written during this time reflected a partial-preterist view of Matthew 24. This means that signs mentioned here are referenced to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., not the end of the world.10
In one of his many writings, Jonathan Edwards wrote “A Humble Attempt.” This piece of writing is on the revival of true religion in latter days:

IT is evident from the Scripture, that there is yet remaining a great advancement of the interest of religion and the kingdom of Christ in this world, by an abundant outpouring of the Spirit of God, far greater and more extensive than ever yet has been. It is certain, that many things, which are spoken concerning a glorious time of the church's enlargement and prosperity in the latter days, have never yet been fulfilled. There has never yet been any propagation and prevalence of religion, in any wise, of that extent and universality which the prophecies represent. It is often foretold and signified, in a great variety of strong expressions, that there should a time come, when all nations, throughout the whole habitable world, should embrace the true religion, and be brought into the church of God.11

It was this philosophy and eschatological viewpoint that motivated the puritans to invest in their families and vocations. They had positive view of the future and started schools such as Harvard and Yale. These puritans were interested in those that will enter the ministry after the previous generation passes away. This was the reason they invested so much in their families. In a view of prophetic inevitibility, it would seem unlikely that parents would provide education to be passed down from future generation. They would seem to be discouraged from making any long term investment because it’s going to get destroyed anyway. The Postmillennial hope is what the puritans embraced.

In closing, there is a lot more that could be mentioned about the puritans. This is only a snapshot of what the puritan lifestyle looked like. Without their investment and their ideas, the United States would not have existed. These people have laid the groundwork for what we enjoy and believe as Christians.

1. Van Til, Cornelius. Christian-Theistic Ethics. P 134.
2. Rutherford, Samuel. Lex Rex. Question 1.
3. Shaeffer, Francis. Christian Manifesto. P 32.
4. Davies, Foundation, p. 227.
6. McDurmon, Joel. “The Lost Reformation.”
7. Leitmer, Hugh. “Sermon of the Plough.”
8. Weber, Max. The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.
10. Commentaries by John Gill and Matthew Henry reflect this viewpoint (John Gill’s commentary)
11. Edwards. Jonathan. “Humble Attempt”.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Economics of the family

In American society today, there are a wide variety of movements that believe they are telling you the truth. There is the feminist movement that is telling you that men are monsters and that women need to be liberated from them. On top of that, you have the homosexual movement saying that all families are equal and that same-sex marriage is normal. For Christians, the truth is found in the Word of God. What God’s Word says is true for all times and places. This is true when it comes to marriage and the family. Because practicing marriage and family life from the Bible works, strong societies, churches and families are produced.
To start, we need to look at what the Bible says when it comes to matters such as marriage and family life. As we all know, God’s providential design includes man and woman. The man is the representative of Christ by leading his wife and children. 1 Corinthians 11:3 says that “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” Man is reflecting Christ by leading his family. This relationship reflects the one between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-23). The wife is made to be a helper and a companion to her husband. Genesis 2:18 says, “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” Woman also represents her husband to her children and the world. Because the husband is the head and the woman represents, the woman submits to her husband’s leadership.
With a biblical basis for masculinity and feminity, it creates a stronger society. French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville noticed a major difference between America’s families and those from Europe;
"There is certainly no country in the world where the tie of marriage is more respected than in
America, or where conjugal happiness is more or worthily appreciated. In Europe, almost all the
Disturbances of society arise from the irregularities of domestic life. To despise the natural bonds
And legitimate pleasure of home is to contract a taste for excesses, a restlessness of heart, and
Fluctuating desires. Agitated by the passions that frequently disturb the dwelling, the European
Is galled by obedience which the legislative powers of the state exact. But when the American
retires from the turmoil of public life to the bosom of his family, he finds it the image of order
and peace. There his pleasures are simple and natural, his joys are innocent and calm…"1
America, which was established on a Christian worldview, valued the roles given to man and woman. As a result, the home was a place of peace and joy. In America’s past, there has been a strong interesting in protecting this relationship. It offers many benefits that no other relationship or institution can give. The first is that children are better off being raised by a married couple than a homosexual couple or by a parent with multiple partners. Research has shown that a child that lives with both of his parents has a higher achievement in education. Sandra Jofferth, researcher for the journal Demography, has shown that children who live in intact families score the highest on cognitive achievement tests and have the lowest rate on behavior issues.2 In early American history, education was handled by the parents and not by the state(Through the public school system). It has been demonstrated that “colonial mothers often achieved more than our modern-day elementary schools with their federally-funded programs and education specialists. These colonial mothers used simple, time-tested methods of instruction mixed with plain, old-fashioned hard work. Children were not ruined by educational experiments developed in the ivory towers of academe.”3 Without a penny of one’s tax dollars, children have been able to read how to read from their mama because she was practicing her Biblical as a wife and a mother . Her husband was working providing and protecting the family giving her the chance to work with the children. Another advantage to a solid family is that children are far less likely to commit crime. The Heritage Foundation has noted that the rise in crime is parallel to the rise of single mother families and the rate of violent crimes by teenagers is proportional to the number of families abandoned by their dad. On the other hand, they have noted that the mother’s affection for her children has contributed to keeping kids out of crime and the father’s authority and involvement in the lives of his kids keeps them always from crime.4 When the family is operating within its proper realms(As defined by Scripture), the advantages work.
The breakdown of the family leads to the collapse of nations and societies. When Rome fell, one of the subtle moves that surrounded its demise is the breakdown of the family structure. Richard Saller, Roman historian and history professor, writes, “According to the Roman writers of the first century BCE and first century CE, divorce became increasingly frequent after 200 BCE, initiated easily by the husband or the wife. In addition, wives had their own property, which they could sell, give away or bequeath as they liked. As a result, women became more liberated and less dependent on their husbands.”5 The men were abdicating their authority as head of the household and women were more concerned about wealth and their beauty than their families. It is the equivalent to modern day feminism and the destruction of traditional feminity. During that time, sons showed deep disrespect for their fathers and pursued fleeting pleasures such as women and wine. What this eventually led to was the social upheaval and the civil wars that brought the Roman Republic to an end.6 The Roman historian Polybius has made reference to rampant homosexuality among the upper class and was accepted as entertainment. He writes, “Polybius was on the one hand very happy to see the enthusiasm and affection of the young man, yet was embarrassed when he reflected on the high position of the family and the wealth of its members. However, after this mutual explanation the young man never left his side, and preferred his society to anything else. From that time onwards continuing in the actual conduct of life to give proof to each other of their worth, they came to regard each other with an affection like that of father and son or near relations.”7 Does this sound familiar? Yes, many of these elements are present in America today. According to Carle Zimmerman, author of Family and Civilization, there are eight patterns that are indictors that a nation is declining. They are; the breakdown of marriage and an increase in divorce, traditional marriage becomes meaningless, feminism rises, an increasing disrespect for parents and authority, the youth becomes delinquent and rebellious, people in traditional marriages adamantly refuse their family responsibilities, a widespread acceptance of homosexuality and other sexual perversions, and a increasing public acceptance of adultery.8 Those elements were present in Rome and they are in the United States today. Let us do our part to undo this trend and let America once again be a light and a symbol of hope and freedom to the world.
The family unit is a threat to totalitarian and oppressive governments. When the Communists took over Russia one of the first items on their agenda was to destroy the traditional family. In 1917, the Council of People’s Commissars legalized no-fault divorce. Fellow Marxist Alexandra Kollontai writes, “The decree of the Council of People’s Commissars issued on 18 December 1917 means that divorce is, no longer a luxury that only the rich can afford; henceforth, a working woman will not have to petition for months or even for years to secure the right to live separately from a husband who beats her and makes her life a misery with his drunkenness and uncouth behaviour. Divorce by mutual agreement now takes no more than a week or two to obtain. Women who are unhappy in their married life welcome this easy divorce.”9 When divorce is legalized beyond its original intentions(Which are in case of abuse and spousal unfaithful), marriage no longer has protection it needs. One can just file out a piece of paper and the deal is done. No reasons for the divorce are required. In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx has written, quite vocally, about the family. He writes, “On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form, this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.”10 What Marx believes in was that the family is rooted in the concept of private property. Because the traditional family can support itself, oppressive governments view this as a threat to their agenda of welfare and socialism. It does not depend on the government for its livelihood and survival. Even the idea that families can teach their own children is also a threat because it builds loyalty to the church and family, not the state. The family teaches values that are contrary to what the “elites” and the Party want to indoctrinate children in. James Bales, author of Communism: Its Faith and Fallacies,writes, “Although communists in Russia have had to retreat from efforts to destory the family, they are endeavoring through their educational system, including the nurseries, to build loyalty to the Party rather than the home.”11 They want the unconditional obedience from the masses and the family is one obstacle in the way.
Finally, Americans need to realize that this great and mighty country is heading downhill like Rome was. If the father/husband of the family is out of the picture, the state replaces him as the provider and protector. As a result, welfare programs develop to counterfeit what the head of the household can do. In Rome, what ultimately brought the Republic down were massive taxation, free food and entertainment, and deep debt. America is heading towards the same direction with government bailouts, progressive taxation/distribution of wealth, and many entitlements. A congressional reports states that “No thought was given to the possibility that public assistance predicated on the absence of a male head of household might lead to an increase in the number of such families. If you subsidize something, usually you get more of it, and this has been the case with the single parent families and the welfare system. We believe the evidence supports two propositions: (1) Welfare has increased the incidence of single parent families and contributed to the decline in traditional families (two married parents living together with their children); and (2) Welfare has contributed to illegitimate babies being produced to obtain or increase public assistance payments.”12 Once the family is on the decline, more and more people will get on government welfare. This trend is very difficult to reverse and it can end very violently if government tries to undo entitlement programs. Let us not repeat history and not go down the road that ultimately leads to destruction.
In closing, the family provides benefits that no other institution or relationship can counterfeit. History tells us that when alternatives to the Biblical family are accepted in society, the consequences lead to ruin and chaos. America needs to learn from the past and escape the judgment that God will use on our society for our sin. The destruction of traditional marriage and the exaltation of homosexuality will ultimately lead to catastrophic ruin. Don’t be like Rome, America, please repent and come back to the One who is looking down in love, ready to discipline us if we continue in our corrupt ways.

1. DeTocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. 1:315
3. Peterson, Robert. “Education in Colonial America”. The Freeman Online.
4.Fagan, Patrick. “The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community”. The Heritage Foundation.
5. Saller, Richard. “Family Values in Ancient Rome”. University of Chicago Library Digital Collections.
6. ibid
7. Polybius XXXI.25.5
8. Biggs, Charles. “Parallels between the fall of Rome and modern America”. Tulsa Beacon.
10. Marx, Karl. Communist Manifesto.
11. Bales, James. Communsim: it faith and fallacies