The Puritan Declension

I.   Concerns

A.  Children did not share common experience of parents, commitment to cause

B.  Immigration; unbelievers, Presbyterians, Baptists, Anglicans

C.  Complaints about voting and citizenship rights – tolerance letters;  New England failing to discern the pluralistic impulse of the colonies.

D.  Charters from England in doubt

E.   Indian troubles, sickness

F.  Case study – Town of Dedham (8 new members between 1653-1657, 0 between 58-62, 1662 50% men not church members, 80% children not baptized

G.  Dilution of church members’ motives – joining for civil benefits

II.   Responses

II.  Anti-Toleration letters

Rev. Nathaniel Ward Against Toleration (1647). God doth no where in his word tolerate Christian States, to give Tolerations to such adversaries of his Truth, if they have power in their hands to suppresse them. . . . Not to tolerate things meerly indifferent to weak consciences, argues a conscience too strong: pressed uniformity in these, causes much disunity: To tolerate more then indifferents, is not to deale indifferently with God: He that doth it, takes his Scepter out of his hand, and bids him stand by. Who hath to doe to institute Religion but God…Persecution of true Religion, and Toleration of false, are the jannes and jambres to the Kingdome of Christ, whereof the last is farre the worst. . .He that is willing to tolerate any Religion, or discrepant way of Religion, besides his own, unless it be in matters meerly indifferent, either doubts of his own, or is not sincere in it.

III.  Halfway Covenant

General Court of Massachusetts passed the Halfway Covenant in 1662. This granted persons church membership, even though they were not considered converted, who could meet any one or all of the following stipulations:

          1. Persons who had been baptized in infancy.

2. Those who assented to the doctrines of the church.

3. Those not scandalous in life.

Such as qualified under the above provisions were granted membership and their children were made eligible for Baptism, although they themselves were not to be admitted to the Lord’s Table and were denied a vote in church affairs.

Purpose – Keep grandchildren in the church, Baptism became a safety for babies.

Purists argued that diluting the church with those who are not truly converted, thus promoting formality. Churches and ministers took sides.

IV.  Jeremiads   Cotton Mather  “Oh, New England, New England! tremble,  for the glory is gone; it is gradually departing.” Conditions became so alarming that politicians introduced a bill in 1670, authorizing a Commission to investigate and report on two items:

1 . What are the evils that have provoked the Lord to bring His judgments on New England?

2. What is to be done that these evils may be changed?

The Commission reported on Question Number One, having found the following thirteen evils existing in 1670.

1. Decay of godliness on the part of professing Christians.

2. Pride and extravagance in dress.

3. Neglect of Baptism and church fellowship.

4. Profanity and irreverent behavior in the sanctuary.

5. Absence of Sabbath observance.

6. Lack of family government and worship.

7. Backbitings, censures, revilings, litigations between church members.

8. Intemperance, tavern haunting, adultery, lustful dress and behavior, mixed dancing, gaming, idleness.

9. Dishonesty.

10. Covetousness and love of the world.

11. Opposition to reformation and leniency toward sin.

12. A want of public spirit supporting schools, etc.

13. A general unfruitfulness under means of grace and a refusal to repent

Discussion Question – What can we learn from the way the American Puritans viewed the Bible and society?

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