PR matters and the Puritans need to find a new firm to get out the truth. David Hall does his best in an opinion piece in the New York Times. In spite of the job the Transcendentalists did on them in the 1800s, a closer look at the facts points to a democratic spirit unleashed by the Puritans on the new continent that overthrew all authority not vested in the people. Did they have a commitment to a high morality? You betcha’. But no King, no bishop, no Governor had authority over the conscience and natural rights of man.
Statism is always the enemy. It offers the easy way to organize society. Like Plato’s theory of government, it seeks those who will know best and hands to them the power of rule. The three great “isms” of the 20th century sought the same – Nazism, Communism, and Maoism and their 101 imitators, like Fidel Castro.
Statism is always the enemy in church, too. By this I mean the belief that the guy sitting in the pew is a dummy and needs a hierarchy to keep in check. Is there leadership in the New Testament? For sure. Does it have the responsibility to teach, confront and if need be expel? Yes. But what they do, they do not only in the name of Christ but by virtue of representatives of the people.
When I started out in ministry church discipline was all the rage. The church was rumored to be soft, morally low and out of control with the foreign spirit of democracy. So many of my friends started their ministries with sermon series on church discipline and actual such acts. They had sufficient reasons to be concerned. But maturity in ministry shows another way. What looked like moral carelessness was often more empathy and a family feeling of patience. What often looked like a cantankerous spirit toward authority was on closer look a belief that no person was right by virtue of his position. What looked like chaos in congregational life and abounding inefficiencies was a rejection of the church as business model that so many pastors were learning in seminaries.
The new Reformed movement is another version of what was happening when I graduated from seminary. Young people fed up with so-called compromises and pipe dreams of an easier way to do church based on hierarchy – God, Bible, Pastor. As the pastors get older and wiser, raising their own families and learning how to keep extended relationships intact and as healthy as possible, they will come back to acceptance that the old curmudgeon sitting in the pew and doing church the “old way” is not a dummy. He’s on to something that is very important in church.
Hall makes the case for a richer reading of the American Puritans. Read it.