Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This Blog Has Moved!


Hello friends!

In case you have been manually typing in this web address, or are just receiving email updates, I want to let you know that I have transferred this blog to a new website that I think you will find much more user friendly just as I have.

Please stop by and pass it on to whomever you think would benefit from our study of God's Word. You can re-subscribe there and see a number of the recent posts that have been done on worship leading as well as our latest study that kicked off in Jude.

Visit the new home for ToTheWoodshed

Thank you for reading and I pray this medium continues to be an edifying source of the truth.

In Christ Alone,

Ben

Monday, April 17, 2017

What Jesus’ Brother Jude Wanted Us to Know | Part 1: From Skeptic to Slave


If you were living in the first century and knew the family of Jesus, Jude is probably not one who would strike you as a future contributor to the Holy Scriptures. Yet, as God has divinely orchestrated, Jude did in fact represent a unique testimony of the Son of God as one who had grown up with Him and witnessed nearly every aspect of His life—far more than any apostle. This does not weaken the apostle’s testimony stemming from their personal discipleship from the Lord Jesus—far from that!—but it does strengthen the testimony we have received from God that Jesus’ own immediate family would recognize Him as the Messiah and divinely appointed substitutionary atonement for sin because that was not the brothers’ position from the beginning.

Jude was one of four half-brothers of Jesus. Mary, obviously a virgin when she conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, was the only genetic contributor to the birth—Joseph was not. Joseph was, however, the legal father of Jesus. Joseph and Mary, together, had four more sons who both Matthew and Mark tell us are James (the author of the biblical book of James), Joseph, Simon, and Judas—the Greek name of our author now in question (Matt 13:55; Mk 6:3).

Jude, though he spent decades with the only perfect and holy person on earth, still had a heart veiled of the truth, one of skepticism and unbelief as to who his brother Jesus really was. The Apostle John records for us a time when Jesus’ brothers pestered Him with cynical, combative questions and comments, perhaps in a slightly passive-aggressive manner:

“Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world” (7:3–4).

John leaves no room for doubting their intentions here by stating immediately, “for not even his brothers believed in him” (v. 5).

We don’t actually see any clear, positive signs of genuine faith from Jesus’ brothers until immediately after his death and/or resurrection. It is quite possible that they had a similar experience to the centurion, who, after experiencing the darkness of the sun for three hours—starting at high noon—then hearing Jesus yell out from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,’ then finally feeling the violent earthquake that caused large rocks to be split apart, spoke with fearful conviction, ‘Truly, this innocent man was the Son of God!’ (Matt 27:51–54; Lk 23:44–47).

Jude and his brothers, then, would undoubtedly be a part of “all the rest,” mentioned in Luke 24:9, of the group that met behind locked doors after Jesus’ death with His disciples. It was here that Jesus miraculously walked through the wall and revealed Himself as the risen Messiah, shocking everyone in the room (v. 37). Their joy and marveling notwithstanding, they still could not bring themselves to believe that this was the physically raised Jesus that they knew all these years. Again, Jude would have been a part of that group that experienced when Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures”—all that the Old Testament had prophesied about Himself (v. 45). It finally clicked, and this by a sovereign and gracious act of God to remove the blinders of disbelief.

From here, Jesus led them out to Bethany where He ascended up into Heaven, having told them to stay in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them—looking forward to Pentecost and the miraculous gift of languages in Acts 2. Jude, along with the others, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (v. 52) Then, just as Jesus had told them to, they waited. Indeed, “all these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).

After the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Christ, His brothers were changed men. They were new creations (2 Cor 5:17) having been regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5). This is left without question as their own personal testimony reveals. Their disposition is no longer one of skepticism to an older brother in the flesh, but one of a humble slave in recognition of His Master and Lord.

James starts his letter by calling himself a “slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1:1) as does our author in question, Jude, who begins his short epistle with an identification as “a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” (1:1). In both instances, James and Jude use the Greek word doulos, which only ever means slave and is not properly understood as either a servant, or even a bond-servant. Slaves are bought and slaves are owned.

This was further substantiated when the Apostle Paul had written to the Corinthians that they were “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20, 7:23), or when Peter reminded his readers that they were “ransomed . . . with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet 1:18–19). This makes sense when considering that we were formerly slaves of something else—sin!

The Apostle Paul explains further: “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:20–23).

Understanding the background of Jude instantly confronts the reader with an obvious challenge—how do you view yourself? Is it the way that the Bible so often identifies His believing children—as obedient slaves? Or do we belittle the Messiah who takes away the sins of the world to someone who merely allows us to continue in our sin with no threat of divine recompense? Jude would strongly attest to the former position. Jude knows that unbelief is damning and he would labor to save us from that.

We are also confronted with the reality that our physical family on earth has no bearing whatsoever on our original disposition with the Creator of heaven and earth. Even if we were blood relatives to the Lord Jesus Himself—as Jude was—we are still under the wrath of God until we come to a place of humble repentance and confession of sin as well as a confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

The Lord Himself rebuffed the Jews on this point: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham” (Matt 3:9).

No, it is not an earthly lineage that saves a man from divine wrath. It is not because you were born into a Christian home, or because you have a minister as a father. We confess with the Apostle Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16)—a truth that is not revealed by flesh and blood, but by the Father.

Jude writes to us as a fellow slave of Christ warning us of the dangers of wrong belief, false teachers, apostates, and heretics. It is in this letter that the famous opening words are remembered: “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). His letter, though small in size, is large in content and we will do well to carefully read the words of this brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was once a skeptic and was now a willing and humble slave.

Stay tuned for more from Jude.

In Christ Alone,

Ben

Friday, April 14, 2017

We Must Understand Experience and Emotions in the Light of Scripture—Not the Other Way Around


The growing danger in the church today is the wide-held idea that feelings and experiences in themselves are the end goal of spiritual life. Too many think that they must get themselves to a self-defined point or feeling in order to consider themselves to having worshipped God. To strive so much after experiential stimulus has itself become the new object of worship, rather than the living God whom we must approach and worship in reverence and awe.

Far from seeking God as the object of our devotion, we have instead, in many cases, been guilty of seeking our own positive experience, deceiving ourselves into thinking that if we can get it, then we must have felt the Spirit moving. Rather than defining our emotions in light of the truth of God’s Word, we have instead leaned too hard on our own understanding and have trusted in subjective feelings to define for us what worship is and who God is.

Not only is this a gross and perverted view of worshipping God—by elevating man’s opinion above God’s decree—this has enormous implications and potentially dangerous consequences if left unchecked.

Man, in all of his earthly wonder, seeming wisdom, intellect, emotional complexities, and vast experiential repertoire, will always be subjected to his own inconsistent and fickle, sin-bent tendencies. Thus, all of the aforementioned niceties are not to be relied upon as final arbitration, especially in matters that pertain to the eternal, living God of Heaven and earth.

Indeed, the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Apostles all had this to say about the self-sufficiency of man: they are as powerful as the grass of the field and the flowers of the grassy field in the scorching heat of the sun—they wither and fall away (Ps 103:15; Is 40:6–8; Js 1:10–11; 1 Pet 1:24). It is in contrast to this weak and pathetic picture of mankind that the writers uphold the eternal and immutable—unchangeable—nature of the Word of God that can be counted on forever.

Only from the Word of God—and that being faithfully and diligently meted out in practice (Heb 5:14)—can one have a chance of discerning their own emotions and intentions correctly. Ultimately, it will be with the help of other godly men and women in our lives who can help us in our weaknesses and “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). We must look at our life and our experiences through the discerning lens of the Holy Scriptures. We must not apply to Scripture any definition, or interpretation, based on our perspectives that have been molded by all sorts of temporal experiences.

Why?

Jeremiah states clearly it is because the “heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (17:9)?

Our desires, perspectives, and biases are warped and depraved by nature. To use that as a tool for defining right and wrong or to interpret spiritual realities is a magnanimous error. Isaiah even pronounced a woe upon those who would call “evil good and good evil,” (5:20) thus making it clear that men and women can and do wrongly discern and define.

The major threat that we face, then, when we do not love the truth and do not seek for righteousness and, rather, seek selfish, personal religious fetishes and shibboleths, is that we train ourselves to believe that the legitimacy, truthfulness, and genuineness of any preacher, teacher, or “worship musician” as being firmly established so long as they can deliver that particular experience we are so desperately trying to conjure. We esteem them to be unquestionably orthodox and spiritual.

Yet, it is precisely at this point that the Apostle's Paul & John warn their readers since the Antichrist, or lawless one, by the power of Satan, will have the ability to replicate many of the same signs and wonders that former prophets like Elijah had done when he called down fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel.

For instance, in Revelation 13, John says that the "second beast" will be able to call down fire from heaven in front of people, that "by the signs . . . it deceives those who dwell on earth" (v. 13).

Will he be able to deceive true Christians? The answer is an emphatic “no!” The Lord Jesus says it will be impossible to deceive the elect: “False christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24) (emphasis mine).

Paul writes to the Thessalonians and includes a warning about “The coming of the lawless one” saying that it is “by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception” that he will deceive many (2 Thess 2:9–10).

The takeaway is clear: We cannot count on external experiences alone to guide our understanding of truth. Rather, it is the truth that guides our understanding of experiences and it is the truth that discerns for us whether signs and wonders are true or false.

Experiences can be created. Emotions can be manipulated. Only those who "love the truth" will not be deluded, Paul says (2 Thess 2:10).

True repentance, regeneration, and sanctification will bring forth the most genuine forms of humble emotion you will ever experience, even a peace so unusual that it "surpasses understanding" (Phil 4:7). This will naturally result—supernaturally, rather!—when the living God abides in you.

Considering His mercy and forgiveness will bring forth praise as you remember that you should be punished in hell but were instead reconciled to Him in Christ.

Considering His justice will bring forth profound worship as you think and ponder on the fact that He has so condescended Himself to save someone like you or I.

Considering His holiness will bring forth more cries for help and grace to sustain us in a dark world where our flesh is still yet to be fully tamed, knowing that the true result of true conversion is a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit in our lives, no longer living according to the flesh, which is at odds with God, but living and walking according to the Spirit.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember the words of the Lord Himself as He taught the crowds on the hillside above the Sea of Galilee: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6).

Make that your goal. Make that your aim. Then let the Lord work out in your life the experience that can never be replicated anywhere else: godliness with contentment, which is great gain (1 Tim 6:6).

In Christ Alone,

Ben

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Getting the Gospel and Growing Up in the New Year

If there is one thing that distinguishes Christians from any other belief system or religious framework in the world, it is found in their belief, or faith, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians know that they deserve condemnation for sin and eternal damnation in Hell but have instead received forgiveness of their sin—salvation— and have instead inherited eternal life in Heaven. This transaction as it were was only possible through the substitutionary death and resurrection of the perfect and holy Son of God, Jesus Christ, who absorbed in Himself the eternal penalty that was due unto us. The fear of death and the influence of sin no longer has power over us, rather we are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit who gives us new inclinations and new desires that honor and glorify the Father.

Well what about after that moment of salvation? As it pertains to the individual, what is it that they should be seeking to do while living their life on this side of eternity?

The answer is given to us by the apostles.

They want us to grow up.

The moment of salvation that we experience as Christians is indeed a moment. Meaning, salvation is not an ongoing process—you are either saved or you are not saved. Sanctification on the other hand is an ongoing process and is not a moment in time only. What this then means is that there is work to do in our lives as a part of our sanctification process—though powered by God Himself (Phil 2:13).

Put another way, it is not enough for Christians to memorize and teach John 3:16.

It is not enough for pastors just to preach John 3:16 either. The Apostle Paul had a clear conscience because he “did not shrink from declaring . . . the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) (emphasis mine). Belief in the gospel of Christ is the end of the life of slavery to sin, but it is the very beginning of the life of freedom found in the Christian life.

What the men and women of God need is a constant saturation of the full counsel of the Word of God in order to become more and more sanctified unto Him, being stable in the faith, holding deep convictions, and living holy and blameless lives.

Listen, the natural output of a life that is indwelled and powered by the Holy Spirit of God is a life that, indeed, puts out or generates the fruit of the Holy Spirit of God and this can only happen by nourishing our spirits with the Holy Spirit’s own written Word.

A.W. Tozer once said, “The Holy Spirit never enters a man and then lets him live like the world. You can be sure of that.”

This is because the works of the Spirit are against the works of the flesh as the Apostle Paul details in Romans 8.

Our salvation is our greatest need. After that, however, our next greatest need is our sanctification and there are several reasons for this.

If the only spiritual truth we know—as Christians—pertains to the basics of repentance from sin, faith towards God, baptism, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, then the Bible tells us we are immature and “unskilled in the word of righteousness” and tantamount to children surviving on milk (Heb 5:13).

This is okay if you were saved yesterday by the way.

For those who have been Christians for years and years . . . we need to stop and consider: do we know the Word of God well? I mean, do we really know it? Do we grasp its truths and can we navigate it quickly in order to enrich our own soul or help disciple another? Are we able to think on our feet and give an answer to those who ask questions or ask for the reason we have hope in our life?

I remember sitting in a men’s group once and one of the men was asking for prayer as he was barely keeping a job, his marriage was falling apart and was headed for a divorce, he had no hope for anything and didn’t know what to do. When asked, he admitted he was struggling with sin and confessed he wasn’t in the Word. This was evidenced by his complete inability to know which direction to turn to find the book of Romans when he was asked to do so.

Friends, how acquainted are we with God’s Word?

In the book of Hebrews, the author gives us some startling insights into the various levels of Christian maturity—and the implications thereof—being especially pointed with those who have been saved for a long time and yet had little more knowledge of God’s truths than when they first believed.

The author was about to get into a helpful and fascinating discourse on the priesthood of Melchizedek and how it tied into Jesus’ priestly ministry, but then had to pause . . .

“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:11–14)

The word “dull” in verse 11 is a translation of the transliterated Greek word nothros, which means lazy or sluggish. What this tells us then is that this is a self-inflicted problem.

Becoming disinterested in divine truth is a problem of infinite proportions and is in fact a self-perpetuating one. The desire for the Word of God comes from reading it. The only way we have ever desired to read it in the first place is by the initial prompting of the Holy Spirit, so when we suppress that, we are actively engaging in an effort that is at odds with God’s will and thus causes us to become dull and desensitized along the way. It’s a self-licking ice cream cone kind of problem.

These people had been Christians long enough to where they should have amassed a much greater amount of knowledge and attained a higher level of understanding, thus being equipped to teach others themselves.

The most immediate context in this Hebrews passage however highlights their inability to comprehend grander and more glorious truths, like the priesthood of Melchizedek and Jesus Christ. Their ignorance hamstrung their further development. It was so bad that they needed to be reminded of some of the basic truths or “principles of the oracles of God” (vs. 12) all over again.

The writer goes on to explain the ramifications of this self-inflicted problem. He says they need milk—evidenced by the fact that they were unskilled in the Word and apparently lacked the marks, or fruit, of spiritual maturity. In other words, this is not just a ‘level of knowledge’ issue alone.

He said they don’t need solid food as that is only for the spiritually mature. The real wakeup call comes when he effectively states that their powers of discernment are weak at best. This means that in practice they make poor, even sinful, choices in life because of their biblical ignorance.

To be clear, the apostle Peter tells us to long for the milk of the word like newborn infants, but that is precisely the metaphor he intends to use for the reason of establishing the basics from which Christians ought to grow. This is obvious when he follows up with: “that by it you may grow up” (1 Pet 2:2).

This picture of a baby craving milk works in two ways. As far as desire is concerned, we ought to crave the Word like milk. As far as the actual baby is concerned, we ought to grow up and mature. The desire never goes away, though—what better way to illustrate that than with a helpless newborn baby?

There is another aspect to the milk illustration, which concerns the level of maturity of the believer. While our desire for the Word ought to be as rigorous and of a necessity for life as the baby’s is for milk, we ought to look for more and more weight and meat in our diet as we grow up in order to develop from the status of a spiritual baby. Even still, our desire for that meat is as the baby’s for milk. That never changes.

The apostle Paul writes also to the Corinthian congregation:

“I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way” (1 Cor 3:1–3)?

By not growing up from basic gospel truth, they proved to be “people of the flesh.” He used that expression three different times in just three verses(!).

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he spends time explaining the necessity and reason for having gifted preachers and teachers in every church:

“He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (4:11–16) (emphasis mine).

We all know that children are easy targets for deception. This is why they are so blithely led to believe in Santa Clause. They are easy to manipulate and con into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t have thought up themselves. This is why you could pay them a nickel to do almost anything—they have no sense of real value.

It is precisely because of the nature of the immaturity that is inherent in young kids that parents must be their protectors, discerners, and teachers. Who else is there to do this? Who else can teach them the truth? Parents are their shepherds.

It is the same way in the church of God. God has given the church leaders and has given those leaders gifts. These gifts are for the maturing of the flock, so that the flock will not run after the shiniest object, the sweetest candy, or the easiest path. These are the packages that heresy and false teaching come beautifully wrapped in. Even Satan himself masquerades as something he is not—an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14).

We need the Word of God in order to be protected from the enemy of God. Knowing the gospel message is not enough to protect us from the wiles of the devil. Though we will not be snatched from God’s hand, we could still suffer from sinful choices that come as a result of being ill-prepared for his poisonous darts.

Friends, don’t stop learning. Nothing is unnecessary knowledge if it is in the pages of Holy Scripture. Everything in the Old Testament and New Testament is there for our edification and learning in order to grow us up in maturity and into the fullness of the stature of Christ.

We desperately need the solid food of God’s Word. We need to learn the full counsel of God. We need our powers of discernment to be sharpened if we are to have any hope of honoring and obeying God in this evil world that is actively trying to desensitize us to it.

The saving gospel of Christ is the starting point of our spiritual growth and understanding. This is why Paul writes to the Romans: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification” (6:22) (emphasis mine).

We need sanctification because it protects us from sinning against God.

Psalm 119 is a stunning and epic poem—the longest recorded psalm in the Bible—that was probably written by the likes of either David, Daniel, or Ezra. In it, the author wisely declares: “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (vs. 11) (emphasis mine). Just prior to this he writes, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (vs. 9).

Then he expresses his longing for God’s word—almost as a baby does for life’s sustenance—“With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments” (vs. 10)!

The entirety of Psalm 119 is weighted with these longings and expressions of the greatness of the Word of God, its implications, its effect, and its wonder, and how much the writer longs for it.

All throughout Scripture, the Word of God is seen as a means to protect us and preserve us. The longing of it—and consequently the obedience of it—is a mark of a true Christian, so let the implication of that sink in. If need be, ask God in prayer for a new desire to read and study for the sake of your spiritual growth and to become more like Jesus Christ.

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).

Let us act upon the exhortation of Hebrews 6:1 and “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.”

Happy New Year, friends!

Ben

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Puritans and the Separatists: American Evangelicalism's Founding Fathers

Thomas Jefferson’s memorial in Washington, D.C. is one of the most visited attractions by tourists who visit that historic city. We rightly remember with great thankfulness that it was men like Jefferson who established our nation under the principles and convictions that God was the Creator and all were created by him and endowed with unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson was honest enough to acknowledge the Creator as the “Almighty God” and the “Holy Author of our religion” even going so far as to recognize His “supreme will.” Yet, Thomas Jefferson and other men like him who helped establish the laws that govern our Constitutional Democracy were not in fact creating a Christian nation in actuality, rather they were creating a form of government that protected all religious practice even while acknowledging “one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.” It is precisely this code of morality that the true pioneers of evangelicalism in America had the highest privilege to preach in its infant country. These men are who we know as both the Puritans and the Separatists and it was through their ministries and subsequent revivals that laid the foundation of America’s ethical and moral code—the Word of God.

             So who exactly were the Puritans and the Separatists? They both came from England. In 1531, King Henry VIII established the Church of England in order to break away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church—mainly for selfish reasons. This new English—Anglican—Church was England’s newly established state church with the king now as the Supreme Head. As we would imagine, this proved to bring about further power struggles between England and other nations who remained loyal to the papacy. Truth be told, crown-claiming and land-grabbing was usually an ulterior motive to their support of the Pope’s claim to the English. Regardless, this new state church now became a new target for those within.

            What the Protestant reformers were to the Roman Catholic Church, the Puritans were to the Anglican Church. Reformers like Martin Luther, for instance, did not set out to split the church, or start a new one—he worked to reform the current one according to the Bible. So it was with the Puritans, fittingly named for those within the Anglican Church who wanted to purify the church according to the Bible. Not only did they oppose “the use of saints’ days, clerical absolution, the sign of the Cross, the custom of having godparents in baptism, kneeling for Communion,” etc., but their emphasis was on the sovereignty of God as Calvin had taught it, the infallibity of the Scriptures, ongoing reformation in the church and in the individual, and a “theology intended to soften the heart and enlighten the conscience” as historian Earle E. Cairns has documented.

            Not everyone in the Anglican Church, however, felt that a purification of it alone was good enough. Some Puritans took this reformation to a level that demanded reform in its ecclesiastical government, but this included its ties to the secular government as well. They were opposed to the state church concept. Wanting a break from state rule and oversight, they advocated an independent and self-ruled style of church government. In a word, they came to be known as Separatists, or Separatist Puritans.

            The Separatists can really be credited with the form of denominationalism that we know today, that is, a denomination that governs itself free from the oversight of the state. Further, it would be a denomination that was not hierarchical like the Episcopalian form of government.

            This growing sentiment in the Anglican Church was threatening to the English monarchy as the state church concept could be and often was a critical and politically strategic matter of power and control. To the crown’s perspective, the Separatists were almost viewed as treasonous dissenters. In reality, “the major point of difference [for] . . . the Separatist Puritans was the idea of the church covenant by which the Separatists bound themselves in loyalty to Christ and one another apart from a state church.” This is why we hear the terminology around “covenanting together” still today—reminiscent of and based on the new covenant of the blood of Jesus Christ.

            As was often the case at this point in history, “persecution of opposing religious beliefs became standard practice” as historian Robert V. Remini notes. This persecution actually drove many Separatists to Holland in 1608, but the way of life there was not ideal, leaving them wanting something better. They later received permission from the London Company to settle in Virginia and so departed Holland, sailing aboard the Mayflower—but they never made it.

Instead, they happened to land at Plymouth on Cape Cod on November 21, 1620. Before they departed the ship, though, the voyagers all signed what is known as the Mayflower Compact outlining their understanding of how everyone would operate as under a self-governed people. This Mayflower Compact, though political in nature, was an extension of their covenanting together as a body of believers. The seeds of American government were starting to take root already, even before their boots hit the sandy shores of the east coast.

            The non-Separatist Puritans back home in England had a bit more of a straightforward commute to the New World. With permission from King Charles I, the Puritans formed a joint-stock company in England called the Massachusetts Bay Company where they were also afforded the opportunity to establish a satellite colony of this new company in America, namely what John Smith had earlier dubbed the New England. So began what has come to be known as the Great Migration where over 1,000 Puritans departed for the new colony and continued to grow.

With a healthy amount of these Calvinistic theologians who opted for a Congregationalist approach to church government, the churches that then followed were established in that way. It was from this breeding ground that the likes of Jonathon Edwards rose up to prominence in the next century where the Lord used him in a mighty way to convict people of their inherited sin in Adam, inform them of their sure judgment in Hell, and so offer them the free gift of the gospel of Jesus Christ by faith alone and in repentance of sin. His ministry was so effective that it contributed largely to the Great Awakening in America during an incredibly critical time. Biographer George M. Marsden notes that “there was no denial that many persons’ lives were being changed in ways that . . . seemed to meet sober tests for spiritual transformation.”

While Jonathan Edwards preached the Word of God in the pulpit, the likes of George Washington was trying to maintain the freedom of the American colonies. Thomas Jefferson was a young chap in this culture of Puritan preaching and undoubtedly influenced if even to a shallow social and political level. The great evangelist, George Whitefield, was about the same age as Edwards and also contributed mightily to the Great Awakening. Benjamin Franklin—not known for having an affinity for God or anything religious—was yet entranced by the passion of Whitefield. Rumor has it that someone asked Franklin why he ever went to listen to Whitefield since he didn’t believe a word he preached, to which Franklin replied, “But he believes what he preaches!”

Benjamin Franklin attested of George Whitefield in his own auto-biography: “It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants; from being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious; so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

It is helpful to trace these overlapping lives of the Lord’s faithful preachers and America’s greatest statesmen because we see that there is no questioning whether the secular politicians were influenced by the preaching of the Puritans and other evangelists. The need for a single moral code to help shape the new and evolving governmental documents was a fact of life. They were self-evident truths.

As imperfect our documents are—they are in fact man-made and sometimes require amendments—that govern the United States of America today, they were first written down in pen by men who were under the direct influence of sound theological preachers who helped ensure that the entire social construct of the world in which they lived was operating under a biblical world-view. We can trace this lineage of biblical faithfulness back to the Puritans—whether Separatist or not—and remember that their impact on our American beginnings are uncontested and continue to remind all who call on the name of the Lord to this very day as to the power of the Word of God preached.


In His Sovereign Grip,
 
Ben

 

 

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Boyd, Gregory A. The Myth of a Christian Nation. Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.

 

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“What Was the Great Puritan Migration?” Reference, accessed November 12, 2016, https://www.reference.com/history/great-puritan-migration-17fa833f4278595f.