By Jeffrey A. Ziegler
At SGI, we are fundamentally bound to an unshakably optimistic view of the future. Our central core belief in the “dominion mandate” points toward a time wherein the rule of the righteous will be all-pervasive. We hold to a proper estimation of the exhaustive and encompassing power of the glorified Christ. This translates into our hope that sin and its effects will be progressively vanquished both within our hearts, and demonstrably throughout the nations. Moreover, we embrace the vision of the church as the “embassy of God” which stands as an unconquerable ensign of Christ’s plenipotentiary governance, and hence, cannot be defeated in time or history. These overarching expectations form our worldview, our sense of reality, and thus ought to harness our behavior toward righteous and victorious results.
Unfortunately, we are all crippled by sin nature. Sin as a principle, distorts, blinds, and sabotages our faith in Christ’s victorious kingdom. This war between the biblical ideal and our sinful impulse makes for disjointed priorities, impertinent resistance, and even at our best, inconsistent applications of the truth. In fact, our generation is severely hampered not only doctrinally, but practically, due to the absence of working models that answer the question: “How then should we live?”
The Puritan Model
While not perfect, the Puritan movement offers great historic-cultural examples of how we are to “live” what we are supposed to believe. Despite modern historic often ludicrous-revisionist themes, Puritanism at its zenith, was a lively, grace-filled, and very practical movement. The Puritan ethic of living for the future had its impact on family, church, economics and industry, as well as the development of American political social theories and law.
In the arena of personal piety, a futuristic vision of the kingdom effected selfless living. As an example; Puritan men were not under the illusion that they were the center of reality. There were no discussions of “felt needs” or victimization. The Puritan male did not whine over hardship nor did he embrace a pornographic imagination that swoons on the falsehoods of fantasy laden romanticized themes. The greater the man, the more evidence there was of humility before God, of repentance, acts of service, of chivalry, and a dynamic life of prayer. To the Puritan man, Christ was a person to love and pursue, cherish, and emulate by his grace. In fact, all the great Puritans were very prone to despair over their sin and failings, and were voraciously hungry for the presence of Christ. This ethic of “the pursuit of Christ” looked to a future of maturity, growth, and abundant fruitfulness. Such notions are in stark contrast to the modern American male who lives either in a world of arrogant machismo, or that of a weak, insecure victimization cult. Both patterns are acutely selfish and live for the moment, effectively eviscerating the future.
This future orientation was also translated into Biblical priorities on the familial level. Motherhood was venerated and protected at all costs. Children, the fruit of the covenant, and the promise of the future, were seen as an asset and not a competitive liability. The Puritan husband’s primary duty revolved around spiritual instruction and prayer of his family, with his vocational combined toward this end. It was after all, the sacred trust of the Faith that was to be nurtured, even above material comforts and this was the pivot around which all else revolved. Moreover the Bismarck-FDR notion of “retirement” was repudiated for the notion of production until death!
In New England, the Puritan congregations were especially jealous to guard women and children, again because of their priority on the future. “Women and children first,” was more than a credo advanced in the midst of disaster, it was a way of life!
For example, if during a domestic altercation, a husband’s voice were loud enough so as to be heard outside the house, this was grounds for ecclesiastical intervention. Normally, this took the form of a fine levied in the name of the church and collected on the Sabbath. Where physical abuse was in evidence, the offending party was man handled (with vigor) and put into stocks for public shaming. This was in addition to fines and threat of excommunication. To reiterate, the rationale for these sanctions revolved around the health and vitality of the community which was inexorably linked to the future prosperity of their offspring. The future and the promise of blessing became the defining filter for all of life. Too, this ethic effected American brands of Catholicism, and became a distinctive cultural motif in the American westward expansion.
Women in particular flourished under this biblical aegis of honor, respect and esteem. Contrary to revisionist themes, Puritan women were industrious and prosperous. They resembled the Proverbs 31 woman in terms of economic ingenuity and ability. This changed drastically during the “Victorian” era when men came to view women as romantic play things with little more value than a pornographic-orgasmic tool of escape. But then the Victorian era arose as visible Christian orthodoxy declined, hence a humanistic-prurient culture disestablished the Christian-American dream. Our generation is the recipient of this insidious vision now at “full song” in the modern “Playboy-free love-abortion culture.”
For the Puritan, church life was more than an observance of Sabbath. It was a cultural force that bound the community in faith, doctrine, sacraments, worship, vital friendships, accountability, tradition and ritual, music, mutual assistance, acts of charity, and overarching mission. In other words, church life was life. The Puritans were not isolationists nor given to material/spiritual dualism. The church then was an engine and catalyst for ideas and enterprise.
The Puritan saw the church as both prophetic (contemporaneous application of Biblical worldview) and Levitical (doctrinal-instructional) in its mission. An example of such Puritan prophetic leanings is found in the thought especially influenced by John Owen, Oliver Cromwell, and John Milton, which insisted that if the circumstances were right, Christians had both the right and the obligation to revolt against an evil and tyrannical monarch. This notion of political resistance related to the belief in corporate resistance to sin. Puritan thought, anchored in a firm understanding of God’s sovereignty, argued that a nation, because of the Biblical obligation to live according to God’s law, incurred corporate guilt for tolerating evil in the civil realm. Again, the notion of securing a more peaceable future for Gospel prosperity was the great appealing might behind such thought.
Within the context of the Levitical-instructional role of the church, there existed a weighty stress on doctrine and teaching. Prior to the Puritan, the role of the clergy was centered only on liturgy and the sacraments with little instruction. Not so with Puritanism! As an example, during the colonial period in New England, pastors delivered approximately 8 million sermons averaging 11/2 hours long each. The average seventy year old colonial church goer would have listened to 7,000 sermons or 10,000 hours of concentrated learning. Such an intense and in depth doctrinal emphasis produced four culture-altering visions of reality.
- All things and all institutions were under the cope and rule of heaven.
- All of life no matter how mundane was controlled by Providence.
- There existed an extensive biblical optimism characterized by the belief “that it was to a world made righteous that Christ would return.”
- Sense of Destiny in nation building and entrepreneurship riveted the community on the importance of success with purpose.
Once again, the notion of the future, not present expediency or future escape became the critical fulcrum which leveraged all of life. In turn, this was the fertile ground which fed the American Revolution and westward expansion.
It is time for all of us to reevaluate our priorities, time investments, interests and desires according to a Biblical-futuristic paradigm. The life of our American experiment depends on it!