Calvinism Essay, Research Paper
We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us,” the Puritan John Winthrop wrote. The Puritans departed for the New World due to their beliefs that the Church of England was hopelessly corrupt and no longer stood for their way of life. They felt that they could create an ideal Christian society in a New World, which would be a model for others to follow. Some even compared themselves to the Hebrews and held the notion that they were founding the New Israel. (Brow) As religious laws had governed the people of Israel, so did the church regulate New England society. The Puritans had some of the most interesting beliefs of the early religious groups.
Founded by the beliefs of John Calvin, the Puritans adopted a religion called Calvinism. Consistent with his scripture-based reasoning, Calvin eloquently described how civil and papal governments were different, yet uniquely related. In his classic reformation style, Calvin symbolically compared Catholic to Protestant theology by framing his theocracy not on the church as the government, but rather he separated civil government from spiritual government into a divinely ordained, segregated Protestant theocracy. Intricately expressed and executed, Calvin’s doctrine is dripping with figurative language, suggesting that Calvin went to great lengths to insure that his dislike for the Catholic papacy would not go unnoticed. Calvin’s writings, teachings and beliefs were the platform for the Puritans (Polishook). “[The Puritans] sought an intellectual, moral, and spiritual “clean-up” of institutionalized Christianity.
Their standard of purity was the Bible. The most comprehensive, but concise speaking of their ideology is the Westminster Confession of Faith” (Gatis). They had goals to achieve. They wanted to frame their lifestyle on the word of God. They also wanted to maintain every bit of their philosophies and beliefs by the Bible. Puritans were reverent to the Bible as inspired by God. Their attitude was in complete submission; they felt that the Bible was God’s direct instruction for them to live by (Brow). They believed that by adherence to this basis would remove them from the chance of heresy. The Holy Scripture was their foundation. Upon this, they built their whole theology, society, and government.
Puritan ideology consisted of a firm belief in Calvin’s Institutes, covenant relationships, and theocracy. Theology is essential to every religion’s belief. One of the most demanding religions, Puritan belief forced its followers to change their life in accordance to God’s Holy Word, only to guess that he could possibly be saved by God’s grace.
The Puritan religion was based on five basic principles; supremacy of the divine will, the depravity of man, election, free grace, and predestination. Each having a distinct and overpowering effect on all whom followed. The Puritans, again following the teachings of John Calvin, adhered to the basic sinfulness (or depravity) of man, and the fact that some will be chosen through the righteousness of Christ despite their transgressions. No man can be sure in his life what his destiny will be. That statement summed up the basic elements of Calvinism. Within the basic points there are specialized points of Calvinism, which were strictly held by the Puritans. These are also reiterated in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The first point of Calvin deals with is the total depravity of man, which could also be referred to as basic sinfulness of man. The basic sinfulness of man is very evident throughout the Bible. The Westminster Confession states that, “from original corruption, by which man is completely averse, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and thoroughly inclined to all evil, and man does proceed all actual transgressions”. That is total and complete depravity, which, in essence means that man is completely unable to work out his own salvation. Not only does the Bible state that from Adam all men are sinful, but just observing the current culture and human nature throughout history explicates the absolute wickedness of the heart.
The Bible also says (Jeremiah 17.6), “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Puritans were strong believers in unconditional election, Calvin’s next point. God calls the predestined elect out of total depravity to become his saints. The calling is of God’s free and special grace alone. Under Calvinism, it is understood that no amount of works can get one to heaven. Works are totally irrelevant, and God was not obligated to save anyone. He alone would select who would become his saints and no person would know who would or would not be saved. Therefore it was accepted that all Calvinists must be submissive to God’s Divine Will, lest they be “chosen” or deemed worthy. Another belief of Calvinists was the idea of limited atonement. This belief suggests that although Christ died for the sins of man, he did not die for the salvation of all people. Those who are not elected can never come to Christ. Christ’s sacrifice did prove God’s love for mankind, but there will be some people going to Hell, nonetheless.
The next point is irresistible grace. Calvin taught that those who God allowed into His arms (the elect) can neither entirely nor ultimately fall away from the grace of God, but shall forever persevere and find peace. God’s grace provided the power to resist temptation and offered a newness of life. This belief provided the Puritans with hope for peace and joy in their lives. Finally, Calvinists believed in the perseverance of the saints. It was thought that God’s chosen had the power to carry out God’s will. As a result of being “chosen”, they would lead much more prosperous lives than their non-chosen counterparts. It was thought of as the logical conclusion to the God’s absolute Sovereignty. Calvinists had very distinct ideas on God’s grace and laws. The Puritan followers were obligated to adhere and embrace the doctrine or be outcast. Puritans believed that God’s will alone dictated all that would happen to people. God was the ultimate sovereign and although he died for the sins of man, he was not a god of love, but a punishing, vengeful God. God was seen less often as savior than executioner.
As depicted in the Tenants of Calvinism, under John Winthrop, after the loss of their child, a Puritan couple saw the death of their child as a punishment from God for spoiling the child rather than realizing the responsibility was theirs for not supervising the child as they should have. They didn’t see the accident as being preventable, but as a judgement passed down to them by a cruel God (American Literature Part I, The Seventeenth Century). In the eyes of the Puritan, everything that happened in the world was because God wanted it that way. If God was pleased, good times came. If he wasn’t hardship and disaster followed.
There was no place for toleration in Puritan America. Those not in agreement with the colony’s purposes and government would be forced to move elsewhere. Many people learned this very quickly as they were banished from Massachusetts for various reasons. Roger Williams was one of these people. He was unorthodox and was considered a radical. Williams was an author who argued over religious issues with John Cotton, an associate of John Winthrop. Williams responded to Cotton’s writings in The Bloudy Tenant of Persecution for cause of Conscience. He became an outcast as a result of his part in writing controversial literature. He challenged the charter of the colony and preached that the church and state should be separate so the government could not force religion on individuals. Williams proved himself a radical when he questioned the existing order that Christian rulers had divine right to the lands of the heathen, therefore questioning the King’s Charter of the Massachusetts colonists; this challenge he based on his belief in the separation of spiritual and material rights.
Returning to Salem in 1633, Williams became snarled in the debate over the General Court’s oath of allegiance, again arguing from his position of the distinction between civil and religious policy. In 1634 he was invited by the Salem congregation to become their pastor. This threatened the very reason for the colony’s existence. As a result, in 1635 a very upset and scandalized General Court ordered that he be sent back to England in order to keep him from upsetting the politics of the colonies any further. Therefore, the leaders of Massachusetts tried him and threw him out to keep others from following his ideas. To avoid deportation, Williams left Salem and went south to an Indian settlement.
At the mouth of the Moshassuck River, among the Narragansett Indians and a group of Englishmen, he founded the settlement he called Providence. (Polishook) Roger Williams also disagreed with how the Puritans treated the Indians and their land. Land rights of Native Americans were never taken seriously. Rather, they were seen as obstacles to the colonists’ need for land. The Puritans did not respect the farms of Native Americans. Any evaluation of Roger Williams’s significance in early America must necessarily begin with his demand for the absolute religious freedom that has now become one of the most important features of the American way of life.
In addition, his accomplishments included the founding of a colony on principles of political democracy and religious equality and the writing of widely influential literary tracts defending the idea of soul liberty; a principle of unquestioned rights for enlightened Americans today (Lauter). These and all his works were drawn from the fountain of Williams’s highest principle: love of God, man, and truth.
American Literature Part I, The Seventeenth Century. http://lonestar.texas.net/~mseifert/amlit1.html Brow, Martin. In Defense of the Puritans. Fire and Ice. 3 October 1999 Gatis, George Joseph. Puritan Jurisprudence: A Study in Substantive Biblical Law. Contra Mundum. 3 October 1999 Holy Bible (NKJV). Thomas Nelson Publishers: Nashville, 1980. Lauter,Paul, ed. The Heath anthology of American Literature. Third Edition, Volume One (Pages with copyright info missing from textbook). Polishook, Irwin H. Roger Williams, John Cotton, and Religious Freedom. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967 Westminster Confession of Faith, AD 164. 3 October 1999. Grace Presbyterian Church of Redding, California