03 July 2017

A Pre-Independence Day Thought

Merely some links with brief comments. First, go here to read a nice post by James Bratt (on whom I posted in another context herehere, and here). Bratt discusses three Colonial models of the relationship between adherents of one or another Reformed Christian tradition and the civil government in their particular polity. Bratt does a good job of explaining why, for example, we cannot extrapolate from Puritan New England to the middle colonies to the South. There was no unity of approach among the colonies and their residents on such matters.

On the first hand,
New England Puritans aimed at making the visible and invisible churches as synonymous as possible. At the same time their churches were state-supported to the exclusion of all others with the aim of thoroughly reforming not only church but also state and society. This was to be a "Bible commonwealth" founded on covenants both civil and ecclesiastical, drawn at once with each other and with God.

On the second,
The Middle Atlantic region of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania constituted the most ethnically and religiously pluralistic society in North America, and the five Reformed groups who settled in the area (Dutch, Huguenot, German, Scots, and Ulster Irish) had to make their way in a patchwork society. Here any claim of religious establishment was a pipe-dream while civil politics plumbed the depths of factionalism and self-interest. ... Conflict of all sorts was endemic in these circumstances, and a tenacious defense of rights well indicated. Order and harmony had to be achieved by measures that rose above the designs of any particular group. The Calvinist solution lay in its old strain of constitutionalism and due process ...

In the Deep South Presbyterian and Reformed settlers dwelled in a different environment still, one predicated on slavery from the very beginning. ... South Carolina quickly became the only mainland colony with an enslaved majority... Evangelizing efforts in the slave quarters were only accepted once it had become clear that conversion did not entail manumission. Evangelical religion made its advances in this region by accepting a twofold contract: that the most slavery-dependent region of colonial America would be run in the name of the purest libertarian ideology, and that civil government would be free of any carping from the church

Bratt goes on to provide his take on some present-day applications of a blend of these three models. My point here, however, is only to make us aware that there were three models and that none encompassed the whole of Colonial America and that it’s a fool’s errand for Christians of any stripe to take any one as the model for what should be the relationship among the Christian faith, civil government, and society in the twenty-first century.

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