Copyright © December 31, 2012
Note. This is a modified version of Section IV, Chapter 5 of God Betrayed: Separation of Church and State/The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Audio Teachings on the History of the First Amendment has links to the audio teaching of Jerald Finney on the history of the First Amendment.
The Pilgrims and the Puritans in Massachusetts
I. Introduction: from the storm resulting from the Reformation emerged separation of church and state
II. John Calvin’s belief’s about the relationship of church and state, his influence in the colonies upon the issue; John Knox’s beliefs on the subject and the impact in America
III. Old World patterns of church-state union were transplanted to the colonies through the Puritans, Episcopalians, and others; the story of the Pilgrims who arrived in America in 1620, the Mayflower Compact; the theology and goals of the Puritans who arrived in America in 1629
IV. The application of the Puritan theology included laws which enforced the whole table of the law and thus persecution of dissenters (banishment, jail, confiscation of personal property, unjust taxes, hanging, etc.); the results of the theology of the Puritans soon came to fruition
V. The atmosphere in Massachusetts begins to shift toward toleration and even freedom of tolerance; the second Massachusetts charter which provided for freedom of conscience to all Christians except Papists was secured in 1691; nonetheless, only in Boston was freedom of conscience honored; establishment remained in Massachusetts until 1833
I. Introduction: from the storm resulting from the Reformation emerged separation of church and state
Being the continuation of the religious upheaval in Europe, the early history of New England was one of religious turmoil:
“It is acknowledged, on all hands, the first settlements of New-England were a consequence of the disputes which attended the Reformation in England; and therefore we must observe, that during this time, viz. 1517, learning having revived all over Europe, the Reformation was begun by Luther, and others in Germany, and carried on in several parts of Christendom, particularly in England, where, after a long struggle, it was finally established, by act of Parliament, under Queen Elizabeth, who began to reign November 17, 1558.
“As the whole Christian religion had been corrupted and disfigured by the inventions and impositions of Popery … it could not but be expected that many, who were justly and equally offended, at the horrid corruptions of Popery, should yet be unable entirely to agree in their sentiments, of what things were to be reformed, or how far they should carry the Reformation at the first” (John Callender, The Civil and Religious Affairs of the Colony of Rhode-Island (Providence: Knowles, Vose & Company, 1838), pp. 60-61).
The theological turmoil that resulted from the Reformation continued in the new world, and out of that storm emerged a separation of church and state that had never before existed in any nation in the history of the world.
II. John Calvin’s belief’s about the relationship of church and state in America, his influence in America upon the issue; John Knox’s beliefs on the subject and the impact in America
John Calvin had the greatest influence of any continental reformer on the relationship of church and state in America. The founders of the Massachusetts Bay Company modeled the Massachusetts church-state after the church-state constructed by Calvin. Calvin taught predestination—that God predestined men to heaven or hell—and effectively denied freedom of human will. He further taught that the Prince, to whom God grants his power and who is responsible directly to God, is God’s leader on earth, and men had a duty to absolutely honor and obey him. Those who rebel against the ruler rebels against God, even if the ruler rules contrary to the Word of God.
The state, according to Calvin, must enforce God’s spiritual and moral laws. That is, the state is responsible for enforcing all of the commandments, including the first four. Therefore, the state must suppress, for example, “idolatry, blasphemy, and other scandals to religion.” Church and state must work together although the church is “competent to declare what is the godly life.” Calvin believed that “there is but one possible correct interpretation of the Word of God, and it is the only interpretation possible for an honest man of sound intelligence to reach” (Ibid., pp. 21-28; see also, Verduin, Anatomy of a Hybrid, pp. 198-211 for insight into Calvin’s church-state theology.).
At the same time, “we should obey God rather than men;” when the law of the ruler contradicts the law of God, according to Calvin, man should obey God, but only passively. The Calvinistic ideal, the superiority of an aristocratic republic form of civil government, led naturally to election of both pastors and civil rulers and was implemented in the Mayflower Compact the night before the Pilgrims first came onto shore in America. Subsequent leaders of Calvinistic thought “added the right of rebellion against the wicked Prince to their spiritual arsenal. The United States of America was born when that right was exercised, and none exercised it with greater enthusiasm that the Calvinists of Boston” (William H. Marnell, The First Amendment: Religious Freedom in America from Colonial Days to the School Prayer Controversy (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964), pp. 21-28).
One inheritor of Calvinism, John Knox, most forcefully added:
“the one conviction at which the legalistic mind of Calvin quailed…. If the Prince does not perform [his God given duty] said Knox, the people have the duty to put him to the sword of vengeance. In Calvinism the Church is the State, but in Knox far more than in Calvin the State and the Church both are the People. In neither man is there the faintest glimmer that even suggests to the backward-looking eye the distant dawn of tolerance. But in Knox the sword of the Almighty’s vengeance in the hands of an outraged People is the first strange symbol of what some day will be democracy” (Ibid., pp. 28-30).
III. Old World patterns of church-state union were transplanted to the colonies through the Puritans, Episcopalians, and others; the story of the Pilgrims who arrived in America in 1620, the Mayflower Compact; the theology and goals of the Puritans who arrived in America in 1629
Jesus said, “They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (Jn. 16.2) In fulfillment of prophecies of the Lord, the established churches thought they were doing God’s will. “And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me” (Jn. 16.3). The Old World patterns of church-state union and religious oppression were transplanted to the New World with all their rigor (Leo Pfeffer, Church, State, and Freedom (Boston: The Beacon Press, 1953), p. 63). Eleven of the original thirteen colonies established a church prior to the Revolution. One of those eleven was Massachusetts which was founded by Puritans who were Congregationalists. All New England colonies, except Rhode Island, had established churches based upon the same theology. As noted by the Rhode Island Baptist, John Callender, in the early nineteenth century:
“[The Puritans] were not the only people who thought they were doing God good service when smiting their brethren and fellow-servants. All other Christian sects generally, as if they thought this was the very best way to promote the gospel of peace, and prove themselves the true and genuine disciples of Jesus Christ—‘sic,’ who hath declared, his kingdom was not of this world, who had commanded his disciples to call no man master on earth, who had forbidden them to exercise lordship over each other’s consciences, who had required them to let the tares grow with the wheat till the harvest, and who had, in fine, given mutual love, peace, long-suffering, and kindness, as the badge and mark of his religion” (Callender, p. 71).
The fight for religious liberty started in the New England colonies and then spread throughout the other colonies. The seventeenth century ended with firmly established church-states in all New England colonies except Rhode Island. The ecclesiocracies there were as absolute as the world has known, with persecution of “heretics” but, because of intervention by England, not as brutal as past ecclesiocracies in Europe.
The Church of England was established in the southern colonies. In the Southern colonies, “the church enjoyed the favor of the colonial governors but it lacked the one pearl without prce which the Congregational Church had. No Anglican ever left England to secure freedom of worship; no Virginia Episcopalean had the fervent motivation of a Massachusetts Puritan. In Massachusetts the church was the state. In Virginia and, to a lesser degree, in the rest of the South the Church was formally part of the State although hardly a part that loomed large in southern minds” (Marnell, pp. 63-64).
The theology of the established churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire led to a combining of church and state; infant baptism; taxing for payment of clergy, church charities, and other church expenses; persecution of dissenters such as Baptists; and many other unscriptural practices (William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 1; Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, Mass., Toronto, Canada: Little, Brown and Company, 1958). Persecution of dissenters follows the example of the theocracy in Israel where, for example, Moses killed the three thousand who turned from the Lord into idolatry and immorality while he was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32.27), and Elijah had the four hundred and fifty false prophets of Baal killed (1 K. 18.40).
The original settlers of Massachusetts were the Pilgrims who landed at what was to become Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. The Pilgrims were Separatists in England who had left the Church of England in the Autumn of 1608 and formed their own church. They were considered dangerous radicals by the Bishops of the Church of England. “They believed that the Reformation had not gone far enough, that the Reformers had assumed an infallibility no more palatable when lodged in a ruler than when lodged in the Pope, that the Church of England had rejected the Pope but not Popery, that the bishops of the Church of England had no more authority than the bishops of the Church of Rome” (Marnell, p. 44).
Under James I, the Bishops were given a free hand to suppress the less than a thousand Separatists before they got out of hand. Peter Marshall and David Manuel, who approved of the persecutions of the dissenters by the Puritan established churches in the colonies, complained that these were “dedicated followers of the Lord” who were:
“hounded, bullied, forced to pay assessments to the Church of England, clapped into prison on trumped-up charges, and driven underground. They met in private homes, to which they came at staggered intervals and by different routes, because they were constantly being spied upon. In the little Midlands town of Scrooby, persecution finally reached the point where the congregation to which William Bradford belonged elected to follow those other Separatists who had already sought religious asylum in Holland” (Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1977), pp. 108-109).
As a result of the persecution in England, some Separatists went elsewhere, going first to Leyden, Holland. After over ten years of a hard life in Holland, they decided to try to go to America. They reached an agreement with an English merchant named Thomas Weston under which they were able to set sail. They could not obtain assurance of liberty of their consciences. “However, they determined at length to remove, depending on some general promises of connivance, if they behaved themselves peaceably, and hoping that the distance and remoteness of the place, as well as the public service they should do the King and Kingdom, would prevent their being disturbed” (Callender, p. 64). One hundred and one Pilgrim souls sailed from Plymouth, England, on September 6, 1620, arriving at Cape Cod on November 11, 1620, and at a place they named Plymouth, in December, 1620 (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 27-28). Upon arrival, they drafted the Mayflower Compact:
“In the name of God, amen. We whose names are under-written, the loyall subjects of our dread Soveraigne Lord King James by ye Grace of God of Great Britain, France, Ireland king, defender of the Faith, etc., having undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hereof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just and equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for the generall good of ye colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd, ye 11. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James of England, France, & Ireland, ye eighteenth, and by Scotland ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620.”
As a matter of human compassion, the Pilgrims were hospitable to all; and, at first, grudgingly tolerated those of other creeds. However, they gradually began to close their doors to those of other creeds. “Plymouth was a Church-State ruled by a governor and a small and highly select theological aristocracy, a Church-State with various grades of citizenship and non-citizenship” (Marnell, p. 48). By 1651 the government of Plymouth colony was enforcing the laws of Congregationalist Massachusetts. “By the time Plymouth was united with Massachusetts in 1691 all major differences between the two had disappeared” (Pfeffer, p. 66, citing Sanford H. Cobb, The Rise of Religious Liberty in America (New York: The McMillan Co., 1902), pp. 70-71).
The Pilgrims overcame much adversity, such as hunger, drought, and heat which caused their corn to wither, and the failure of delivery of much needed supplies from England (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 28-29). They increased to three hundred souls and obtained a patent from the New England Company on January 13, 1630. The comparative handful of Pilgrims who were eventually absorbed by the Puritans are much admired by Americans.
The Puritans, unlike the Pilgrims who wanted to separate from the Church of England, wanted to purify the Church from within. “The State, in their view, had the duty to maintain the true Church; but the State was in every way subordinate to the Church” (Marnell, p. 40). King James I was far more belligerently opposed to the Calvinistic church-state than even Queen Elizabeth had been, and his “determination toward the Puritans was to make them conform or to harry them out of the land” (Ibid., p. 42). The Puritans who suffered under the combined pressure of accelerated persecution and the advanced moral decay in their society began to flee England for the new world (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p. 146). “There was no ground at all left them to hope for any condescension or indulgence to their scruples, but uniformity was pressed with harder measures than ever” (Callender, p. 66). Cheating, double-dealing, the betrayal of one’s word were all part of the game for London’s financial district. Mercantile power brokers loved, honored, and worshipped money, and accumulated as much of it as possible and as fast as possible. The ends justified the means. “London was an accurate spiritual barometer for the rest of the country, for England had become a nation without a soul” (Ibid., p. 148). England was morally awful, and this came about under the auspices of a state-church practicing its theology (Ibid., pp. 147-148). 1628 marked the beginning of the Great Migration that lasted sixteen years in which twenty thousand Puritans embarked for New England and forty-five thousand other Englishmen headed for Virginia, the West Indies, and points south (Ibid., p. 148).
A young Puritan minister named John Cotton preached a farewell sermon to the departing Puritans:
- “He preached on 2 Samuel 7.10 (KJV): ‘Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime.’
- “‘Go forth,’ Cotton exhorted, ‘… With a public spirit,’ with that ‘care of universal helpfulness…. Have a tender care … to your children, that they do not degenerate as the Israelites did….’
- “Samuel Eliot Morison put it thus: ‘Cotton’s sermon was of a nature to inspire these new children of Israel with the belief that they were the Lord’s chosen people; destined, if they kept the covenant with Him, to people and fructify this new Canaan in the western wilderness’” (Ibid., p. 157).
The Puritans landed at Salem at the end of June, 1629. They were motivated by religious principles and purposes, seeking a home and a refuge from religious persecution (Roger Williams and Edward Bean Underhill, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience Discussed and Mr. Cotton’s Letter Examined and Answered (London: Printed for the Society, by J. Haddon, Castle Street, Finsbury, 1848), p. v). Having suffered long for conscience sake, they came for religious freedom, for themselves only. “They believed [in] the doctrine of John Calvin, with some important modifications, in the church-state ruled on theocratic principles, and in full government regulation of economic life” (Marnell, p. 48). The Puritan churches “secretly call[ed] their mother a whore, not daring in America to join with their own mother’s children, though unexcommunicate: no, nor permit[ed] them to worship God after their consciences, and as their mother hath taught them this secretly and silently, they have a mind to do, which publicly they would seem to disclaim, and profess against” (Williams and Underhill, p. 244). In 1630, 1500 more persons arrived, several new settlements were formed, and the seat of government was fixed at Boston. Thinking not of toleration of others,” they were prepared to practice over other consciences the like tyranny to that from which they had fled” (Ibid., p. vii).
Although they differed from the Church of England and others on some doctrines, “[t]he Puritans brought 2 principles with them from their native country, in which they did not differ from others; which are, that natural birth, and the doings of men, can bring children into the Covenant of Grace; and, that it is right to enforce & support their own sentiments about religion with the magistrate’s sword” (Backus, A History of New England, Volume 1, pp. 34-35).
John Cotton was called upon to arrange the civil and ecclesiastical affairs of the colony (Williams and Underhill, p. xii). They set up a ecclesiocracy in which no one could hold office who was not a member of an approved church (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 35; Williams and Underhill, pp. x-xi). “The civil laws were adjusted to the polity of the church, and while nominally distinct, they supported and assisted each other” (Williams and Underhill, pp. xii-xiii).
“‘It was requested of Mr. Cotton,’ says his descendant Cotton Mather, ‘that he would from the laws wherewith God governed his ancient people, form an abstract of such as were of a moral and lasting equity; which he performed as acceptably as judiciously…. He propounded unto them, an endeavour after a theocracy, as near as might be to that which was the glory of Israel, the peculiar people’”(Ibid., footnote 8, pp. xii-xiii, citing sources).
The goal of the Puritans was to build the Kingdom of God on Earth. Two modern day Covenant Theologians wrote:
- “They determined to change their society in the only way that could make any lasting difference: by giving it a Christianity that worked. And this they set out to do, not by words but by example, in the one place where it was still possible to live the life to which Christ had called them: three thousand miles beyond the reach of the very Church they were seeking to purify.
- “[T]he legacy of Puritan New England to this nation, which can still be found at the core of our American way of life, may be summed up in one word: covenant…. [O]n the night of the Last Supper, to those who were closest to Him, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins…” (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, p. 146).
Covenant cannot be found, as understood by the Puritan theologians, now or anytime in the past, at the core of our American way of life. The idea of covenant at the core of our American way of life was that of the Baptists as expressed by the Warren Association at the close of the War for Independence:
“The American Revolution is wholly built upon the doctrine, that all men are born with an equal right to what Providence gives them, and that all righteous government is founded in compact or covenant, which is equally binding upon the officers and members of each community…. And as surely as Christianity is true, Christ is the only lawgiver and head of his church…” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 265-266).
Nor is there a biblical principle that allows a nation to covenant with God contrary to the principles laid down in God’s Word. The Puritans incorrectly believed that every nation is in covenant with the Lord to enforce his principles, all of them. They misunderstood the biblical teachings that God gives every nation a choice as to whether to follow His rules, and that nowhere in Scripture is there authority for a nation to initiate a non-biblical covenant with God. God alone initiated the Old Testament covenants to which He was a party, thereby, among other things, establishing Israel as a theocracy, and He made no such covenant with any other nation. All other nations, as is shown in Section I of God Betrayed which is reproduced on this website, are called Gentile, and are judged by God primarily based upon their treatment of Israel.
As has been pointed out, Covenant Theology asserts that there are only two covenants, or three, in the Bible, with the other covenants which came after the Covenant of Grace being only a continuation thereof. The Covenant of Law, according to the covenant theologian, was made in the Garden of Eden. Covenant Theology superimposes the New Testament over the Old. Herein lies some of the fatal flaws in this interpretation of the Bible. In the Puritan formulation of those covenants, the principles and practices of the nation Israel and the Jewish religion were applied to the church and state. As has been shown, this presents irreconcilable conflicts with Old and New Testament teachings concerning law and grace and the relationship of church and state.
God permits a mutual compact or covenant between a ruler or the rulers and the people—a covenant that does not include God and His principles and that is not initiated or ordained by God. God allowed even the people of the theocracy of Israel to reject Him and, like the Gentile nations, to have a king (See 1 S. 8). Isaac Backus taught as follows:
“Now the word of God plainly shows, that this way of mutual compact or covenant, is the only righteous foundation for civil government. For when Israel must needs have a king like the rest of the nations, and he indulged them in that request, yet neither Saul nor David, who were anointed by his immediate direction, ever assumed the regal power over the people, but by their free consent. And though the family of David had the clearest claim to hereditary succession that any family on earth ever had, yet, when ten of the twelve tribes revolted from his grandson, because he refused to comply with what they esteemed a reasonable proposal, and he had collected an army to bring them back by force, God warned him not to do it, and he obeyed him therein. Had these plain precedents been regarded in later times, what woes and miseries would they have prevented? But the history of all ages and nations shows, that when men have got the power into their hands, they often use it to gratify their own lusts, and recur to nature, religion or the constitution (as they think it will best serve) to carry, and yet cover, their wretched designs” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, APPENDIX B, p. 530).
The Puritan ideal is disproved by correct interpretation of the Word of God, by biblical history and prophecy, and secular history, including the history of the colony of Massachusetts. Israel, populated by God’s chosen race, was directly under God, yet the Israelites rejected His theocracy so that they could have a king like all the other nations. Israel fared ill when they did things their way and were ruled by kings. Under both God and king, Israel refused to do things God’s way, and rejected his commandments and statutes. After the death of King Solomon, the nation divided in two. All of the kings of the northern kingdom, Israel, were bad. The southern Kingdom, Judah, had twenty kings—eight were good (Mannessa started out bad, was judged of God, then did good, making him the only bad king in Judah or Israel to repent and turn from his wicked ways. See 2 K. 21.1-18; 2 Chr. 33.1-20.) and twelve were bad. Both Israel and Judah, in accord with God’s philosophy of history, experienced religious apostasy, moral awfulness, and political anarchy. They failed to keep the commandments and statutes of God and were taken into captivity as a result.
The Puritans failed to correctly interpret both the Old and New Testaments and secular history which clearly show that all nations that have ever existed have been judged by God, are in the process of being judged by God, or will be judged by God. They misinterpreted prophecy concerning the end times to say that the church, working hand in hand with the state will establish the kingdom of heaven on earth. Oh, had and would they (have) realize(d) that the New Covenant for the church had so much better promises and procedures than the Old Testament covenants. “But now hath he [Jesus Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (He. 8.6; See all of He. 8).
The Puritans wrongly, but truly, believed they could build the Kingdom of God on earth, in their lifetime—all they needed, they felt, was “the right time, the right place, and the right people” who “were willing to commit themselves totally” (Marshall and Manuel, The Light and the Glory, pp. 145-146). The Puritans did not realize that the philosophy of history in the Bible and the basic nature of man rendered their goal impossible. God describes the cycle of every civil government, Jewish and Gentile.
- “The book of Judges is a philosophy of history. ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people’ (Proverbs 14.34)” (J. Vernon McGee, Joshua and Judges (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Books, 1980), p. 111).
- “We see that philosophy in the book of Judges. Israel at first, for a short time, served God. Then they did evil in the sight of the Lord and served Baal and Ashtaroth. The anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of their enemies. Israel then entered into a time of servitude. Israel cried out to God in their plight and distress. They turned to God and repented. God heard their prayers and raised up judges through whom they were delivered.
- “This cycle was repeated over and over. The book of Isaiah opens with God giving his philosophy of history. Isaiah outlines three steps that cause the downfall of a nation: (1) spiritual apostasy, (2) moral awfulness, (3) and political anarchy” (Ibid., pp. 112-113)
- “Every nation goes down in this order: (1) religious apostasy; (2) moral awfulness; (3) political anarchy. Deterioration begins in the [church], then to the home, and finally to the state. That is the way a nation falls” (Ibid, pp. 113, 203).
- “In Judges 17-21, we have presented that philosophy of history [that was mentioned above]. In Judges 17-18, we see spiritual apostasy. In Judges 19, we see moral awfulness. In Judges 20-21, we see political anarchy. This period ends in total national corruption and confusion. ‘In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21.25)’ (Ibid., pp. 203-214).
- “If you want to know just how up-to-date the book of Judges is, listen to the words of the late General Douglas McArthur: ‘In this day of gathering storms, as moral deterioration of political power spreads its growing infection, it is essential that every spiritual force be mobilized to defend and preserve the religious base upon which this nation is founded; for it has been that base which has been the motivating impulse to our moral and national growth. History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual reawakening to overcome the moral lapse, or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster’” (Ibid., p. 113).
All nations, prior to the establishment of the kingdom of heaven, are doomed to judgment because of the depravity of man which always seeks the lowest common denominator, the principles of the god of this world. As to the nature of man, the Word of God points out that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Ro. 3.23. The fact of the depravity of man is shown throughout the Bible.). Even after salvation, men have a great struggle with the flesh. False teachers from within and without the church immediately began to introduce heresy and apostasy into the first churches. God’s people, led by compromising pastors, have been deceived by many pernicious doctrines. The church, as is shown in Section II of God Betrayed and which is reproduced on this website, will become lukewarm before the rapture and many professing members of the church will be unregenerate.
The Puritans felt that they were dedicated to serving the Lord and to doing things His way. They believed that they could set up a civil government modeled after biblical principles. They did not realize that even should they have been upright in God’s eyes, future leaders would depart from the faith and lead the church and the civil government downhill into depravity just as happened in Israel and in all church-state marriages starting with the Catholics and up to the established churches after the Reformation, including the Church of England from which they were fleeing.
IV. The application of the Puritan theology results in persecution of dissenters (banishment, jail, confiscation of personal property, unjust taxes, hanging, etc.); the results of the theology of the Puritans which soon came to fruition
Soon after the founding of Massachusetts, events there proved the folly of their false theology and the truth of accurate biblical and historical interpretation. As Isaac Backus reported, by 1660 or 1670 Puritan theologians and pastors in New England were pointing out the “general religious declension” that was already taking place as the first generation of settlers passed away (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 457-464. Examples of what the religious leaders were saying are given in those pages). “Mr. Willard published a discourse in the year 1700 entitled, ‘The Perils of the Times Displayed,’ in which he said:
- “That there is a form of godliness among us is manifest; but the great inquiry is, whether there be not too much of a general denying of the power of it. Whence else is it, that there be such things as these that follow, to be observed? that there is such a prevalency of so many immoralities among professors? that there is so little success of the gospel? How few thorough conversions [are] to be observed, how scarce and seldom…. It hath been a frequent observation that if one generation begins to decline, the next that follows usually grows worse, and so on, until God pours out his Spirit again upon them. The decays which we do already languish under are sad; and what tokens are on our children, that it is like to be better hereafter…. How do young professors grow weary of the strict profession of their fathers, and become strong disputants for the [those] things which their progenitors forsook a pleasant land for the avoidance of.
- “And forty years after, Mr. Prince said, ‘We have been generally growing worse and worse ever since.’ The greatest evils that [the founders of New England] came here to avoid were the mixture of worthy and unworthy communicants in the churches, and the tyranny of secular and ministerial Courts over them; but these evils were now coming in like a flood upon New England” (Ibid., p. 461).
The Halfway Covenant, established by the Massachusetts synod in 1662, was witness to the spiritual decline of the Puritan Congregationalist church. This resulted in a large number of church members being baptized into the church without conversion. Any person who professed belief in the doctrines of Calvinism and who lived an upright, moral life was allowed to join the parish church and sign the covenant or membership contract. Such persons were only allowed halfway into the church—they could have their children baptized but they could not take communion or vote in church affairs. This was the method practiced in the church to which Isaac Backus’ parents belonged (Ibid., pp. 264-268; Lumpkin, pp. 1-2; William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), pp. 5-6).
The Puritans, unlike the Separatists, although continuing to acknowledge canonical authority, desired to purify the church from within. Puritans were enlisted by the Massachusetts Bay Company, a trading corporation with powers of ownership and government over a specified area. The leaders of this company devised a plan to effectively remove the colony of Massachusetts from control of the Crown (Mark Douglas McGarvie, One Nation Under Law: America’s Early National Struggles to Separate Church and State (DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 2005), p. 46). Their purpose was to become a self-governing commonwealth able to enforce the laws of God and win divine favor—a citadel of God’s chosen people, a spearhead of world Protestantism, a government of Christ (Ibid., pp. 46-47, 48). They believed this was a common goal which all must seek together, with church and state working side by side (Ibid., p. 132). They believed that the pure church they intended to establish in New England would someday, somehow, rescue its English parent from the mire of corruption (Ibid., p. 51).
Since the Puritans believed that every nation existed by virtue of a covenant with God in which it promised to obey His commands, as a modern legal scholar has pointed out, “They knew, in the most elementary terms, that they must punish every sin committed in Massachusetts. And punish they did, with the eager cooperation of the whole community, who knew that sin unpunished might expose them all the wrath of God” (Ibid., p. 71) Sins punished included those in the first four commandments, those dealing strictly with man’s relationship to God, as well as other sins, including those dealing with man’s relationship to man. Thus, the churches were thronged every Sunday with willing and unwilling worshipers—everyone was required to attend (Ibid.). Although the church could not enforce the commandments, the state, which was charged with the colony’s commission, had the final and supreme responsibility for suppressing heresy as well as drunkenness and theft and murder (Ibid., p. 82).
In 1629 the trading company in Massachusetts was transformed into a commonwealth (Ibid., pp. 84-100). According to the Puritan theology of these early Massachusetts settlers, after the people joined in covenant with God, agreeing to be bound by his laws, they had to establish a government to see those laws enforced, for they did not have enough virtue to carry out their agreement without the compulsive force of government (Ibid., p. 93).
- “[They] soon discovered themselves as fond of uniformity, and as loath to allow liberty of conscience to such as differed from themselves, as those from whose power they had fled. Notwithstanding all their sufferings and complaints in England, they seemed incapable of mutual forbearance; perhaps they were afraid of provoking the higher powers at home, if they countenanced other sects; and perhaps those who differed from them took the more freedom, in venting and pressing their peculiar opinions, from the safety and protection they expected, under a charter that had granted liberty of conscience.
- “In reality, the true grounds of liberty of conscience were not then known, or embraced by any sect or party of Christians; all parties seemed to think that as they only were in the possession of the truth, so they alone had a right to restrain, and crush all other opinions, which they respectively called error and heresy, where they were the most numerous and powerful; and in other places they pleaded a title to liberty and freedom of their consciences. And yet, at the same time, all would disclaim persecution for conscience sake, which has something in it so unjust and absurd, so cruel and impious, that all men are ashamed of the least imputation of it. A pretence of public peace, the preservation of the Church of Christ from infection, and the obstinacy of the heretics, are always made use of, to excuse and justify that, which stripped of all disguises, and called by its true name, the light of nature, and the laws of Christ Jesus condemn and forbid, in the most plain and solemn manner…” (Callender, pp. 69-70).
After arriving in Massachusetts, they quickly formed churches. Mainly under the leadership of the Reverend John Cotton, they arranged ecclesiastical and state matters. “Whatever he delivered in the pulpit was soon put into an order of court, if of a civil, or set up as a practice in the church, if of an ecclesiastical concernment” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 33). The established Congregational church differed from other churches in four main points:
- “The visible church was to consist of those who made an open profession of faith, and did not ‘scandalize their profession by an unchristian conversation.’
- “A particular visible church should preferably explicitly covenant to walk together in their Christian communion, according to the rules of the gospel.
- “Any particular church ought not to be larger in number than needed to meet in one place for the enjoyment of all the same numerical ordinances and celebrating of divine worship, nor fewer than may conveniently carry on church work.
- “Each particular church was subject to no other jurisdiction (Ibid., pp. 33-34).
“But this people brought two other principles with them from their native country, in which they did not differ from others; which are, that natural birth, and the doings of men, can bring children into to the Covenant of Grace; and, that it is right to enforce and support their own sentiments about religion with the magistrate’s sword(Ibid., pp. 34-35).” Compulsive uniformity “was planted at a General Court in Boston, May 18, 1631 when it was ordered that no one could be admitted ‘to the freedom of [the] body politic’ who was not a member of a church” (Ibid., p. 35). “This test in after times had such influence, that he who ‘did not conform, was deprived of more civil privileges than a nonconformist is deprived of by the test in England’” (Ibid., p. 35). Since rulers, however selected, received their authority from God, not from the people, and were accountable to God, not to the people, their business was to enforce the nation’s covenant with God (McGarvie, p. 94). Ministers were not to seek or hold public office, but were counted on to give the people sound advice and to instruct them about the kind of men who were best fitted to rule (Ibid., pp. 95-96). Although only church members had political rights, this was a larger group than had political rights in England (Ibid., p. 92).
By 1635, the General Court regulated the affairs of the local churches and passed on the qualifications of preachers and elders, since:
“[t]he civil authority … hath the power and liberty to see the peace, ordinances, and rules of Christ observed in every Church, according to His word…. It is the duty of the Christian magistrate to take care that the people be fed with wholesome and sound doctrine” (Pfeffer, p. 66).
The Court continued to put its theology into force by act of law. At the General Assembly held March 3, 1636, it was held (1) that no church would form and meet without informing the magistrates and elders of the majority of the churches of their intentions and gaining their approval and (2) that no one who was a member of a church not approved by the magistrates and the majority of state-churches would be admitted to the freedom of the commonwealth (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 61).
Soon thereafter, the Court passed an act that stated that they were entreated to make “a draught of laws agreeable to the Word of God, which may be the fundamentals of this commonwealth, and to present the same to the next General Court,” and that “in the mean time the magistrates and their associates shall proceed in the courts to hear and determine all causes according to the laws now established, and where there is no law, then as near the laws of God as they can” (Ibid., pp. 62-63). This act immediately led to the persecution by banishment, disfranchisement and the forbidding of speaking certain things, removal from public office, fines, and the confiscation of arms (Ibid., pp. 64-70). Soon to that act was added that anyone convicted of defaming any court, “or the sentence or proceedings of the same, or any of the magistrates or other judges of any such court, would be punished by ‘fine, imprisonment, or disfranchisement of banishment, as the quality and measure of the offence shall deserve’” (Ibid., pp. 69-70).
The banishment and the voluntary exile of many dissidents “did not put an end to the unhappy divisions and contentions in  Massachusetts” (Callender, p. 75). As a result of animosities and contentions between what were called the Legalists and the Familists or Antinomians, a synod was held, eighty erroneous opinions were presented, debated, and condemned; and a court was held which “banished a few of the chief persons, among those who were aspersed with those errors, and censured several that had been the most active, not it seems, for their holding those opinions, but for their pretended seditious carriage and behavior; and the church at Boston likewise excommunicated at least one of her members, not for those opinions, but for denying they ever held them, and the behavior which these heats occasioned”(Ibid., pp. 75-76).
On September 6, 1638, the Assembly at Boston made 2 laws: (1) anyone excommunicated lawfully from a church would, after six months and if not restored, be presented to the Court and there fined, imprisoned, banished or further “as their contempt and obstinacy upon full hearing shall deserve;” and (2) that every inhabitant would be taxed to pay for all common charges as well as for upholding the ordinances of the churches; and, if not so doing, would be compelled thereto by assessment and distress, to be levied by the constable or other officer of the town. The first law was repealed the next fall, but the second remained (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, pp. 79-80).
On March 13, 1639, acts were passed which fined, disenfranchised if no repentance made, and/or committed certain men for certain acts or pronouncements against the established churches (Ibid., pp. 93-94). On November 13, 1644, the General Court passed an act which provided
“that if any person or persons, within this jurisdiction, shall either openly condemn or oppose the baptizing of infants, or go about secretly to seduce others from the approbation or use thereof, or shall purposely depart the congregation at the ministration of the ordinance, or shall deny the ordinance of magistry, or their lawful right and authority to make war, or to punish the outward breaches of the first table, and shall appear to the court willfully and obstinately to continue therein after due time and means of conviction, every such person or persons shall be sentenced to banishment” (Ibid., p. 126).
As to this law, Isaac Backus appropriately commented:
“A like method of treating the Baptists, in Courts, from pulpits and from the press has been handed down by tradition ever since. And can we believe that men so knowing and virtuous in other respects, as men on that side have been, would have introduced and continued in a way of treating their neighbors, which is so unjust and scandalous, if they could have found better arguments to support that cause upon? I have diligently searched all the books, records and papers I could come at upon all sides, and have found a great number of instances of Baptists suffering for the above points that we own; but not one instance of the conviction of any member of a Baptist church in this country, in any Court, of the errors or evils which are inserted in this law to justify their making of it, and to render our denomination odious. Much has been said to exalt the characters of those good fathers; I have no desire of detracting from any of their virtues; but the better the men were, the worse must be the principle that could ensnare them in such bad actions” (Ibid., p. 127).
In 1644 a law against the Baptists was passed asserting that the Anabaptists “have been the incendiaries of the commonwealths, and the infectors of persons in main matters of religion, and the troublers of churches in all places where they have been” (Ibid., p. 205).
In 1646 the General Court adopted the Act, imposing “banishment on any person denying the immortality of the soul, or the resurrection, or sin in the regenerate, or the need of repentance, or the baptism of infants, or ‘who shall purposely depart the congregation at the administration of that ordinance’ or endeavor to reduce others to any of these heresies.” Also, in 1646 an act against “contemptuous conduct toward’ preachers and nonattendance on divine service were made punishable, the former by ‘standing on a block four feet high’ having on the breast a placard with the words ‘An Open and Obstianate Contemner of God’s Holy Ordinances’” (Pfeffer, pp. 66-67, citing Cobb, pp. 176-177).
The magistrates passed a bill in March, 1646 which required “the calling a synod to settle … ecclesiastical affairs” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 155), the synod to be convened not by command, but to motion only to the churches (This was agreed because some questioned the power of civil magistrates over the churches.). In August 1648 the synod met and “completed the Cambridge platform; the last article of which sa[id]:
- “If any church, one or more, shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the communion of other churches, or shall walk incorrigibly or obstinately in any corrupt way of their own, contrary to the rule of the word; in such case the magistrate [Josh. 22,] is to put forth his coercive power, as the matter shall require.”
“This principle the Baptists and others felt the cruel effects of for many years after” (Ibid., p. 159).
The Assembly passed laws against gathering churches without the consent of the assembly, and another “wherein they enacted, ‘that no minister would be called unto office, without the approbation of some of the magistrates, as well as the neighboring churches’” (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 214).
In 1657 laws were passed which imposed fine or whipping on those who entertained a Quaker, required citizens to report Quakers, fined those who allowed Quakers to meet on their property, and fined anyone who brought in a Quaker or notorious heretic(Ibid., fn. 3, pp. 263-264). Although these laws were repealed on June 30, 1660, they were reenacted immediately, “with slight modifications, or to give place to new laws quite as oppressive” (Ibid.). In September, 1658, the Commissioners of the United Colonies recommended that all the New England colonies “make a law, that all Quakers formerly convicted and punished as such, shall (if they return again) be imprisoned, and forthwith banished or expelled out of the said jurisdiction, under pain of death” (Ibid., p. 253). In October 1658, the Assembly at Boston passed a law banishing “Quakers on pain of death” but no other colony passed such a law (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 249; pp. 254-255).
“Many [Quakers] were whipped, some were branded, and Holder, Copeland and Rouse, three single young men, had each his right ear cut off in the prison at Boston….” Three of them who were banished, on pain of death returned again to Boston, and were condemned to die. Two of them, men, were executed. One, Mary Dyre, was released and sent away. She returned and was hanged on June 1, 1660. William Leddra was hanged on March 14, 1661. Charles II ordered that such persecutions cease, and that Quakers that offended were to be sent to England to be tried. “How justly then did Mr. Williams call the use of force in such affairs, ‘The bloody tenet!’” (Ibid., fn. 1, p. 252; pp. 258, 262-263, 265).
Members of the first Baptist church in Boston were imprisoned. Thomas Gould, Thomas Osborne, William Turner, Edward Drinker and John George were imprisoned for starting that Baptist church without approbation from other ministers and their rulers…. Isaac Backus recorded:
“But when their ministers were moved to exert such force against Baptists, though they saw the chief procurers of that sentence struck dead before the time came for its execution, and many more of them about that time, yet their posterity have approved their sayings even to this day. Robert Mascall of England wrote his Congregationalist brethren in Massachusetts pointing out that they, in England, admitted those who practiced believer’s baptism to their churches as required by the Love of God, that their persecutions of the Baptists were contrary to Scripture, that they themselves had been persecuted, and now their brethren were persecuting so that ‘Whatever you can plead for yourselves against those that persecute you, those whom you persecute may plead for themselves against you,’ and ‘Whatever you can say against these poor men, your enemies say against you;’ that ‘[Y]ou cast a reproach upon us, that are Congregational in England, and furnish our adversaries with weapons against us;” and ‘Persecution is bad in wicked men, but it is most abominable in good men, who have suffered and pleaded for liberty of conscience themselves’” (Ibid., pp. 287, 298, 299, 311-313).
The persecutions of the Baptists in Massachusetts for withdrawing from public meetings continued.
“On May 15, 1672, the Assembly ordered their law-book to be revised and reprinted.” In it, banishment was required for those who broached and maintained any damnable heresies among which were denying justification by faith alone, denial of the fourth commandment, condemnation of or opposition to infant baptism, denial of the power of the magistrate to punish breaches of the first four commandments, and endeavoring to influence others to any of the errors and heresies mentioned in the law (Ibid. pp. 321-322).
After some Baptists organized a church in Boston, and erected a meeting house there, the General Court ordered:
“That no persons whatever, without the consent of the freemen of the town where they live, first orderly had, and obtained, at a public meeting assembled for that end, and license of the County Court, or in defect of such consent, a license by the special order of the General Court, shall erect or make use of any house as above said; and in case any person or persons shall be convicted of transgressing this law, every such house or houses wherein such persons shall so meet more than three times, with the land whereon such house or houses stand, and all private ways leading thereto, shall be forfeited to the use of the county, and disposed of by the County Treasurer, by sale or demolishing, as the Court that gives judgment in the case shall order” (Ibid., pp. 383-384).
However, a special act was procured to exempt Boston “from any compulsive power for the support of any religious ministers.” As a result, the Baptist church in Boston, which had begun in 1665, was able to build a meeting-house (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 418). Thus Baptist churches in Boston had equal liberties with other denominations since 1693, but this liberty was denied throughout the rest of Massachusetts (Ibid., p. 424).
As a result of these repressive laws, the king of England sent a letter requiring that liberty of conscience should be allowed to all Protestants, that they be allowed to take part in the government, and not be fined, subjected to forfeiture, or other incapacities, “whereas,” he said, “liberty of conscience was made a [one] principle motive for your first transportation to these parts” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 1, p. 384).
Soon a synod was called which condemned Quakers and Anabaptists. The General Court agreed. The magistrates had the doors of the Baptist meeting house boarded up, fined some of their members, forbade the Baptists to meet anywhere else, and fined some who were found to have gone to Baptist meetings. Following this came much controversy between the Baptists and the establishment(Ibid., pp. 384-404).
The established church ignored pleas to leniency toward those with whom it disagreed. For example, they ignored the plea Sir Henry Vane wrote John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts, in 1645: “The exercise and troubles which God is pleased to lay upon these kingdoms, and the inhabitants in them teaches us patience and forbearance one with another in some measure, though there be difference in our opinions, which makes me hope that, from the experience here, it may also be derived to yourselves…” (Ibid., p. 147).
Because of their strong bias, the Congregationalists wrote much against the dissenters, their method being asserting the disputed point taken by them:
“for truth, without any evidence, they blended that with many known facts recorded in Scripture, and thereupon rank the opposers to that point with the old serpent the devil and Satan, and with his instruments Cain, Pharoah, Herod, and other murderers; yea, with such as sacrifice their children to devils! This history contains abundant evidence of their adding the magistrate’s sword to all these hard words, which were used in their prefaces before they came to any of the Baptists arguments” (Ibid., p. 151. Mr. Backus gives examples of such establishment arguments on pp. 148-150. On pp. 151-153 he thoroughly debunks the argument for infant baptism as well as arguments that the subjects of the new covenant are the same. For example, Backus points out that “God says his new covenant is not according to that he made with Israel. Heb. viii. 8-11…. By divine institution a whole family and a whole nation were then taken into covenant; now none are added to the church by the Lord but believers who shall be saved. Acts ii.41, 47….”).
V. The atmosphere in Massachusetts begins to shift toward toleration and even freedom of tolerance; the second Massachusetts charter which provided for freedom of conscience to all Christians except Papists was secured in 1691; nonetheless, only in Boston was freedom of conscience honored; establishment remained in Massachusetts until 1733
The atmosphere in Massachusetts, amidst the persecutions and debate of the issues, began to shift toward toleration and even freedom of conscience. Even Governor John Winthrop, who had been a leader of the Puritans from the beginning of the colony, refused on his death bed in 1649 to sign a warrant to banish a Welsh minister, “saying, ‘I have had my hand too much in such things already’” (Ibid., p. 436). “The second Massachusetts charter, which was dated October 7, 1691, allowed equal liberty of conscience to all Christians, except Papists” (Ibid., p. 445).
Many of the establishment resisted the allowance of liberty of conscience contained in the 1691 charter. The ministers of the established churches construed the liberty of conscience provided for in the 1691 charter to mean “that the General Court might, by laws, encourage and protect that religion which is the general profession of the inhabitants” (Ibid., APPENDIX B, p. 532). “For thirty-six years after … Massachusetts received [the 1691 charter], they exerted all their power, both in their legislative and executive courts, with every art that ministers could help them to, in attempts to compel every town to receive and support such ministers as they called orthodox.” Thus, despite the new charter, on October 12, 1692, in 1695, 1715, and 1723, the Assembly in Massachusetts enacted new laws requiring that every town provide a minister to be chosen and supported by all the inhabitants of the town, gave the Assembly and General Court power to determine, upon recommendation of three approved ministers, the pastor of a church, and a law requiring the towns of Dartmouth and Tiverton to tax to support ministers. In 1693, the 1692 law was changed to allow each church to choose its own minister and exempted Boston from the requirement that all citizens be taxed to support that pastor (Ibid., pp. 446-448, 499-505).
Thus, equal religious liberty was enjoyed in Boston, but was denied in the country. Many, including Baptists and Quakers, were taxed to support paedobaptist ministers. Those who did not pay the tax were imprisoned for failing to pay the tax, and some officials were taxed for failing to assess the tax. The cattle, horses, sheep, corn, and household goods of Quakers were from time to time taken from them by violence to support the approved ministers. In 1723, Richard Partridge presented a memorial to King George requesting that inasmuch as the Massachusetts charter allowed equal liberty of conscience to all Christians except Papists, the laws contravening the charter be declared null and void, and the prisoners who refused to pay the tax be released. In 1724, the King ordered that the prisoners be released and the taxes remitted. The Massachusetts assembly passed an act in November 1724 requiring the release of the prisoners held for failing to assess the tax (Ibid., pp. 501-505, n. 1 pp. 501-503).
In 1728, the Assembly passed a law exempting poll tax for ministerial support and forbidding imprisonment of those Baptists and Quakers, who gave their names and regularly attended their church meetings, for failure to pay ministerial taxes assessed on their “estates or faculty.” In November 1729, an act was added that exempted their estates and faculties also, under the same conditions (Ibid., pp. 517-519 and appendix B, pp. 534-535).
The law exempting Baptists was renewed when it expired and persecutions continued. The law exempting taxes to Baptists expired in 1747, but was renewed for ten years. Nonetheless, the establishment found ways to persecute members of Baptist churches in various towns in Massachusetts for not paying the tax—some imprisoned, and property such as cows, geese, swine, oxen, cooking utensils, implements of occupation such as carpenter’s tools and spinning wheel, etc. of some was confiscated (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 94-98 and fn. 1, p. 97). The law expired in 1757, but a new one to continue in force thirteen years was made which exempted Baptists and Quakers if certain requirements were met. The law was renewed in 1771, even though Isaac Backus wrote Samuel Adams, never a supporter of separation of church and state, warning that the Baptists “might carry their complaints before those who would be glad to hear that the Legislature of Massachusetts deny to their fellow servants that liberty which they so earnestly insist upon for themselves’” (McLoughlin, The American Pietistic Tradition, p. 128). Isaac Backus said of the oppressions under this law, “[N]o tongue nor pen can fully describe all the evils that were practiced under it” (Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 141). Baptists, including single mothers with children, were unjustly taxed in violation of the law, property was unjustly taken from Baptists to pay established ministers, lies were disseminated about Baptists and their beliefs, and courts of law conducted grossly unfair trials and rendered obviously unjust opinions against Baptists (Ibid., pp. 141-166).
In 1786 the legislature passed a law which allowed each town to tax for the support of ministry, schools, and the poor, and other necessary charges arising within the same town. This tax resulted in collectors’ efforts to get their taxes, which caused much business in courts, and a great increase in lawyers. Some citizens arose in arms but were subdued by force of arms. Before fourteen men who were condemned for their rebellion could be hanged, the Governor and over half the legislature were voted out and the men were all pardoned (Ibid., pp. 330-331).
On February 6, 1788, delegates from Massachusetts who were meeting in Boston voted to adopt the newly drafted and proposed constitution for the states. One of the greatest objections against it had been that no religious test for any government officer was required. During debate, prior to adoption, a Congregational minister, Reverend Philips Payson, of Chelsea, arose and said, “… I infer that God alone is the God of the conscience, and consequently, attempts to erect human tribunals for the consciences of men, are impious encroachments upon the prerogatives of God” (Ibid., p. 336). Isaac Backus arose also and said:
“Nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the Holy Scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between God and individuals; and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of Christianity as an engine of State policy. And let the history of all nations be searched, from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world…. The covenant of circumcision gave the seed of Abraham a right to destroy the inhabitants of Canaan, and to take their houses, vineyards, and all their estates as their own; and also to buy and hold others as servants. And as Christian privileges are much greater than those of the Hebrews were, many have imagined that they had a right to seize upon the lands of the heathen, and to destroy or enslave them as far as they could extend their power. And from thence the mystery of iniquity carried many into the practice of making merchandise of slaves and souls of men” (Ibid.).
By 1794, very few if any were collecting taxes to pay ministers (Ibid., p. 379), but establishment remained in Massachusetts until 1833.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution did not prevent establishment on the state level. Opponents of establishment in Massachusetts never gained a majority. Rather, law, under the contract clause of Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States of America proved to be the tool used by the legal system to bring about disestablishment in that state. Massachusetts held a constitutional convention in 1820, but declined to eliminate a religious test for officeholders, control of Harvard, and public support for religion. However,
“[i]n 1821, the Massachusetts Supreme Court, in [Baker v. Fales, 16 Mass. 487 (1821) (known as the Dedham case),] a holding consistent with the Supreme Court of the United States in Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 17 U.S. (3 Wheat) 1 (1819), ruled that only corporations could hold property, not amorphous societies of believers. Only in response to these court decisions did the citizens support disestablishment, putting all the churches on equal footing in 1833. Contract law succeeded where politics would not, in overcoming support of religion (McGarvie, pp. 17-18).”
It should be noted that even with disestablishment, a church was not forced to incorporate and other methods of possessing (not owning) property on which to assemble as a body of believers were available. In reality as shown in Section II of God Betrayed which is reproduced on this website, a true church is a spiritual, not an earthly, entity. Therefore, a New Testament church cannot own property. Said another way, an entity that owns property cannot be a New Testament church. This concept is developed further in Section VI.