Friday, April 6, 2012
Puritans and Christian Mission
The Puritans that came to the New World very much saw themselves as the new Israelites coming to a new Promised Land. They were quite fond of, and familiar with, the Old Testament. The Atlantic was like a new Red Sea and crossing through it meant freedom from the Egypt-like England. Like the Israelites they came not to forward religious liberty but rather to worship God in the way they were commanded.
But the Puritans were also influenced by the Christian notion of mission.
When entering the Promised Land, the Israelites would act like the floodwaters in the days of Noah. They practiced herem warfare, killing all in their way. Long before this, God told Abraham that “the wickedness of the Amorites [who lived in the Promised Land] is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). It would be the duty of the Israelites to eradicate the pagan population and their abominations lest the Israelites fall into their pagan practices. Just as the waters of the great flood washed away sin – and sinners – from the world, so would the Israelites created a public space where God alone is God.
The Puritans, however, did not practice herem warfare on the Native Americans.
Of course Thanksgiving images of Pilgrims and Indians come to mind from our days in elementary school, but Puritan preachers like John Eliot preached to the Native Americans in order to bring them Christianity. The Puritans considered their polity as a “City on a Hill” or an uncovered light for all to see. The glory of the Christian mission is the ability to create large, wide-radius forms of association. This sense of mission is not found in the Israelites of the Old Testament. For this one needs the body of Christ.