Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 4

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We read in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (D&C; 121:34-36). Fore-ordination does not have anything to do with who will be able to return to live with Heavenly Father again, unlike the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Fore-ordination and predestination are similar but they do differ by degrees.

The LDS doctrine of salvation is quite liberal, especially compared to the Calvinism of the Puritans – however, it’s not our doctrine, it’s God’s. That is, Mormons did not create the doctrine, God did. We believe that all who have ever lived upon the earth will have the opportunity to receive and accept the ordinances required to return to live again with our Father in Heaven. All people will eventually have the necessary ordinances performed for them but not all will accept (or possibly even be able to accept based on their lives here) the ordinances. We believe that all children who died before the age of accountability (age eight) will return to live with God again – this is because little children are whole and incapable of committing sin (see Moroni 8:8; Mosiah 15:25) because the Savior’s Atonement freed them from sin; they are declared blameless by God through the power and grace and mercy of the Atonement.

That is radically different from Puritan beliefs about children; they thought children were full of sin and mischief and evil. Children, to the Puritans, had to be “broken.” LDS doctrine holds children to be inherently good. Christ also taught we should become as little children (see Matt. 18:3). While LDS doctrine about salvation is liberal – we believe that most will receive some degree of glory (they at least kept their first estate and chose in the pre-mortal realm to follow our Father’s plan of salvation by coming to earth) but not all will live with God forever more – LDS doctrine is not as liberal as some other Christian faiths, such as Universalists who believe that all will be saved; God’s power is so great that He will bring all humankind back to Him. On a continuum, LDS doctrine is between the Calvinists and the Universalists.

Calvinism in New England espoused “Five Points” of doctrine, similar conceptually to our thirteen Articles of Faith (i.e., these Five Points are some of the basic and distinctive Puritan doctrines just like the LDS Articles of Faith cover the basic doctrines of Mormonism). These Five Points were: “[1] the natural condition of humanity was total depravity,…[2] salvation was beyond mortal striving,…[3] grace was predestined only for a few,…[4] most mortals were condemned to suffer eternal damnation, and [5] no earthy effort could save them” (p.112). That seems to be quite a depressing set of dogma! However, the Puritans did not live depressing lives – although they were austere in many ways – but they were never sure of their salvation. Their glasses of salvation were never more than half empty. They constantly sought and desired the mercy and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, as we all should. Another quote will further establish the Puritan views of salvation. About one Puritan it is written, “Always before, when [Thomas] wept for his sins, he had kept some feeling of human merit. Now he knows he has none, that the natural man, even when seemingly a good man, is only a beautiful abomination, for the natural man has had no merit since Adam’s disobedience, and Hell is his just destination” (Simpson as cited by Fischer, p.116).

But does not that passage sound a bit like King Benjamin? “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). There are similarities between Puritanism and the first part of King Benjamin’s statement but there is a key difference. King Benjamin stated that we need to become as a child in order to overcome the natural man!

Children are naturally good; the natural man is a learned and developed state, not an inherent state. We learn to be natural men and women! We all give in to the natural man at some point but we all start out good and clean and pure. I do have to point out that it is only through the atonement of Christ the Lord that we become saintly, or saved and sanctified. Again, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we believe that people are inherently good – the Puritans did not. The Savior’s Atonement freed us from the transgression of Adam. Joseph Smith wrote, “We believe that man will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression” (Second Article of Faith). I believe Joseph wrote that in part because it was different from the prevailing beliefs of many of the religions of his day.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 3

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The Puritans also often referred to themselves as “saints.” Members of the LDS Church call themselves saints, not because we believe our behavior is particularly saintly (although it should be!) but saints was a term used Biblically to refer to members of the church Christ established. We also use the term in reference to the name of Christ’s church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Puritans came over to the New World almost exclusively in order to have religious freedom, just as Mormons fled westward seeking religious freedom; it was ironic that Mormons eventually had to leave the United States in order to find the religious freedoms promised in the Bill of Rights. The Puritans settled in the cold Massachusetts area (it was going through a mini Ice Age at the time), which helped them develop into hearty people and protected them from many of the contagious diseases so prevalent in the south. The men and women were strong and did physical labor. Utah, with its altitude and dry air, similarly provided protections against many transmittable diseases. Diseases still ravaged but they were relatively mild compared to pandemics further south.

While Puritan society was patriarchal, there was no tolerance for abuse of women (or men, for that matter). Their patriarchal society was founded on Biblical principles. Women and men were punished equally for adultery or other sins or crimes. Women, while principally domestic in their roles, were often encouraged to be intellectual, courageous, have strong characters, and have integrity. Puritan women in New England were not “just mothers” – they were fulfilling important roles as the “head of the family” (Fischer, p.85). The LDS church has a patriarchal priesthood. The extent of our patriarchal organization outside the priesthood organization is explained in The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

While the Puritans differed significantly in their religious doctrine from the doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which would not be restored to the earth for 200 years), there were some similarities. Puritans were Calvinists; they believed that some were predestined by God to go to Heaven. One sign of God’s grace was old age; the aged were venerated and respected. The elderly often were in political and religious positions of power. Many of the general LDS Church leaders (especially the Apostles) today are older – in their 60s through their 90s. However, as members of the LDS Church we do not believe that old age is a sign of God’s grace and mercy but we often do respect the wisdom of our elders. While we do not believe in predestination like Calvinists do, we believe in fore-ordination. We believe that many people were pre-ordained to certain responsibilities or missions or callings; this fore-ordination does not, however, determine those responsibilities or missions or callings.

Link to Part 2 of this essay.

Reference

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 1

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I’d like to preface my essay by stating that although I am drawing parallels between Puritanism and Mormonism, my point is not to argue that Mormonism came from Puritanism. There were many differences between the two religions and societies; there were many things about Puritan society and religion that were greatly at odds with Mormonism (including the severity of some their punishments of crime, for example). However, Puritanism helped pave the way for the Restoration.

Much of the information about Puritanism comes from the following source:

Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

In the 1600s a wave of emigrants crossed the rough Atlantic Ocean, huddled together in their sailing ships headed to a new land and new opportunity. Some of the ships were comfortable and safe; others were cramped and unsound. Sometimes illness and death swept through the ships, breaking the health and hearts of the travelers. Those who came to Massachusetts, particularly the Bay Colony, were generally the middle-class in England. They were some of the cream of the crop of England. Charles Dickens made a similar comment about one group of Mormon emigrants he visited as they prepared to depart for America: “They were in their degree, the pick and flower of England” (The Uncommercial Traveller, Chapter 22, Bound for the Great Salt Lake, Charles Dickens). The journey for the Puritan families was pricey – up to four times the gross yearly income of many middle-class workers. They sacrificed much to cross the ocean in order to have religious liberty. Why did they give up so much?

The Puritans sought religious freedom and new lives. Many of these emigrants came from the eastern shores of their native country England. They came from an area in which the Protestant Reformation movement was strong. This part of England was populated by many people who rejected the rules and doctrines of the prevailing church and who protested its power. Some of these Protestants met together sometimes at the peril of their lives to hold Bible study groups. Many were viewed as heretics and were often persecuted. They suffered much at the hands of the ruling theocracy. In fact, during the 1500s, most of the Protestants who were burned as heretics were from this eastern region of England. One prominent English minister called this eastern portion of England the “throbbing heart of heresy in England” (Fischer, p.47).

A particular sect of Calvinists called the Puritans, who based many of their doctrines on the teachings of John Calvin, flourished in this region. They were among those persecuted by the prevailing church. However, they persevered through persecution; they longed for a day when they could worship how and when they wanted. They wanted freedom of religion.