Puritanism Parallels with Mormonism: Preparation for the Restoration – Part 5

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Joseph Smith was born and lived much of his young life in the New England states. Calvinism had a strong influence in his day. Puritanism in practice was not strong during his life but Presbyterianism and other Calvinist religions were. Joseph’s mother and a few siblings had joined with the Presbyterians before Joseph’s First Vision. However, some of these Puritan doctrines had strayed from the truth; in fact all Christian religions had strayed to varying degrees from the truth – they all had much of the truth but the fullness was lost. Further, the organization of Christ’s church was no longer on the earth. Because of this, it was necessary for a restoration to occur. The Restoration was not a reaction to Puritanism or any other contemporary religion. That’s what the Reformation was – a reaction to the prevailing church and dogmas. The Restoration was something new; it was putting new wine in new bottles, or rather, old wine made anew and poured into new bottles.

Another way the Puritans helped pave the way for the Restoration was with their strong emphasis on personal Bible study, which meant that literacy was important. They had higher literacy rates than other communities within the New World. The Latter-day Saints had and have a similar focus on education; we believe education and life-long learning are important. The Puritans believed education was important for both men and women; within Mormonism, we have always placed a similar emphasis on education for all, even if it is only informal. The LDS Church today has a donation-funded Perpetual Emigration Fund that helps members around the world break the cycle of poverty by providing them with education loans that they can use to receive college or technical training. Puritanism and Mormonism are similar in other ways. The Puritans also emphasized fasting and prayer, just as we do in the LDS church. Going without food and drink helps us overcome the natural man as we pray and seek strength and guidance from our Father.

The Puritans placed a large emphasis on time. They often turned their whole houses into sundials because clocks were prohibitively expensive for most people; they could use the relationship between the sun and their houses as a means to tell time. The Puritans abhorred wasting time or being idle. People were even fined for “misspending their time” (p.158). They believed that it was best to arise early and retire early so that they waste as little time as possible. They even tried to decrease the amount of sleep they received in order to accomplish more, especially scripture studying or acting in the service of God (p.161). Does that sound like LDS teachings? “Cease to be idle; cease to be unclean; cease to find fault one with another; cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C; 88:124). Additionally, throughout the Book of Mormon those who were wicked were often described with the following words: “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations” (1 Ne. 12:23). [As an aside, I want to point out that becoming a “dark” people is probably best interpreted as a reference to a darkness of countenance (i.e., not having the light of Christ shining in one’s countenance or eyes; being full of darkness instead of light)]. Within both Puritanism and Mormonism there is counsel against idleness.

Puritanism likely had some degree of influence on the culture of Mormonism (culture is not the same as doctrine), just as it had (and has) on American culture. While some doctrines of Puritanism were similar to those of the LDS faith, there were significant differences, predestination was one of the biggest differences. However, differences aside, Puritanism helped pave the way for the Restoration.

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 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.

On Liberty

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July 4th is celebrated in the United States as Independence Day. On July 4, 1776 the American Colonies declared their independence from England. This declaration was one of the main events that led to the the establishment of the United States of America. With these words did the Americans declare their independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The seeds of independence were sown many years before 1776. Those seeds were the desire for liberty and freedom (and maybe a touch of rebelliousness!). When the Puritans came to America they brought with them and further developed their ideas of liberty. They typically viewed liberty in four different ways. The first and the main form of liberty of which they spoke and wrote was a collective or “publick liberty” (Fischer, p.200). This was a liberty of the community and colony and not necessarily individual liberty. It “was thought to be consistent with close restraints upon individuals” (Fischer, p.200). It was through individual restraints that the entire community had liberty. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is not possible to have liberty for the collective without restraining the individual, which is one reason why anarchy does not work. Without restraint, entropy takes over, leaving only chaos.

The second idea of liberty that the Puritans talked of was liberty for individuals, although they usually referred to these as liberties (i.e., a plurality of liberty). In this case, “these plural liberties were understood as specific exemptions from a condition of prior restraint” (Fischer, p.201). “This idea of liberty seems very narrow to modern Americans. We do not think of liberty as exemption from prior condition of restraint, but of restraint as an exemption from a prior condition of liberty” (Fischer, p.202).

The third Puritan view of liberty was the sense of “soul” or “Christian” liberty – the “freedom to serve God in the world. It was freedom to order one’s own acts in a godly way – but not in any other. It made Christian freedom into a form of obligation” (Fischer, p.202). This type of liberty was also referred to as liberty of conscience, again which is the liberty to act in a godly manner. While this idea of liberty was restrictive in practice (they believed in “freedom for the true faith [Puritanism]” but no other; Fischer, p.203), it was an important founding philosophy for the United States – that people should be free to act godly (and I’ll add, in whatever manner they see fit).

The fourth view of liberty for the Puritans was an individual liberty, a liberty or freedom from tyranny. This freedom included “freedom from want in the most fundamental sense” and “freedom from fear” (Fischer, p.205). This was similar to how many Americans view liberty today, although it is still not the same as modern libertarianism. This Puritan belief was another important belief that would influence many of the future Founding Fathers.

The Puritans believed in the freedom in order and not the freedom from order (i.e., collective liberty was more important than personal liberty). They believed that individual restraints were vital to the welfare of society – an idea that sometimes seems largely lost in our world today. This does not mean that more laws or more restrictions make you free but it also does not mean that fewer laws and fewer restrictions make you more free.

Liberty and freedom are God’s desires for us. He endowed us with “certain unalienable Rights,” which rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is a gift from God! We should always remember and serve Him, who gives us our freedom. I pray we may be like the great Book of Mormon military leader Moroni who “did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). It is Satan who “seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries” (Ether 8:25), whereas God desires freedom and joy for us.

God told His people: “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C; 98:8-10). I pray we may follow this counsel and elect wise and good leaders to political positions, which unfortunately does not always seem to be the case with us. However, it is never too late! As we remember and return to that God who gives us life and liberty, we will be blessed individually, as a nation, and as a world!

Here is a great video showing what liberty means to people in our day.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkTKQsYWBxc]

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 2

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Because of their beliefs, many Puritans viewed themselves as standing as examples to their neighbors – they felt they should be lights unto others. Many of these Puritans viewed their towns in the flat fields of eastern England as spiritual cities upon hills or as candles on candlesticks, a view they would carry with them to the New World. That’s a view that many Americans incorporated for America as a whole (based on Puritan influence). It’s a view members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold of themselves and the church. We talk of raising an ensign to the nations; we have temples which are lights upon hills to all around. We believe our lives should be as lights unto others. Being a light unto others is not done in an attitude of condescension but rather as a solemn responsibility for fulfilling the sacred covenants we make as members of the LDS church. It is the beckoning call of, “Come, partake of milk and honey without cost.”

In addition to the Protestant feelings of many people in the eastern parts of England, anti-monarchical political feelings were also prevalent in that part of England. Numerous peasant uprisings occurred in eastern England. During the English Civil War, when many sought to reject the monarchy and establish a parliamentary government system, the strongest support came from that eastern part of England. These were people who sought not only religious freedom but also political freedom. This was an important desire that would eventually lead to the founding of the United States of America. Latter-day Saints, like the Puritans, had and have a strong desire for political freedoms (i.e., democracy). Even as the government of the United States failed to protect the persecuted Mormons in the 1830s and 1840s (and later), Latter-day Saints were some of the staunchest supporters of the government. We believe that the founding of the United States was inspired by God; prophets had preached about it thousands of years before (see 1 Nephi 13:17-19). The United States existed in part so that the Restoration of the gospel could occur – even so, the Church barely survived in this land of freedom (eventually they had to leave the country for a while to gain religious freedom). After the prophet Joseph’s assassination, some scorners of the prophet prophesied the demise of Mormonism. Yet the stone cut without hands did not and will not fail (see Daniel 2:34,45; D&C; 65:2). The Puritans helped loosen that rock from the mountainside.

When many Puritans started moving from England to the New World, they left largely as family units – more so than any other concurrent migration. Family was very important to these Puritans. They viewed marriage as a covenant relationship between two willing partners (i.e., marriages were typically not arranged). They had some of the highest marriage rates in the world – many towns in the 1600s had marriage rates of close to 100%. Husbands and wives “worked very hard at perfecting their relationship, in a mutual effort to achieve love and harmony within the household.” In addition, they also had a strong love of genealogy; they cared about their family names and their hearts were drawn to their ancestors. Their love and respect for family was strong – they viewed their families as part of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Puritans in Massachusetts also had very large families. In some communities over a span of years they had an average of almost 10 children per family! While many children died in infancy and in childhood, they still had many children survive. Family was important. Fathers also played a strong role in the raising and care of their children – they were very involved in their education, training, discipline, and care. Many of these are similar to LDS beliefs and practices about families.

Link to part 1 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.