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Jonathan Edwards and the Development of American Democracy
Unformatted Document Text:  Harris 9 One must profess a belief in Christ, and one must live in accordance with the moral strictures that accompany that belief. 25 Baptism, the heart of the half-way covenant, is at most part of the moral strictures that accompany faith in Christ. It is not, however, the most important part of church membership; that, clearly, is a public profession of faith, both in word and deed. Some combination of personal statements and actions trump previous ceremonial activity taken on a person’s behalf, given that the baptism which he discusses was administered to infants. Edwards clearly places the onus on the individual to believe and act as a Christian, not to rely on some form of tacit consent in which a person is a member of the church simply because he or she never repudiated baptism explicitly. In this way, Edwards is bringing the Lockean notion of religion as purely consensual into the heart of the Puritan establishment, making it even more radical by decoupling his notion of consent from the looser Lockean view that allows for tacit consent. The attack on the half-way covenant threatened to undermine the entire New England hierarchy, challenging the peculiar polity established by the Puritans. Puritan thinkers considered the judicial laws of the Old Testament normative for the society they constructed in New England. This helps account for the peculiarity of the Puritan polity vis à vis its contemporaries. The Puritan state was intensely concerned in the salvation of souls, and thus religious questions about church membership, the questions that result in the half-way covenant, are always political questions. Following Calvin, New Englanders attempted to create a Christian polity, with a system of governance thoroughly enmeshed in the application of Christian legal and moral principles in society. To be clear, Puritans strove for theocracy 25 Though he does not use this passage, his argument is similar to that of the New Testament’s Epistle of James, in which the author argues, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) Given the hatred of Martin Luther for any doctrine that smacked of the importation of works into salvation, along with his hatred of James, which he did not “regard as the writing of an apostle”, Edwards’s argument is a much more radical departure from the Reformation tradition than it is often recognized as. See Martin Luther. “Preface to James and Jude.” Works. Vol. 35.

Authors: Harris, John.
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Harris 9
One must profess a belief in Christ, and one must live in accordance with the moral strictures
that accompany that belief.
Baptism, the heart of the half-way covenant, is at most part of the
moral strictures that accompany faith in Christ. It is not, however, the most important part of
church membership; that, clearly, is a public profession of faith, both in word and deed. Some
combination of personal statements and actions trump previous ceremonial activity taken on a
person’s behalf, given that the baptism which he discusses was administered to infants. Edwards
clearly places the onus on the individual to believe and act as a Christian, not to rely on some
form of tacit consent in which a person is a member of the church simply because he or she
never repudiated baptism explicitly. In this way, Edwards is bringing the Lockean notion of
religion as purely consensual into the heart of the Puritan establishment, making it even more
radical by decoupling his notion of consent from the looser Lockean view that allows for tacit
consent.
The attack on the half-way covenant threatened to undermine the entire New England
hierarchy, challenging the peculiar polity established by the Puritans. Puritan thinkers
considered the judicial laws of the Old Testament normative for the society they constructed in
New England. This helps account for the peculiarity of the Puritan polity vis à vis its
contemporaries. The Puritan state was intensely concerned in the salvation of souls, and thus
religious questions about church membership, the questions that result in the half-way covenant,
are always political questions. Following Calvin, New Englanders attempted to create a
Christian polity, with a system of governance thoroughly enmeshed in the application of
Christian legal and moral principles in society. To be clear, Puritans strove for theocracy
25
Though he does not use this passage, his argument is similar to that of the New Testament’s Epistle of James, in
which the author argues, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2:26) Given the hatred of Martin Luther for any
doctrine that smacked of the importation of works into salvation, along with his hatred of James, which he did not
“regard as the writing of an apostle”, Edwards’s argument is a much more radical departure from the Reformation
tradition than it is often recognized as. See Martin Luther. “Preface to James and Jude.” Works. Vol. 35.


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