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LibertyandDiscipline inCovenantTheology* John Peacock Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century formulations of liberty by the people or their inferior magistrates to oppose kings became intimately related to the theology and politics of Christian liberty and church discipline. In Old and New England, as on the continent, the ancient notion of covenant (from foedus, federal) was generally enlisted to justify civil and ecclesiastical polities based on disciplined reciprocity between members, on conditions to be fulfilled rather than fixed prerogatives, on freedom within specified limits to make those conditions (which, once made, were binding), and on due process. 1 Covenant theology contributed different particular ideological implications depending on political circumstances: in France the Huguenot minority supplemented covenant between God and people with legal and nationalistic arguments, as well as with natural rights of a non-majoritarian kind, in order to attract alienated Catholic nobles in the fight against Catherine de' Medici. The resulting monarchomach defense of revolution was that when compact between king and people had been violated, inferior magistrates (not the people per se) were ordained and duty-bound to seek Vindiciae contra T}rannos. 2 In England, Puritans had waged a popular campaign in 1572with a best-selling Admonition to Parliament. They appealed to the people again after their campaign of the 1580shad failed to purify the church from the top down by act of Parliament or Queen. But Puritans were not democrats, felt suspicious of the unregenerate mass, and needed as much to discipline the Canadian Review of American Studies. Volume 15. Number 1, Spring 1984, 1-16 2 John Peacock people as to sanctify their rights. Covenant became an important instrument for expressing and resolving Puritan ambivalence about the people, delimiting their sovereignty as much as it did patriarchal authority, and expressing the Puritan cause as both popular and a dictatorship of the saints. Another version of the same ideological mix used to justify disobedience to kings in England and on the continent served, under different circumstances , to promote a combination of self-government and authoritarianism in the Puritan exodus to New England. The Plymouth Combination or Mayflower Compact of 1620,for example, concluded: "We whose names are underwritten do by these presents, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid ...."3 Not everyone on board ship was a Puritan, and the Charter that had been drawn up in England empowered the leaders, who were to govern a region in Virginia far south of where the ship was actually blown ashore. Needing legaljurisdiction, these leaders quickly drew the Mayflower Compact to "create the basis for political obligation until a new charter could be had" and, in particular, "to bind the non-Puritans to their community."4 Ten years later the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were equally sincere in thinking themselves motivated by true religion but, more so than the Plymouth separatists, they acknowledged in greater detail their creed's particular and economic context: Puritan propaganda for the Great Migration of 1630cited unstable politics and economics in England as the result of an imbalance in Christian liberty and discipline soon to be punished by general destruction. New England was to be exempt, and the migration there a divinely appointed opportunity to redress the imbalance and consequently re-stabilize politics and economics. 5 The imbalance in Church liberty and discipline was exemplified in particular by the indiscriminate inclusion in the church ascribed to byAnglicans and Presbyterians alike-an offense to both the more disciplined exclusivity of congregational fellowships and to their decentralized (and in this sense more democratic) nature. We would be mistaken to brush over their discipline and exclusivity and consider only their decentralizaton and democracy. Democratic statements had already been made by earlier Congregationalists: Jean Morely in the sixteenth century quarreled with Presbyterianism as a "system which vents disciplinary powers in the entire body of the clergy ... departing from Scripture and revealing tendencies dangerously 'aristocratic' or 'oligarchic.'" 6 New England Congregationalists during the founding period agreed that Presbyterianism was undemocratic in its hierarchical synods. Their own decentralized polity was not just more democratic, however, but enforced tighter self-discipline in the local churches. Differing...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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