The Puritans did not rightly divide. At least, they didn’t during their first few years at Cape Cod.
It is well known from Bradford’s journal that they practiced an economic system of having all things in common without private ownership. This type of economic system has been suggested by not a few philosophers and “wise men” throughout the ages.
Some of the modern variations including the version by Karl Marx have used the Bible to defend its idealistic communal system.
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” – Acts 2:44-45
Obviously, such a system is indeed found in the Bible.
Jesus Christ even taught the disciples to sell their private property for redistribution:
“Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” – Luke 18:22
“Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?” – Luke 12:24
But being Biblical is often not enough, we must be dispensational.
The Failure of the Commons
History has proven that such a system of common ownership leads to economic distress.
The Puritans found that even among their religious community the system failed. Rarely did anyone possess the motivation to labor excessively to benefit every other family without extra benefit to their own.
As a result, people did not work. The common goods became less and less. The communal system failed just as it later would in the utopian society in New Harmony, Indiana, and the much larger Russia.
Even in the scripture we can find how the communal system taught by the Lord and practiced by the apostles historically resulted in the Jerusalem saints becoming poor.
“For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” – Romans 15:26
Does this mean that Jesus and his apostles were naive in their teaching and practice that all things should be in common (Luke 12:33, Acts 4:34-35)? By no means!
The failure of the communal system is not a failure of the apostolic community, but a failure of the church to rightly divide.
Rightly Dividing the Word
No where else in the Bible, excepting his earthly ministry to Israel, does God instruct anyone to “sell all” and to “have all things in common”. There is a reason for this.
Jesus came to Israel preaching the coming of the kingdom (Luke 11:20). It was the time for prophecy to be fulfilled and Israel to be led into their promised land.
Just as in the days of old in the wilderness, God would provide Israel’s “daily bread” miraculously and would not let his followers go hungry (Mat 6:30-34). This was exemplified in his provision for the thousands in the desert (Mat 14:17-21).
They were living in the miraculous times of fulfilled prophecy and the coming kingdom on earth.
The apostles at Pentecost were operating with the same miraculous ability as the Lord, being filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:42-43).
It was not until later in the book of Acts that the common system failed. More specifically, it was not until the Holy Spirit changed his ministry by revealing the mystery of Christ to Paul that the common system failed.
Paul was given a unique revelation from the Lord that the kingdom to Israel would be postponed (Rom 11:25). As a result the gospel would be sent to all nations, the miraculous power from the Spirit would cease, and the communal system would fail (1 Cor 13:8).
A new dispensation from God changed his relationship to humanity, and required a change in our relationship towards each other.
Paul and the Bums
As a result of the dispensational change that occurred with the Pauline revelations, pursuing the practice of the apostles at Pentecost would be a doctrinal failure to rightly divide Peter from Paul.
When some in Paul’s lifetime tried to pursue the practice of the Pentecostal apostles in not working, Paul rebuked them sternly.
“For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” – 2 Thess 3:10-12
A failure to heed Paul’s admonition has economic consequences when society is stuck in the red letters of Jesus’ miraculous kingdom ministry.
The Puritans learned these consequences first hand.
Right Division Leads to Thanksgiving
The Puritans did not rightly divide Peter from Paul, but the disastrous consequences of their communal system forced them to practice what Paul preached.
After a few years Governor Bradford rightly divided the common land and goods among the small group remaining. He instructed them to pursue work to provide for their own families (a Pauline precept in 1 Tim 5:8).
As a result the new colony flourished. It was after they divided the land into private ownership that everyone was able to eat. Eventually, they held a feast to celebrate their prosperity and to thank God. This feast has been institutionalized as Thanksgiving Day in America.
Right doctrine has consequences. When right doctrine is carried out, even unintentionally, it has right consequences.
The Puritans were able to give thanks by rightly dividing the land, which unknown to them, and sadly still others today, was the instruction of the Bible rightly divided all along.
The consequences of right division among Biblical people is thanksgiving to God.
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – 1 Thess 5:18
We can only imagine what would happen if the church followed Paul in his God revealed instructions on other topics such as justification, evangelism, prayer, and special days.