During the 17th Century, large numbers of English religious dissenters fled their island nation in favor of America, where they would be free from the religious isolation, elitism, and the overbearing Church hierarchy so grievously foisted upon them.
They arrived on the shores of a New World, and it wasn't long before they set up an elitist, religious hierarchy of their own that started isolating people by the boatload.
The Synod of Dort, held in Holland, refined Calvinism to five points--the ultimate gist of which said that God made you a member of the elect or He did not, and He would entertain no arguments on the subject. This was in response to the Arminian Heresy, which had five points of its own, stating that because humans have free will, they could merit their own salvation--so who needs priests? The Synod, or so the Church thought, put a nice little stopper in that bottle, and helped it to go on about its tithely business.
Of course, that coin had a third side, as such coins often do--and some years later a few Puritan colonists caught onto a new idea and started attacking the Church from the other side of the Synod. Known as Antinomianism, it posed a huge challege to Church patriarchy, suggesting that priests really were a complete waste of closed collars after all. Arminians thought you didn't need priests because you could negotiate directly with God. Fair enough. They're heretics. Antinomians, however, said you didn't need priests precisely because you could not negotiate with God. You're predestined to be saved or damned anyway, so--again--what the hell good is a priest going to do you?
'Ah ha,' said the Church, nervously. 'Could you give us a minute?'
A minute later, they came up with the Morphology of Conversion, which once again reclassified what being elect meant, and how you'd know it if you were. Membership in the Church suddenly wasn't for everybody--you now had to give a convincing narrative of your grace experience in front of the whole congregation. Happily, the Church broke it down the accepted sequence into chapters, resulting in--well, I'll be damned. Five points.
- Knowledge: Have you any idea how truly bad you are? I mean, sure we sin, but you--you take the taco, buddy. Do you know that? Because you have to really know in order to get to step two.
- Conviction: Now you know, so what are you going to do about it? Convince yourself that good works will merit your salvation. You can do it, if you just try hard enough.
- Faith: Actually, you're wasting your time. God's perfect. Helping that old lady across the street just doesn't quite make up for all that sex you've been thinking about. But you still believe in God, and truly know that somehow He can get you out of this mess.
- Combat: God hasn't gotten you of this mess, and you're starting to despair. It is at the depths of this mental anguish that you will begin to appreciate the meaning of grace.
- True, Imperfect Assurance: You thank God that's over. And continue to do so, for the rest of your life, because now you feel somewhat at ease. You recognize that you may backslide a bit--you're only human--so you stay on your best behavior and gleefully await death.
So this is what to say if you're seeking membership in a 17th Century Puritan Church. If you didn't say it right, or the elders just didn't believe you, they could keep you out of the Church entirely, isolating you from virtually everyone and everything you knew. As a social force, the Church was still immensely important, the center of life, and to not be a part of it was no pleasant state of affairs. And if you really wanted to be part of the in-crowd, you had to be elect. Only a priest could tell you if you were.
'Whew,' said the Church. 'That was close. Anyone up for a few witch trials?'