Did the Puritans put witches to death in Salem?
The Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by the Puritans in the 1630s with Salem being one of its principle port towns. It had become evident by the 1670s, however, that most of the citizens of the colony were not Puritans (or born-again Christians in today’s vernacular). By the 1690s, when the Salem Witch hysteria took place, the Puritan era had pretty much waned. By this time, the Puritans were the minority.
The prevailing idea today is that it was the Puritans who killed witches in Salem. Actually, the situation was that some innocent people were accused of witchcraft by people who were not genuinely converted at all. The only real witchcraft going on was practiced by a servant of the town pastor! But because she confessed her sin and repented the townspeople, as a whole, forgave her. The resulting problem of the Salem witch trials was that you had superstitious, unconverted people using extra-biblical, unorthodox criteria by which to judge witches.
A pastor in Salem stirred up the original problem with irresponsible preaching and false accusations. But then he had to deflect guilt, because the witch hysteria was found to be emanating from his own household! The townspeople began accusing others and the hysteria spread. The civil court had plenty of nonsense to draw from, written mainly by Anglican pastors from England. These men argued that traditional, extra-biblical accounts of the occult were acceptable as information on the nature of the occult, and this side won the debate (with an enormous amount of bogus evidence).
It is untrue to say that the Puritans were responsible for the deaths of innocent people. In fact, the Salem witchcraft trials were stopped by a Puritan pastor from Beverly, Massachusetts. He charged that none of the evidence met biblical criteria. So it was a true minister of the gospel who stopped the state from executing witches in Salem. The minister who brought the charges was dismissed from his pastorate due to his role in the affair.
What should be our response to witchcraft today?
As Christians, we have two avenues of resistance to witchcraft: ecclesiastical and civil.
It is the role of the Church to oppose witchcraft with all our might, even to the point of publicly condemning certain witches (if they refuse to repent) through imprecatory prayer proclamations. Sorcery is condemned throughout the Bible [see Ex. 7:11; 8:7,18; Isa. 47:9,12]. Sanctions are imposed on sorcerers who refuse to repent [see Acts 13:6,8; Gal. 5:20; Rev. 9:21;18:23]. As the Church, our correct response is to condemn the practice of witchcraft and to preach salvation to those who would repent.
A more controversial issue is whether or not witchcraft should be made illegal by our civil government. My view is that since the civil government in our country is not a church-state ecclesiocracy, the state should not try witches. Our local community governments would be correct, however, in enforcing ordinances against private house meetings of religious groups in order to stop the undesirable effects of Wiccan rituals on the surrounding community, such as noise, parking violations, and so on.