The Puritan Way

In the 18th Century, following the teaching of the English philosopher John Locke, emerges the influence of a group known as Puritans. John Locke's influential books include: "A Letter Concerning Toleration", "Two Treatises of Government", "Essay on Human Understanding", and "The Reasonableness of Christianity". Puritans rejected the rituals and extravagant buildings of the major denominations in Europe. Puritans emphasized individual conscience before God, and rejected the dogmas of organized religion.

Puritans, sometimes called Separatists, are those who reject the organized denominations' claims of authority. Church of England Separatists made up one small group, which began breaking away as early as the 16th Century. By far the largest group of Puritans came out of the Presbyterian Church, while the second largest group came from the Baptists.

In a time when hatred and persecution existed between many denominations, every denomination in Europe hated and persecuted the Puritans. One small group after another boarded ships and came to America.

Common misconceptions about Puritans include:

1. The Salem witch trials: the Salem witch trials were not typical of Puritan life. In more than 400 years of Puritan history there were only two such incidents. In Europe such trials were common. The things that happened in Europe can happen here too, in fact they happen a lot more today than they did in Puritan times.

2. The Scarlet Letter: clearly, Nathaniel Hawthorne was a great author, but it is also clear that he disliked Puritans. He took a custom that existed in Spain and an incident which took place in Spain, translated them into a Puritan setting, and created a story that was entirely fictitious. His book is filled with misrepresentations about Puritan beliefs.

3. That Puritans don't like music: Puritans do like music, and Puritans do use music and poetry as tools for teaching the Scripture. Puritans believe that the Church is a meeting house for believers to fellowship and learn the Bible. Puritans disagree with the practice of using entertainment to entice into church people who are not interested in the study of Scripture. Other churches, not willing to deal with this issue, have accused Puritans of not liking music. If you thought that those people who are always attacking modern music were Puritans, you should ask them. They are members of the same denominations who are accusing Puritans of not liking music when we don't attend their programs.

Puritan intolerance: Having discussed the intolerance of the major denominations toward Puritans, we must also admit that Puritans have, at times, also shown intolerance for others. Particularly toward the denominations that persecuted them, but when Roman Catholics in Pennsylvania called for freedom of religion, Puritans decided, that is what they really wanted all along.

Puritans were/are leaders in the Abolition Movement. Individual conscience, individual choice, and individual enterprise are the lessons of Puritan history. Since our earliest days Puritans have been involved in the struggle against slavery. The famous preacher Jonathan Edwards (a Presbyterian, and a Calvinist, with strong Puritan ties) spoke often about the evil of slavery 35 years before the American Revolution. To illustrate the difference between denominational and Puritan thinking, let us look at the case of Abraham Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln read the Bible from cover to cover and discovered that slavery is evil, but never held a membership in any organized church. I have heard members of many churches say, "that was a description of a non-Christian". To me, that is the description of a Christian following a Puritan path.

The Puritan Way is to rediscover The Common Faith once held by the First Century Church. This was the purpose of the Pilgrims when they boarded the Mayflower. This is the purpose of any Puritan today who is worthy of the name, and anyone who does not accept that the Bible is the final authority in all things, or who makes a mockery of that principle, is not a Puritan or a Christian except in name only.

More about The Puritans



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