Occasionally, we will devote significant time and space to a category of posts entitled Profiles of Courage. A profile is a sketch or a summary of an individual’s life or a brief episode in a person’s life. Courage refers to doing what is right, even when facing opposition. It is synonymous with bravery, nerve, valor, or guts.
With this in mind, we will take a brief look at particular individuals in Scripture and church history who profile, or illustrate, a courage and conviction to stand for biblical truth. One such category of individuals are known as The Puritans.
There is a lot of confusion, as there often is when the subject is the evangelical church of Jesus Christ, regarding the Puritans. The pejorative designation “puritanical” is often used in describing people, or people groups, who are judgmental of others, legalistic and who seek to restrict an individual’s freedom. This term stems from a misconception of the Puritans. Additionally, most people attribute the Puritans to be people who only wore black and white, whose men and women respectively had weird hats and bonnets, and who burned witches at the stack in Salem, Massachusetts. Perhaps people may recall they, the Puritans, had something remotely to do with the Mayflower and the first Thanksgiving.
What many do not realize is the depth and breadth of biblical teaching and writings, many still in print, from the Puritans containing the vast volumes of sound and solid theological teaching.. What I hope to do in this series is to at least inform you who the Puritans were and how the Puritans still contribute to the overall health of biblical theology in the church today. I will also inform you of some wonderful books and web sites which provide introductions to this people group and their teachings.
A study of the Puritans involves not only who they were, but when they lived, what they accomplished and what they taught. As one author has commented, “History is not a popular subject. We cannot assume that those who are British are automatically well-educated in English History. It is rare for those outside Britain to know English history. How can we introduce overseas Christians to the best theological inheritance ever?
The Puritans were English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to “purify” the Church of England from its “Catholic” practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed. They were an extended body of believers who ultimately were a result of the Protestant Reformation begun by Martin Luther and continued by John Calvin.
The Puritans, and Puritanism was founded as an activist movement within the Church of England. The founders, clergy exiled under Mary I, returned to England shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558.
As author Peter Toon explains, “In America today “separation of church and state” is basic to both political and theological thinking. In contrast, in the sixteenth century in England the union of church and state was taken for granted as governed and guided by divine providence. In fact, the one definite thing that can be said about the English Reformation is that it was first of all an act of state. Central to it all was the assertion of royal supremacy, of king or queen, in ecclesiastical affairs. And the claim of royal supremacy was made explicitly not only by Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I, but also implicitly by the Catholic Mary when she decided to reconcile the English church with the Roman papacy in 1553.
As with any movement, theological or political, there were seeds sown which germinated only after a significant period of time. The flowering of the Puritans only occurred after years of growth of reformed protestant churches in England, and with the subsequent persecution of those same churches and pastors by those opposed to such church growth.
It has been said, with some degree of accuracy I might add, that the church is its strongest when it has faced its fiercest opposition. Such could be said of the founding and flourishing of the Puritans.
Soli deo Gloria!