Puritanism began as a movement within the Church of England primarily concerned with this issue of personal piety. In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the Church of England, or the Anglican Church, was solidly committed to the Protestant Reformation and its theology. However, there were those who thought the reforms within the Church of England near the conclusion of the 16th century had not gone far enough. They felt there were too many remnants of Roman Catholicism. They believed worship services needed to be freer from liturgical organization and constraints.
You must realize that the head of the Church of England was the king or queen of England. Therefore, everybody was directed and required to go to church. You could be fined if you did not faithfully attend a church worship service. That must seem strange to us as Americans where we find so many reasons not to attend church, or we attend if there is nothing else on the calendar for that given Sunday.
One of the ways the Puritans evaluated Christian’s personal piety and holiness was asking themselves the question of what kind of preaching were people receiving? Did the preaching really address what Christians are to believe and how they ought to live? The Puritans were concerned that this was not the type of preaching that was occurring in churches.
Therefore, what the Puritans began to do was to create opportunities for people to hear preaching outside of the regular Sunday worship service. You might call these meetings “Bible Studies.” These meetings became known as Lectureships.
Another issue for the Puritans was the establishment of Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. They not only thought this was a continuation of obedience to the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11), but also necessary for the health and wellbeing of the church. They had a strong sense of man’s need for a day of rest and worship.
Therefore, Christians were to separate themselves from their regular work and routines and to dedicate Sunday as a day for not only corporate worship, but also personal worship. While there was some initial resistance to this, the Puritans were very successful in seeing the idea of a Christian Sabbath become entrenched in the lives of the people.
One of the best summations of Puritan theology of faith and practice is the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646). There is an entire chapter dedicated to the idea of a Christian Sabbath. This is available online at http://www.reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs.
How else did the Puritans impact the culture of country and Church of England? More to follow. Please take note of the “Brief Bio” I will be regularly including regarding leading Puritan pastors and authors.
Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson
John Welsh was a Scottish Presbyterian leader.
He was born in Dumfriesshires’ and, after a wayward youth, attended the University of Edinburgh and obtained his MA in 1588. He became a minister in Selkirk, and at 59 years of age married 16 year old Elizabeth, a daughter of John Knox. He was a rival of his father-in-law in genius, piety and zeal.
Welsh later ministered in Kirkcudbright and in Ayr, where he spent five years and with which he was ever afterward associated. His preaching resulted in his imprisonment on the orders of King James VI of Scotland (James I of England), and in 1606 he was exiled to France, where he continued his activities for many years. His grandson was the Covenanters’ leader, John Welsh of Irongray.