The Seriousness of Godliness; the Strength of the Puritan Movement
Is the Modern Emergent Church Emerging from the Word or Merging with the Culture?
The Witch Craft trials and torrents of Legalism, these are the images that are formed when we moderns think of the Puritans. They did have Witch trials and they did have some horrendous legalisms. In England, going for a walk on the Sunday Sabbath, could get you thrown in Jail. Bear in mind that under the Law of Moses breaking the Sabbath got you the death penalty. They also had laws imposing many other holydays upon the people which makes you wonder if they ever read the Book of Galatians. Remember though that all those laws were voted in by the people themselves in the colonies, by popular vote, not imposed upon them by authorities, so they could hardly be called tyrannical. And as Tocqueville pointed out, never was the death penalty so widely prescribed, and never so seldom used.
And they did hold trials and execute people who confessed to witchcraft, probably the only thing you ever learned about Puritans in your public school class. Keep in mind when I lived in South Texas, they charged people with child sacrifice every year, and college students who went into Mexico for spring break were at times kidnapped and beheaded by witchcraft cults and devil worshipers, such as the followers of Santerria. Pet stores routinely closed their shops during the week ahead of Halloween, in order to prevent animal sacrifice. So in reality, even in south Texas, during the 1980’s, people were tried for practicing witchcraft, and evil, to the point of killing innocent human beings, often babies, was being practiced by participants in witchcraft.
I often marvel how a nation that barbarically aborts (kills) tens of thousands of living human beings in their mothers womb every year, can squawk in horror over the trials of several witches. Though several of the Judges of those trials later repented, saying they feared that some of the confessions may been the result of hysteria. One of the main judges, Samuel Sewall, wrote the first abolitionist tract against slavery in America ever written.
What the teachers and textbooks won’t tell you is this; unlike almost anywhere else in the world, Puritan communities would go for decade after decade, without one murder, or rape or other serious crime. And it was the Puritans, under Oliver Cromwell who first promoted the idea of freedom of consciousness of religion, something any biblical Christian attending a secular college today is finding difficult to express, without fear of mocking and retribution by his peers and professors. And it was Cromwell who first repealed the ban on the Jewish people in England.
It was the Puritans who first advocated and fought for the right of self government and the Puritans who were the first Europeans to arrive in America. They left England under serious persecution and threat, and thus started colonies, such as Plymouth. The role the Puritans played in the making of the American Colony into a nation cannot be fully understood unless you read the journals and writings of men like John Adams and his godly wife Abigail. They were well aware of their Puritan heritage and what their forefathers had fought for in England, and why they had fled their mother country.
But what was the drive and motivation of the Puritan movement? In his book, The Story of the English Puritans, Reformation and Revival, published in 1910, author John Brown said this;
“The fundamental idea of Puritanism…was the supreme authority of the Scriptures brought to bear upon the conscience…the Puritan, whether narrow or broad, mistaken or enlightened, seemed to himself at least to be aiming not at singularity (uniqueness) but at obedience to that higher spiritual order prevailing in the Universe, which he recognized as being the mind of God, and therefore of more authority than the mere…requirements of man.”
Unlike today, when many go to church for the experience of the music and a emotional reaction to a somewhat biblical teaching that makes us feel better about ourselves, the Puritan went to church to hear about God, and he demanded with some fervor that the Scriptures be the main and only real basis for that communication.
The fundamental element of the Puritan movement was their seriousness towards the bible and absolute determination to follow it at all costs. They didn’t fear the ridicule of the surrounding culture, they expected it. And while it might be tempting to think that since England in the 1500’s and 1600’s was more Christian then our’s in America today, the Puritans didn’t have to go against the flow, the opposite was true. The word ‘Puritan’ itself was a term of derision, not of respect, and Puritan families were mocked and driven from homes and jobs and eventually from England itself by those who were content with the status quo.
There were many in England who were perfectly happy with a Latin service, common prayer being read and a good singing of the Hymns. Anymore than that they didn’t want. Let the priests and shepherds have the bible, it wasn’t for the common folk to bother with. But the Puritans didn’t care. There was no word yet for cool, or hip, but there was the ever present edge of the culture, pushing relentlessly on the believer to conform, or else. Like Paul the apostle, though, the Puritan took this as part of being a confessing Chistian, the Cross of Christ (Galatians 6:12).
Brown went on to say;
“Under all its forms, reverence for Scripture, and for the sovereign majesty of God, a severe morality…and a fervent attachment to the cause of civil freedom have been the sign and token of the Puritan spirit.”
Oh, and a severe morality didn’t preclude lively dancing or the consumption of alcholic beverages…though drunkeness, cursing and immorality would be severely punished. The Puritans knew how to have a good barn dance and clean fun.
One of the first tendencies of those who turn back to Scripture, is to step (or fall into) legalism, (going beyond the Scripture). It’s a tendency that must be fought with all diligence. But, to ignore or take scripture lightly, because some have abused it, leaves us where?
The Puritan, though his zeal was at times misplaced, did far more good than harm…and without them there may well not have been a nation in North America, based on the belief that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights, by their Creator. Do we dare to return to the authority of scripture with the same determination our Puritan forefathers had and embrace the same cross as fearlessly? Or do we shun the cross, take the Word lightly and merge with an increasingly decadent and hostile culture?
Have a great day