THE PURITAN SCENE

English colonists established Anglicanism in North America prior to Puritanism. Puritanism, though, seemed a more viable and successful effort. Let's look at the various early Puritan efforts in New England.

I. Types of English Puritanism

Puritanism essentially wanted to replace Anglicanism and its ecclesiastical system with the system proposed by John Calvin. Calvin, of course, perfected his system in Geneva. Followers transplanted it to Scotland and then into England. Many Puritans did not repudiate the king's authority or the principle of uniformity. They simply wanted to establish a Presbyterian order. It was the question of what constituted a "true church" that gave rise to Puritan congregationalism.

In 1581, Robert Browne taught that only those who could prove they were among God's elect could be the true church. A believer knew they were among the elect when they exhibited Christian character along with a conversion experience, an experience others could evaluate. "Proved saints" who chose to associate together voluntarily made up congregations. Such people confessed their faith to one another then bound themselves together by a covenant. The idea of covenant was central to their whole concept.

Over the years Puritanism developed two distinct schools of thought. There were separatists and the non-separatists.

Separatist Puritans considered every church a distinct unit independent of all outside control. This meant they considered outside bodies such as synods, presbyteries, and the hierarchical clergy as unscriptural and unnecessary. Separatists refused to recognize congregations subservient to outside organizations as "true churches." Anglicanism could not be a form of the "true church." Therefore, genuine Christians should withdraw from Anglicans at all costs.

Nonseparatist Puritans agreed with Separatists on the necessity of restricting church membership to proven saints. However, they did not condemn the Church of England. They contended that true Christians could and did remain in the Church of England in spite of its unscriptural practices. Furthermore, they believed Christians always existed within the church regardless of the form it took. Nonseparatists hoped to bring about change from within the established church. Separating from the Anglicans would frustrate that goal.

Let me review the essentials of Congregational Puritanism: (1) The visible church is a particular congregation, never an outside body. (2) The church is formally gathered through covenanting. (3) The church is composed of holy or regenerate members. (4) The only head of the church is Jesus.

Puritanism also developed a unique social theory. The theory's backbone is "The Law of Relatives." They tied this "law" to a medieval philosophy held by Peter Ramus, a strict Augustinian. Ramus envisioned society as a series of one-to-one relationships. This idea did not see people as individuals, rather each person was identifiable only in their peculiar set of relationships. The "Law of Relatives" set up a complex set of chain-of-command structures of superiors to inferiors. Puritans considered anyone outside these structures alienated from society. Puritans forced singles, widows, widowers, orphans and others into family structures so they would be in a relationship. The father had absolute authority in each family. Puritans believed that in ideal situations, Superiors didn't abuse inferiors in the relationship structure.

Puritans valued the family as the basic and permanent human institution. They permitted no divorce except for abandonment although they would allow an annulment because of infertility. They saw  marriage as a civil rather than religious custom. Puritans arranged marriages for their children and no one could marry outside the church. A girl could veto a choice but no one expected her to use the right. Love meant physically caring for someone so romance was unnecessary for marriage. In spite of popular mythology, the Puritans respected a healthy sexuality and saw human sexual relationships as normal unless they became obsessive. They punished illegitimacy albeit gently. When a girl conceived out of wedlock, Puritans generally tried to establish a family. Pregnancies often resulted from the Puritans' curious custom of "bundling." Bundling allowed a courting couple to sleep together in the girl's home provided they were individually bundled. While the Puritans appeared to take a loose position on fornication they severely punished adultery and they executed homosexuals.

II. The Settlement of Separatist Puritans

Separatist Puritans were a serious source of irritation to the crown. James I directed most of his ire to them. Puritans who settled in Holland under the leadership of John Robinson were Separatists. In time, these Puritans raised sufficient funds to allow a group of these Separatists to escape to America where they became known as the Pilgrims.

On August 5, 1620, the Speedwell and the Mayflower set sail for Virginia. The sailors soon discovered the Speedwell was not seaworthy, so after they put into England for supplies they left her behind. One hundred forty-nine Puritans crowded onto the Mayflower for the trip. Of these, 48 were officers and crew, the rest colonists. Most, but certainly not all, passengers were Separatists. John Alden, a cooper, and Miles Standish, the colony's military adviser, were not Separatists. Alden went to America to care for and make beer barrels while Standish went as a typical soldier of fortune. Alden, however, became a church member after his marriage to Priscilla Mullins. That relationship also kept him in the colony long after he intended to return home.

Separatist Puritans came to America hoping to preserve their church structure. After all, Scripture approved it and none other. They wanted to establish a colony where they could apply biblical principles without interference. They dreamed of establishing a "city on a hill" which would clearly show England their superiority. The Pilgrims expected to remain here only temporarily. Once England saw how well their ideas worked they would be called home to implement them there. These colonists had no permanent commitment to America.

The colonists experienced some unrest before landing in Massachusetts (they were blown off course during their voyage). To settle all issues before landing, the group met to form a typical Puritan covenant. This covenant, The Mayflower Compact, set the colony's tone.

For many years the Plymouth Separatists had no ministerial guidance. A London group partially underwrote the trip expecting a profitable return on their investment. Some of their financial backers came from successful English merchants. Other Pilgrims remained in Leyden but the colony's backers had no interest in sending more settlers to Massachusetts. Instead, they sent young men to the colony; young men who would reap windfalls trapping and trading furs.

In 1624, the Anglican church sent John Lyford to Massachusetts. The Puritans thought Lyford a Puritan so they accepted him. During their almost four years the colony's proven saints had not taken the Lord's Supper nor seen a single baptism. When they discovered Lyford's true colors and realized he was sent under the auspices of their financial backers, the Puritans "bought out" the London partners and dismissed Lyford. In 1629 they secured Ralph Smith who proved satisfactory.

III. The Great Migration

The Plymouth Colony survived a first hard winter then expanded. That expansion opened the door to other New England colonial efforts. On March 4, 1628/29, the Massachusetts Bay Company received its charter in England. The company then became New England's chief colonizing agency.

Puritans settled Salem, near Boston, in 1626 (note that it was before the company received it's charter). The Massachusetts Bay Company chose to establish it's colony of Non-Separatist Puritans in the Salem vicinity. When their effort began, they had a complete strategy for development. Jamestown's failures taught them to carefully plan things out. Puritans arrived in America as complete family units. Each group contained men with a wide variety of skills. Quite often, entire English congregations moved as a unit. By colonizing Massachusetts, the colonists repopulated an area where smallpox epidemics had eliminated whole Indian tribes which meant they had little Indian resistance. In 1630, Puritans began arriving in America en masse. In a very short time some 30,000 moved to seven platted towns prepared for them.

When the towns became large, the Puritans followed a formal expansion plan. New England, therefore, expanded in an orderly fashion. Southern expansion tended to be unplanned and disorganized.

New Englanders did not utilize Virginia's headright plan. Instead, the Massachusetts Bay Company chartered new towns. When Puritans decided to establish a new town, three to five prominent men requested a charter from the colony's governor. The governor, who acted on the company's behalf, granted the charter only if these men could prove they could successfully establish such a community. Before issuing the charter, the representatives had to show the governor they had families with essential skills and a minister. When the group had the new town's charter in hand it moved en masse. When the group moved, they moved as a covenanted group with an agreed upon government, a method of land distribution, a church, criteria for future town citizenship, and an elected leadership. They usually distributed land according to status and once they settled the area they made a second distribution again based on status and ability.

Francis Higginson and Samuel Skelton, both Nonseparatists, arrived in 1629 to form a church. This new church was independent and congregational. Like their Separatist kin, these Massachusetts Bay settlers hoped to demonstrate the viability of the congregational system. They, too, expected to return home in style when England saw their example.

Eleven vessels sailed for Massachusetts from England on March 29, 1630. Before the year ended 17 other vessels landed with 1,000 of what became a total of 30,000 colonists. By 1645, the Puritans had established 23 churches and between 1630-1641 some 65 ministers arrived in the colony.

IV. A Few Words About Puritan Theology

Puritanism followed John Calvin's teachings. They believed in the Bible as God's inspired Word. They emphasized Calvin's teachings as shaped by Peter Ramus, William Ames, and others. Puritans believed God cleansed man making it possible for man to respond to God's call. After that cleansing, Puritans searched for evidence of salvation although they never came to certainty. As a result, Puritans saw conversion as a process involving complete humility. To the Puritan mind, success accompanied one's salvation. They had such confidence in God's ultimate sovereignty that they had confidence to pursue their course even when facing momentary setbacks. An individual Puritan might doubt God's election, but none doubted God's call and election of the whole group.

Puritanism was not ascetic. Puritans believed God created the universe good and intended man to enjoy it in moderation. The average Puritan dressed flashily for the day but they emphasized utility over enjoyment. Enjoyment came as a byproduct. Even though Puritans rejected Christmas observances and the theater on the Sabbath (some rejected the theater altogether because of the immorality associated with it), they still observed holidays with feasting and merriment.

Historians used to think Puritan preachers proclaimed hairsplitting dogmatism in three hour diatribes. In reality, Puritan services rarely lasted longer than an hour and their preaching tended towards practicality.

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