Puritans are now viewed as grim, witch-burning anti-intellectuals ready to leap from the bushes and pin scarlet letters on innocent hikers. So you can imagine my plight: I want to look past their foibles. I want to celebrate their heritage on this July 4 and see their contributions, fully aware of the skeletons rattling in their closets.
A little background: The Puritan movement began soon after the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, when thousands of Christians, under the leadership of Martin Luther in Germany and John Calvin in Switzerland, protested the established church’s corruption (Get it? Protest … Protestant?). Two overlapping groups evolved in Britain, both rooted in Calvin’s teaching. Each noticed that the Church of England, while signing on with the Protestants, was still woefully lackluster: Bible reading was discouraged; few knew anything of the Scriptures; the bishops simmered with political intrigue. Each wanted everyone reading the Bible; each called for a deeper walk with Christ. One opted to work within the Church in a quest to purify her and was eventually tagged, “Puritans.” The other felt that purification was an exercise in futility and called for separation; hence their epithet, “Separatists.” They were also known as “Independents,” or “Free.” The Separatists, while agreeing with the overall Puritanical thinking, noticed that the monarch ruled the church and could force his or her will on the acquiescent bishops. Their own Bible study convinced them the church should be composed of believers and that everyone is a minister. The entire congregation was responsible to God; the entire congregation should hold the leadership accountable; and no back-biting king or queen should tell these congregations (hence the term, Congregationalism) what to do. Such thinking was deemed radical and treasonous, and Queen Elizabeth I responded by hunting them down, imprisoning many, and executing some.
Is anyone seeing the roots of American democracy here?
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