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Who were the Puritans?

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

"Ruthless examiners of hearts..."

The term "Puritan" originated in sixteenth-century England, in the midst of the English Reformation, and it was initially a term of abuse towards nonconformist clergy in the Church of England because they insisted on the need to purify the Church. These nonconformists sought to only live out divine precepts they had found in the Bible. They were zealous Protestants who lived a distinctive and particularly intense variety of early modern Reformed Protestantism.

The Importance of testimonies

For the Puritans, the testimonies of godly people in the church were more important than ceremonies and other marks of an excessively formal religion

Puritan ecclesiology was centered on the belief that the Church of England had failed to advance the Protestant Reformation to a condition adequately attuned to the word of God. The Puritans wanted to correct this failure by completing the reformation in England.

The origins of Puritan thought

Puritan thought was fundamentally shaped by Calvinist theology. Most Puritans preached in common the basic tenets of Calvinist thought: human depravity, divine sovereignty, and predestination unto salvation. Puritan theology also drew from Luther because they affirmed his sola fide, sola gratia, and sola scriptura. They believed that the Bible was the Christian’s only infallible authority. Puritan theology emphasized that the Puritans must live morally upright lives and theology was central to their morality.

It was during the Elizabethan period (1558-1603) that the Puritans grew increasingly as a distinct brotherhood of pastors who emphasized the great centralities of Christianity: faithfulness to Scripture, expository preaching, pastoral care, personal holiness, and practical godliness applied to every area of life. The word “Puritan” began to be used to refer to these people who were scrupulous about their way of life. “The godly” or those who were not nominal were dubbed Puritans.

Living godly, simple lives

Puritans understood the true nature of man to be thoroughly sinful and fallen, so they lived intense lives to combat the sinful nature of man. This intensity led the Puritans to ruthlessly examine their hearts so that they could live godly and simple lives. They lived out these godly lives as Congregationalists because they could keep the congregations more pure and simple than they could keep an institution like the Church of England.

Ministry of the Word

The explanation of the story of the Puritans is that here we have a race of preacher-pastors who believed in expounding and applying the whole counsel of God’s Word with all the hard work that requires. This was a labor in which they sought the closest conjunction of the Holy Spirit with the Word.41 Sometimes more, sometimes less, the Holy Spirit did breathe upon the Word and he breathed new life into dead souls. The Puritans did not seek a new age of wonders, signs, and miracles. Their view of a church is that a church rises or falls as the ministry of the Word rises or falls in that church. Essentially they believed in breaking up fallow ground. In this general character the Puritans are an example to every succeeding generation of pastors whether they be pastors laboring at home or in remote areas where the indigenous people are receiving the Word for the first time.

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