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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Puritans & their Descendants

A little history lesson. I was interested in this issue because I saw difficulties in the American Prespyterian line of recent protestant church history. So I wanted to solve some of the difficulties.

I will quote some passages from books, before I state my view of where they came from.

"New England: The Puritan Society of visible Saints

The first Puritan colony in New England was Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620); it was followed by the colonies of Massachusetts bay (1628) and Boston (1630). Between 1630 and 1640, the "great Migration" brought some twenty thousand English Puritans to the NEw England colonies. Puritans also settled in the middle colonies, mingling with other types of Protestants. The Puritan movement did much to shape Christianity not only in the New England colonies but in the United States more broadly. So before continuing with the story of the Puritan colonies, we must sketch the broad range and reach of Puritanism.

As we have seen, Puritanism was a late-born child of the Reformation, dedicated to purifying the Church of England. theologically, the Puritans drew from the Reformed wing of the Reformation, as articulated by John Calvin and his heirs. The challenge was how to put Calvinist theology into practice in an English context. Not all puritans agreed on how this was to be done. Their various reform strategies gave rise to several groups: Congregationalists, Prespyterians, Baptists, the Society of Friends,(Quakers), and many small radical sects. Later on, in the United States, Uniterianism split off from Congregationalism to become a sort of free-thinking grandchild of Puritanism. Many nineteenth-century reforms, including abolitionism, had deep roots in the Puritan tradition. Puritans saw themselves as God's chosen people, devlivered from bondage and given a divine mission in a promised land. As David Gelernter points out, this set of beliefs arose from the Old Testament story of Israel as God's chosen people which, animated Puritanism and lives on today as the essence of "Americanism". This belief(in a divinely chosen people with a special role to play in the World) runs like a red thread from the first Puritan settlements down to politics and foreign policy in the early twenty-first century. To be sure, there are also discontinuities between then and now. The Remnant in the wilderness has become a superpower, and the old Puritan sense of accountabiltiy to divine judgement has all but vanished. Yet the chosen nation idea lives on. One need not accept this worldview to recognize its power in history.

The original Puritans wanted a godly society- a fully reformed church and nation. When they lost their political power in old England, New England became their last chance to complete the Reformation. This "Holy Experiment" was guided by religious convictions.""

This is from the "Handbook of Denominations in the United States"

"Dominant in Westminister Assembly, Prespyterians soon also dominated the British government during the English civil war and the interregnum. Oliver Cromwell completeted the ousting of the King Charles I in 1649 and established the Commonwealth. When the commonwealth fell apart after Cromwell's death in 1658 and the monarchy was restored, British Prespyterians fled to North America with the Puritans."

Now they make a distinction between the Prespyterians in the revolt and the Puritans, other books don't make that distinction, and this is why I called both "Congregationalists & Prespyterians" Puritans.

I would like to post what Dr. Alister Mcgrath said.

""When Charles appointed the high Churchman William Laud as archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, the Puritan faction within the Church of England was incensed. At this time, Puritans were divided into factions-such as Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Separationists. Presbyterians believed in an organic church, with a graded hierarchy of government; Congregationalists held fast to the idea of the Sovereignty of local congregations. There is no greater disruptive force, no greater incentive to fragmentation, than a common creed held with a difference. The perception of a difference often leads to its accentuation, sometimes to the point where what is held in common seems to recede into the background, overshadowed by the suspicion and hostility evoked by the division. A seemingly minor divergence tus had the potential to become the cause of division and strife within Puritanism-if it was allowed to do so.

Yet the increasing perception of a dangerously hostile establishment caused Puritans to see their differences from a somewhat different perspective and to bring a sense of realism to their differences. Internecine hostilities were suspended in order to concentrate on the greater threat that confronted the movement. Puritanism became an increasingly well organized movement, alert to both dangers and opportunities. Whether, taken in isolation, that would have led to anything much remains open to question. In the context of the growing tensions between Charles and Parliament, however, the position of Puritans could be seen as much more serious."

"The Pilgrims Fathers were not, it must be appreciated, typical of English Puritanism at this time. They were separatists whose beliefs were more characteristic of the Anabaptists than of Calvin: they were convinced that each congregation had the democratic right to determine its own beliefs and choose its own ministers. Most English Puritans of the age were Presbyterians who were committed to the notion of a single mother church with local outposts-a "universal church" with "particular congregations" bound together by shared beliefs and leaders. It was only a matter of time before the defining conflicts of the Old World would find themselves being replayed in the New. But this time, decentralization would win.

One of the most remarkable features of the early history of New England Protestantism in the 1620s and 1630s is that most Puritan communities appear to have abandoned a Presbyterian view of church government within months of their arrival and adopted a congregational polity instead.
The Plymouth COlony Separatists appear to have been significant in bringing about a major shift in how congregations organized themselves and related to other congregations. Reacting strongly against the rigid hierarchical structures of the European state churches, the American settlers opted instead for a democratic congregationalism. Local congregations made their own decisions. Instead of centralized authority stuctures-such as presbyteries or dioceses-the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay area developed "a highly decentralized and well-nigh uncontrollable Congregational church order which licensed any individual congregation to revise Calvinist theology as it saw fit. And revise it they did."

So it seems as if the descendants of the Puritans were more than just "Congregationalists". One must also include American Prespyterianism as a descendant as well.

It seems as if the Puritian Prespyterians hooked up with the Church of Scotland and allowed the scotish immigrants to join their churches.

So American Prespyterianism isn't really the Church of Scotland like I once thought. Instead, it seems a bit more complicated than that. They were really English Puritan Prespyterians that later fused with Scottland......while in the States.

So the modern descendants of the Puritans would be both your Congregationalists, Prespyterians, and according to some sources Separatists, and we know that the Baptists came from the Separatists.


[1] pages 15 & 16 from the book "The History of Christianity in the United States" by Nancy Koester

[2] page 292 from "Handbook of Denominations: in the united States"
11nth edition by Frank S. Mead & Samuel S. Hill.

[3] pages 136-137, [4] pages 153-154, from the book "Christianity's Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution-A history from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first" by Dr. Alister Mcgrath.


John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...

Puritan-admiring site; pls visit/comment.

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