Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Is a Puritan?

Someone has asked me what is a Puritan due to the name of my blog. It is a good question. There is a large negligence of understanding this particular people group. Many a person believes that the Puritans in the US were wild men, fierce and freaky, religious fanatics and social extremists. It shakes me to think that this country at its very foundation owes a tremendous debt to these brave men and women whose shoulders we continue to stand on, though reluctantly, today. Being a blog, I cannot give an exhaustive look at the Puritan movement. However, I would like to give a quick historical overview and then look at the question, “Is this group still important to Evangelicals, today?”

The group first made an appearance in the mid1500's during the time of Queen Elizabeth I. The term, Puritan” was used in a derogatory fashion of this group's critics. The desire of this particular group was to “purify” or reform the Church of England, hence the name Puritan. They saw the Church of England as not moving far enough away from Roman Catholicism in the current reforms. When James I came to the throne, the Puritans asked him to take up some of the reforms they desired. Sadly, James rejected all but one of them. In the 1600's, we see Puritans splintering between separatists and those desiring to work within. The separatists, we know them as Pilgrims, left going to the Netherlands and then risking everything for religious freedom, head to the New Wold.

England had a civil war that brought Puritans into political power, sadly killing the king. The Puritans pushed trying to change and lost much of the goodwill that they had. During the Restoration of the monarchy, Puritans were under heavy prosecution and many left heading west, starting up the Massachusetts Bay Company. The Puritan desire for education, work, and individual responsibility continues to live on today. J. I. Packer writes, “the conventional image of the Puritans has been radically revamped....a host of recent researchers, informed folk now acknowledge that the typical Puritans...sober, conscientious, and cultured citizens: persons of principle, devoted, determined, and disciplined, excelling in the domestic virtues.”

What about Puritanism today? Can we learn anything from these people? One author suggests that we can learn from these great brothers and sisters in the faith is maturity, “a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity.” One would be hard pressed to think that we Evangelicals could convince ourselves that we have obtain such maturity. One does not have to look to far to see that we read less and less of Scripture, more and more fiction if we read at all. We rather jump from church to church than to build roots and do the tough work of living out our faith together. We are essentially the axiom “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

If we took a deeper look at this group, we would see that they withstood much, suffered many setbacks from being kicked out of England through the 1662 Act of Uniformity to fighting the elements of the pioneering terrain of Massachusetts at that time. They were unable to bring the needed corrections to the Church of England as they desired. They were unable to keep up the “city on the hill” in New England. Yet through these challenges, they built up on character, patience, hope, and faith. George Whitefield writes,

“Ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross; the Spirit of Christ and of glory then rests upon them. It was this, no doubt, that made the Puritans...such burning lights and shining lights. When cast out by the black Bartholomew-act and driven form their respective charges to preach in barns and fields, in the highways and hedges, they in an especial manner wrote and preached as men having authority. Through dead, by their writings they yet speak; a peculiar unction attends them to this very hour....”

One such book, an allegory, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. In my next post, I will look closely at what J.I. Packer sights as six lessons we can learn from these great people. These lessons are bedrock to the name of this blog.

What do you think we can derive from these giants of the faith?


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