Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who Were the Puritans? (Part 2)


Elizabethan Settlement

            Since Elizabeth had been brought up and trained as a Protestant, many viewed her accession to the throne in 1558 with great hopes. She certainly moved in Protestant directions; however, the Queen left certain practices in place which made her full intentions ambiguous. The first Parliament of her reign passed two significant acts for the future of the English church – the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity. The former reinstated the monarch as the head of the church, although the title “head” was changed to “governor.”
            The latter act was an attempt to ensure not only uniform doctrine but also uniform discipline and ceremony. It provided the 1552 Book of Common Prayer as the standard for all church services, with some modifications. One change that irked all of a puritan stripe was the “ornaments rubric,” which reinstated all priestly vestments. The act also imposed strong penalties on any who would not conform. It is worth reading the relevant portions provided here to get a clear picture of what dissenters reacted against.

…Be it therefore enacted by the authority of this present Parliament, …that the said book, with the order of service, and of the administration of sacraments, rites, and ceremonies, with the alterations and additions therein added and appointed by this statute, shall stand and be, from and after the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist, in full force and effect, according to the tenor and effect of this statute; anything in the aforesaid statute of repeal to the contrary notwithstanding.

...And that if any manner of parson, vicar, or other whatsoever minister, that ought or should sing or say common prayer mentioned in the said book, or minister the sacraments, from and after the feast of the nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, refuse to use the said common prayers, or to minister the sacraments in such cathedral or parish church, or other places as he should use to minister the same, in such order and form as they be mentioned and set forth in the said book, or shall wilfully or obstinately standing in the same, use any other rite, ceremony, order, form, or manner of celebrating of the Lord's Supper, openly or privily, or Matins, Evensong, administration of the sacraments, or other open prayers, than is mentioned and set forth in the said book (open prayer in and throughout this Act, is meant that prayer which is for other to come unto, or hear, either in common churches or private chapels or oratories, commonly called the service of the Church), or shall preach, declare, or speak anything in the derogation or depraving of the said book, or anything therein contained, or of any part thereof, and shall be thereof lawfully convicted, according to the laws of this realm, by verdict of twelve men, or by his own confession, or by the notorious evidence of the fact, shall lose and forfeit to the queen's highness, her heirs and successors, for his first offence, the profit of all his spiritual benefices or promotions coming or arising in one whole year next after his conviction; and also that the person so convicted shall for the same offence suffer imprisonment by the space of six months, without bail or mainprize.

And if any such person once convicted of any offence concerning the premises, shall after his first conviction eftsoons offend, and be thereof, in form aforesaid, lawfully convicted, that then the same person shall for his second offence suffer imprisonment by the space of one whole year, and also shall therefore be deprived, ipso facto, of all his spiritual promotions; and that it shall be lawful to all patrons or donors of all and singular the same spiritual promotions, or of any of them, to present or collate to the same, as though the person and persons so offending were dead.

And that if any such person or persons, after he shall be twice convicted in form aforesaid, shall offend against any of the premises the third time, and shall be thereof, in form aforesaid, lawfully convicted, that then the person so offending and convicted the third
time, shall be deprived, ipso facto, of all his spiritual promotions, and also shall suffer imprisonment during his life.

And if the person that shall offend, and be convicted in form aforesaid, concerning any of the premises, shall not be beneficed, nor have any spiritual promotion, that then the same person so offending and convicted shall for the first offence suffer imprisonment during one whole year next after his said conviction, without bail or mainprize. And if any such person, not having any spiritual promotion, after his first conviction shall eftsoons offend in anything concerning the premises, and shall be, in form aforesaid, thereof lawfully convicted, that then the same person shall for his second offence suffer imprisonment during his life.

And it is ordained and enacted by the authority aforesaid, that if any person or persons
whatsoever, after the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, shall in any interludes, plays, songs, rhymes, or by other open words, declare or speak anything in the derogation, depraving, or despising of the same book, or of anything therein contained, or any part thereof, or shall, by open fact, deed, or by open threatenings, compel or cause, or otherwise procure or maintain, any parson, vicar, or other minister in any cathedral or parish church, or in chapel, or in any other place, to sing or say any common or open prayer, or to minister any sacrament otherwise, or in any other manner and form, than is mentioned in the said book; or that by any of the said means shall unlawfully interrupt or let any parson, vicar, or other minister in any cathedral or parish church, chapel, or any other place, to sing or say common and open prayer, or to minister the sacraments or any of them, in such manner and form as is mentioned in the said book; that then every such person, being thereof lawfully convicted in form above said, shall forfeit to the queen our sovereign lady, her heirs and successors, for the first offence a hundred marks.

And if any person or persons, being once convicted of any such offence, eftsoons offend against any of the last recited offences, and shall, in form aforesaid, be thereof lawfully convicted, that then the same person so offending and convicted shall, for the second offence, forfeit to the queen our sovereign lady, her heirs and successors, four hundred marks.

And if any person, after he, in form aforesaid, shall have been twice convicted of any offence concerning any of the last recited offences, shall offend the third time, and be thereof, in form above said, lawfully convicted, that then every person so offending and convicted shall for his third offence forfeit to our sovereign lady the queen all his goods and chattels, and shall suffer imprisonment during his life.

And if any person or persons, that for his first offence concerning the premises shall be convicted, in form aforesaid, do not pay the sum to be paid by virtue of his conviction, in such manner and form as the same ought to be paid, within six weeks next after his conviction; that then every person so convicted, and so not paying the same, shall for the same first offence, instead of the said sum, suffer imprisonment by the space of six months, without bail or mainprize. And if any person or persons, that for his second offence concerning the premises shall be convicted in form aforesaid, do not pay the said sum to be paid by virtue of his conviction and this statute, in such manner and form as the same ought to be paid, within six weeks next after his said second conviction; that then every person so convicted, and not so paying the same, shall, for the same second offence, in the stead of the said sum, suffer imprisonment during twelve months, without bail or mainprize.

And that from and after the said feast of the Nativity of St. John Baptist next coming, all and every person and persons inhabiting within this realm, or any other the queen's majesty's dominions, shall diligently and faithfully, having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent, endeavour themselves to resort to their parish church or chapel accustomed, or upon reasonable let thereof, to some usual place where common prayer and such service of God shall be used in such time of let, upon every Sunday and other days ordained and used to be kept as holy days, and then and there to abide orderly and soberly during the time of the common prayer, preachings, or other
service of God there to be used and ministered; upon pain of punishment by the censures of the Church, and also upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit for every such offence twelve pence, to be levied by the churchwardens of the parish where such offence shall be done, to the use of the poor of the same parish, of the goods, lands, and tenements of such offender, by way of distress.

And for due execution hereof, the queen's most excellent majesty, the Lords temporal (sic), and all the Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, do in God's name earnestly require and charge all the archbishops, bishops, and other ordinaries, that they shall endeavour themselves to the uttermost of their knowledges, that the due and true execution hereof may be had throughout their dioceses and charges, as they will answer before God, for such evils and plagues wherewith Almighty God may justly punish His people for neglecting this good and wholesome law....

            Added to these acts in 1559 were injunctions from the Queen, and one in particular reignited the vestments controversy. Injunction XXX read: “Item, her majesty being desirous to have the prelacy and clergy of this realm to be had as well in outward reverence, as otherwise regarded for the worthiness of their ministries, and thinking it necessary to have them known to the people in all places and assemblies, both in the church and without, and thereby to receive the honour and estimation due to the special messengers and ministers of Almighty God, wills and commands that all archbishops and bishops, and all other that be called or admitted to preaching or ministry of the sacraments, or that be admitted into any vocation ecclesiastical, or into any society of learning in either of the universities, or elsewhere, shall use and wear such seemly habits, garments, and such square caps, as were most commonly and orderly received in the latter year of the reign of King Edward VI; not thereby meaning to attribute any holiness or special worthiness to the said garments, but as St. Paul writeth: Omnia decenter et secundum ordinem fiant. I Cor. 14 cap.”
            Thus early in the reign of Elizabeth we find the makings of two reforming parties. The one was content with the changes and wished to uphold the state. The other could not accept things like vestments as indifferent and wanted nothing imposed which could not proved from Scripture. There was fair agreement between these parties on doctrinal matters, but their ideals on church practice began to diverge. As Peter Toon says, “To zealous Protestants who had either suffered under Mary or fled to the Continent, the use of vestments, the sign of the cross in baptism, the rite of confirmation, the retention of such words as ‘priest’ and ‘absolution’ and other matters were papistical. Further, they felt that not enough emphasis was put…upon the preaching of the dynamic Word of God.”[1]

“Puritans” and “Precisionists”

            The term “puritan” was first used in 1564, and it was not a compliment. It carried connotations of those who were religious extremists, in some ways similar to the term “fundamentalist” today. Now that we have laid the historical groundwork, we can see more clearly who these people were.
            Peter Toon identifies the Puritans with six characteristics.
  1. A commitment to the Bible as the Word of the living God and as authoritative in all matters of faith, morals and worship.
  2. A commitment to Reformed theology. Now since there were variations of emphasis within Reformed thought…there were variations of theological emphasis amongst Puritans….
  3. A desire for a reformed, national Church of England….
  4. A belief in the necessity of personal regeneration, of justification by faith and sanctification by the Spirit. Salvation came no other way.
  5. The need for reformation at national, local and domestic level by means of legislation, catechizing, religion in the home and fervent prayer and fasting.
  6. A strong sense that the last days had dawned or were about to dawn. It was felt that the Roman Catholic Church was under God’s condemnation and would soon collapse…; that Biblical religion would triumph and that Christ was soon to return to earth in glory….[2]
These are helpful descriptions. However, we must keep in mind that these characteristics were true of many who were not identified as puritans. We need a little more clarity.
Carl Trueman describes the Puritans as “those who wished to see a further reformation of worship in the Established Church in a direction which emphasized liturgical simplicity and the centrality of preaching and which thus wanted to see the church move beyond the basic settlement established by Elizabeth I and focused on the Book of Common Prayer. Such Puritans were not separatists, however, as by and large, they remained within the church until expelled in 1662.”[3]
J. I. Packer speaks clearly to the identity of these people called puritans. He writes,
“This was a clergy-led movement which for more than a century was held together, and given a sense of identity too deep or differences of judgement on questions of polity and politics to destroy, by three things. The first was a set of shared convictions, Biblicist and Calvinist in character, about on the one hand Christian faith and practice and on the other hand congregational life and the pastoral office. The second was a shared sense of being called to work for God’s glory in the Church of England by eliminating popery from its worship, prelacy from its government and pagan irreligion from its membership, and so realising in it the New Testament pattern of true and authentic church life. The third was a shared literature, catechetical, evangelistic and devotional, with a homiletical style and experiential emphasis that were all its own.”[4]
            Packer argues that in order to properly understand the Puritanism we must see it as a revival movement. This is supported by three broad facts. First, “spiritual revival was central to what the Puritans professed to be seeking.” Second, “personal revival was the central theme of Puritan devotional literature.” Third, “the ministry of Puritan pastors under God brought revival.”[5]
            By examining the Puritans, we are seeking to understand God’s mighty acts as Christ builds his church.


[1] Puritans and Calvinism (Swengel, PA: Reiner Publications, 1973), 12.
[2] Puritans and Calvinism, 9-10.
[3] John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007), 2.
[4] A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 35-6.
[5] Ibid., 37-42.

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