Archived Story

American Heritage: Another group, but same purpose: freedom of worship

Published 9:09pm Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The next group that we will look at is the Puritans. The Puritans were a group of people who were determined to stay in England and not separate from the state church, the Church of England.  Though opposed to some of the teachings of the church and things that were going on within the church, they decided that they would stay in the church and try to “purify” the church from the inside.

The Puritans were a people who believe in what is known as “Covenant Theology.” Their belief was that God established covenants with his people and that government should be a covenant between the governing and the governed.

They also believed that no matter how high a person was on the social ladder, or within a governing body, rather a king, queen or whatever, he/she was subject to God’s Higher Law and authority. They believed that all governing bodies were biblically obligated to recognize the God-given right to individual liberty. They believed, as was written later in the Declaration of Independence, that each individual had the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Because of their belief that all people were created equal before God, King James I stated that he would run them out of the land, or even worse.  His son, King Charles I allowed the Anglican officials to persecute the Puritans because of their beliefs and their stand against the dictates that they were seeing within the government and the church.

In 1628 William Laud was made the Bishop of London.  He became known as the Church of England’s “enforcer.” He made a list of English preachers and presented it to the king. The list of names contained a code beside each of the clergy’s name. A “P” was placed beside the name of a preacher who was a Puritan. An “O” was placed beside the name of a preacher who was Orthodox.  If a person was marked as a Puritan, he was also marked for suppression. Informants were planted in the churches.  These informants would report on what the Puritan preachers were saying and doing.  They began to weed-out those who would not reform to the new edicts and regulations of the church.

Before long, the books and tracts of the Puritans were banned. The Puritans found that their preaching would be restricted. Their people were being whipped, tortured, branded and/or placed in prison.

By this time the Puritans realized that the king and his bishops were not living in righteousness. They realized also that they were leading the people away from the New Testament concept of Christianity.

They knew that reformation from inside the church was impossible. The only way to reform the church was to leave their homeland and reform the church from within the new land.

The result was what became known as the Great Migration. More than 20,000 Puritans immigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony. They carried their concept of Bible-based liberty with them. The concepts of representative self-government, regular elections and respect for private property where some of the things that they brought to America and that were later adopted by the founding fathers when they established the government of the United States of America.

The Puritan leaders, John Winthrop and others, had been reading about what was happening in Virginia. They realized that this move would be a big step and involved the same dangers that were experienced by those who had already gone to the new land.  They read about the starvation, death by illness and the great massacre of 1622. But the had determination. They felt that it was God’s will that they go to America. And, if it was God’s will, then God would supply them with the strength and power to make a go of it. They believed that even the “power of hell” could not prevail against them.

The New England Co. decided to reorganize. They would become the Massachusetts Bay Co. The charter normally would have to be processed through Parliament, after which it would be sent to the King for his signature. The king, having received the charter, failed to notice that the company would not be based in England, but in the new land, and he signed the charter. This happened just one week prior to the King’s dissolving Parliament.

Now, there was nothing binding the Massachusetts Bay Co. to England any longer. There was absolutely nothing that would prevent the Puritan’s from moving to America. It would not be long and they would be a self-governing commonwealth. Soon, two ships would be sailing off toward their new home. The Rev. Francis Higginson would be telling the passengers, “We will not say, as the Separatists (Pilgrims) were wont to say at their leaving of England ‘Farewell, Rome!’ or ‘Farewell, Babylon!’, but we will say ‘Farewell, dear England! Farewell, the Church of God in England, and all the Christian friends there! We do not go to New England as Separatists from the Church of England, though we cannot but separate from the corruptions in it, but we go to practice the positive part of Church reformation, and propagate the Gospel in American.”

As they read the reports that came out of Plymouth, they were encouraged.  The time had come for a decision.  In 1629 the King had dissolved Parliament.  He now had become a dictator.  They knew that they had to make their move.

The people would need a powerful leader to take charge of this expedition. They needed the “Moses” of their time. They had determined that the man would be John Winthrop. However, Mr. Winthrop was not so sure that it was God’s will for him to go.  John had to know the answer to these very important questions. Was it God’s will for him to go and was it God’s will for him to lead these people?

John sat down and drew up a list of pros and cons of making the journey and accepting the role of leadership. He determined:

1. (It would be) a service to the Church of great consequence to carry the Gospel into those parts of the world.

2. All other Churches of Europe are brought to desolation … and who knows but that God hath provided this place to be a refuge for many whom He means to save out of the general calamity.  And seeing the Church hath no place left to fly into but the wilderness, what better work can there be, than to go and provide tabernacles and food for her against [that time when] she comes thither.

3. The land grows weary of her inhabitants, so as man, who is the most precious of all creatures, is here more vile and base than the earth we treat upon, and of less price among us than a horse or sheep…

4. All arts and trades are carried in that deceitful and unrighteous course, (so) it is almost impossible for a good and upright man to maintain his charge and live comfortably in any of them.

5. The fountains of learning and religion are so corrupted as most children are perverted (and) corrupted.

Did he decide to go and to lead? Join me in my next article.

By using this website’s user-contribution features, including comments, photo galleries, or any other feature, you agree to abide by the terms of use. Please read this agreement in its entirety because it contains useful information that will help you better understand the rules and general "good manners" that are expected when contributing content to this website.

Editor's Picks