What was the role of ministers in Puritan society?
How does the role of ministers in Puritan society relate to Cotton Mather?
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Puritan ministers occupied a central role in their society. While Puritanism stressed the concept of the "calling," which claimed that all work was divine, the occupation of minister was particularly important. Ministers made it their purpose to interpret scripture for the people. Most Puritan sermons began with a scriptural exegesis, which explained the meaning of a particular passage of the Bible. They would then move on to explain how that passage related to the lives of the congregation. So while each Puritan was responsible for his own salvation, they approached God as part of a community of believers in which the minister was the spiritual leader. As a prominent scholar of New England Puritanism has written: "Prayer was a weapon available to all people. But the clergy, with special qualifications, had special responsibilities."
In a society that made no distinction between church and state, ministers were important civic leaders as well, though in theory Puritan congregations were autonomous from each other. In seventeenth century New England, church was a place where local concerns, ranging from outbreaks of drunkenness, quarrels between local families, Indian wars, and of course, on occasion, witchcraft, were discussed. Because Puritans understood everything that happened in the material world as the work of God, ministers played a crucial role in framing community responses to events. They were, in short, opinion-shapers, moral arbiters, civic leaders, and very active members of Puritan communities, especially in New England.
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