Religion in the Thirteen Colonies

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What are at least 4 Puritan beliefs?

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Puritans believed that the Anglican church needed reformation—or as some referred to the idea, "purification"—hence the term Puritan. Though the Anglicans had made progress in separating from the Catholic church, it had not, in the minds of Puritans, gone far enough in shedding its influences.

Puritans believed that the only...

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Puritans believed that the Anglican church needed reformation—or as some referred to the idea, "purification"—hence the term Puritan. Though the Anglicans had made progress in separating from the Catholic church, it had not, in the minds of Puritans, gone far enough in shedding its influences.

Puritans believed that the only souls that would ascend to Heaven were those of predestined people known as "the elect." One could never be certain if they were of the elect, and so it was a religion of relentless self-examination tinged with anxiety.

Another core belief of the Puritans was that a covenant existed between themselves and God, who wanted them to live by the Scriptures and to make their community a model for others—a city on a hill—and build a Zion in the colonies.

Puritans organized themselves into patriarchal groups. The role of women was to be quiet and submissive helpmates of their husbands. There was no public role for women in the theocratic organization of Puritan governments, and it was believed that because of Eve's role in the fall of man, women were more susceptible to the devil's temptations.

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Puritans were comprised of various groups and sects that arose in England in the sixteenth through seventeenth-centuries. They believed the English Reformation had not moved far enough from Roman Catholic doctrine and practice to be the true faith.

Sola Scripture was a foundational Puritan belief. The term means "only scripture." Its premise is and was that only the Bible has authoritative weight as a theological guide. The Puritans believed that heresies or mistakes had crept into Roman Catholic and Anglican theology, which were leading innocent believers badly astray. Therefore, the Puritans put their faith entirely in the Bible. If a practice or idea was not in the Bible, they rejected it.

Sola Scripture led to individual examination of conscience, another Puritan belief. Puritans put no faith in confessing to a priest. Sin was a matter between the individual and God. One prayed directly to God for moral guidance. This led to an emphasis on personal, rather than corporate (group) prayer. It led also to spiritual autobiography, as Puritans, such as John Bunyan in his Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, published their records of spiritual struggles for the edification of other believers.

Simplicity was a Puritan practice, and one that distinguished the Puritans visually from other groups. Puritans thought places of worship, as well as dress and housing, should be simple, believing that a sign of the corruption and secularization in the Church of England and Roman Catholicism could be found in all the glitter, gold, pomp, and finery of churches, clergy, and worship. The Puritans wanted to strip the excess away to find the primitive, core faith.

Puritans believed too that power in the church came from the bottom up, not the top down. For example, Presbytarian ministers were chosen by the congregation and lay elders had a good deal of power. This may not seem important to us, but at the time, it was a radical concept and one considered dangerous in a hierarchical society, in which power was traditionally conceived as top down, coming through God to king, bishop, and aristocrat.

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First of all, the Puritans formed as a group whose purpose was to "purify" the Church of England.

They believed:

  • that all humans were born evil (rather than good) and deserved eternal damnation.
  • in the mercy of God, and that some people ("The Elect") were chosen to be saved by the death of Jesus Christ.

Their big question was: How do you know whether you are "saved" or "damned?"  Answer: Ministers, public officials, and the wealthy acted as if their salvation was already secure and lived in hypocrisy.  Meanwhile, everyone else lived in fear of God, trying always to earn salvation through goodness.

Politically speaking:

  • Puritans believed that a covenant existed between God and humanity.
  • Therefore, people should freely enter into agreements concerning government.
  • However, government was undemocratic because "The Elect" had the most influence over religious and therefore political matters.
  • The Church and the government were nearly one and the same.

 

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