|The Story of the
Course SOP 4 Lessons (File SOP 1-4)
(4 lessons in total)
Who were they? What did they accomplish? Why should we listen to them today?
Lesson 1 The Relevance of the Puritans 2
Lesson 2 The Beginnings of the Puritans 8
Lesson 3 The Full Flowering 14
Lesson 4 Conclusion 19
Copyright 2000 Evangelical Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This booklet is taken from the first part of the complete An Introduction to the Puritans, a 220 page quality paperback book published by Evangelical Press, available from Christian bookstores.
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Lesson 1 The Relevance of the Puritans
Who were the Puritans? When did they live? What did they accomplish? What did they teach? History is not a popular subject. We cannot assume that those who are British are automatically well-educated in English history. It is rare for those outside Britain to know English history. How can we introduce overseas Christians to the best theological inheritance ever?
Our concern extends beyond narrating the story. We want to create enthusiasm for the Puritans in order to profit from their practical example and benefit from their unique balance of doctrine, experience, and practice. The Puritans were men of deep theological understanding and vision who prayed for the earth to be filled with a knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.
Today missionaries are involved as never before in taking the Gospel to all the world. Bible-based Christianity is spreading gradually in most of the 240 nations of the world. Believers have multiplied in great numbers, especially in sub-Sahara Africa, the Far East, and South America. Teaching which engenders holy living and stability is vastly needed. Historically the Puritan epoch is best able to supply this need, for they were strongest where the churches in general are weakest today.
In light of the philosophic and religious trends of today, the Puritans are certainly relevant.
Post-modernism (PM) — Gradually from the 1960s and 1970s, the Western World has moved philosophically from Modernism to Post-modernism. For about two centuries, the world’s thinking has been shaped by the Enlightenment—with its emphasis on human reason and its optimism about human ability and achievement. This is now known as “Modernism:” the belief that man can solve all his problems through rational thought and the scientific method. This arrogance has by-passed God and his revelation.
The result of Modernism has led to nothing less than the complete collapse of morality in society. Today, there is no absolute right and wrong in most people’s view. In fact, “truth” is considered a matter for each person to decide. The overriding value in western societies worldwide is “tolerance.” This view is called “Post-modernism” (PM). Is Puritanism relevant within the present philosophical climate of Post-modernism? Writing on the subject of PM in Foundations, Autumn 1997, Andrew Patterson of Kensington Baptist Church, Bristol, suggests that the Puritan approach is indeed relevant. He maintains that “genuine spirituality consists in a re-discovery of the cohesive and comprehensive nature of the grace of God in the life of the believer.” This he urges, “rejects the isolating, fracturing and compartmentalizing effects of the last two centuries, and looks back to the time of the Puritans and Pietists, when there was an approach that was far healthier, vibrant, holistic, real, scriptural, and God-honoring.”
With the demise of Modernism (the Enlightenment) we now have a moral vacuum. This provides us with a unique opportunity to rebuild the foundations. We are challenged to understand and apply the Word of God today. As we do so we can look back and draw on the legacies of the Puritans. We can avoid their mistakes and weaknesses but learn a great deal from their strengths.
PM is fiercely antinomian (“against law”). It is admitted that people make mistakes, but the word “sin” is seldom mentioned, and the idea that we all sin against God is avoided. Right and wrong are judged according to human feelings. The biblical doctrine that God has an unchangeable, holy, moral law by which he will judge every person is unpopular. But the Puritans taught this very clearly.
Puritanism has much to say about morality to the different evangelical sectors of the world-wide Church today.
Neo-orthodoxy — “Neo-orthodoxy” (or “new” creed) is belief that careful scrutiny of the biblical manuscripts reveals errors, and that man can decide which parts are true and which are not true. It grew up in the first half of the twentieth century amidst Modernism and increasing dependence upon man’s intellect. Of the theologians classified as Neo-orthodox, Karl Barth (1886-1968) is the most significant as he, more than any other that century, affected the course of Protestant theology in Europe and beyond. He set some on the road of studying Luther and Calvin and the Reformation of the 16th century.
But while Barth challenged the Liberal establishment, there was a failure to set the record straight with regard to liberal views of the Bible. For instance, it absolutely is vital to believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve (because the God revealed literally in Genesis is the one true God who is consistent with all the rest of Scripture). It is also essential to endorse the supernaturalism that pervades the biblical records. With Neo-orthodoxy, however, one is never sure about the foundations. It is like walking on sinking sand. Puritanism shares with Neo-orthodoxy the challenge to use the mind, to think, and to analyze. But the strength of the Puritans is that there is never any question about the validity of the Scriptures. One walks always on the solid rock of the infallible Word of God.
Fundamentalism — Thankfully the Church of Jesus Christ on earth is always wider and larger than any one segment or denomination. The evangelical movement known as “Fundamentalism” is only a part of the wider body. That movement gathered momentum in the 1920s and 1930s. Fundamentalists came together into a movement out of the need to combat modernist theology. The leaders drew up a list of basic truths designed to keep intact doctrines which were denied or undermined by Liberals. Fundamentalism was strong in the USA and spread to other countries.
The Puritans would agree with the passion to defend and promote basic truths such as the reliability of Scripture, the Trinity, and the deity of Christ. Unhappily Fundamentalism added to the “basics” a pre-millennial view of prophecy and in some cases Dispensationalism, which divides history into specific time periods. The biblical basis for these periods is tenuous to say the least, yet the system is imposed by its propagators in an arbitrary way on the Bible. The Puritans were mostly post-millennial. A small number were pre-millennial. However, eschatology (the doctrine of future things) was not made a point of division.
We can learn from the Puritans not to major on minors. Christ’s second coming to judgment, the end of the world, the universal, physical resurrection from the dead, and eternal heaven and hell are all major issues in which we cannot compromise. But apart from a general outline, we cannot map out the future. Evangelical unity is a precious commodity, and we should avoid damaging unity over matters which are not central.
Fundamentalists have also been inclined to add such issues as a ban on alcohol, card-playing, tobacco, dancing, and theater going. This has been the cause of endless strife and division. For instance, concerning alcohol, the Bible teaches temperance, not total abstinence. Wine is used at the Lord’s Table. Some fundamentalists even try to change the meaning of the word wine to uphold their total abstinence view. Puritanism is a wonderful antidote to the harmful and needless divisions which are caused by adding man-made rules to Scripture. Worldliness is an enemy. The cure is in the heart. A man can keep many rules but be worldly still, and at the same time possess a deadly spirit of Pharisaic self-righteousness.
In contrast, Puritanism concentrates on the great issue of the state of a person’s soul. When a soul is truly joined to Christ, every part of him—his thoughts, his words, and his actions—will be subject to the Word of God. While he makes rules for his own life, he will avoid making them for others. The Puritans included a chapter in the Westminster Confession on the subject of Christian liberty and liberty of conscience. The Puritan message is one of liberty combined with self-control and discipline. The Puritan Confessions of Faith (Presbyterian, Congregational and Baptist*) are silent where the Scripture is silent. For instance, there is nothing in the Bible about smoking, but there are passages which urge that we should care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. Liberation from harmful habits comes through the freedom imparted by Christ. That freedom comes by the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit.
The New Evangelicalism — Fundamentalism has worn an angry face—being fiercely separatist, intolerant, and aggressive. It has been viewed as the “religion of the clenched fist.” It was inevitable, therefore, that a more friendly and reasonable avenue of expression would surface. This came in the form of “The New Evangelicalism,” which is still scholarly, but also broad and friendly. However, this movement within evangelicalism has been troubled by compromise on the central issue of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. In fact, The New Evangelicalism split over the issue of the inerrancy of Scripture.
Again Puritanism is commended. While the Puritans could not anticipate the details of this controversy, we appreciate the solid foundation that was laid in their writings with regard to the nature and authority of Scripture, as evidenced in the opening chapter of The Westminster Confession.
Pentecostalism — The Pentecostal movement, which is as wide and diverse as a rainbow, is noted for emphasis on three important subjects: the reality of spiritual experience, the demonstration of spiritual power, and joy in public worship. These matters were also stressed by the Puritans.
First, the Puritans placed great stress on the spiritual experience of God’s free grace in conversion. The parameters of spiritual experience with regard to joy in justification, the love of the Father in adoption, patience in tribulation, and enjoyment of Christ were explored to the full by the Puritans. The Puritan view is that we are now complete in Christ. Spiritual experience consists of the ongoing application of the believer’s experimental union with the three Persons of the Trinity. The New Testament does not suggest or command a specific second experience after conversion as though something has to be added to what we already are in Christ.
Many in the Pentecostal movement concede that all who are in Christ have been baptized spiritually into Christ (1 Cor 12:12); no second specific experience is mandatory, and no second experience is to be regarded as a type of “open sesame” to a Pandora’s box of new experiences. The Puritans would concur that spiritual power or the anointing of the Holy Spirit is needed—not only for preaching but for service generally and for endurance in tribulation. The Holy Spirit is always at work in the believer to correct, guide, comfort, and empower.
Second, there is a stress in some Pentecostal denominations on the continuation of signs, wonders, and miracles. The Puritan view is that the apostles and prophets of the New Testament were extraordinary. They were given a special endowment for the work of setting the foundations. We do not have to repeat their work. It is not necessary to vindicate the Word of God with new signs and wonders. Puritan teaching is wonderfully liberating because spiritual leaders are not required to walk on water, replace missing limbs, raise the dead, or perform stupendous miracles such as creating fish and bread. The Word of God is all-sufficient, and we do not need to exercise the supernatural gifts of prophecies, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. As we examine the history of the Christian Church through the centuries and through the 20th century, the absence of miracles is evident.
A major ethical embarrassment takes place when miracles are offered, especially miracles of healing, and then failure is evident. How sad it is to claim to be a miracle-worker and then to disappoint the hopes of hurting people. When such promises fail, disillusionment sets in which is very deep and wounding. We do not make promises we cannot fulfill. Rather, we point to the promise which will never fail, and that is the promise of the gospel—eternal life to everyone who repents and believes.
Third, there is the need for joyful public worship. Dull, lifeless worship is a contradiction of the joy of salvation. The “regulative principle” is important here. This is a principle by which public worship is regulated according to the specifics of the New Testament. In other words, we should engage only in spiritual worship which is specified by Scripture—the public reading of Scripture, preaching, intercessory prayer, and singing. There is no specification as to how these elements are to be arranged. This suggests freedom. There is no reason why we should not have great joy and edification in our public worship. We do not need to resort to imitating the world or to entertainment. We can combine dignity and reverence with joy and gladness. Stephen Charnock, in an exposition on John 4:24, places the focus on God as central in worship when he refers to some of the essential elements involved:
“God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach him with cheerfulness; he is a Spirit of infinite majesty, therefore we must come before him with reverence; he is a Spirit infinitely high, therefore we must offer up our sacrifices with deepest humility; he is a Spirit infinitely holy, therefore we must address him with purity; he is a Spirit infinitely glorious, we therefore must acknowledge his excellency; he is a Spirit provoked by us, therefore we must offer up our worship in the name of a pacifying mediator and intercessor.”
Needless to say, tedium must be avoided in worship. The challenge is for preachers not to weary their hearers, which the Puritans often were able to avoid with lively exposition of God’s Word.
Shallow evangelism — Possibly here more than anywhere the Puritans can help evangelicals who use the altar call and who too readily pronounce people converted simply because a decision for Christ has been recorded, when in fact their hearts may not be changed. One of the legacies of the Puritan era is a stable doctrine of both divine sovereignty and human responsibility—to insure against the errors of Arminianism on the one hand and Hyper-Calvinism on the other.*
In a recent book Are You Really Born Again? – Understanding True and False Conversion (Evangelical Press), Kent Philpott testifies how he has moved in his ministry from shallow evangelistic practice with its altar call to Reformed and Puritan practice, with effectiveness and joy.
Reconstructionism — This is a movement emanating out of America which stresses the importance of the moral law, and holds to a post-millennial position—which foresees that Christianity will prevail to the point where civil governments around the world will become Christian. Reconstructionism stresses the application of biblical teaching to every facet of life, private and public, and by exposition of the Scriptures seeks to equip politicians to apply biblical law to public life.
Puritanism would endorse the emphasis on the Ten Commandments and the need to persuade and teach politicians to apply these commandments in legislation. However, the Puritans would part company with any who sought to follow theonomy, that is the application of Old Testament laws to public life. With regard to the future, as has already been pointed out, the Puritans varied. They were mostly post-millennial, but their optimism was centered in the transforming power of the gospel and the building up of churches, rather than preoccupation with legislation via the powers of civil government.
Broad evangelicalism — Broad evangelicalism is innocuous and is no threat to the world, to sin, or to the devil. It has no time for these things because it fills its ministries with many “programs” for helping people, including all sorts of family and social programs.
The Puritans, on the other hand, exercised spiritual power. They helped people by bringing down the opposition of darkness. And the English Puritans gave to England the Christian family and the Lord’s Day.
Allied also to broad evangelicalism is impotent scholarship which is undisciplined and effete. Allied too to broad evangelicalism is shallow evangelism. With regard to scholarship the Puritans were full of practical application. Sadly, often where we find substantial evangelical scholarship today, it can be lacking in the area of application.
Calvinistic Sovereign Graceism — Some readers may wonder what this is. The fact is that many churches disown the description “reformed” because they disagree with the Law and the Lord’s Day chapters of the historic confessions (chapters 19 and 21 in The Westminster Confession of Faith or its Baptist counterpart The 1689 London Confession of Faith*). Yet they might embrace four or all five points of “Calvinism” (also sometimes called the “Doctrines of Grace”). These five points are easily remembered by the acrostic “TULIP:” Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. This formulation originated at the Synod of Dort in Holland in 1618-19 in response to the advocates of Arminianism.
The five points highlight the truth that we are saved by grace alone. There are, however, dangers in a simplistic reduction of Calvinism to five points. In Scripture wherever the truth of salvation by grace alone is stated, it is in the context of practical application. Without spiritual application there is the danger of being merely academic or intellectual. This was largely characteristic of Fundamentalism. As with other groupings of churches, Sovereign Grace churches vary widely in character. A few have fallen prey to a cultic spirit by implying that only those who believe in the five points are true, born-again Christians.
Puritanism corrects such error by keeping to the biblical centrality of union with Christ as the main feature of the Christian, a union which brings with it at one and the same time imputed justification and holiness of life shown by humility and fruitfulness (Rom 6:1-18). The Puritans were careful not to add to justification by faith alone. In some instances “Calvinistic Sovereign Graceism” adds to justification by faith by insisting that to be a true believer one must possess the five points. But faith alone joins the believer to Christ. To that nothing must be added.
Hyper-Calvinism — The essence of Hyper-Calvinism is to deny common grace of the love of God to all men. In other words, it teaches that God only loves the elect and only hates the non-elect. Further, Hyper-Calvinism denies the Bible’s sincere free offers of the Gospel to all men. C. H. Spurgeon was a Puritan in every fiber of his being. In his preaching we have wonderful examples of the five points of Calvinism preached evangelistically. For instance, Spurgeon poured scorn on a general redemption that supposedly made salvation possible but does not in fact actually save anyone. Spurgeon preached particular redemption in a most powerful evangelistic manner. The Puritans can provide stability today in two important aspects: 1) the biblical manner in which they held to the different facets of the love of God, and 2) the way in which they held in harmony the doctrines of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. One example of that is John Flavel’s Christ Knocking at the Door of Sinners’ Hearts which was published as a paperback by Baker Book House, 400 pages of gripping exposition all from one text, Revelation 3:20.
The Church of Christ on earth at the end of the 20th century is larger and more diverse than it has ever been. Only some aspects and strands of that huge body have been referred to, yet from these descriptions it should be evident that the Puritan writings are relevant today.
Lesson 1 The Relevance of the Puritans
Please answer the questions below from the information given in the preceding reading. Before you begin the questions, please read completely the section for the lesson you are taking.
Please read slowly enough so you understand what you read. It is also always good to pray before each lesson, asking the LORD for wisdom to apply what you learn to your lifeand to enable you to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength... for this is the first commandment (Mark 12:30).
Very Important Note: We ask you to always use your own words in your answers. The answers to most questions are found in the reading portion, but please do not merely quote the text for your answer. Rather, read what the text says, think about the meaning of what it says, and summarize its meaning in your own words for your answer. In this way, you will learn much more than simply a “search/find/quote” method for answering the questions.
1. a. What is “vastly needed” which the Puritans are “best able to supply?”
b. Have you ever read the works of the Puritans before?
2. Based on the author’s comments…
a. Define “Modernism” (in your own words).
b. Define “Post-modernism” (in your own words).
c. What is the area of needed teaching within Post-modernism which Puritan teaching can supply?
3. a. What is “Neo-orthodoxy?”
b. In what way is Puritanism the same?
c. In what way is Puritanism different?
4. a. Describe the movement known as “Fundamentalism.”
b. According to the author, what are its major errors?
c. How does Puritanism serve to balance Fundamentalism?
5. a. How does “The New Evangelicalism” soften Fundamentalism?
b. According to the author, where does The New Evangelicalism go wrong?
c. How does Puritanism contribute to correcting this error?
6. a. What three subjects which are held as important by “Pentecostalism” were also stressed by the Puritans?
b. How do the Puritans differ from Pentecostalism in these same three areas?
7. a. What is the error of “shallow evangelism?”
b. Briefly, what is Arminianism? (see the footnote)
c. Briefly, what is Hyper-Calvinism?
8. a. What is “Reconstructionism?”
b. How do the Puritans agree with it?
c. How do the Puritans assist in balancing its extreme?
9. a. What are some characteristics of “broad evangelicalism.”
b. How do the Puritans bring balance to these?
10. a. What five points of historic doctrine does “Calvinistic
Sovereign Graceism” hold?
b. What can be an error in some Sovereign Grace churches?
c. How does the emphasis of Puritanism correct this error?
11. a. How does “Hyper-Calvinism” distort the historic teachings of God’s sovereign grace?
b. How does Puritanism correct this distortion?
12. Making It Personal: After studying this lesson, what are your initial thoughts about the Puritans? Do you feel they can be helpful to increase your own understanding (by correcting the misconceptions brought upon us by “modern thinking”)?