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Puritanism: A Legacy Disdained by Historians and Sullied with the Devil’s Victory in Salem

All Puritan ministers had to be highly educated and well-read in the classics of Greece and Rome, the Early Church Fathers and the Reformers. Among the first things the Puritans did in the New World was found HarvardCollege as a place to educate their clergy (1636). However, the Bible was always the final word on theology or church practice. In fact, one might say that Puritanism, Colonial or English, was primarily a biblical renewal movement.4

The Puritans reject rejecting the Jews (supersessionism):

Because the Puritans read the Bible literally and without the allegorical traditions of Catholicism, they greatly increased their appreciation of the Old Testament. Supersessionism, the long held theory that the Church totally displaced the Jews as the “people of God,” and by implication, that the Old Testament was of little practical concern for the Christian, melted away. Puritans discerned that much of the Old Testament was a good and practical guide to the everyday life and spirituality. One of the fruits of this biblical recovery was that Puritan writers came to appreciate Paul’s understanding of the Jews’ continuous importance and ultimate, future reincorporation into the Church.

Some Puritan theologians even developed a Jewish-centered understanding of the end times that predicted a restored Jewish state. In that view, Jews would resettle Palestine and then would attack and destroy the Ottoman Empire (the most powerful Islamic entity at the time). After this, the Jews would convert to Christianity and the usher in the millennium.5 That the Jews would be restored again to Palestine was new to Christian thought, and certainly a valid prophetic insight—even if it did not happen as soon or in the way they expected.

Oliver Cromwell, who ruled Great Britain as a Puritan commonwealth (1645-1658) believed in this early form of Jewish Zionism. He attempted to further Jewish interests by inviting the Jews back to England, and providing them with legal rights.6 (The Jews had been expelled from England in the 1200s, as in most of Europe, after being blamed for the spread of the bubonic plague.)

Puritan Sabbataranism

The most noticeable aspect of the Puritans’ renewed appreciation of the Old Testament was their desire to observe the Sabbath according to biblical mandates.7 That is, the Sabbath was to be reserved as a day of worship and rest. Catholic Europe had a few long-standing restrictions on Sunday activities, as in forbidding hard labor. Luther and Calvin were reluctant to go much further than the Catholics, as they were especially weary of legalism.

However, the Puritans believed that a strict observance of the Sabbath was not just an Old Testament issue, but an eternal mandate for Christians. In fact, one issue of hot concern for the Puritans in England was their irritation at the proclamation of the king, Charles I, read in all churches, that it was all right to play sports after Sunday church service. The Puritans felt sports and recreations were good and necessary, but not on the Sabbath.8

The Puritan attitude towards the Sabbath was one of the legacies that endured in the United States, and made American Protestantism different from it European cousins. Whither or not contemporary Christians agree with the Puritan’s on Sabbath observances, it is important to note that they understood that the Old Testament regulations of a Sabbath of rest and worship was truly for our good, and not just as an historical oddity of the Old Testament.

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Category: Church History, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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