An Introduction to the History of Puritanism1560-1728

Posted on November 7, 2008. Filed under: Church History |

An Introduction to the History of Puritanism1560-1728

Summary: “Puritans”- a pejorative term used by others to describe those within the Church of England, beginning about 1560, who wanted to purify the Church of its Roman Catholic elements in worship, make preaching the central element in worship, change the form of church government from the corrupt Episcopal form to a Presbyterian form, and pursue personal piety and sound doctrine that emphasized the great doctrines of the Reformation- Sola Scriptura, Sola Gratia, & Sola Fide. By the middle of the 17th century the Puritans were also heavily engaged in politics and almost succeeded in transforming England into a Republic.

Timeline of the English Reformation and the Rise & Fall of Puritanism:

  • 1526-William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament from the Greek arrives in England. Tyndale was heavily influenced by Erasmus and Martin Luther. 90% of the Authorized King James Bible of 1611 came from Tyndale. The Scriptures were the foundation for the reform efforts of the Puritans.
  • 1520’s Scottish Reformation begins with the importation of Luther’s books and Tyndale’s New Testament.
  • 1534- King Henry VIII (reigned as King of England 1509-47) and Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy separating the Church of England from Rome beginning the official Reformation in England. The Church of England remains essentially Catholic in doctrine and worship.
  • 1547-53 Edward VI was England’s first Protestant born king. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer leads the boy king in a series of Reforms of the Church including publishing a series of 12 homilies to be read in all the churches covering the doctrines of justification by faith alone and the sole authority of Scripture, publishing a new prayer book and liturgy in 1549-52, and removing conservative, Catholic bishops and replacing them with evangelical Protestants. John Knox of Scotland served as one of King Edward’s chaplains.
  • 1551-53 John Knox sets a pattern for Puritans by disagreeing with Cranmer’s new prayer book and liturgy; insists on including the “black rubric” which forbids kneeling to receive the Lord’s Supper, denying the real presence of Christ in the elements.  He seeks to end all idolatrous practices.
  • 1553-58 Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) executes 275+ Protestant preachers. Bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer are martyred. Cranmer thrusts his hand into the fire first, to repent of signing a recantation. 800 other ministers flee to Europe where they are trained by the Reformers.
  • 1557-58 John Knox publishes The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women against Mary Stuart in Scotland and Mary Tudor of England; calls for faithful Christians to overthrow a queen since it is against nature for women to rule. Sets a pattern of Puritans engaging in politics.
  • 1558-1603 Elizabeth I reigns and restores Protestantism. The Elizabethan Settlement consisted of 2 parliamentary statutes, The Act of Supremacy (the Queen was declared the Supreme Governor, rather than Supreme Head, of the Church) and the Act of Uniformity (1559) ordering the use of one worship service and the 1552 prayer book with some revisions, and adoption of the 39 Articles in 1563. Enough remnants of the Catholic worship were left in place to cause many concerns amongst the evangelicals. With the Act of Uniformity, Puritanism begins as ministers seek to purify the Catholic elements from worship.
  • 1560’s the term “Puritan” comes into usage to denigrate those who want more changes in the worship of the Church of England.
  • 1567-68 The “Vestments Controversy”- Puritans wanted to do away with the wearing of the traditional clerical clothing, or vestments. Puritans desired to eliminate many of the ceremonies and rituals that were not found in Scripture.
  • 1569-70 Thomas Cartwright of Cambridge preaches from Acts 1-2 and calls for a simplified Christianity, disposing with Bishops and going to a Presbyterian form of church government. He loses his position.
  • 1583 Archbishop of Canterbury, John Whitgift, enforces conformity to the Anglican ceremonies and Puritan ministers are oppressed as nonconformists.
  • 1603 James I ascends to the throne, giving hope to the Puritans because of his Protestant leanings. The Puritans go one step too far at the Hampton Court Conference of 1604 and seek to introduce the Presbyterian system of church government and eliminate the Bishops. James turns against the Puritans.
  • 1620 Puritan Separatists, the Pilgrims, establish Plymouth Colony.
  • 1625 Charles I takes the throne and brings in William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury. Stringent measures are taken against the Puritans.
  • 1630-40 The Great Migration of Puritans to America due to persecution of nonconformists in England. John Winthrop founds Massachusetts Bay Colony. 1636 Harvard College is founded by the Puritans for the training of clergy.
  • 1643-46 The Westminster Assembly composes a Directory of Worship, the Westminster Confession, the Larger Catechism and the Shorter Catechism, reflecting the Puritan’s views. Episcopal polity ends in the Church of England.
  • 1645-46 Puritan Oliver Cromwell leads the parliamentary (Puritan) Army to defeat King Charles in the English Civil War. Charles is executed in 1649.
  • 1649-58 Oliver Cromwell is Lord Protector of England and the Puritans try but fail to establish a godly, Puritan republic. Cromwell dies in 1658.
  • 1660 Charles II returns to the throne and the Episcopal system returns to England.
  • 1662 The New Act of Uniformity leads more than 2,000 Puritan ministers to resign or be fired. Oxford and Cambridge deny degrees to non-conforming students.
  • 1662 In the New England churches, the “Half-Way Covenant” was introduced, allowing children and grandchildren of church members into the Church without a conversion experience.
  • 1688 “The Glorious Revolution” led by Parliament brought in the Calvinistic William of Orange and his wife, Queen Mary, to take the throne.
  • 1689 The Act of Toleration granted religious liberty to the Puritans, Baptists and others, except Catholics.
  • 1692 The Salem witch trials in Massachusetts Bay Colony begin.
  • 1723-28 In New England, Increase Mather dies in 1723 and his son, Cotton Mather, dies in 1728, bringing an end to the Puritan Era.
  • 1728-present- Elements of Puritanism continue is Baptist, Presbyterian and other denominations as well as in certain moral and political trends in America.

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