The Puritans were a group of 16th- and 17th-century English churchmen who sought to purify and bring about change in the Church of England. Most Puritans felt that the Church of England did not go far enough in its departure from Catholic beliefs and practices. Puritan influence waxed and waned within the Church of England until the Toleration Acts of 1689 allowed those who dissented to legally worship according to the dictates of their conscience.
Puritans invariably believed in God. While atheists and agnostics certainly existed in the 16th and 17th centuries, most of them would have seen little use in reforming the teachings of the Church of England. Puritans viewed God as an "awesome Father" who revealed himself and His will through the Holy Bible and natural forces. As leading Puritan hymn writer William Cowper put it, "God is his own interpreter, and he will make plain."
Puritans shared a strong belief in the concept of Providence. Puritans believed everything that happened was the result of God's will. Although they did not believe that God caused sin or evil, per se, they did believe He permits everything that happens for His own greater purposes. Puritans believed God allows even those things that appear to be destructive for the ultimate benefit of His people.
The majority of Puritans followed the theological ideas of French-Swiss reformer John Calvin. In particular, they generally believed in God's predestination of both the saved to salvation and the reprobate to damnation. They believed that those who are destined to be saved cannot resist God's calling and that people are too depraved to respond to God's calling unless they are specifically elected (chosen) by God. Puritans often shored up this belief with the concept of free will by teaching that mankind's nature, apart from God's specific calling, is always to rebel against God.
Many Puritans became convinced that the Church of England was corrupt beyond repair or that it would never depart sufficiently from Catholic practices. Many of these Puritans became Separatists. Separatists eventually formed a number of Christian denominations, the largest of which are Baptists, Presbyterians and Congregationalists. Many more Puritans left the ranks of the Church of England when dissent became legal in 1689. Those who remained in the Anglican Church were eventually assimilated back into it.
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images