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2018-11-15 Pilgrims were not Puritans

ACH Study Groups
Ben & Fran Gilmore – Cofounders
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November 15, 2018

This is a letter to our friends –

Pilgrims were not Puritans

The Pilgrims were not Puritans. This took me by surprise since the two labels seem to be used alike. Here is my understanding.

In the beginning churches that were planted by the apostles were groups of believers in a city. They were independent of a formal hierarchy though they looked to the elders for teaching and advice.

Human nature being what it is, their independence was soon brought under a hierarchy. Eventually the structure became a state church. Europe’s nations almost all had state churches associated with Rome.

English history became pretty stormy when Luther planted seeds of reformation. The King of England did not like an Italian Pope messing in English politics so he set up the “Church of England” with an English “Pope”. (How do you suppose that would go over here at home?) Those who looked to Rome were called “Papists”.

So now we have the Papists divided. Talk is growing in England about reforming the state church. Those who did not accept the state church doctrines were persecuted. In England the reformation movement was within the state church between rule of one and rule of a few. The Puritans were initially “rule of a few” within the state church. Some of them would accept what reforms they could get and wait for another opportunity to get more. Other Puritans were pushing for more radical state church reform. Civil strife built. The Presbyterian denomination was born.

The Pilgrims were distained by everybody because they left the state church and followed their consciences rather than wait for some sort of organizational reformation. The Pilgrims founded the Plymouth colony in America. They wanted no compromise with an individual Christian’s liberty to obey his conscience.

Shortly after that Massachusetts was chartered including Boston & Salem. It was a mix of Church of England (episcopal) and Puritan (pesbyterian). Puritans, upon leaving England for Massachusetts discovered a sense of relief from the state church bondage. There was a sickness in Boston and they asked the Pilgrim doctor from Plymouth to come help.

In the process they said, “You are the first Pilgrim we have met. What is it you believe?” Basically the Puritan philosophy was, “We have learned things about Christianity. Let us teach you what we know.” The Pilgrim philosophy had more liberty, “No one has all the truth, come and learn along with us.”

The seeds of Pilgrim philosophy spread through Massachusetts and changed the culture. Here is what appears to me to have caused confusion. “Separatist” and “Pilgrim” were not popular terms in those days. The preachers kept their “Puritan” name-tags. but their philosophy became Pilgrim as illustrated in their sermons.

These columns are archived since 12/10/09
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