The Protestant movement emerged in the 16th century as a consequence of the Reformation movement that had been jumpstarted by Martin Luther and other leaders in the catholic church. The movement was nicknamed protestant because they were in protest of doctrinal and political misgivings in the catholic church. Eventually, the movement gave birth to new branches of Christianity, including the Puritans. Puritans are a group of Christians who rose from the Church of England around the 16th century with a clarion call to “purify” it hence the name. They believed that the Church of England still had some undesirable qualities that it had inherited from the Catholic church.
Puritans emerged from the Church of England with the goal of purifying it from roman catholic influence while protestants emerged from the catholic with the aim of reforming it. Puritans had a strict style of worship that aimed at stripping away any elements of catholicism. Protestants however vary in style depending on denomination.
Let us look at the theological beliefs of the two groups as well as examine their differences in more detail below.
Key Theological Beliefs of Puritans
- Predestination and the Elect: Puritans were largely influenced by John Calvin’s teaching on predestination. As such, they believed that God predetermined the fate of individuals by selecting the ones that would be saved and the ones that would be damned. Puritans believe that the election happened even before creation and that man has no influence on it.
- Strict Adherence to Biblical Scriptures: The authority of the Bible takes center stage in Puritan doctrine. They believe the Bible is the only source of divine guidance for the church and reject any attempt to replace scripture with human traditions and practices.
- The Concept of Visible Saints: Puritans believe that one cannot be considered a member of the church unless they visibly demonstrate true piety through living a Godly life. They taught against using church sacraments as the yardstick for determining church membership.
Key Theological Beliefs of Protestantism
- Salvation by Faith Alone: This is arguably one of the central doctrines of the protestant movement. Protestantism denounces the idea that any human action or goodwill can earn salvation. Instead, salvation can only be gotten through faith in Jesus Christ and his work of atonement on the cross.
- Priesthood of All Believers: Protestants contend that all Christians are priests according to the teaching of the Apostle Peter who said all Christians belong to a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). The implication of this principle is that the church does not need to rely on clergy to access God.
- The Authority of Scripture: Protestants, just like the Puritans, believe in the supreme authority of the Bible. The word of God is regarded as the only source of faith, belief, and doctrine.
Worship and Religious Practices
- Simple Worship
Puritans had a simplistic look on worship and they believed the worship service should be based on the tenets of their faith. They were against any elaborate rituals and ceremonies because they were trying to strip away any element of Catholicism from the church of England. As such, their services were centered around reading scriptures and preaching the word of God. As a consequence, Puritan ministers were known for their long and powerful sermons that went deep into Biblical topics.
- Importance of Sabbath Observance
Puritans were very keen on the law of the Sabbath. Granted, they still worshipped on Sunday but they believed Sunday should be viewed through the lens of the law of the Sabbath. They attended church services on Sundays and engaged in prayers and communal discussions. They also refrained from any secular activities or leisure pursuits because they believed that the Sabbath was sacred and should therefore be dedicated to God.
- Role of Music and the Arts in Puritan Worship
Puritans minimized the use of artistic expressions like music in the church. Any elaborate musical instrument and choirs were considered a distraction from the pure worship of God. Instead, they sang Puritan hymns which were mostly focused on communicating Biblical truths.
Puritan worship minimized the use of music and artistic expressions within the church. Visual arts were viewed with suspicion because they were afraid of anything that would lead them to idolatry. Puritans would therefore avoid using any statues, icons, religious artwork, etc.
- Diversity of Worship Practices
Unlike Puritans who had uniformity in worship practices, protestants are diverse as there are many distinct denominations under the protestant umbrella. Each of these denominations has its unique styles of worship. However, most protestants embrace contemporary ad expressive music styles, unlike Puritans who adopt a more austere worship style. For instance, some protestant worship services are characterized by lively contemporary music and spontaneous prayers. Even the protestants that have a more liturgical approach like Lutherans and Anglicans still allow for contemporary styles of music.
- Importance of the Sacraments
Sacraments are considered important elements of worship in most protestant denominations. Baptism and Holy Communion are the most important sacraments for protestants. Baptism is administered as a symbol of the rebirth of the Believer while Holy Communion is offered as a way of remembering the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. Granted, the theological significance of these sacraments will vary from denomination to denomination but all protestants hold the sacraments dear.
- Contemporary Trends in Protestant Worship
There has been a rise in contemporary worship practices in Protestantism in the last couple of decades. Lots of protestant churches have incorporated contemporary music styles e.g. use of bands and praise teams for congregational singing during worship. These are often complemented by musical instruments and display/projection technologies. Different elements of participation like responsive readings, small groups, and open prayers are also common.
Puritans and Protestants have one thing in common – they all emerged on the platform of change. Protestants were seeking to reform the doctrine of the catholic church which they believed had some unscriptural elements. After the Reformation movement, the Puritan movement also sprung up from within the Church of England with the aim of purifying the Anglican church.