Christian liberty: the Puritans in Britain and America
In 1559, a number of clergymen returned to England from exile in Europe. They were members of the Church of England, who had taken refuge there to escape the persecution of Protestants in Queen Mary's reign. Mary had rejected the reformation of the church that had taken place under her father, Henry VI11. She wanted to restore the English church to the folds of Roman Catholicism, and to enforce her wishes she had burned those people who opposed her. With her death and the ascension to the throne of Elizabeth, a Protestant, many of the exiled clergy returned from their European refuges. They brought with them new patterns of belief which they had learned from their Continental friends, especially John Calvin in Geneva and Martin Bucer in Strasbourg. These emphases distinguished them from the rest of the clergy and became the earliest hallmarks of the Puritan movement.
The word Puritan means 'would-be reformer'; the returning exiles wanted to see the Church of England thoroughly reformed. Theologically, they would accept nothing as binding on the church that was not proved from the pages of Scripture. What was not demanded by the Bible could not be made mandatory on the conscience of an individual Christian without attacking the idea of Christian liberty.
Politically, the Puritans did not want the reformation of the church to be in the hands of the secular authorities. Instead, they demanded that the sole and final authority for the ordering of the church should be in the hands of the church's own officers.
Queen Elizabeth was sympathetic to the Protestant cause. Yet she was convinced that she herself must govern the church directly, because it was too powerful an institution to be left in hands that might not support her. And ...