Historical Background - Reformation & Puritanism (2023)

Historical Background: The Protestant Reformation

What was the Protestant Reformation?
During the Protestant Reformation, Protestant churches and denominations separated from the Catholic church, which had dominated Europe in earlier centuries.

How did the Reformation begin?
The Reformation began in 1517 with the actions of Martin Luther, a German monk and Catholic priest. Luther strongly disputed the Catholic Church's claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money.
As part of a fund-raising campaign commissioned by Pope Leo X to finance the renovation of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Johann Tetzel, a Catholic priest, began the sale of indulgences in the German lands. Indulgences were documents that members of the Catholic church could buy that said that their sins were forgiven. People believed that if they bought them, they would be free from suffering for their sins in Purgatory after death. There was a saying at the time, attributed to Tetzel: "As soon as the coin in the coffer [offering box] rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as 'into heaven'] springs."
Albert of Mainz, the Archbishop of Mainz in Germany, had borrowed heavily to pay for his high church rank and was deeply in debt. He agreed to allow the sale of the indulgences in his territory in exchange for a cut of the proceeds. Luther was apparently not aware of this. Even though the prince of the part of Germany where Luther lived, Frederick III, and the prince of the neighboring territory, George, Duke of Saxony, forbade the sale of indulgences in their respective lands, the people who went to the church where Luther was a priest traveled to purchase them. When these people came to confession, they presented their indulgences which they had paid good silver money for; they told Martin Luther that they no longer had to repent of their sins, since the document they had purchased promised to forgive all their sins.
Luther was outraged that the members of his church had paid money to receive what he believed was theirs for free as a gift from God. He felt compelled to expose the fraud that was being sold to the pious people. This exposure was to take place in the form of a public scholarly debate at the University of Wittenberg. Luther composed a document called the "Ninety-Five Theses" ("theses" is plural of "thesis"), which outlined the items to be discussed at the debate and issued the challenge to anyone who disagreed with his views. He nailed the "Ninety-Five Theses" to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
Within two weeks, copies of the "Theses" had spread throughout Germany; within two months, they had spread throughout Europe. In January 1518, Christoph von Scheurl and other friends of Luther translated the "Ninety-Five Theses" from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied them, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press. The Pope disagreed with Luther's beliefs, but Luther did not change his mind. Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X on January 3, 1521. By 1522, much of the population of Wittenburg, Germany, had turned away from the Catholic Church and had begun to participate in what became known as the Lutheran Church, named after Martin Luther.
Luther believed that the Bible should be written and read in a language that the congregation understood. He decided to translate the Bible from Latin, which was the traditional language used for the Bible at the time, to German, so that everyday people in his country could read it and understand it for themselves, rather than relying on translation by a priest.
The name "Protestant" contains the word "protest." This may help you remember that Protestants were rebelling against the teachings of the church that they were separating from, just as Martin Luther protested against the selling of indulgences.

(Video) Puritans (The Killjoys of History)

Historical Background: Puritanism

Where did the Puritans come from?
Another Protestant group was called the Church of England, which separated from the Catholic Church in 1534 during the English Reformation. The Puritans were a Protestant group that, in turn, began separating from the Church of England around 1558. Puritans by definition felt that the English Reformation had not gone far enough in separation from the Catholic Church. They believed that the Church of England was tolerant of practices which they associated with the Catholic Church. The Puritans formed into and identified with various religious groups advocating greater "purity" of worship and doctrine, as well as personal and group piety.

What did the Puritans believe?

Basic Puritan Religious Beliefs
"Puritan beliefs were filled with paradoxes. The Puritans rebelled against others in order to create the perfect world, a utopia that did not allow for rebellion. The Puritan beliefs and goals created a tension-filled paradoxical dilemma. Man was not to sin, but he would sin anyway. Man was required to forgive, but evil was ever-present. Man was a seeker of salvation, but was helpless against evil. He was to live in hopes of eternal salvation, but he may not have been predetermined by God for salvation." (Source)

(Video) Luther and the Protestant Reformation: Crash Course World History #218

Use "TULIP" to help yourself remember! (Source)

Total Depravity

--> The concept of "Original Sin": Because of Adam and Eve's sin, everyone is born a sinful person.

Unconditional Election

--> Predestination: God "saves" those he wishes (only a few are selected for salvation). Because God is
all-knowing (omniscient), God knows whether a person is going to heaven or hell before that person is even born!

Limited Atonement

--> Jesus died for the chosen only, not for everyone.

Irresistible Grace

--> God's forgiveness of sins (grace) is freely given; it cannot be earned or denied through "works".

(Video) Puritan Reformation

Power of the "Saints"

--> Those elected by God have full power to interpret the will of God and to live uprightly. If anyone rejects grace after feeling its power in his life, he will be going against the will of God - something impossible in Puritanism.

Beliefs about Life and Living
(1) People do not always need a pastor or priest to tell them what the Bible means. They are allowed to read and study
the Bible on their own at home.
(2) It is important to strive for moral purity.
(3) Man exists for the glory of God; his first concern in life should be to do God's will and so to receive future happiness.
(4) The Devil, demons, demonic possession, and witchcraft are truly real.
(5) All people, rich and poor, should be educated (so that they can study the Bible).
(6) Husbands are the spiritual head of the household. Women are to demonstrate religious piety and obedience under male
(7) God's wrath and reward are present in natural phenomena like flooding, a bountiful harvest, or lightning striking a home.
(Job 1:21 "And [Job] said, Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.")
(8) American settlers are destined to expand across the continent (Manifest Destiny).
Historians have for the most part agreed that there are three basic themes to Manifest Destiny:
(a) The special virtues of the American people and their institutions
(b) America's mission to redeem and remake the world in the image of America
(c) A divine destiny under God's direction to accomplish this wonderful task --> This one is very Puritan!
Without using the words "Manifest Destiny", John Winthrop articulated the concept in his famous sermon, the Arbella Covenant (1630), when he said: " ... for we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; ..." Winthrop exhorts his listeners to carry on God's mission and to set a shining example for the rest of the world.
(9) A strong work ethic is important. Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, the notion developed that it
might be possible to discern that a person was elect (predestined to go to heaven) by observing their way of life. Hard
work and frugality, as well as social success and wealth, were thought to be two important consequences of being one
of the elect; thus, Protestants were thus attracted to these qualities and strove to reach them.

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(Video) Puritanism (an overview)
(Video) Who were the Puritans ? English Reformation & civil war explained in less than 4 minutes (reupload)


What is the historical development and background of Puritanism? ›

The Puritans were members of a religious reform movement known as Puritanism that arose within the Church of England in the late 16th century. They believed the Church of England was too similar to the Roman Catholic Church and should eliminate ceremonies and practices not rooted in the Bible.

How are the Puritans related to the reformation? ›

Puritans adopted a Reformed theology, and in that sense they were Calvinists (as were many of their earlier opponents). In church polity, some advocated separation from all other established Christian denominations in favour of autonomous gathered churches.

What is the historical significance of Puritans? ›

Puritans became noted in the 17th century for a spirit of moral and religious earnestness that informed their whole way of life, and they sought through church reform to make their lifestyle the pattern for the whole nation.

Are Puritans and reformers the same? ›

Reformed Beginnings. It is commonly believed, and rightfully so, that the Puritans were second generation reformers – they loved justification by faith just as much as the magisterial Reformers did! They persisted in the same theology where the first generation reformers were commensurate.

What is Puritanism summary? ›

Puritanism refers to a Calvinist movement that emphasized a personal experience of salvation by Christ; strict moral discipline and purity as the correct form of Christian life; a convenant of obedience to God, who was viewed as absolute sovereign over all; and societal reform, to convert the world to the way of Christ ...

What is the basis of Puritanism? ›

Basic Tenets of Puritanism

The Puritans saw grace as a gift from a kind and loving God; human beings were unworthy to receive salvation because of their depraved natures. Repentance, like personal salvation, depended on the Grace of God. Only select individuals could experience this miracle of God's love.

What is the difference between Puritan and Protestant? ›

Puritans were English Protestants who were committed to "purifying" the Church of England by eliminating all aspects of Catholicism from religious practices. English Puritans founded the colony of Plymouth to practice their own brand of Protestantism without interference.

Who started Puritanism? ›

John Winthrop (1588–1649) was an early Puritan leader whose vision for a godly commonwealth created the basis for an established religion that remained in place in Massachusetts until well after adoption of the First Amendment.

What reforms did the Puritans want? ›

Puritans tried to purify the established Church of England

By the mid-sixteenth century, some reformers thought that Protestant denominations had not gone far enough in “purifying” the church and taking it back to its New Testament roots. Puritans were among those intent on purifying the established Church of England.

What influenced Puritanism? ›

American Puritanism originated from a movement for reform in the Church of England, which had a profound influence on social, political, ethical, and theological ideas of the Americans.

When did Puritanism begin? ›

Puritanism first emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries in England as a movement to remove all vestiges of Catholicism from the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church first separated from Catholicism in 1534, but when Queen Mary took the throne in 1553, she reverted it to Catholicism.

What is the real meaning of reformation? ›

The act or process of changing a religious, political, or societal institution for the better is called a reformation. When capitalized, the Reformation refers specifically to the Protestant Reformation in Europe, which was a religious change instigated in 1517 by Protestants who wished to reform the Catholic Church.

Who led the Puritan movement? ›

John Winthrop (1587/8-1649), Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, who led the Puritans in the Great Migration, beginning in 1630.

What religion were Puritans? ›

Puritan Religious Life

The Puritans believed that God had formed a unique covenant, or agreement, with them. They believed that God expected them to live according to the Scriptures, to reform the Anglican Church, and to set a good example that would cause those who had remained in England to change their sinful ways.

What did the Puritan believe? ›

The concept of a covenant or contract between God and his elect pervaded Puritan theology and social relationships. In religious terms, several types of covenants were central to Puritan thought. The Covenant of Works held that God promised Adam and his progeny eternal life if they obeyed moral law.

What are the elements of Puritanism? ›

The most important parts of Puritanism were piety (obeying religious rules), dressing simply, and living a modest life. The Puritans believed some of the same things as Calvinists and Scottish Presbyterians. All of these groups were devoted to the Bible and to being morally pure.

What was Puritan society like? ›

The Puritans were an industrious people, and virtually everything within the house was made by hand - including clothes. The men and boys took charge of farming, fixing things around the house, and caring for livestock. The women made soap, cooked, gardened, and took care of the house.

What was unique about the Puritans? ›

The Puritans were English Christians who did not agree with the practices of the Church of England. They were different from the Separatists (many of the Pilgrims were Separatists) in that they wanted to stay with the Church of England, but change the practices from within the church.

How the Protestant Reformation began? ›

The Protestant Reformation began in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, a teacher and a monk, published a document he called Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, or 95 Theses. The document was a series of 95 ideas about Christianity that he invited people to debate with him.

What 3 things did Puritans value? ›

Finally, many Americans have adopted the Puritan ethics of honesty, responsibility, hard work, and self-control. Puritans played an important role in American history, but they no longer influenced American society after the seventeenth century.

What are 3 facts about the Reformation? ›

Here are six important things you should know about the Reformation.
  • Martin Luther Didn't Intend to Start a New Church. ...
  • There Have Been Many Reformations … ...
  • The Printing Press Played a Vital Role. ...
  • Martin Luther May Not Have Nailed His 95 Theses to the Door at Wittenberg. ...
  • It Propelled the Spread of Literacy.

Why the Reformation is important? ›

It is hard to think of an event that shaped the modern world more than the Reformation. Not only did it split the Church in Western Europe, it also split its traditional culture, one that had flowed from a vibrant faith that permeated the entire social fabric of Christendom.

What are 3 major events of the Protestant Reformation? ›

Improved training and education for some Roman Catholic priests. The end of the sale of indulgences. Protestant worship services in the local language rather than Latin. The Peace of Augsburg (1555), which allowed German princes to decide whether their territories would be Catholic or Lutheran.

Who were the Puritans and why did they settle? ›

The Puritans were members of a religious movement in the 1500s through early 1700s that sought to extricate Anglicanism from the influences of Catholicism. Many Puritans moved to America, especially the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to have the chance to establish their own societies away from Catholic influences.

Where did the Puritans came from? ›

Like the Pilgrims, the Puritans were English Protestants who believed that the reforms of the Church of England did not go far enough. In their view, the liturgy was still too Catholic.

What God did the Puritans believe in? ›

The Puritans were strict Calvinists, or followers of the reformer John Calvin. Calvin taught that God was all-powerful and completely sovereign. Human beings were depraved sinners. God had chosen a few people, "the elect," for salvation.

What did the Puritans develop? ›

English Puritans founded the colony of Plymouth to practice their own brand of Protestantism without interference. New England society was characterized by equality under the law for white male citizens (as demonstrated by the Mayflower Compact), a disciplined work ethic, and a strong maritime economy.

How did Puritanism contribute to the development of American culture and government? ›

The American concept of limited government stems from the Puritan community. Puritans believed that no single person or group of people should be trusted to run the government. The Puritan emphasis on education led to an American school system whereby everyone is taught reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Where did Puritanism begin? ›

Puritanism was a religious reformation movement that began in England in the late 1500s. Its initial goal was removing any remaining links to Catholicism within the Church of England after its separation from the Catholic Church. To do this, Puritans sought to change the structure and ceremonies of the church.

Who were the Puritans influenced by? ›

Although initially a small sect of dissenters who drew inspiration from the writings of the religious reformer John Calvin (l. 1509-1564 CE), Puritanism became more widespread toward the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century CE.

What ended Puritanism? ›

The decline of the Puritans and the Congregational churches was brought about first through practices such as the Half-Way Covenant and second through the rise of dissenting Baptists, Quakers, Anglicans and Presbyterians in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

Who were the Puritans and why did they come to America? ›

The Puritans were members of a religious movement in the 1500s through early 1700s that sought to extricate Anglicanism from the influences of Catholicism. Many Puritans moved to America, especially the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to have the chance to establish their own societies away from Catholic influences.

What did the Puritans believe in? ›

The Puritans believed God had chosen a few people, "the elect," for salvation. The rest of humanity was condemned to eternal damnation. But no one really knew if he or she was saved or damned; Puritans lived in a constant state of spiritual anxiety, searching for signs of God's favor or anger.


1. The English Civil War and Puritanism
(Ryan Reeves)
2. Lecture on The Protestant Reformation and an Introduction to Puritans
(Literature & Life)
3. English Reformation and Puritanism lecture
(Karen Park)
4. Why Did the Puritans Leave England?
(Captivating History)
5. In Defense of Puritanism
(Atun-Shei Films)
6. The History of the Puritans
(The Knowledge Video Channel)
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