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Religious Practice

Puritanism began simply as a full-blooded articulation of Reformed theology, which strongly emphasized that the course of human events depended upon God's omnipotent providence and that the soul's salvation depended upon both human faith and God's absolute and predestining power to save and to damn. Certain aspects of this belief were characteristically but not exclusively Puritan and were shared by most English Protestants. Many Puritans emphasized these more congenial aspects of Puritanism, seeking to unite the Protestant nation as much as possible. This soft-edged Puritanism promoted Reformed catechetical education, the support for a learned and godly ministry, the encouragement of ministerial preaching, the setting of psalms and hymns to popular song tunes, a unifying culture of providentialism among Englishmen that emphasized the possibility of saving grace, a fervent emphasis on anti-Catholicism rather than on the precise details of Reformed theology, and the vision of England as an elect nation, collectively destined for salvation. This branch of Puritanism was essentially "hot Protestantism"—distinctive in its enthusiasm more than in its beliefs.

Other Puritans embraced a Puritanism that created a distinctive way of life alongside of distinctive religious beliefs. First, this Puritanism enjoined an ascetic variant of English culture that rejected as "ungodly entertainments" the songs, dances, and sports enjoyed by most Englishmen, and replaced them with sermon-going, Bible study, prayer, and (most unpopularly) the proselytization and coercive enforcement of this reformation of manners among their fellow Englishmen. Second, Puritanism faced squarely God's predestining power to save and to damn, brought it into everyday religious practice and worship, and made this "experimental predestinarianism" central to their practical divinity and emotional connection with God; and so it focused on the search for ways to assure oneself of one's soul's salvation. Hence, Puritanism transformed Reformed providentialism into a search for this-worldly signs of God's beneficial providence that would provide reasonably sure guarantees of other-worldly salvation and stressed the emotional, joyful assurance that came when one knew that God had predestined one's soul for salvation. Third, since Puritans did not have the full coercive resources of the state at their command, Puritanism promoted "voluntary religion" that operated by persuasion rather than by compulsion. Puritan works of practical divinity therefore instructed ministers how to preach so as to bring listeners voluntarily to live a godly life, and instructed the Puritan laity how to order their own lives in a godly manner. Reformed manners, experimental predestinarianism, and the practical divinity of voluntary religion are the three most noteworthy characteristics of this branch of Puritanism.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Propagation to Quantum electrodynamics (QED)Puritanism - Religious Practice, Ecclesiology And Politics, Capitalism, Bibliography