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. Because the king of England was head of both church and state, the Puritans’ opposition to religious utopian sex meant they also defied the civil authority of the state.
In 1630, the Puritans set sail for America. Unlike the Pilgrims who had left 10 years earlier, the Puritans did not break with the Church of England, but instead sought to reform it. Seeking comfort and reassurance in the Bible, they imagined themselves re-enacting the story of the Exodus. Arriving in New England, the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in a town they named Boston. Life was hard, but in this stern and unforgiving place they were free to worship as they chose. The Bible was central to their worship.
The organ and all musical instruments were forbidden. The Puritans were strict Calvinists, or followers of the reformer John Calvin. Calvin taught that God was all-powerful and completely sovereign. God had chosen a few people, “the elect,” for salvation. The rest of humanity was condemned to eternal damnation.
Puritans lived in a constant state of spiritual anxiety, searching for signs of God’s favor or anger. Salvation did not depend on outward behavior, but on a radical undertaking that demanded each individual to plumb the very depths of his heart and soul. This “Covenant of Grace” contrasted with the “Covenant of Works,” which stressed the importance of righteous behavior. Faith, not works, was the key to salvation. The integrity of the community demanded religious conformity.