Providence has from time to time responded to moral spiritual decay by raising a movement to reverse the tide. In the first century there was a movement called “The Way” (Acts 9:2). It emerged in Palestine to roll
back the perversions of paganism and Judaism, which was a parody of Christianity. With only the sword of the Spirit, this movement turned the world upside-down. History witnessed, first-hand, the extraordinary working of the Holy Spirit through ordinary humans, to produce extraordinary results. The ignorance, superstition and immorality fostered by the Roman Catholic Church threatened to wreck Europe, from medieval times onwards. In the 16th century the Protestant Reformation movement was raised by God to restore the derailed church to its biblical truck. And what a bombshell this was to the religious and political establishment of the day.

Puritans in history
Because England was to be the principal player in global affairs for several
centuries after the Protestant Reformation period, a generation that had a biblical worldview was needed to to lay a stronger foundation. England was in spiritual compromise. Therefore, God raised another movement at precisely the point where the Protestant Reformation movement had its breakdown. It would be known as the Puritans. The epicentre was England. And what a religious tsunami this was. The whole of Europe would feel its tremors. The grannies of the Puritan movement included Richard Greenham, Richard Rogers and William Perkins. Living around the 1570s, these were a leftover generation of the Reformation. God raised them and their successors to finish off where the Reformation left, particularly in the Church of England. Although the Puritans did not succeed in transforming the Church of England, they succeeded in transforming the nation of England. Through Holland, the rest of Europe was impacted. America would be one of the greatest beneficiaries of Puritan influence.

Puritans today
The question I am seeking to address in this article is, if the Puritans lived in today’s Africa, what would they look like?

  1. Simple worshippers
    On entering a 21st century Puritan church you are struck by what is absent more than what is present. The building is simple, the furniture is basic. No ornament.
    And where is the pastor? Well, the pastor is too ordinary to be distinguished from everyone else. You may never get to know that he has two Masters Degrees and a PhD. He cares little for titles. For he shares in the simplicity of Christ as a humble servant. Flashing suits that proclaim affluence and pomp is foreign to him. He is neither insultingly casual in his dressing nor expensively arrayed.
    Church singing is congregational and spirited. Always it is overflowing with biblical themes, pivoted on redemption. It does pretty well without the aid of a praise team or choir. Reliance on musical instruments is rare. Prayers centre more on spiritual than material concerns, on the kingdom of God than the kingdoms of humans, on Christ than on Christians. Worship is orderly.
    Discipline and reverence characterise it. Scripture regulates the worship and conduct, not church tradition or popular culture. Martin Lloyd-Jones reminds us that “the Puritan always wants to go back to the New Testament only, the Anglican is also concerned about tradition and custom and continuity.”
  2. Devout worshippers
    Sunday, known as the “Lord’s Day,” or the “Christian Sabbath” is a markedly quiet day. Traffic almost disappears from the streets. Shops are closed, markets are all but empty. Street vendors disappear for lack of business. Nearly everyone is at church. The godless are like jobless souls confined to their homes. For the saints, church services are held morning and evening.
    Saturday is a busy day for wives and mothers. Then they do most of the shopping, laundry, house tiding and cooking to free up the next day. Early sleep for Saturday nights is encouraged to enhance freshness for sermon concentration. Prayer is offered the night and morning before the Sunday service. The plea is for blessings upon the Sabbath’s worship for lives to be changed. Come Sunday, no shopping, no saloon hairdressing, no inter-town travels, no trading, no car repairs or plumbing, no lawn mowing, no picnics, no stadium appearances to watch favoured sports teams, and no entertainment. Only worship, meditation and rest. Only the most necessary works justify breach of this rule. The greatest acts of compassion might attempt to as well. Between the services, believers are resting in their homes, while meditating on the truths received. After evening services, mini church services are held in homes under the leadership of husbands. This is time to bolt the day’s lessons into the hearts and consciences of families. Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs
    puts it this way: “There must first be preparation, and then an answerable behaviour of the soul to this Word.”12 Sunday is God’s day. The rule is simple:
    “We had six days to ourselves. God must have his—all of it.” Every church meeting is attended with committed punctuality. The Lord’s Supper is uniquely anticipated because it drives the glories of the cross sweetly, yet powerfully, into the heart. Sin is pressed to the fore for repentance to intercept. Christ our loving King is repeatedly reinstated as Lord of every department of our lives. What a blessed supper! With maximum profit derived from the Lord’s Day, physical freshness and spiritual vitality for the week ahead is secured.
  3. Astute Bible practitioners
    More than anything, the Puritan is a popular pastor. The building in which he ministers is designed to maximise conveyance of the sermon. The podium (pulpit) is elevated in the front and is at the centre. It is the most obvious, if not imposing, piece of furniture.
    Unlike neighbouring churches that rely on entertainment coming from musical groups and other socially attractive gimmicks, the worship is constructed around the preaching ministry. Preaching is central. It consumes the largest portion of the service. This is no ordinary preaching. It is pregnant with the truths of the Bible. Bible texts are opened so powerfully that gems of truth are served throughout the sermon. Illustrations are drawn from the Bible. Church is a school. Congregants are all learners—young and old. This is a rendezvous for Bible lovers. The preaching is gripping. In large part because it is clear, fluent, coherent, instructive and convincing. Uniquely, the sermons are eminently practical. The applications (“uses”) are oozing out with graceful relevance. They are devastatingly clinical. Each sermon is a well prepared meal wetting appetites for more. We can only imagine how many hours the preacher spends
    prayerfully studying God’s word.
    If preaching is central to Puritan worship, Christ is central to Puritan
    sermons. He is the centre of gravity. The power of the sermon is derived from the power of the cross. Sermons on prosperity, superman living and a problem free life do not even feature in Sunday school baby classes. Solid biblical doctrines are the diet for church members. What a marvelous sight to behold our days’ Puritan writings flood our towns. O those majestic solid writings!
    Love of the word of God is what compels Puritan churches to insist on
    biblical (gospel) preaching, biblical church government (of elders and deacons), biblical administration of the sacraments (of the Lord’s Supper and baptism) and a gracious application of biblical church discipline.
  4. Physicians of souls
    The modern pastor is some kind of chief executive officer barricaded by layers of deputies and bodyguards. It is not a handsome sight. We know nothing about the Puritan pastor until we appreciate him as a physician of souls. Not only is he accessible to all, from house to house he visits his flock to minister to them personally. He knows his sheep and he knows them well. Most certainly they consume his prayer concerns. Baxter believed that “it is necessary that we should know every person that belongs to our charge; for how can we take heed
    to them, if we do not know them?” When you meet one who emphasises God’s sovereign grace and human worthlessness, along with a love for expository preaching, suspect that you may be in the company of a Puritan. When you come across one who is humble at heart, drawing no attention to his or her learning and great gifts, one
    who inflexibly seeks the pre-eminence of Christ in teaching, prayer and all of life, and one who vigorously pursues holiness, be in little doubt that you have met a 21st century Puritan. Let every Christian that desires to lead a godly life read more of the Puritans after the Scriptures. A near perfect legacy is what they have left us by God’s grace.