Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Puritans on "Heart Religion," No. 1

From Charles Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England (University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 43:

The Puritan mind perceived a fundamental distinction between religion that affirmed the primacy of piety and experience and relation that emphasized established liturgical forms. Liturgical worship that treated form as paramount would stifle experience, resulting in the loss of "the power of godliness." The biblical reference of [Thomas] Hooker's phrase "the better part, heart religion." In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus looked favorably on Mary's posture of devotional rather than Martha's busy activity...Mary and Martha have always been interpreted as classic types of the contemplative and active life, respectively. Hooker now identified the busy show of activity in the liturgy with Martha and the devotional life of "heart religion" with Mary.

The decadence of church and society could not be separated from the official liturgy. Thomas Shepard insisted that even though many of the prayers included in "the Popish Formes of Masse, Matten, and Evensong, etc." were inoffensive, the godly should still "refuse the whole Forme." The Book of Common Prayer, "this corrupt Service-booke," he wrote, has "stunk above the ground twice 40 yeeres, in the nostrills of many godly, who breathed in the pure ayre of the holy Scriptures." Liturgical worship was nothing more than empty ritual, a routine made up of external gestures without deep inner commitment. By contrast, simplified worship that used the words of Scripture for its content promoted "heart religion." The Puritan form of worship gave the worshiper the sense of going directly to the true Source, of finding God in His own Word and rooting all words of sermon and prayer in the Word itself.

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