The Puritans, Simplicity and Culture Shift in American Christianity?

The Barna Group has a recent article Americans are Exploring New Ways of Experiencing God on the culture shift in American Christianity. One of the things that they note is that "The rapid growth of the house church or simple church movement has been especially significant." The article goes on to note that "Barna has just released a new book, co-authored with simple church pioneers Tony and Felicity Dale, entitled The Rabbit and the Elephant. The book discusses the growth of the simple church movement, describing home-based churches as a form of “new wineskins” (i.e., a new approach) in an age when people are seeking faith experiences that are dynamic and genuine." The statement that struck me most was that this is a "simple church movement." While there would be many things that should concern us about new developments in American Christianity, there may be one very positive thing if we, following the Puritans, understand the nature of New Covenant worship. You can read any given Puritan work on worship and you will read the word "simplicity" several times on every page. This is what made the Puritan movement different, in part, from the Episcopalian and Roman Catholic Churches. Simple, biblical and spiritual worship was emphasized. While many of the Puritans preached in beautiful, historic buildings, others did not. It was not about the building as an architectural structure that mattered most to them; it was about the church as the Temple built by God. In his sermon on 1 Timothy 3:15 John Preston noted, Paul "says, in the house of God, & not in the Church of Ephesus, lest any should conclude (as now the Papists would) that the truth were so nailed and fastened to any one particular house or temple…" J.I. Packer notes, "Simplicity was to them the safegaurd of inwardness, just as Scripture was the fountain-head of truth. The austere simplicity of Puritan worship has often been criticized as uncouth, but to the Puritans it was an essential part of the beauty of Christian worship." John Owen once explained that if we do not worship God in the simple, spiritual way and means that the Holy Spirit has ordained we will inevitably look for the beauty of worship in external circumstances.

Josh Espinosa has recently posted somewhat related thoughts and helpful resources here .

5 Responses

  1. Benjamin Shaw

    Dear Nick, I am all for simplicity in worship, and you are right that it is a characteristic of Puritan worship doctrine. However, what the Puritans meant by simplicity and what these home-church folks mean are two entirely different things. The home-church folks also believe in small (as in tiny, where the typical OPC congregation would constitute a mega-church). They are also generally opposed to the doctrine of ordination, or the idea of trained clergy. They are also generally anti-confessional. None of those those characteristics would have been anything of which the Puritans approved.

  2. Benjamin Shaw

    Unfortunately, I won’t be at GA. Can’t afford to go this year. So enjoy an H. Upmann Lonsdale for me if you get a chance. Drs. Pipa and Willborn will be in attendance, though.

  3. I think we should encourage the establishment of small churches. The disciples started that way after the resurrection of Christ. Paul mentioned the church that met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila in I Cor. 16:19 . It is not the building that is the church but the people gathering in it to worship God Almighty. Yes we can start simple as the biblical mustard seed, but God the Head of the church can make it bigger.

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