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Setting the Stage

By 1600, some Protestants felt that the Reformation, begun in 1517 when Martin Luther began to openly criticize practices of the Catholic Church, had not gone far enough to eliminate Catholic influence. In England, a group of Calvinists became known as Puritans because they wanted to "purify" the Church of England of any remaining Catholic tendencies. In 1630, a group of more than 1,000 Puritans left England and founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony to protect their religious freedom. Over the next decade, thousands more followed and established Puritan towns over a wide area of New England.

Based on the doctrine of Protestant Reformer John Calvin, the Puritan religion proclaimed that not everyone in society would achieve eternal salvation. God selected some souls to save and condemned the rest to hellfire. Puritans opposed elaborate church decoration and priestly vestments, and insisted that individual congregations be free from control by a general church organization. In the colonies, churches were controlled by the members of the congregation rather than by their ministers. The job of a minister was to teach, preach, and set an example.

By the second half of the 17th century, religious fervor had begun to die down in the colonies as many people began to concentrate on material rather than spiritual matters. Religion for many had become more of an accepted social routine rather than a deep personal conviction. In the 1730s, concern over the declining state of religion led to several small, local religious revivals that paved the way for a more intense resurgence known as the Great Awakening.

 

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