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Remaining Puritan: The History of a Separatist Church in Massachusetts, 1620-1895

Norman, Jonathan Scott
Most of the attention directed at the churches of New England in the seventeenth and eighteenth century has focused on their initial success and subsequent decline--if not a decline in the membership of the churches, or the spirituality of the populace, then at least a decline in communal and covenant piety. The First Church of Middleboro, Massachusetts provides a counter-example to that model. The First Church was unique in its covenant fidelity through several centuries. The purpose of this paper is to answer the question of how this church managed to maintain its conservative, Calvinistic, Congregational, Separatist identity. The church was established under the guidance of Plymouth, and therefore had strong ties to a Separatist past; a past that was more intent upon church and state distinctions, progressive views of religious truth as revealed by experience, and endeavors to evangelize. The church also had the privilege of being influenced by powerful preachers, an educated laity, and practices that strengthened its covenant identity. This paper looks at the background of the initial group, the founding documents that helped to lay a cornerstone for the church's development, the adaptability of the church to new practices, the charismatic preachers, and the rituals that strengthened its covenant and church purity. Ultimately, this thesis is designed to give a greater understanding of the inner workings of a church body as it progressed through several decades, and to further demonstrate the diversity among churches in New England that is often neglected in favor of broad studies of New England's religious history.