Have you heard the story of the American Jezebel? The original Jezebel was an evil queen in the Old Testament. The American Jezebel was Anne Hutchinson who lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636? Her actions threw the Colony into turmoil, and in fact led to a significant exodus of people from the Colony. Who was this American Jezebel?
Think back through our American history, and what famous group of Protestants do you think might have brought Protestant theology to the New World of the Americas, say, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony?
The Puritans. Her bonnet is a giveaway, isn’t it?
This October at Faith Church we have been studying the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, as they pretty much summarize this Protestant teaching. We have looked at Sola Gratia, which is Grace Alone, and we have studied Sola Fide, which is Faith Alone. This week we are looking Sola Scriptura, which means Scripture Alone, pretty obviously, and that is what brings us to the story of Anne Hutchinson, the American Jezebel in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636.
Anne was a Puritan. And Puritans really latched on to the idea of Sola Scriptura. In fact one scholar I read says that the Puritans distrusted a group of religious leaders, like the Roman Catholic leadership, that seemed to make tradition equal to or even above Scripture. The Puritans, like the Protestant Reformers, wanted Scripture alone.
Living in England, Anne and her husband came to admire the dynamic Puritan preacher John Cotton. When Cotton was suppressed for his Puritan views, he moved to Boston, and Anne convinced her husband that they should follow him. Are you getting a sense about Anne?
In London the Hutchinsons were people of status, so when they moved to Boston they were considered prestigious. Of course they attended First Church in Boston where John Cotton was preacher.
Through Cotton’s preaching, revival broke out. Anne started hosting small group Bible studies in her house to discuss Cotton’s preaching further. People loved the Bible study. Soon Anne had upwards to 60 people showing up at her house. Her studies started growing in influence too.
Controversy broke out when Hutchinson claimed that Cotton was a true Christian minister, based on a doctrinal dispute. In other words, Anne interpreted the Bible in a way that was different from her community. Given her prestige and the influence of her Bible studies, there were many who began to agree with her.
Guess how the other pastors felt after being told they were not true ministers? Not too happy. You can start to see where the name American Jezebel came from. An intelligent, influential woman, in a man’s world, questioning her religious community’s theology and Bible teaching? This was too much.
Cotton himself was a bit more moderate. When examined by the ministerial community in Boston, he was cleared of heresy. But Anne? She became antagonistic, and the community put Anne on trial. Her supporters were banished, Anne was excommunicated by the church, and the Hutchinsons had to move to Rhode Island.
All because of a disagreement about how to interpret the Bible. What was going on here?
Anne felt that her interpretation of the Bible was correct. The problem was that her interpretation put her in disagreement with her community! In fact, she said that she was inspired by the Holy Spirit when she read the Bible, and her interpretation of the Bible was better than theirs!
In Anne’s way of thinking, she was just practicing Sola Scriptura!
Was she though? Does Sola Scriptura mean that any Christian can just open up the Scriptures and understand it by the work of the Holy Spirit in their minds? Do we need the church community to interpret Scripture for us, or can we interact with Scripture alone?
These are the questions we’re looking into this week. Tomorrow we start to dig deeper into Sola Scriptura.