I've always been in awe of the Separatists' willingness to put themselves in harms way by practicing their beliefs in England but my knowledge of exactly what they believed was limited. Reading The Cry of the Stone filled in a lot of blanks.
What struck me the most in reading the book was how extensive Cushman's knowledge was of the Bible and also of other religions. I expected his book to be all fire and brimstone and a bit holier than thou in tone but I found instead that he rationally explained what the Separatists believed and why.
Some of the things I found most interesting:
- Church members were expected to do whatever it took, even sell property, to support poorer brethren and do so without murmurings, complaints or outcries. The life of a Christian was more precious than anything.
- There was a role for widows in the church as they could become Deaconesses, tending to the sick, poor and working as midwives. Widows "have age upon them as a crown of glory." In many cultures widows are treated quite shabbily, so I found this refreshing.
- They believed the Church of England admitted sinners and saints alike and had strayed from teachings of the Bible and Christ. The Separatists were all Saints. God had already chosen who would be saved or damned on the day of judgment. Didn't believe reforming the Church of England was the answer because an evil man would still be evil.
- Separatists only believed in two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. They believed the rest were inventions of man and had no scriptural basis.
- They rejected the Book of Common Prayer, instead believing prayer should be unscripted and spontaneous. Prayer or inspired preaching from the heart was the proper way to honor God.
- They rejected Church hierarchy. Their church was based on five officers: pastor, teacher, elder, deacon, deaconess. The actual church building was unimportant--it was kept plain and free of idols. They believed anyone with talent or gift of God may be allowed to preach. They were motivated to preach anywhere as as there were unrecognized potential converts scattered throughout the world.
- Cushman was particularly concerned by the difficulties that selfishness or self love, laziness and lack of charity posed to the survival of the Plymouth community; this was the subject of his first published sermon given at Plymouth.
I wrote a sketch on Robert Cushman in another blog entry which you can view here.