Anne Hutchinson: Challenging the authorities

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

It’s odd that the Massachusetts Bay Colony would claim that Anne Hutchinson was breaking the fifth commandment by teaching concepts at odds with the Puritan authorities.

They considered themselves her father in the church, and so invoked the command to honor her father and mother in their accusations against her.

But her actual father, a deacon in the Church of England, had himself been a dissident, challenging the official views of the church.

She learned her lessons well.

Born in July 1591 in Lincolnshire, England, Anne came under the teaching of Puritan leader John Cotton. In 1634, she and her husband literally followed Cotton across the sea by moving their large family to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

As a midwife, Anne knew many women in the colony, and invited them into her home to discuss the Cotton’s sermons. The meetings grew to include more than 60 people, with some men among them.

Like Cotton, she believed in a theology of grace as opposed to what she deemed to be a theology of works taught by the Puritan leadership of the colony. Anne added a new dimension to the teaching by focusing on personal guidance from the Holy Spirit, and talked freely of her direct revelations from God.

The teaching, and the meetings themselves, caught the attention of the authorities who considered it “not fitting” that Anne should be teaching men. The authorities were, of course, none too happy with her take on theology either.

She was charged with sedition and heresy. At her trial in 1637, she sparred with Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop, arguing her case from the words of Scripture.

In March 1638, she was excommunicated from the Church of Boston and banished from the colony. Her family found refuge initially in Rhode Island, but moved to Long Island Sound after the death of her husband in 1642 to further remove herself from the persecution from the Massachusetts colony.

Sometime in August or September of the following year, Anne and her family were by local Native Americans who were angry about the influx of new settlers. Only one daughter, who it is said was out picking blueberries at the time of the massacre, survived by hiding.

The authorities rejoiced in Anne’s death, believing it to be divine retribution on a heretic. Rev. Thomas Weld said, “The Lord heard our groans to heaven, and freed us from our great and sore affliction.”

Through the centuries that followed, Anne’s legacy has been debated among historians, with many pointing to her as an icon for religious freedom or even for feminism. Whatever else may have been added, the foundation of Anne’s theology is salvation through grace not by works. Christ has already reconciled us to God, and there’s nothing more than we can do or, indeed, that we need to do.

It’s our role to live our lives in gratitude for this amazing gift, serving Christ out of love and having the courage to stand for him and share his message even when the odds are against us.

This is the 15th post in my Write 31 Days series for 2017 in which I am taking a devotional look at key women in Christian history. For more information, or to start the series from the beginning, visit the introductory post.

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