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-by Mark Noll
The earliest Bible people in America were the Puritans. To be sure, portions of Scripture were being published by Roman Catholic friars in Florida for Native Americans a generation before the serious English Protestants arrived in New England. But as "people of the Book," the Puritans were unrivaled in determination to order their entire lives by Scripture and nothing but Scripture. They had fled England when stubborn monarchs and prelates stymied their efforts at purifying the Anglican church according to the Bible. As the centrality of long exegetical sermons in their twice-Sunday worship, the singing only of psalms put to verse, the habit of naming children after biblical figures, and their often vigorous godliness all demonstrated, the American Puritans were in fact remarkably successful in shaping their lives by Scripture alone.
But even the Puritans found it difficult to be completely consistent. Puritans attacked all practices of worship and church government that were not explicitly mandated in Scripture. Thus were banished statues, stained glass, organs, pictures, Communion tables, kneeling benches, candles, and much else that had been customary in Anglican worship. Yet the Puritans made one exception, an exception that, not surprisingly, concerned the Bible. From the earliest days in New England one colorful ornament not mandated in Scripture did in fact become a fixture in the Puritan meetinghouse. It was a cushion for the Bible.
In a book whose loving attention to detail has still not been superseded, Ola Winslow's Meetinghouse Hill (1952) describes what the Puritan Bible cushion was like:
Custom had early decreed that this cushion should be of green velvet or plush, with long tassels hanging from the corners. It sometimes took as much as four yards of velvet, ten yards of silk, and much [congregational] voting time to achieve this mark of prideful elegance, but eventually it was always achieved. Even the length and color of the tassels (should they or should ...