Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Pure Origins

This discussion relates to issues around Puritans raised by the unPuritan Jonathan Clatworthy. I thought I'd go back to the Puritans' Little Bang, their origins.

Where did the Puritans come from? The first Protestants had to be Lutheran, and Thomas Bilney said pray to God alone and not the saints. He was imprisoned in the Tower, recanted, was released after a year, started again and was burnt in 1531. All Henry VIII did was in effect become his own pope and the Church stayed the same. Robert Barnes was another Lutheran burnt at the stake in 1540 and then in that year a 15 year old Richard Mekins said Barnes died a holy man and argued against the sacrament. He was burnt. Anne Askew debated with priests, survived a heresy trial but a year after in 1546 was pulled on the rack and refused to recant. So she was put against the stake.

However, to get Puritans you need Calvinism, although by no means were all Calvinists Puritans as many an English Calvinist defended episcopacy. John Knox was a Catholic priest who (eventually) became a successful Calvinist minister and altered the course of Scottish history. In England, whether inside or outside the Church of England, such Puritans were always marginal - but they didn't think so.

Elizabeth I tried to stop the bouncing from one extreme to the other, to avoid the John Knoxes and papalists at either end. The Church could have in English the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Epistle and Gospel, but no common preaching given that the 39 Articles were sufficient. The royal dislike of preaching was because it could generate thousands of opinions.

This annoyed the Puritans, who wanted to preach. Elizabeth was annoyed about the Puritans, who wrote to James her successor that they would prefer presbyteries and therefore no King.

Puritan was a label first applied by their opponents. The Church wasn't pure enough for them. At the same time, Calvin's theocracy pushed the view that God knows everything and therefore the salvation of the elect. The Puritans liked that. The Arminians (of the head - Wesley's were of the heart) also said God knew everything that was going to happen, but people also made use of the grace offered to them. For Puritans, this was revisionism. Anglicans said the Bible was authoritive in matters of belief and behaviour, but the Puritans said also for Church governance, worship and personal living. They wanted a Church reformed: without robes, practices and worldly power. They also opposed much in the earlier prayer books, which in places were anti-biblical and showed contradiction with the practices they read in the Bible as part of the primitive Church.

In order to be expressly Puritan, the followers had to meet outside the Church as well as within it. In their houses, Puritans would stand to pray, as in the Bible, rather than kneel as in the Book of Common Prayer. Meeting outside, they ordained their own men and they had their own governance. They were like what today's GAFCON and Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans threaten to become.

In 1572 two clergymen Thomas Wilcox and John Field petitioned parliament for a Church without bishops, and for changes in worship. They were imprisoned and Field died. Thomas Cartwright, who had been in the Lady Margaret Chair of Divinity in Cambidge and argued for the primitive Church, supported them but even this bigwig had to flee abroad. In 1572 there was a Presbyterian church set up in Wandsworth under Nicholas Crane, he imprisoned four years earlier for using the Geneva Prayer Book, but the fate of the congregation is unknown. His presbytery was set up because he objected to vestments and habits in worship. Robert Browne would have heard Cartwright's lectures and he set up the forerunner to Congregationalist churches in Norwich around 1580-81 by the founders preparing a Covenant among themselves and with the Lord. That's a proper Covenant then - not some bureaucratic device for today's Anglican Communion. This attempt in Norwich did have Synods between the churches but crucially the church membership was for believers only and the unworthy could be expelled. He was a real innovator, and it is only supposed that he might have picked up some of the views of Anabaptists. Browne was subsequently arrested and, against his advice, the congregation fled to Holland in 1581. Browne made efforts via Holland to publish his thoughts into England. The distributers were killed by the authorities and the books were burnt. Browne was too argumentative in Holland and had to leave, going with a small group to Scotland where he even set about John Knox and was imprisoned again for a time, returning to England to be imprisoned some 32 times more. When excommunicated, he recanted, rejoined the Church as a whole and thus no one liked him; but he became a school master and then had a living in Northamptonshire until he died aged 80, dying in prison because he thumped a constable who demanded unpaid rates. He was a pretty disturbed ex-Puritan by then.

Edward Grindal was an Archbishop of Canterbury who could be called a moderate Puritan, and as such he shielded those Puritans who went beyond homilies, and were in excess of the three or four per county who could preach. Frozen from his duties for an intended six months, he half-apologised and died soon after his restoration five years later in 1582.

Before James came to power in England he gave a speech to the General Assembly of the Kirk in 1590 when he said that he praised God he was born at a time of light in the Gospel, to be King of such a Church -the sincerest Kirk - and they should stand for their purity, to call on the people to do so, and so would he. He was indeed raised as a Presbyterian. So when a group of clergymen said to represent one thousand Puritans petitioned him, once he was also King of England, for relief from human rites and ceremonies (sign of the cross, wearing the surplice, confirmation, the marriage ring, overlong services, too much music, bowing at the name of Jesus, reading from the Apocrypha and profaning the Lord's Day) and they asked for ministers who could preach, with also issues of residence and Church courts, they expected a positive response. What they didn't know was he actually hated the Kirk, though he gave them a conference to kick matters into touch and refuse them. He made his view quite clear at Hampton Court: nothing would change and ministers would have to conform or be harried out of the land. That created three hundred resigned separatists. Some Puritans did flee abroad, others treated badly set up what became the Baptist Church - congregationalist sometimes Calvinists who did not baptise babies (but this English Church was necessarily in Amsterdam, where John Smyth started it in 1609 by baptising himself but later running off to the Mennonites and leaving his non-Calvinist pal Thomas Helwys to eventually set up a General Baptist Church in London and receive death in prison). James and Charles both produced their own The King's Book of Sports (1618 and 1633) and their subjects were entitled to some fun and recreation and not to have the tedious Puritans stop them.

That the Puritans were so often prevented from preaching meant that some went out and were supported by the people as Lecturers, and this was the beginning in all practicality of independent congregations outside State ecclesiastical control. Others however favoured ministry in parishes, and the parish was the place to make all people more godly.

Once Charles lost his head the Puritans had their day, and were hated by the population, taking away their maypoles and the like. But the more radical and democratic ones were suppressed by Cromwell. Then came suppression with restoration along with the hated by Puritans 1662 Book of Common Prayer and in 1672 the Declaration of Indulgence was the beginning of many Presbyterian congregations without presbyteries, people who were parish-orientated, running congegations that were to become Arminian and sometimes Arian in the future. The first minister, Samuel Charles, of a combined Hull Presbyterian church, the one with Leonard Chamberlain in it (who owns my house), preached on a Sunday that fell on Christmas Day and he didn't mention the birth of Jesus once.

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