Saturday, March 15, 2008

The High Point of Puritanism

It is often stated that the English Civil War and the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell are the high point of Puritanism. This is after all the time the Westminster Confession of Faith is written, although it bears noting, it was never really implemented. I think a lesser known even is actually the high point of Puritanism and it fits into my case about the nature of true Puritanism. It is the Millenary Petition. This Petition was given to the incoming King James in 1603. The contrast between this Petition, the resulting Hampton Court Conference and the Westminster Confession is striking and revealing.

The Millenary Petition, which probably only contained 800 signatures, was a protest from the Puritans about the state of the church and suggestions on how it should be fixed. They asked for many things such as the abandonment of the vestments, sign of the cross, baptism by women, confirmation, bowing at the name of Jesus, and terms like priest and absolution. They wanted stricter Lord’s Day observance, reform of church music, and a required sermon before communion. They also asked for only able men be allowed into the ministry (an obvious slap in the face of many Anglican ministers), allowance of marriage for the clergy, and the removal of certain monetary loopholes like double benefices. They also asked for church discipline reform including no excommunication for light matters and in a round about way protested on the king becoming too involved in church matters of discipline. A few other things were addressed, but you will notice that the form of government is not attacked at all. Nor was it attacked at the Hampton Court Conference where the Puritans won a few concessions such as the forbidding of baptism performed by women. The King as the head of the church was not really even addressed, although perhaps hinted at in the section on discipline. The Puritans presented their request with over 800 signatures and it was in no way a destruction or even a restructuring of the Church of England. Mainly it was a petition designed to remove the last elements of popery, and clean up some of the abuses in discipline and monetary matters.
The Westminster Assembly on the other hand came up with a , and it is not in favor of the Episcopacy. They have it in chapter 31 of the Confession and in more detail in "Form of Presbyterian Church Government" which is not part of the modern day standards. The Westminster Assembly completely replaced the Church of England with a new church. It was an Assembly dominated by Presbyterians who created a Presbyterian Church, not a Puritan one. The difference between the two documents is one that is not given enough stress. They are of a different mind. One has no problem with bishops, and strives to have a biblical church, and sees no problem of that existing with Bishops. The other wants a Biblical church and does not believe that is compatible with bishops at all. The first, attempts merely to purge the existing church of offenses and the other attempts to construct the framework for an entirely new church in England.

It should also be noted that King James was a king in Scotland where the Presbyterian Church was the state church. If anyone should have been open to Presbyterianism is England, it should have been James. James had already defended Cartwright, the English Presbyterian extremist when he ran afoul of Elizabeth. He had offered Cartwright a job teaching in Scotland. He had shown that he was not against Presbyterians at all. Yet, the Puritans did not come to ask for Presbyterianism. Why? I think it has to be concluded that it was because Puritanism is not the same as Presbyterianism.


Andrew Duggan said...

You're making a good case overall, but don't you think that with respect to James Stuart,

He had shown that he was not against Presbyterians at all.

is a bit over stated? The Cartwright defence can demonstrate he was not altogether opposed to Presbyterians, but doesn't prove he was for them. Perhaps it would have been better stated as He had shown that he was not totally against Presbyterians.

Perhaps there was some other motivation for defending Cartwright than a love of Presbyterians?

What do you think about this from Tony Curto:

In the previous installment, Queen Mary had abdicated her throne (1567) to be filled by regents until her son James VI assumed it in 1587. Knox's spiritual successor, Andrew Melville, soon came into conflict with King James's absolutism. Tensions between James and the Presbyterians eased for a while following the re-establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland (1592), but were soon ignited again when James ascended the English throne in 1603, thereafter exiling many leading Presbyterians (including Melville) and re-imposing the rule of bishops. King James bequeathed his son Charles I a kingdom tensing for a fight. [Emphasis mine]

Lee said...

I accept your critique. I probably should have said the line you proposed and not made such a definitive statement. As for Tony Curto's statement, I think it is worth pointing out that the Presbyterians did not have a reason to get concerned until after the actions of James as King of England. My statement was that going into England he had not yet betrayed Presbyterianism. I think Curto's statement agrees with mine. Although I do also agree with you, King James was probably motivated by something other than religious devotion. Political ambition seems a likely motivator.