Monday, March 10, 2008

Why Presbyterians and Independents Cannot be Puritans.

In an earlier post I defined Puritan as someone who was working to purify the Church of England as a member of the Church of England, among other things. Today the most famous pastors commonly called ‘Puritans’ such as John Owen do not fit my definition. Owen was an Independent minister and others like Thomas Cartwright do not count either because he was a Presbyterian minister. The main reason I have to reject them as Puritans is because they are not working to Purify the Church of England. Rather they are working to destroy it and build a new church in its place. They were wanting to burn the Church of England to the ground and then on top of the ashes build up a new church with a completely different form of government. Let us examine some evidence.

King James was right. ‘No bishops, no King.’ The Episcopal system needs someone to be the top of the hierarchy. In the Roman Church it was the pope. In the Eastern Orthodox Church it became the Caesar. In the Church of England it became the King. In churches that try an hybrid of Episcopacy and equality disaster is always present. Take a look at the United Methodist Church. They have bishops, but try to govern with some courts and with a Triennial conference. What do you have? A giant mess. In the South you still have conservative bible believing churches, but elsewhere in the same denomination you have people being cleared of charges even though the people voting not-guilty admit that the rules were broken. That is hardly an effective system. Episcopacy demands a head. Thus, an attempt to change the Church of England into the Presbyterian Church or a bunch of Independent churches is an attack on it head. To pull down the bishops was to try and pull down the king. The English Civil War should bare that out. The Westminster Confession that was put together during that time did not attempt to reform the Church of England, it built a completely new church.

It should also be remembered that originally the Presbyterians and Anabaptists did not consider themselves Puritans and that they more often than not took the above mentioned path; namely that the Church of England was not a true church and needed to be replaced. The Presbyterians were for a while called Brownists after Robert Brown who was often imprisoned for his activities. The Brownists openly called for the end to the Church of England, and they did not think it a true church. The Puritans were openly enemies of the Brownists and the Brownists thought the Puritans enemies as well. The Brownists would go so far that they would even be denounced by Cartwright, but the Brownists thought Cartwright, himself a Presbyterian, simply inconsistent in his old age. These divisions are even apparent later duirng the Civil War when the Independents and Presbyterians work together to overthrow Charles, but soon turn on each other after Charles is gone. Of course both groups hated the Anglicans. Of course there were still actual Puritans as seen in the fact that a few Anglicans attended the Westminster Assembly. Thomas Gataker for example and William Twisse.

In my opinion those who advocated a change in government of the church were advocating for a new church. With the intertwining of the church and state in England this was a revolutionary idea. The Puritans wanted the removal of the papish superstitions in the Church of England, but did not want to overthrow the church as it currently existed. Thus, I do not believe it right to lump those who wanted church purity in with those who wanted church revolution.


Andrew Duggan said...

Lee you wrote:

In my opinion those who advocated a change in government of the church were advocating for a new church.

Just to be clear, that is not of what you to believe as a logical requirement, their thought notwithstanding, is it? Rather it is just a statement of your understanding of what they thought and did -- right?

Or to ask more directly, do you think that it is possible in the abstract to argue for the change of government in a church without arguing for a new church?

Lee said...

Yes, you are right. I do not think it is a logical requirement. However I do think that the Presbyterians during this time period were not trying to reform the Church of England, but rather replace it. Which they did, on paper at least, during Crommwell's reign.

I should also be clear that I am not a Puritan. I am writing a few posts about who I think the real Puritans were, but it is by no means an endorsement of any kind.