Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Puritans Seek to Reform Church Polity

            Discontent with the Elizabethan settlement continued to simmer in England. Some people began to hold their own meetings, fashioning them as they believed the Scripture required. Convinced that the Church of England was not fully carrying out the reformation, the Puritans included in their reform efforts attempts to change the polity of the church according to Scripture.

Stirring the Pot

Thomas Cartwright became a leader in the fight for ecclesiastical reform. Appointed Lady Margaret Professor at Cambridge in 1569, he stoked the fires of dissent with his lectures on the book of Acts, in which he argued for a Presbyterian form of church polity. His biographer Benjamin Brook summarizes the positions he put forward as follows:
·         That, in reforming the church, it was necessary to reduce all things to the apostolical institution.
·         That no one ought to be admitted into the Christian ministry who was unable to preach.
·         That only those who ministered the word ought to pray publicly in the church, or administer the sacraments.
·         That popish ordinations were not valid.
·         That only canonical Scripture ought to be read publicly in the church.
·         That the public liturgy ought to be so framed that there might be no private praying or reading in the church, but that all the people should attend to the prayers of the minister.
·         That the service of burying the dead did not belong any more to the ministerial office than to the rest of the church.
·         That equal reverence was due to all canonical Scripture and the names of God; there was, therefore, no reason why the people should stand at the reading of the gospel or bow at the name of Jesus.
·         That it was as lawful to sit at the Lord’s table as to kneel or stand.
·         That the Lord’s Supper ought not to be administered in private, nor baptism administered by women or laymen.
·         That the sign of the cross in baptism was superstitious.
·         That it was reasonable and proper that the parent should offer his own child for baptism, making confession of faith in which he intended to educate it, without being obliged to answer in the child’s name “I will,” “I will not,” “I believe,” etc., nor ought women persons under age to be sponsors.
·         That, in giving names to children, it was convenient to avoid paganism, as well as the names and offices of Christ and angels.
·         That it was papistical to forbid marriages at any particular time of year….
·         That private marriages…were highly inconvenient.
·         That the observation of Lent, and fasting on Fridays and Saturdays, was superstitious.
·         That the observation of festivals, and trading or keeping markets on the Lord’s-day, were unlawful.
·         That, in the ordination of ministers, pronouncing the words, “Receive thou the Holy Ghost,” was both ridiculous and wicked.
·         That kings and bishops ought not to be anointed.
For this teaching Carwright was ejected from the university. Nevertheless, he continued to be a major force advocating change in the hierarchical structure of the Church of England.

An Admonition to the Parliament (1572)

            About the same time Cartwright was being pushed out of Cambridge, Parliament convened and deliberated questions of religion. The House of Commons had significant Puritan sympathies. A group of leaders gathered in London and decided to publish a manifesto, setting forward their objectives. John Brown says, “This manifesto is historically important as being a clear and deliberate declaration of what the puritans had in view at this stage in the development of their scheme of reformation.” Here are some excerpts to give you a flavor of the "Admonition."

Seeing that nothyng in this mortal life is more diligently to be soght for, and carefully to be loked unto a than the restitution of true religion and reformation of Gods church: it shall be your partes (dearly beloved) in this present Parliament assembled, as much as in you lyeth to promote the same, and to employ your whole labour and studie; not onely in abandoning al popish remnants both in ceremonies and regiment, but also in bringing in and placing in Gods church those things only, which the Lord himself in his word commandeth....

May it therfore please your wysedomes to understand, we in England are so fare of, from having a church rightly reformed, according to the prescript of Gods worde, that as yet we are not come to the outwarde face of the same....The outwarde markes wherby a true Christian church is knowne, are preaching; of the worde purely, ministring of the sacraments sincerely, and ecclesiastical discipline which consisteth in admonition and correction of faults severelie. 

Touching the fyrst, namely the ministerie of the worde, although it must be confessed that the substance of doctrine by many delivered is sound and good, yet here in it faileth, that neither the ministers thereof are accordyng to Gods worde proved, elected, called, or ordayned : nor the function in such sorte so narrowly loked unto, as of right it ought, and is of necessitie required. 

Now to the second point, which concerneth ministration of Sacraments. In the olde time, the worde was preached, before they were ministred : now it is supposed to be sufficient, if it be read. Then, they wer ministred in publique c assemblies, now in private houses. Then by ministers only, now by midwives, and Deacons, equally. But because in treating of both the sacraments together, we should deale confusedly : we wyll therefore speake of them severallie. And fyrst for the Lordes supper, or holy communion. They had no introite, for Celestinus a pope broght it in, aboute the yeare 430. But we have borrowed a peece of one out of the masse booke....They simply as they receeved it from the Lorde. We, sinfullye, mixed with mannes inventions and devises. And as for Baptisme, it was enough with them, if they had water, and the partie to be baptised faith, and the minister to preach the word and minister the sacraments....And finally, that nothing be don in this or ani other thing, but that which you have the expresse warrant of Gods worde for.

Let us come now to the third parte, which concerneth ecclesiastical discipline....Now then, if you wyl restore the church to his ancient officers, this you must doe. In stead of an Archbishop or Lord bishop, you must make equalitie of ministers....The chieffest parte and last punishment of this discipline is excommunication, by the consent of the church determined, if the offender be obstinate, which how miserably it hath ben by the Popes proctours, and is by our new Canonists abused, who seeth not? In the primative church it was in a many mennes handes: now one alone excommunicateth. In those days it was the last censure of the church, and never went forth but for notorious crimes: Now it is pronounced for every light trifle. Then excommunication was greatly regarded and feared. Now because it is a money matter, no whit at al estemed. Then for great sinnes, severe punishment, and for smal offences, little censures. Now great sinnes eyther not at al punished, as blasphemy, usury, etc, or else sleightly passed over with pricking in a blanket, or pinning in a sheet, as adulterie, whoredome, drunkennes, etc.

The God of all glorie so open your eyes to see his truth, that you may not onely be inflamed with a love thereof, but with a continuall care seeke to promote, plant, and place the same amongst us, that we the English people, and our posteritie, enjoying the sinceritie of Gods gospel for ever, may say alwayes : The Lorde be praysed. To whome with Chryst Jesus his sonne our onely saviour, & the Holy gost our alone comfortor, be honour, prayse, and glorie, for ever and ever. Amen.

[Taken from Frere and Douglas, ed. Puritan Manifestos: A Study of the Origin of the Puritan Revolt (London: SPCK, 1907), 8-19. Excerpts of the “Admonition” can be found in updated form in Hans J. Hillerbrand, The Protestant Reformation, revised ed. (New York: Harper Perennial, 2009).]

The “Admonition” had a sensational impact. Its authors, John Field and Thomas Wilcocks, were immediately imprisoned. Thomas Cartwright produced A Second Admonition to the Parliament, advocating practical means by which the needed reforms could be carried out. However, John Whitgift produced a reply in defense of the English church. To this, Cartwright replied with A Reply to an Answer of M Doctor Whitgift, and Whitgift battled back with Defense of the Answer. However, Cartwright was not done, so he published The Second Reply Against Master Whitgift’s Second Answer touching the Church Discipline in two parts. To oversimplify, Whitgift’s basic arguments were that we do not need to keep to the same form of church government as in the time of the Apostles and that simply because something was found in the Roman church does not make it wrong.
Eventually, Whitgift became Archbishop of Canterbury, and he cracked down on the Puritans. He immediately began to enforce his requirements: “(1) That none be permitted to read and preach and catechise in the Church unless he do, four times a year at least, minister the sacraments according to the Book of Common Prayer; (2) That all preachers do at all times wear and use such kind of apparel as is prescribed by the Book of Advertisements and her Majesty's Injunctions; and (3) That none be admitted unless he subscribe Articles (a) asserting the Queen's supremacy over all causes ecclesiastical as well as civil; (b) declaring that the Book of Common Prayer contains nothing contrary to the Word of God, he promising to use no other form of service; and (c) avowing acceptance of the Thirty-nine Articles of 1562" (John Brown, The English Puritans).
            Despite all this, those of Puritan sentiments continued to work. Some worked to secretly establish churches on the Presbyterian model. They also continued publishing. Between October 1588 and September 1589, seven tracts appeared, written under the pseudonym Martin Marprelate, mercilessly ridiculing the established church. These witty and vigorous attacks on the Church of England stirred up increased efforts to stamp out Puritanism. In the end, Archbishop Whitgift succeeded in crushing all organized efforts at puritan reforms, even though he could not eliminate the spirit which animated them. Moreover, the Anglicans found a champion in Richard Hooker, who published his massive Laws of Eccesiastical Polity in an effort to give Anglican church structures an overwhelming defense.

In her long struggle with Puritanism, Queen Elizabeth maintained her position as the governor of the church. She was wiser and gentler than her father, but she certainly had his iron spirit. By the last decade of the sixteenth century, it was clear that Puritan views were not going to be allowed. The Puritans had to bide their time. 


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