Seventeenth Century Congregationalism – An Introduction


This paper is the product of a personal interest in the origins and principles of Reformed Congregationalism. It is a subject which has engaged my attention since I first obtained a newly reprinted copy of the Cambridge Platform, back in 1995.[1] It is part of the story of my development as a Christian over the years, since first believing in my Savior in the beginning of 1986. As Providence had it, I was led to associate with Baptistic churches. However, in my second year as a Christian, I was blessed to be led into a deeper understanding of salvation, from a Calvinistic and Reformed perspective. This led eventually to my association with the Reformed Baptist church. The mid nineties were a time that was especially developmental for me as a Reformed Christian. As I studied the 1689 London Baptist Confession, and the Scriptural foundation for it, I became a committed Congregationalist. This might be surprising for some people to hear. This is owing to the fact that modern day Reformed Baptists customarily denounce Congregationalism. They are in fact, very much like their cousins the Fundamentalists. That is to say, they are run by extreme authoritarians.

Congregationalism as it is practiced in the Reformed Baptist church today is a lesson in what happens when important Scriptural principles are ignored. Men assume authority they do not rightly have, as delegated by the Lord Jesus Christ to His church. They then begin to lord this falsely assumed authority over the people. Congregational approval becomes nothing but a rubber stamp to authoritarian mini popes in this sort of circumstance. At the time, I did not realize this as being the case, when I first associated with these churches. However, I eventually learned what the meaning of Elder authority is to the Reformed Baptist church. The implication of this phrase is, there is no accountability whatsoever, to a minister. His word in essence is, as the word of God.[2] This is a theme that is subtly, yet clearly preached in these churches. The pulpit is used as a means of conveying not only the word of God, but the minister’s opinions on virtually every subject imaginable. This is done in the form of what is called application of the sermon.

These men overstep the limits of their delegated authority by binding the consciences of God’s people to their own. Sometimes, it may be legitimate to do so. But at other times, it involves matters of outright legalism, or even worse, meddling in personal affairs. Oftentimes, a personal discussion or an argument is answered in the pulpit on Sunday morning in the sermon. Everyone in attendance knows he is talking to someone in particular. Needless to say, this causes a great deal of fear and intimidation to the congregation as a whole. Reformed Baptist ministers do not hesitate to exercise discipline and even excommunication, of those whom they disagree with, or should we say, disagree with them. Many times the disagreement is over a matter of conscience, not addressed in the Bible. I know this because I witnessed it firsthand, to my shock and horror. No such authority structure such as this exists in the Reformed Baptist confession.

So when I first layed eyes on the principles of Congregationalism in the Cambridge Platform, spelled out in detail with Scripture proofs, I was already of a kindred spirit with them. My house of horrors experience took place several years after receiving this document. I must say that there is no lesson like the one that is learned from trials. You can read the Scripture on a particular point a thousand times. But until you are confronted with the very issue it is about, you will never understand and appropriate it fully. So I guess I have to be thankful for my exposure to the cult like authoritarian rule I’ve seen, while in the Reformed Baptist church. It magnifies the principles of Congregationalism found in the Bible, far beyond what Joseph Smith’s glasses will do for those who blindly follow such things. Scripture reveals that everybody in Christ’s church is subject to Him, and therefore, is accountable at some point to the rest of the church as a whole. There are no popes, nor lone authorities in Christ’s church.

Presently, I’m a member of a Reformed Congregational church which subscribes to the Westminster standards and the Savoy Declaration. We use the shorter Catechism as the basis for church membership. We also accept to a lesser degree, the Three Forms of Unity, better known as the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. We confess the Heidelberg Catechism each week as part of our public worship. But the government of the church is decidedly Congregational, according to the Cambridge Platform. As such, we have a plurality of highly respected, biblically called Elders who lead and teach the church. The substance of this paper was begun in 2006, and completed in rough draft form over the course of several years. I have finally found the time to finish and prepare it for publication.

I. Introduction

Congregationalism in regards to a church’s identity, is a well-known fixture in American Christianity. Congregational is a term that is used, not only to describe a certain form of church government, but certain denominations incorporate it as part of their title as well. In fact, it is such a well-known term, that few people today give it much consideration at all. To the secular world, a term like congregational is generally understood to mean it is democratic, an organization that is run by majority vote. Therefore, it is a term unlike others associated with Christianity that is non threatening. Such biblical terms as Grace, Covenant, Trinity, or Presbyterian in a church title are generally out of use in American society today. These titles sound religious to the secular, and we might add, an ignorant ear. They tend to conjure up outdated religious ideas. This is why modern Evangelicals like to call their church names things like Fellowship, Friendship, Hope, and Community this or that. But the word Congregation is a biblical term too. So the concept of Congregational, whatever that means, is one that is taken directly from the Bible.

A person can walk down the main street in virtually any town or city in America and see church buildings of one denomination or another along the way. Sadly, many if not most of these have little if any historical, biblical Christianity contained within their four walls. All the historic denominations have become almost completely liberal. In their place is every stripe of feel good religious society imaginable. Those old denominations, and their buildings located along Main Street, are icons of the past. They are monuments to a bygone era, one in which each one was founded on a set of important biblical principles. We say that even if not agreeing with all of the various historic denominations. One of those icons is situated primarily within the several New England states. This particular icon is represented by the presence of an old building, sometimes dating back to Colonial times, that goes by the name of Congregational. Once again, it is sad to say, that most of them have in their official title the name of Unitarian Universalist. When this became true of these churches, it was the end to anything resembling biblical Christianity in them.

There are still some so called Evangelical churches around today that are to one degree or another, conservative. This implies they officially hold to some form of commitment to the Scripture. There are even a few churches, again mostly in New England, that even hold to an old Reformed Congregational Confessional standard. Outside of these type of churches, those in the others rarely if ever, know anything about the history of Congregational Christianity. Needless to say, most people in so called Christian America, cannot say much about this either, other than to say, it stands for a democratic form of government. We submit this is sad indeed. For there is far more than that to be said about this term. The term democracy does apply to some degree, but not really in the way that most people tend to think of it. Democracy isn’t a biblical doctrine by any stretch of the imagination. It is simply a method used to settle matters of business. No, the historic Congregational church order is much more than simply a political system. It is a biblical principle, one with a rich historical beginning to it.

So in this essay, we are interested to consider the origin of Congregationalism as a church identity. As we said, the ultimate origin of it is found, at least in seed form, in the Bible. It is, we believe, the doctrine and polity of the apostles in the first century. It is also a system that fell into disuse throughout most of Europe, for most of the following fourteen hundred plus years of church history. There were churches however, scattered here and there throughout certain regions of Europe, that practiced Congregational church principles. These congregations were few and far between, and as a result, suffered tremendous persecution at the hand of the Popes. It was a system, thankfully, recovered on a larger scale as a result of the Protestant church Reformation. But even then, expression of it has been confined mostly to England and America. This is owing to the fact that the two main movements of the Reformation, were Episcopalian and Presbyterian. Aside from that, Presbyterians do employ some Congregational principles.

So what are those principles of which we speak? First of all, the New Testament church is patterned to some degree after the Jewish Synagogue. The Synagogue system began during the captivity in Babylon, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. The church is, just as Israel was, a theocratic nation, though not in the same civil sense as Israel was. After the temple was rebuilt, people were normally unable to travel to Jerusalem to attend worship, other than at certain appointed times of the year. This was especially true during the reign of the Roman empire, for many lived long distances away. So they met weekly in the local Synagogue for worship. The Synagogue had ruling Elders too that managed the affairs and oversaw the congregants of each local assembly (Luke 8:41). Besides weekly worship, they also oversaw the benevolent distribution to the poor (Acts 6:1). Each week there was a public reading of the Scripture, as well as congregational singing from the Psalms (Luke 4:16; Matt. 26:30).

Individual Christian congregations, just like the Synagogues of various places within the district of Judah, were made up of people from every city, town and village (Rom. 1:7; I Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:2; I Thess. 1:1). So the New Testament church met locally each and every Sabbath, wherever it was located, rather than collectively in one place (I Cor. 4:17). This is what is called the local church or congregation. Secondly, the local church was made up of true believers in Jesus Christ, based on the Scriptural standard (Eph. 4:4-6). This provided a certain amount of spiritual competency within each congregation, to fulfill the work of the ministry (verses 7-13). The Lord’s presence was among them as they met, through the Holy Spirit that indwelt each member (Matt. 18:20; Eph. 2:18,22). Therefore, having the ability to choose and call officers, receive believers into membership, and remove unrepentant sinners, this has become the sole responsibility of the local church (Matt. 18:15-19; I Cor. 5:1-5). The authority to do this, resides within each local congregation, by virtue of the fact that Christ is there by His Spirit, exercising power within it, according to His word (Matt. 28:18-20).

These principles were recovered as a result of the Protestant Reformation. One of the primary truths restored, was the recognition that each and every born-again believer within the church, has immediate access into the presence of God through Jesus Christ. This does not make each believer a sole authority unto them self, by any means. But it does make the assembly of the saints combined, spiritually competent to conduct itself without any outside interference, whether Ecclesiastical or civil in nature. This is called the priesthood of the believer (II Pet. 2:4-10). Peter, in quoting and applying the words of Moses from Exodus chapter nineteen (verses 5,6), does in this text apply it to the Christian church. More specifically, he is applying them to individual believers. The civil theocracy of Israel was an antitype of the invisible church now revealed in the New Covenant (Eph. 3:1-12).

Once an understanding of this doctrine was restored to the church, there was no more recognition of the Pope and his Bishops as having any authority. In fact, it was nothing but a human authority, used to exercise spiritual tyranny over them. This is because Jesus Christ “has made us kings and priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6). This truth negates the need for any earthly priesthood outside of the intercessions of Jesus Christ Himself from heaven (Heb. 7:25-28). The doctrine of the priesthood of the believer is what the very essence of Protestantism is founded upon. It is a Protest against any earthly authority that claims to hold the keys to the kingdom in their sinful hand, such as the Pope and his priests did. The preaching of the gospel is the effectual call of Jesus Christ to God’s elect people. It is in Him alone that they are saved. They are brought into the kingdom by Christ through the Holy Spirit apart from any sacraments such as those employed by the Roman state church (John 3:3-8).

Protestantism was by no means embraced by everyone, and the Popes were not about to give up their control of the church. This led to a series of wars in Europe in an effort to regain that control.[3] The story surrounding the history of Congregationalism is centered in the conflict as it poured into England from Europe. It is a story of the trial of totalitarianism of Satan’s forces against the true church of God. It is a story of religious intolerance, resulting in the persecution of God’s people at the hand of Kings and Bishops. Tyranny is the chief characteristic of church reform, when earthly means are employed, when once it has fallen into disrepair. The superstition of idolatry and the worship of the state are always the result of this, as witnessed in Medieval European history. But it is also the story of God’s sovereign providential hand, in the triumph of His grace over these things, that seventeenth century Congregationalism was all about.

II. The Circumstances Which Led to Congregationalism

Congregationalism as a movement began in England in the second half of the sixteenth century. The term Congregationalism however, was not used until much later, and primarily by its American counterparts. Congregationalism in England was originally known by either one of two terms depending on who used it. Congregationalists called themselves Independents owing to their belief in the autonomy of the local church. Their detractors called them Separatists owing to their refusal to conform to the regulations of the established church. Both terms carried the implication they were outside of the state church. Because Congregationalism began in England, it is necessary to start there when the attempt is made to examine of it. Congregationalism as an ideal as well as a movement came about as the direct consequence of the Protestant Reformation in England. The Reformation in England gave rise to a much broader movement than just Congregationalism itself, from which it originated; it was an adjunct of the movement known as Puritanism.

Puritanism was a movement that developed within the church of England in the sixteenth century, in reaction to its lack of progress toward reformation, since it had separated from Roman Catholicism under Henry VIII.[4] King Henry’s personal protest against the Pope and his domination of Christian Europe, was for a far different reason than that of the rest of the Protestant Reformers. Theirs was an attempt to rid the Christian church of unbiblical teachings and idolatrous practices, imposed on them by the Papacy. The Reformation was a political movement to be sure, but it was a political movement that was spurred on by an intense underlying spiritual awakening brought about by God through His Spirit and word. Henry VIII seized the opportunity afforded him by these circumstances, to break England away from Roman domination. It was due to a certain disagreement he had with the Pope, over the subject of authority. Henry assumed control of the English church by declaring himself its rightful head. So that being the case, the Reformation in England went no further than that.

The spiritual movement that had overtaken Europe was alive and well in England too. But the separation of the English church from Rome became a great disappointment over time to those who were affected by this spiritual movement. The reason for this was that the newly established church of England, in time, presented itself as nothing more than an English version of the church of Rome. The only great and new difference in it of course, was that King Henry VIII was now it’s new Pope. The specific events that led to the separation of the English church from Rome in the first place had little or nothing to do with anything taking place in Europe. Unless of course, the idea of political headship is the criterion being considered.

King Henry wanted a divorce from his wife Catherine, due to the fact that she failed to bear him a male heir.[5] At the same time, Henry had become infatuated with Anne Boleyn, who was to become his next wife.[6] Catherine of Aragon had previously been married to his dead brother Prince Arthur.[7] The Pope had issued a Papal Bull, recommending the marriage to her take place. The argument Henry made for an annulment of the marriage, years later, stemmed from his assertion that it was wrong for him to have married her in the first place. King Henry cited Leviticus 20:21 in defense of his request of the Pope to grant him the annulment.[8] Henry stated he had lived in sin ever since for doing so. The Pope would not consent to this nor give his authorization for it to take place. Hence, the split between England and Rome took place.

The reason for the Popes refusal to Henry had nothing whatsoever, to do with Scriptural admonitions against divorce and remarriage. It had everything to do with the various agreements that had been made by different Monarchs in Europe beforehand, through intermarriage, that would be affected by it. The Popes interest was in maintaining control of Roman Catholic Europe through monarchical commitment to his ecclesiastical rule. Henry VIII became a Protestant in order to do as he pleased in divorcing his wife and remarrying another, not for any true biblical conviction he had. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, the newly formed Anglican church as it became known, was still Catholic in every way, only no longer under the control of the Pope. This set the tone for conflict between warring factions within the church of England for the next one hundred sixty five years.

The Protestant Reformation on the continent of Europe came about by the reintroduction of God’s word to the church. Widespread use of the Bible had been absent from the western church for more than a thousand years. Illiteracy among the common people was a contributing factor in this, as well as the fear of imbibing in opinions not sanctioned by the church.[9] Only clerics had any access to or training in it. Eventually, it fell completely out of use by the clergy too, except for portions of it that might be read at Mass. That all changed as a result of the Renaissance interest in Greek classical literature. The western church had long before ceased to read or speak Greek, the language of the New Testament. The Bible had been translated into Latin in the fourth century by Jerome.[10] Latin was the universal language of Roman Catholic Europe, and was used universally in the Mass as well. The Greek manuscript had been preserved in the eastern church. It was incorporated into the liturgy, and therefore, it had been maintained since the days of the apostles.[11] After the Muslim invasion of Constantinople in 1453, many eastern clergymen fled west into Europe, bringing those manuscripts with them.

This as a result, led to an interest in reading classical literature, which was furthered by the recent invention of the printing press.[12] The Bible was the first book printed on it, a Latin Vulgate. Eventually, there was an interest in printing the New Testament in Greek, alongside the Latin translation. Erasmus of Rotterdam provided the Greek manuscript for printing in 1516.[13] In order to do this, Erasmus felt it was expedient for him to use a sampling of those Greek manuscripts which had come from the East, since Jerome had used an eclectic collection of mostly western texts for his. So from the samples at his disposal, Erasmus compiled what is now commonly called the Textus Receptus, or, the Received Text of the Greek New Testament. Erasmus’s Greek text was eclectic too, which he revised as more and more extant copies came into his possession. Another innovation he employed, which was a move away from the earlier Vulgate, was use of the original Hebrew for the Old Testament. Jerome had simply translated the Greek Septuagint into Latin at the time. By using the original Hebrew, Erasmus was able to correct certain problems that had been introduced into the Latin translation of the Old Testament.

Martin Luther was converted while reading Erasmus’ New Testament. Being able to read the original Greek text alongside the Latin translation, is what helped him to understand that the righteousness of God is a gift of His free grace, rather than a matter of our works. The righteousness of Jesus Christ alone is what God accepts from a sinner, not meritorious works, no matter how many or how good they might be. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is imputed to a sinner by God’s declaration. Faith alone is the means of this justification with God. So salvation in Scripture is based not on the faithful use of sacraments prescribed by the church, but on a proper understanding and reception of the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ. Justification as imputed by God to a sinner is entirely a forensic matter. It is a righteousness that is alien to them by nature. This is quite different from infused righteousness, which the Catholic church had been teaching for hundreds of years. When Luther saw this from the word of God and believed, he found peace with God he had not known before and was converted.

So beginning with the new Latin translation of Erasmus, based on the original Greek and Hebrew text, interest in the Bible began to develop and spread throughout western Europe. The Scripture was translated into several different languages, all of them based on Erasmus’ work. It led to the Bible being published and distributed among ordinary people, those who were able to read it in their own language. Martin Luther himself translated the Bible into German, and it became the source of an intellectual and spiritual revolution which took hold throughout the land. The same thing happened in England through the efforts of William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into the English language for the same purpose.[14] His desire was that every person in the land would be able to have and read the Bible on their own, without a priest speaking from it in Latin, which no one but they understood.

Access to the Bible supplied spiritual light to many within England, who in turn became Protestant Christians too. This new light gave birth to a desire among the people of England, and Scotland too, toward a more biblical form of Christianity along with all that it entailed. The Reformation was not just a Protest movement against the Pope’s authority. It was a movement away from dead medieval sacramentalism celebrated in the Mass and other church rites. It involved a complete renovation of the Christian church in Europe. In those lands that Reformation came to, there was a sincere desire among the people to return to the apostolic ideal of first century Christianity. God took William Tyndale’s Bible and used it to stir the hearts of His people in what would become the British isles, toward their own version of the Protestant Reformation. There were many within the established church that felt, although it had separated from the dominion of the Pope, it needed to follow the same direction as others had on the continent.

In England, a spiritual movement began to develop within the Anglican church that in time, gave rise to what became known as the Puritan movement. There was however, at the same time many within the Anglican church who favored the Roman Catholic character that remained in it, and who vigorously resisted any attempts at reform. Because of the Erastian nature of the church of England, appeal was constantly made by both these groups to the King, to pass laws which favored their position. In 1559 Queen Elizabeth I, at the behest of her religious advisors enacted a law called the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. This act was made in order to require those who ministered the gospel to conform to certain rules of the church. These included use of the state approved Book of Common Prayer, the wearing of vestments, and other things not found in the Scripture. This law was vigorously resisted by a certain group of reformers within the church. These men were at first called Precisionists, for their insistence on conformity to the word of God in every area of Christian faith and practice. Eventually, the name was changed to “Puritan,” as a title of mockery against these men, who desired reform toward a purer Christianity within the church.

What was at issue for the Puritan faction of the church was the proper way in which the Bible was supposed to be interpreted and applied. The word of God declares itself to be wholly sufficient for this use (II Tim. 3:16,17), and the Puritans took that at face value as coming from the mouth of God. The conflict between the two factions within the Church of England can be summed up in this way. The Puritans held that the Scripture is prescriptive in nature, we are to do all that it commands, and withhold what it does not. Prescriptive implies that the word of God is inspired, authoritative and therefore, it is regulative in everything that is written. Regulative means that Scripture is the first point of reference when it comes to any matter of faith and practice. The Scripture in both Testaments warns not to add nor subtract anything from it, for to do so incurs the wrath of God (Deut. 4:2, Rev. 22:18,19). Because of the Scriptures own assertions and warnings, the question that must be answered is this. Did the Bible come from God or not? If so, then it must be heeded at the peril of one’s own eternal destiny. The Puritans in sixteenth century England took these warnings seriously.

The Anglican churchmen as they were called, held that the Scripture is historic in nature, therefore, it gives us a standard, but not one that is necessarily binding. It is only binding where there are specific commands or prohibitions given. In everything else the church has latitude to decide for itself. Those who defended the Church of England’s practices argued that since the Scripture was purely historic in nature, it was only descriptive of what was done before, at a different time and circumstance. What was practiced in a different time and place was not relevant now. This view legitimizes human addition or subtraction regarding the external forms of worship. They also believed that the Bishops of the church, and ultimately the King, had the exclusive right to determine what it’s practice and liturgy should be, regardless of whether it had warrant in Scripture or not. This was an important point to settle because it was the very same view which led to Roman Catholicism and the rise of the Papacy in the first place.

The Roman church did not view Scripture as vested with absolute authority alone, but instead subscribed to the notion that the Pope as God’s chief agent on earth is the ultimate authority in matters of faith and practice. It was always the claim that the church’s dogma was based on the collective witness of the church fathers. The Pope however, determined what the dogma is. The Roman church always claimed that Scripture was authoritative, but not in the absolute sense. It also claimed that Scripture was not clear to common men in what it teaches, therefore, it requires an infallible interpreter. The Pope claimed infallibility for himself in all matters of the church’s faith and practice. Once the church of England had separated from Rome, the King claimed Popish infallibility in almost the same manner. Only now, in him, church and state had joined together in such a way so as to make Christian faith, worship and government a thoroughly civil institution. This low view of Scripture was essentially the reason for why there was a need for Reformation.

As the Roman church departed from Scripture in the early middle ages, it began to look to nature and reason as its foundation for religious understanding. What Roman Catholicism constructed was natural, man-made religion, which at its core was devoid of the apostolic teaching of Christ and the gospel of God’s free grace. Over time, the result of such a philosophy led to the Christian church and message being thoroughly eviscerated. Because of their departure from Scripture, the Roman Catholic divines tried to explain the mysteries of the faith by the theologically synthesized categories of nature and grace. In the eleventh century the Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas elaborated on this theme in his writings.[15] A particular portion of it appears in a book of the same name.[16] This sort of dialecticism of two distinctly different concepts, was nothing less than the introduction of ancient Greek philosophy into the Christian faith. As such, it was not Christian at all.

Thomas Aquinas believed that one could arrive at a knowledge of God simply by a study of nature. However, Aquinas also believed that unlike himself, ordinary unlearned people were unable to attain to a knowledge of God by the study of nature alone. Therefore, God provided grace for them in various church sacraments. These sacraments as natural elements, when mixed with grace produce a mystical substance having an efficacious effect upon the communicant, when administered by the church through priests. Sacramentalism is based on the idea of infused righteousness. Indeed, God Himself is in them. And it is not simply the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is obtained, which is shown in Scripture acceptable to God alone. It is righteousness from a collection of good deeds performed by all of the churches approved saints, held in-store for this purpose.[17]

Of course, the Roman church maintained then and still does that Scripture is God’s word. And as such, it is given by Him to inform the church of those things that reason has difficulty in attaining. But the idea that righteousness is through faith alone, based on the Scripture alone, rather than the sacraments of the church they thought, would lead one to a position of presumption. After all, they reasoned, the Scripture is full of difficulties, that when left to itself, cannot be accurately understood. The church’s hierarchy, consisting of Bishops and Pope, is the essential intermediary to that grace administered in the sacraments. The people were instructed in the church’s catechism to have faith in the sacraments, and in Episcopal hierarchy as the stewards of Christian salvation. So the mystical power of the sacraments as applied by the priests, was the foundation upon which Roman Catholicism stood. This was in the end, the fruit of human reason rather than of God’s truth.

It is often stated that salvation is not doctrine, but experience, and that of the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian salvation is certainly relational, but it is also rational. Divorced from true doctrine, it is meaningless mysticism. Even worse than that, it is exactly what the Roman church became without it. Human reason produced an unbiblical synthesis of nature and grace. Faith based on the word of God alone is not some form of intellectualism, as some people assert. While the word of God reveals things which nature cannot conceive of, it is not opposed to either nature or reason. Instead of being purely subjective, faith according to Scripture defines nature as that which God created (Gen. 1:1, Heb. 11:3). Biblical faith is rightly exercised reason, which becomes elevated beyond what it is capable of by mere observation of nature, especially since man’s fallen nature is ignorant of God. Any view of God’s word that does not see it as regulative in principle, therefore, is one that tends toward apostasy. This is why the Puritans contended over the matter as they did.

There were those within the established church who not only believed as the Roman Catholics did, but desired a return of the English church back into the hands of Rome. There were also those who, though rejecting this idea, resisted any attempt at purifying the Government and liturgy of the established church. So the Puritan movement revolved around this multipolar position. It became a contest for Ecclesiastical control of the established church. And not only was it a battle fought on these two fronts, but it also became one that was waged between the dissenters themselves. The whole struggle over the church ultimately became a political one. On account of this, there was a great deal of civil strife in England throughout the seventeenth century. But the war was primarily a spiritual one. Satan cannot endure any attempt upon earth by men to be faithful to the explicit word of God. Therefore, he will use all the spiritual forces of wickedness to oppose it. The very nature of Satan’s temptation in the Garden was to attack the regulative nature of God’s word. Departure from it has always been the underlying cause of apostasy within the church.

The view of Scripture held by the Roman Catholic church was that it is a historical book, rather than a regulative revelation from God. They corrupted it by importing the Old Covenant practice of a priest offering continual sacrifices. The priest through some unexplained power invested in them, transformed bread and wine into Christ. This was vigorously opposed in the English church by the Puritans. Romanists claim there are certain oral traditions handed down to them from the apostles not written in the Bible. Of course, nobody but those who claim it knows of what those traditions consist. The claim of authority to do this is on account of Episcopal succession, of which Anglicans made similar claim. So the Puritans set out to eradicate every vestige of Roman Catholicism from the Church of England, and to replace it with a Government and worship based solely on the pure word of God.

Anglo-Catholic prelates fiercely defended their position against the Puritans. Furthermore, they used their standing as established church officers to incite the King against the Puritans. In a bid to enforce religious uniformity throughout England, Anglican Bishops demanded every minister within their jurisdiction submit to established practice, regardless of conscience. However, although the Puritans stood upon the word of God as their standard, the power and presence of remaining sin were also seen among them. Puritanism was not a monolithic movement by any means. There were various factions that arose among them in their attempt at purifying the church of England. So the Puritans, though united by a uniform commitment to the authority of Scripture, as well as its essential doctrines, were otherwise divided on the lesser important points of doctrine (I Cor. 1:10,11). It was through remaining sin that Satan would take full advantage of the situation as it existed in England.

If Satan cannot corrupt the thinking of God’s people by enticing them to think low thoughts of His word and it’s veracity, he will tempt them to fight among themselves over precise matters of doctrine. Oftentimes, these are such doctrines that are not of primary importance. This was one of the sad things that occurred as a result of the Protestant Reformation. Although its outcome was generally good concerning the restoration of Christian faith in the western church on the whole, it did not produce a single unified Protestant church. This fact was then, and still is even to this day, a source of Roman Catholic criticism against Protestantism. One of the fruits of this was, there arose many unorthodox sects of various sorts, all claiming biblical authority. These were universally recognized heretical groups such as the Anabaptists, the Socinians, and other types of Pelagians and Arians.

The argument made against Protestants by Catholics has always been based on the ground of historic continuity of the faith. The early church concerned itself with this same matter, by asserting the catholic, or, universal concept of the church. However, it was something seen as only having legitimacy under the rule of the Roman Bishop. At least this was true in western Europe. This was an attempt to standardize Christian faith and practice, so as not to allow it to break up into independent, and even worse, heretical sects.[18] The charge of illegitimacy because of division has always been made by Catholics against Protestants. The same charge was leveled by the Anglo Catholics against the Puritans. Romanists have always claimed their authenticity is proved by their catholicity, over and against the many factions which exist within Protestantism. In England, Anglo Catholics made the same argument, claiming theirs was the historic Catholic faith of the early church.[19]

The Puritans, indeed all Protestants have always desired catholicity among themselves. However, this has been an elusive goal, as is witnessed throughout Protestant history. While seeking to purify the church of England through the implementation of the regulative principle of Scripture, the Puritans were confronted with sincere matters of difference among themselves. So the question of universal purity within the established church, also turned into one involving the Protestant principle of conscience. Several questions were put forth in the disputation. Should the state run church impose uniformity throughout the realm? If so, whose model should it be based on? Or, if not, should some form of tolerance according to conscience be allowed? These three principles of purity, uniformity and conscience became burning issues in seventeenth century Puritan England. It was in this context then that Congregationalism as one expression of Puritan Protestantism came into being.

III. The Rise of Congregationalism

There were two main groups of English Puritans in the sixteenth century. There were several smaller groups too, but these do not concern us here. Of these two, another separation came, one that would occur later on in the century. The majority of Puritans were in absolute agreement on the theology known as Calvinism, or the doctrines of grace. The primary doctrinal differences among the Puritans were church government and baptism. These differences also concerned the question of who are the legitimate members of Christ’s church? The first division was Presbyterian. They shared a similar view of ministerial authority with the Anglicans, except that Elders were chosen by local congregations, before joining together as a body in a synod.[20] However, although chosen by the congregation, Presbyterian Elders were and still are considered members of the synod rather than of the local church. The Presbyterians wanted to reform the Anglican church and transform it into a Presbyterian one modeled after the Genevan church of John Calvin.

The second division of Puritans was of those who had no interest at all in reforming the government or worship of the Anglican Church. These Puritans did not agree with any kind of hierarchical structure or authority over the people of God outside of the local church. These Puritans became known as Separatists, after they began to separate themselves completely from the Church of England, and meet privately for worship. Some of them desired total separation from the rest of the organized church in the broadest sense.[21] Others did not object to denominational association with others of like mind.[22] The issue with the Separatists was not just concerning the form of church government, but authority in general over the local church, from a body outside of it. Separatists insisted on the right of a congregation to choose and call their ministers, as well as exercise church discipline over its membership. This is what distinguished them from the Presbyterians of Geneva and the continent. Continental Reformed churches believed that Presbyterian authority resides outside of the local church, according to the model set forth in Acts chapter fifteen (verses 6,22-29).

Both the Presbyterians and Separatists did however, believe in the separation of civil authority from church authority. But here is where they differed from each other. The Presbyterians believed in civil government that operated in accordance with the Erastian model, whereas, the Separatists wanted no relationship with civil government at all. The offense this caused the English monarchy, as well as the Anglican Bishops was extreme to say the least. The Anglican view of church and state is called Erastian, after a man named Thomas Erastus.[23] Erastus wrote a book declaring civil government the enforcer of church dogma and policy, exacting civil penalties for any violation. This idea suited Henry VIII well for it supported his concept of monarchical rule referred to as the Divine right of the King. This was an ancient doctrine which placed the king above accountability to the rule of law, declaring him instead to be the law itself. Before the Reformation the relationship between King and church were held in extreme tension. After separation from Rome, King Henry declared himself head of the church.

The Separatists eventually divided over the doctrine of Baptism into two separate groups. There were two different opinions among them as to who are the proper subjects of baptism. There were also two different opinions on the exact mode of baptism. Of the two, the larger one were Paedo Baptists, who believed as did the Presbyterians and Anglicans in the baptizing of infants. Throughout history, this has been the predominant opinion in the church. All Episcopalians such as the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Lutherans, practice Paedo Baptism. However, this doctrine has been held in dispute among them as well. First the Catholics, then the Lutherans, believed in Baptismal regeneration. Not surprising, both are semi Pelagian, believing salvation is dependant on the baptized person to secure it. The division between the two however, Catholics and Lutherans, came when Martin Luther taught that Justification is by faith alone, regardless of baptismal standing. Catholics mixed works and faith for justification. So the efficacy of regeneration in each instance was only negligible.

Baptism among the Presbyterians, who are Calvinists is quite different. They Recognize that regeneration not only precedes faith, but it is essential to it as a work of God’s sovereign electing grace. Presbyterians view Baptism as an outward sign, rather than as an effectual means to salvation. In other words, there is no saving power in it, whether it is viewed from a semi Pelagian, or from a Calvinistic perspective. The subject of Baptism is in no way regenerated by it. They must have justifying faith in the gospel given from God as the only sign of personal salvation. However, this understanding has been a matter of contention among Presbyterians too. A doctrine of presumptive regeneration at birth has been held by some in order to separate the sacrament from the power of God in salvation. The Anglican creed drawn up under Queen Elizabeth’s reign, reflects this opinion.[24]

The other minority party of Separatists were Credo Baptists. They believed only in baptizing those who made a new profession of faith, after the fact. They viewed it as a sign of someone who is actually saved. This opinion had been maintained by various sects outside of Catholicism since the second century. It was also the view of Anabaptists, both in England and on the Continent. Paedo Baptists sprinkled their subjects while Baptists dunked theirs fully in water. Among the Baptists, there were those who were, and those who weren’t Calvinists. Indeed, Calvinism was the majority opinion of most of the Puritans. Each individual subset separated according to their own Ecclesiastical identity. Except for the issue of baptism, all of the Calvinistic Separatists were in fundamental agreement on the doctrines of grace, church government, worship, and church discipline. Aside from baptism, both wings of the Separatists embraced independence from the Anglican state church and congregational church polity.

It is not our intention at this point to engage in a lengthy discussion of the subject of denominational association, as opposed to the independent church, for this will be addressed in more detail further on. But it should be noted here however, that the New Testament does always refer to the church when addressing it as the church which is identified with a particular place, rather than as a particular denomination. In Scripture, the church is referred to as the church in Rome (Rom. 1:7), or the church which is in Corinth (I Cor. 1:2), or the church which is in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8), etc. These examples indicate that a local identity does exist concerning the church in association with one particular place or another. To the Separatists, this identity was best expressed in terms of a local church as opposed to a region or country. Also, it is abundantly clear from a reading of the New Testament, that there is no such thing as a state or national church along the lines of that which had existed in ancient Israel. Nor of that which the apostles wrote about or conceived of as from Christ. This too was what the Separatists saw in Scripture as the ground for the idea that the local church is supposed to be completely independent from any other governing body.

The church of England was, and still is, a national church under the earthly authority of the monarch. The King of England was in the days of the Puritans, the earthly head of the church in much the same way that the Catholic Pope was of the Roman church. To the Separatists, this was an extreme offense and blasphemy against the Lord. There is nothing in God’s word that warrants the idea that there is one uniform, visible church on earth which is international in nature, and is ruled by a human head. Scripture teaches that Christ’s church is a spiritual body whether it is in heaven, or is a visible body here on earth (Heb. 12:22,23). These Separatists saw this too in Scripture and were determined to have a visible communion which reflected the revealed will of God here on earth before all men (Eph. 3:9). It is not only to men on earth that God purposes a proper display of His revealed order and worship, but to the Host of heaven as well (Eph. 3:10). It is God’s witness on earth of His kingdom to those who are in rebellion against Him.

It was this quest for biblical communion that led the Separatists to organize independent local gatherings for worship. The beginning of these congregational meetings by the Separatists started sometime in the 1550’s, just before the reign of Queen Elizabeth. This was a time of bitter contention among Christians in England. Henry VIII’s son, King Edward, had ascended the throne while still a youth.[25] He was a committed Protestant, and sympathetic to the Puritan cause. However, Edward died in just six short years, leaving England to his sister, Mary. Queen Mary was a Roman Catholic and wanted to reunite England to Rome.[26] She was responsible for the death of hundreds of Puritans. Mary’s sister Elizabeth succeeded her when she died after only five years.[27] She appeared to be more inclined toward Protestantism, which revived hope among the Puritans. However, the reform they desired soon proved to be fleeting at best, as Elizabeth was a consummate politician, who intended to appease everyone under her charge.

The Bishops appealed to Queen Elizabeth’s authority over the established church, claiming that certain traditions must be maintained. The Puritans appealed to her Protestant convictions, complaining that the church had become only half reformed. The compromise in this came when a new set of church articles was drafted, reflecting a mix of the opposing convictions. The thirty-nine articles as they are called reflected Catholic orthodoxy concerning the nature of God and Christ. They also reflected the Protestant Reformed doctrines of justification by faith and election. But they maintained the traditions of the established church in its sacramental theology, as well as Episcopal polity. It did however, make the unambiguous assertion that the Bishop of Rome has no jurisdiction in England. Rather than resolve the ongoing conflict between these differing parties, it only acted to further it.

The Separatists cared not one whit about reforming the church of England. Nor did they recognize any authority over the church, but that of Jesus Christ from His word. This conviction drove them to separate themselves from the established church and meet unofficially. The man chiefly responsible for the formation of the first Separatist meetings was Richard Fitz.[28] Fitz was zealous for a return to the New Testament ideal of the independent church gathering. To the Separatists, the church of the New Testament was not diocesan in the Episcopal sense, but rather Congregational according to the autonomous house church model revealed in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles (Mark 14:12-16; Acts 1:13, 2:46, 5:42, 8:3, 12:12; Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 1:2). These verses are reflective of the circumstance of persecution the first century Christians found themselves in, which was also true of the Separatists. Each church enjoyed the presence of Christ in their midst, though in some instances absent a full complement of church officers (Matt. 18:20). The churches that Richard Fitz and the Separatists started were called privye churches, or private congregations.

The idea of the Separatists meeting for religious service, without the sanction of the established church, was something that was absolutely infuriating to its prelates. They convinced Queen Elizabeth upon her accession to the throne in 1558, to pass the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. This civil enactment made it illegal in England to meet and worship in any context other than the established church. It required the wearing of the vestments of the Anglican clergy, and the use of the approved Book of Common Prayer. Both of these were especially distasteful to Puritans of all stripes. Violation of the Acts was subject to civil penalties imposed by the state. The private church of Richard Fitz, which met at a place called Plumber’s Hall in London, was raided, and he along with several other men was arrested. These men were found guilty of violating the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, and sentenced to be executed for their nonconformist activity outside of the established church.

The Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity became a powerful weapon in the hands of the Anglican Bishops against the Puritans. Indeed, the Presbyterian Puritans were nonconformists too, and as such were an irritation to the Queen and the prelates of church of England. There were bitter persecution and harassment toward all the nonconformists, but it was especially fierce against the Separatists. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, from 1558 to 1603, there were numerous men put to death by her for their nonconformity. This persecution also contributed greatly to an eventual civil war between the Puritans and the Loyalists of the English monarchy. It also forced many of the Separatists to leave England too. In spite of this, they grew and expanded in numbers and in zeal. Congregationalism, although a distinct movement, became an integral part of the broader Puritan movement in England, over the next hundred years. During this time, several important things would transpire in the development of Congregationalism, not the least of which was the adoption of it by many of the leading Puritans.[29]

It was under King James that the course of congregational history was to be set. King James’ I came to the throne in 1603.[30] He inherited from his Aunt Queen Elizabeth all of the controversy that raged in England between the established church and the Puritans. At first, there was joy among the Puritans, because this new King had been raised in Scotland under the Calvinistic faith of the Protestant Reformation. But that joy was soon disappointed, when this King turned out to be anything but sympathetic to the Puritan cause. When it came to the matter of the regulative principle in worship and church order, King James abandoned his Presbyterian upbringing, in favor of consolidating his political power. He did this by uniting the kingdom of England and Ireland with that of Scotland.[31] James was more interested in gaining the favor of the Anglican Bishops than of reforming the church. So persecution against the Puritans continued. In 1605 there were three hundred ministers ejected from their churches because of their nonconformity to the established church. This was a catalyst which set in motion an exodus out of the country. Refuge was sought in Holland. This was a place where many Calvinistic believers in Europe were emigrating to for the same reason.

IV. The Puritans Come To America

The first Separatists to leave England at that time were from a church located in a town called Scrooby, in Nottinghamshire. The Elders of that church were John Robinson, William Brewster, and William Bradford.[32] In 1607 the Archbishop of York, Tobias Matthew raided the homes of a number of the church members, dragging them off to prison.[33] This was a provocation that led John Robinson to move his congregation to Holland. They first settled in Amsterdam. Then in 1609, they moved to Leiden where they established an English church. In Holland the English refugees were allowed the freedom to live, assemble, and worship as they pleased. Yet, they were still strangers, living in a foreign country. Certain hardships such as the language barrier confronted them in their new home. This in turn, affected their ability to obtain employment. On the other hand, the English children were adopting the language and customs of the Dutch easily, causing the parents concern they would abandon their English heritage.

Even in Holland, the Separatists were not entirely free of danger from King James. In 1618 William Brewster published some remarks that were critical of the English King and the church. The King sent troops to look for and arrest him, but Brewster narrowly escaped.[34] So a decision was made by the leaders to seek permission from the King, to obtain a royal charter, in order to establish a colony in the New World. The King refused to grant this. However, at the same time, King James did indicate that he would not stop them from going there. Evidence exists that suggest the favorable disposition of the King came about as a result of the influence of his top advisor, Sir Francis Bacon.[35] This is based in part on the fact that Bacon left an unfinished novel published in 1627 entitled “The New Atlantis.” It is speculated that he persuaded the King to allow them to settle in America, for the express purpose of establishing a new society there, according to the basic theme of the novel. Bacon abhorred the Separatist cause, but may have viewed it as convenient to this end. Whether this is true is not known. Nevertheless, God in His providence ordained that it would come to pass.

So the Separatist leaders in Holland succeeded in striking a deal with the Virginia Trading Company to take them there. There was an interest on the part of the company to invest in just such a journey to the New World, for the purpose of turning a profit. The deal was that the Puritans would go to Virginia as indentured servants, and work for the company for seven years, in order to pay off the expenses of the trip. However, the ship they were on, the Mayflower, was blown off-course, and in 1620 they landed in what is now Plymouth Massachusetts. The company then extended a commission to the Pilgrims to establish a settlement there, which they named the Plymouth Colony. By the providence afforded the Pilgrim travelers, they were able to establish both the civil and religious circumstances of their new home. The document reflecting this is known as the Mayflower compact.[36] It served as a constitution that was binding upon all who settled within the colony.

There is something important about these circumstances which merits’ attention concerning the Separatists as they were called. The charge of anarchy was made at them for their insistence of freedom from outside rule within their churches. Today there is much that is made of this from a political point of view. A claim is made that these people were so inclined to liberty that they shunned authority of any kind. The original charge, and the modern claim are both false. The Separatists never advocated a separation from the political rule of England, and certainly not from its King. The fact that they petitioned the King, in order to obtain a charter to establish a colony in the New World, is ample proof of this. The Separatists respected the proper civil authority of the King. What the Separatists advocated was freedom of religious expression. They wanted the freedom to worship God according to their conscience, prescribed by Scripture, not by some edict of the government. What the Separatists wanted was the freedom to organize their churches according to the pattern they saw in the New Testament, a church with Jesus Christ as its Head.

The charge of anarchy is always leveled at those who believe in the freedom to worship and practice their faith, apart from a hierarchical church structure that rules from the top down. Even the Presbyterians, who were nonconformists by Episcopal standards, made the same accusation against the Separatists. The Mayflower Compact drawn up by the Pilgrims, established the basis for civil order and government in Plymouth. And although they were on the other side of the ocean, the Pilgrims acknowledged the English King as their civil head, and the settlement as part of the kingdom of England. At the same time, the Pilgrims were left to fend for themselves, having to do everything necessary for their own provision and shelter. The King was all too happy to have this done for the advance of his kingdom, in spite of the persecution he had given to them. There was no protection afforded the Pilgrim settlers by the King’s army. They were on their own as far as that went, even though their success meant profit for both the Trading Company and the King.

The Pilgrims were believers in a sovereign God who had ordered things as they were for them. The Pilgrim’s believed that God would provide, protect, and prosper their way when He is depended on and honored in the church (Ps. 37:3-5). And this is exactly what came to pass in the new Colony. The first harvest after settling in Plymouth, the Pilgrim’s experienced a terrible drought that threatened to ruin their crop. By July of that year (1621), it looked as if they would lose the entire summers harvest. So they enacted a special day of prayer in the settlement, to call upon God in His mercy and provision. Amazingly, before nightfall the skies clouded up and poured rain in full abundance on them and their crops. This caused the Indians among whom they lived to exclaim “Now I see that the Englishman’s God is a good God; for he hath heard you, and sent you rain.”[37]

The idea that the Separatists were somehow disposed toward democracy in all things was not true either. It is true that the Separatists believed in congregational church polity. In America, the name of Congregational identifies it with Puritanism. But Congregationalists also believe according to Scripture, in God ordained rule of Elders and Deacons (I Tim. 3:1-13). Here is the difference between them and the Anglicans. It is rule by common suffrage, not by succession. Nor is it by the appointment of Kings or Bishops. Accordingly, this really made the Congregationalists independent Presbyterians, not anarchists or democrats in the extreme way that it is presently said of them. For all intents and purposes, the Plymouth settlement became a theocratic community. When all are agreeing on a certain course according to conscience, such a community as this is not viewed in the negative. In fact, that is the very essence of the Congregational principle. It is one that exists as a matter of voluntary association.

There were in time, those who came among them who did not share all of their convictions. There were some who were not of the Congregational persuasion, but were recognized as fellow Christians. These were of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Baptist communion. The manner in which the Pilgrim’s resolved the differences was by establishing civil communities surrounding one of each of the particular denominations.[38] There were others too, who were completely irreligious, who came for no other purpose than for profit. These were called strangers rather than brethren by the Pilgrims. Some of the tales told today by secularists, of persecution, theft and violence against the Indians, came from them. This caused a problem for the Christians who had established good relations with the natives from the start.[39]

The Pilgrims in Plymouth did establish a civil government through the Mayflower Compact that was separate from the church. Civil leaders were chosen by popular vote, just as church leaders were. Unfortunately, the distinction between civil and ecclesiastical government seemed blurred to those who didn’t agree with the Congregationalists. This was especially true of the irreligious strangers, for they were forced by law to associate with and attend some form of organized church. The idea we have today of a democratically elected, representative republic in America, after separation from England, is more of a Presbyterian concept, than what existed among the Congregationalists.[40] The Congregationalists wanted the civil authorities on a short lease, but they also wanted a biblically defined, Covenant community in which to live.[41] Because of circumstances which began to take place in England after their departure, American Congregationalists were able to order their affairs without interference from the King for a very long time.

As things heated up politically in England under King James and then his successor, Charles I, attention was diverted away from the American colony. Civil disturbance in England brought an end to the Monarchy for a brief period of time. During the Interregnum, which lasted from 1649 to 1660, England was ruled by two different types of Republican government.[42] America by default fell under the same circumstance during this period too. The upheaval in England, and the ramifications of it concerning the American Colony should not be discounted. For it was no doubt, largely responsible for the widespread notion of independence that was to overtake it in the following century, leading to the founding of the American Republic. Having tasted political independence as they did so early on, the Pilgrims were undoubtedly motivated to maintain and further it, especially when it was threatened by a future King.

The Plymouth settlement was officially named The Massachusetts Bay Colony in1628. As the number of independent settlements began to multiply and expand far beyond the area surrounding Plymouth, It became necessary to organize it into an officially recognized civil structure. The name Massachusetts Bay Colony was a title that was adopted to describe the various settlements that became scattered throughout the entire region. These settlements were organized into a collection of individual Colonies that eventually became the six New England states. The area now called New England, grew immensely throughout the seventeenth century. In 1620 the original Plymouth settlement started with little more than 100 people, but by 1691 there were 7,000. This was due no doubt, to a continuous flow of people coming from England in order to escape the political and religious turmoil there.

As the population expanded throughout New England, so did the number of churches that were planted. Congregationalism was the predominant church state in New England well into the nineteenth century. Virtually every community in New England today has a Congregational church building in it, traceable to the original Colony. As the number of churches began to grow, there became a need to establish an institution of higher learning, in order to train ministers equipped to serve them. The first and now the oldest school in America was founded in 1636, by order of the colonial legislature. The school was originally named New College, then afterward renamed after its first benefactor, a Puritan minister by the name of John Harvard.[43] It was and still is located in the heart of what is now Cambridge, Massachusetts. The city is named after Cambridge, England, where John Harvard was educated in the University of Cambridge. The two most notable Congregational ministers of the seventeenth century, who graduated from Harvard College, were Increase Mather and his son, Cotton Mather.[44]

V. Continuing Conflict in England

Following the events behind the exodus of the Separatists from England to America, was the development of what can only be described as the total upheaval of English society. The religious situation worsened there between the English Monarch and Bishops, against the Puritans, made up of Separatists and Presbyterians. King James died in 1625, and his son Charles I ascended to the throne. The persecution of Puritans not only continued unabated, but increased in scope and intensity under Charles. Under King Charles I, England would find itself embroiled in civil war. This was due in part to the fact that the King made numerous blunders of a religious and political nature under his reign. These errors of judgement plunged England into civil and religious strife. The events surrounding his reign, would lead Charles to his own death, along with an overhaul of the English political and religious landscape. The dual nature of this conflict involved the influence of a man named William Laud, a Bishop in the church of England.[45] The personal influence of William Laud upon Charles and his policies was profound. It led to his eventual appointment to the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1633.

William Laud was an Arminian who despised the Calvinistic doctrine of the Puritans. As all Arminians are disposed to do because of their doctrine, William Laud focused on the religious works of man, rather than the Sovereign grace of God according to Scripture. The result of this was under Laud, there was a return to a number of ceremonial practices in the English church that were more reminiscent of Romanism, than of Protestantism. Archbishop Laud replaced the communion tables with stone alters, causing the Puritans to fear that he was going to reinstate the Roman Catholic Mass. Archbishop Laud was also a vigorous Erastian who advocated for civil punishments for religious offenses against the church and state. This made all nonconformists the enemy of the Anglican church, and the King. William Laud persuaded the King to enforce the Acts of Uniformity against the Puritans which Queen Elizabeth had originally enacted. Under Laud the increase of Congregationalism in America was significantly assisted, by the fact that in his twelve years as Archbishop, more than 4,000 ministers were driven from England to its shores.

An attempt was made by Charles and Laud to enforce uniformity of Anglican church order and worship over Great Britain, which consisted.of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. To illustrate the viciousness of this campaign against the Puritans, in 1637 Laud had the ears of three noblemen cut off after they published pamphlets critical of him. This was done along with other cruel tortures inflicted upon them while in prison. Under the Erastian system, any remonstrance against the state church is considered treason. Even matters of personal faith and conscience that differ are punishable by the state. Because of this, the Separatists were the special targets of Laud, on account of their view of complete independence from both the church and the state. This attempt in itself on the part of Laud, to exert authority over the Separatists, was grievous enough. But to force man-centered Roman religion upon them was over the top to an extreme. William Laud’s provocations against nonconforming church goers, contributed greatly to the start of the civil war. It would eventually result in his death too.

Charles was held in complete distrust by the Puritans when he married a Roman Catholic wife. The idea that the children of the King would be raised Catholic, caused great fear among the Puritans, and, that this would lead to an eventual reunion with Rome. Archbishop Laud no doubt would encourage, not hinder such a union taking place. When the civil war began, it was viewed by the Puritans as a defense of the reformations God had wrought in England. The Puritans also viewed these events as just, as much spiritual in nature as they were political. The Separatists especially yearned for religious freedom from the oppressions of the Crown and Bishops. When the Puritans formed the Parliamentary army to fight against the King and his forces, they believed that this was a defense of biblical religion in England. For it was to them a spiritual opposition that arose from “principalities and powers” in high places, against God and His Christ, that the Puritans were fighting against (Eph. 3:10). Charles and Laud were believed to be those who served “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2).

The circumstances that set everything else in motion, leading to civil war, had to do with an attempt by Charles and Laud to impose Anglican church rule over Scotland. Scotland had become reformed under John Knox in the sixteenth century, and was Presbyterian in it’s doctrine and church polity.[46] This attempt by the King, to enforce Anglican uniformity upon the Presbyterian Scots, created a massive rebellion from them. The King wanted money from Parliament in order to suppress it. The first attempt on the part of the King to militarily enforce his will upon Scotland, ended in failure when the Scots defeated his army. When Parliament was called to a session in 1640 to seek approval for funds to be used against the Scots, this was taken as an opportunity by its members to bring their grievances to the King. The Puritan led House of Commons opposed a second invasion of Scotland by the King, which he went ahead and did anyway. Consequently, King Charles shut Parliament down, being incensed over their refusal to cooperate with what he believed, was his kingly right to do.

The second English invasion ended in disaster too, this time with the Scots invading England and taking territory for themselves. Desperate for money, Charles imposed and collected numerous unpopular taxes of which Parliament had not approved. Especially aggravating to the situation was his request for loans from Irish Catholics, in exchange for concessions on forced uniformity. A third attempt at routing the Scots ended in failure again, this time with the loss of all northern England to them. On top of this, King Charles was forced to pay tribute to the Scots in exchange for them not advancing any further. The King once again convened Parliament for the purpose of obtaining funds, only to be met with an even angrier list of grievances from its members. The Puritans wanted change in England from the tyrannical rule of the King and his attempts to overthrow the Reformation in England. The Presbyterian Scots had formed what is called the “Solemn League and Covenant” with the Puritans in England.[47] This was done in order to overthrow, once and for all, Episcopalianism in England, so as to reform the church, making it more like the Reformed church of Scotland and the continent.

Following the arrest of members from both houses of Parliament in 1641, civil war began in England. The Puritan faction dominated the House of Commons and was arrayed against the Royalists from the House of Lords, who backed the King. It should be noted once again, that the Puritans did not fight the King for the purpose of overthrowing the monarchy. Indeed, the English Puritans respected the God given authority of the King as stated in Scripture (Rom. 13:1-7). What they fought against, was the tyranny of abusive ungodly authority, which lacked biblical warrant to meddle in church affairs. The larger issue at stake in England, was the freedom of people to practice their conviction of faith according to conscience. Nowhere in Scripture, is any monarch given the authority to deny this. An argument can and has been made today, about the wrongness of Christians rebelling against political authority.[48] But those who make such arguments fail to see that God providentially brings about the overthrow of despots, when men have been provoked beyond all reasonable response.

Even the King must rule by common suffrage when it comes right down to it (Deut. 17:14,15). This fact is proven true from what God said to His people in Israel. Although a theocracy by design, Israel had the right to set a King over themselves according to God’s word. God gave Israel His rules for the King, which was to govern his rule over the people. The complaint made by Samuel to the Lord over Israel’s desire to have a King of their own, was due to their interest in a worldly King like those of the nations around them (I Sam. 8:7-9). The result of this wrong interest on the part of Israel, were they received a wicked King in Saul, who oppressed them. The King of England was wicked too, and ceased to enjoy the common suffrage of his people. When the civil war started, most people in England supported the Parliamentarians who fought against the King. What the Puritans hoped to accomplish was an end to tyrannical rule in England, as well as obtaining religious freedom. The idea of being forced to observe any religious duty against one’s conscience is repugnant, and proved the point made by the Separatists about church rule.

The English civil war was fought in three separate stages with the first one beginning in 1642, and the last one ending in 1651. Right at the outset, the Puritans had the upper hand. Both King Charles and Archbishop Laud were apprehended and imprisoned by the Parliamentarians’ army. The Monarchy was abolished and a Commonwealth established by direction of Parliament, comprised primarily of Presbyterians. For a brief period it was a Protectorate under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, a Puritan member of Parliament, yet one who subscribed to Congregational principles. Prior to England becoming a Protectorate, Parliament called for a meeting at Westminster Abbey, to review and revise the thirty-nine Articles of the church of England. This is the Westminster Assembly, which met for six years between 1643-1649. The Westminster Assembly was made up of 30 laymen and 121 clergymen. There were three groups represented at the Assembly, which were the Episcopalians, the Presbyterians, and the Independents. Also, there were ministers from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland present, making it a Presbyterian dominated affair.

There were two basic things at issue to the Assembly. The first of these involved a review of the doctrine of the church as a whole. The second was a particular review of its government. Most of the divines that were present at the assembly were essentially of one mind on what form of a theology the church should have. They produced the Westminster Confession of Faith, along with The Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Each document clearly expressed a commitment to the Calvinistic faith. Of course, when it came to the matter of church government, there was no agreement among them. There was at least one critic of the Presbyterian view present by the name of John Selden, who made a case for Erastian rule.[49] The Puritan George Gillespie however, ably refuted every argument made by Selden for the Erastian position.[50] There were only five men present who advocated for a purely Congregational church government.[51] They failed in their attempt to persuade the mostly Presbyterian Assembly. The outcome of this was reflected in The Form of Presbyterial Church Government.[52]

In spite of the Church of England becoming a Presbyterian church, the sentiment of all but the handful of Erastians, were for the separation of church and state. Samuel Rutherford expressed it at the assembly amply in saying to George Gillespie, “Rise, George, rise up, man, and defend the right of the Lord Jesus Christ to govern, by his own laws, the church which he hath purchased with his blood.”[53] All of the Puritans however, except for the Congregationalists of course, believed that there should be a single English church governed by a single Ecclesiastical body. On the other hand, even the Congregationalists, along with the rest agreed that the state should be influenced by Christian principles, making it a gospel friendly state. The Westminster Confession established the Church of England as an independent church, free of state control. But it was not a church free from outside influences. Attempts made to make the Commonwealth a place of religious toleration fell short because of this.[54]

This sort of intolerance was clearly evident in what became of Archbishop Laud at the hands of a Presbyterian controlled Parliament. In 1645 William Laud was condemned for his crimes against England, and met his fate at the hand of the executioner. Ironically, a man named William Prynne, whom Laud had tortured and branded, having his ears cut off for criticizing him, presided over the execution.[55] The same fate befell King Charles who was beheaded in 1649 by the same Presbyterians for treason. The war continued until 1651 in spite of Charles demise. So from 1645 to 1653 the Presbyterians controlled not only England, but the church too. After the death of Charles however, many began to see the situation of the new Presbyter, as nothing more than the old Priest, writ large.[56] For this reason, many of the Presbyterians began to side with the Independents. Oliver Cromwell was himself among those who embraced Congregational principles of church government. Cromwell introduced a limited state tolerance toward the various Protestant groups under his charge. However, he was wholly intolerant toward others, as was witnessed by his army’s massacre of 3,500 Anglican and Catholic soldiers and citizens of Drogheda, Ireland.[57]

Another notable convert to Independency came in the person of England’s foremost theologian, John Owen.[58] Owen began his career in the Anglican communion, although being persuaded at the time by Presbyterianism. Under William Laud’s enforcement of the Act of Uniformity in 1637, John Owen lost his position in the church. Owen turned toward Independency when he became convinced for the need of freedom from government interference in the church. During the civil war Oliver Cromwell appointed John Owen as his army chaplain. Later, in 1651 Owen was named Vice Chancellor of Queen’s College (Oxford) by Cromwell. He was promoted to Chancellor a year later, and remained so until 1660. It was there that John Owen was able to concentrate his tremendous theological insights into writing. Through his writings and lectures as a Congregationalist theologian, John Owen became England’s prominent authority on the New Testament church. During the Protectorate years under Cromwell and Owen, Congregationalism was on the ascendency. The consequence of this led to an interest in addressing certain conflicting views between them and the Presbyterians.

From the beginning of the civil war years there had been a proliferation of public views on religion of various sorts throughout England. A number of Independent religious societies emerged at this time such as the Baptists, and the Quakers. By far, the largest number of Christians in England, whether they were Independents, Presbyterians, or even Episcopalians, were theologically Calvinistic. In 1644, Calvinistic Separatists of the Baptist persuasion, took the opportunity afforded them by the circumstances, to make a formal declaration of their faith. They did this not only to identify themselves as Baptists, distinct from Paedo Baptists, but to identify themselves as Independent Congregationalists too. Calvinistic Baptists published the first Confession of the seventeenth century to come out of the Puritan movement. It was called the 1644 London Baptist Confession of Faith. The Baptists were small in number and their position did not reflect the sentiments of most Puritans on Baptism. Concerning church government however, they were in general agreement with other Independents.

This fact is an important one to consider in learning about the rise of Congregationalism. The reason being that today there is far less that is comparable between these two groups than there was originally. It is also important to understand too, that all modern Congregationalism, of no matter what kind it is, has its origins in seventeenth century Independency. Agreement between Baptists and Paedo Baptist Independents on church order, is expressed in the first document of this sort published by the Baptists in 1697 by Benjamin Keach.[59] Keach makes reference to John Owen’s published works regarding the subject of Congregational church polity. Both communions were in agreement upon the doctrines of grace and worship too. It wasn’t until the twentieth century that Reformed Baptist church government changed toward a more authoritarian style. When the Baptists separated by forming their own communion, this left the Independent Paedo Baptists to become a distinct identity within the larger Puritan community.

The Presbyterians established their Confession and church order in 1646 by means of the Westminster Assembly. The Congregationalists being in the minority there were left without any formal declaration of faith or church order of their own. Under Parliamentary rule Presbyterianism became the established church in England, the Catholic rite and ceremony having been purged from it. When Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England, he set out to remedy the Congregational cause, by calling together another church assembly in 1658. This was for the express purpose of revising of the Westminster standards, in order to reflect the Congregational position where there was disagreement. This assembly met at the Savoy Palace. The documents that came from it, which also bear its name, became the official standard of the Congregational churches.[60] Among those present at the meeting were two men of exceptional learning, John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, both of which participated in the Westminster Assembly. John Owen is credited with writing the preface to the Savoy Confession. A lesser known man by the name of Philip Nye was appointed head of the Savoy Conference.

There were several reasons for the meeting being called at the Savoy Palace. The Presbyterians themselves recommended the Independents formally state their positions in a document. Also, with the Independents having gained political control of the Commonwealth, it stood to reason that they should do this. But another reason presented itself as well. Ten years earlier in 1648, the New England Congregationalists had published their own church order entitled The Cambridge Platform.[61] This became a constitution of church unity for Congregationalists in America. New England Congregationalism was by 1658, well established in terms of both its political and church governments. The Cambridge Platform unified otherwise independent autonomous churches together as one definite, visible communion of Christian saints. This was after all, the biblical ideal envisioned by the Puritan experiment in the first place. For this reason, New England Congregationalists urged their English counterparts to do the same. Until the Savoy Confession, Independents on both shores had used the Westminster Confession, although disagreeing with several of its positions.

The Savoy Conference was not a synod of the sort employed by Presbyterians. Nor were there any minutes kept of the meeting for future historical examination. Of the two hundred men in attendance, only thirteen are known today. These facts betray some of the serious flaws inherent in the Congregational position, one that has contributed to its decline over the years. The Cambridge Platform asserted the desirability of synodical meetings, for the express purpose of dealing with commonly experienced problems, the same way as the early church did in the book of Acts, chapter 15. In fact, Acts chapter 15 is the very basis for the Presbyterian position. The Congregationalists, in denying authority outside of the local church, have often floundered on this very point. The Cambridge Platform most definitely asserts a Presbyterian form of church government, although one not like the Presbyterians. Congregationalists however, were always in agreement with them on such matters as baptism, soteriology and worship.

The Savoy Conference produced a Confession that was little different from the Westminster Confession, but in fact, drew heavily upon it. The amount of agreement between the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians made this a forgone conclusion. It was mainly the issue of church government that divided them. Aside from this, there was one other contention between the two parties. This matter concerned the question of church membership of children. The Westminster Confession views baptized children as elect until proven otherwise, therefore, they are communicant members. Congregationalists on the other hand, believe in the necessity of a demonstrable confession of faith, before admittance to the table. Until a covenant child can express their faith in word and deed, it is impossible for anyone to know of their election. Therefore, admittance into communion membership is reserved for those who do make a credible profession of faith. This is close to the Baptist position, although from a Paedo Baptist perspective.[62]

The Savoy Declaration completed the long held quest for formal identity within Puritanism for the Congregationalists. The completion of all three of the Puritan confessional standards, still fell far short of obtaining the goal of religious freedom in England. Quite the opposite of this occurred in 1660. After all England suffered in ridding itself of wicked Charles and Laud, along with their oppressive rule, England once again became a Monarchy. Oliver Cromwell died in 1659 and his son Richard, failed to obtain the support needed for him to continue in his place. Parliament voted to reinstate the Monarchy, with the son of Charles I, Charles II as King.[63] As it should have been anticipated, he imposed a new act of uniformity upon England in 1662.[64] The result of this was the ejection of two thousand ministers from their churches. Many of these men, along with countless others, went to New England to escape tyranny, and fulfill their calling by Christ in freedom. Congregationalism suffered, as did all England from this. In spite of these turn of events however, many Congregational churches remained though they did so illegally.[65]

VI. The End of Tyranny

The years following the Great Ejection were turbulent for all the nonconformists of England. The second son of Charles I, James II, succeeded his brother when he died in 1685.[66] James not only continued the persecution of nonconformists that his brother started, but increased it. He was suspected of being a Roman Catholic by the Puritans. Protestants in Parliament feared England would once again come under Roman domination. So they made a request of his Protestant son-in-law, the Dutch Prince William of Orange, and his wife Mary for their help in defending England from this possibility.[67] William and Mary launched an invasion force against King James II in 1688, causing him to leave England. They then assumed control of the throne of England as King and Queen. This became known as the Glorious Revolution. The Act of Toleration was passed In 1689, establishing religious freedom in England, and putting an end once and for all to persecution against all dissenters of state church religion.

This began a glorious new era for Protestantism in England as well, and particularly for Puritan Protestantism. Nonconformists of every type had finally obtained the religious freedom of they had struggled for, since the days of Henry VIII. Under the Act of Toleration men were now free to express their particular convictions regarding doctrine and practice, according to conscience, rather than by coercion. The Act of Toleration had made this a permanent fixture in English society. Anglican Episcopalianism still remained the state church in England though, with the King its official head. So in that sense, the Puritan movement had failed in its original goal to establish a state church like that of Scotland and the Continent. And of course, all English subjects were required to subsidize the established church through their taxes as well. Under Toleration, everyone born a subject of the crown was automatically considered a member of the state church. However, a subscription to the state church was to be purely optional. Everyone was free to associate with the church of their choice.

Nonconformist churches after 1689, especially of the Congregational type, flourished in England in spite of having no state support. Anglicanism on the other hand, remained a magnate for worldly men seeking clerical employment. It also became a staging ground for numerous aberrant movements in the years that followed, with few exceptions.[68] Nonconforming churches of all types were the new depositories of biblical Christianity, advancing its scope and influence through the preaching of the gospel. But freedom is defined by its boundaries. So along with this freedom, there was the beginning of many new and perilous challenges for Congregational church government. Congregational church government is by nature democratic in its operation. Democracy has often been the downfall of freedom in other contexts. With Ecclesiastical authority vested within the local Congregation, doctrinal integrity could either, be maintained, or, it could be lost. And so, what the Puritans feared might happen if every local church was allowed to determine its own destiny, apart from a governing synodical body, would eventually come to pass by the end of the seventeenth century.

During the years that so much civil strife engulfed the nation, a new secular attitude had arisen among many of the English nobles. This point of view became known as the Enlightenment.[69] It was so named for its arrogant emphasis on individual self determination, based on humanistic principles. This philosophy is anti Christian at its core, yet, it was originally couched in religious terminology. It seems that while Christians struggled and fought over control of the franchise in England, Satan sent his minions in to deter it on its way. By the end of the century, the philosophy of such men as John Locke, began to infiltrate the churches of both England and America.[70] The result was that by the end of the next century, much of the Puritan experiment fell into the grips of Enlightenment thought. The Congregational churches were especially susceptible to its pernicious influences, owing to the democratic nature of its government. The result was that Arianism, Universalism and Deism crept into many of the Congregational churches.

Many lessons can be drawn from the subsequent history of the Congregational movement. This will have to take place in another essay. Perhaps a more thorough examination of the principles of Congregationalism is in order too. But for now, it will suffice to close by saying that government and church order of any kind, is no absolute safeguard against spiritual decline. Only the power and grace of God are sufficient for this. It must always be remembered that the church is a divine institution. Certainly, it has its temporal necessities. Many things, as the Reformed Confessions point out, are to be done according to the dictates of nature, out of necessary consequence. But the church is the Lords institution, for He builds and maintains it. It is founded upon a good and proper confession of faith (Matt. 16:18a). The true members of the church are those for whom Christ died. He is its proper Head, and it is His spiritual body.[71] Therefore, the gates of Hell cannot and never will prevail against it (verse 18b).


[1] My wife and I attended a home school conference that year, in which we sat in on a module concerning Catechism in the home, given by Robert E. Davis, Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Millers Falls, Massachusetts. I asked for and received by mail a copy of the Cambridge Platform, The Reformed Tract Publication Committee, Darrell Todd Maurina, Editor (1993), from Pastor Davis.

[2] See my essay on Reformed Baptist Ideas of Authority.

[3] The Reformation began in Germany as a result of theological disputations between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic church, starting in 1517. This ended with a split in Europe between the followers of Luther and those who remained loyal to the Pope. Conflict between Lutherans and Catholics continued, until a settlement between the two parties was accepted in 1555, called the Treaty of Augsburg. A separate Protestant movement associated with John Calvin, let too further conflict in Europe beginning in 1568 and ending in 1648 with the Treaty of Westphalia. All the major powers in Europe were drawn into these conflicts.

[4] King Henry VIII (1491-1547) ruled England from 1509 until his death. Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome in 1534 over a dispute with the Pope. Henceforth, it became the Anglican, or, the established church of England, with King Henry VIII its Supreme Head. This immediately began a contest between those within the church who desired a full Reformation of it consistent with what was occurring on the continent, and those who wanted to remain Roman Catholics.

[5] Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, was Queen of England from 1509 to 1533. She was the first of King Henry VIII’s six wives. Henry became dissatisfied with her for her failure to bear him a male son to assume the throne.

[6] Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536. She was the second wife of King Henry VIII.

[7] Catherine of Aragon married Henry’s older brother Arthur in 1501 when he was just eleven years old. Born Arthur Tudor (1486-1502), he was the Prince of Wales and the heir to the English throne. Arthur died five months after they married. Catherine eventually married Arthur’s younger brother Henry in 1509, at the direction of the Pope.

[8] Catherine claimed her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated. Yet, Henry still cited the Scripture prohibition against fornication with the wife of a brother, as grounds for an annulment of the marriage. Henry made the case he was denied a male heir from the Lord, based on these words. “If a man takes his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing. He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness. They shall be childless.” (Lev. 20:21). This was a false interpretation of the text, as Catherine was free from Arthur through his death, at the time of her marriage to Henry. Also, she was able to bear him a daughter, proving she was not “childless.”

[9] The Canon of Scripture was established by the church in the fourth century. Numerous writings abounded at the time which were not inspired, and therefore, did not appear in the completed Canon. The Ecumenical councils of the fourth century met in order to condemn heresy and establish orthodoxy concerning various Christian doctrines. The first complete book of the Bible is believed to have been by order of the Emperor Constantine, who commissioned 50 copies be made.

[10] Jerome (347-420) was a Priest and theologian in the fourth century western church. He was commissioned by the first Pope Damasus I (305-384), to compile a new Latin version of Scripture to replace an older one (156). This became known as the Latin Vulgate, the official version of Scripture in the Roman Catholic church.

[11] There were many extant Greek manuscripts available throughout the Roman empire, by the end of the fourth century. There were several translations into other languages already in use by that time too. The oldest of these is a Syriac version dated to 150. Controversy surrounding the apostolic text of the New Testament abounded alongside the quest to establish a proper Canon. There were several manuscript traditions that competed for prominence in the church. Coupled with this was there were several locations vying for dominance in the church of the Roman Empire, at the same time. These were Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem. Each one was a center of influence in the early church. Each one tried to establish itself as the dominant influence throughout the church. This led to schism early on as well. The drama accorded with the divided Empire, between Rome and Constantinople. This ultimately led to what became a division in the church as well, between east and west. The Papacy arose in Rome with Damasus I. However, the center of power in the Empire by the fourth century had shifted to the east, in Byzantia (Bithinia), where several Ecumenical councils were held. The translation of the Bible into Latin was an attempt by Damasus to enforce his rule over the church. There were other controversies that existed as well, such as the observance of Easter. So the eastern church from the beginning resisted recognition of and submission to Papal authority. Control of the New Testament was part of this struggle for power in the church. The Greek speaking eastern church naturally maintained the original Greek text of the New Testament. Lucian of Syria (250-312), a biblical scholar, is credited with writing the extant Byzantine manuscript of the fourth century. He was also a Hebrew scholar as well, and corrected the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament with the current extant Hebrew manuscript available at the time. His unique access to the original Hebrew had to do with the close relationship that existed between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Syrian church, as part of what became Eastern Orthodoxy (Acts 2:9; I Pet. 1:1, 5:13). Jerome relied on several text families in the composition of his Vulgate. He also used the Greek Septuagint for the Old Testament. The controversies which remains to this day are due to many discrepancies between some of the extant texts Jerome used, and the Greek text which Lucian used for their Bibles. That the true, original copy of the Greek text resided within the eastern church, is proved by a statement made by Tertullian (155-240) in which he says “the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally.” (ANF Vol. 3, Chapter 36. p552, Schaff). He goes on to list some of those very churches where the original apostolic letters were located (Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonika, Ephesus). These are called apostolic churches because they were planted by the apostles, which the church at Rome was not. It may have been planted by Jewish converts visiting Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Paul sent his letter to them later, after the fact, which means it too, was considered apostolic in that sense. In fact, Tertullian ascribes double honor to it at the time of his writing.

[12] The printing press was invented in the 1440’s, by a German metal smith named Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468). Called the Gutenberg Press, it was able to reproduce excellent type set copies of writings much quicker than previously possible by hand. It played a key role in fueling the Renaissance of ancient culture and learning, by printing the multitude of Greek literature that flowed west, due to the Muslim invasion of Asia Minor. This was due to forced migration of Christians to the west. These two circumstances of the fifteenth century, are responsible for both the Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment movement which focused on the advancement of scientific discovery.

[13] The first New Testament Greek manuscript intended for print was for the Complutention Polyglot, finished in 1514. It was compiled by Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros (1436–1517) of Spain. As the word Polyglot implies, it is a text consisting of side by side portions from different languages. However, it did not have an accompanying Hebrew Old Testament until 1522, after his death. Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), a scholar from the city of Rotterdam, had been working on a Greek New Testament in the same time frame as Cardinal de Cisneros. He attached this to the Latin Vulgate, and was able to have it printed in 1516, by sanction of the Pope, Leo X (1475-1521).

[14] William Tyndale (1494-1536) was a scholar, most noted for his work in promoting reformation in England. Tyndale would best be classified as a Lutheran minded Protestant, as were most of the earliest Protestants of early sixteenth century England. Among his other works, William Tyndale was responsible for producing an English version of the Bible. Having obtained a copy of Erasmus’ Bible, he set out to make an English translation. For this reason, he is often credited with being the father of the English Reformation. However, Tyndale was not the first to produce an English Bible. John Wycliffe (1320-1384), a professor at Oxford, began a translation of the Bible from Latin into English in 1382. It was completed by others in 1395. The English used for it was an older type called middle English. Tyndale made a new translation from the original Greek and Hebrew languages for his Bible. The first complete edition of Tyndale’s Bible was finished in 1526. One unique thing about the Tyndale Bible, was he coined many new words and phrases for it that became part of early modern English. Many of these are still in use today.

[15] Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Monk and a philosopher who are considered one of the greatest Doctors of the Roman Catholic church. His works are compiled in a multi volume set of books entitled the Summa Theologica.

[16] “The task which Aquinas set himself to achieve was similar to that of Augustine. Augustine had sought to reconcile the principles of Christianity with the philosophy of Plato, without the pantheistic implications which had developed in the emanation theory of Plotinus. Aquinas sought to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with the principles of Christianity, avoiding the pantheism which it seemed to imply (cf. Pt. I, Q. 3, Art. 8). Many of Aristotle’s works had been introduced to the West during the eleventh and twelfth centuries from Arabian sources, particularly through Avicenna and Averroes, whose extensive commentaries interpreted the thought of Aristotle in a strongly pantheistic vein. Averroes had also maintained that the common basis of a universal natural religion, underlying the differences of any particular religion, was the highest of all, the “scientific” religion, of which Aristotle was the founder. The several “positive” religions he regarded as necessary for the masses, poorer versions of the same truth, whose trappings were better removed. Revelation, like anything else peculiar to any one religion, was merely a poorer way of stating what Aristotle had stated in a much better way as the content of the moral law. The whole presentation apparently led to such extravagances that for a time the writings of Aristotle were proscribed. But such a thinker was too valuable to be cast aside, and it was mainly due to the efforts of the Dominicans, Albertus Magnus and his pupil Aquinas, that Aristotle’s philosophy came to be accepted by the Church as representing the highest to which unaided human reason could attain. Plato seems to be more in keeping with the Christian belief, since he regards the material universe as created, and the spiritual as above the natural. But the mystical elements of his thought encroached on the province of revelation, and had indeed been the source of heresies. The very limitations of Aristotle, on the other hand, served to emphasize that the truths of revelation were unknown to the Greeks because they were not discoverable by natural reason, but above reason.” (Nature and Grace: Selections from the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, General Introduction, p17).

[17] Protestantism is primarily a reassertion of New Testament Christianity, the teaching that salvation is by faith rather than works. Romanism, on the other hand, teaches that salvation depends ultimately upon us, upon what we do, that one can “earn” salvation by obedience to the laws of the church, indeed that the saints can even store up excess merits in heaven beyond the requirements of duty, through such things as regular attendance at church, masses, rosary prayers, fastings, the wearing of medals, crucifixes, scapulars, etc. This excess merit Rome calls “works of supererogation.” Mary and the saints are said to have stored up vast treasures of merit, from which the pope can draw and dispense to the faithful as they perform the works assigned by the priests. (Roman Catholicism, Lorraine Boettner, Chapter XII, Penance, Indulgences: Salvation by Grace or by Works?, 2 Penance as a System of Works, p220).

[18] By the fourth century, the church was inundated with heretical teachings. Then God in His providence brought about the conversion of the Emperor Constantine to the Christian faith. He set out at once to deal with this problem by calling for a church council in the Byzantine city of Nicea, in order to dispose of these heretical teachings. From this we have a series of what are commonly called the Ecumenical councils. From the first four we have the creeds which establish Christian orthodoxy concerning the nature of God as a Trinity; the distinction of the three Persons of the Trinity as each sharing the essence of the one Being of God; the Person of Jesus Christ; His two natures unmixed in the one Person of the Son of God and His death and resurrection for the salvation of men. Other things, such as the canon of Scripture and the condemnation of Pelagianism were dealt with as well. It seems that the primary problem came from the influence of Gnosticism. Gnosticism is a religious philosophy of eastern origin that was synthesized with the Hellenistic religion. The fact that it was so syncretistic in nature is what made it so dangerous to the Christian faith. Gnosticism had been previous to the advent of Christianity, been synthesized within certain areas of Judaism. Once the Christian faith became the dominant faith system of the Roman empire, it sought to morph into it accordingly. It did this by taking the various doctrines of the Christian faith, and redefining them to conform to the Gnostic errors. See Iraneaus’ work entitled “Against Heresies” for further reading.

[19] King Henry VIII made this claim concerning the separation of the English church from Rome. Similar claims have been made since then. In the nineteenth century, Anglican priest John Henry Newman (1801-1890) became the leader of a movement at Oxford University. Newman was “High Church” or Anglo-Catholic in his convictions. He first set out to prove the continuity of High Church Anglicanism with early medieval Christianity, which eventually led him down the path toward Rome. John Newman converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845. He was appointed a Roman Catholic Cardinal in 1878, despite not having been previously a priest in the Roman church.

[20] A synod is a church council. It usually meets in order to decide important issues which concern the church, such matters as doctrine, administrative policy and discipline. The word also refers to the governing body of a denomination. There are two types of synodical government. They are called Episcopalian (Bishop-Gr. Episcopos) or Presbyterian (Elder-Gr. Presbuteros) in nature. The Bible uses both words interchangeably, which probably accounts for the historic difference of opinion that exists regarding what form of church government the apostles laid out. This might explain the fact that both views point to the same texts for authority (Acts 20:17,18,28-30; Tit. 1:5-7; I Tim. 3:1,2; I Pet. 5:1-4). Additionally, the words shepherd (Pastor-Gr. Poimen) and overseer (Bishop-Gr. Episkopos) are used interchangeably as well, to denote the same office (I Pet. 2:25). The problem may be resolved by viewing the New Testament church government revealed in Scripture as an unfinished model, or, a work in progress. Certainly, all of the principles necessary regarding the construction of the New Testament church are there for our study. The book of Acts concludes after Paul arrives at Rome somewhere around 68 AD. All the books of the New Testament were written by then, except for the Revelation. The church continued to develop and mature throughout the rest of the century. Keep in mind the apostolic age did not end until John’s death at the end of the first century.

[21] This is the view that the New Testament church has complete autonomy in the local church, the community of believers in a certain location. Each congregation not only calls its own ministers, but is free to choose its own doctrine and practice of the Christian faith, without regard necessarily to any other group of churches. The claim of such congregations is they are biblical and independent, rather than confessional and denominational. Typically, these kinds of churches view each individual as vested with authority, based on the idea of liberty of conscience in matters of faith.

[22] This is the view that the New Testament church has complete authority within the local congregation to choose its ministers and to enforce its discipline. However, it views itself as having fellowship with other like minded churches. Typically, these are churches that are confessional in nature, and are associational in structure. This makes them somewhat denominational in the loose sense of the word. They view authority as vested in the gathered church, rather than in the individual.

[23] Thomas Erastus (1524-1583) was a Swiss theologian. He believed the state was responsible for enforcing the moral precepts of the Christian faith instead of the church. Erastus wrote a book outlining his view entitled Explicatio gravissimae quaestionis (Eng.- An Examination of Serious Questions). In it in he argued that civil authority was not greater than church authority, but should be used in the enforcement of it. This way violators are punished but no one is withheld from the sacraments by way of excommunication.

[24] Baptism is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or New-Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of the forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ. (The 39 Articles of Religion, Article 36, Of Baptism). Reference to regeneration as a sign of baptism in this article may be construed as something other than presumptive regeneration. However, Anglicans for the most part have traditionally interpreted it otherwise.

[25] King Edward VI (1537-1553) was crowned at the beginning of 1547 at the age of nine. He was the son of Jane Seymour. King Edward was raised as a Protestant, and was responsible for the first real reforms in the Anglican church, such as the removal of the Mass and the introduction of English into the service.

[26] Queen Mary I (1516-1558) was the daughter of Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. Like her father, Edward’s sister Mary was a Catholic. Before his death in 1553, Edward tried to exclude her from the throne by naming his Protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor. However, a dispute followed this among his advisors who concluded it would exclude his next sister Elizabeth, who was a Protestant, from succeeding Lady Jane Grey. So Mary emerged as the Queen. Mary did exactly what was feared, and set out to rid the Anglican church of its Protestant reforms. She did this by repealing Henry’s religious laws, and returning the English church to the jurisdiction of the Pope. Mary also proceeded to rid the church of its Protestant ministers through their imprisonment and subsequent deaths. She enacted a series of heresy acts, which led to the public execution by burning at the stake of 283 Protestants. This vile conduct received the condemnation of her people and the name “Bloody Mary.”

[27] Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) succeeded her sister, Queen Mary I to the throne of England. She was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. Queen Elizabeth immediately restored the English church to the status of Protestant, reversing what her sister Mary had enacted by reuniting it with Rome. This action angered the Pope, who determined to have her overthrown. The Pope declared Elizabeth illegitimate, and encouraged her subjects that were sympathetic to Rome to revolt. The Pope in 1588, instigated the King of Spain to send an invasion force of 130 ships, in order to overthrow Elizabeth and return England to his control. This attempt failed however, as they docked in Calais awaiting the right time to sail. The English sent a fireship loaded with explosives to the Armada, causing a breakup of their formation. As they retreated, God in His providence blew the Armada out to sea. The Puritan’s considered this nothing less than God’s intervention and favor upon them, in their cause for Christ.

[28] There is little known about Richard Fitz other than he was the Pastor of a secret Christian society which met in London. It is believed the date of its formation was in 1567 (The English Puritan’s Beginnings, by Mark S. Ritchie)

See The History of English Congregationalism, by R.W. Dale, Quinta Press 2008 (first published in 1907), Chapter 3, The Formation of the First Congregational Church in England p89. Also, The Principles of the Congregational Churches, by A.D. Martin, Quinta Press, 2009 (first published in 1927), Chapter 2, The Explorers p12,

[29] Many leading Puritans adopted the Independent Congregational church model. Five of the more well known Independents were 1) Thomas Goodwin (1600-1680), a theologian and preacher who later served as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, and became President of Magdalen College in 1650. 2) Philip Nye (1595-1672), a theologian who was a member of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Nye later served as an adviser to Oliver Cromwell, who was a Congregationalist himself, on matters of church government. 3) William Bridge (1600-1670), who was a prominent minister and writer. 4) Jeremiah Burroughs (1600-1646), who was a prominent minister and writer. 5) Sidrach Simpson (1600-1655), who was a prominent minister, and one of the Independent church leaders at the Westminster Assembly.

[30] King James (1566-1625) was first James VI of Scotland in 1567, then James I of England and Ireland in 1603 from the union of the two crowns. King James I was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and a great, great grandson of Henry VII. Queen Elizabeth was his aunt, and named him King of England prior to her death, as she was never married, nor had any children of her own.

[31] The Union of England and Scotland Act. This was the formal political union between the two kingdoms, enacted by Parliament in 1603.

[32] John Robinson (1576-1625), William Brewster (1568-1644), and William Bradford (1590-1657), fled to Holland to escape persecution. Robinson was recognized as the Pastor of the congregation. Brewster and Bradford were lay preachers. Later on they sailed to the New World on the Mayflower. The Separatists considered themselves as “pilgrims and strangers on earth.” While in Holland, Robinson became an active participant in the Arminian controversy. He had entered Leiden University as a student of theology, and attended lectures by the noted Remonstrant to Calvinist orthodoxy Simon Episcopius (1583-1643). John Robinson publicly debated Episcopius in defense of Calvinism. He wrote among other things in his collected works, a treatise entitled “A Defence of the Doctrine propounded by the Synod of Dort” (1624). Robinson was to set sail on the second ship to the New World, the Speedwell. However, before it could set sail, he died in Holland.

[33] Tobias Matthew (1546-1628) was the Archbishop of York. He became Archbishop in 1606 and remained so until his death in 1628. While Queen Elizabeth was somewhat tolerant in her enforcement of the Acts of Uniformity, James I was not. He could not tolerate anyone who would not submit to the authority of the Bishop, for in his eyes it was rebellion against him. James sought to drive the nonconformists out of England. The Archbishop of York was zealous in carrying out the Kings wishes.

[34] While in Holland William Brewster taught English for a living as well as engaging in the printing and distribution of books with his partner Thomas Brewer. The books were sent back to England for sale. This is how the King was alerted to them. William Brewster and Edward Winslow (1595-1655) published the religious tract that provoked the King to order the arrest. Brewster went into hiding but his printing press was found and seized by the English agents.

[35] Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was a philosopher, statesman, scientist, jurist, orator, and author. He became both the Attorney General and the Lord Chancellor of England under James I. Bacon played an important role in the establishment of several colonies in North America, such as Virginia, the Carolinas and Newfoundland. As such, Francis Bacon is considered by many the founder of what became the American Republic. Bacon wrote a novel about a utopian society settled by Christians that became a beacon of light to the world. However, it was left incomplete and unpublished until after his death in 1627.

[36] The Mayflower Compact was the first governing document of the Plymouth Colony. It was written and signed by 41 of the 101 people on board the ship. It was a social agreement establishing a form of government among the people. Only the males signed the document. Furthermore, the Separatists only accounted for one third of the passengers. The rest were adventurers and tradesmen.

[37] “In one of the first Summers after their sitting down at Plymouth, a terrible drought threatened the ruin of all their summer’s husbandry. From about the middle of May to the middle of July, an extream hot sun beat upon their fields, without any rain, so that all their corn began to wither and languish, and some of it was irrecoverably parched up. In this distress they set apart a day for fasting and prayer, to deprecate tbe calamity that might bring them to fasting through famine; in the morning of which day there was no sign of any rain; but before the evening the sky was overcast with clouds, which went not away without such easie, gentle, and yet plentiful showers, as revived a great part of their decayed corn, for a comfortable harvest. The Indians themselves took notice of this answer given from heaven to tbe supplications of this devout people; and one of them said, “Now I see that the Englishman’s God is a good God; for he hath heard you, and sent you rain, and that without such tempest and thunder as we use to have with our rain; which after our Powawing for it, breaks down the corn; whereas your corn stands whole and good still; surely, your God is a good God.” The harvest which God thus gave to this pious people, caused them to set apart another day for solemn Thanksgiving to the glorious Hearer of Prayers!” (An eyewitness account of the first thanksgiving published by Cotton Mather in his book of American history entitled “Magnalia Christie Americana.” The Great works of Christ in America, Vol 1, Chapter 3, Page 57, 1702).

[38] In early colonial times, townships were established around churches. This gave opportunity to dissenting Christians to form their own township, as people spread out into the frontier. In time, whole states adopted particular denominational identities. Congregationalism ruled New England, except for Rhode Island which was Baptist. Dutch Calvinists settled New York. Pennsylvania was Quaker. Maryland was Roman Catholic. And Virginia and the Carolina’s were Anglican.

[39] “It was afterwards by them confessed, that upon arrival of the English in these parts, the Indians employed their sorcerers, whom they call powaws, like Balaam, to curse them, and let loose their demons upon them, to shipwreck them, to distract them, to poison them, or in any way to ruin them. All the noted powaws in the country spent three days together in diabolical conjurations, to obtain the assistance of the devils against the settlement of these our English; but the devils at length acknowledged unto them, that they could not hinder those people from their becoming the owners and masters of the country; whereupon the Indians resolved upon a good correspondence with our new-comers; and God convinced them that there was no enchantment or divination against such a people.” (“Magnalia Christie Americana.” The Great works of Christ in America, Vol 1, Chapter 2, Page 55, 1702).

[40] Although early American Congregationalists sought to establish a theocracy, they also placed a certain separation between civil and church government. The non involvement of civil authority in church affairs, established a model for American society of a future era. In America Presbyters selected by a congregation and sent to a Presbytery, are often viewed by church members as representative of congregational authority. This is true for Congregational Presbyters on a smaller scale, within the context of the local church. Representative democracy in the American Republic may very well be rooted in the authority structure found in the Presbyterian ideal. The first Presbyterian church denomination of the American Republic was formed in 1788. It adopted the Westminster standards, as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures. Chapters 20.4, 23.3, and 31.2 of the Confession were removed, separating the civil magistrate from involvement in ecclesiastical matters.

[41] In order to understand the Puritans of early America, it is necessary to understand the Puritan concept of the covenant. English Puritans viewed God’s covenant as both spiritual and civil in nature. As a member of the community, one was in a relationship with God. This is a distinct Postmillennial view of God’s kingdom which many Puritans held to. In this view society is theocratic in nature, revolving around the church. It is believed that God builds His kingdom through the establishment of Christianity as an institution here on earth. This has often been referred to as the Puritan hope.

[42] The first Republican form of government began in 1649 as a Parliamentary Act, declaring England to be a Commonwealth. Rule was exercised primarily by Parliament. After the dissolution of Parliament in 1653, an Army Council adopted the second form of Republican government known as the Protectorate. Oliver Cromwell, a Congregationalist military Commander was named Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

[43] The school was renamed Harvard College after John Harvard (1607–1638), a minister of Charlestown, Massachusetts, who willed a large portion of his estate to it, which included his entire library of 400 books.

[44] Increase Mather (1639-1723) was an important figure in the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was the son of a nonconformist who left England for the New World. Increase Mather was educated at Harvard College, receiving a B.A. in 1656. He then attended Trinity College in Ireland, receiving an M.A. in 1658. Mather returned to New England and became a prominent minister and political figure there. He was the President of Harvard from 1685-1702. Cotton Mather (1663-1728) was the son of Increase Mather. He received a B.A. from Harvard College in 1678, and an M.A. in 1681. Cotton Mather also was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow in 1710. He too, like his father, was a prominent minister and political figure in New England. Both had some involvement in the infamous Salem Witch trials.

[45] William Laud (1573-1645) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 until his death by execution in 1645. Laud was an autocratic defender of the King and of the Acts of Uniformity. He was also an opponent of Calvinism, favoring Roman Catholic doctrines. The Puritans considered him a menace to biblical Christianity and the Protestant Reformation.

[46] John Knox (1513-1572) was a minister, theologian, and writer who were one of the main leaders of the Protestant Reformation. He is considered the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, which officially commenced in 1560 when the Scottish Parliament met with a number of ministers to draw up a new confession of faith.

[47] The Solemn League and Covenant were an agreement between the Scottish Presbyterians and the English Parliamentarians. It was prepared in 1643 during the First civil war. It formed an alliance between the two parties, to reform the English church according to the Calvinistic, Presbyterian model of church doctrine and government.

[48] We refer primarily to Baptists and others who frequently cite Romans 13, verses 1-7 in support of this notion. The argument of Paul is made abundantly clear in this passage that Christians are to respect the governing authorities, and to recognize them as God’s duly ordained representative on earth in civil affairs. However, it is frequently overlooked that in this very passage, a definition is given of the limits and duties of this sphere of delegated authority. Christians are always obligated at all times to refuse unbiblical and unlawful requirements layed upon them by the government. This is especially true when it comes to the exercise of religion. A government does not forfeit its right to govern as a result of violating its God given duties and limitations. But it does forfeit its moral authority in doing so. When any government loses the respect of the people it attempts to rule over, chaos and disorder will ensue. When Christians are put, against their will into such a situation as this, it may become necessary to fight in self defense against tyranny. This is exactly what took place in the American revolution. For further reading on this see a booklet entitled “We Must Obey God” that deals with civil disobedience in light of Romans chapter thirteen. It follows upon a larger unpublished thesis, both of them written by Dr. Sam Waldron, a Reformed Baptist minister and Professor. The title of Waldron’s thesis is “Political Revolution In The Reformed Tradition-An Historical And Biblical Critique.” It was written as a polemic against certain theories on revolution held among Theonomists. Remarkably, Waldron and others within his camp take the position that the American revolution was a violation of God’s law. However, once it had succeeded in overthrowing the British monarch, the new government of the Republic became the legitimate civil authority.

[49] John Selden (1584-1654) was a legal scholar of the ancient law and constitution of England. He was also a scholar of Jewish law. Selden was a member of Parliament, and attended the Westminster assembly as a non voting observer. He supported the Erastian position of the two Episcopalian divines present at the assembly, John Lightfoot (1602-1675) and Thomas Coleman (1598–1647).

[50] George Gillespie (1613-1648) was one of three representatives sent by the Scottish Parliament to argue for conformity to Presbyterian government, per agreement of the Solemn League and Covenant. The other two was Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) and Alexander Henderson (1583-1646). Rutherford had written a revolutionary book in 1644 on civil government, entitled “Lex Rex” or the “Law and the Prince.” In it he made the case for limited constitutional government. It reflects the view many adopted at the time regarding what is referred to as the social contract, or the consent of the governed. It shows the intersection between renaissance Theism and Humanism, represented respectively by the Reformation and the Enlightenment. It marked the beginning of the end of monarchical rule in Europe, and gave rise to the beginnings of the kind of secular government which would become characteristic of the American Republic.

[51] See note 29 above.

[52] The Westminster Standards consisted of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Form of Presbyterial Church Government. The Congregationalists accepted most of what was contained in the standards, excepting synodical authority outside of the local church.

[53] Samuel Rutherford and Some of His Correspondants, Lectures delivered in St. Georges Free Church Edinburgh: by Alexander Whyte D.D. 1894. Lecture XVIII George Gillespie, p99. (Fire and Ice Sermon Series)

[54] “But during nearly the whole of the year 1644 the principal subject of discussion was the future polity of the English Church. In the middle of January, Dr Stanton, on behalf of his committee, submitted a proposition affirming that by the institution of the Lord Jesus Christ the Church has ‘power to inquire and judge … who are to be excommunicated or absolved from that censure’.35 This opened the whole controversy between the Presbyterians and the Independents. What is the Church to which Christ has given this august power? Has he given it to every company of his disciples, meeting in his name for worship, communion, and discipline? Can every such company rely upon the presence of the great Head of the Church to guide its decisions and to invest them with his own authority? Or does the power belong to the elders of confederated congregations, meeting in Presbyteries, Provincial Synods, and National Assemblies? And must every minister and every congregation submit to this hierarchy of ecclesiastical authorities? Between ‘the Five Dissenting Brethren’ and the rest of the Assembly there was perfect agreement in relation to the doctrines of the Christian faith. There were no serious differences between them in relation to the offices that Christ has instituted in the Church; or in relation to the conduct of public worship and the administration of the Sacraments. But the Independents believed that every company of Christian men and women, regularly organised for mutual fellowship and the maintenance of the institutions of worship, is a Church, and stands in immediate relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ; is responsible to him alone; and is under the most solemn obligation to allow no authority—Pope or bishop, council, assembly, or synod—to come between Christ and itself. As every Christian man is directly responsible to Christ for his own faith and conduct, and cannot recognise in any Church or any ecclesiastical officers the power to determine either his creed or his practice, so, according to the Independents, every company of Christian men is directly responsible to him for its common life, for its methods of worship, for its doctrinal belief, for its acceptance or rejection of those who desire to enter its fellowship, for the manner in which it deals with the sins of those who are in its fellowship already. It is a Church, with all the powers and duties of a Church. It may rely on the great words of Christ, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’. From the decisions of an assembly in which Christ is present there can be no appeal.” (The History of English Congregationalism, by R.W. Dale, Quinta Press 2008 (first published in 1907), Book 3, English Congregationalism from the Death of Elizabeth to the Restoration, 1603-1660, Congregationailsts in the Westminster Assembly, VI, p276)

[55] William Prynne (1600-1669) was a Presbyterian lawyer, author, polemicist, and a political figure. Prynne wrote a pamphlet condemning the theater, claiming it was a sinful undertaking. Sometime thereafter, the Queen took part in a play. Certain things said in this pamphlet were produced as an offense to her and the King. So Prynne was arrested, and sent to prison. In addition, a part of both his ears was cut off. He considered Laud his chief persecutor and wrote a letter accusing him of injustice. For this, Prynne suffered the removal of more of his ears and his face were branded with the letters S L for seditious libeler. Later, when the tables had turned, Prynne was released by Parliament and placed directly in charge over William Laud’s trial and subsequent execution.

[56] Because you have thrown off your Prelate Lord,

And with stiff vows renounced his liturgy

To seize the widowed whore Plurality

From them whose sin ye envied, not abhorred,

Dare ye for this adjure the civil sword

To force our consciences that Christ set free,

And ride us with a classic hierarchy

Taught ye by mere A. S. and Rutherford?

Men whose life, learning, faith and pure intent

Would have been held in high esteem with Paul

Must now be named and printed heretics

By shallow Edwards and Scotch what d’ye call:

But we do hope to find out all your tricks,

Your plots and packing worse than those of Trent,

That so the Parliament

May with their wholesome and preventive shears

Clip your phylacteries, though balk your ears,

And succor our just fears

When they shall read this clearly in your charge:

New presbyter is but old priest writ large.

(On the New Forcers of Conscience Under the Long Parliament, John Milton, 1646).

[57] On 14 October, in a small House, and in the absence of many of the Presbyterian members, Cromwell secured a vote for a limited Toleration. The King was to be asked to consent that the Presbyterian settlement should not be disturbed till the end of the next Parliament; separate worship was to be allowed for Nonconformists of tender consciences; but there was to be no toleration of Roman Catholics, nor of the use of the Book of Common Prayer, nor of any preaching contrary to the main principles of the Christian religion; and every one was to be present on the Lord’s Day at some kind of Christian worship.6

6 CJ (14 October 1647), v. 333. For the Act presented to the King for signature, Parliamentary History, xvi. 417-419. (The History of English Congregationalism, p312)

[58] John Owen (1616-1683) was a Puritan minister, theologian, and Chancellor of Oxford University. Next to John Calvin, Owen is perhaps the greatest theologian of the Reformation. His works appear today in twenty-four volumes. Owen’s classic treatise on Congregational church government is found in volume sixteen of his printed works. In addition, Owen was part of the Savoy Conference which produced the Congregational confession of faith known as the Savoy Declaration. The New England document on church order known as the Cambridge Platform draws heavily on Owen’s treatise.

[59] Benjamin Keach (1640-1704) was a Baptist preacher. He was a signer of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), and wrote the attached catechism which bears his name. Keach authored the Baptist church order entitled “The Glory of a True Church and it’s Discipline Displayed” in 1697. It makes frequent references to John Owens position on church government, showing their shared history on the subject. The Second London Confession was actually a revision of the Savoy Declaration.

[60] The full title of the Savoy Declaration is “A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practiced in the Congregational Churches in England.” Several notable men who sat on the committee were Thomas Goodwin, John Owen, Philip Nye, William Bridge, Joseph Caryl and William Greenhill. In all, there were 200 people in attendance, representing Congregational churches throughout England. The Savoy Declaration is a restatement with modifications of the Westminster Confession. The Savoy Declaration altered chapters 25 and 26, deleted chapters 30 and 31, inserted a new chapter 20, “Of the Gospel, and of the Extent of the Grace thereof,” and added a platform of Congregational polity in the preface titled “Of the Institution of Churches, and the Order Appointed in them by Jesus Christ.” See Savoy Declaration

[61] The Cambridge Platform was adopted in 1648 as the formal agreement of church association among the Congregationalists of Massachusetts and Connecticut. While asserting Congregational rule in local churches, it separates the power of the magistrate from the church. However, it does reflect to the theocratic nature of the colony at the time, by ascribing power to the civil authorities in certain matters of public behavior.

8. Idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, venting corrupt and pernicious opinions, that destroy the foundation, open contempt of the Word preached, profanation of the Lord’s Day, disturbing the peaceable administration and exercise of the worship and holy things of God, and the like, are to be restrained and punished by civil authority.

9. If any church, one or more, shall grow schismatical, rending itself from the communion of other churches, or shall walk incorrigibly and obstinately in any corrupt way of their own, contrary to the rule of the Word; in such case, the magistrate is to put forth his coercive power, as the matter shall require. The tribes on this side Jordan intended to make war against the other tribes for building the altar of witness, whom they suspected to have turned away therein from following of the Lord. (Chapter XVII. Of The Civil Magistrate’s Power In Matters Ecclesiastical).

[62] A major point of contention between Presbyterians and Congregationalists was that of church membership and communion. Both being Paedo Baptist, they maintained that baptized children are covenant members of the visible church. However, Presbyterians typically place more stress on outward covenant fidelity regarding fitness for communion than the Congregationalists. This point of view has sometimes evolved toward a position of presumptive regeneration, and infant communion. Congregationalists customarily withhold communion from baptized persons until they can make a credible profession of faith. Though differing with Baptists on the subjects of Baptism, the basis of admittance to communion being faith is where they tend to agree. For further study, see “A Tabular Comparison of the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith, the 1658 Savoy Declaration of Faith, the 1677/1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith and the 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith.” (Copyright © Don Lowe & James N. Anderson 2007). This can be found at

[63] Charles II (1630-1685) became king of England, Scotland, and Ireland in 1660 as a result of the restoration of the monarchy. He ruled until his death.

[64] An act of Parliament was passed called the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion. It was designed to provide a pardon to Charles enemies and protect Cromwell and his supporters from reprisal. But Charles ignored this and had 50 men executed. The Act of Uniformity in 1662 restored the rites and ordination of the Anglican church, imposing penalties on those who were not in compliance. This in turn, led to the ejection of two thousand ministers from their pulpits who refused to take the oath of ordination. Spiritual deadness came upon England as a result of this. There were other pieces of legislation enacted, in order to prevent these ministers from meeting privately. In spite of this, committed Christians not leaving the country were forced to meet secretly for preaching of the word and worship.

[65] One such church was the Axminster Parish. This congregation of committed Christians, kept a record of their circumstances and struggles, which remains to this day. The author of this record is unknown. It was first published in 1874. It was republished in 1976 under the name of “Axminster Ecclesia 1660-1698” (Gospel Tidings Publications, Edited by K.W. H. Howard). It is interesting to note that an Anglican church in the same location published a time line of its existence, dating back to the seventh century. They make no mention of those poor saints who lived and worshiped in that place. This is a perfect example of the type of religious arrogance that characterized much of seventeenth century England. However, the Lord has not forgotten them, but has written them in His book (Rev. 20:11-13).

[66] James II (1633-1701) was King of England and Ireland. He was also James VII of Scotland. He reigned from 1685 until he was deposed in1688 as a result of the Glorious Revolution.

[67] William III of Orange (1650-1702) and his wife Mary II of England (1662-1694) ruled jointly following the Glorious Revolution and the abdication of James.

[68] In the late seventeenth century church of England, a philosophy was shared by some called Latitudinarianism. Their belief was in following the outward practices of the church, but allowing complete freedom regarding doctrinal opinions. Since that time the church of England has been the launching ground of many aberrant movements. Methodism arose in the eighteenth century as a result of the dead formality of the church. Methodism split into two branches, one was Arminian under Charles Wesley, the other Calvinistic under George Whitefield. In the nineteenth century, the Plymouth Brethren Dispensational movement was spearheaded by an Anglican curate, John Nelson Darby. From the standpoint of the Puritans, Wesleyan Methodism and Dispensationalism are both heretical sects. Deism was an eighteenth heretical philosophy that had its roots in the Anglican church. Anglo-Catholicism began as a movement in the nineteenth century through an Anglican Bishop, John Newman. In the twentieth century, just about all of these have found expression in this communion. Everything from a Calvinistic Evangelicalism such as that associated with J.I. Packer, to a High Church Liberalism has existed.

[69] The Enlightenment was the birth child of the Humanist faction of the Renaissance. The Renaissance occurred as a result of the return of Greek literature to the west. With it came Greek philosophy which by design is humanistic and pagan. The Enlightenment gave birth to theistically neutered Liberalism, in that it focused on the study of nature, apart from God. Enlightenment Liberals from England predated those from Germany in the nineteenth century. It gave birth to higher criticism of the Bible, and the textual criticism that led to the abandonment of the received Greek text of the Reformation.

[70] John Locke (1632-1704) was a philosopher and physician. He was perhaps, one of the most influential men of the Enlightenment. Locke was the son of a Puritan, who was a Captain in the Parliamentary army. Locke imbibed in the humanistic philosophy of empiricism associated with Sir Francis Bacon he especially focused on the idea of the liberty of the mind in self determination. Locke was a believer in absolute Libertarian free will, to the exclusion of a Sovereign God who upholds and intervenes in His creation, providing atonement for sin through His Son Jesus Christ. His ideas were published in nine volumes. The beginning of the end to Puritanism in New England, commenced when his writings became standard fare in Harvard College around 1710. This resulted in the Congregational churches becoming Unitarian and Socinian.

[71] See I Cor. 6:19,20, 10:16,17, 11:27,29, 12:12-14,20,27; Eph. 1:22,23, 2:16, 4:4,16, 5:23,30; Col. 1:18,24, 2:19, 3:15.


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