Oliver Cromwell, leader
of the Puritan faction and
Lord Protector of England
after the abolition of the
There is a lot that I want to get to. I want to follow up on the French and Anti-Semitism theme with the connections between Anti-Semitism and Catholic “Traditionalist” movements as well as Political Monarchism and Catholic Traditionalism. Then I have a lot of material on the dissatisfaction of the Traditional wing-nuts with Pope Francis, and the whys and wherefores of their anger for the Pope, as well as how the Pope’s political agenda—Income Inequality, Climate Change, etc—are fueling the neo-traditionalist anger towards him. I still have two more posting’s on the Pope’s Christmas message to the Curia. And I have yet to finish my series on the Katholic Krazies. And in the midst of all this, Pope Francis and others keep making the news.
But let’s go back, at least for today, to my Church of England series. I bit off more than I could chew when I picked that topic, but we are too far into it to abandon it and while it elicits fewer hits than my occasional skewering of Cardinal Burke and other primping prelates, it has a committed and loyal leadership to keep letting me know how much they appreciate it.
So we left off with the English Civil War. Parliament abolished episcopacy (government by bishops) in 1646 and the monarchy in 1649. (James I was right: no bishop, no king.) With the abolition of bishops, the Church of England became Presbyterian in government, but would actually best be described as what we Americans know as “Congregationalist.” The Book of Common Prayer and its liturgical forms were discarded in favor of The Directory For Public Worship which was borrowed from the Scots Tradition established by John Knox almost a century before. The purpose was to purify any elements of “Romish” doctrine, practice, or superstition from Reformed worship. The “rule of thumb” was that for anything to be done in public worship, there must be an explicit warrant for it in the New Testament. This rule, while applied strictly, was also applied somewhat uncritically as historical primitive church practice was, in fact, little known in the 17th century and there was often a sort of sentimental projection backwards of a certain ideology/idealism onto a romanticized primitive Church. Archbishop Laud’s restoration of altars (usually wooden tables but covered with rich hangings) in the former chancels, along with cross and candles that had re-appeared in some places, were all done away with, while plain wooden communion tables re-appeared. Where copes or even surplices had been used, they too were suppressed and the ministers wore simply their black academic gown. There was no pronouncing of the absolution after a confession of sinfulness, no recitation of the doxology, no use of the Nicene or Apostles Creeds, no liturgical seasons (Advent, Lent, etc.) or feasts (including Christmas, Easter, Pentecost). There was no Confirmation service, no provision for Holy Communion for the sick, and no giving of a ring in marriage. The only hymns that could be sung were metric psalms, and some were opposed to even these. In fact, some ministers or congregations refused to use even the Lord’s Prayer, rejecting any set words for prayer. There was no burial service lest the appearance be given of prayers for the dead, but the minister could give a sermon on the occasion of a funeral admonishing the living to keep in mind their impending call to stand before the Throne of Judgment. and civic honors could be paid to the deceased according to the dead person’s station. Baptism was never to be administered privately but only on the occasion of Sunday Worship and even marriage were ideally to be part of the Sunday Service. Sunday Worship—indeed even daily worship where it was held—was to consist of scripture readings—an entire chapter of the Old Testament followed by an entire chapter of the New (and the books of the bible were to be read in sequence and not according to the abolished seasons and feasts)—followed by a long prayer by the pastor. This, in turn, was followed by the sermon which lasted an hour or more and was to be an exhortation for people to repent from their sinful ways. Finally there was to be a collection for the poor. Holy Communion was to be administered “frequently” but this usually was interpreted to mean quarterly—every three months. Holy Communion, when it was held, followed the sermon. The minister would then read Saint Paul’s account of the Eucharistic Tradition that he himself had received (I Corinthians 11:23-26). This was followed by a fairly long prayer asking, among other things, that through these gifts spiritually received the communicants might dwell in Christ and Christ might dwell in them. The bread and wine were then distributed to those congregants who had remained after the morning sermon and had been approved by the minister for Holy Communion. In some of the more rigidly administered churches communicants sat around the communion table set up in the front of the church; in others they received bread and wine passed to them in their pews. The Anglican posture of kneeling for Holy Communion was done away with in favor of an insistence that communicants remain seated.
Even in the more Protestant parts of the nation—London, Norwich, the south-east—the changes were not well taken by the majority of the people. Indeed England was somewhat unsettled both politically and religiously under Oliver Cromwell’s being “Lord Protector.” Conformity was enforced by military strength and where it could not be so enforced—rural areas, the north, and the west, the Prayer Book Liturgy—albeit without the Laudian accouterments—often surreptitiously survived. The Burial Office was particularly popular as the official rites had been so stripped down that many people felt totally unconsoled by them.
Despite the radical turn to the most severe Protestantism, it was not far enough for some. Even before the Civil War there was a faction among the English Puritans that began to hold the necessity of a faith-filled encounter with Christ that must precede baptism. This idea that the believer must first accept Christ and commit himself to Christian discipleship before one could be baptized obviously ruled out infant baptism—a practice of the Church from very early in its history. While there had been Anabaptist movements (Anabaptist from the Greek ἀναβαπτισμός, re-baptized or baptized over again) in Germany from the time of Thomas Müntzer (preached 1521-1525) Anabaptist doctrine had spread widely on the continent throughout the sixteenth century, its first appearance for the English was in the English émigré community in Amsterdam where one-time Anglican Priest, John Smyth, had broken with the Church of England because he was opposed to the idea of a State Church, that is the political control of the State over a Church. By 1609 Smyth had come to believe that one must acknowledge Christ as Lord and Savior before one could be baptized. Smyth re-baptized himself and then his followers. Smyth never returned to England and in fact sought to join the Mennonites, a religious community in Holland (and elsewhere in Europe) that also practiced believer’s baptism. After Smyth’s death, however, a portion of his flock returned to England. Other Anglicans, all of the Puritan faction, also came to hold believer’s baptism. John Spillsbury was a shoemaker who belonged a church that followed Smyth’s teaching that the Church must be independent of the State (they were known as Separatists) and he also held for infant baptism. In 1638, on the eve of the English Civil War, Spillsbury set up his own church which not only practiced believer’s baptism but insisted that baptism must be by full immersion, that is the baptized person must be brought totally under the water and not simply have it poured over him or be sprinkled with it.
Like others of the extreme Puritan wing, these Baptists (as they came to be known) rejected any of the liturgical practices of the Church of England which they saw as holdovers from the Church of England’s Catholic past. Worship was totally without form and spontaneous. Some even forbad the reading of the scripture during worship, claiming that since the scriptures were being read in translation they were “the work of men and not of God.” Hymns were forbidden, though psalms—including those in metrical form—could be sung. There were to be no organs in their meeting houses, nor candles (except, of course, for lighting), crosses or other ornaments. The ministers wore plain street clothing or, if they had matriculated at university, their gown. Baptism and Holy Communion were the only “ordinances” (the word “Sacrament” being too Catholic).
With the collapse of the Episcopacy in 1646, such chaos resulted in the Church of England that the Baptist congregations were not only, for the most part, unharmed but unnoticed. They looked like the Puritan (Congregationalist) congregations in every respect except for their mode of baptism. Consequently they were able to grow unmolested. They never became particularly big in England, though they did have considerable success in Wales. Meanwhile, their ideas spread to the North American colonies, and especially Puritan Massachusetts, where they did meet with persecution from the predominant Congregationalists in the colony. Massachusetts dissidents fled to Rhode Island where they shaped the colony in a slightly different way, arguing both for freedom of conscience and separation of Church and State. The Baptist movement in North America would only really take off in the Second Great Awakening, a religious revival movement in the early 19th century, but American Baptists have always been stalwarts on the separation of Church and State. Classically Baptists have also been in favor of freedom of religion but in the current culture war environment that is eroding in some quarters. More on the Baptists at some future time.