Protestant Church in England under Cromwell
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Course: Church History II
Government in England Collapsed 1640
Today I want to go on and talk about the Westminster Assembly, but before I do that, just to collect our thoughts together about some of the underlying issues that were at stake. I pointed out last time that the government in England collapsed during the year 1640. This is a very important date. It collapsed mainly because the king was unable to persuade enough people to give him enough money to put down the rebellion in Scotland. The Presbyterians in Scotland had risen in revolt. They had overturned the government and they were threatening an invasion of England. The King had tried to stop this and found that instead of being supported he was being undermined by a large Puritan party in England which was sympathetic to the Scots and when he called the parliament to try to deal with this, the parliament instead of helping him basically turned on him. And said if you hadn’t been such a stupid king for the last 10 years, none of this would ever have happened.
Now this is a very important thing to bear in mind because 1640 was a crisis in the underlying system of government. You will perhaps recall that when I talked about the reformation originally, that church and state ran internally independent of each other; both were responsible to the king. As far as the average person was concerned, the church was liable to interfere more readily in the ordinary person’s life than the state would most of the time. That is to say in dealing with things like births, marriages, deaths the rights of passage, these were church affairs. It was only when it came to things like property, weights and measures, business things that the state would look after that – warfare and so on. But in every day life for the average person this was a more distant thing.
Now, in the early 17th century, the rising middle classes who were very sympathetic to Puritanism really got control of the parliament and this was one of the reasons why the king suspended it in 1629. And this provoked the great exodus to New England and so on.
Common Law – Innocent till proven guilty
But underlying all this was a deeper issue and that was the question of the legal system under which people were governed, because the parliament and the secular side of English life had inherited from ancient times what we call today the common law. There is a lot of mythology surrounding the common law. It’s not as old as people think. It’s not as common as people think. In the 17th century it was widely believed that the common law was an ancient inheritance from time immemorial which was the precious possession of every individual and anybody who stepped on it was a traitor. Above all the defense of liberty meant upholding the principles of the common law. Now this was a very powerful myth and it was held by an awful lot of people over a very long time. You could probably say that it is still held today by a lot of people. It was one of the major influences at the beginning of the American Revolution if you study that period 1750 1760 early 1770’s. What were the colonists wanting? They were wanting what they thought were the rights of an Englishman; they wanted the traditional liberties and the rule of the common law which they thought was being fringed. So the myth carried on for a very long time. Now as this happens, if enough people believe the myth, you have to take it seriously. It becomes law in its own right. The basic principle of common law is that a man is innocent until proven guilty. This doctrine, the idea that a man is innocent until proven guilty, is really quite good at preventing injustice from being done because the advantage is with the defendant. You have to prove that he is guilty and that’s not an easy thing to do. But it’s not always a guarantee that justice will be done. It’s one thing to prevent injustice for the defendant, it’s unlikely that an innocent person is going to suffer but this does not by any means ensure that the guilty will be properly punished.
Roman law assumes guilt
The church courts, unlike the secular courts did not follow this principle. In the church courts they followed the principle of Roman law which is that a person accused before the courts is guilty and has to prove that he is innocent. The presumption is one of guilt, not one of innocence. Presumably you wouldn’t be there if unless you had done something or somebody had a pretty good idea that you had done something. It was up to you to prove you were innocent. This was a very tyrannical thing. Inevitably with a system like that there are going to be plenty of people who will be punished unjustly. If this is the system and you want to avoid mass murder, because you could accuse anybody of anything if you had to prove you are innocent, if there was no evidence on either side, how come not everybody was in jail? There are ways around this system. If you have a system whereby you have to prove your innocence, rather than they have to prove your guilt there are built in safe guards to ensure that at least something approximating to justice will be done.
One of the ways in which you handle a system like this was through something called compurgators. Now the way this works is this: You are accused of something like playing football on Sunday, it would be an ecclesiastical thing. You are hauled up before the court. You have got to prove that you are innocent. You go to the people in your village and you say; you’ve got to swear that I didn’t do this. The compurgators swear that you are innocent. It’s not necessarily lying, it could be true. I’m pointing out the abuse of the system because this is what annoyed the Puritans. This was very common you see. People would get around it in this sort of way. It was quite you scratch my back I’ll scratch your kind of thing. There were people who would pay for this. What made it worse was that there was a set system. You would have to have 6 compurgators to swear you were innocent; if you beat your wife, maybe 8, if you killed your wife, maybe 10. The number of people you needed to swear you were a nice guy would go up according to the gravity of the offense. But you can imagine in a village type atmosphere that finding these 10 people was not that difficult. In actual fact, very few people ever suffered. Only people who had no friends or who nobody liked would find themselves in this position because compurgation was quite an easy thing to do.
That was regarded as an abuse. It was meant to be something which would prove somebody’s innocence, but inevitably it came to be seen as an abuse. And very difficult in cases of marriage breakdown, because then both sides would produce compurgators. You can imagine adultery or something like that. Things could get very complicated. You even got cases where the same people would swear to the innocence of both sides. So that was one way around the system.
Another thing that was thought to be a way around, but didn’t work out quite the way it was intended was that you had to swear an oath, to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which in those circumstances, considering that you are already regarded as guilty could include self incrimination. You might tell the truth, but it could be interpreted as going against you. You wouldn’t necessarily prove your innocence that way. This oath was called the ex officio oath. It was regarded as extremely tyrannical because it could lead to self incrimination. The feeling against this was so deep that the feeling survived, as you know, the fifth amendment to the American Constitution is specifically designed against that. The feeling about this was very deep and it lasted for a very long time.
People who thought that the common law system innocent until proven guilty was right and that the Roman law system was wrong inevitably got to the point where they regarded the church law, the church courts as tyrannical and corrupt. The basic underlying problem was they were using a different system of justice.
No precedent - different punishments for the same crime
The other thing I didn’t mention is that in Roman law there is no such thing as precedent. That is to say, that if I get caught playing football on Sunday and I get punished by 30 lashes and 10 sermons I have to sit through, the next person who is caught for the same offense in a common law set up would be given the same punishment. In common law, the punishments which are meted out to offenders are not so much determined so much by the common law itself, but by what happened last time this kind of offense was committed. There would be mitigation; there would be all sorts of other things which modify what actually happens in practice. In Roman law, there is no precedent. Let’s say my punishment is 10 times worse than someone else’s punishment for the same offense, well that’s just too bad. This is what the judge has decided; he is within his rights to do that. Let’s say the maximum punishment for something is $1000 and 10 years in prison. The judge decides that in your case you are going to get the maximum and in some other case you don’t. There is no way of complaining. That’s what the law says, and that’s what he can do. This was also felt was a terrible injustice. When you start from a common law perspective, all of this appears to be terribly wrong.
Parliament – Secular court
Feeling against the church, feeling against the church courts, feeling against this whole system was very easily whipped up. What was worse was that parliament in order to put some kind of restraint on all of this and get things in order tried to claim the right to control church legislation. They tried to say that because the reformation had been passed through parliament, that therefore the church was not an independent body. It could not legislate; it could not run its own affairs without parliament having a say. If a case was going to come up before the ecclesiastical courts that appeared to be scandalous from a common law point of view the king should, as he had the right to, issue what was called a writ of prohibition – saying that there were special circumstances and that in this particular instance the case cannot be heard by the church courts; it will have to go to the secular courts. And the secular courts presumably were expected to give a fairer verdict. Even if in actual practice, being tried in a secular court was more dangerous. If you had a choice in the 17th century between being charged in a church court and being charged in a secular court, 9 times our of 10, you would have been better off in a church court, because of the compurgators, you could manipulate it. If you had any chance of manipulating the system, you were better of in a church court than in a secular court. But this irritated the Puritans because that was another sign of injustice.
Government break down
In 1640, after the short parliament was dissolved, the king deliberately refused to dissolve the convocation of the clergy which made the church legislation. Indeed, he encouraged the clergy to make further laws for the church, the so called Canons of 1640, which they did, which the king signed into law. He did this mainly as a way of showing that he wasn’t going to give way to parliament’s point of view. But this caused a constitutional crisis, because when long parliament assembled at the end of 1640, not only did they refuse to ratify these canons, they said they were illegal, that the church and the king had acted in a way which was constitutionally wrong, even though that was a highly disputed point. So, when the government broke down, the question of the church was really at the center of the agenda. There could be no change unless you did something with the church. So, the Westminster Assembly when it was called in 1643 had this at the top of its agenda; do something about the church. You have to reorganize this so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.
Censorship break down
Unfortunately, between 1640 and 1643, something else had happened which nobody really anticipated. That is as the government broke down, so censorship broke down. Every country in the world in the 16th and early 17th century had what we today would regard as extremely strict censorship. There was no freedom of the press. This was not as terrible of a thing as you might imagine. What you were stopped from doing was publishing books which were religiously or politically unacceptable to the establishment. With the break down of the censorship in 1640 and 1641, all of a sudden people turned up as if from nowhere publishing their own ideas. To the people at that time it appeared as if 101 sects, cults, appeared out of nowhere. People were calling themselves prophets and having visions in ways that had never been done before. You can imagine in a society where this has never happened, where for the first time this is being permitted. Nobody wanted it to happen; it’s just that the machinery of control broke down. Suddenly these people appeared, were dong this, and there was no one to stop them. It was extremely unsettling. There are modern books written about these people.
My favorite are the Muggletonians who were named after a man called Lodowicke Muggleton who fancied that he was a prophet, one of the two prophets in Revelations prophesying the end of the world. He created this Muggletonian sect. For a long time people figured this was a 17th century silliness that had disappeared a long time ago. But in the 1950’s and the 1960’s sociologist and historians discovered that there had been a Muggletonian congregation in the south of England until about 1910, 1912. They began to wonder whether there were any Muggletonians still alive. They traced one person who was the last of the Muggletonians. He died in 1979.
Ranters Seekers Diggers
Some of the others, they have real enticing names like the Ranters who got visions and started ranting. That’s why they were called the Ranters. When the Spirit seized them they threw off their clothes and ran naked through the streets proclaiming that this was Babylon and they were coming along as the pure saints of God to clean up the pollution.
Then you have the Seekers and the Diggers. The Diggers were primitive communists; they believed that everybody should share land in common. They went out and started communes. It all exists today, if you look around you find the same kind of thing.
The only ones who are still in existence today on a large scale are the Quakers. The Quakers come out of this time as well, as their name suggests. Today we don’t think of it in this way and the name seems a little bit strange, but if you put it alongside a list of Ranters, Seekers, Diggers and what have you, Quaker sort of fits. The first Quakers were violent fanatics. They did some of the same things, ran through the streets naked and this kind of thing. It was only later that the sect transformed itself into what it is now, which is a group of people who sit around waiting for their stomachs to rumble or the spirit to speak and then they share their opinions with other people. It’s a very different sort of thing today. It’s because they were able to manage that transition, because they were able to go from being a wild sect to being quite the opposite in a short space of time that they survived. If that hadn’t happened, probably they would have been stamped out.
This made life for the Westminster Assembly a lot more difficult than it might have been otherwise, because all these various groups wanted a voice. They wanted to be represented. If they are going to restructure the church, they wanted to get their two cents in if they possible could. And so the Westminster Assembly was faced in the beginning with this impossible situation where you had all kinds of people representing views ranging from the sensible to the idiotic who felt that they had the right of representation. Given this sort of situation, it was clear that some kind of sorting out was going to have to take place.
The first thing that happened in the Westminster Assembly was that like minded people grouped together. It was probably the first example of representative assembly of people which had party politics in the modern sense; people who got together to represent their point of view. The Presbyterians were the largest group. Then you had the independents, the people who believed that each congregation should run its own affairs. You had Baptists on the side. The Baptists were a minority; therefore clearly they weren’t going to get their way. But in 1644, they produced what is now known as the first London Confession which is a Calvinistic statement, but it is Baptist. This was a little group on the Fringes of the Westminster Assembly doing this kind of thing. So, in the process of forming little groups like this to sort of press for a particular point of view at the Westminster Assembly, you begin to see the embryo of what we call today the denominations, because for the first time people are not only defending their own point of view, that a Baptist will defend Baptist views, Presbyterians defend Presbyterianism, Independents defend Independency, even a couple of Episcopalians trying to defend Episcopacy. It’s not just that they are expressing their own convictions, but they are having to defend them against others. This is already a movement toward a new stage of development, because people are becoming conscious for the first time of what we would call politics, having to argue their position against other points of view.
Now today, we would solve this problem by saying; you build your church and I’ll build mine and that will be fine. But it was this aspect that didn’t exist in the early 17th century. These people were not merely expressing their own point of view and forming their own groups of people, they were fighting for control of the church, because everybody regarded the church as a single united institution. The issue was not can we allow freedom of religion for different groups. The issue was can I, as a member of this group, persuade enough people that my point of view is the right one so that everybody will do this rather than that. It was fighting for control of the whole organism, the whole mechanism.
Presbyterians dominate Westminster Assembly
Now, when you have this situation inevitably the best organized group is going to come out on top. You had a replay in England of what had happened earlier in Holland. That was that the Presbyterian groups, what were the Calvinists in Holland were the Presbyterians in England, came out on top in the Westminster Assembly. Partly this was because the Scottish element was totally Presbyterian. There was nobody from Scotland who was not a Presbyterian, and very determined to push Presbyterianism as opposed to any other form of church. And there was a Scottish Army which was half-way down England invading. Of course there is nothing like an invasion to concentrate the minds. The Presbyterians came to dominate the Westminster Assembly for those reasons.
Parliament not pro-Presbyterian
Now, that might have been the end of the story, but there was a complication. And that is that the parliament, which had appointed the assembly in the first place, was not as pro-Presbyterian as the assembly turned out to be, because the parliament first of all was an English parliament, not a British one, not Scottish, there was no representation from Scotland in it. So, that element wasn’t present. But also they were lay people; they weren’t clergy. So therefore, their interest was maximum freedom for the ordinary person. They didn’t want to be ruled by a clerical clique. They saw Presbyterians as really a kind of mafia who were going to control everything by their associations of ministers.
Now that in itself probably would not have been enough to sway things the opposite way. But as the civil war dragged on and as it became clear that the only man who could win it was Oliver Cromwell, who was a parliamentary general, what Cromwell happened to think became more and more important. Cromwell was what we today would call an independent. That is to say, he thought each congregation should be allowed to run its own affairs. Cromwell also thought, one of the reasons he felt this, was that this would allow different types of people to have the kind of church that they wanted. Cromwell was actually an extremely tolerant person, for the 17th century, amazingly so. In this respect he was a modern person rather than someone of his own day and age, because Cromwell believed that Presbyterians should have their church if they wanted and Baptists should have their church if they wanted and Quakers should have their church if they wanted. He wasn’t against any of these people. The only restrictions that he placed were on people who didn’t accept toleration of others. In other words, no Catholics would be allowed because Catholics didn’t believe in tolerance, and so you couldn’t have them because they would be out to do in the rest. That was not tolerable. But everything else, as long as they were people who agreed to live and let live and so on, he was prepared to accept. And because he ran the army, the Westminster Assembly found it rather difficult to go against him. It could fulminate what it wanted to, in fact it even managed to make Presbyterianism the state religion on paper, but it couldn’t really apply Presbyterian principles.
Cromwell was prepared to allow anybody who would tolerate others, but not the Westminster Assembly; the Westminster Assembly got more and more intolerant as time went on. Cromwell fought them. He was against them. There was a division in the ranks of the people who were fighting against the king. And this was a big problem.
Presbyterians want a king
Now the other snag was, as time went on, the Presbyterian group and particularly the Scotts wanted the king as the head of the state. Now this may seem extremely odd. The king was not a Presbyterian; did not believe in Presbyterianism and did his utmost to try to get rid of Presbyterianism. But the Presbyterians believed that the country should have a king, because they believed in the Covenant. The covenant was to be designed along Old Testament lines. In the Old Testament covenant, Israel had a king. The fact that this was not altogether desirable as you know from the appointment of Saul and everything else was immaterial. Nevertheless, God permitted it, and in David of course God not only permitted it, but God authorized it and backed it. Therefore, Britain should have a king as well. The fact that the real king was unsatisfactory was just one of those things. If you look at the history of Israel and Judah in the books of Kings, how many of them did what was right in the eyes of the Lord? You read about Ahab or something like that, and you think to yourself; how on earth could he have been tolerated? He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. But nevertheless, he was the king. This was permissible. This seems to us to be very odd, but you have to remember that Presbyterians had a very pessimistic view of human nature. They believed in original sin. In a sense they were quite happy for the civil government to be an unattractive thing. They were more interested in the church. They wanted to keep the church as pure as possible. That was their chief interest. And what went on in the state, the state was an area of corruption, so they didn’t particularly mind all that much.
Independents hold king responsible
The independents on the other hand thought very differently. The independents regarded the king as a traitor, because the king had gone against what they thought was the constitution. The independents believed that the king should be held responsible for the civil war; that it was all his fault; he should be brought to trial.
King brought to trial
And of course, eventually he was brought to trial. But this caused a major crisis. Cromwell authorized the trial of the king. He didn’t particularly want to put the king to death, but he came to the conclusion that there was no other answer. Here was this loose canon running around who you couldn’t control; you couldn’t do anything with. They kept trying to get the king to accept the reforms, sign them into law. You can still be king. We don’t want to kill you particularly or even put you on trial, but just accept the changes that we’ve brought about, accept that you can’t run the country by yourself. But Charles believed in divine right; that he was king by the grace of God, not by the appointment of a parliament, and therefore his subjects were there to do what he wanted, not to tell him what to do. He just could not imagine anything else. Now, this seems very strange to us, because we are used today to electing representatives, and therefore our elected representatives do only what we want, don’t they? Even with the threat of being voted out next time, once somebody gets to be a chief executive, they seem to leave this planet. They go off and do what they want to do. The fact that there is a cut off date at some point doesn’t seem to bother them all that much. So imagine if you inherited this and you’re brought up to think like this, that that’s the way it is and always has been. Trying to convince someone like that that they ought to respond to the wishes of the people, it’s just beyond their comprehension. What is so astonishing about what happened to Charles I is that it was repeated at least twice in later European history with exactly the same results, and the people concerned didn’t seem to realize what was going on. The first was Louis XVI in the French Revolution who was also executed, believing to the end that he was doing the right thing. And Nicholas II, the Czar of Russia, same thing, the whole country was in revolt against him and he sort of said, well that’s their problem. They’re supposed to do what I say, not the other way around. So, it’s not a rare a thing as all that.
Nevertheless, it was not the sort of behavior which the independents in particular were prepared to put up with. The Presbyterians weren’t going to put up with it either, but they were more tolerant in a sense, they were more prepared to play games with the king at least for a time. And they were certainly not prepared to put him to death. Anyhow, when the trial of the king came, it was at that point that the independent group among the Puritans showed its strength, that it was in charge in actual fact. The Westminster Assembly by this time had done its main work and in fact it dissolved itself just before the trial began or just after, around that time anyway, because they realized there wasn’t any further point in meeting. The king was sentenced to death.
Now, in doing this, the independent party and Oliver Cromwell showed what they were capable of. It was obviously quite clear at this point who was running the show. But, at the same time, they overstepped the mark, because the question arose even while the king was still on trial – was this fair? Was this the right thing to do? First of all, everybody knew that it was a kangaroo court. There was no way the king was going to be declared innocent. So, the fairness of it was very much in question from the beginning. But more precisely, and this is a problem which still exists today, the king was head of state, and therefore, could he really be tried for treason. That was the charge – that he had committed treason. But, what was treason? In England, treason is treason against the king. But he is the king. So how can he go against himself? Although this may seem a long time ago, you still see it today, particularly in third world countries which overthrow their dictators. What do you do with them? There is always a certain element which says we want to put them on trial. In the end, what tends to happen in almost all these cases is that nothing happens. These former dictators go off in exile, and that is the end of them.
Sympathy for King
However, there was another problem with Charles, and that is his private life was exemplary. There was never a breath of scandal of any kind. He was happily married. He had a good family. He was very devout. He was a very good person. Here was this man who hadn’t really done anything wrong, who had clearly annoyed an awful lot of people, but was not a wicked person, who in the last months of his life when he was on trial demonstrated a very calm, cool and collected approach. He died better than he lived, people remarked at the time, and therefore attracted to himself an awful lot of sympathy. People began to feel that he was being victimized. He didn’t really deserve the kind of fate which was being reserved for him.
King is Lord’s anointed
But underlying it all was also the sense that he was the Lord’s anointed, that he had been consecrated as king, and that he had a religious mission in a sense, he was called by God to this position, and therefore in attacking him somehow you were attacking the order which had been established by God. This was also felt by a lot of ordinary people. A lot of ordinary people felt that this was all wrong – this was going against the natural order of things.
When he was executed, people sort of lifted up his head to say there’s the king. Instead of cheers there was this sort of huge groan among the crowd. Then they rushed up to dip their handkerchiefs in his blood, to keep as relics. The martyr cult began immediately. Within weeks of his death, people were starting to claim they had been healed by these bloody handkerchiefs. Books were produced because the censorship was not functioning about all the miracles the king had done. It became a martyr cult very quickly. You could say that Charles became more powerful in death than he had been in life.
Charles II of Scotland
But even worse, from Cromwell’s point of view, the Scotts refused to accept this. They had not taken part in the king’s trial. They believed that the English had gone and killed their king, because of course the family was a Scottish family. They took Charles’ eldest son who is also called Charles and crowned him in Scotland as King Charles II, and said we are going to go off and be our own independent country again. They forced Charles II who was a young man, he was only about 20. They said you’ve got to swear to accept Presbyterianism and Charles realized that the alternative was not to be contemplated and so he did accept Presbyterianism.
Cromwell invades Scotland
Cromwell was now faced with a situation where in effect Scotland had declared its independence. It was going to be a Presbyterian country. But, with a King who had a claim to the English throne. So, therefore this was an invitation to instability. So Cromwell invaded Scotland. He couldn’t just let this happen. He defeated the Scottish army, a very famous occasion when he sent his message to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and said; I pray in the bowels of Christ, consider that you may be mistaken.
What started off as an ideal, a reformation in the name of God, that a truly biblical order of church and state was going to be established with widespread tolerance of all kinds of people, ended up as a tyranny, because not enough people were prepared to accept that other people who disagreed with them should be allowed to live in peace.
Right from the beginning, the Puritan republic, which is what it was, was a disaster. It simply did not work. Although it survived for 11 years and Cromwell did his best to make it function, he never got anywhere. The parliament refused to do what he wanted. The parliament by this time was full of extreme radicals. Levelers, Diggers, and Ranters and goodness knows what had sort of infiltrated into the ranks. They were disrupting everything. They wouldn’t do as they were told. So finally Cromwell marched in and said go home, I’m shutting this thing down. Thereby doing exactly what Charles I had done in 1629. He called another parliament into session full of equally radical people. It’s known in history as the barebones parliament because one of the dominant speakers was a man known as “Praise-God Barebones.” It was an extremely unattractive thing.
Jews allowed back into England
About the only good that came out of it, but also shows you how government policy was being decided at this time, was that somebody got it into their heads that Christ was going to come again in the year 1656. They said before the second coming, all the Jews would be converted. Then somebody got it in their heads that Christ would descend, he would come back to Earth at the place where the Jews were gathered for their mass conversion. This is a most extraordinary story, but I swear to you it’s true. There were no Jews in England at that time because the Jews had been expelled in 1290. But somebody got it in their head that it would be a good idea if Christ were to descend in England, and that the way to ensure that this would happen would be to go around the world rounding up as many Jews as you could find and force them to come to England to live so that they could get converted before the end. The end result of this was that the Jews were allowed back into England, anticipating their conversion and the second coming of Christ. They’ve been their ever since. That is the long term effect of this. But you can imagine, this is no way to run a government.
It was all very public. There was mass excitement about this. It became government policy. This is hardly a way to run your society. It was typical of the kind of disjointed politics that were going on at this time. That somebody could get a vision – George Foxe tor example, who was the leader of the Quakers, was a personal friend of Cromwell’s. He used to go to dinner with Cromwell quite a lot. Fox had a vision every time he turned around. He would go into Cromwell and say the Lord has spoken to me and said … If it appealed to Cromwell, he said, alright we’ll do that. I suppose it’s better than being a rich tobacco company and getting millions in order to get your way. It’s a more attractive form of lobbying. But still, it brings discredit on the whole operation from a spiritual point of view.
Now this is very important, because it was during this time that people got thoroughly fed up with Puritanism. The thing about Puritanism was that it was basically an opposition movement. They knew what they were against. The Puritans didn’t like the king’s rule. They didn’t like church courts which operated according to some strange legal system. But, when it came time to replace it with something else, they couldn’t get their act together in order to do it. They all wanted to have a church government, a church system which would be biblical, which would control the operation of society as a whole. But, they couldn’t agree what form this should take. This is still the problem of Protestantism today. People who are fundamentally agreed in faith disagree about church government. The divisions of English Speaking Protestantism are mainly to do with church government of one kind or another, rather than fundamental beliefs. Not the trinity, or Christology, or the Bible, or Atonement or something like that. But whether you are going to be Episcopalian, or Presbyterian or Baptist or Congregationalist or whatever, that is the level of disagreement that you have, and this really goes back to the 17th century. The basic reason is that English speaking Protestantism believed that it was possible to create a perfect church out of the Bible. The fact of the matter is, it’s not. The Bible doesn’t tell you what kind of church you should have. If you are trying to argue for example, that you should have a centrally controlled church, like Presbyterian, with branches, that each congregation is a branch of a central organization or should you have fundamentally independent congregations like Baptists joined in a federation which is voluntary. The key is that when the federation goes liberal, on what condition can you leave? If you are in a Presbyterian system, you can leave, but you can’t take the building with you. The building belongs to the central body - Episcopalians the same thing. Whereas if you are Baptist you take the building with you, because all you’re doing is not paying your dues anymore to the central federation. If you try to say, well, this is what the New Testament teaches, then you’ve got a problem, because in fact, the New Testament doesn’t say anything about it. You have to make up, on the basis of what you would like the New Testament to say, you find various things in there which support your cause – you build your system out of what is really iinadequate evidence, with the result that whether you are a Presbyterian, or whether you are an independent, there is enough in the New Testament to support each position, but not enough to prove that one is right and the other is wrong. That’s the dilemma.
The same with Baptism. You can think what you like about Baptism, but there is not enough in the New Testament to prove that one position is right and the other is wrong. There is enough to support each point of view. If you believe in believer’s baptism, you find plenty in the New Testament that will support that. If you believe in infant baptism, you can demonstrate that from household baptisms, and circumcision, and that kind of thing. But what you cannot do is prove conclusively that the others are wrong. There is no verse in the New Testament which says under no circumstance shall children be baptized. On the other hand, there is no verse in the New Testament which says children must be baptized. Basically, the New Testament doesn’t say anything about it. So, you have to guess on the basis of what you believe for other reasons what the New Testament would say if you had written it.
The question posed in the 17th century was; can people of differing opinions like this live together in the same church? That was the issue. Cromwell thought they could. Cromwell thought, as long as your heart is in the right place, what difference does it make? If you take church government – it may be true that Presbyterianism is not intrinsically better or worse than independency, that both have their plusses and their minuses, but if you have a concrete church with a building and a congregation and an organization, you’ve got to choose one or the other, because otherwise it won’t function. If you can have a system, and this is what the 17th century did not have, whereby you have different churches, different denominations and people go to the one of their choice then you defuse the problem. If both sides are convinced that there can only ever be one church and they’ve got to be run this way or that way, inevitably you’re going to have trouble.
Over the Baptism question – you see Bunyan was like Cromwell. Bunyan was a liberal a tolerant person in his time. But Bunyan got into terrible trouble over this. There is a treatise he wrote about baptism which he addressed to the Baptists in London, I think it was in 1650. He basically stood up in front of the Baptists with whom he basically agreed on baptism, because he was a Baptist himself in his beliefs, but he stood up in front of all these Baptists and said, by all means have your own convictions and practice what you believe to be right but don’t go around condemning other people simply because they disagree with you on this point. For Bunyan to say that and for Bunyan to write that was even more remarkable in 1650. His chapel in Bedford allowed for both. But that is a very unusual thing. In the atmosphere of the time, where everybody felt very strongly about these things and where individual people were getting visions all the time, they were in a fanatical situation, emotions were very worked up, and people felt very strongly about all kinds of crazy things, important things as well as unimportant things. They couldn’t always see the difference. In that atmosphere, for someone like Bunyan or Cromwell to come along, and say that more than one point of view is conceivable, was a message that they didn’t particularly want to hear.