Independents; Independency

In Britain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Independency was a synonym for Congregationalism.* The word came into general usage in the revolutionary decade of the 1640s and was used at first in both a political and an ecclesiastical sense. In the former sense it came to represent those who believed in the provision of some form of religion toleration inside or alongside the state church; thus some members of the Long Parliament and many army officers were termed Independents. In the second sense it described those who believed in or practiced a Congregational form of church government; such people could be separatists* or ministers within the parish system who both gathered a church and preached in the parish “church.”

Famous examples of conservative Independents are the Five Dissenting Brethren of the Westminster Assembly: Thomas Goodwin,* Philip Nye,* Sidrach Simpson, William Bridge,* and Jeremy Burroughes.* They taught a doctrine of the church which was halfway between separatism (Brownism) and Presbyterianism* (see further An Apologeticall Narration, ed. R.S. Paul, 1963). An example of a separatist Independent is Vavasor Powell,* the Welsh evangelist. After the Restoration in 1660 those who practiced the Congregational way and paedobaptism were, in the main, those who were deemed Independents. The term was not much used in the nineteenth century and has never been popular in the USA. However, the growth of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches* in Britain since 1945 has again brought the term in general use.