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Joel Halcomb

This chapter presents a fresh analysis of the nature of the Association Movement in interregnum England and Ireland. It surveys the various local associations, using their constitutions and position statements to modify the long-held view that the association movement was an outgrowth of Richard Baxter’s drive for Christian unity. The chapter argues that the associations in general had a presbyterian basis, looking back to the Westminster assembly’s project as the foundation of local unity. The chapter then focuses on the political status of the associations in the interregnum, arguing that in the later years of the 1650s, the associations were eclipsed by a renewal of the struggle between congregationalists and presbyterians for control of religious policy in government.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66

The debate on the polity of the church was at the centre of the religious debates in the British Atlantic world during the middle decades of the seventeenth-century. From the Covenanter revolution in Scotland, to the congregationalism of the New England colonies, to the protracted debates of the Westminster assembly, and the abolition of the centuries-old episcopalian structure of the Church of England, the issue of the polity of the church was intertwined with the political questions of the period. This book collects together essays focusing on the conjunction of church polity and politics in the middle years of the seventeenth century. A number of chapters in the volume address the questions and conflicts arising out of the period’s reopening and rethinking of the Reformation settlement of church and state. In addition, the interplay between the localities and the various Westminster administrations of the era are explored in a number of chapters. Beyond these discussions, chapters in the volume explore the deeper ecclesiological thinking of the period, examining the nature of the polity of the church and its relationship to society at large. The book also covers the issues of liberty of conscience and how religious suffering contributed to a sense of what the true church was in the midst of revolutionary political upheaval. This volume asserts the fundamental connection between church polity and politics in the revolutions that affected the seventeenth-century British Atlantic world.

The polity of the British episcopal churches, 1603–62
Benjamin M. Guyer

This chapter provides a historical account of the British episcopal churches from the Tudor Reformation until the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and Church of England in the later seventeenth century. It explores the connection between episcopal polity and the liturgy of the Church of England. The chapter argues that episcopacy and liturgy provided the resilient bedrock that preserved the Church of England through the civil wars and interregnum.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
Abstract only
Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
Elliot Vernon

This chapter introduces the volume by asking the questions pertinent to the subject matter of church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world. It summarises the developments of church polity in the period before the time frame of the volume. The chapters of the volume are introduced so that the wider issues explored in common are brought together.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
An exploration of church polity and the governance of the region’s churches
Francis J. Bremer

This chapter looks at the issues surrounding church polity in mid- to late seventeenth-century colonial New England. It looks at the debates surrounding the role of synods in the congregational churches of New England, as well as disputes concerning the role of the laity in church governance. The chapter focuses on the gradual seventeenth-century drift in the American colonies away from the pure congregationalism of its founders towards more presbyterian forms of government. This retreat from congregational and lay governance was made more rapid by the New Englanders witnessing the events of the civil war and interregnum in England and the chaos caused by the de facto toleration of religious sects.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
The Welsh experience of church polity, 1640–60
Stephen K. Roberts

The chapter looks at the issue of political policy and church polity in mid-seventeenth-century Wales. It eschews the focus on the formation of independency and baptist churches traditionally found in studies of Wales in the period. Instead, the chapter looks at the activities of the Long Parliament, particularly the Herefordshire MP Sir Robert Harley, in the attempt to institute the Long Parliament’s projected presbyterian settlement in Wales. The chapter argues that the failure of presbyterianism to take roots in Wales in the period was due to its essentially English and politically metropolitan character. Conversely the success of independency and baptists’ forms of church polity owed much to its propagation by godly Welsh preachers.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
The failure of congregational ideas in the Mersey Basin region, 1636–41
James Mawdesley

This chapter explores the failure of congregationalist ideas to penetrate into the Mersey Basin area of Lancashire and Cheshire in the late 1630s and early 1640s. The chapter focuses on the network of godly clergymen around local aristocratic magnates, the earls of Derby and particularly Lord Strange. These clerics, led by Charles Herle, the future prolocutor of the Westminster assembly, would organise against attempts from New England ministers such as Samuel Eaton and Richard Mather to introduce congregationalist ideas into the region. As civil war broke out, both presbyterians and episcopalians would act together to protect their vision of a cohesive national Church of England from congregationalism.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
To what extent was Richard Baxter a congregationalist?
Tim Cooper

This chapter looks at Richard Baxter’s efforts at peacemaking by analysing that part of his work that seems to hold out congregationalist ideas. It is argued that this aspect of Baxter’s work reveals his attempts to reduce the distances between competing interregnum positions on church polity with the goal of achieving Christian concord. Using theoretical work drawn from the field of religious studies, the chapter shows how Baxter attempted to erode the boundary markers of mid-seventeenth-century confessional identity in order to convince his opponents and friends that they shared more common ground than difference. The success and failure of Baxter’s efforts are assessed in the context of the late interregnum and early Restoration debates on religion.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
The importance of the covenant in Scottish presbyterianism, 1560–c. 1700
R. Scott Spurlock

This chapter looks at the role of covenanting in the early modern Scottish presbyterian tradition in establishing ideas of Scotland as a godly nation. The chapter argues that the Scottish understanding of covenanting, based on deep roots in the Reformed theology of the Scottish Reformation, was deployed by clergy and theologians to argue that the Scots were a people in covenant with God similar to that of the biblical Jews. Such arguments were applied to argue that, even if not all Scots were the elect of God, the nation was still a godly nation. The chapter traces this idea through the Scottish Reformation into the Covenanter revolution of the late 1630s and 1640s. It explores the decline of the idea of national covenanting in face of the Cromwellian conquest and the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy and episcopal forms of church polity in the later seventeenth century.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66
Chad Van Dixhoorn

This chapter explores the development of differing strands of presbyterian ecclesiology at the Westminster assembly of divines in the mid-1640s. It explores the varying concerns of the clergy who would advance presbyterian positions at the Westminster assembly to demonstrate how the assembly’s presbyterianism emerged as a coherent programme for the further reformation of the British churches. While some theologians would seek to stress the rights of individual congregations, others wished to preserve the integrity of the Church Catholic and others still wished to build a broad alliance of Reformed ministers. Together these voices managed to marshal their differences in a single platform. The chapter then explores the thought of George Gillespie, one of the leading presbyterian theorists at the assembly, in light of these differing presbyterian ecclesiologies.

in Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c. 1635–66