Church polity and politics in the British Atlantic world, c.
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.
Two-kingdoms theory, ‘Erastianism’ and the Westminster assembly debate on
church and state, c. 1641–48
This chapter seeks to analyse the debates between presbyterian political
theology and the Long Parliament in the mid-1640s. It sets the background of
this debate in continental Reformed theology and argues that the clash
between parliamentary ‘Erastianism’ and the presbyterian perspective of
two-kingdom theory reveals some of the underlying contradictions within the
parliamentarian project of godly rule. The slightly different version of
two-kingdom theory held by the congregationalists is also explored. The
chapter shows how the Long Parliament grasped its way to an ‘Erastian’
solution by reference to differing ideas of the church–state relationship
found within the Reformed tradition. In conclusion, the chapter looks at how
the presbyterian clergy conceded to Parliament and how interregnum
governments retreated from a fully Erastian position.
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.