The Anglican Conscience (4)
Jul 15, 2016
“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12-13)
We’ve paused at the half-way point in our reading of the Puritan Paperback, Sermons of the Great Ejection to answer a question concerning “The Great Ejection”: Why were up to nearly 20% of Church of England ministers silenced from preaching and teaching by law and so lose their parishes or positions? You may read the first and second part of the answer in previous posts. The third part of the answer examined the stories of conforming Anglican Puritans. The number of concientious Anglican Puritans who did conform to the 1662 Act of Uniformity suggests that the issue of the Ejection was not an issue of Anglican theology, but of Anglican Church polity.
It is increasingly clear that the Puritan movement in the Church of England is much more nuanced than was previously understood. In this fourth and final part we must therefore address the old binary taxonomy of “Anglican” and “Puritan” for the period. As the results of the last forty years of English Reformation scholarship grows, it is time for the American Anglican and Reformed denominations to catch up. We need to reclassify the complexities of Stuart Anglicanism of the 17th and early 18th centuries.
There are ready sources online to help us. In a 2012 Christianity Today review of Michael Winship’s Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and a City on a Hill, Mark Noll offers a particularly helpful schematization of Stuart Puritans, discriminating between Conforming Puritans, Presbyterian Puritans, Congregational Puritans, Determined Congregational Puritans, Militant Congregational Puritans, Moderate Separatists, and Radical Separatists. And in a 2013 Calvinist International blog post, Rethinking “Stuart Anglicanism”, W. Bradford Littlejohn does the same in a more accurate taxonomy of Stuart Anglicans between Conforming Puritans, Hardline Conformists, Episcopal Reformed, Ceremonialists, and Laudians.
When Littlejohn’s brings his and Noll’s contribution together in a remapping of the Church of England of the period (with my one change in light of conformity/non-conformity) we find that the old bipartite division of Anglican/Puritan is replaced with a tripartite one:
- The Anabaptistizing Tendency
• Moderate Separatists
• Radical Separatists
• Determined Congreationalist Puritans
• Militant Congregationalist Puritans
- The English Reformed
• Presbyterian Puritans
• Congregationalist Puritans
• Conforming Puritans
• Hardline Conformists
• Episcopal Reformed
- The Catholicizing Tendency
Littlejohn’s reclassification shows that by far the largest group represented in the Church of England were the English Reformed with either extreme being the quasi-Reformed Separatists and Laudians. What is stiking is how this schematization mirrors much more accurately the historical evidence of the Ejection we have examined. It explains why there were both conforming and non-conforming Anglicans within the Puritan movement of the Church of England. It explains why the Restoration Bishops could only make some revisions to the text of 1552/9 Book of Common Prayer in 1662 rather than replace it with 1548. It also explains why they did not replace or revise the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.
This new taxonomy can also make a signficant contribution to the present debate over Anglican Identity in North America. Anglicanism, for all the claims of its catholicity and uniqueness, must be understood and studied as being part of a broader Reformed Protestantism, both in its English and Continental forms. Indeed, one cannot accurately understand the contribution of Anglican churchmen and theologians in the 17th, 18th, and late-19th centuries except with respect to the broader movement of international Reformed Protestant churches in which they perceived themselves to be a part.
Of course every taxonomy has its weaknesses and we can always find individual Anglicans who are exceptions or overlap categories, but the cumulative evidence represented here must not be discounted. I was once addressed as one of those “…strange Anglicans who studies the Puritans.” What the Great Ejection teaches us is that it is strange to see “Anglican” and “Puritan” as mutually exclusive.