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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER II THE TRANSPLANTING OF CONGREGATIONALISM

The Development Of Religious Liberty In Connecticut by M. Louise Greene, Ph. D.

CHAPTER II THE TRANSPLANTING OF CONGREGATIONALISM

Those who cross the sea change not their affection but their skies. -- Horace.

The rule of absolutism forced the transplanting of a democratic church. The arrogance of the House of Stuart compelled English Puritans to seek refuge in America. The exercise of the divine right of kings and of the divine power of bishops provoked the commonwealths of New England and the development there of the Congregational church, as later it brought the Commonwealth of Cromwell, with its tolerance of Independent and Presbyterian.

When the Pilgrims left England, the Puritans had entered upon their long contest with James over their ecclesiastical and also their constitutional rights. At his accession, the king had seemed inclined to tolerate the Catholics. Yet only a short time elapsed before many Romanists were found upon the proscribed lists. The Guy Fawkes plot followed. Its scope, its narrow margin of failure, coupled with the king's previous leniency towards Catholics and his bitter persecution of nonconformists, created a frenzy of fear among
Protestants. Immediately the Puritans saw in every objectionable ceremonial of the English church some hidden purpose, some Jesuitical contrivance for overthrowing Protestantism. And as the ritualistic clergy made their pulpits resound with the doctrines of the divine right of kings, the divine right of bishops, and of passive obedience, and as they thundered at the preachers who opposed or denied these principles, the high-church party came to be associated more and more with the unconstitutional policy of the king. And this was so, notwithstanding the praiseworthy efforts of Archbishop Abbott to modify the practical working of these royal notions. This archbishop of Canterbury was a man of great learning and of gentle spirit. His name stands second among the translators of King James's version, while as head of the Ecclesiastical Commission his power was great, his influence far reaching. So earnestly did he strive to moderate the king's severity toward nonconformists, to bring about a compromise between the two great church parties, and so simple was the ritual in his palace at Lambeth, that many people believed the kindly prelate was more than half a Puritan at heart. He even refused to license the publication of a sermon that most unduly exalted the king's prerogative, and he forbade the reading of James's proclamation permitting games and sports on Sunday. This proclamation was the famous |Book of Sports,| and many Puritan clergymen paid dearly for refusing to read it to their congregations. Its issue exasperated and discouraged the reform party, and, from this time, the Puritans began to lose hope that any moral or religious betterment would be permitted among the people.

In the constitutional imbroglio, James resented the attempt of Parliament to curb his extravagance by its method of granting him money on condition that he would make ecclesiastical reforms and grant the redress of other grievances. When the king grew angry and attempted to rule without a Parliament, the Puritan party broadened its purpose and became the champion also of civil liberty. Among his offenses, James refused to restore to their pulpits three hundred Puritan ministers whom, in 1605, he silenced for not accepting the Three Articles, notwithstanding the fact that Parliament itself had refused to make them binding upon the clergy. The king also refused to define the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts, and to respect the limitation of the powers of the High Court of Commission when they were determined by the judges. And further, James positively refused to admit that with Parliament alone rested the power to levy imposts and duties. After wrangling with his first Parliament for seven years over these and similar questions, the king ruled for the next three without that representative body. Finding it necessary, in 1614, to convene his lords, squires, and burgesses, the king was disappointed to find that the new Parliament was no more pliable to his will than its predecessor had been, and he shortly dissolved it. The great leaders of the opposition, such as Coke, Eliot, Pym, Selden and Hampden, were not all Puritans, but these men, and others of their kind, joined with the reform party in demanding that the rights of the people should be respected and the evils of government redressed. James's whole reign was marked by quarrels with a stubborn Parliament and by periods of absolute rule that were characterized by forced loans and other unlawful extortions.

Upon the death of James, in 1625, the nation turned hopefully to the young prince, who thus far had pleased them in many ways. In contrast to the ungainly, rickety, garrulous James, Charles was kingly in appearance, bearing, and demeanor. He was reserved in speech and manner. So far, the stubbornness which he had inherited from his father was mistaken for a strong will, and his attitude towards Spain, after the failure of the Catholic marriage which had been arranged for him, was regarded as indicating his strong Protestantism. It took but a short time, however, to reveal his stubbornness, his vanity, pique, extravagance, and insincerity. Within four years, he had dissolved Parliament three times, had sent Sir John Eliot to the Tower for boldly defending the rights of the people, had dismissed the Chief Justice from office for refusing to recognize as legal taxes laid without consent of Parliament, had thrown John Hampden into prison for refusing to pay a forced loan, and, finally, had signed the |Petition of Rights| in 1628, only to violate it almost as soon as the contemporary bill for subsidies had been passed. Charles, finding he could not coerce Parliament, dissolved it, and entered upon his twelve years of absolute rule, marked by imprisonments, by arbitrary fines, forced loans, sales of monopolies, and illegal taxes, which raised the annual revenue from L500,000 to L800,000.

It was during the first years of Charles's misrule -- to be specific, in 1627 -- that |some friends being together in Lincolnshire fell into discourse about New England and the planting of the Gospel there.| Among them were, probably, Thomas Dudley (who mentions the discussion in a letter to the Countess of Lincoln), Atherton Hough, Thomas Leverett, and possibly also John Cotton and Roger Williams, for all these men were wont to assemble at Tattersall Castle, the family seat of Lord Lincoln. The latter was, in religious matters, a staunch Puritan, and in political, a fearless opponent of forced loans and illegal measures. Thomas Dudley was his steward and confidential adviser, and the others were his personal friends and, in politics, his loyal followers. These men, afterwards prominent in New England, had watched with interest the fortunes of the Plymouth Colony, and now concluded that since England lay helpless in the grasp of Charles the time had come to prepare somewhere in the American wilderness a refuge and home for oppressed Englishmen and persecuted Puritans. This little group of men began at once to correspond with others in London and also in the west of England who were like-minded with themselves. Men of the west, in and about Dorchester, had for some four years or more been interested in the New England fisheries between the Kennebec and Cape Ann. On that promontory they had landed some fourteen men, hoping to start a permanent settlement. The plan had failed, the partnership had been dissolved, and a few of the settlers had removed to Salem, Massachusetts. The Rev. John White, the Puritan rector of Salem, England, saw a great opportunity. He at once interested some wealthy merchants to make Salem, in Massachusetts, the first post in a colonization scheme of great magnitude, and as leader of an advance party they secured John Endicott. From the council for New England the company secured a patent on March 19, 1628, for the lands between the Merrimac and the Charles rivers. On June 20, 1628, thirteen days after Charles had signed the |Petition of Rights| that he was so soon to violate, the advance guard of the colonists set sail for Salem, in the New World, arriving there early in the following September.

In America, friendly relations were soon established between the settlers of Salem and Plymouth. On the voyage over, sickness, due to the unwholesome salt in which some of their provisions had been packed, broke out among the Salem colonists, and continuing in the settlement, forced Endicott to send to Plymouth for Dr. Samuel Fuller, deacon in the church there. He was skilled both in medicine and in church-lore, for he had also been one of the two deacons in the church during its Leyden days. He worked among the disabled at Salem, and, later, among the sick colonists at Boston, paving the way for a better understanding and closer friendship with the Plymouth settlers. There had been a tendency to look upon these earlier colonists as extremists. Their enemies in derision called them |Brownists.| They did in truth cling most firmly to Browne's doctrine that the civil magistrate had no control over the church of Christ. In their opinion, the function of the civil power in any union of church and state was limited to upholding the spiritual power by approving the church's discipline, since that had for its object the moral welfare of the people. As Endicott and Fuller talked together of all that in their hearts they both desired for the church of the future, they realized that they agreed on many points. The Plymouth church had been virtually under the sole rule of its elder, William Brewster, during the greater part of its life in America, for its aged pastor had died before he could rejoin his flock. Such government had tended to modify the early insistence upon the principle that the power of the church was |above that of its officers.| This doctrine was associated in men's minds more with Robert Browne, who had originated it, than with Henry Barrowe, who had modified it, and it was towards Barrowism that the larger body of Puritans were drawn.

The Salem people, in their isolation three thousand miles from the home-land, felt the necessity of some form of church organization. As they had fled from the offensive ceremonial of the English Church, they determined to be free from cross and prayer-book, and from anything suggestive of offense. In the great matter of membership and constitution, their new church was to be brought still nearer to the requirements and simplicity of Gospel standards. More and more Puritans were coming to prefer the church of |covenant membership| to the birthright membership of the English Establishment. Many were urging a limited independence in the organization, management, and discipline of members of local churches. Some among the Puritans had adopted the Presbyterian polity, while many preferred that form of ordination. Such ordination had been accepted as valid for English clergymen during the earlier part of Elizabeth's reign. It was still so recognized by all the English clergy for the ministers of the Reformed churches on the Continent, and with such, English clergymen of all opinions still continued to hold very friendly intercourse. It was not until Laud's ascendency that claims for the divine right of Episcopacy, to the exclusion of other branches of the Christian faith, were strenuously urged. Thus it happened that after many conferences, Endicott could write to Governor Bradford in May of 1629, that: --

I acknowledge myself much bound to you for your kind love and care in sending Mr. Samuel Fuller among us, and rejoice much that I am by him satisfied touching your judgment of the outward form of God's worship. It is, as far as I can gather, no other than is warranted by the evidence of truth, and the same which I have ever professed and maintained ever since the Lord in mercy revealed Himself unto me: being far from the common report that hath been spread of you touching that particular.

Endicott further expresses the wish that they may all |as Christian brethren be united by a heavenly and unfeigned love;| that as servants of one Master and of one household they should not be strangers, but be |marked with one and the same mark, and sealed with one and the same seal, and have, for the main, one and the same heart guided by one and the same Spirit of truth,| and that they should bend their hearts and forces to the furthering of the work for which they had come into the wilderness. Thus, Salem had decided upon the type of church her people wanted, while she still waited for the ministers who were coming with the larger number of her colonists, and whom she believed competent to guide her religious life.

Only a few weeks after the sending of Endicott's letter to Governor Bradford, five vessels arrived, bringing several hundred well-equipped colonists. They had been sent out by the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay. This corporation had bought out the Salem Company, and was backed by the most influential Puritans of wealth and social prominence, by men who had lost all hope of either religious or civil freedom when Laud had been raised to the bishopric of London and when Charles persisted in his despotic government. By the elevation of Laud to the bishopric of London, Charles offended the most puritanically inclined diocese in England, and the whole Puritan party. In his new office, Laud quickly succeeded in severing communication between the Reformed churches on the Continent and those in England. He strictly prohibited the common people from using the annotated pocket-Bibles sent out by the Genevan press. He forbade the entrance into office of nonconformists as lecturers or chaplains. He put an end to feofments, so that puritanically inclined men of wealth could no longer control the livings. He excluded suspended ministers from teaching, and also from the practice of medicine, and even forbade their entering business life. He required absolute conformity to his own high-church standards. He insisted upon doing away with all Calvinistic innovations tending to simplicity of ritual, and upon reviving many ecclesiastical ceremonies which had fallen into disuse. Hence, English Puritans saw in America the only hope of the future, and began that exodus which, during the next ten years, or more, annually sent two thousand emigrants to the Massachusetts shore to find homes throughout New England. Of these, the Salem colonists were the first large body of Puritans to emigrate. Among them were three ministers, Endicott's former pastor Samuel Skelton, Francis Higginson, and Francis Bright.

When Higginson and Skelton learned of the friendship with Plymouth, and that Endicott had adopted the system of church organization established in the older settlement, they accepted it as being in accord with the principles of the Reformed churches on the Continent, whose pattern they had themselves resolved to follow in organizing the church at Salem. Not so Francis Bright. He could not agree with the others, and so withdrew to Charlestown in order not to embarrass the young church. Higginson and Skelton were each, in turn questioned as to their conception of a minister's calling. Replying that it was twofold: a call from within to a conviction that a man was chosen of God to be His minister, and thereby endowed with proper gifts, and a call from without by the free choice of a |covenanted church| to be its pastor, they were accepted as satisfactory candidates for the two highest offices in the Salem church. Later, upon an appointed day of prayer and fasting, July 20, 1629, the people by written ballot chose Francis Skelton to be their pastor and Thomas Higginson their teacher. When they had accepted their election, |first Mr. Higginson, with three or four of the gravest members of the church, laid their hands upon Mr. Skelton, using prayer therewith. This being done, there was imposition of hands upon Mr. Higginson also.| Upon a still later day of prayer and humiliation, August 6, elders and deacons were chosen and ordained. Upon this day, the two ministers and many among the people gave their assent to the Confession and Covenant which the pastor and teacher had revised. At the second of these two important meetings, Governor Bradford and delegates from the Plymouth church were present. |Coming by sea they were hindered by cross-winds that they could not be there at the beginning of the day; but they came into the assembly afterward, and gave them the right hand of fellowship, wishing all prosperity and all blessedness to such good beginnings.| The Salem covenant in its original form was a single sentence: |We covenant with the Lord and with one another; and doe bynd ourselves in the presence of God to walk together in all his wayes, according as he is pleased to reveale him' self unto us in his Blessed word of truth.|

The formation of the church of Salem by covenant practice[a] marked the beginning of the Congregational polity among the Puritan body; their local ordination of their minister, the break with English Episcopacy, though, for a considerable while longer, the colonists still spoke of themselves as members of the Church of England, for both the colonial and the home authorities were equally anxious to avoid the stigma of Separatism.

The next large body of colonists to leave England was Governor Winthrop's company, and, upon their arrival, the Boston church quickly followed the example of Salem. Next, the Dorchester church, afterwards the church of Windsor, Connecticut, emigrated as a body from Plymouth, England, where, before embarking, its members seem to have taken some form of membership pledge, -- an unusual proceeding, but operating to put this church in line with those already organized in Plymouth and Massachusetts. The Watertown church, whence emigrants were to settle Wethersfield, Connecticut, also organized with a covenant similar to that of Salem and Boston. These four oldest congregations set the type for the thirty-five New England churches that were founded previous to 1640, as well as for the later ones that followed the standard thus early set up by Plymouth, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. There was some variation in the form of covenant,[b] and to it a brief confession of faith, or creed, was early added. There was some variation also in the interpretation of the laying on of hands in ordination as to whether it was to be considered, in cases where the candidate had previously been ordained in England, as ordination or as confirmation of that previously received.[c] In regard to officers, the churches at first provided themselves with pastor, ruling elders (one or two, but generally only one), and deacons. There were exceptions among them, as at Plymouth, where there was no pastor for ten years, and in which there had never been a teacher, for John Robinson had filled both offices. As the first generation of colonists passed away, partly because of lack of fit candidates, partly because of the kinship of the two offices of pastor and teacher, and partly because of the heavy expense in supporting both, the office of teacher was dropped. The ruling eldership also was gradually discontinued; but at first the churches generally had, with the exception of widows, the full complement of officers as appointed by Browne and Barrowe. The usual order of worship was (1) Prayer. (2) Psalm. (3) Scripture reading, followed by the pastor's preaching to explain and apply it. (4) Prophesying or exhortation, the elders calling for speakers, whether members or guests from other churches. (5) Questions from old or young, women excepted. (6) Occasional administration of the Lord's Supper or of Baptism, rites known as the administration of |the Seals of the Covenant.| (7) Psalm. (8) Collection. (9) Dismissal with blessing. Such were the New England churches, the churches of a transplanted creed and race. They were Calvinistic in dogma, democratic in organization, and of extreme simplicity in their order of worship.

FOOTNOTES:

[a] This fundamental principle of Congregationalism belonged to the Separatists and was one of their distinctive tenets. It was never adopted by the English Puritans as a body, nor was ordination by a local church. The Dorchester church had some form of pledge at the time of its organization. So also, possibly, because influenced by Dutch example, did Rev. Hugh Peter's church in Rotterdam. But these were exceptions. -- W. Walker, Hist, of Cong., p.192.

[b] The evolution of the Salem covenant and creed is given in detail in W. Walker's Creeds and Platforms, pp.99-122.

The Windsor Creed of 1647, though not covering the range of Christian doctrine, contained in simple phrase the essentials of Gospel redemption from sin through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ and a life of love toward God and our neighbor, through the strength which comes from him. -- W. Walker, Creeds and Platforms, p.154.

[c] The evolution of the Salem covenant and creed is given in detail in W. Walker's Creeds and Platforms, pp.99-122.

The Windsor Creed of 1647, though not covering the range of Christian doctrine, contained in simple phrase the essentials of Gospel redemption from sin through repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ and a life of love toward God and our neighbor, through the strength which comes from him. -- W. Walker, Creeds and Platforms, p.154.

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