Thursday, August 29, 2013

On Anglicans and Puritans

I've been called many things in my life but a recent accusation made me chuckle quite a bit. A rather enthusiastic "classical Anglican" has decided that I am a Puritan. It truly was news to me. I thought it would be profitable to address the issue of Puritanism briefly again.

I think the problem that most modern people have (especially Americans) is understanding the underlying principles which make Puritanism an option within the Church. Puritanism is not based upon Presbyterianism or Calvinism or any other subset of a Christian tradition. Rather, it is based upon the establishment principle. This, properly defined, is the notion that all Christians in a particular nation should be bound together in one, national Church. This is the theology of the Reformation and the theology of our Anglican formularies. The vision of the Catholic Church is a family of national Churches, each with a Christian Prince heading it in godly virtue. This is what our English Reformers believed and what they established under Henry VIII, Edward VII, and following monarchs ("Bloody" Mary excepted). The Church of England shed itself from the bonds of Popery and re-established the biblical principle of the Christian Prince as head of the Church of England. This is what the English Reformation was all about.

As we all know, the settlement of religion was a crucial issue at the time of Elizabeth's reign. She continued in her predecessors' footsteps and re-established the Book of Common Prayer and the Act of Uniformity. The Elizabethan Settlement can be said to be fully complete in 1571, with the adoption of the finalized version of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (1571), the Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal (1559), and the Books of Homilies (1547 and 1571). This establishment was meant to "avoid the diversities of opinions", thus excluding Popery and Anabaptism, yet allowing some flexibility in Protestant opinion. During Elizabeth's reign two "parties" developed within the Church of England: churchmen and puritans. The former accepted the Settlement as theologically acceptable and not needing further reform because there was nothing contrary to God's Word written in the formularies of the Church. The latter felt that the Settlement was not thorough enough in reforming the Church and desired further reform.

The puritan "party" was not a homogenous group and contained everyone from militant Congregationalists to moderate Presbyterians. They were also divided between those who accepted the normative principle and those who accepted the regulative principle. The former group disliked some of the ceremonies allowed in the Prayer Book, but did not reject liturgical worship altogether. The latter group believed that the worship of the Church must be "regulated" by the direct command of God in Scripture. Now, the most important thing to remember is that puritans accepted the theological consensus of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. The main issue was of polity and ceremonies, both matters indifferent, to both parties, churchmen and puritans alike. The puritans believed also in the establishment principle and were happy to stay in the national Church.

All of this really goes to show that someone who accepts the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England cannot be a puritan.

Of course, times have changed and some might wish to re-appropriate the use of the term "puritan" to mean one who wishes to reform the Church back to her own standards. I am not of that opinion but if someone wishes to call me a Puritan, that is the manner in which I will interpret his statement.

1 comment:

Will said...

Good post, although I am somewhat surprised that someone would call you a Puritan.