John Owen's Ecclesiology

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Puritan Board Doctor
John Owen\'s Ecclesiology

One hears, occasionally, that Owen renounced, or was on the verge of renouncing, Congregationalism for Presbyterianism toward the end of his life.

Is this true? Is there a definite answer, one way or another? Is there any place in his vast written works where he makes a statement like this?

Or is this one of those Christian urban legends?


Puritanboard Amanuensis
Francis Nigel Lee is the latest to make this claim, and it is based mostly on a death bed confession (if I remember correctly), and concessions in his writings to Presbyterian principles. Leaving the confession to the side, I think it is more true to say that Owen never really forgot his earlier Presbyterianism, and therefore traces of it are still to be found in his congregationalism. However, his tract on schism is clearly Independent, and it took a clear-minded Presbyterian in Daniel Cawdrey to expose its anti-scriptural tendencies.

Basically Owen regarded the unity of the church as consisting in a profession of the same truth, and so he could speak of a national church adopting the same confession of faith, while congregations could act autonomously at the same time. Yet he could allow for a voluntary submission to higher courts for the sake of order. His Independency showed itself clearly in the disputes with Baxter over unified nonconformity. I don't believe he ever moved away from his basic congregational convictions; although I will readily point to him as a good example of why congregationalists have no solid basis for urging separation from Presbyterian courts.
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