Were the Puritan's Congregationalists?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by shackleton, Apr 25, 2008.

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  1. shackleton

    shackleton Puritan Board Junior

    I am just finding out that the Puritans did not hold to a Presbyterian form of government but were Congregationalists. I was really surprised to find that John Owen was not "Presbyterian." Did this have something to do with the Church of England and abuses of power seen by a top down form of government?
  2. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritanboard Commissioner

    Most Puritans were Presbyterians, but some like John Owen were Conservative Independents.
  3. VaughanRSmith

    VaughanRSmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    Listen to the first few lectures J. I. Packer gives on RTS on iTunes U in the Church History course called "History and Theology of the Puritans". He gives a really helpful rundown of the times and the Puritans' views on how the CofE should have been Presbyterial in government.
  4. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    And, of course, this is why John Owen is not 'reformed'.
  5. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    There were certainly Congregational Puritans, but Presbyterianism was the primary Puritan ecclesiology. This is evidenced from the Westminster Standards, notably the Form of Presbyterian Church Government. London and Edinburgh were the centers of Presbyterianism; congregationalism was centered more in New England.

  6. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    Seems to me the congregational Puritans are more frequently reprinted than the Presbyterian ones . . .
  7. VaughanRSmith

    VaughanRSmith Puritan Board Sophomore

    Apart from the Westminster Standards, you mean? ;)
  8. AV1611

    AV1611 Puritan Board Senior

    It is questionable as to what Owen's view was in that he changed it throughout his life. I believe he ended up at a near Presbyterian view towards his death. See here.
  9. Mayflower

    Mayflower Puritan Board Junior

    You have to ask your self, if you want to believe this or if this is done through a honest study.

    This same view Nigel Lee has on his papper on Owen RE-PRESBYTERI-ANIZED, i heard from three convinced presbyterian pastor and scholars (one of them was "L.J van Valen" from the Netherlands, who read and studied Owen RE-PRESBYTERI-ANIZED) that in their view this view of Lee is very weak !

    Even though they are convinced presbyterians (and studied church history and esspecially Owen), for them it was clear that Owen was a independed.

    I think if you are a convinced presbyterian, you can say that Owen was one of the greatest Theologion, but that he was dead wrong on Congregationalism (ofcourse not me!)
    See also"
    http://www.puritanboard.com/f47/john-owen-s-ecclesiology-16318/ see Matthew Winzer comments on that!
  10. AV1611

    AV1611 Puritan Board Senior

    There is the question of what precisely the difference is between Presbyterian and Independency. Owen rejected completely the view that the local congregation was a democracy of any sorts and opposed the idea that members should vote for ministers. He clearly saw that the biblical view was that elders rule, now as to the relations between independent congregations he saw that in matters of faith there had to be unity between them and he saw that local congregations could work togther. In short, it was a mild presbyterianism. :2cents:
  11. Robert Truelove

    Robert Truelove Puritan Board Sophomore

    You are quite right. Owen's view of 'Independancy' was not what Congregationalism later become and it is unfortunate that Owen gets confused with the Congregational movement which came later.

    Owen was thoroughly elder rule in his view of church government. He also believed that churches should work together to solve controversies that could not be resolved locally.

    The primary difference between Owen (as well as the early Independents) and Presbyterianism, is that in Presbyterianism, the way the churches work together to resolve issues is through a formal and binding court whereas early Independency saw the relationship between the churches in a much more informal, pastoral way.

  12. larryjf

    larryjf Puritan Board Senior

    Getting back to the OP...i think that many times the Puritans are confused with the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were congregationalist.
  13. Zadok

    Zadok Puritan Board Freshman

    Presbyterian polity may have been the primary one in the Assembly. I think it would be hard to argue that the Assembly was truly representative of the nation as a whole. The Baptists for instance had no representatives at the Assembly and the Independents who were not Baptist only had a hand full of representatives. But even a handful were able to frustrate the Presbyterian objective of establishinig Presbyterian polity as the nationally accepted one and subsequent events demonstrated that it would not have been acceptable to the nation.

    Many ejected Puritans became Baptists and others became Independents. The Pilgrims were puritans who had given up all hopes of the CoE being thoroughly reformed and saw a better hope of establishing a biblical polity in a new land.
  14. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Scotland was always and unquestionably Presbyterian. If we are speaking of only England, there was certainly a diversity of opinions. Especially, in the 1640's and 1650's, it was a chaotic time. But from the early English Reformation onward, especially from the time of Thomas Cartwright, "Puritan" meant primarily "Presbyterian." I know about Ames and Goodwin, and the rather lengthy list of notable Independents. I am acquainted with the history of the Baptists in England. I know about "modified Presbyterians" and Anglicans who were sympathetic with Presbyterianism. I am also aware of other influences in the Puritan era.

    But I would attribute the failure of Presbyterians to hold on to the achievements of Westminster and establish them nationally in England in such a way that it could last, not to ecclesiastical challenges but to the political alignment of Independents with Oliver Cromwell, and the subsequent division of Puritans between Protesters and Resolutioners, followed by the return of the King -- in short, to political influences, rather than Independents in the Assembly thwarting the majority of Presbyterians. The Independents in the Assembly were men of great renown, and they were permitted to speak their mind. The Grand Debate memorialized the arguments of Independents as well as Presbyterians. The debates over polity before, during and after Westminster, were argued vigorously and amicably by Presbyterians and Independents. The debates over baptism were of another sort. There was a mix of beliefs and contributions to English Protestantism certainly. I don't deny or diminish the influences of others. I simply argue that English Puritanism was primarily Presbyterian, while New England Puritanism was primarily Congregational. And I haven't even delved into Dutch Puritanism (I know many English Independents / Congregationalists found refuge in the Netherlands). Voetius defended Presbyterian polity; and when divines in Zealand sent a list of questions to the Congregationalists of New England concerning church polity in 1644 which led to a response on behalf of New England congregationalists by John Norton, Willem Apollonius wrote a noted defense of Presbyterian polity.

    I'm pretty sure that the vast majority of ministers who were ejected from their pulpits in 1662 in England, Scotland and Ireland were Presbyterian, and this is a pretty good indicator of the state of Puritanism / nonconformity in that era.

    The demise of Puritanism in England, spiritually speaking, cuts across all brands of church polity, but its rise was attributable in large measure to Presbyterian Puritanism, with many invaluable contributions by the Independents, which are not to be forgotten.

    Some further resources I found have helpful in studying this history may be useful for others:

    Tai Liu, Puritan London: A Study of Religion and Society in the City Parishes
    John Brown, The English Puritans
    Thomas M'Crie (the Younger), Annals of English Presbytery
    William A. Shaw, A History of the English Church During the Civil Wars and Under the Commonwealth 1640-1660
    A.H. Drysdale, History of the Presbyterians in England: Their Rise, Decline and Revival:

  15. shackleton

    shackleton Puritan Board Junior

    Are we talking Presbyterian in the sense we have today from elders all the way up to GA, or are we talking presbyterian just in the sense of elder run local church government. I have heard even the independents of the same period were elder run and were a lot like Presbyterian churches nowadays but nothing like the Independent churches of nowadays.
  16. Zadok

    Zadok Puritan Board Freshman

    Andrew my reference was to the failure of the Assembly in achieving one of the tasks committed to it by Parliament viz. an agreed scriptural doctrine of church government for the purposes of uniformity. This was mainly due to the staunch defence of Independency by the famous 5. I am not suggesting that the political situation played no part in defeating the establishment of Presbyterian polity. But to be fair to the Independents it is not as though the Presbyterians were politically neutral in seeking to achieve the establishment of their polity in England! Let's not forget that the Scots army supported Charles I and also that Charles II came to power on the back of a promise to the Scots to restore Presbyterianism - this was the only reason the Scots supported him .. but this political attempt to establish Presbyterianism also failed!

    Have a blessed Lord's day!

    You are right that Independency/Congregationalism is elder led - the difference is that we do not deny that the membership also has a role. There is a fine balance maintained in the Scriptures between the roles of the membership and the overseers. Being elder led is not therefore exclusively a Presbyterian notion.

    The fairly modern corruption of Independency/Congregationalsim which insists on a democracy in all church decisions was a novelty that many wrote against - e.g. John Angel James etc. but had persisted because "people power" is a rather intoxicating notion!
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2008
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