The Puritan And His Anglican Allegiance -- By: Louis Martin Sears

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 074:296 (Oct 1917)
Article: The Puritan And His Anglican Allegiance
Author: Louis Martin Sears


The Puritan And His Anglican Allegiance1

Louis Martin Sears

A study of the Puritan and his Anglican allegiance involves contradictory’ issues. The Puritans themselves recognized their continuance in the National Church; but their immediate adoption of Congregationalism has cast a doubt upon their sincerity in proclaiming devotion to a church from whose tyranny they were seeking to escape. Conscientious scruples against church practices drove the Puritans to America. Prompt adoption of a new system meant a rupture with the old. But a just estimate of the transition premises sincerity on the part of the Puritans, whose departure from the Church was not a formal act, but an evolution, silent and inevitable, inherent in the philosophy of the exodus.

Any stigma of hypocrisy is especially premature until the Puritans’ idea of a true national church is defined. It is evident that they did not identify it with episcopacy or church hierarchy or ritual. Neither did they regard independence in local parishes as incompatible with a larger unity. Thus, in a modern sense, both their Churchmanship and their Congregationalism are dubious. But the Puritans based their claim to Churchmanship upon the fundamental Protestantism of the nation, strengthened by traditional preference for religious unity.

The Puritan looked with reason upon the Church of England as a Protestant body in which he could participate without sacrificing the principles of the Reformation. And to deny his membership in a national organization which he sought to preserve and to reform is to accept the ultramontanism of a small party of extremists armed with the sword of persecution. Such a position deprives the Puritan of his due credit as the moderate Churchman, and fails to estimate the Revolution as the nation’s protest against extremes, religious as well as political.

In truth, from the Reformation to the Revolution, the Church of England held a middle course, which justified the Puritan as a moderate. The reign of Edward VI. was ultra-Protestant; Elizabeth maintained an intricate system of checks and balances; and James I., though tending toward the ultimate Laudian position, placed the Puritanic Abbot over the See of Canterbury.2 To be sure, the Puritans were brusquely treated al (lie Hampton Court conference in 1604; but a friendly primate lent them countenance, and nonconformity in church practices was distinctly tolerated, especially in the great diocese of Lincoln, which furnished so large an element of the early migrations.3 Continuity, ho...

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