Richard Baxter’s Bucerian “Reformation” -- By: J. William Black

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 063:2 (Fall 2001)
Article: Richard Baxter’s Bucerian “Reformation”
Author: J. William Black

Richard Baxter’s Bucerian “Reformation”

J. William Blacka

At the heart of Richard Baxter’s agenda for pastoral ministry lay his understanding of “reformation.” But as one who viewed himself firmly within the tradition of England’s “godly, learned and faithful” Protestant pastors, Baxter’s rhetoric, at least, was hardly unique. For more than a hundred years, the prospect of further “reformation” informed the strategies and inflamed the rhetoric of committed Protestant ministers preaching in pulpits from Great St. Mary’s in Cambridge to St. Margaret’s in Westminster, and from the pulpits of hundreds if not thousands of more ordinary parish churches throughout the kingdom. Even so, only recently have historians’ own utilization of “reformation” begun to reflect the range and complexities of use discernible in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sources. Not surprisingly, “reformation” has become a term that is increasingly problematical for historians attempting to describe England’s transformation from a kingdom of Roman Catholics to one of Protestants. With perspective enhanced by more diverse sources of evidence, the argument viewing England’s reformation as a convoluted process that extended far beyond the successive Tudor settlements of religion in the middle years of the sixteenth-century has found persuasive proponents.1

While the present-day controversy continues over a reformational time frame, as well as the vantage from which to judge its relative success or failure,2 it is

helpful to recall that for several generations, many of England’s early Protestants were themselves under no illusions as to the incompleteness of England’s reformation.3 It was their fundamental unhappiness with Elizabeth’s religion “established by law” and attempts to revise it that polarized the English church, particularly over the issues of ceremonies and government, and established a pattern of confrontation that would dominate the Church of England through James II. While a spectrum of clergy and laity took as the goal of their exertions the task of completing the “reformation,” how reformation was understood changed as the more zealous of England’s Protestants were forced by a succession of frustrations to reevaluate both their means and ends. Moreover, “reformation” itself covered a range of meaning, used often to denote the overall process of religious change from Roman Catholicism to Protestantism, but just as often when speaking of smalle...

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