The first clash between the royalists and the parliamentarians came in the April Siege of Hull , which began when the military governor appointed by Parliament, Sir John Hotham refused to allow Charles' forces access to military material in Kingston upon Hull. In , the most ardent defenders of episcopacy in the Long Parliament left to join King Charles on the battlefield. However, although Civil War was beginning, Parliament was initially reluctant to pass legislation without it receiving royal assent.
Thus, between June and May , Parliament passed legislation providing for a religious assembly five times, but these bills did not receive royal assent and thus died. By June , however, Parliament was willing to defy the king and call a religious assembly without the king's assent. In later sessions, the Assembly would meet in the Jerusalem Chamber. The Assembly was charged with drawing up a new liturgy to replace the Book of Common Prayer and with determining what manner of church polity was appropriate for the Church of England.
In both cases, it was assumed that the Westminster Assembly would only make recommendations and that Parliament would have the final word. The Long Parliament appointed divines to the Westminster Assembly at the time "divine", i. To replace the divines who had failed to show up, Parliament later added 21 additional divines, known as the "Superadded Divines". The Assembly also included 30 lay assessors 10 nobles and 20 commoners. Although the Westminster Divines were mainly Puritan, they were broadly representative of all positions except Laudianism then on offer in the Church of England.
For its first ten weeks, the Westminster Assembly's only task was to revise the Thirty-Nine Articles. However, in summer , shortly after the calling of the Westminster Assembly, the Parliamentary forces, under the leadership of John Pym and Henry Vane the Younger concluded an agreement with the Scots known as the Solemn League and Covenant. As noted above, one of the main reasons why the Scots had launched the Second Bishops War in was because they hoped to bring about an end to episcopacy in England.
They therefore insisted as a term of the agreement that the English agree to fight to extirpate " popery and prelacy ". Since the Puritans were also interested in fighting these things, they readily agreed, and the Long Parliament agreed to swear to the Scottish National Covenant. Six Commissioners representing the Church of Scotland were now sent to attend the Westminster Assembly and on 12 October , the Long Parliament ordered the Assembly to "confer and treat among themselves of such a discipline and government as may be most agreeable to God's holy word , and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the church at home, and nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland and other Reformed Churches abroad.
The Westminster Assembly's discussions on church polity mark a definitive turning point in Puritan history. Whereas Puritans had hitherto been united in their opposition to royal and episcopal ecclesiastical policies, they now became divided over the form that reforms to the Church of England should take.
The Westminster Divines divided into four groups:. Even after the Royalists failed to turn up for the Westminster Assembly, the Episcopalians were probably in the majority or at least the plurality. However, the Episcopalian members of the Assembly proved less than zealous in their defense of episcopacy: when the Assembly scheduled debates and votes for the late afternoon and early evening, the Episcopalian members failed to attend, allowing the Presbyterians and Independents to dominate the Assembly's debates.
In a famous bon mot , Lord Falkland observed that "those that hated the bishops hated them worse than the devil and those that loved them loved them not so well as their dinner.
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It initially appeared that the Scottish Commissioners might be able to push through their presbyterian scheme with only minimal resistance. Instead, in , the Westminster Assembly became the sight of a series of heated debate between the Presbyterians and the Independents.
The Independents were the party most committed to experimental predestinarianism, the position that one can have assurance of election in this life. Experimental predestinarians tended to undergo dramatic conversion experiences. With the rise of experimental predestinarianism, there was a concomitant call among some of the godly for gathered churches.
Following the suppression of Separatism in the late Elizabethan period, calls for gathered churches could only be whispered about. However, the social process of separating "the godly" from the rest of the congregation continued throughout the early seventeenth century.
When the Puritans in New England set up their own congregations, in order to be admitted to the church, one had to be examined by the elders of the church, and then make a public profession of faith before the assembled congregation before being admitted to membership.
The Independents supported the New England way and argued for its adoption in England. The result would be a situation where not all English people would be members of the church, but only those who had undergone a conversion experience and made a public confession of faith. Under these circumstances, one of the major reasons why the Independents favored congregational polity was that they argued that only other godly members of the congregation could identify who else was elect. They accused the Presbyterian party of wanting to continue the barbarous, "popish" persecutions of the Laudian bishops.
For the first time, the Independents began to advocate a theory of religious liberty. Since they saw only a small minority of the community as actually "saved", they argued that it made no sense to have a uniform national church. Rather, each gathered church should be free to organize itself as it saw fit. The Presbyterians responded that the Independents were engaged in faction. The Presbyterians were Calvinists just like the Independents, but they spoke of predestination in a different way than the Independents. Some argued that England was an elect nation, that divine providence had chosen England as a special called nation, just as he had chosen the Israelites to be a chosen people in the Old Testament.
Others argued that, while it is true that God has chosen some as elect and some as reprobate, it is really impossible in this life for any individual to know whether he or she was among the elect, and that life should therefore simply be lived in as close of conformity to the will of God as possible. They certainly did not approve of the Independents who thought that they were the only members of the elect in England: true, many members of the Church of England may have engaged in many open and notorious sins, but for the Presbyterians, that was a sign that the state needed to step in to punish those sins, lest God visit punishments on the nation in the same way that He visited punishments on Old Testament Israel when He found them sinning.
The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560–1700
During the next two years, a second controversy occupied a great deal of time and attention of the Westminster Assembly: the controversy over Erastianism. During the Elizabethan Religious Settlement , two great Acts of Parliament had established the place of the Church of England in English life 1 the Act of Supremacy , which declared the monarch to be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and which imposed an oath on all subjects requiring them to swear that they recognized the royal supremacy in the church; and 2 the Act of Uniformity , which established religious uniformity throughout the country by requiring all churches to conduct services according to the Book of Common Prayer.
The events of the s caused the English legal community to worry that the Westminster Assembly was preparing to illegally alter the church in a way that overrode the Act of Supremacy. As such, John Selden , arguably the foremost jurist in England since the death of Edward Coke in , led a campaign against altering the Church of England in a way that would undermine the Act of Supremacy. Thus, just as the Presbyterian party in the Assembly was dominated by non-members the Scottish Commissioners , the Erastian party was dominated by Selden and the other lawyers.
Selden argued that not only English law, but the Bible itself required that the church be subordinate to the state: he cited the relationship of Zadok to King David and Romans 13 in support of this view. Beginning in April , the Assembly shifted its attention from the Independents Controversy to the Erastian Controversy. Besides John Lightfoot , the most zealous proponent of the Erastian position was Bulstrode Whitelocke , one of the MPs serving as a lay assessor to the Assembly.
In October , the Scottish Commissioners got their way when the Long Parliament voted in favour of an ordinance erecting a presbyterian form of church government in England. However, they were appalled that the Parliament also adopted the Erastian argument and made any final decision of the church on the question of excommunication appealable from the General Assembly to the Parliament of England.
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This decision provoked protests from the Presbyterian party. The Parliament of Scotland , worried that the Long Parliament was failing to live up to its commitments under the Solemn League and Covenant, protested the Erastian nature of the ordinance. The ministers of London organized a petition to the Parliament. The Westminster Assembly responded by sending a delegation, led by Stephen Marshall , a fiery preacher who had delivered several sermons to the Long Parliament, to protest the Erastian nature of the ordinance.
Some MPs argued that the Assembly by this action committed a praemunire and should be punished. Parliament responded by sending a delegation which included Nathaniel Fiennes to the Westminster Assembly, along with a list of interrogatories related to the jure divino nature of church government.
A second Scottish Commissioner, George Gillespie engaged in a pamphlet debate with Coleman: in response to a sermon which Coleman published advocating the Erastian position, Gillespie published A Brotherly Examination of some Passages of Mr. The Presbyterian party also used their strength in London to petition the Parliament in favour of their position. Although in August , Parliament had passed an ordinance expressing its intent to set up elders throughout the country, it had not actually provided how this should be done. On 14 March , Parliament passed the "Ordinance for keeping scandalous persons from the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper , for the choice of elders, and for supplying defects in former Ordinances concerning church government.
However, this Ordinance again contained an Erastian element.
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The Ordinance created a new office of "commissioners to judge of scandalous offenses": these commissioners were granted jurisdiction to determine if a "scandalous offense" warranted excommunication and sessions were forbidden from excommunicating any church member without a commissioner first having signed off on the excommunication. The Presbyterian party was furious at the inclusion of the office of commissioner in the act that created Presbyterian polity in England.
The Independent party was angry that Parliament remained in the business of enforcing religious conformity at all. Milton argued that the Long Parliament was imitating popish tyranny in the church; violating the biblical principle of Christian liberty ; and engaging in a course of action that would punish godly men.
He concluded the poem with the famous line, "New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large" a play on words since in English, the word "Priest" emerged as a contraction of the Greek word "Presbyter", but also claiming that the Presbyters under the Long Parliament's plan would be even worse than the Catholic and Laudian priests whom all Puritans abhorred. At the same time that the Westminster Assembly had been debating ecclesiology, they had also been reviewing worship and doctrine. These aspects generated less controversy amongst the divines. Tasked with reforming the English liturgy, the Assembly first considered simply adopting John Knox 's Book of Common Order , but this possibility was rejected by the Assembly in , and the work of drawing up a new liturgy entrusted to a committee.
This committee drafted the Directory of Public Worship , which was passed by the Westminster Assembly in Unlike the Book of Common Prayer , which had contained detailed rubrics regulating in minute detail how clergymen were supposed to conduct service, the Directory of Public Worship is basically a loose agenda for worship, and expected the minister to fill in the details. Under the Directory, the focus of the service was on preaching. The service opened with a reading of a passage from the Bible ; followed by an opening prayer selected or composed by the minister, or offered extemporaneously by the minister ; followed by a sermon ; and then ended with a closing prayer.
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The Directory provides guidelines as to what the prayers and sermon ought to contain, but does not contain any set forms of prayers. The Directory encouraged the public singing of psalms , but left it to the minister's discretion which psalms should be used in the service and where in the service contrast this with the Book of Common Prayer, which set out the precise order for singing psalms for every day of the year in a way that ensured that the entire Book of Psalms is sung once a month.
The sections dealing with baptism , communion , marriage , funerals , days of public fasting and days of public thanksgiving all have a similar character. In , the Long Parliament had ordered the Westminster Assembly to draw up a new Confession of Faith and a new national catechism. The result was the production of the Westminster Confession of Faith and two catechisms, the Westminster Larger Catechism designed to be comprehensive and the Westminster Shorter Catechism designed to be easier for children to memorize.
The Westminster Confession was presented to Parliament in , but the House of Commons returned the Confession to the Assembly with the instruction that proof texts from Scripture should be added to the Confession. This version was resubmitted to Parliament in , and, after a long a rigorous debate during the course of which some chapters and sections approved by the Assembly were deleted , the Confession was ratified by the Long Parliament.
The Larger Catechism was completed in , and the Shorter Catechism in , and both received the approval of both the Westminster Assembly and the Long Parliament. Since the Westminster Standards had been produced under the watchful eye of the Scottish Commissioners at the Westminster Assembly, the Scottish had no problem ratifying the Westminster Standards in order to keep Scotland's commitment to England under the Solemn League and Covenant.
Since the Directory set up a type of ecclesiology already practiced in the Church of Scotland , it was quickly ratified by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and then by the Parliament of Scotland in The Westminster Standards are the general standards of the Church of Scotland and of nearly all Presbyterian denominations to this day.
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In , the Presbyterian party committed themselves to a fateful course of action. As background, we need to briefly consider the course of the First English Civil War.
Parliamentary forces had initially fared poorly against royalist forces: the first major battle of the war, the Battle of Edgehill on 23 October , was inconclusive, as was the First Battle of Newbury of 20 September As noted above, as a result of their failure to defeat the king on the battlefield, in the wake of the First Battle of Newbury, the Long Parliament decided to enter into an alliance with the Scottish, which resulted in the Solemn League and Covenant by which the Long Parliament agreed to establish presbyterianism in England , and with the war being entrusted to a joint committee of Scottish and English known as the Committee of Both Kingdoms.