elders. Both equally teach the supremacy of “the whole church” in all discipline, including that upon elders or officers generally, if need arise. Possibly Barrow laid more stress also on the orderly “rules of the Word” to be followed in all church actions, and so conveyed a rather different impression.
After the execution of Greenwood, Barrow and the ex-Puritan Penry (a recent recruit to Separatism), in the spring of 1593, it seemed to some that Separatism was “in effect extinguished.” This was largely true for the time as regards England, thanks to the rigour of Archbishop Whitgift, aided by the new act which left deniers of the queen’s power in ecclesiastical matters no option but to leave the realm. Even this hard fate the bulk of the London church was ready to endure. Gradually they resumed church-fellowship in Amsterdam, where they chose the learned Henry Ainsworth (q.v.) as teacher, in place of Greenwood, but elected no new pastor, as they expected Francis Johnson (1562–1618) soon to be released and to rejoin them. This he did at the end of 1597, after a vain attempt to find asylum under his country’s flag in Newfoundland. It was here and now that divergent ideals as to the powers of the eldership really emerged. Johnson, a man autocratic by nature, and leaning to his old Presbyterian ideals on the point, held that the church had no power to control its elders, once elected, in their exercise of discipline, much less to depose them; while Ainsworth, true to Barrow and the “old way” as he claimed, sided with those who made the church itself supreme throughout. The church divided on the issue; but neither section has further historical importance. Far otherwise was it with the church which was formed originally at Gainsborough (?1602), by “professors” trained under zealous Puritan clergy in the district where Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire meet, but which about 1606 reorganized itself for reasons of convenience into two distinct churches, meeting at Gainsborough and in Scrooby Manor House. Ere long these were forced to seek refuge, in 1607 and 1608 respectively, at Amsterdam, whence the Scrooby church moved to Leiden in 1609 (Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, chs. 1-3). The permanent issues of the Gainsborough-Amsterdam church are connected with the origins of the Baptist wing of Congregationalism, through John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. As for the Scrooby-Leiden church under John Robinson (q.v.), it was in a sense the direct parent of historical “Congregationalism” alike in England and America (see below, section American).
Separatism was now passing into Congregationalism, both in sentiment and in language. The emphasis changes from protest to calm exposition. In the freer atmosphere of Holland the exiles lose the antithetical attitude, with its narrowing and exaggerative tendency, and gain breadth and balance in the assertion of their distinctive testimony. This comes out in the writings both of Robinson and of Henry Jacob, both of whom passed gradually from Puritanism to Separatism at a time when the silencing of some 300 Puritan clergy by the Canons of 1604, and the exercise of the royal supremacy under Archbishop Bancroft, brought these “brethren of the Second Separation” into closer relations with the earlier Separatists. In a work of 1610, the sequel to his Divine Beginning and Institution of Christ’s true Visible and Ministerial Church, Jacob describes “an entire and independent body-politic,” “endued with power immediately under and from Christ, as every proper church is and ought to be.” But his claim for “independent” churches no longer denies that true Christianity exists within parish assemblies. Similarly Robinson wrote about 1620 a Treatise of the Lawfulness of hearing of the Ministers of the Church of England which shows a larger catholicity of feeling than his earlier Justification of Separation (1610). These semi-separatists still set great store by the church-covenant, in which they bound themselves “to walk together in all God’s ways and ordinances, according as He had already revealed, or should further make them known to them.” But they realized that “the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth of his Holy Word”; and this gave them an open-minded and tolerant spirit, which continued to mark the church in Plymouth Colony, as distinct from the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. Such, then, was the type of church formed in 1616 by Henry Jacob in London. It was founded under the tolerant Archbishop George Abbot (1562–1633), and would have been content with toleration such as the French and Dutch churches in England enjoyed. But Charles I. and Archbishop Laud would make no terms with deniers of royal supremacy in religion, and in 1632 this church was persecuted.
Besides such regular churches in London and the provinces under the early Stuarts, there were also numerous “conventicles” composed of very humble folk, such as the eleven about London which Bishop Joseph Hall (1574–1656) reports in 1631, and which he states in 1640 had grown to some eighty. In these latter the earlier Brownist or even Anabaptist spirit probably prevailed. Further there was arising a new type of “Independent,” to use the term now coming into use. Conjoint repression of civil and religious liberty had made thoughtful men ponder matters of church polity. The majority, indeed, even of determined opponents of personal rule in state and church favoured Presbyterianism, particularly before 1641, when Henry Burton’s Protestation Protested brought before educated men generally the principles of Congregationalism, as distinct from Puritanism, by applying them to a matter of practical politics. But besides this telling pamphlet and the controversy which ensued, the experience of New England as to the practicability of Congregationalism, at least in that modified form known as the “New England Way,” produced a growing impression, especially on parliament. Hence even before the Westminster Assembly met in July 1643, Independency could reckon among its friends men of distinction in the state, like Cromwell, Sir Harry Vane, Lord Saye and Sele; while Milton powerfully pleaded the power of Truth to take care of herself on equal terms. In the Assembly, too, its champions were fit, if few. They included Thomas Goodwin and Philip Nye, who had practised this polity during exile abroad and now strove to avert the substitution of Presbyterian uniformity for the Episcopacy which, as the ally of absolutism, had alienated its own children (see Presbyterianism). Yet the “Five Dissenting Brethren” would have failed to secure toleration even for themselves as Congregationalists—such was the dread felt by the assembly for Anabaptists, Antinomians, and other “sectaries”—had it not been for the vaguer, but widespread Independency existing in parliament and in the army. Here, then, we meet with a distinction (cf. Dale, p. 374 ff.) of moment for the Commonwealth era, between “Independency” as a principle and “Congregationalism” as an ideal of church polity. Independency, like Nonconformity, is primarily a negative term. “It simply affirms the right of any society of private persons to meet together for worship . . . without being interfered with by any external authority.” Such a right may be asserted on other theories than the congregational or even the Christian. Congregationalism, however, “denotes a positive theory of the organization and powers of Christian churches,” having as corollary independency of external control, whether civil or ecclesiastical. “Historically the two terms have been used interchangeably” during the last two hundred years. But under the Commonwealth many professed the one without fully accepting the other.
During the Civil War Congregationalism broadened out into reciprocal relations with the national life and history. Thenceforth
- So the Amsterdam church petitioned James, on his accession, to allow them to live in their native land on the same terms as French and Dutch churches on English soil (see Walker, op. cit. 75 foll.)
- The abstract term dates only from the 18th century. But “congregational” (due to the rendering of ecclesia by “congregation” in early English Bibles) appears about 1642, to judge from the New English Dictionary.
- “Independent” is not yet used technically, as it came to be about 1640.
- The opposite of this external Independency, admission of civil oversight even for churches enjoying internal ecclesiastical self-government, was also common, being the outcome of the traditional Puritan attitude to the state. See A. Mackennal, The Evolution of Congregationalism (1901), pp. 43 ff.