Joint Cof E / URC service of reconciliation recognises 350th anniversary of Great Ejectment

At 6.15pm on Tuesday, February 7th the United Reformed Church and the Church of England will both participate in a Service of Reconciliation, Healing of Memories and Mutual Commitment at Westminster Abbey. The service marks the 350th anniversary of the Great Ejectment of 2,000 nonconforming ministers following the 1662 Act of Uniformity…

The historic service marks a significant step forward in the development of a closer working relationship between the two Churches. At the service, the Archbishop of Canterbury will preach and the Archbishop of York, together with Mrs Val Morrison and the Revd Dr Kirsty Thorpe, moderators of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, will lead a litany of penitence and act of commitment.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church History, Church of England (CoE), Ecumenical Relations, Other Churches, Reformed

10 comments on “Joint Cof E / URC service of reconciliation recognises 350th anniversary of Great Ejectment

  1. New Reformation Advocate says:

    I welcome this development. It’s long overdue. This year is indeed the happy 350th anniversary not only of the classic 1662 BCP, but the sadder anniversary of the “Great Ejection” of some 2.000 Puritan ministers from the CoE, when they refused to give the “[i]unfeigned assent and consent[/i]” to that BCP required by the king and Parliament in the Act of Uniformity.

    Two minor nitpicks, however, with this ecumenically-minded report on the CoE website. First, it seems odd to refer to this event as the “Great Ejectment” instead of ejection. Is that an archaic survival of the term used way back then?

    Second, even stranger is the claim buried in the final paragraph, where in describing the United Reformed Church to Anglicans, this misleading statement is made:
    “Worldwide, more than 80 million Christians are members of the Reformed family of Churches, [i]making it the largest Protestant tradition.[/i]” I added the italics there, to highlight that dubious claim that the Reformed tradition is the largest one in the Protestant world.

    I guess that all depends on how you reckon churches to be part of an ecclesial tradition. Certainly both Baptists and Pentecostals would make very plausible counterclaims that their traditions are not only larger than the Reformed tradition, but MUCH larger. However, it’s also true that since both Baptists and Pentecostals have a congregationally-based polity, they are far less well-connected and less unified denominationally.

    More interesting is the question of what impolications this claim has on an official Anglican website. Depending on how you count “members” (i.e., how you define “inactive” ones and whether you count nominal or former members or not), it certainly could be argued that there are more Anglicans than Reformed Christians in the world. If that point were to be granted, and let’s assume just for the sake of argument that it is true for a moment, then we are left with the curious and significant conclusion that the CoE does not consider itself part of the Protestant tradition, since this CoE report says that the 80 million Reformed Christians constitute “the largest Protestant tradition” in the world.

    Now personally, I have no problem with that at all, since I don’t claim to be a Protestant, only an Anglican. I don’t see Anglicanism as “the English form of Protestantism” (as is so commonly thought, and as was certainly historically the case before the Catholic Revival began in 1833). No, I much prefer to see Anglicanism as a Protestant-Catholic hybrid, owing much to both parents, but which is very much a whole new, third kind of Christianity altogether.

    If our Reformed brothers and sisters have much to confess and repent of in terms of persecuting faithful Prayerbook, episcopal Christians in England (execution of ++Laud and King Charles I, and the proscribing and banishmnet of the BCP and episcopacy, etc.), it’s just as true that we Anglicans have at least as much to confess and repent of in terms of our much longer period of persecuting and harassing our rivals among the “Dissenting” or Non-conformist churches. Think of poor John Bunyan, as a young Baptist pastor, languishing in jail for years (and writing his immortal classic tale [b]Pilgrim’s Progress[/b] there), all because he conscientiously refused to conform to the ways of the CoE.

    In many ways, the failure of the 1662 Act of UNIFORMITY to enforce uniformity in religion in England led almost inevitably to the later 1689 Act of Toleration, when the more “mainline’ sorts of Protestants were finally granted official toleration (but still not Baptists, Quakers, and certainly not Roman Catholics, who had to wait until about 1830 to get similar freedom and public recognition).

    Finally, on a more feisty note, sad as it may have been, I actually think it was commendable and a good thing that the CoE was able to set real boundaries and enforce its classic Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship back in 1662. It’s just unfortunate (and disastrous) that the CoE relied on the coercive powers of the State to enforce its own standards. It was entirely right and proper for the CoE to cast 2000 Puritan ministers out of office and deprive them of their living for failure to conform to Anglican ways. What was wrong was to ban all rival forms of church organization, doctrine, and worship by throwing rival preachers into jail, fining people for non-conformity, requiring subscription to the 39 Articles in order to get a degree from Oxford or Cambrige or hold a public office, etc.

    Even more controversially, I don’t hesitate to make a very radical and inflammatory claim that will doubtless make Kendall wince: We don’t have any problems in worldwide Anglicanism today that couldn’t be solved by a replay of the Great Ejection and throwing several thousand liberal clergy out of Anglicanism. It’s high time to banish theological and moral relativists from Anglicanism. Vote them off the Anglican Island for good, until they repent and conform to the classic Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of Anglicanism!!

    But don’t use the powers of the State to do the dirty work. Maintaining healthy boundaries isn’t the same thing as persecuting dissent. The proposed Covenant doesn’t go nearly far enough to suit me.

    David Handy+
    Feisty as ever

  2. Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I know when I was in Cambridge, there was a lot of joint stuff done by the local United Reform Church and a few of the Anglican parishes in Cambridge. They seemed to get along pretty well, at least with the Mainline Liberal Anglican parishes.

  3. evan miller says:

    Well said as always, Fr. Handy. I heartily concur with all you say here. I too think the Great Ejectment was completely justified and did the church much good. After ++Laud’s and King Charles the First’s executions, I don’t fault the CofE one bit for coming down hard on the Puritans.

  4. TomRightmyer says:

    Dr. Robert Bosher, _Making of the Restoration Settlement_ at General used to say that the Restoration was the only case in history when the returning exiles were able to turn back the clock. All the others including the early 19th century French Bourbons had to make peace with the revolution. I’m going to reread Bosher but as I recall it was the intransigence of the Puritans that led to the Ejectment.

  5. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Thanks as alwasy, evan, for the kind words (#3).

    Tom (#4),
    Well, you can never really turn the clock back, of course. Charles II couldn’t bring his father back to life, nor restore the status quo back around 1640 when Parliament invited him to return as monarch in 1660. Anglicanism itself had changed during the Interregnum, arguably for the better, by being forced into a minority position for a short while. That separated the sheep from the goats, so to speak: those genuinely committed to the Prayerbook tradition and episcopacy from those who supported Anglicanism for something other than religious reasons. Or to rephrase it another way, 1662 marks the final defeat of the Puritan attempt to remake the CoE in the style of the continental Reformed tradition.

    But the fact is that the dissenters weren’t in agreement among themselves. Some of the revolutionaries who overthrew the monarchy and episcopacy were Presbyterians, like the illustrious group that drafted the Westminster Confession of 1646 and the associated Shorter and Larger Catechisms. Some were Congregationalists and yet believed in an established national church, and some Separatists or Baptists who opposed any kind of state church. After all, it was the great Puritan poet John Milton who fiercely objected to the new Presbyterian dominance with his devastating and scathing critique that:

    “[i]New presbyter is but old priest writ large[/i].”

    Tom, I wouldn’t agree that intransigence by one party justifies intransigence by the opposing party in return, but it does make it quite understandable, even predictable. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but it’s certainly true that, historically speaking, [b]Intransigence breeds intransigence[/b]. Oliver Cromwell was a brilliant general and an astute politician, but a lousy theologian. After he died in 1658, the deep fractures within Puritanism couldn’t be glossed over and ignored. His coalition fell apart without his heavy hand being there to sustain it.

    As you know, Tom, as a good church historian, people who are willing to go off into exile and suffer signficantly for the sake of their religion tend to be zealots who make for bold and rather uncompromising leaders when they can return from exile and come to power. It was true with John Jewel, John Knox, and the early CoE leaders who sought refuge in Geneva, Strasburg, and elsewhere from bloody Queen Mary in the mid 1500s. It was also true with Jeremy Taylor and other “Caroline divines” who chose exile rather than conform to the militant Puritan order under Cromwell and Parliament in the mid 1600s. In both cases, the returning exiles weren’t prone to let their suffering be all in vain, but they were naturally determined to see their holy cause succeed, no matter what the cost (to others).

    The remarkable thing, really, is that the bitter reaction against Puritanism within the CoE didn’t lead to more dramatic changes than it did in 1662. That is, there is not the slightest doubt that John Cosin and the high church party favored by King Charles II (following the example of his devout father who clearly favored ++Laud and his party) wanted to go much further in revising the BCP in a re-catholicizing fashion than they did. As it was, they were forced to accept rather minor revisions as a political and economic necessity. As a result, the classic 1662 book represents a rather incoherent compromise, essentially being the venerable old Cranmerian text, with Laudian, recatholicizing rubrics.

    That motley mix bequeathed to us the ambiguous or paradoxical, but precious and rather balanced BCP that has endured as the Anglican standard to this very day, 350 years later. As the old (Puritan) adage goes. in his divine providence and inscrutable wisdom,
    “[i]God writes straight with (our) crooked lines[/i].”

    In closing, just for the record and as a follow up to my provocative earlier post, let me be clear about my rather over-heated, incendiary rhetoric above (i.e., about voting liberals off the Anglican Island, etc.). I wouldn’t be embarrassed or annoyed at all if my vehement and even violent language above were to be cited with glee by hardcore revisionists on such blogs as those run by Mark Harris, Elizabeth Keaton, Susan Russell, the HoB/HoD listserv, Tobias Haller, etc. As extreme, fanatical, and divisive as my controversial remarks may seem, I’m happy to stand by them. There are no problems in Anglicanism today that couldn’t be solved, or greatly diminished, by a replay of the Great Ejection of 1662, and by casting out the diehard advocates of an unbiblical and immoral relativist gospel of inclusivity that is no gospel at all. I am utterly unrepentant in taking such a brash and offensively dogmatic and exclusive stand.

    But I still regard the Great Ejection as a tragedy, albeit, like the Reformation itself, “[i]a tragic necessity[/i]” (to borrow Jaroslav Pelikan’s famous and apt phrase).

    David Handy+
    Proudly and fervently Anti-Antidogmatism

  6. New Reformation Advocate says:

    P.S., just again to clarify my stand for the record, lest I be misconstrued. I think that Richard Baxter and John Bunyan were two of the greatest Christian leaders that England has ever had. And I think that the venerable old Westminster Confession of Faith (on which I was raised as a Presbyterian in a devout Calvinist family) is admirable as one of the greatest creeds or confessions of all time, i.e., admirable in its clarity and comprehensiveness, even if woefully wrong on crucial points (like double predestination, etc.). I admire and find comendable the zeal of the Puritans, and I’m sure that Baxter was a much better disciple of Christ and a much more effective pastor than the vast majority of non-Puritan Anglicans. Furthermore, Tom Righmyer’s compalint about Puritan intransigence is double-edged, for I freely grant that the Laudian party was virtually as intransigent. So who really started the fight? Who landed the first blow? Or does it not really matter??

    The point is that Broad Church or Latitudinarian Anglicans love to point to the extreme turmoil and even bloodshed involved in the English Civil War as Exhibit A as to why religious “enthusiasm” or dogmatism and zeal is a “horrible, awful, no good, very bad” thing. Now as a passionate advocate of what I love to call “3-D Christianity,” i.e., evangelical, catholic, and charismatic, I too am opposed to any mindless, oversimplistic approach to Doctrine, Discipline, or Worship. I’m in fact highly paradoxical in my zeal for combining the evangelical or Protestant and the catholic dimensions of Christianity in a genuine synthesis that is greater than the sum of its parts. But in choosing to also endorse the charismatic dimension of Christianity, and by implicitly replacing the Broad Church party or tendency with the Pentecostal/charismatic one, I am indeed very deliberately taking an implicit stand against the anti-dogmatic strand in Anglicanism. I admit that I personally have no sympathy at all for Latitudinarianism, or the dogmatic opposition to dogmatism.

    Just for the record and clarity’s sake. IOW, divisions are inevitable, but bitterness is optional. And resorting to persecution by the powers of the State is inexcusable today.

    David Handy+
    Unashamedly dogmatic and as fiery as ever

  7. Ad Orientem says:

    Th irony is so thick one could cut it with a knife. The CofE repenting of the Great Ejectment (yes that’s archaic English) even as it lays the groundwork for a new one.

  8. MichaelA says:

    [blockquote] “Second, even stranger is the claim buried in the final paragraph, where in describing the United Reformed Church to Anglicans, this misleading statement is made:
    “Worldwide, more than 80 million Christians are members of the Reformed family of Churches, making it the largest Protestant tradition.”” [/blockquote]

    Good point, however I doubt that the Baptists and Pentecostals are shaking in their shoes. Nor should Anglicans be worried – Anglicanism has always held that there is more than one manifestation of the Catholic Church on earth, so the prospect of 80 million Anglicans, 80 Million Reformed thingys (‘Reformites’? ‘Reformwegians’?) and many more Baptists and Pentesis cause only for praise. It all works to the greater glory of God.

    [blockquote] “Think of poor John Bunyan, as a young Baptist pastor, languishing in jail for years (and writing his immortal classic tale Pilgrim’s Progress there), all because he conscientiously refused to conform to the ways of the CoE.” [/blockquote]

    You must admit though that the result was very edifying. :o)

    [blockquote] “What was wrong was to ban all rival forms of church organization, doctrine, and worship by throwing rival preachers into jail, fining people for non-conformity, requiring subscription to the 39 Articles in order to get a degree from Oxford or Cambrige or hold a public office, etc.” [/blockquote]

    Yes it was wrong, but more importantly, it was ineffective. 1662 laid the groundwork for what we see today, where the adherents of those ejected ministers far outnumber the adherents of those who stayed.

    Not to worry, the Lord calls us to work for His kingdom, not our denomination!

  9. MichaelA says:

    [blockquote] “After ++Laud’s and King Charles the First’s executions, I don’t fault the CofE one bit for coming down hard on the Puritans.”
    Some of us don’t shed any tears over Laud and Charles I. One was a fool and the other corrupt. Laud through ineptitude almost lost episcopacy from the Church of England, and Charles cared for no point of doctrine so much as extending the power of the monarchy to the limits (or lack thereof) it had enjoyed in the time of Henry VIII. The English Civil War could have been avoided by a smarter and more honest King.

  10. MichaelA says:

    Look on the bright side of 1662 – with the departure of over 2,000 ministers, Charles II realised that danger levels were being reached. At first the moderate Puritans had been welcomed, then there had been the requirement to assent to infant baptism (and little else), then the requirement for the oath. The moderates like Baxter counselled conformity to these things.

    But in 1662 the bar was set higher, and some moderates like Baxter wouldn’t go any further. Many still did of course, and that was the point Charles II understood – if he permitted Laudian practices to be made mandatory, he risked alienating many more within the Church of England. And behind most of these ministers was a congregation, so it wasn’t just a few thousand.

    1662 really represents part of the settling process where each side started to draw back from further confrontation (not that I would push that analogy too far of course!)

    Charles II above all was determined never to go to the block like his father. He understood that ‘divine right of kings’ was dead, and his main value was as a balance point between disparate forces. To illustrate: Many years later Charles went out to calm rioters in London. His brother expresssed fear that someone might shoot at the king. Charles responded: “never fear James, no-one will ever shoot me to make you king”!