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|Angl 46%, RCath 15.4 %, Muslim 1.7%, Presb 1.4%, Meth 1.3 %, Sikh 0.7%, Hindu 0.6%, Jewish 0.5%
Great Britain is not one country, but two or three; and the histories of the Ref churches in these countries are different. In England (and Wales) the church was reformed by order of the crown, but in Scotland it was reformed in spite of Mary Queen of Scots; later attempts to make the church in Scotland Episcopalian were no more successful than the Scottish attempt to make the church in England Presb.
From Reformation to Revolution
In 1534, Henry VIII (1509-1547) began the Reformation in England by breaking the connection with Rome: the Act of Supremacy declared the king to be the supreme head of the Church of England. The pace quickened under Edward VI (1547-1553), with the systematic reformation of doctrine, worship, and discipline. Mary (1553-1558) briefly restored RCath. In the first year of Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603), the monarch’s position as “supreme governor” of the church was restated, and the Act of Uniformity required that worship should follow the Book of Common Prayer; in 1563 standard doctrine was defined in the (Calvinist) 39 Articles.
Wales was formally united with England in 1536. English became the official language and, with the Reformation, the language also of public worship. John Penri died a martyr’s death in 1593 for transgressing the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity and for pleading for the preaching of the Gospel in the native language. Scholars and churchmen set about translating the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Welsh, the language most people spoke. The first complete translation of the Bible was published in 1588, and it shaped the further development of the Welsh language — one of the oldest in Europe — just as Luther’s Bible shaped German.
In Scotland, meanwhile, John Knox and his associates were busily reforming the national church along Genevan lines. In 1560 the Scottish Parliament rejected papal authority, adopted the Scots Confession, and banned the mass. The Scottish church was now Ref but not yet classically Presb. In response, however, to the resurgence of a form of Episcopacy in the 1570s, Andrew Melville and his colleagues insisted on Presbyterianism, and in 1592 Parliament approved the Presb system. That might have seemed to settle the issue but did not; the battle between Presbyterianism and Episcopacy in Scotland, effectively a battle between church and state, would rage for another century.
In England, the Elizabethan Settlement settled nothing either. Elizabeth’s reform was intended to be comprehensive, but it did not comprehend the more radical Reformers, who were labelled Puritans. Controversy broke out almost immediately over worship and ministerial dress. In 1570 Thomas Cartwright lectured in favor of Presbyterianism at Cambridge University and was forced to flee to Geneva. Two years later, John Field and Thomas Wilcox took his ideas further. These Reformers wanted to “tarry for the magistrate,” to reform the church by convincing those in power. Separatists like Robert Browne, Henry Barrow, and John Greenwood were convinced that the Elizabethan church would never be truly reformed and broke away to form their own congregations “without tarrying for any.” Here are the earliest origins of Presbyterianism and Congregationalism, or Independency, in England.
James VI (1567-1625) had hardly consented to Presbyterianism in Scotland before he began to undermine it, a process completed after he acceded to the English throne as James I (1603-1625). In 1606 he sent Andrew Melville into exile; in 1610 he summoned three of his new Scottish bishops to London for consecration; in 1618, with the Five Articles of Perth, he tried to turn Scottish worship in a more Angl direction. English Puritans presented their grievances to their new king in the Millenary Petition (1603), but were rebuffed by James: “no bishop, no king.” During his reign, many Separatists fled to Holland for safety. In 1620 some went from there on the Mayflower, with others from England, to found the Plymouth Colony in the New World.
Under Charles I (1625-1649) anti-Puritanism became linked with anti-Calvinism. In 1633, the Arminian William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury. Four years later he tried to foist on Scotland a version of the Book of Common Prayer. When “Laud’s Liturgy” was introduced in the High Kirk of St. Giles in July 1637, the citizens of Edinburgh rioted. A national uprising ensued, culminating in 1638 in the signing of the National Covenant and the restoration of Presbyterianism.
Charles’s efforts to put down the Scots led to his own downfall. He was forced to summon an English Parliament, dominated by Puritans and Calvinists, with whom he quickly fell out. In 1642 he entered the House of Commons and attempted unsuccessfully to seize five of its leading members; civil war became inevitable. In September 1643, in need of Scottish help, the English Parliament accepted the Solemn League and Covenant, already approved by the Scots, which pledged its subscribers to bring the churches in the British Isles “to the nearest conjunction and conformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory for worship and catechizing ... according to the Word of God and the example of the best Ref churches.”
In July 1643, the Westminster Assembly of Divines met to advise the English Parliament on the good government of the church; in August the Church of Scotland appointed Scottish representatives to join their English brethren. The Assembly drew up a Directory for the Public Worship of God, a Confession of Faith, and the Shorter and Larger Catechisms.
In 1645 Parliament accepted the Assembly’s Form of Church Government, but nowhere outside London was it seriously implemented. Hopes that the good government of the English church would be Presb were frustrated, in part by Erastians in Parliament, but more by the growing strength of Independency, above all in the New Model Army. In 1616 Henry Jacob had gathered a Separatist congregation at Southwark in London; by 1631 there were eleven such churches in London; in 1639 a church “according to the New England pattern” was formed at Llanfaches in Wales under the leadership of William Wroth. East Anglia, home of Oliver Cromwell, and with easy sea links to Holland, was a stronghold of Independency.
After the execution of Charles I in 1649, the Independent minister John Owen guided a pluralistic religious settlement under Cromwell, in which parishes were occupied by Presb, Independent, Bapt, and moderate Episcopalian ministers. In 1658 a conference of Independent ministers issued the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, with an adapted Westminster Confession as their common confession of faith (but “no way to be made use of as an imposition upon any”), underlining the central Congreg principle: “Besides these particular churches there is not instituted by Christ any church more extensive or catholic entrusted with power for the administration of his ordinances, or the execution of any authority in his name.”
With the restoration of the monarchy (1660) came a harsh drive for Episcopalian uniformity. In Scotland Charles II (1660-1685) declared that “he was resolved to restore the church to its right government by bishops, as it was by law before the late troubles began”; four Scottish ministers were ordained bishop in Westminster Abbey (two having first been reordained as ministers). At the same time, almost 2,000 ministers were driven from their positions in England; most were Presb, but some were Congreg.
Uniformity was impossible on either side of the border. In the South and West of Scotland the great majority of ministers were deprived of their livings; illegal open-air conventicles were held and ruthlessly repressed. Revolts in 1666 and 1679 were quickly crushed. Repression intensified: accepting the ministrations of an ousted minister incurred severe penalties; to preach at a field conventicle was made punishable by death. In 1680 at the market cross in Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire, Richard Cameron, a young field preacher trained in Holland, declared war against the king; and the government sent in its troops, who acted without mercy. Anti-Erastian, and demanding loyalty to the Covenants and Presb church government by divine right, the Cameronians spoke for a minority only of Scottish Presb, but the “Killing Time,” which lasted until 1688, made the victory of Presbyterianism in Scotland inevitable.
England and Wales
The “Glorious Revolution” that placed William and Mary (1689-1702) on the throne determined that England and Scotland would go their different religious ways. In England, the Established Church continued to be Episcopal; an Act of Toleration (1689) offered limited freedoms to Nonconformists, but enough disincentives remained to make Dissent unattractive, and the early decades of the 18th century saw English Nonconformity in decline. In the case of the English Presb, decline continued throughout the century, with many Presb congregations becoming Unitarian or turning to Independency. With the Evangelical Awakening later in the century, Dissent began to grow again.
In Wales the Evangelical revival gave renewed impetus to Independency, and many new congregations were formed. In the 19th century Welsh Independents played an important role in nurturing Welsh minds and morals, particularly through their adult Sunday schools. The Union of Welsh Independents was founded in 1872.
The Welsh revival also led to the only Presb church in Britain to take its origins from revival rather than reform. The founders of the Presb (Calvinistic/Meth) Church Church of Wales, Howell Harris, Daniel Rowland, William Williams, and others (both lay and clerical), were members of the Church of England; but soon after 1735 they established religious societies similar in pattern to the Meth Societies founded in England by John Wesley and George Whitefield. During the years 1735-1752 the societies in all parts of Wales were put under the charge of lay exhorters, and lay and clerical superintendents supervised them.
In the year 1811, under the leadership of Thomas Charles of Bala, an Angl clergyman, a number of exhorters were set aside and ordained to administer the sacraments within the societies; thus the movement became separated from the Church of England. In 1832 the Calvinistic Meth Connexion (as it was then called) formulated its Confession of Faith, Rules of Discipline, and Constitution and Church Government. In general the new Connexion was Presb in polity. The congregations were under the charge of ministers and elders. Under the influence of Lewis Edwards, the Connexion became more and more Presb in outlook and practice, and in 1864 the first General Assembly of the church was held.
The London Missionary Society (1795) was an outstanding result of the Evangelical Revival in English Congregationalism. The Congregational Union of England and Wales was formed in 1832, the Colonial (later Commonwealth) Missionary Society in 1836.
In 1809 Alexander Campbell, son of a minister of the Scottish Secession Church, emigrated from Glasgow to the USA, where he founded the Disciples of Christ (1827). His ideas were brought back to Britain in 1833 by Peyton Wyeth, who founded a Scotch Bapt congregation in London and introduced them to Campbell’s writings. From this almost accidental encounter sprang the movement known in Britain as the Churches of Christ, which grew until 1930, when it had 200 congregations and 16,000 members.
In 1783 Presb congregations in the North of England formed the Presbytery of Northumberland. Depleted English Presb ranks were replenished by Scottish immigration, and in 1836 the Presbyterian Church in England was established. An English Synod of the United Presbyterian Church was formed in 1863; in 1876 it united with the Presbyterian Church in England to form the Presbyterian Church of England.
In 1966, following the successful promotion of the idea of a national covenant, the Congregational Union of England and Wales became the Congregational Church of England and Wales; an Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches was formed by those declining to enter the covenant. In the same year the London Missionary Society and the Commonwealth Missionary Society combined to form the Congregational Council for World Mission; after a far-reaching review in 1975, this was relaunched in 1977 as the Council for World Mission, with the old distinction between sending and receiving churches replaced by a new emphasis on partnership.
In 1972 the Congregational Church of England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England joined together as the United Reformed Church of England and Wales (URC); those Congreg churches that stayed out of the union formed the Congregational Federation. Proposals for a union between the Association of Churches of Christ and the URC were published in 1976 and approved by the URC the following year. They failed, however, to obtain the assent of the necessary two-thirds majority of the churches in the Association, which dissolved itself in 1979, allowing the Reformed Association in 1980 to enter what became the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom.
In Scotland Presbyterianism was reestablished by the “Glorious Revolution”; both Episcopalians (Scottish Episcopal Church) and Cameronians (Reformed Presb Church) rejected the Presb settlement. In 1707, when England and Scotland were united as Great Britain, a guarantee of continuing Presb church government in Scotland was written into the Treaty of Union. In 1712 a hostile Westminster Parliament ignored the guarantee in reintroducing patronage (the right to name a candidate to a ministerial charge). This Act, it may be claimed, was at the root of all the Church of Scotland’s subsequent troubles. In 1733 Ebenezer Erskine led a first secession from the Kirk in opposition to patronage; in 1761 a second and less bitter secession under Thomas Gillespie led to the founding of the Relief Church.
Erskine’s church split in 1747 over whether it was lawful to take the oath, required of burgesses in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Perth, acknowledging “the true religion presently professed within this realm,” which the Antiburgher minority interpreted to refer to the Established Church. At the end of the century both branches became nervous about the Westminster Confession’s treatment of the duties of the civil magistrate in church affairs and set about revising their Testimonies to disavow all “compulsory and persecuting principles.” The “New Licht” (new light) prevailed in the Burgher Synod in 1799, and in the Antiburgher Synod in 1806, but in both cases it led to further splits. The “Auld Licht” remnants hived off, the “Auld Licht” Burghers rejoining the Church of Scotland in 1839, the “Auld Licht” Antiburghers, or Constitutionalists, continuing as the Original Secession Church until, in 1956, it too rejoined the Church of Scotland. In 1820 the New Lichts united to form the United Secession Church, and further united with the Relief Church in 1847 as the United Presbyterian Church.
At the Disruption in 1843 the Church of Scotland suffered its deepest and most damaging split, once more over patronage. Recognizing that there was no hope of redress by the government in London, those in the Kirk who had spent ten years fighting the intrusion of ministers into charges against the congregation’s will walked out of the General Assembly to establish the Church of Scotland Free.
The coming together of daughter churches in England and Australia was one factor encouraging Scottish Presb to think that they might attempt the same. In 1900 the Free Church and the United Presbyterian Church formed the United Free Church, and in 1929 this church united with the Church of Scotland. The key issue lay in defining, and establishing, a church that was at once national and free; not all Scottish Presb were persuaded that the 1929 Articles Declaratory in fact achieved this, but most were.
Congregationalism in Scotland may also be seen, with some justice, as an offshoot of Presbyterianism. Greville Ewing, it is true, was never a Presb; but the Glasites, old Scots Independents, and Bereans, forerunners of Scottish Congregationalism, were all splinters from the Church of Scotland; the Haldane brothers were lay members of the Kirk, and the Evangelical Union was produced by the revolt against Calvinism within the United Secession Church.
At the end of the 18th century two Church of Scotland laymen, Robert and James Haldane, sought to arouse the national church to the need for missionary effort at home and abroad. Their failure led to the formation of independent churches for this purpose. The true architect of Scottish Congregationalism was their associate, Rev. Greville Ewing, who started classes for the training of ministers in 1799 and promoted the formation of the Congregational Union in 1812. In the following eighty years the small denomination learned to become more than an association of autonomous units and pioneered work in local mission, Sunday Schools, women’s service, and other areas of outreach. It produced outstanding men like W. L. Alexander, David Livingstone, Robert Moffat, James Chalmers, and P. T. Forsyth.
In 1841 James Morrison was expelled by the Synod of the United Secession Church for a formidable range of disagreements with its Calvinist doctrines. He founded the Evangelical Union, characterized by its Arminian theology and warm evangelical piety. By 1897 the two unions were ready to enter into a new Congregational Union of Scotland, now with explicitly congregational and Presb elements. At the local community level the churches of the Union were recognized for their social initiative and evangelical effort combined with a liberal theology. At the national level the Union made a significant contribution to ecumenical advance in Scotland. It shared in the agreement between Scottish Ref churches recognizing each other’s ministry and membership.
In 1988 proposals for a further union with the United Reformed Church were accepted by the General Assembly of that church almost unanimously, but they failed to obtain the necessary 75% majority in the Congregational Union.
A period of intense self-examination followed, and it was now proposed that the three independent elements of the Congreg family in Scotland (the Scottish Congreg College, the Women’s Union, and the Congregational Union) should form a “Voluntary Church” — the Scottish Congregational Church — while retaining their separate identities for legal purposes. The new church was inaugurated in 1993. A minority within the Union, who opposed these changes, broke away and subsequently joined the Congregational Federation.
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