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Explain why the PresbyterianExperiment of the 1640's and 1650's largely failed

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Introduction

Explain why the Presbyterian Experiment of the 1640's and 1650's largely failed 'The years 1640-60 witnessed the most complete and drastic revolution which the Church of England has ever undergone'1. With the ending of the civil war, institutions of State collapsed with leading figures put on trial and executed. The 1640's was a time of immense political upheaval and saw the emergence of a myriad of independent or semi- independent sects. The Presbyterian movement gained its strength from a union between the laity and the church of those who believed that Presbyterian Puritanism was the only way to guarantee religious stability. With the price of War having been exacted in human suffering, the Presbyterians, with the backing of the Government, were intent that peace should prevail under Presbyterian values. However, although around seventy classes of Presbyterian churches had been initially formed, by the 1650's only a few remained active. This essay looks to explain what factors contributed to this demise. There are two salient arguments advocated by scholars for this. Firstly the existing and deep rooted allegiance of many lay people to the Church of England and secondly with diversity of belief allowed to flourish; there was a loss of national identity therefore engendering no national loyalty to the Presbyterian cause. So were the Presbyterians 'undone by an unlimited Christian liberty'2? Or did the strength of the Anglican Church win through? ...read more.

Middle

Baille tried to establish the culprits of this and he blamed the Anabaptists (or Baptists) a sectarian group who believed in a liberty of conscience and total separation of Church and State.6 Their total rejection of a compulsory system, demonstrated by the idea of an Adult baptism, proved threatening to Presbyterians, Independent and Anglicans alike which is Ironic for it was the dispute between these main factions that allowed the Baptists (and others) to flourish with little restriction. Thomas Edwards a Presbyterian lecturer and pamphleteer, active in London in the 1640's put forward in his Gangraena a 'hefty catalogue of prurient horror at the supermarket of Zany sects'7 present in London by 1644. Although organised dissent was a minority movement its impact far outweighed its size and the strength of some of these sects proved to be a vital factor in the failure of Presbyterianism in England. The Fifth Monarchists were a group of fundamentalists whose aim was to rule in the name of 'king Jesus' 8 Although condemned as Anarchists there were no major uprisings and although their threat was mainly verbal, it was greater than might first appear. They launched propaganda campaigns and negotiated with other dissatisfied groups to form a wide front of unified opposition. Their threat to the State was a direct threat to the institutions that had both elevated the Presbyterians to the forefront of English Religious matters and maintained their pre-eminence. ...read more.

Conclusion

The Presbyterians had a decentralised Church with clerical discretion and local variety, such hierarchy making it all but impossible to create a centralised Presbyterian nation, culminating in a 'dispirited trek back to Egypt rather than a journey to the promised Land'.13 1 William Shaw. History of the English Church during the Civil Wars and under Cromwell. Pg vii. 2 R.Gilpin preaching at Keswich in May 1658 3 M.Goldie. 'The Search for Religious Liberty, 1640-1690' in J.Morrill (ed), The Oxford illustrated History of Tudor and Stuart Britain. Pg 295 4 C.H.Firsh and R.S Rait (ed.). Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum 1642-1660. Pg 265-6 & 425-6 5 Morrill. '' Oliver Cromwell and The Godly Nation'' in John Morrill (ed) Oliver Cromwell and The English Revolution. pg 6 J.F McGregor. ''The Baptists: Font of all Heresy'' in J.F McGregor and B.Reay (ed) Radical Religion in the English Revolution. Pg 24-27 7 M,Goldie. Pg 295 8 B.Capp. ''The Fifth Monarchists and popular millenarianism'' in J.F McGregor and B.Reay (ed) Radical Religion in the English Revolution. Pg 165. 9 B.Reay. ''Quakerism and society'' in Radical Religion in the English Revolution. Pg 164 10 B.Reay 'Radicalism and Religion in the English Revolution: an Introduction' in Radical Religion in the English Revolution. Pg 9. 11 J.Morrill 'The Church in England 1642-9' in Reaching to the English Civil War 1642-1649. Pg 90 12 M.Goldie. Pg 295 13 Morrill. The impact of the English Civil War. Pg 66 ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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