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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Hillbillies, Fundamentalists, Extremists, Puritans!

"Then I said, 'Ah, Lord GOD! They say of me', ‘Does he not speak parables?’" (Ezekiel 20:49) Such was the response of the prophet Ezekiel after the Lord God had directed him to set his face toward the south, warn the forest of impending fire which will destroy all trees, green and dry and that every face from south to north would be scorched by it. 2 Chronicles 36:15ff reminds us that the Lord God sent messengers again and again to warn Judah of the consequences of their lack of faith in him but the people mocked and scoffed at God's messengers while despising God's words.

The history of God's church is dotted with occasions of the messengers of God being opposed, ridiculed, abused sidelined by those within who preferred the errant faith and practice of the day.

For an example I have chosen the time of the Puritans in England in the Seventeenth Century. Less than one hundred years after the Reformation in England the Church had descended into formality. Nominalism was rife with pews occupied by a vast number who had no relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ while believing they did. These were they who the words of our Lord Jesus Christ "Away from me I do not know you" were to become incredibly personal and destroying.

There is a wealth of books and essays informing as to the circumstances of the time of the Puritans. For this blog I have chosen extracts from Iain Murray's ",Thomas Hooker and the Doctrine of Conversion" published by Bannner of Truth Trust in 1980.

Iain Murray said; "The religion to be found in the majority of parishes in England was not therefore the product of sustained Puritan influence. Consequently, most of the early 17th Century Puritans had to give first priority to changing what they found in the congregations in which they settled. Their sermons did not come to their hearers' ears like the accustomed tones of the church bell. They were different and one fundamental reason for the difference was the Puritan conviction that the prevalence of nominal Christianity was then the foremost hindrance to real Christianity. To evangelize those without was not the need of the hour for all the people were already church-goers, all were 'believers', and all were 'gospellers'. Since the accession of Elizabeth the whole population, a few excepted, had lived under the form of the Church which Parliament had so suddenly made 'Protestant' in 1559. Thus, in theory, Christianity was universal. In reality, to use the words of Thomas Goodwin and Philip Nye, it was religion learned 'through the mere efficacy of education, laws and customs'. The faith most commonly to be found in the parishes of England was only the temporary faith of the 'stony-ground' hearers of Christ's parable; it was a religion akin to that of Nicodemus before his new birth.

Such was the assessment which in the 1620's governed the Puritans' understanding of England's need. East Anglia had probably received more of the gospel than any other part of the land except London, yet at Dedham, John Rogers often thought it necessary to warn his hearers on this point. By true faith, he says,

' .... the believer particularly applies Christ to himself truly, and so lives by him a true sanctified life, which this temporary faith falls short of. Therefore let us beware, and not trust to it, the rather because most of the people of England be deceived herewith, and go no further. Yea, most of the people be of the worse temporaries, only believing the Word of God to be true, and professing it, because law enjoins them so to do; but see how they live after their own lusts, and therefore have no true faith, which purifieth the heart. And this would be seen if any alteration of religion should come, as sheep flee from before a dog, so most of these would turn from the Gospel to the Mass, as they did in Queen Mary's time'.

Quotations of similar nature could be multiplied. At Broughton, Northamptonshire, Robert Bolton, also referring to temporary faith, believed that 'This faith deceives thousands, because they think it sufficient for salvation! When Richard Baxter went to Kidderminster, Shropshire, in 1640, and tried the knowledge of his people 'to discern what they thought of the essentials of Christianity, and of the things that Christ hath made necessary to salvation', he discovered 'multitudes that come all their life-time to Church ... so ignorant that it's hard for scholars to believe it, that have not tried. And we have found that multitudes of them will be brought to learn over all the words of the Catechism that never consider or understand the sense, much less the power and practice of what their tongues recite.'

Thomas Hooker fully shared in this evaluation: 'Most of the people. who lived in the bosom of the Church and profess the faith', he believed to be 'formal gospellers', and he refers to this situation as 'notorious to all the English world'.

It is impossible to do any justice to the burden of Hooker's preaching in Essex between 1626-29 without taking this understanding of the state of the people into account. We may disagree with that understanding - as many of the anti-Puritan clergy did, believing that it caused men needless scruples and distress - but at least it should be recognised that it throws important light upon the question why Hooker and his brethren preached as they did. They meant to trouble mens' consciences; they meant to shake their empty assurance; and they persisted in it with much personal cost. Sometimes, as Hooker once reminded his congregation in New England, the result of this preaching was that the very patrons who had introduced them into their curacies turned against them:

'Many a formal wretch hath at great cost and charges laid out himself and estate to bring a faithful preacher to a place; and when the soul saving dispensation of the Word hath discovered his falseness and laid open the cursed haunts of the carnal heart, shook his hopes, and beat all the holds he had of the goodness of his estate, and battered them before his eyes . . . if he cannot cunningly undermine the man, he would rather leave the place than live under the ministry.'

Secondly, it needs to be said that there was general agreement among the Puritans on the question how the influence of nominal Christianity should be counter-acted. Ultimately they knew that it depended upon the Holy Spirit - in whose power they put their faith - yet they also understood that the Spirit used the truth and that preachers must use 'undeniable evidence of reason out of the Word.

We here at Sydney Anglican Heretics Blogspot have constantly held that holding to the straight-forward reading of the Creation account in Genesis 1 (as has been the mainstream Christian reading through the millennia) is not a salvation issue. However, this writer holds firmly that just as a brown deadness on the tip of a leaf signals a problem within the tree, a failure to trust the Word of God in the Genesis Creation account is a symptom of a deeper problem within the person who professes to be Christian. For such a person, faith in man on the subject of Origins exceeds faith in the Word of God and because "the Word of God" is Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:13) the problem becomes evident.

Just as the messengers of God have been opposed in times past, Biblical Creationists are today opposed and ridiculed as they attempt to call the people back to faith in the Word of God. Just as the Puritans encountered difficulties and censure for confronting those in the Church of England who errantly esteemed themselves as "believing the Word of God to be true, and professing it" and regarding themselves as "gospellers", so Biblical Creationists today have to confront those in the Episcopalian Diocese of Sydney who, in like manner, falsely esteem themselves.

By the Holy Spirit of God we will be instruments for the delivery of some from the cancer that resides within their 'faith'.

Sam Drucker

1 comment:

sam drucker said...

The irony ought no be missed on Sydney Episcopalians insomuch as they think the author of Genesis 1 is speaking to them in some parabolic form.

Sam Drucker