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XXI1

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 294 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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XXI1. I0Presbyterianism. In 1642 the Long Parliament abolished Episcopacy (the act to come into force on the 5th of November The West-1643); and summoned an assembly of divines to meet minter at Westminster in June 1643 to advise parliament Assembly. as to the new form of Church government. The West- minster Assembly, through its Confession, Directory and Catechisms, has become so associated with the Presbyterian Church that it is difficult to realize that it was not a church court at all, much less a creation of Presbyterianism. It was a council created by parliament to give advice in church matters at a great crisis in the nation's history; but its acts, though from the high character and great learning of its members worthy of deepest respect, did not per se bind parliament or indeed any-one. It was, in a very real sense, representative of the whole country, as two members were chosen by parliament from each county. The number summoned was 151, viz. ten lords, twenty members of the House of Commons, and one hundred and twenty-one ministers. The ministers were mostly Puritans; by their ordination, &c., Episcopalian; and for the most part strongly impressed with the desirability of nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other branches of the Reformed Church on the Continent. About one-half of the members attended regularly. Those who were out-and-out Episcopalians did not attend at all. Apart from these, there were three well-defined parties: (r) those with Presbyterian ideas and sympathies, a great majority; (2) Erastians, ably represented and led by Selden, Lightfoot and Cole-man; (3) Independents, ten or eleven in number, led by Philip Nye, and assured of Cromwell's support. Then there were the Scottish commissioners who, though without votes, took a leading part in the proceedings. Judged by the objects for which it was summoned the Westminster Assembly was a failure, a remarkable failure. Episcopacy, Erastianism and Independency, though of little account in the assembly, were to bulk largely in England's future; while the church polity which the assembly favoured and recommended was to be almost unknown. Judged in other ways, however, the influence of the assembly's labours has been very great. The Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are recognized and venerated standards in all the lands where British Presbyterianism, with its sturdy characteristics, has taken root. And the Directory of Public Worship has shaped and coloured, perhaps too thoroughly, the ritual and atmosphere of every group of Protestant Anglo-Saxon worshippers throughout the world, except Episcopalians. In June 1646 the ordinance establishing presbyteries was ratified by both houses of parliament, and a few days afterwards it was ordered to be put into execution. Twelve presbyteries were erected in London; Shropshire and Lancashire were organized; and Bolton was sa vigorous in the cause as to gain the name of the Gene la of Lancashire. But the system never took root. Not only were there well-known adverse influences, but the soil seems to have been uncongenial. As compared with Scotland, English Presbyterianism had more of the lay element. In every classis or presbytery there were two elders to each minister. The Synod of London met half-yearly from 1647 till 1655. Synods Synod oY also were held in the north. But during the Common- London. wealth Independency gained ground. Then with the Restoration came Episcopacy, and the persecution of all who were not Episcopalians; and the dream and vision of a truly Reformed English Church practically passed away. After the Revolution and during the reign of William and Mary the hatred of the Church of England to the Presbyterians and other dissenters had been obliged to lie dormant. Decadence. With the accession of Anne, however, began an attempt apparently to make up for lost time. From the beginning of the 18th century the greater number of the Presbyterian congregations became practically independent in polity and Unitarian in doctrine. Indigenous Presbyterianism became almost unknown. The Presbyterianism now visible in England is of Scottish origin and Scottish type, and beyond the fact of embracing a few congregations which date from, or before, the Act of Uniformity and the Five Mile Act, has little in common with the Presbyterianism which was for a brief period by law established. In 1876 the union of the Presbyterian Church in England with the English congregations of the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland gathered all English Presbyterians (with union In some exceptions) into one church, " The Presbyterian 7876. Church of England." " What kept these bodies apart was their separate historic origin and development, but especially the alienation caused by the ' Voluntary Controversy ' which had its roots in the difficult problems of civil law in its relation to religion, and the stumbling-block of the civil magistrate's authority in relation to the Christian conscience." r Since the union the growth of the Church has been considerable. Presbyterianism is comparatively strong in three districts of England, namely Northumberland, Lancashire and London. Elsewhere it is either weak or non-existent. Even where it is comparatively strong it is largely exotic. The membership is mainly Scottish, and the ministers 1 Drysdale, History of the Presbyterians in England, p. 625. II 290 have been imported principally from Scotland. To English people, therefore, the Presbyterian is still the " Scotch Church," and they are as a whole slow to connect themselves with it. Efforts have been made to counteract this feeling by making the Church more distinctly English. The danger in this direction is that when Presbyterianism has been modified far enough to suit the English taste it may be found less acceptable to its more stalwart sup-porters from beyond the Tweed. Following the lead of the Independents, who set up Mansfield College at Oxford, the Presbyterian Church has founded Westminster College at Cambridge as a substitute for its Theological Hall in London. It was opened in 1899 with the view of securing a home-bred ministry more conversant with English academic life and thought. In common with the general Presbyterianism of the British Isles, the Presbyterian Church of England has in recent years been readjusting its relation to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Without setting aside the Confession as the church's standard, twenty-four " Articles of the Faith " have been adopted. In these no change, it is alleged, has been made in regard to the substance of the Westminster doctrine, but there is an alteration of emphasis and proportion. There are in England fourteen congregations in connexion with the Church of Scotland, six of them in London and the remainder in Berwick, Northumberland, Carlisle and Lancashire. Many Unitarians in England still call themselves Presbyterians. This, except historically, is a misnomer, for, though descended from the old English Presbyterians, they retain nothing of their distinctive doctrine or polity—nothing of Presbyterianism, indeed, but the name. Ireland. Presbyterianism in Ireland, in modern times at least, dates from the plantation of Ulster in the reign of James I. The infusion of a considerable Scottish element into the population necessitated the formation of a congenial church. The immigrants from England took with them, in like manner, their attachment to the Episcopal Church. But these two sections of Protestantism, in their common exile and in presence of the preponderating Roman Catholicism of the country, seemed at first inclined to draw closer together than had been thought possible in Great Britain. A confession of faith, drawn up by Archbishop Usher at the convocation of 1615, implicitly admitted the validity of Presbyterian ordination, and denied the distinction between bishop and presbyter. Within tj End of Article: XXI1
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