A Self-Imposed Famine
There are many legacies which have been passed down from Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan revolutionaries. Some have continued to influence the churches in England to this day. One of the most significant and long lasting arose out of the Conventicles Act (1664) which banned Nonconformist or Puritan worship from Henry’s Church of England.
There was to be one national church; other churches were not recognised after 1660.
Thus, non-Anglicans were forced to conform to the Church of England or give up public office. About 1,000 ministers (one in six) gave up their livings, and about 2,000 clergy and teachers were ejected. Charles (II)’s attempts to circumvent this legislation were blocked. Intended to restore unity, these acts on the contrary created a permanent religious schism in England, the long-term legacy of the Civil War. [Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), p. 253.]
State churches were and will ever be an oxymoron. They do not survive–at least with any evidence of sustained spiritual life. It is not drawing too long a bow to observe that the fruits of the Great Ejection are still being borne in the Church of England.
The modern Anglican church in the UK remains largely bereft of spiritual life: the one sign of spiritual life rests with the Evangelical wing.
Anglicanism in the UK is weak, split, largely conforming to the beliefs and ideologies of secular humanism, and unable to recognise even the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. Meanwhile, the Nonconformists–the descendants of the Great Ejection–have generally remained doctrinally orthodox; many have left the UK and migrated to the colonies, particularly the United States.
It remains an open question as to whether the Anglican establishment will survive. The signs are not good. A split appears inevitable. It is only a matter of time, terms, and conditions.
The vast majority of those forced to give up public office in the Church of England as a result of the Great Ejection in 1660 were men of great learning, piety, and faithfulness.
Disillusioned by the failure of the godly revolution, Dissenters went underground and turned inwards. This was the atmosphere in which John Bunyan, imprisoned for illegal preaching, wrote Pilgrim’s Progress (1687), one of the greatest and most popular works of Puritan piety–a work not of revolution but of individual salvation and stubborn righteousness. [Ibid.]
Puritans as worthy and faithful as Richard Baxter also suffered under the Conventicles Act–yet continued their ministry as best they could. Baxter’s Reformed Pastor is still widely read to this day. It is likely to take another several hundred years before the United Kingdom recovers the treasures and spiritual wealth represented by these outcasts.
Bunyan and Baxter–along with many others–are still cited and referenced regularly in Reformed, Presbyterian and Congregational pulpits right around the world. When they became lost to the Church of England, a rich legacy and heritage was banished. The spiritual impacts of the Great Ejection are still being felt in that church.
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