Many Protestants today are conflicted Protestants. Here we stand, we can do no other—yet we feel adrift of the church’s historical doctrine and worship.
One of the misguided but persistent assumptions about English reformers in the sixteenth century is that they rejected the study of ancient languages, rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, and poetry in their efforts to defend the supremacy of Scripture.
While the Commonwealth was not the cartoonish inquisition its detractors make it out to be, the Cromwellian regime by no means approached what eventually became the understanding of toleration in the American republic.
The Reformers were concerned not only with theology but also with its expression in worship. Many liturgies were produced in the churches of the magisterial Reformation in Germany, England, Switzerland, and elsewhere.
So far, I have worked to argue that the English Reformed tradition had already become considerably less magisterial by the mid-seventeenth century. Next, I want to suggest that Cromwell’s move towards supporting a kind of multiple establishment had echoes in the early republic, first in the abortive attempts to create shared establishments that would support churches of various denominations, as was attempted by Jefferson’s enemies in Virginia, then by the creation of an informal evangelical establishment in which Presbyterians and Congregationalists played the central role.
After the conclusion of the English Civil War, the tensions between two Puritan emphases began to become apparent: the ideal of the “godly magistracy,” which assumed general uniformity in religious practice, and the tendency towards a “gathered church,” which had encouraged the gathering of the “godly” in separate assemblies.