Independency and freedom

2019 Autumn Lectures

The quest for religious liberty in the seventeenth century

‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.’
Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

The religious ferment of the seventeenth century was like a cauldron. Into the mix went a passion for biblical orthodoxy, a cry for religious freedom, the emergence of new independent congregations, the flight to America, oppression of various groups, civil war and Commonwealth, the Great Ejection and then a new toleration.

The quest for liberty has deep roots yet often generates oppression. What are the boundaries of religious liberty and toleration? What happens when those who are seen as ‘radical’ gain power?
We find both the origins and the price of religious freedom in this century with many lessons for us today.

1. The origins and rise of independency

By Dr Matthew Bingham

Independent churches are commonplace today and yet this was not always so. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the idea of an autonomous congregation disconnected from state support and state control was highly controversial and relatively rare. Despite being a new and, to many, scandalous idea, independency developed and thrived during this period, producing congregational and Baptist expressions that endure into the present. In this opening lecture, Matthew Bingham will help untangle how dissent developed among early modern English Puritans and will explore the significance of this important theological development then and now.

2. The promise and price of religious freedom

By Ian Cooper

On 13 November 1620, the passengers of the Mayflower stepped ashore after 65 days at sea. Many earnestly desired to worship God in simplicity and truth but soon realised that the corruptions they sought so hard to escape had followed hard on their heels. Half of their fellow travellers had little enthusiasm for their biblical ideals, and within a few months 52 would die. The remainder saw years of hardship, conflict and disappointment before the struggling Plymouth colony faded in the shadow of other expeditions settling to the north in Boston.

3. Warts and all: Oliver the Protector

By Revd J Philip Arthur

The ending of the reign of Charles I and the assumption of power by Oliver Cromwell (pictured above) inaugurated an extraordinary period in English religious history. The king was dead, the bishops gone. On one level the Puritans, long oppressed, had gained power. The reality was more complex and we will consider the positive and negative aspects of the Commonwealth period for faith and freedom, as well as how new radical forces were released.

4. Among God’s giants

By Revd Dr Richard Turnbull

We will explore the Puritan vision of the Christian life and their quest for godly and holy living. The Puritans understood that our life on earth is a preparation for the glories of heaven. They often faced persecution yet remained focussed on the celestial city. Their spirituality could not be separated from their theology. We will consider their approach to the Sabbath, worship, marriage and family. Thomas Goodwin (pictured above), Richard Sibbes, John Owen and Richard Baxter will be among those that help us.

5. Oppression and toleration

By Revd Dr Richard Turnbull

What happened that led to the collapse of the Commonwealth period as quickly as its arrival? This lecture will look at the end of the Commonwealth and the cry for the restoration of monarchy. We will look at the unremitting oppression presided over by Charles II (pictured above) and the emergence of a new round of independency in the ‘Great Ejection’. Great oppression, and yet, within 30 years, a formal Act of Toleration. Why did this happen and what are the lessons for today?