Posts Tagged ‘Anglicans’

The Re-Ordination of Presbyters in the Restoration Church of England

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

by Jonathan Warren

The ecclesiastical settlement of the Restoration Church of England in 1660 produced a crisis of conscience for many of the Puritan or “godly” (as they referred to themselves) ministers who had been ordained in Presbyterian fashion (that is, who were ordained by laying on of hands by presbyters rather than by a bishop) during the Interregnum (1649-1660). A number of these ministers had taken the Solemn League and Covenant in 1643, requiring them to “endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy…superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of Godliness,” and they felt themselves bound by conscience to oppose rule by Bishops.

However, a number of ministers had never been bound by the oath, and others who had taken the oath found faults within it that excused them from obedience to it. Among these godly ministers who were Presbyterially ordained but amenable to episcopal oversight, a principal (though not the only) remaining reservation concerned the requirement imposed by the Restoration bishops of episcopal ordination or re-ordination.1 Presbyterians believed that the New Testament made no distinction between the office of presbyter and bishop, such that the ministerial power of both was identical, but many acknowledged that there could be degrees of eminence among presbyters, such that one presbyter might rule over the rest, though not in opposition to the rest.2

Those Presbyterians who allowed such a distinction often tended to distinguish between “apostolical” and “apostatical” bishops, or between episcopus praeses (presiding bishop) and episcopus princeps (ruling bishop),3 or – as we might more simply put it – “good” and “bad” bishops. They argued that Reformed Anglican bishops like Edmund Grindal, George Abbott, and James Ussher, who were opposed to grasping and lordly “prelacy” could serve as exemplars for bishops in the Restoration era.4

James Ussher (1581–1656)Wikimedia Commons

Ussher was especially reverenced among these Presbyterians, as he proposed a “primitive” or “reduced” episcopacy “balanced and managed with a due commixtion of presbyters therewith,” rather than prelatical or “popish” bishops who arrogated power to themselves. Ussher’s scheme approximated what many Presbyterians saw as the pattern in the New Testament and early church.5

Many of the Restoration bishops, however, were of what we might anachronistically refer to as a “high church” persuasion (contemporaries thought of them as “Laudians,” so named after the Catholicizing Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud, who was a plague to Puritans in the 1630s and was executed in 1645). They saw the office of bishop as part of the apostolic deposit and so necessary to the structure of any legitimate church.6 For these bishops, the right of ordination belonged solely to the bishop, such that presbyterial ordination was per se unlawful and null.

John Gauden (1605-1662)Wikimedia Commons

Among this group of Laudians, which included Brian Duppa, Matthew Wren, John Cosin, William Lucy, and Gilbert Sheldon, among others, there was a resolute insistence that episcopal ordination was not “re-ordination,” but first ordination, because the ordination by presbyters was invalid.7 These bishops, of course, were not the natural conversation partners for the godly, but there were other conciliatory bishops such as Edward Reynolds, John Gauden, and Thomas Sydserff (despite his earlier Laudian convictions, for which he was deposed in 1638), who ultimately insisted upon episcopal ordination, but were willing to allow compromise formulas that attempted to preserve the conscience of Presbyterians. A.G. Matthews notes that Sydserff, the Bishop of Orkney, “required of candidates for ordination no more than a general promise that they would not contravene the discipline of the church.”8

Another formula that was discussed phrased the ordination conditionally: “In a Conference (as I have heard between the Presbyterian and present Bishops, it was proposed for an Accomodation in this case, that an Hypothetical forme might be used, Si non ordinatus sit, &c.9 It was also proposed among at least some of the godly that, regardless of what the Bishop thought, ordination might be thought of as external confirmation or acknowledgement of an internal call by the Holy Spirit, or perhaps as a kind of licensing to practice one’s calling as a minister.10

As a result of these discussions, at least 420 of the clergy ultimately ejected in 1662 were persuaded to be episcopally ordained in the early years of the Restoration.11 It was thus the engagement with these conciliatory bishops that produced difficult soul-searching among the godly.

John Humfrey, who we have already mentioned, was a divine who received episcopal ordination. Humfrey was persuaded by John Piers, Bishop of Bath and Wells, to accept re-ordination, which Humfrey defended in print and for which he received sustained criticism from among the godly. Humfrey argued that reordination could be conceived of as public recognition or licensing of ordination already received, and so merely a solemnization of ordination already received, akin to being married in a church after being married only civilly before.

Richard Alleine, writing anonymously, pointed out that no bishop saw the matter this way. “Let Mr. Humfrey but procure us to be ordained in such a way, as shall only license us to exercise that Ministerial Authority we already have…and then he need not doubt, but we shall most readily and thankfully accept of it.”12 The anonymous I.R. added that the fact that no bishop agreed with Humfrey’s interpretation made his distinction impossible to sustain.13

Humfrey protested that if the bishop allowed the presbyter to voice his understanding that his first ordination was not nullified by episcopal ordination, then the bishop’s intention in the matter was not an issue.14 Humfrey confessed, however, that although he was initially convinced of this argument, he later came to feel uneasy about it: “I confess I did not doubt in the least when I did this, but that my former Ordination was valid, and in the taking this new upon me, I find it is like a double garment put on for the fashion, and experiencedly proves uneasie to be worn.”15

The excruciating difficulty that many of the godly felt in this matter is visible in the fact that Humfrey eventually found he could not live with himself and recanted his re-ordination and was ejected from his living at Frome Selwood in August 1662 following the Act of Uniformity.16 A majority of the godly concluded, moreover, in contrast to Humfrey’s initial decision, that re-ordination meant renunciation of their previous ordination, which would in effect “unchurch” the Reformed churches of Europe, which accepted and practiced Presbyterial ordination. Giles Firmin, for instance, explained that

if it comes to this, that I must renounce my Presbyterial Ordination and be ordained by a Bishop, or I must be silenced, I shall desire grace from the Lord, and resolve to lay down my Ministry, before I will my Ordination: for in being re-ordained by Bishops…I must plainly condemn all Ministers of other Churches, who are ordained only by Presbyters: how abominable is this? To null all other Ministers that have not Episcopal ordination.17

The matter of re-ordination was thus a serious case of conscience for the godly in the early Restoration. By no means were all of them resolutely opposed to government by bishops, and indeed many of them were willing to accept episcopal ordination if bishops were amenable to the terms on which the godly could accept it. It was the constriction of an initially “liberal” position open to the godly at the outset of the Restoration that led to the ejection of so many of the godly after the passage of the Act of Uniformity in 1662.

Jonathan Warren is a Ph.D. Candidate in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University. He holds a B.A. from Wake Forest, a J.D. from Georgia State University College of Law, and an M.A. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His dissertation is on the life and writings of Giles Firmin, a seventeenth century Puritan and Dissenter.



[1] See Robert Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians, 1649-1662 (Westminster: Dacre Press, 1951), 151-3; Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London, 1696), 230-2. John Spurr has argued that there may have been as many as 2000 Presbyterians who, given certain allowances, would have accepted Episcopal oversight. English Puritanism, 1603-1689 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 1998), 130.

[2] The parity between bishops and presbyters was a claim that animated, among other tracts, the reprint of William Prynne’s 1636 The Unbishoping of Timothy and Titus (1661). The scheme of “reduced episcopacy” was advocated by the party of the “Reconcilers,” as Richard Baxter called them. See, e.g. R. Thomas, “The Rise of the Reconcilers,” in The English Presbyterians, eds. C.G. Bolam et al. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1968), 46-72.

[3] Giles Firmin, Questions between the Conformist and Non-Conformist (1681), 103-4.

[4] See, e.g. James Ussher, The Reduction of Episcopacie (London, 1656); I.R., A Peaceable Enquiry into that Novel Controversie about Reordination (London, 1661), 5; Giles Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated (1660), 3. Paul Lim, in discussing Richard Baxter, has shown that the godly also used a confessionalized hermeneutic for church history to substantiate this claim: “just as [Baxter] would bifurcate the Anglican bishops between the Grindal and Abbot type in one camp and the Laudians on the other, he did the same with the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries, lest he tarnish all bishops with the same brush. So Baxter extolled “Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory Nyssen, Basil, Chrysostom, Augustine, Hillary, Prosper, Fulgentius, &c.” who made a mental inward separation “from the Councils and Communion of the prevailing turbulent sort of the Prelates, to signifie their disowning of their sins.” Here in Baxter’s description, moderate Puritans of his own type found their forebears in the Cappadocians and Augustine. Thus, with the bishops of Cappadocian and Augustinian sensibilities, true piety flourished. Conversely, with the avaricious bishops only in name, “hereticating was in fashion.” Paul Lim, Mystery Unveiled (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 250.

[5] Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, 232ff.

[6] See, e.g. Jeremy Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, in The Whole Works of the Right Rev. Jeremy Taylor, D.D., 15 vols. (London, 1839), vii.77-91, 113-116, 232-235.

[6] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[7] See, e.g. Richard Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou (London, 1661), 6-7; Edward Wakeman, The Pattern of Ecclesiastical Ordination or Apostolick Separation (London, 1664), 22; Taylor, Episcopacy Asserted, vii.127-142.

[8] A.G. Matthews, Calamy Revised (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1934), lxi.

[9] John Humfrey, A Second Discourse about Reordination (London, 1662), 25; Ian Green, The Re-Establishment of the Church of England 1660-1663 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 130-1, 150-1.

[10] John Humfrey, The Question of Re-Ordination (London, 1661), 81-2.

[11] Matthews, Calamy Revised, lxi.

[12] Alleine, Cheirothesia tou Presbyteriou, 66.

[13] I.R., Peaceable Enquiry, 17-19.

[14] Humfrey, Question of Reordination, 52-55.

[15] Humfrey, Second Discourse, 96.

[16] See the entry on Humfrey by E. Vernon in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[17] Firmin, Presbyterial Ordination Vindicated, 29; For a comparable conclusion, see Zachary Crofton, A Serious Review of Presbyters Reordination by Bishops (n.d.), 6, cf. 11, 15, 21, 27, 29, 38 and I.R., Peaceable Inquiry, 146. Although couched with exceptions, Richard Baxter also agreed that “re-ordination morally and properly so called, is unlawful: for…it is (or implieth) a lie, viz. that we were not truly dedicated and separated to this office before.” Baxter, A Christian Directory, in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, 4 vols. (London, 1838), i.642.

Does the East African Revival turn 90 this year?

Monday, May 21st, 2012

by Jason Bruner

Sometimes what seems to be historians’ most basic task – telling when something happened – can prove to be among the more difficult. At the same time, determining when a particular event happened – or when various people think it happened – can uncover rich resources for understanding complex processes, personal rivalries, and hidden assumptions about the people and events being studied.

And such is the case with the East African Revival. (For Kevin Ward’s fine historical outline of the Revival, see here.)

“It is a delicate matter, to write up Revival!” So said Dr. Joe Church, and he would know. As an evangelical Anglican missionary doctor who spent decades working in Rwanda and Uganda, he was the Revival’s most dedicated historian. His eye to posterity led him to preserve thousands of letters, newspaper clips, photographs, sermon notes, and other sundries. And through his dozens of published editorials, pamphlets, booklets, and his quintessential revival history Quest for the Highest: An Autobiographical Account of the East African Revival, he has probably done more than any other single person to form the historical perception of the Revival, particularly in the West.

For Joe Church, the Revival was the outgrowth of a microcosmic exchange between himself and an educated Ganda man in Kampala, Uganda, Simeon Nsibambi, in 1929. The two sought a higher Christian life and spent a few days tracing Scofield’s chain references, by the end experiencing a more intimate relationship with God and one another. In the process, an African and European helped one another move towards a more victorious life of personal holiness.

As he tells it, Church soon returned to his mission station in Gahini, Rwanda, where he instituted a similar regimen of plain Bible readings and daily prayer, from which the pattern of the East African Revival emerged in the early 1930s. The message was then carried throughout East Africa by small bands of African preachers, who brought a message of the severity of sin and the need for individuals to confess their sins publicly and have them washed in the powerful blood of Jesus.

But accepting Church’s chronology would make the revival only 83 years old.

Church’s narrative efforts (and his status as the central European responsible for the movement) did not go uncontested. As conflicts between revived and non-revived Ugandan Anglicans approached a breaking point in the early 1940s, they drove the British Bishop of Uganda, C.E. Stuart, to counter Church’s historical ownership of the Revival’s origins.

Attempting to claim the credit for the revival’s spread across southern Uganda and elsewhere, Bishop Stuart argued that the revival didn’t really begin until he invited Joe Church and African Revival “brethren” to conduct missions for the Uganda Jubilee in 1937. Later, he also claimed that the training he provided to a handful of ordinands in Kampala in the early 1930s “softened the soil” for the revival to sprout in the late 1930s. The revival, therefore, was an outgrowth of his vision and efforts, though he never joined the revival personally. And his chronological imagination sought to bolster his contested authority as the bishop of a divided church.

For Stuart, the revival would be 75 or 80.

Then there is a history (unpublished, housed at the Henry Martyn Centre) written by Simeon Nsibambi in the early 1970s. Intriguingly, Nsibambi’s own accounts contest Church’s history by stating off the top: “The Revival in Uganda has been running for 50 years, that is from 1922.” For Nsibambi, the revival began when he received a personal blessing from God that drove him into a deeper spiritual quest and resulted in his greater attentiveness to prayer and Bible study.

But Nsibambi’s history is by no means politically neutral. He wrote during an age in which the revival itself was wrought by factions that formed in the late 1960s – factions which he worked, largely unsuccessfully, to reconcile. His narrative, therefore, asserts his preeminence as the progenitor and patriarch of the movement (sans Joe Church), which should heed his calls toward reconciliation.

Accepting Nsibambi’s story, this year the revival is a nonagenarian.

So, what do all these conflicting chronologies reveal about the Revival?

It is telling that all of these histories (in print or in a verbal testimony) of the Revival are personal. In written form, they trace the revival to the outworking of microcosmic exchanges between individuals or particular decisions: the singular conversion of Nsibambi, the meeting of Church and Nsibambi, a decision to organize a mission. For them, writing the Revival’s was creative act that was inseparable from theological convictions and claims to legitimate authority.

While it was personal, the Revival was also a biographical movement. As Derek Peterson has described, Revival fellowship groups taught ordinary folk how to compose their history for themselves – their story of how God brought them to salvation and maintained them in that salvation. But each revivalist had a story to tell. Microhistories abounded, and these histories might have little to do with the narratives composed by Church, Stuart, or Nsibambi.

Revival biographical histories reveal that the Revival is a movement that has a plurality of narrative beginnings, which attest to the internal diversity of the revival message’s appropriation. In fact, some Ugandans were keen to maintain that their “revival conversions” in the early 1930s preceded any preaching by a Revival preaching team sent from Gahini – they were “revived” before or apart from the Revival, so to speak. For them, the Revival started when they were awoken with a divine voice, or received a particular vision, and confessed, rid themselves of charms and fetishes, and began living a more devout Christian life. For one of these converts, the Revival might be 79 or 78 this year.

Most testimonies, however, were not written down for a variety of reasons. Some viewed this as a calcification of a story of God’s dealings with their heart that must, by definition, remain au currant. Many revivalists were simply illiterate. Others feared that writing and publicizing the movement might lead Satan to attack that person, thereby discrediting the movement. (Ironically, Joe Church held this view, despite his efforts to tell their stories.)

What, then, can we say about how old the East African Revival is?

Like many things, it depends on whom you ask, but the pursuit of an answer to this basic question has illuminated the historical ambiguities of this dynamic movement. The tensions and debates that wrote and re-wrote the Revival’s history point to the theological discrepancies among Ugandan Anglicans and personal rivalries within the Anglican Church of Uganda.

It is safe to say, however, that for the majority of those who found the revival’s message to be personally revolutionary, the chronological squabbling of prominent men is of little concern. Their own histories are far more important. This points to the need for the inclusion in historical scholarship on the Revival of the dedicated ordinary “historians” who have not had the privilege of print or status, but have nevertheless through their testimonies been composing the Revival’s history for decades. They know without a doubt when their story begins, often down to the hour they received salvation.

Joe Church certainly had one thing right: writing up revival is a delicate matter. So happy 75th, 79th, 80th, 83rd, or 90th (or other) birthday.

Jason Bruner is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Princeton Theological Seminary.