Postpuritanism and the Decline of English Christianity
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was Britain’s foremost Puritan political leader and continues to be a controversial figure. Cromwell was primarily a soldier and politician.
He was certainly not without faults but was seeking to lead Britain into a period of moral advance and of Christian faith.
Cromwell‘s contribution to the evolution of democracy is significant. He sought to curtail the whim or greed of the monarch, for the ultimate good of the people. Having finally broken the absolute authority of the English Monarchy he was himself offered the crown by the English Parliament, which he refused.
Nevertheless, after his death with the Restoration of the Monarchy and the Act Of Uniformity in 1662 pre-Puritan and pre-Reformation influences returned. Cromwell’s body was dug up and posthumously executed! But the desire and the possibility of democracy had been established in puritan hearts – and was, indeed carried to the ‘New World’ by the Pilgrims.
Donald Drew, in a lecture entitled ‘England before and after John Wesley’ wrote the following:
‘Following the death of Cromwell and later that of his son Richard, Charles Stuart, the son of Charles I, returned from exile to become Charles II.
From the beginning of 1661, throughout his reign, punitive and vicious anti-puritan legislation reached the Statute Book…
These stabbed at the heart of Puritan legislation, religion, education and culture. Nearly one-fifth of all British clergy – those who opposed the Act of Uniformity – were expelled from the Church of England.
In their stead, cavalier place-seekers were installed. The overall result was the near extinction of biblical thinking and conduct amongst most clergy.
The strangulation of Puritanism and the suffocation by Deism had tragic consequences that expressed themselves during the first half of the eighteenth century.
A succession of archbishops and bishops lived luxuriously, neglected their duties, unashamedly solicited bishoprics and deaneries for themselves and their families. Parish clergy followed suit.’ (Quoted in Missionary Conspiracy, Letters to a Postmodern Hindu by Vishal Mangalwadi, Good Books, U.P. India p.260f)
It was at this time that many fled to the Netherlands and a brave company of believers set out for the ‘New World’ to form a country based on religious freedom, later to become the United States of America.
Those who didn’t flee could do little else than pray fervently for a mighty outpouring of the Spirit; indeed, for a Great Awakening to come.
And that’s when the story really picks up!
Read the next post, ‘The 18th Century Awakening in Europe and America’
For more on Cromwell visit http://www.olivercromwell.org
© 2009 Lex Loizides