“And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”
“And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”
“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.”
1 Cor. 12:25
“We do not leave communion of true Churches for corruptions and sins, but only abstain from the practice of evil in our own persons, and witness against it in others, still holding communion with the Churches of Christ.”
Body of Divinity, p. 377
Order of Contents
Works of & on Separatists
Calvin, John – Section 18, ‘They Separate Themselves from the True Churches of Christ’ in Against the Libertines, ch. 7, ‘Of the Peculiar Manner & Form of Speech used by the Quintinists (i.e. a pack of Libertines then living)’ trans. in Thomas Hall, A Practical & Polemical Commentary, or, Exposition upon the Third & Fourth Chapters of the Latter Epistle of Saint Paul to Timothy… (London, 1658), on 2 Tim. 3:8, pp. 166-67
Junius, Francis – A Christian Letter, Containing a Grave & Godly Admonition to such as Make Separation from the Church Assemblies in England & Elsewhere (d. 1602; London, 1602) 11 pp.
‘A Reproof of Certain Schismatical Persons’ in ed. Peel & Carlson, Cartwrightiana (London: Halley Stewart, 1951), pp. 197-261 This work is listed as doubtful authorship.
‘A Letter of T. C. To Richard Harrison Concerning Separation’ 15 pp. (1584) in The Judgment of Mr. Cartwright & Mr. Baxter Concerning Separation & the Ceremonies (1673) Note that EEBO lists the author as Cartwright (1634-1689), which is untrue. This same work is in Cartwrightiana, pp. 48-58.
Sibbes, Richard – A Consolatory Letter to an Afflicted Conscience Full of Pious Admonitions & Divine Instructions (London, 1641) 6 pp. The first half deals with an afflicted conscience; the second half argues against separatism.
Sibbes (c.1577-1635) was a conforming, Anglican puritan.
Certain Westminster Divines – Certain Considerations to Dissuade Men from Further Gathering of Churches in this Present Juncture of Time. Subscribed by  Diverse Divines of the [Westminster] Assembly (London, 1643) 5 pp.
A Brief Narration of Some Church Courses Held in Opinion & Practice in the Churches Lately Erected in New England: Collected out of Sundry of their own Printed Papers… Together with some… of their Correspondence with the like Tenets & Practices of the Separatists’ Churches… (London, 1644) 55 pp. no ToC
Prynne, William – A Full Reply to Certain Brief Observations & Anti-queries on Master Prynne’s Twelve Questions about Church-Government: wherein the Frivolousness, Falseness & Gross Mistakes of this Anonymous Answerer (ashamed of his name) & his Weak Grounds for Independency & Separation are Modestly Discovered, Refelled, together with certain brief animadversions on Mr. John Goodwin’s Theomachia, in Justification of Independency Examined, & of the Ecclesistical Jurisdiction & Rights of Parliament, which he Fights Against (1644) 24 pp.
Prynne was an Erastian and semi-Presbyterian. John Goodwin was a latitudinarian Arminian.
** Fergusson, James – Section 5, ‘The Doctrine of Separation Tried, & Found Not to be of God’ in A Brief Refutation of the Errors of Toleration, Erastianism, Independency & Separation, Delivered in Sermons on 1 Jn. 4:1 (1652), pp. 191-365
Fergusson was a Scottish covenanter and Resolutioner.
Wood, James – ‘Separation from Corrupt Churches’ (1654) 12 long paragraphs.
Wood was a professor of theology at St. Andrews in Scotland with Samuel Rutherford
The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal, Part 2
Brown, John, of Wamphray – ‘The Universal Visible Church’ (1670) 2 pp.
Corbet, John – ‘The Nonconformist’s Plea for Lay-Communion with the Church of England, etc.’ in The Nonconformist’s Plea for Lay-Communion with the Church of England, together with a Modest Defence of Ministerial Nonconformity… (London: Parkhurst, 1683), pp. 5-10
Corbet (1620-1680) was an English, congregationalist puritan, friends with Richard Baxter. The older non-conformists, according to Baxter, inclusive of Corbet, separated on principle from the Anglican city or diocesan churches, which had many more and greater corruptions in them, but not from the rural churches, which had less.
Catholic Communion Doubly Defended by Dr. Owen’s Vindicator & Richard Baxter… (London: Parkhurst, 1684)
pp. 9-15 of section 2
This list of theses is very good in general, even if one may disagree with a few particulars.
section 5, ‘A comparison of the use of a faulty translation of the Scripture, and a faulty liturgy’
Baxter is justifying both ministers administering, and laypersons attending and using, under certain circumstances, a faulty liturgy (the Anglican Prayer-Book service) when the benefits outweigh the alternative (including possible civil repurcussions). He did not believe there was anything strictly sinful in using the liturgy, at least for the morning and evening services of the Lord’s Day.
To make his argument, Baxter uses a comparison from events in England in the puritan era, as well as Christ, the apostles and the Jews in their day using the Septuagint, a significantly faulty Bible translation. Baxter himself did suffer much for keeping up a congregational church that did not use the Anglican liturgy.
Cameronian Ministers – Head IV, sections 1-2 of The Informatory Vindication (1687)
Section 1 lays out eight distinctions. Section 2 lays out six insufficient grounds for withdrawing from ministers in their day in Scotland. Both of these sections are right, Biblical, helpful and reflective of the 2nd Reformation in Scotland.
However, we do not agree with the Cameronians in all things (who were some of the most separatistic Christians in Church history), especially in sections 3-5, which sections are not wholly reflective of the 2nd Reformation in Scotland. To given an example:
The Vindication says in Head IV, section 3: “IX. We judge scandalous disorders & miscarriages, in either the ministerial or personal walk, carriage, or conversation of ministers, are a sufficient ground to withdraw from them.”
Rutherford and the 2nd Reformation in Scotland firmly held against the Separatists: “5th Conclusion, it is not lawful to separate from an worship of the Church for the sins of the fellow-worshippers, whether they be officers or private Christians.” Rutherford goes on to prove this with many Biblical examples in A Peaceable & Temperate Plea… (1642), pp. 132-149
On the 1600’s
Heppe, Heinrich – ch. 27, ‘The Church’, sections 20-22 of Reformed Dogmatics (rep. Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 670-72
Heppe quotes Calvin, Wolleb, Olevian, Mastricht & Heidegger.
Walker, James – The Theology & Theologians of Scotland of the 17th & 18th Centuries, pp. 108 ff. (1888)
See especially p. 109-114 on the separatist views of the 1680’s covenanter James Renwick and the reasons for the other covenanter ministers, Shields, Lining and Boyd, entering the 1689 Church. While one is at it, read all of chapter four on the Doctrine of the Visible Church in 1600′s Scotland.
Walker was a theologian of the Free Church of Scotland.
Boston, Thomas – ‘The Evil, Nature and Danger of Schism: a Sermon, 1 Cor. 1:10’ (1708) 54 paragraphs
In the first half of this sermon Boston lays out the principles of unity from the text and defines what schism is. In the second half Boston argues against those who remained separate from the Church of Scotland in his own day upon pretence of the Solemn League and Covenant and other impurities in the Church of Scotland post-1689.
MacPherson, John – ‘Unity of the Church: The Sin of Schism’ (1901) 43 paragraphs from The Doctrine of the Church in Scottish Theology
MacPherson was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland in the late 1800’s who here masterfully surveys the thought on the broadest unity of the church during the second reformation in Scotland (mid-1600’s).
The jist of the Still Waters Revival’s claims, according to Dr. Richard Bacon, is that “they maintain that we can treat churches that lack the full well-being of the church just as we would treat a false church. Then they define full well-being as including the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) and several other documents that they refer to as ‘terms of communion.’
A Short Treatise Against the Donatists of England, whom we call Brownists, wherein, by the Answers unto Certain Writings of theirs, Diverse of their Heresies are Noted, with Sundry Fantastical Opinions… (London, 1590) 110 pp. ToC
Gifford (c. 1548–1600 or 1620?) was a non-conformist, English, puritan preacher at Maldon in Essex, England.
John Greenwood replied to this work in, An Answer to George Gifford’s Pretended Defence.
A Plain Declaration that our Brownists be Full Donatists by Comparing them Together from Point to Point out of the Writings of Augustine. Also a Reply to Master Greenwood touching Read Prayer, wherein his Gross Ignorance is Detected… (London, 1590) 126 pp. ToC
This work is in reply to John Greenwood’s, An Answer to George Gifford’s Pretended Defence…, which was a reply to Gifford’s, A Short Treatise…
A Short Reply unto the Last Printed Books of Henry Barrow & John Greenwood, the Chief Ringleaders of our Donatists in England. Wherein is laid Open their Gross Ignorance & Foul Errors: upon which their Whole Building is Founded (London, 1591) 98 pp. ToC
Christian Advertisements & Counsels of Peace, Also Dissuasions from the Separatists’ Schism, Commonly Called Brownism, which is Set Apart from such Truths as they take from us & other Reformed Churches, & is Nakedly Discovered, that so the Falsity Thereof May Better be Discerned & so Justly Condemned & Wisely Avoided (1608) 192 pp. ToC
Bernard (1568–1641) was an reformed, English, non-conforming but anti-separatist, puritan minister. He was also a Cambridge graduate and a prolific, religious writer. He wrote a tract opposing the Anglican Prayer-Book.
He was presbyterian in his ideal, as is seen in his ‘A Short Draught of Church Government’ in A Short View of the Prælatical Church of England, wherein is set forth the Horrible Abuses in Discipline & Government (London, 1641). Bernard also has works against episcopalianism.
“Bernard was brought into union and communion with the separatists, but treacherously and basely as they alleged, conscientiously as he himself affirmed, withdrew from them. Thereupon commenced his invectives and their replies.” – DNB
“His daughter Mary married Roger Williams, co-founder of the state of Rhode Island, in 1629.” – Wikipedia
Plain Evidences the Church of England is Apostolical, the Separation Schismatical. Directed Against Mr. [Henry] Ainsworth the Separatist, & Mr. Smith the Se-baptist: both of them severally opposing the Book Called ‘The Separatists’ Schism’ ([London, 1610]) 336 pp. ToC
32 Questions (1639)
“Meanwhile [near the same time as the inquiring letter from the Old England ministers was received by the New England churches], New England churches received another similar inquiry from Richard Bernard of Batcombe, who proposed “Thirty-Two Questions.”
In reply, Richard Mather provided an answer under the title Church Government and Church Covenant Discussed (1643). Compared with the “Nine Propositions,” [of the Old England ministers] Bernard’s “Thirty-Two Questions” are more sophisticated, which are designed to find both the theological and the biblical foundation of the Congregational practices.” – Sang Ahn, Covenant in Conflict, pp. 57
For more of the context, before and after this, see our page on Congregationalism & Independency.
Bradshaw, William & Another – The Unreasonableness of the Separation made Apparent, in an Examination of, and answer to certain reasons of Mr. Francis Johnson: whereby he labours to justify his schism from the Church Assemblies of England, by Mr. William Bradshaw deceased. Together with a rejoinder, in defence of the said answer against the late reply of Mr. John Canne (a leader to a company of Brownists in Amsterdam) thereunto, by a friend of the deceased (1614; Amsterdam, 1640) 149 pp. ToC with a preface by William Ames
Paget, John – An Arrow Against the Separation of the Brownists (1618) 337 pp.
Ball (1585–1640) was an English, reformed puritan divine, known for his treatise on the Covenant of Grace. He also wrote heavily against Separatism and Independency. See especially:
Ashe, Simeon, William Rathband, John Ball et al. – A Trial of the New-Church Way in New-England & in Old… Sent Over to the New England Ministers, 1637, as a Reply to an Answer of Theirs in Justification of the Said Positions… IA (1637 & 1643/44)
“It is obvious that the Puritans, who obtained the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company from Charles I and came to New England in 1630, were not Separatists. They, though being non-conformists, considered themselves as loyal members of the Church of England. Secession or separation from the national church, for them, was a sin of schism. Nevertheless, in less than seven years, Puritans in the mother country began to hear that their brethren in New England actually followed the ways of the Separatists.
Accordingly, in 1637, a formal and written communication was made, in which Puritans in England put forward “Nine Propositions,” to which their “Reverend and beloved Brethren” in the New World replied in 1639. This early debate was compiled by Simeon Ash and William Rathband and, four years later, published with John Ball’s ‘Reply’, under the title ‘A Letter of Many Ministers in Old England’…
The main purpose of these propositions was to find whether or not the New England brethren actually adopted the methods of the Separatists which they once denounced before they left England…
Many ministers in Old England… were surprised at the rumor about their brethren’s sudden turn to Separatism. Particularly, they were frightened when they received a report that the above nine propositions were practiced by New Englander ‘as the only Church way, wherein the Lord is to be worshipped.’
Of course, this report seemed to be exaggerated. Thus, John Cotton, representing “the Elders of the Churches in New England,” provided an answer to this letter in which he assured them that New England Congregational churches had nothing to do with “the ways of rigid separation.”…
Cotton’s above answer was sent to England in 1639 and Ball’s comments and reply were finished by 1640. For some reason, however, their works were not published until 1643.” – Sang Ahn, Covenant in Conflict, pp. 54-57
Antapologia, or a Full Answer to the Apologetical Narration of Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Nye, Mr. Sympson, Mr. Burroughs, Mr. Bridge… Wherein is handled Many of the Controversies of these Times… 9. Of Separation & Schism… (London, 1644) 307 pp.
The Casting Down of the Last & Strongest Hold of Satan. Or a Treatise Against Toleration & Pretended Liberty of Conscience: wherein by Scripture, Sound Reason, Fathers, Schoolmen, Casuists, Protestant Divines of All Nations… yea, by Diverse Principles, Testimonies & Proceedings of Sectaries Themselves, as Donatists, Anabaptists, Brownists, Independents… (London, 1647) 218 pp. ToC
The first two chapters of this are about and against the Brownists. Chapters 3-6 are on and against the Independents, largely about their separation.
Firmin, Giles – Separation Examined: or, a Treatise wherein the Grounds for Separation from the Ministry & Churches of England are Weighed & Found too Light. The Practice Proved to be not only Unwarrantable, but likewise so Hurtful to the Churches, that Church-Reformation Cannot with any Comfort go Forward so long as such Separation is Tolerated. Also an humble request presented to the Congregational Divines, that since the Differences between them & the Classical-Divines are very Small they would please to strike in with the Classical-Divines in carrying on the work of Reformation before the Inundation of these Corrupt Opinions have Destroyed Both Ordinances & Religion (London, 1652) 111 pp.
Firmin (1614–1697) was initially ordained as a deacon in New England at the first congregationalist church, of John Cotton. He was also a physician. In returning to England he became ordained as a minister by Stephen Marshall and others after being appointed to an Anglican vicarage. Firmin was a royalist and for the parochial system. He (possibly after 1654?) was persuaded of Richard Baxter’s synthesis of low-episcopacy and congregationalism. He was ejected in 1662.
Crofton, Zachary – Reformation, Not Separation, or, Mr. Crofton’s Plea for Communion with the Church… in a Letter, written July 20, 1661… (1662) 74 pp.
Crofton (1626-1672) was reformed, a presbyterian and a puritan who was born and raised in Ireland. He came to England in 1646. He was ejected from the Church of England at the Restoration.
Baxter, Richard – A Second Admonition to Mr. Edward Bagshaw, written to call him to repentance for many false doctrines, crimes & specially fourscore palpable untruths in matter of fact… with a confutation of his reasons for separation (London, 1671) 190 pp. ToC
Attributed to Augustine
“The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”
Jerome Zanchi d. 1590
Confession of Christian Religion, Ch. 25, section 40, ‘Errors’, p. 240-1
“We therefore disallow all such things as are repugnant to this foresaid doctrine, confirmed by the scriptures, and chiefly these special points:
3. That the church does so consist of the elect and of true saints that in it should be contained no hypocrites, and that in the Scriptures they should never be comprehended under the Church’s name.
7. So to bind the church to certain places and persons, as to say there only with them is the church.
8. Not to acknowledge those for Christ’s churches, which, although they hold the grounds of faith, yet in ceremonies or in some part of doctrine do not altogether jump with us.
9. To make a separation from the churches upon any error or for the ill life of some men.
10. …and contrariwise, that those are not true churches which, although they keep fast the true doctrine, right sacraments and pure discipline, yet cannot show a continuance and succession of bishops never broken.”
‘Samuel Rutherford & Thomas Sydserff, Bishop of Galloway, ‘An Discussing of Some Arguments Against Canons & Ceremonies in God’s Worship’ 1636′ in Religious Controversy in Scotland, 1625-1639 ed. David G. Mullan in Scottish History Society, Fifth Series, vol 11 (Edinburgh: Scottish Historical Society, 1998), p. 97
“We are no Brownists, to think a church can be perfect in this life and must be deserted for faults, but it is sin to be coagents with the errors of a church. Howbeit we lie in one bed with our mother kirk and touch her whole skin, yet it is a sinful society to lay our skin to her boils and scabs.”
George Gillespie 1646
Aaron’s Rod Blossoming, ‘To the Reader’, p. xix
“When I speak of this divine ordinance of church government, my meaning is not to allow, much less to animate any in the too severe and over-strict exercise of ecclesiastical discipline and censures. It was observed by Jerome (Ad Marcellum), as one of the errors of the Montanists: Illi ad omne pene delictum ecclesiae obserant fores, They shut the church door (that is, they excommunicate and shut out of the church) almost at every offence.
I confess the greater part are more apt to fail in the defect than in the excess, and are like to come too short rather than to go too far. Yet a failing there may be, and has been, both ways… My purpose and endeavor shall be… to own the thing, to disown the abuses of the thing, to point out the path of Christ’s ordinance without allowing either rigour against such as ought to be tenderly dealt with, or too much lenity towards such as must be saved with fear, and pulled out of the fire, or at all any aberration to the right or left hand.”
Treatise of Miscellany Questions, ch. 10, ‘Of New Lights’, Seventhly
“Seventhly, Beware of separating new lights. To separate from, or gather new churches out of the true reformed or reforming churches, has not the least warrant from the Word of God. When we see this or that amiss in a church, we are bidden to exhort one another, and provoke one another to good, but not to separate, Heb. 10:24-25.
Zwinglius conferred amicably with the Anabaptists in Zurich, as with dissenting brethren, and no course was taken to suppress or restrain them by the secular power, till they grew to gather churches out of the true reformed churches; but when it came to that, they could not be suffered or forborne, it was thought necessary to retrain them.”
The Want of Church-Government… (London, 1650), p. 41
“…a negative separation, that is, a non-communion with the Church in a lawful and commanded worship is unlawful…
For the antecedent [above] I shall refer you to all that write against the Separation, who generally distinguish separation into Negative and Positive; Negative, is a non-communion in ordinances. Positive, when we gather and grow into another body, and they conclude them both to be unlawful.”
An Account given of the Principles & Practices of Several Nonconformists… (London: Parkhurst, 1682), p. 8
“Moreover we hold not ourselves obliged to forsake a true Church as no Church for the corruptions and disorders found therein, or to separate from its worship for the tolerable faults thereof, while our personal profession of some error, or practice of some evil is not required as the terms of our communion.”
Institutes (P&R), vol. 3, 18th Topic, ‘The Church’, 32nd Question, ‘Ecclesiastical Discipline and Excommunication’, section IV, p. 294
“Here it is particularly to be observed that this [Church] discipline exercises such a degree of severity as is always connected with a spirit of kindness… it can easily be judged thence how far to proceed and where severity ought to cease… otherwise rigor exceeds the proper bound.
Hence the immoderate austerity of the ancients cannot be approved, which was both contrary to the prescription of God and was exposed to great dangers… Therefore that spiritual sword is not to be unsheathed for a trivial cause (as is the case everywhere among the Anabaptists), but all things are to be first tried and only by degrees ought we to resort to extreme measures…”
Wilhelmus A’Brakel 1700
The Christian’s Reasonable Service Buy vol. 2, ch. 25, ‘The Duty to Join the Church and to Remain with Her’
“...it is a dreadful sin to depart from the church for the purpose of establishing one which is better, for the church is one, being the body of Christ. To separate ourselves from the church is to separate from the people of Christ and thus from His body, thereby withdrawing from the confession of Christ and departing from the fellowship of the saints. If we indeed deem the church to be what she really is, we shall then cause schism in the body of Christ, grieve the godly, offend others, give cause for the blaspheming of God‟s Name, and cause the common church member to err. By maintaining that the church is no church, we thereby deny the church of Christ, and therefore are also guilty of the sins just mentioned. We thereby displease God, who will not leave this unavenged, regardless of how much we please and flatter ourselves. Such activity the apostle opposes when he refers to such individuals as being carnal in 1 Cor 3:1, 3. He warns against this when he writes, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor 1:10); “I hear that there be divisions among you” (1 Cor 11:18).”
[To see more of what A’Brakel has to say and the context that he was speaking to, see Andrew Myers’ article, ‘The Spirit of Labadism’.]
“God generally imposes secret judgments upon those who absent themselves [from the church]. They become proud, opinionated, and despise the judgment of godly persons endowed with wisdom. They hold the congregation of God in contempt. They haughtily speak of great things, and come in a condition where they deem themselves beyond instruction, manifesting a pride against that which David prayed in Ps 19:13.
God will afflict such with a special cross which they will have to endure for the remainder of their lives. He pours contempt upon them, causes their physical condition to deteriorate, and permits them to fall into sin. He sends them a powerful delusion that they would believe a lie (2 Thess 2:9-11), since they did not embrace the truth in love, and espoused a love for error. Their departure is rarely limited to one error, and it generally goes from bad to worse.“
“The first prejudice then is, That those who dissent and separate from us are the strictest party. In answer to this…
As for strictness of opinions, as to government and church communion, if we measure strictness according to the dictates of men’s own spirits, we will yield to them for strictness; and so would our Lord to the Pharisees, and the apostles to the false teachers. But if we measure strictness according to the Word of God, we deny they are strictest, but they are indeed widest from the rule. I will follow Christ to the synagogue of the Jews (I hope some of you at least may understand what I say [who had corruptions in their worship and government]) and in so doing I will be more strict than those that scruple to follow Christ’s example, for fear they be involved in the guilt of the corruptions among them; for the nearer I follow Christ, the more strict I am, if strictness be measured according to the Word of God…”
Forbes, John – bk. 14, ‘Of the Unity & Schism of the Church’ ToC in Historical & Theological Instructions on Christian Doctrine… (Amsterdam, 1645), pp. 708-33 This volume was commended by Polyander, Trigland, Spanheim, Voet, Maets, Hoornbeeck, Cloppenburg, Coccejus and Maresius, as well as Gerhard Vossi, an Arminian.
Forbes (1593-1648) was one of the Aberdeen doctors. This volume gained him the reputation of being one of the greatest theologians of the reformed Church. The covenanters ‘acknowledged his orthodoxy and high Christian character’ (DNB).
The Only 3 Justifications for Religious Separation
The only grounds for religious separation from churches is if:
(1) their corruptions cause one to sin (a mere association with persons or such corrupt worship does not necessarily involve personal sin in all circumstances);
(2) the corruptions are infectious, having a tendency to draw oneself, or those one is responsible for, such as one’s family, to sin;
(3) if the corruptions fundamentally make the worship not edifying to oneself or those one is responsible for.
If a Church, such as the Roman Church, or some constitutionally liberal Churches in America, for instance, overturn certain fundamentals of the Christian faith, God says, ‘Come out of her my people’ (Rev. 18:4), as such overturns all three principles above, insofar as (1) such a close association with such severe sin is in itself sinful, (2) as such fundamental false teaching is inherently infectious, and (3) as such worship is detrimental and injurious to the spiritual health of the Christian.
Where Churches with corruptions are sound on the fundamentals of the faith, only the second and third principles above apply. The rational for the third principle is that all Church government, and the functions it exercises (such as public worship) has only been given for the good and edification of the Church (Eph. 4:11-13; 2 Cor. 13:8,10; 10:8); no authority has been given of Christ to Church government and its functions for the detriment of the Church (Christ’s people). Hence, one need not to submit to that which is harmful to them.
It should also be noted, in accordance with principles one and three above, that a corrupt Church systematically restraining persons, officers or a group of offices, from keeping positive commandments of God (such as the Great Commission, for instance) may be grounds for separation, insofar as a want, or omission, of conformity unto the Law of God, is sinful, and as such circumstances prohibit the good and edification of the Church and its work.
In this circumstance, of possibly setting up a separate Church communion, it ought to be weighed very carefully which is worse: (1) being restrained in the Church’s good work, or (2) having a separate Church communion. Where the latter is worse, the first ought to be tolerated. Where the first is worse, the second ought to be established.
Separations often happen due to unjust Church discipline of ministers. The ministers have been called of Christ to preach the Gospel. Unjust Church discipline prohibits them from preaching the Gospel in that Church communion. Therefore in order not to sin against their special calling by Christ, they continue ministerial functions outside of that Church communion in a newly formed Church communion.
Similarly, if actions are taken such that a Church’s constitution does not remain intact, this may involve sin for faithful ministers to remain bound to that same Church, if the constitution had upheld necessary, moral requisites for ministerial communion, and if the faithful ministers consider themselves still bound by the general equity of their vows to that constitution.
The separation here described only has relevance to separating for religious principles of faith and practice. Leaving a church, or transferring to a different church, due to legitimate providential factors, or simply because one (and one’s family) may spiritually grow more at a different, more faithful church has also been allowed by historic, reformed theology (as is seen on a subsection below on this page, as well as a section on our page, Church Membership). These justifications essentially fall under the third principle above.
Do note that if a church is separated from due to religious principles of faith and practice, it ought not to be an ultimate and absolute separation, and that in all degrees, but it ought to be only insofar as the danger necessitates, and that for the time. Desire for Church unity in peace and purity ought always to remain; and unity will only be had to the degree that peace and purity is had.
The True Non-Conformist... ([Amsterdam?] 1671), 1st Dialogue, pp. 6-7
“4. You [Gilbert Burnet] suggest, that ‘Non-conformists think, they may quit the communion of the Church, if, in their opinion, [the Church is] not in the truth in every point’…
in name of all true non-conformists, that as they do not think they may quit the communion of the Church, if in their opinion, [it is] not in the truth, unless the difference be both real [as opposed to only a mistaken perception, etc.], & in profession and practice; so it is not every real difference in profession or practice that they hold to be a sufficient cause; nor do they judge that, even the cause being sufficient, the separation should be always carried to the extremity [furthest point];
but the sound and clear rule which they propose for Christian practice in this matter is that, where the controverted difference is such as would render a conjunction therein either [1.] sinful or [2.] contagious [infectious], then a just and proportionate separation, precisely and with all tenderness, commensurate to the exigence [need], is the safer course.”
Rutherford’s Distinctions, Conclusions & Considerations on Separation
A Peaceable & Temperate Plea… (1642)
ch. 10, ‘Whether or no it be lawful to separate from a true Church visible for the corruption of teachers and the wickedness of pastors and professors, where faith is begotten by the preaching of professed truth?’
1. There is a separation in the visible Church, and a separation out of and from the visible Church.
2. There is a separation total and whole, from any visible communion with the Church; or partial and in part, from a point of doctrine or practice of the Church in a particular only.
3. There is a separation negative, when we deny the practice of an error with silence, or refuse public communion with the Church, but do not erect a new church within the Church. There is a separation positive, when one not only refuses practice of errors, and protests and pleads against them, but also erects a new visible church.
4. As there is a threefold communion: (1) in baptism, (2) in hearing of the Word, (3) in communion with the Church at the Lord’s Supper, so here is a threefold separation answerable thereunto.
5. The influence of a corrupt worship may either be thought to come from the persons with whom we worship, or from the matter of the worship, if corrupt; and that either, (1) by practice, or (2) by not practising something that an affirmative commandment of God imposes on us.
6. A communion in worship either implies a consent and approbation of the worship, or no consent at all.
7. A communion of worship when the worship in the matter is lawful, yet for the profession may be most unlawful, as to hear a Jesuit preach sound doctrine.
8. There is a separation from a friendly familiarity, and from a communion in worship.
8 Conclusions with Considerations & Distinctions
Conclusion 1: We are to separate in the true visible Church from all communion wherein need-force we cannot choose but sin, suppose we separate not from the Church (Eph. 5:11)…
Conclusion 2: From the first conclusion it will follow that a separation in part, I mean in some acts of public worship, when we cannot choose but fall in sin, from a true church, is lawful…
Conclusion 3: About Separation from Rome and spiritual Babel, we have two parties to satisfy… 1. Papists. 2. Separatists, opposers of Presbyterian government, who think we have all as good reason to separate from ourselves and presbyterian churches, as from Babel.
Consideration 1: It is most false what Bellarmine says, Churches all withered as branches separated from trees when they separated from Rome. Joseph grew as a fruitful branch, and blessings were on the top of his head, when he was separated from his brethren (Deut. 33:16).
Consideration 2: The faithful before Luther, the Albigenses, Waldenses and others, yea the Roman doctors themselves holding fundamental points with some hay and stubble built upon the foundation, made a negative separation from Babylon, and did neither hold, nor profess their gross idolatries, and other fundamental errors; howbeit they did not hold them positively, by erecting a new church, because the separation was then in the blade, and not ripe for the harvest.
Consideration 3: We hold that Rome made the separation from the Reformed Churches, and not we from them, as the rotten wall makes the schism in the house, when the house stands still and the rotten wall falls.
Consideration 4: We separate not from acts of love to have the relics of Babel saved; howbeit we have separated from communion in faith and worship.
Consideration 5: The essential ingredients and reasons of a lawful divorce are here: 1. We could not lie in one bed with that sometime sister Church of Rome, but our skin behoved to rub upon her botch-boil, and therefore we did separate from nothing but corruption. 2. There was there persecutions, and in that we are patients and ejected rather than departers on foot and horse. 3. A professed dominion over our consciences. 4. Necessity of receiving the mark of the beast, and so the plagues of the beast, to worship images, and the work of men’s hands, a necessity of professing fundamental errors, that subvert the foundation of faith, did all necessitate our separation.
Consideration 6: The Church of believers might lawfully use justa tutela eternæ salutis, a necessary defence for salvation, and forsake her corrupt guides and choose others, and so we had the consent of the Church to the separation, and a voice from heaven, ‘Come out of her my people.’ [in Scripture]
Consideration 7: A collateral and sister Church, such as Rome ever was, is not said to separate from another; the lesser separates always from the greater, the member from the body. Where there is a schism, sister Protestant churches then cannot be said to separate one from another, nor can the crime of schism here be more objected to us than to Rome, but rather to Rome separating from orthodox and right believing Rome.
Consideration 8: We separate not from men but errors. 2. We separate from Papism kindly, properly and totally; from Christian articles in no sort. 3. From points of truth sewn and engraven with Popery only by accident, breaking the thread and needle that sowed them together.
As for the Church of Rome, supposing our reformers had their calling thence, yet have we a true ministry and there was a Church in Rome before the Lateran Council which could constitute a true ministry, as I clear in these distinctions, for the Church of Rome, it has these parts.
Distinction 1: The court of Rome and clergy; 2. the seduced people.
Distinction 2: 1. There is a teaching court professing and teaching popery, and obtruding it upon the consciences of others. 2. There is a people professing and believing this with heat of zeal. 3. A people misled, ignorant, not doubting but following. 4. There is a people of God, ‘Come out of her my people’, Therefore, there is a covenanted people of God there; 2 Thess. 2, Antichrist shall sit in the Temple of God, Therefore, God has a Temple in Rome.
Distinction 3: …a true Church is one thing veritate metaphysica [by metaphysical truth], with the verity of essence, as a sick man, or a man wanting a leg is a true man, and has a reasonable soul in him, and a true church vertate ethica, a church morally true, that is, a sound, whole, a pure church professing the sound faith, that is another thing…
Distinction 4: …the question is either of a teaching and a ministerial church, professing Christ, the Word and baptism, or of a believing church and spouse of Christ.
Distinction 5: If Rome relatively is a wife in comparison of other churches, of if Rome absolutely in herself is a Church?
Distinction 6: If Rome is jure and merito, a spouse, or a harlot, or de facto, a wife, not having received a bill of divorcement as the Church of the Jews [has].
Distinction 7: If Rome according to some parts is a spouse, and keeps any list of marriage kindness to her husband, or if she is according to other parts a cast off whore.
Distinction 8: If Rome is materially a Church, having in it the doctrine of faith, or if formally it is no Church, having no professed faith that has the nature of faith.
Voetius makes nine ranks of these that were not dyed and engrained papists in the Popish church: (1) Some deceived. (2) Some compelled. (3) Some ignorant. (4) Some careless, who took not heed to that faith. (5) Some doubting. (6) Some loathing it. (7) Some sighing. (8) Some opposing and contradicting it. (9) Some separating from it.
Conclusion 4: There are three sorts that have communion rightly with our church:
1. Infants baptized, for baptism is a seal of their fellowship with Christ, and therefore of communion with the Church; because separatists will have none members of the church while they can give no proofs thereof by signs of regeneration, infants must be without the church to them… Hence baptism shall either seal no entering infants in the church, contrary to God’s Word, or the baptizing of infants is not lawful…
2. The hearers of the Word have a communion with the Church as is clear, seeing these that eat of one bread are one body, these that profess in the hearing of the Word, that same faith, are also that same body in profession. Yet excommunicate persons are admitted as hearers of the Word, hence the extreme and great excommunication (1 Cor. 16:22) cuts off men from being simply no members of the Church; that excommunication that makes the party as a heathen and publican supposes him still to be a brother and hearer of the Word (2 Thess. 3:14-15). And all these are members of the Church, and yet not necessarily converted.
3. The regenerate and believers that communicate of one bread and one cup at the Lord’s table are most nearly and properly members of one visible body, and none of these are to separate from Christ’s body.
Conclusion 5: It is not lawful to separate from any worship of the Church for the sins of the fellow worshippers, whether they are officers or private Christians. 10 arguments.
Conclusion 6: A worship may be false in the matter two ways, either when we are to practice it, or give our assent to it, as to receive the sacraments after an unlawful manner [such as by kneeling], to assent to corrupt doctrine: that is never lawful; and here we may separate from the worship, when we separate not from the church. Or then the worship is false in the matter, but our presence does not make it unlawful to us; as professors may hear a preacher who preaches the body of divinity soundly, howbeit he mixes errors with it, because what everyone hears, they are to try ere they believe, as the Spirit of God teaches, 1 Thess. 5:21, ‘Try all things, hold fast what is good.’ 1 John 4:1, ‘Try the spirits.’ In so doing we separate from the sermon while we hear the good and refuse the evil; because we separate from the error of the worship, therefore to hear unsound doctrine is not to partake of false worship, because we are to hear the Pharisees, but to beware of their leaven, and finding it to be sour and unsound doctrine, we are to reject it.
Conclusion 7: A communion in worship, true in the matter, where the person called, for example, the preacher is a minister of Antichrist, is unlawful, because we are not to acknowledge any of Babel, or Baal’s priests, professing their calling to be of the Pope, the man of sin.
Conclusion 8: When we separate from a church overturning the foundation of religion, as from Rome, we are to keep a desire of gaining them, howbeit not a brotherly fellowship with them. Augustine says with us, we are in mercy to rebuke what we cannot amend, and to bear it patiently…
10 Considerations on Degrees of Separation, pp. 253-55
Diverse degrees of separation are to be considered, hence these  considerations:
1. There is a separation Negative, or a non-union, and a separation Positive. Though a Church of schismatics retains the sound faith, yet separating from others, be deserted by any, it is a Negative separation from a true church, and laudable, as the faithful in Augustine’s time did well in separating from the Donatists, for with them they were never one in that faction, though they separated not from the true faith held by Donatists, but kept a Positive union with them, so do all the faithful well to separate from the churches of the Separatists.
2. If the whole and most part of the church turns idolatrous and worships idols (which is essential idolatry), we are to separate from that church. The Levites and the two Tribes did well, as Mr. Ball ( Ball, in loc. cit.) says, to make a separation from Jeroboam’s calves, and the godly laudably (2 Kings 16:11) did not separate from the Israel and church of God because the Altar of Damascus was set up and because of the high places. Things dedicated unto idols, as Lutheran images may be called, and are called (1 Cor. 10:34) idolatry; yet are they idolatry by participation, and so the cup of devils (1 Cor. 10). Paul does not command separation from the Church of Corinth and the Table of the Lord there.
3. There is a separation from the church in the most part, or from the church in the least and best part. In Ahab’s time Israel, and the church thereof, for the most part worshipped Baal. Elijah, Micah, Obadiah and other godly separated from the Church of Israel in the most part. Jeremiah wished to have a cottage in the wilderness (no doubt a godly wish) that he might separate from the church, all them for the most part corrupted; yet remained they a part of the visible church and a part in the visible church, and therefore did he not separate from the church according to the least and best part thereof. The godly in England who refused the Popish ceremonies and antichristian bishops, did well not to separate from the visible church in England, and yet they separated from the main and worst part [in the Roman fold], which cannot be denied to be a ministerial church.
4. If a church is incorrigible in a wicked conversation and yet retains the true faith of Christ, it is presumed God has there some to be saved, and that where Christ’s ordinances are there also Christ’s church presence is. And therefore I doubt much if the church should be separated from, for the case is not here as with one simple person; for it is clear, all are not involved in that incorrigible obstinacy and that is yet a true visible communion in which we are to remain. For there is some union with the head Christ were the faith is kept sound, and that visibly, though a private brother remaining sound in the faith, yet being scandalous and obstinately falgitious is to be cast off as a heathen, yet are we not to deal so with an orthodox church where [the] most part are scandalous.
5. I see not but we may separate from the Lord’s Supper where bread is adored and from baptism where the sign of the cross is added to Christ’s ordinances, and yet are we not separated from the church; for we professedly hear the Word and visibly allow truth of the doctrine maintained by that church which do pollute the sacraments, and we are ready to seal it with our blood, and it is an act of visible profession of a church to suffer for the doctrine mentioned by that church.
6. We may hold what Ambrose (Ambrose commen., in loc., lib. 6, cap. I, Signa est ecclesia quæ fidem respuat, nec Apostolica prædicationis fundamenta possideat, ne qualibet perfidiæ possit aspergere, deserenda est. (It is a sign that a church which disapproves of the faith and does not abide by the Apostolic foundations of preaching ought to be abondoned, so that it cannot scatter its its treachery wherever it pleases.)) says well, that a church [lack]ing the foundation of the apostles is to be forsaken.
7. There is a forced separation through tyranny from personal communion, and a voluntary separation. David was forced to leave Israel and was cast out of the inheritance of the Lord. The former is not our sin, and our separation from Rome has something of the former. The latter would be wisely considered.
8. There may be causes of non-union with a church which are not sufficient causes of separation. Paul would not separate from the Church of the Jews, though they rejected Christ, till they openly blasphemed (Acts 13:44-46; 18:16). And when they opposed themselves and blasphemed, Paul shook his raiment and said unto them, ‘Your blood be upon your heads, I am clear, from henceforth I will go to the Gentiles.’ There is a lawful separation, and yet before the Jews came to this there was no just cause why any should have joined to the Church of the Jews which denied the Messiah and persecuted his servants (Acts 4, 5), seeing there was a cleaner church to which converts might join themselves (Acts 2:40-42).
9. There is no just cause to leave a less clean church [in the dogmatic and renouncing way of the Separatists] (if it is a true church) and to go to a purer and cleaner, though one who is a member of no church has liberty of election to join to that church which he conceives to be purest and cleanest.
10. When the greatest part of a church makes defection from the truth, the lesser part remaining sound, the greatest part is the church of separatists though the maniest and greater part in the actual exercise of discipline is the church; yet in the case of right discipline, the best though fewest is the church. For truth is like life, that retires from the maniest members unto the heart and there remains in its fountain in case of danger.
The Ungodly Joining in Prayer is not a Ground of Separation
May Persons Transfer to a More Profitable Church? Yes
Sometimes persons misread the Scottish Second Reformation writers, as if in their polemic against the Separatists they were saying that a person could never leave one local church for another, except the first one wholesale apostatized. That is not the case.
Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), p. 73
“The most that these [particular] arguments of our [separatist] Brethren do prove, is but that it is lawful to go, and dwell in a congregation where Christ is worshiped in all his ordinances, rather than to remain in that congregation where He is not worshipped in all his ordinances and where the Church censures are neglect∣ed, which to us is no separation from the visible Church, but [only] a removal from one part of the visible Church to another, as he separates not out of the house, who removes from the gallery, to remain and lie and eat in the chamber of the same house, because the gallery is cold and smokey, and the chamber not so, for he has not made a vow never to set his foot in the gallery.”
The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal (1659), Part 2, ch. 15, p. 152
“And is it likely, where the order formerly laid down is observed, that there can be habitual admission of notoriously or grievously scandalous persons, though, it may be, there be lesser fallings of several sorts: Yet, supposing that any out of infirmity or affection, not having such knowledge, or otherwise, should stick to join in the ordinances at some times, or in some places, upon such an account, who yet do not love separation, or the erecting of a different Church, we say further:
1. That, in such a case, such persons may remove from one congregation to another, where such grossness cannot be pretended to be; and the persons being otherwise without scandal, can neither be pressed to continue (they being so burdened) nor yet refused to be admitted where orderly they shall desire to join, seeing this could not be denied to any. And, we suppose few will be so uncharitable as to think there is no congregation whereunto they can join, or yet so addicted to outward respects, as to choose separation with offence to others, disturbance to the Church, and, it may be, with little quietness to themselves, whenas they have a remedy so inoffensive allowed unto them.”
Is it ever Right to Abstain from Attending Public Worship? Yes
The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal (1659), Part 2, ch. 15, p. 152
“2. Although separation be never allowable, and secession be not alway at an instant practicable; yet we suppose, in some cases, simple abstinence, if it be not offensive in the manner and circumstances, if it be not made customary, and if the ground be so convincing and the case so gross that it will affect any ingenuous hearer, and so evident that there is no access to any acquainted in such places to deny the same, or that there be a present undecided process concerning such things before a competent judge; in some such cases, I say, as might be supposed, we conceive abstinence were not rigidly to be misconstructed, it being for the time the burden of such persons that they cannot join; and, it may be, having some public complaint of such a thing to make-out, and in dependence elsewhere:
Although we will not strengthen any to follow this way, nor can it be pretended to where the case is not singularly horrid; yet supposing it to be such, we conceive it is the safest one way for the person’s peace, and the preventing of offence together; yet, much christian prudence is to be exercised in the conveying of the same, if it were by removing for a time, or otherways, that there appear to be no public contempt; but we conceive this case is so rarely incident, and possibly that there needs be little said of it, much less should there be any needless debate or rent entertained upon the consideration or notion thereof.
And certainly the case before us, of the admitting of the Nicolaitans and Jezebel, considering their doctrine and deeds, is more horrid than readily can be supposed; and yet it would seem that though this defect should still have continued, the Lord does require no other thing of private professors, but their continuing-in, or holding fast of, their former personal purity, which is all the burden that He does lay upon them.”
Sometimes separatists make much of the doctrine of the evil of occasional hearing. This refers to it being morally evil to hear the sermons and writings of ministers that have certain corruptions that the particular separatists have separated from. While there is truth and legitimate applicability in this principle in certain circumstances, it is often taken way too far.
What is not well known are the writings and arguments for occasional hearing: that the priority of edification in the truth and the unity of Christ’s Church is of more binding weight than whatever corruptions such a minister may be involved in. Philip Nye, the Westminster divine, was an Independent (Independency is inherently separatistic). John Robinson was a founding father of Separatism. Yet hey both argue from Scripture below for Occasional Hearing.
as quoted in Isaac Chauncy, A Theological Dialogue: containing the Defence & Justification of Dr. John Owen from the Forty-Two Errors Charged upon Him by Mr. Richard Baxter… (London: Author, 1684) pp. 5-6
“God put it into the disciples’ power to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and hear them [Mt. 16:6, 11-12; 23:2-3]… Prove all things [1 Thess. 5:21], is not approving all things.”
Nye, Philip – A Case of Great & Present Use: Whether we may Lawfully Hear the now Conforming Ministers who are Re-ordained & have Renounced the [Solemn League &] Covenant & Some of them [are] Supposed to be Scandalous in their Lives, Considered & Affirmatively Resolved (1677)
Philip Nye was a Westminster divine that exhorted at the taking of the Solemn League and Covenant. He was also an Independent, and still argues for Occasional Hearing.
Robinson, John – A Treatise on the Lawfulness of Hearing of the Ministers in the Church of England (1634) 19 pp. in Works, vol. 3, pp. 339-78
John Robinson was one of the founding fathers of Separatism, and he still argues for the lawfulness of occasional hearing.
Nye, Philip & Robinson et al. – The Lawfulness of Hearing the Public Ministers of the Church of England Proved, by Mr. Philip Nye & Mr. John Robinson, Two Eminent Congregational Divines. Together with the Judgment of Dr. Goodwin, Dr. Owen & Other Independents, as well Ancient as Modern (London, 1683) The Addenda contains the testimonies of other Independents.
On Occasional, Qualified, Material Conformity without Sin
A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship… (Amsterdam: Thorp, 1633), ch. 1, section 17, p. 82
“As if occasional accommodation were all one with imposition, or voluntary joining in action for the good that is in it, were always a certain argument of holding that opinion which others doe affix unto it.”
Corbet, John –
‘Some Consideration of a Preface to an Inquiry Concerning the Occasional Conformity of Dissenters, etc.’ in The Works of John Howe, vol. 5, Containing the Treatises: On Divine Prescience and the Trinity… (Religious Tract Society, 1863), pp. 261-90
Howe (1630-1705) was an English Puritan and presbyterian theologian. He served briefly as chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.
“But if one avoid more ordinary communion with a church, as judging it, though not essentially defective, yet to want [lack] or err in some circumstances so considerable as that he counts [that] another church comes nearer the common Christian rule, the Holy Scriptures, and finds its administrations more conducing to his spiritual advantage; he may be led, by the judgment of his conscience, both, sometimes upon weighty and important reasons to communicate with the former [defective Church], and continue therein, according as those reasons shall continue urgent upon him; and yet, sometimes, as the cessant or diminished weight of such reasons shall allow, to communicate with the other [more spiritually advantageous church].” – pp. 275-6
“Sometimes, surely it will be understood how bold an adventure it is, to make terms of Christian communion, which Christ has never made.” – p. 279
“But, Mr. Prefacer [Howe’s separatist opponent], if your judgment upon the case itself, be true, I conceive that truth, accompanied with your temper of spirit, is much worse than their error.”
VII. ‘Letter to a Person of Honour, Partly Representing the Rise of Occasional Conformity, & Partly the Sense of the Present Non-Conformists, About their yet Continuing Differences from the Established Church’ (1702) in The Works of John Howe, vol. 3 (London: William Tegg, 1848), pp. 573-76
Moderation Still a Virtue: in Answer to Several Bitter Pamphlets, especially two, Entitled, ‘Occasional Conformity a most Unjustifiable Practice’ [by S. Grascome] and ‘The Wolf Stripped of his Shepherd’s Clothing’ [by C. Leslie, against Dissenters]… Wherein the Precedents & Christian Principles of Conscientious, Occasional Conformity are Defended… by the Author of ‘Moderation a Virtue’ (London, 1704) ToC 102 pp.
Owen (1654-1706) was an English, reformed, puritan.
By ‘occasional conformity’, Owen does not mean ever doing that which is sinful. Rather, he means occasionally joining in worship, where one can, which is lawful, though other parts of it, which one does not participate in, may be unlawful. ‘Occasional’ also refers to doing this only sometimes, whereas one regularly worships according to the full standard of God’s worship in separate assemblies. Such assemblies are separate by necessity, so as not to be corrupted, but have not thrown off the governmental authority of the valid, mother Church altogether.
This is distinct from ‘constant conformity’, which would not hold separate assemblies, and may conform in all things; and it is different from ‘no conformity’, which would not participate in lawful worship acts with the mother Church where it can, simply due to the corruptions in the government and worship of that valid Church.
See pp. 7-15 that ‘occasional conformity’ was the practice of John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles.
“Some of them [Owen’s opposers] violently oppose all moderation and confound it with lukewarmness in the essentials and vitals of religion…” – p. ii
Moderation a Virtue, or, The Occasional Conformist Justified from the Imputation of Hypocrisy: Wherein is Shown the Antiquity, Catholic Principles and Advantage of Occasional Conformity to the Church of England; and that Dissenters from the Religion of the State Have Been Employed in Most Governments. To which is Added, a Defence Thereof, in Answer to Several Pamphlets Wherein the Precedents and Christian Principles of Conscientious, Occasional Conformity are Defended; the Government of the Reformed Churches that Have No Bishops, Ordination by Presbyters, and the Dissenters’ Separate Communions are Justified; with a Short Vindication of the Dissenting Academies, Against Dr. Sacheverell’s Misrepresentation of Them (1712) 46 pp.
How to Cure Separatism
ch. 31, ‘The Cure of our Divisions’, with 14 Joining Principles
“There are some diseases that are called opprobria medicorum, ‘the disgraces of physicians’, because they know not what to say or do to them; or if they do anything it is to little purpose. If there be any soul-disease that be opprobrium theologorum, the disgrace of divines, it is this: of contention and division. How little has all that they have studied and endeavored to do prevailed with the hearts of men?
What shall we do? Shall we but join in this one thing, to sit down together, and mourn one over another, one for another, till we have dissolved our hearts into tears, and see if we can thus get them to run one into another? Oh that it might be, what sorrow soever it costs us!” – pp. 252-3
ch. 32, ’14 Joining Considerations’
ch. 33, ‘8 Joining Graces’
ch. 34, ’16 Joining Practices’
The Separatism of the Cameronians 1680’s
William Mathieson, Politics and Religion, a Study in Scottish History from the Reformation to the Revolution, vol. 2 (1639-1690), p. 293 circa 1679-80 Mr. Riddle was an orthodox and godly resisting presbyterian, who owned the authority of the Scottish king (upon conviction).
“…a minister named Riddell, who was confined with them [Cameronians] in the Tolbooth [in Edinburgh], because he had refused to promise not to preach in the fields… Riddell, however, could make nothing of the prisoners, who refused to pray with him or even to hear him pray.”
Patrick Walker, Six Saints of the Covenant, vol. 1, pp. 143
“The Gibbites in 1681, and Russelites in 1682, and for some years, did maintain the same unhappy principles and practices [as the M’Millanites]; and stated their testimonies against paying of excise and customs, and other fool things, not only for themselves, but separation from all that durst not go their lengths, even when imprisoned together going as far from us as the walls of the prison would allow them, and stopping their ears when we went about public worship three times a day, which was our ordinary [practice] in each room…”
Edwin Nisbet Moore – Our Covenant Heritage (2000) Moore is very sympathetic with the Cameronians.
“…[James] Renwick possessed great character, knowledge and spirit. Unfortunately, a faction persistently refused to hear Renwick for a variety of hair-splitting reasons, including Renwick’s ordination [in 1683 in Holland by the reformed Dutch Church] by those who used musical instruments in worship services. Even Reverend [Alexander] Peden initially warned people against Renwick.
To compound their worries at home, public sentiment abroad turned against the Society People. Many abroad were concerned with the remnant’s controversial views on several subjects: namely, their refusal to acknowledge the king’s authority, their overly restrictive requirements for fellowship, and their lack of ecclesiastical capability to call and oversee ministers. These concerns made it almost impossible to ordain additional ministers abroad (Shields, Faithful Contendings, pp. 100-101).
The following questions posed to attendees to the General Society meetings are illustrative of the extent to which they went to remain free of the defections of the day:
(1) Do ye know the principles and practices of these societies from whom ye have your commission?
(2) Do ye and they own our covenants and engagements, our faithful Declarations and Testimonies?
(3) Are ye and they free of giving any manner of bond to the enemies?
(4) Are ye and they free of paying cess [a tax], locality, and any militia money?
(5) Are ye and they free of paying stipends to the curates or to the Indulged?
(6) Are ye and they free of taking the enemies’ pass or protection?
(7) Are ye and they free of answering unto enemies their courts?
(8) Are ye and they free of capitulation any manner or way with the enemies, or furnishing them with commodities?
(9) Are ye and they free of counseling and consenting to any in their compliance, any of their foresaid ways, for you, in your name?
(10) Are ye and they free of joining with the curates or indulged, by hearing them preach, accepting the administration of the sacraments at their hands, subjecting unto their discipline, or being married by them?
(11) Are ye and they free of joining any of the foresaid ways of complying, unfaithful, and silent ministers of the time?
The severity of life on the run combined with the endless criticism from home and abroad bore hard on the Society People.”
“After the defeat [of Argyle’s expedition, 1685], two of the ministers who came over with Argyle’s party sought to join with the Society. The Society rejected them because they had left the country during a time of need, joined with Indulged ministers in worship, spoken out against the Society, associated with Argyle’s expedition, and had not supported [Donald] Cargill and [Richard] Cameron.
In their defense, the two ministers compared their associations abroad with Renwick’s foreign ordination and expressed concerns regarding the Society’s testimonies and declarations. The two ministers would not abstain from fellowship with the Indulged, but ‘declared their willingness to lay things in present controversy aside, until they should be determined by a competent judicatory [which the Society People were not].’ (Shields, Faithful Contendings, pp. 168-182)
The Society members, finding these terms unacceptable, decided not to join with these two ministers. Some left with the two ministers resulting in yet another painful division. (Ibid., 169)… [Patrick] Walker also listed James Nisbet as one who could attest to the conflicts that took place among the Society members during this time.
James memoir describes how he saw first hand the divisions that resulted from the Argyle affair:
‘But, alas! I got my comforts a little lowered this day upon the reason following: There came to that meeting some of the worthy gentlemen who came home this year with the Earl of Argyle on his expedition; they and some other of our Christian friends looked shy and cold upon one another upon the account of some difference in judgment and opinion that was among them.
[This] was matter of sorrow of heart to me now, but much more so afterwards, when I saw the woeful consequences thereof; for I quickly observed that these differences of opinion occasioned much alienation of affection, even among those who were otherwise truly religious.
Likewise, it served much to eat out the vitals of religion in the waste of much precious time, which was spent in debating and contending, which might otherwise have been very usefully spent in seeking after and in pursuit of the one thing needful, the better part, which could not have been taken from them.’ (Nisbet, Private Life, pp. 114-15)”
“James Nisbet agonized over this difficult choice… should he join the clearly imperfect Church of Scotland? Based on the following account form his memoir, it is likely that he parted from the Society shortly after the Revolution Settlement because of the dangerous errors and behaviors of its members:
‘The criticizing upon and censuring of all others who are not exactly of their judgment in every punctilio, grievously aggravating their faults and often fixing some where there is none; yea, seldom sparing one another even where they are one in judgment, [they made] the terms of their communion straighter than what God allows in his Word. They will allow no masters of families to be of their communion who pay any taxes to the present government, making no difference betwixt this legal and the former illegal and tyrannical government. they will allow no children or servants to be in their communion who obey their parents and masters in doing any service to those in public trust in the government. They will allow none to hear any of the present ministry, even though transiently, to be in their communion. They spend the most part of their precious time in arguing and praying against the sins and defections of the public, neglecting to watch the heart; and here, to my shame, I was greatly guilty of this, among others. We spent much of our precious time in framing arguments to debate with others, greatly neglecting to be distinctly acquainted with the principles of the Christian religion and to be savingly acquainted with the inward and serious part of real godliness. They would publish a declaration disowning the authority of the great King William [of the Glorious Revolution, 1689 ff.] and against the validity of the present church communion.
When I earnestly besought, with much entreaty, that every article of that declaration might be reasoned, they would not allow it… Thus my protesting, and refusing to join with them, enraged them exceedingly against me. As their scourge of tongues was grievously bent against others, so now was it against myself in a most grievous, unjust, and unreasonable manner… Thus, I left that party of the dissenters who now commonly go under the name of Mr. McMillan’s people…’ (Nisbet, Private Life, pp. 235-238)”
The Reorganized Church of Scotland, 1690
ed. Shields, Michael – ‘Blank Letter of Protest to Enter Revolution Church’ (1690) in Faithful Contendings, (Glasgow: Bryce, 1780), pp. 460-62
“…the overwhelming majority of the Society People followed their ministers and joined with the [Revolution] Church of Scotland… The last official record (in Faithful Contendings) of the General Society was a blank letter of protest for individual Society members to use when they resumed membership in the Church of Scotland… James Nisbet’s friend Patrick Walker left the following account of how most dealt with this dilemma:
‘All know that it was the fewest number of the United Societies, that was led off with Robert Hamilton to the disowning of King William as king of Britain and his Government; the greater part reckoned it their duty to take a legal united way of witnessing by humble pleadings, representations, and protestations, pleading for and with their mother to put away her whoredoms.’ (Walker, Six Saints, vol. 1, p. 147)” – Moore, Covenant Heritage, pp. 158-9
Shields, Alexander, Lining & Boyd – An Account of the Methods & Motives of the Late Union & Submission to the Assembly (1691) 40 pp.
The three last Cameronian ministers give an account of their viewpoint and principles during the persecution of the 1680’s and the reasons why they joined the 1690 reorganized Church of Scotland, without going back on any of their principles.
Rule, Gilbert – ‘Of Schism’ being Section 10 of The Good Old Way Defended, p. 245 ff. (1697)
Rule was a divine-right presbyterian and leader in the Revolution Church of Scotland. For background to this work see pp. 113-14 of Walker, Theology & Theologians of Scotland.
Church of Scotland General Assembly – A Seasonable Admonition and Exhortation to Some who Separate Themselves from the Communion of the Church of Scotland, wherein is also discovered that the things they complain of are either false on the matter, or not sufficient to Warrant Separation Buy 1698/9 27 pp.
One of the best, pastoral expositions of the principles of the Second Reformation of Scotland (quoting Durham, Rutherford, etc.) on unity to an impure Church contra separatism.
Wodrow, Robert – ‘Vindication of the Church of Scotland in Answer to a Cameronian Pamphlet’ (1710) in Correspondence, vol. 1, pp. 122-27
Walker, Patrick – ‘Postscript’, pp. 138-149 to Alexander Peden’s Life in Six Saints of the Covenant, vol. 1
[Gavin Hamilton] – ‘Just Reflections upon a Pamphlet, entitled, A Modest Reply to a Letter from a Friend to Mr John M’millan’ ([Edinburgh?], 1712)
This is the most extensive treatise regarding the Biblical and historical reasons for joining the Revolution Church of Scotland post-1689. All three of the covenanter ministers to live through the Killing Times joined the Revolution Church; Shields (who co-wrote the Informatory Vindication of 1687 with James Renwick) was one of them. Another one, Thomas Lining, endorsed his book. Here are Shields’ arguments that apply scripture to the changed historical situation.
ed. Peterkin, Alexander – The Constitution of the Church of Scotland, as Established at the Revolution 1689-90: Exemplified in the Acts of the Estates of Parliament & the Proceedings of the Church (1841) 133 pp.
Fentiman, Travis – ‘The Constitutionality of the 1690 Church of Scotland’ being points 15-25 of ‘A Defense of the Majority Opinion in the Free Church of Scotland on Covenanting’
Fleming, David Hay – Critical Reviews relating Chiefly to Scotland (1912), ‘Dr. Hewison’s Covenanters’, pp. 309-15
Fleming demonstrates in detail from the manuscripts that the Westminster Confession adopted by the Scottish civil parliament in 1690 was the exact same copy adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647 with the Scripture references, contra the claims of Hewison and some other reformed presbyterians.
Vogan, Matthew – ‘Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement, & the Unity of the Visible Church’ (2013) 50 pp. Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, 3 (2013), pp. 109-157
Stodhill, Justin – “Alexander Shields’ Response to Sir Robert Hamilton in 1690,” Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal 7 (2017): 73-103
Ch. 6, ‘Controversy Over the Covenants’ & Ch. 7, ‘Presbyterian Separatism’ in Religious Controversy & Scottish Society, c. 1679-1714, pp. 130-180 (2007)
Gives many quotes from primary sources illuminating the various views from the period.
Abstract: “The article focuses on what contemporaries called the ‘intrinsic right’ of the church: its claim to independent authority in spiritual matters and ecclesiastical administration. The religious settlement of 1690 gave control of the kirk to clergy who endorsed divine right Presbyterianism, believed in the binding force of the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), and sought to uphold the intrinsic right… and that historians have exaggerated the pace of liberalization in Scottish Presbyterian thought.”
Defending the Revolution: The Church of Scotland, 1689-1716 Download 2013 108 pp Only about the first third of the book with the bibliography is available at this link
Scottish Presbyterians and Anglo-Scottish Union 1707 (PhD thesis, University of Aberdeen, 2004) 370 pp. See especially chs. 2-3.
Divine-Right Presbyterianism at 1690 (though the state only recognized it by an Erastian concession to demoncracy)
Church of Scotland General Assembly – A Seasonable Admonition and Exhortation to Some who Separate Themselves from the Communion of the Church of Scotland, wherein is also discovered that the things they complain of are either false on the matter, or not sufficient to Warrant Separation (1698-1699) 27 pp.
“We do believe and own that Jesus Christ is the only Head and King of His Church; and that He hath instituted in his Church, officers and ordinances, order and government, and not left it to the will of man, magistrate or Church, to alter at their pleasure. And we believe that this government is neither prelatical nor congregational, but Presbyterian, which now, through the mercy of God, is established among us; and we believe we have a better foundation for this our Church government than the inclination of the people or the laws of men.” – p. 6
Cunningham, William – p. 451 and surrounding of Discussions on Church Principles
Johnston, John C. – II – Bibliography, ‘Literature of the Later Covenanters’, p. 367 ff. in Treasury of the Covenant
Johnston provides an annotated bibliography for covenanters of that era, including that of the many divine-right presbyterians in the Reorganized Church of Scotland.
Raffe, Alasdair – ‘Presbyterianism, Secularization and Scottish Politics after the Revolution of 1688-1690’ 2010 20 pp.
Abstract: “The article focuses on what contemporaries called the ‘intrinsic right’ of the church: its claim to independent authority in spiritual matters and ecclesiastical administration. The religious settlement of 1690 gave control of the kirk to clergy who endorsed divine right Presbyterianism, believed in the binding force of the National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643), and sought to uphold the intrinsic right… and that historians have exaggerated the pace of liberalization in Scottish Presbyterian thought.”
The questions and formula of subscription for officers implemented at the Revolution Settlement (1694, 1711) involved affirming that “the Presbyterian government and discipline of this church are founded upon the Word of God, and agreeable thereto.” This has been criticized because the proposition affirmed does not say that presbyterianism is THE government instituted by the Word of God. However, this criticism is mistaken in its understanding, as Cunningham demonstrates
Historical Theology, vol. 1, p. 76
“The language here employed is cautious and temperate, and is thus well suited to the circumstances of a solemn profession to be made by a numerous body of men, who might not all see their way to concur in stronger and more specific phraseology.
Besides, it is to be observed that the profession respects not merely the fundamentals or essentials of Presbyterianism in the abstract, which alone can be reasonably maintained to have the clear and positive sanction of apostolic practice; but ‘the Presbyterian government and discipline of this church,’ including the detailed development of the essential principles of Presbyterianism as exhibited in the actual constitution and arrangements of our church, and of all this in the concrete, or taken complexly, nothing higher or stronger could with propriety be affirmed, than that it is founded upon the word of God, and agreeable thereto.”
Works of Separatists
Powicke, Fred – Henry Barrow, Separatist (1550?-1593) & the Exiled Church of Amsterdam (1593-1622) (London: James Clarke, 1900) 349 pp. ToC
The Tenets of the English Brownists
Daniel Neal, The History of the Puritans… (London, 1822), vol. 1, ch. 6, From Parker to Grindal, pp. 303-5
“The Brownists did not difler from the Church of England in any articles of faith, but were very rigid and narrow in points of discipline. They denied the Church of England to be a true Church and her ministers to be rightly ordained. They maintained the discipline of the Church of England to be Popish and antichristian, and all her ordinances and sacraments invalid. Hence they forbade their people to join with them in prayer, in hearing, or in any part of public worship; nay, they not only renounced communion with the Church of England, but with all other reformed Churches, except such as should be of their own model.
They apprehended, according to Scripture, that every church ought to be confined within the limits of a single congregation and that the government should be democratical. When a church was to be gathered, such as desired to be members made a confession of their faith in the presence of each other, and signed a covenant, obliging
themselves to walk together in the order of the gospel, according to certain rules and agreements therein contained.
The whole power of admitting and excluding members, with the deciding of all controversies, was in the brotherhood. Their church-officers, for preaching the Word and taking care of the poor, were chosen from among themselves, and separated to their several offices by fasting and prayer and imposition of the hands of some of the brethren. They did not allow the priesthood to be a distinct order, or to give a man an indelible character; but as the vote of the brotherhood made him an officer and gave him authority to preach and administer the sacraments among them, so the same power could discharge him from his office and reduce him to the state of a private member.
When the number of communicants was larger than could meet in one place, the church divided and chose new officers from among themselves as before, living together as sister-churches and giving each other the right hand of fellowship, or the privilege of communion with either. One church might not exercise jurisdiction or authority over another, but each might give the other counsel, advice, or admonition if they walked disorderly or abandoned the capital truths of religion; and if the offending church did not receive the admonition, the others were to withdraw and publicly disown them as a church of Christ. The powers of their church-officers were confined within the
narrow limits of their own society; the pastor of one church might not administer the sacrament of baptism or the Lord’s supper to any but those of his own communion and their immediate children. They declared against all prescribed forms of prayer. Any lay-brother had the liberty of prophesying or giving a word of exhortation in their church assemblies; and it was usual after sermon for some of the members to ask questions and confer with each other upon the doctrines that had been delivered; but as for church-censures, they were for an entire separation of the ecclesiastical and civil sword.
In short, every church, or society of Christians meeting in one place, was, according to the Brownists, a body corporate, having full power within itself to admit and exclude members, to choose and ordain officers; and, when the good of the society required it, to depose them, without being accountable to classes, convocations, synods, councils or any jurisdiction whatsoever.
Some of their reasons for withdrawing from the Church are not easily answered: they alleged that the laws of the realm and the queen’s injunctions had made several unwarrantable additions to the institutions of Christ. That there were several gross errors in the Church-service. That these additions and errors were imposed and made necessary to communion. That if persecution for conscience’ sake was the mark of a false church, they could not believe the Church of England to be a true one.
They apprehended farther that the constitution of the hierarchy was too bad to be mended; that the very pillars of it were rotten and that the structure must be begun anew. Since therefore all Christians are obliged to preserve the ordinances of Christ pure and undefiled, they resolved to lay a new foundation and keep as near as they could to the primitive pattern, though it were with the hazard of all that was dear to them in the world.”
“Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise:
why shouldest thou destroy thyself?”