Politics as Athanasian Pluralism

Gary North might have just solved my dilemma on Cromwell and the Covenanters.  As a Presbyterian I want to like the Covenanters, but given how they universally failed every political and military test, and how a national church is unworkable, and how most modern Internet Covenanters are hyper-legalists, I just couldn’t do it.

And while I like Cromwell, I was always troubled the nature of the Independents and schismatics in the New Model Army.  But maybe that’s just the cost of doing business in a fallen world.  I was tipped off to this possibility by reading Gary North’s Conspiracy in Philadelphia, arguably his best book. He described Cromwell’s project in this way:

He created a trinitarian civil government in which all Protestant churches would have equal access politically, and the state would be guided by “the common light of Christianity.”(I call this “Athanasian pluralism.”) [North 27].  North footnotes chapter 12 of Political Polytheism.

I think the New Model Army got into some problems because it had abandoned aspects of Covenantal Thinking.  In his just execution of Charles I it didn’t rely on the earlier Covenantal models of John Knox. So what would a Cromwellian system guided by the 5 Point Covenantal Model look like?  I think Athanasian Pluralism is a good start.

Political and ethical pluralism is bad.  But there can be a biblical pluralism.  It just means a plurality of covenants in a society.  At this point I am heavily relying on chapter 12 of Political Polytheism.

Dominion Christianity teaches that there are four covenants under God, meaning four kinds of vows under God: personal (individual), and the three institutional covenants: ecclesiastical, civil, and familial. 2 All other human institutions (business, educational, charitable, etc.) are to one degree or other under the jurisdiction of one or more of these four covenants. No single human covenant is absolute; therefore, no single human institution is all-powerful. Thus, Christian liberty is liberty under God and God’s law, administered by plural legal authorities (576).

The Solemn League and Covenant fails because it collapses civil and ecclesiastical covenants into one, so that the SLC is neither.

The Failure of Political Confessionalism

North explains why political Presbyterianism failed so badly in England:

Other oddities of the five-year effort of the Assembly are also worth mentioning. Scotland’s Solemn League and Covenant (1643) had been signed in preparation for entry into a war against the King, whose safety the 1639 National Covenant had promised to uphold.  Scotland became a military ally of Cromwell and the Independents, who rose to power and then destroyed the judicial basis of the Scottish National Covenant: first by executing the King; second, by imposing Protestant religious toleration on the realm, including Scotland.
As it turned out, a group of Englishmen established the foundational documents of Scottish Presbyterianism. In 1648, the year after the Assembly completed the annotated Confession, England went to war with Scotland (North, Crossed Fingers, 994).

The English Presbyterians had been trapped by the decision of the Scottish Presbyterians to defend the King and a Throne-Church theocratic order, which had been affirmed by the language of the Solemn League and Covenant (Sec. VI). English Presbyterians could impose Church unity only by force, but the only significant force available was Cromwell’s New Model Army, which opposed Presbyterianism.95 Haller writes: “The advance of the army under Cromwell’s leadership meant the final defeat of the work of the Westminster Assembly.”96 He concludes: “The English people were never again to be united in a visible church of any sort.,,97 After the Restoration, English Presbyterianism refused to accept the Westminster Confession of Faith as binding, and in 1719, the denomination went unitarian (996).

After 1647, the Presbyterians had a monumental problem. The Church’s foundational documents had been written to gain the acceptance of a civil assembly that included non-Presbyterians-as time went on, a growing number of non-Presbyterians. The documents did not fit together. The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government (1645) had no required statement of faith, i.e., no theological stipulations. It required no oath from Church officers or members. The Confession of Faith (1647) also did not mention Church oaths. It did not specify how its own stipulations were to apply judicially. The burning question should have been this: What was the covenantal relationship between these two completely separate documents? But no one in authority asked it in 1648, and no one in authority has asked it since.

This is why intellectually the Political Covenanter movement failed before it even began.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
This entry was posted in Church History, politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Politics as Athanasian Pluralism

  1. cal says:

    It’s a stretch to call Cromwell’s government a “project”, since it collapsed almost instantly as his death, reverting to a oligarchic republic and then back again to monarchy. Cromwell’s preference for tolerance was not unlike Charles II, who was willing to reform the English church along Presbyterian lines unlike his Cavalier supporters who dominated the parliament. Oliver I, along with Charles II, and James II hated the Scots Presbyterians because they were political agitators and at times engaged in terrorism against episcopalian figures, sort of like the Taliban in Afghanistan during the 80s.

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    • Charle II only cared about three things: whores, whores, and more whores. I don’t take his claims to religious toleration seriously. He maintained himself as the head of the church, which effectively ruled out Presbyterianism. ANd he sent Claverhouse to butcher women and children in Scotland.

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      • cal says:

        He was debauched, but he did care for tolerance. He was shaken by the effects of the Civil War. He tried to aid in making the church settlement of 1662 Presbyterian, or at least conformable enough to bring them in, but the Cavalier parliament would have none of it. Your touting Presbyterian propaganda here.

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      • He saw the king as head of the Church. That’s off limits for Presbyterians. And Claverhouse did kill thousands. The Duke of York boasted of turning Scotland into a hunting ground.

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  2. cal says:

    Yes, but English Presbyterians since Elizabeth argued for a national church along the lines of the Henrician reforms but purged of popery (aka. bishops, prayerbook, vestments, etc.).

    There’s a difference between a particularly vicious general waging brutal war against quasi-insurgents, and saying Charles sent Claverhouse to butcher women and children. Charles was a debauched whoremonger, and his brother was the same, with added compliment of being a tactless politician with a confused piety for Rome. But the Scots caused their own troubles and reaped the whirlwind.

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    • I’m fairly certain I said the whole point of my post was that the Presbyterians brought trouble on themselves (or were at least incompetent politically). That doesn’t justify Claverhouse killing Margaret Wilson.

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  3. Pingback: End of a year, shoring up conclusions | Tractatus Logico-Geopoliticus

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