Observations on a Winter Course

At Central the modular courses I had usually allowed three months to complete the assignments. If there was reading before hand, we were warned. Here one is not warned and we only get a month to complete the work. I wonder if it is the best way, but the point of a program is you just do it. I assume most people know how it works before they sign up for the class, and since I don’t have to work otherwise, I can’t complain.

That month is up. Now I have a better handle on the Reformation in England, the history of the Puritans, and some of the issues. Here’s one I still don’t get: what exactly is the difference between a Dissenter and a Separatist? Separatists arise in Elizabethan times when they are Puritans who give up on the nation, Dissenters becomes a specific term in the Restoration–though Coffey (and Coffey is a big name) calls them a historical connundrum. Dissenters are nonconformists after it becomes illegal not to conform. In other words, the difference may be in whether one is voluntarily or involuntarily disconnected. I also wonder if it is that Separatist is associated with all the sectarian Gangrenae and Dissenter is more respectable, but I have no proof. I ought to have done the paper on it, but I only got to that after a month and after the actual paper I wrote.

Respectability plays a good part, I think, in many persons’ religious associations, and the 17th Century, specially after the Puritan Revolution, was no less characteristic in this way. I think Owen hewed to the most respectable tolerant view available.

John Owen was an English (not New-English, and probably because of toleration, since after all he was invited to be a pastor in Boston but turned it down) Congregationalist, which means he was for a certain diversity in the English Church. He was open to tolerating a variety of polities within the doctrinal bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy, but he was not for permitting Catholics or heretics; more than that I do not think he said, and it would have been interesting to see, though I think he would not have approved, whether Arminian congregations of some sort would have been, for him, allowed. He was not for Roger Williams or Baptist style liberty of religion, but he was for two things: serious church discipline and voluntary association, and these were the consequences of his reformed and puritan orthodoxy.

He was a laborious writer, relentless about examining everything. But he developed, on the whole, a rather marvelous consistency since he was learned, serious and unquestionably thorough. Which, I am afraid, cannot always (ever, I admit) be said of me.


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