Tag Archives: Sabbatarians

InvenCaP Blog – Forgotten Voices from the Lothbury Square Church Book: Baptist Wives and their Jewish Christian Husbands

By Mark Burden

In a previous blog, ‘Sabbatarianism, Literary Form, and the Lothbury Square Church Book’, I explored various misconceptions which have arisen from historians’ interpretations of the so-called More-Chamberlen church book of 1652-4 (Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS D.828). Critical readings of the church book have been greatly indebted to the early twentieth-century debate between J. W. Thirtle and Champlin Burrage about the extent to which it provided evidence for the Sabbatarian beliefs of the congregation’s most distinguished member, the Royal physician Peter Chamberlen. Through his abridged edition of the church book, Burrage determined that the church was not Sabbatarian in its practices, and proceeded to transcribe those church acts which seemed to him to provide the most important reasons why the congregation collapsed. Burrage attributed the congregation’s demise to the ongoing doctrinal disputes between Chamberlen and his ministerial rival, John More, but failed to transcribe More’s correspondence with the church over the crucial questions of prophecy and parable. Yet these very questions of literary form and their use helped to tip the balance in the congregation’s dealings with More, ensuring that he was unable to return to the church, and thereby accelerating its decline. Here, as elsewhere, questions of genre and language proved decisive when it came to ordering, regulating, and disciplining Puritan church members.

However, this is very far from the whole story. Burrage assumed that the fortunes of the Lothbury Square church could be most easily surveyed through the prism of the debates between its two successive pastors, More and Chamberlen. His approach, while typical of church histories written in the early twentieth century, is no longer satisfactory, not least because it fails to take account of the crucial roles played by other members of the congregation. For one thing, Burrage’s reading conforms to the nineteenth and twentieth century assumption that women’s roles in early Baptist churches were at best peripheral to the central business of the church and at worst inconsequential. These are particularly dangerous assumptions for editors of dissenting records, since the omission of women’s writings from an edition on account of their marginal status becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for future readers. Through the process of rehabilitating these texts by and about women in the so-called More-Chamberlen church book we can develop a much more interesting narrative than the clumsy (on both sides) arguments that women were either central or peripheral to seventeenth-century Baptist churches; instead, what becomes clear is that churches were sites of struggle for women quite literally desiring their voices to be heard.

Continue reading InvenCaP Blog – Forgotten Voices from the Lothbury Square Church Book: Baptist Wives and their Jewish Christian Husbands

InvenCaP Blog – Sabbatarianism, Literary Form, and the Lothbury Square Church Book (1652-4)

By Mark Burden

Debates about the relationship between Baptist doctrines, church practices, and literary forms have tended to centre around key texts such as Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, and have often been expressed in rather blunt and monolithic terms, as if all Baptists had the same views on allegory, plan speech, and Scriptural language. By contrast, it has been assumed that Baptist church books largely lack literary merit, and are better viewed as documents integral to the process of denominational formation, be that for Particular Baptists, General Baptists, or Sabbatarian (seventh-day) churches. The church book of the Lothbury Square congregation in Moorgate, London, 1652-4 (Bodleian Library Rawlinson MS D.828) provides a challenge to both views. In modern scholarship it is usually described as the More-Chamberlen church after its successive pastors, John More and Peter Chamberlen; the former is perhaps best known as the author of an incendiary political interpretation of Daniel 7 (A Trumpet Sounded, 1654), whereas the latter was a distinguished royal physician, a Sabbatarian, and a writer of several pamphlets on medicine and religion. The congregation also had close connections with other Calvinist Congregational and Baptist churches, including Nathaniel Robinson’s church in Southampton and Henry Jessey’s church in London.

The origins of the Lothbury Square congregation are unknown, but by 1653 it was meeting on a regular basis and had adopted doctrines which we would now describe as Particular Baptist. As was the case for several other churches of the period, the intensity of debate among members over positions of doctrine and church government made the congregation prone to splits. By the end of 1653 it had already divided into two churches, one headed by More and Chamberlen and the other by Thomas Roswell, who was later the author of a short anti-Quaker tract, An Answer unto Thirty Quæries (1656). In January 1654 the More-Chamberlen faction was again on the verge of splitting, and among the formal proposals discussed at that time was the withdrawal of Chamberlen from the church. In the end, however, after a series of acrimonious disputes between More and Chamberlen, it was More who withdrew, and a note near the back of the church book records that by 30 April he and his chief ally (the French Protestant and Doctor of Medicine Theodore Naudin) had ‘falne away’ for the congregation completely. Chamberlen’s irascibility and the entrenched and colliding dogmatism of several other church members caused a further series of departures from the church at around the same time, and the church appears to have folded by late 1654. Chamberlen nevertheless remained active as a Baptist pastor in London in connection with other churches until his death in 1683; Bryan Ball has also noted resemblances between the membership role of the More-Chamberlen congregation in 1653 and the Sabbatarian congregation at Mill Yard, London in 1673, connections which he attributes in part to Chamberlen’s influence (Ball, Seventh-Day Men, p. 81).

The Lothbury Square church has been the object of considerable scholarly discussion since a series of essays on its members and records were published in the Transactions of the Baptist Historical Society (TBHS) between 1910 and 1913. The debate started when J. W. Thirtle published pair of articles in which he assumed that the church, like Chamberlen, was Sabbatarian; this claim was also revived by Ball in 1994, but is not convincing. The main piece of evidence which Thirtle used for his argument is a statement on Chamberlen’s tombstone that he kept ‘ye 7th day for ye saboth above 32 years’, i.e. since before December 1651 (TBHS 2:1-30, 110-17). However, the reliability of this claim was swiftly cast in doubt by his fellow Baptist historian Champlin Burrage, who substantially increased scholars’ knowledge of Chamberlen’s religious activities by printing a partial transcript of the Lothbury Square church book (TBHS 2:129-60). Burrage found no evidence that the church held any meetings on Saturdays, and plenty of evidence that they were held on other days. Close study of the church book confirms Burrage’s counter-claim: eighteen recorded meetings occurred on Sunday, while there are records of two meetings on Monday, six meetings on Tuesday, one on a Wednesday, two on a Thursday, one on a Friday, and none on a Saturday. Given the intellectual headiness and fluidity of the early 1650s, it would hardly be surprising if this church’s practices did not follow the Sabbatarian proclivities of its pastor; the Lothbury Square congregation had enough problems holding together without Chamberlen attempting to persuade them of the necessity of Sabbatarian practices. Regrettably for historians of seventh-day worship, the earliest records of Sabbatarian beliefs must be sought elsewhere.

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