InvenCaP Blog – Reformation Principles and the Puritan Church Books of the 1650s
By Mark Burden
Although they have been widely consulted by church historians and historians of religion, the role played by Puritan church records of the 1650s in the furtherance of personal, church, and national reformation has rarely been assessed. The following account has been compiled in response to a highly productive conference on the 1650s convened by Fiona McCall at the University of Portsmouth. The conference discussed, among many other matters, the nature and extent of Episcopalian and Puritan church records during the 1650s, the importance of the national surveys of religion undertaken by the Protectorate, and the need for an adequate catalogue of manuscripts and other material objects dating from the period. In response to that conversation, this post is intended to provide nothing more than a very preliminary sketch of the material available for studying the Puritan churches, and its potential uses for understanding the highly elastic concept of ‘reformation’ as it developed across the decade. As will be immediately evident, very substantial research needs to be carried out on these records before any wider conclusions may be drawn.
The Dissenting Experience Inventory of Puritan records indicates that there are approximately 70 surviving church books and registers containing material relating to the 1640s and 1650s. This figure is open to the usual caveats: it would be substantially smaller if all copy records were excluded, but would be substantially higher if it were possible to include every copy of every 1650s document located in nineteenth and twentieth-century church books. The materials contained in the church records already listed in the Inventory include church histories, chronological registers and alphabet books (births, baptisms, church membership, marriages, deaths, burials), family trees, covenants, confessions, rules, orders, acts, disciplinary cases, minutes of church meetings, minutes of regional assemblies, letters, testimonials, cases of conscience, propositions, queries, admissions, dismissals, and countless examples of marginalia and corrections. Most of these records can be categorised into four types: histories, registers, covenants and confessions, and minutes of meetings. Each of these genres contributed to the church’s sense of itself as a reformed collective, and each genre exposed the different pressures, whether external or internal, which emerged as an inevitable consequence of the congregation’s self-representation as a church of Christ.
Since the publication of the first volume of Richard A. Muller’s Post-reformation Reformed Dogmatics (1987) the notion of reformation has often been plaster casted into a towering edifice of dense intellectual subtlety. It is certainly true that the serpentine contortions of late scholasticism have rarely been rivalled in the long and meandering annals of intellectual history; and yet the concomitant linguistic transfigurations were as much a product of Roman Catholic as of Protestant thought. The real value of the concept of ‘reformation’ to the Puritan churches was not its density but its plasticity. The notion of national reformation increasingly came to suggest structural change as well as the abandonment of individual ceremonies and ordinances; meanwhile, church reformation meant the establishment of rules, confessions, and covenants and the inevitable imposition of disciplinary actions to enforce them, while individual reformation was frequently taken to mean the ability to follow one’s own conscience and beliefs. These three forms of reformation – none of which relied explicitly on the language of late scholasticism – were in tension with each other, and the only way to effect an ideological resolution of that tension was to create a narrative which presented the gathered church as an embodiment of the beliefs of its individual members, carried forward on the tide of national religious change.
It is thus hardly surprising that the profound interest exhibited by many dissenting congregations towards wider narratives of national religious reformation often resulted in them deciding to commission their own history. The precise contours of that history, together with the impression provided of the early years of the church in question, depended largely on the congregation’s shared beliefs at the time of writing, and could bear scant relation to their previous doctrinal convictions or modes of operation. In these histories, reformation was viewed not merely as an ongoing process, but as a site of intellectual and sometimes physical contestation between different tribes: a perennial war with the dark forces that had already disrupted its progress in the past, and continually threatened to do so again.
The broad sweep of Puritan historical writing relied on a combination of intertextual commonplaces to sketch out the national picture, and a smoothed-over folk memory to fill in the gaps in the local records. Edward Terrill’s account of the sixteenth and early seventeenth-century foundations of the Bristol gathered church (now Broadmead Baptist Church) was not begun until 1672, and – as has frequently been pointed out – the dates suggested in the narrative, the motives attributed to the key actors, and the sequence of events are all highly unreliable. As Roger Haydon has explained, Terrill’s narrative has fairly little to say about the ordinance of baptism, and rarely seeks to define or describe the Bristol church in relation to it. Instead, Terrill wishes to locate the history of the church in the context of a wider narrative about the foundation and development of religious separatism. Terrill states that Mr Wroth of Wales caused many ‘to separate from the worship of the world’, that the widow Kelly was ‘the first woman in this city of Bristol that practised . . . separation’, that in 1640 five persons ‘came to a holy resolution to separate’, that later they ‘stepped further in separation’, and that those cleaved to gospel simplicity later went on to ‘separate’ from disturbers (Broadmead, Bristol, 7-11). Certainly these passages should cause critics to regard the veracity of the narrative with some scepticism (Terrill is deliberately conflating the religious practices of individuals and churches); what is rarely noted is that the Bristol church was clearly authorising a narrative designed to create a back-story for separatism following Charles II’s declaration of indulgence to dissenters in 1672.
However, church histories were always about much more than structures of church government. The main intellectual idea driving Terrill’s narrative is not really separatism so much as the broader concept of religious reformation. In the opening paragraphs, Terrill summarises the ‘reformation’ carried out during the reign of Edward IV, the ‘darkened’ situation under Mary I, and the ‘reformation . . . again carried on’ under Elizabeth I. Both the Brownists and the later Puritans are described as ‘reformers’, and Terrill also speaks of the ‘reforming ministers of South Wales’ when he attempts to establish connections between churches in Wales, Monmouthshire and Bristol. The widow Kelly is described as ‘very famous for piety and reformation’, and the members of the 1640s separatist conventicle in Bristol benefit from ‘the Lord . . . [who] made them stronger and stronger to go forward in reformation’. When a visiting Independent preacher in Bristol held a public debate with the parish minister, according to Terrill the subjects under discussion were ‘the business of reformation, and the duty of separation from the worship of antichrist’. While summarising the first part of his history, Terrill concluded that he had ‘briefly recited twelve steps that doth complete a demonstration that they, this church, in their beginning were truly reformed’. He writes that in later years ‘Reformation in separation went on’, and that the Lord gave them ‘more primitive light and purity in reformation’ (Broadmead, Bristol, 3-39). If separation slowly developed as the organising principle of the church, the notion of reformation was the structuring principle of Terrill’s history.
Historical writing, like church correspondence, emphasised and often idealised communities of reformed believers, both within a congregation and between congregations. When churches emerged as a consequence of splits (whether amicable or otherwise), their shared history might be crystallised into a shared narrative about their past. The process of compilation of the first church book of the Norwich Congregationalists (NfRO FC 19/1) awaits detailed analysis, although differences in watermark and paper quality between the first few pages and the rest suggest that the earliest part of the narrative may have been bound into the volume at a later date. What can be said for certain is that the detailed history of the gradual intensification of divisions between the Norwich and Great Yarmouth congregations, originally written into the Norwich manuscript, was later copied into the Great Yarmouth church book (NfRO FC 31/1). Like the Terrill narrative, the Norwich/Yarmouth history begins with a critique of ‘Popish ceremonies & divers innovated Injunctions in the worship and service of God’ before proceeding to explain how the East Anglian godly survived the early years of the seventeenth century by heading to Holland. However, in copying the Norwich narrative, the scribe of the Great Yarmouth church summarised some passages and omitted others, focusing on the shared early history of the congregation but skipping over some lists of officers and providing a briefer account of the original settling of the church before its split. The object was not to effect a record but a reformation: to have a shared history was, in such circumstances, not necessarily to have the same history.
Covenants and Confessions
By the same token, to share with other churches a few basic theological principles relating to baptism and church ordinances was not necessarily to share every aspect of a national or regional confession. This is why it was so important for individual churches to compose and disseminate their own confessions, and to tailor their covenant to reflect the shared beliefs of early church members. Church covenants and confessions were in many ways the most intellectually weighty manifestations of both collective and individual reformation to appear in the church books of the period. Both of these genres consisted of primarily theological statements which were often read to the congregation, and which might be read aloud by new members. Their style and content had a profound influence on Puritan and dissenting spirituality, and, as my InvenCaP post on Lucy Hutchinson suggests, encouraged new forms of private piety and religious writing. The notion of a church covenant had its basis in scripture: as the Norwich gathered church book explained, ‘God alwaies was pleased to walke in a way of Covenant with his people’ (NfRO FC 19/1). A church’s covenant showed God ‘promising to be their God & they promising to be his people’, and was a mark of separation from the world and, in the words of the Great Yarmouth church, ‘the pollutions thereof’. This freedom from pollution needed to extend both to public and to private actions, and required the abstinence of members from ‘ye very aperance of evill’ in their dealings with other churches (NfRO FC 31/1). The congregation’s duty in worship was to serve God through his revealed will, walking according to the ordinances expressed in scripture, the ‘onely sufficient rule of good life’. This could best be attempted through church communion and church fellowship, in which brethren appealed to Christ for the strength to avoid sin, and watched over each other (NfRO FC 19/1). It entailed the ‘Subjection of our Wills to the Will of our Redeemer, and the Mutual Edication Each of other’ (SfROB FK3/519). It might also be furthered by renewing the covenant after a period of turbulence between church members. In one such circumstance, the Bury St Edmunds congregation ‘confessed & bewailed’ the ‘manifold sins & transgressions’ attendant upon their breaches of covenant, and promised greater observance in their duties to the church and to each other (SfROB FK3/502/1, fo. 7r; see also fos. 8r, 9r).
The church’s confession of faith (sometimes called a ‘profession of faith’) was an altogether more substantial document, outlining the congregation’s principles of theology and government. Church confessions were usually distinguished by their anaphoric use of the phrase ‘We believe’, and were summaries of the most important aspects of reformed doctrine, tailored to the specific proclivities of the members of the congregation. Typically, the document would begin with a statement of God’s nature and attributes, his role in the creation of the world, and the operation of providence. It would then proceed to consider the Scriptures as the infallible rule of faith and holiness before contrasting the moral law revealed to Adam with the covenant of grace. Church confessions tended to include sections on anthropology, describing mankind’s creation, fall, and redemption, and also passages relating the nature of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. Later paragraphs would turn to the constitution of the visible church, including the particular rules of the congregation and its relation to other churches, whether of the same faith or otherwise. These final sections might include summaries of the church’s views on various ordinances, such as baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the communion of saints, prayer, hearing the word preached, and singing of psalms. There would also be a statement regarding the role of the magistrate in religious and secular affairs. In other words, individual church confessions tended to be modelled on, but significantly different in particulars from, national church confessions such as the Westminster Confession or (later) the agreements from the Savoy Conference.
Within this basic pattern of theology + church government, there was room for substantial deviation from the national confessions as churches trod their own sometimes quite idiosyncratic paths to reformed doctrine. The gathered churches of the 1650s did not even share a universally agreed form of words to define God and his attributes. The Wattisfield church in Suffolk, for example, described the deity as ‘Infinite, Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, Holy, Just, Almighty, Omniscient, Omnipresent, and every way absolutely perfect & blessed’ (SfROB FK3/519), whereas the nearby Bury church called him ‘eternall, invisible, incomprehensible infinite in ^holiness power, wisdom knowledge, iustice, mercy, faithfullnes and truth’ (SfROB FK3/502/1). This difference in emphasis does not, of course, indicate that the Wattisfield church denied that God was incomprehensible, or infinite in mercy, faithfulness and truth, any more than it indicates that the Bury church denied God’s immortality (implied in his eternity and infinity). On the other hand, there is a marked difference in language between the terms ‘Omniscient, Omnipresent’ and ‘infinite in . . . knowledge’. The extent to which such theological nuances made a difference in the life of the churches is debatable, but they do suggest that independence in church government extended to a degree of linguistic choice as church elders selected the most appropriate phrases from creeds, confessions, and commentaries with which to teach (and in some cases, attempt to pacify) their members.
That there were major theological differences between gathered churches in the 1650s in their approach to salvation and the sacraments is of course indisputable, but these smaller shades of difference between churches in their written and spoken discourse have never been satisfactorily investigated. Nevertheless, they provide some of the most crucial evidence of the ways in which churches interpreted and internalised key tenets of reformed doctrine, such as the role of the Bible in personal spirituality. It is abundantly clear from a study of church books that different churches had different assumptions about the relative agency of scripture and the individual conscience in reforming the individual. For example, the Wattisfield church spoke of scripture as ‘a perfect Rule of Righteousnesse both for ffaith knowledge and Obedience’ with a ‘wonderfull heart-searching property’ (SfROB FK3/519), whereas the Bury church asserted that ‘ye faith of gods elect doth not stand in the bare story & letter of the word, but in the spirituall & eternall truth’ contained within (SfROB FK3/502/1). The perspective is markedly different in the two passages: the first example places emphasis on the properties of scripture itself, whereas the second example focuses on the believer’s response, albeit conveyed into the soul by God.
Another key difference between church confessions was over the language members chose to describe the principles of justification. These linguistic disparities stretched considerably further than the well-known differences between Calvinists, Arminians, and Amyraldians, into the images and analogies different churches selected to explain these abstruse ideas to their members. For example, the Wattisfield church used the commonplace comparison of Christ’s sacrifice to the payment of debts: ‘as upon ye paymt of ye debt a surety, the debtor is as really & truely discharged; as if he had paid it with his own hand; and xt their surety being Justified . . . [sinners] must be Justified also from yt debt’ (SfROB FK3/519). However, the Bury church went further, asserting that ‘there must be . . . a p~sonall & a[n] actuall Justification of every one . . . yet yt faith yt Justifies cannot be alone but . . . accompanied with good works’ (SfROB FK3/502/1). Again, it is important to stress that the theological differences here are marginal, if indeed they exist at all, but that what these varying statements reveal is the differing preoccupations of the ministers and church elders as they sought to explain the key principles of reformation to their members.
Covenants and confessions provided models for a church member’s religious knowledge, piety, and experience; the minutes of church meetings recorded the acts of the church in relation to individuals either aspiring towards or disengaging from those principles. In church minute books, the external assessment by the deacons and others of the perceived internal reformation of its individual members might also have wider consequences for the church’s organisation and operation. As Rachel Adcock’s recent analysis of the Kilmington-Loughwood minute book indicates, church elders frequently sought (not always successfully) to safeguard their spiritual authority by ensuring that breaches of the church covenant, confession and rules were dealt with internally. The Loughwood elders’ complaint in February 1653/4 ‘that the Affaires of the Church are (by some) made publique to the world’ led to a ultimately vain attempt to control the church’s reputation by ensuring ‘that henceforth noe memb.rs divulge any of the priuate affaires of the Church vnlesse it be In the vindication of the Church’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, p. 53). Later in 1654, when bemoaning the ‘gen~all deadnesse and Lukwarmenesse’ of members of the congregation, the church elders were reinforcing rather than blurring the distinction between church members and the wider population. After all, from the perspective of most gathered churches, worldliness was an inevitable (and unfortunate) attribute of those who had not received Christ’s calling, and yet it was an unacceptable and myopic form of backsliding for those who had subscribed to the church’s ordinances.
Disciplinary procedures might also be invoked by the church elders when a member’s departure from the confession was the result of disagreements over the principles of reformation. In such situations, the church confession might be juxtaposed against alternative interpretations of gospel simplicity. At Loughwood, the problem of sincere but opposing religious views surfaced in the February 1653/4 meeting, following which the congregation was reminded that all doctrines were be tried ‘Accordinge to the rule of the gosple’, and that there and been a ‘neglect thereof’ among members of the congregation. This stipulation did little to solve the issue, since in April 1654 it was agreed that two of the church brethren meet ‘with those p~sons which hold the doctrines of free-will fallinge fro~ grace & gen~all redemption’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, p. 53). On 24 October the church recorded that Richard Copp of Axminster’ had been ‘formerly dealt with according to Rule, for his Errors in Judgements, holding ffreewill, ffalling from grace with generall Redemption’, and that his ‘satisfaction in the Contrary Doctrines’ had been endeavoured. On 21 January 1655 ‘Jone Dorwood[?] of Axminster’ was described similarly as having been ‘delt wth according to Rule for her Errors in Judgements, viz) holding ffreewill ffalling from grace wth Generall Redemption’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, pp. 10-11). On 9 August 1656 ‘Bro: John Pers and Bro: Tho: Pearse of Sidbury and Bro: Dyer of Ottery’ were declared ‘Vnsound in the faith in some p~ticular things’; the same Thomas Pearse and Ursila Windover were excommunicated on 13 January 1657 for ‘Joyninge thimselfs to men of Corrupt principles’. Similarly, on 12 August 1658 Thomas Road was excommunicated for ‘Joyninge himselfe to men of Corrupt principles’ and ‘makinge division’ (DHCE 3700D/M/1, pp. 55-6, 58). On 29 December 1658 brother Perriam was ‘questioned aboute vnsoundnesse in Judgm.t as namely ffree=will as a power in euery Creature to belieue’, and on 2 March 1659 Sister Nossiter[?] was admonished for ‘still inclyninge to the Quakers as she hath signifyed in a paper brought from her (DHCE 3700D/M/1, pp. 68, 70). All of these groups – particular Baptists, general Baptists, and Quakers, saw themselves as the product of the Reformation, and yet in terms of theology and religious worship they remained largely intolerant of each other’s viewpoints. Those whose intellectual journey took them away from the principles to which they had subscribed upon initially joining a congregation could soon find that church reformation and personal reformation did not always work in partnership.
Even the larger historical forces underpinning the production of church minute books could not disguise the potentially counterproductive tendency for minute books to record intra-congregational disagreements. Like church histories, records of church meetings might be compiled at moments of national crisis for the Puritan interest. The scribes of the Cockermouth church book (actually titled ‘A Register or Record’), informed readers that they had ‘put [them]selves to this trouble of writinge’ on 9 June 1662, ‘one of y.e yeares of y.e captivity of the churches, and of y.e passion of y.e interest of X.t’ (CASW YDFCCL 3/1, p. 3). The ensuing minutes (if this is indeed the best term to describe them) are an attempt both to conserve the church’s records at a point in its history when such records might be mislaid or destroyed, and to consolidate the faith of their members by appealing to their collective history and experience. This historicising turn in the reproduction of pre-existing church records was thus itself a reformatory principle, and the potency of its ideological intent was not challenged by gaps in the historical record. The scribe was quite open about the large number of ‘records . . . which have been lost’ and the ‘loose papers’ from which the account has been compiled; he even points out that ‘For nine or ten yeares space, things were little minded . . . in a way of penning down all p~ticlar passages’ and (later) that ‘other passages . . . have been lost, at least they were not set down as they sh.ld have been’ (CASW YDFCCL 3/1, p. 3). Yet this honesty lends a sense of authenticity to the church book as a collection of minutes and other records; unlike the Terrill church record, the Cockermouth church book does not contain historical writing in the sense of a fondly imagined narrative, but as a transcription and examination of documents.
The differences between the types of writing to be found in the Bristol and Cockermouth church records also help to explain the distinct manner in which they recorded and explored departures from church doctrine. Whereas the Bristol narrative emphasised the unity of the Godly in their separation from the world, the authors of the Cockermouth church book were more candid about the presence of theological differences between dissenters. Concomitantly, whereas Terrill chose to present the persecutory pressures experienced by members of the congregation, the Cockermouth minutes point to the challenges from rival religious groups, ‘especially that sweeping errour of Quakisme, w.ch shook the church in rela~on to many members’ (CASW YDFCCL 3/1, p. 5). Whereas the Bristol history focuses on external forces which (in Terrill’s opinion) either furthered or obstructed the cause of national reformation, the Cockermouth minutes unpick the pathways to and from personal reformation for many members of the church. Here we can see one of the key differences between historical writing and that much more precise and particular form of record-keeping whose product has rather unsatisfactorily been given the umbrella term of ‘minutes’. One of the defining characteristics of church ‘minutes’ is their fidelity (whether perceived or real) to the inner workings of church organisation, church acts, and church discipline. These accounts of members, acts, and disciplinary cases do not, in and of themselves, constitute a narrative, but rather a repository of the events and decisions of the church.
Like church minutes, early Puritan registers had many more functions than simply recording individual events. Collectively, the entries served as records of the growth, reformation, and (frequently) decline of the church, whereas the organisation of the records frequently had more to do with the self-representation of influential families than an individual minister’s immediate, rough record of his own activities. Approximately 12 register books relating to the 1650s have been deposited in The National Archives and its predecessor the Public Records Office since the mid nineteenth century. These sources have been widely consulted by local and family historians as a result of their availability on microfilm and in the form of tabulated transcription on family history sites such as ‘BMDregisters.co.uk’. However, close inspection reveals that many of these registers were not compiled during the period in question at all, but retrospectively. Very often the material for the 1640s and 1650s is rather slim, perhaps (as in the Hindley Presbyterian register) covering just a couple of pages at the start of the volume (TNA RG 4/2115), or even just one or two isolated entries subsequently copied into the volume (TNA RG 4/3724). In some cases the register books appear to consist of loose sheets bound together at a later date (TNA RG 4/3241). All of them were deposited by dissenting churches, who came to view them as essential documents for understanding their early history, and this explains why some of the early entries actually refer to baptisms undertaken in parish churches by Presbyterians and so-called magisterial Congregationalists during the Civil Wars, Commonwealth, and Protectorate.
A register’s title often extended to a description of the church’s rationale in carrying out church ordinances. The Cirencester register, for instance, was titled ‘A True Record of the names of those Chilldren that were not sprinkelled according to the custom of the nation: and the Day when they were Borne: whose Parents are in fellowship in the Baptized Church of Christ’ (TNA RG 4/3756). Sometimes the register might even contain a preface explaining the circumstances of the church’s foundation, its reasons for rejecting particular ordinances, and the necessity of keeping a register. The Longworth/Coate/Bampton Baptist church explained that God had given them ‘some increace in number of us his witnesses against those vaine wayes of this world which they receve by tradition from their ffathers: as Cheifly baptizing of Infants’ and burying the dead; because of these differences in this worship they had ‘prepared this booke wherin wee have inserted one one side Births the other Burialls’ (TNA RG 4/140). The form that each register took reflected the church’s priorities as a collective body of reformers, but also its subsequent reinterpretation of those priorities. For instance, one copy of the Canterbury [Baptist?] church register was arranged alphabetically, whereas a later copy, compiled c.1831, was rearranged chronologically. The scribe presumably wished to emphasise the church’s progress through time, rather than indexing its membership; yet the earlier, alphabetical register reminds us that church membership was, for many churches, strictly extra-temporal: once a person had joined a church, he was part of the annals of God’s faithful for all eternity (TNA RG 4/2426; TNA RG 4/871).
The points at which a register book was begun, abandoned, continued, or copied might reflect events of national or local significance, and its function as a record of reformation past and present meant that its contents might need to be authorised by several members of the church. The official copy of the registers of Benjamin Keach’s Baptist church began with a statement from 14 March 1689 that ‘This Regester is Agreed to, owned, Rattified, & Confermed, as a Just and Lawfull Regester, of all Marridges Nativities and Burials; by the whole Church Meeting on Horslydowne’. Then followed an account of the book’s clear and premeditated structure: it was ‘devided into three Parts; this first following . . . is to Regester Maridges . . . The Second part . . . is for Nativetes and . . . The Third part . . . is for Funeralls’. Within this structure there was subdivisions: the scribe recorded that ‘the two first leves of this [first] part is for Mariges yt were before the date of this Book’, that ‘ye five first leves in yt Second Part are to be left for Nativeties yt were before the date of this Book’, and ‘ye five first leves in yt third part are to be left for Funeralls yt were before ye date of this Book’ (TNA RG 4/4188). Such a detailed description of the organisation of a register is rare, and even when it was provided, as was the case for the Llangyfelach Congregational church, the scribes did not always keep to the pre-arranged structure (NLW 369A). In the case of the Horsleydown church it suggests a degree of confidence and purpose connected to the renewed hopes of a lapse in persecution following the 1688-9 revolution.
The concept of reformation, whether individual, local, or national, permeated every page of the Puritan church books of the 1650s. The very act of acquiring a book (or even a few sheets of paper) for the use of the church was in itself a reforming act. It provided a marker of the church’s status as a non-Episcopalian society whose acts were worthy of record. The church’s book was the embodiment of the reformed word, just as the gathered church itself was an embodiment of the beliefs of its members. This reformed word was often intensely scriptural in its diction, syntax, and expressive content, although it was also highly influenced by the language of catechism, sermon, and the national confessions. The language of Puritan reformation was not so much a new vocabulary as an old language crafted to new functions. At its most concrete, it might provide a list of people, objects and dates worthy of register or remembrance; at its most intellectually complex it might seek to invigorate members’ theological awareness through church covenants and confessions; at its most slippery it might seek to recast the church’s history through mythologizing its agency in the cause of national reformation. In each case, however, what mattered was not so much how the language worked as what it was able to do. The language of reformation was, by definition, a language of performance, and as such it was the language of the past operating in the continuous present. If reformation means anything in the church books of the 1650s it means the unceasing re-formation of the simplest of ideas to achieve the most complex individual and collective actions.
Church books cited:
Bury St Edmunds Congregational (later United Reformed) Church Meeting Minute Book (1646-c.1800), Suffolk Record Office: Bury St Edmunds Branch (SfROB), FK3/502/1
Canterbury Congregational Church Register Book (1646-1837), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/871
Canterbury Congregational Church Register Book (1646-1723), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/2426
Cirencester Baptist Church Register Book (1651-1839), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/3756
Coate, Bampton Baptist Church Register Book (1647-1837), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/140
Cockermouth Congregational Church Register Book (1651-1771), Cumbria Archive Service: Whitehaven (CASW), YDFCCL 3/1
Great Yarmouth Congregational Church Book (1642-1855), Norfolk Record Office (NfRO), FC 31/1
Hindley, Wigan Presbyterian Church Register Book (1642-1754), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/2115
Horsleydown, London Baptist Church Register Book (1656-1712), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/4188
Kilmington Baptist Church (including Loughwood) Proceedings Book (1653-1795), Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter (DHCE), 3700D/M/1.
Llangyfelach Congregational Church Register Book (1688-1784), National Library of Wales (NLW), 369A
Morley, Leeds Congregational Church Register Book (1654-1760), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/3241
Morley, Leeds Congregational Church Register Book (1650-1716), The National Archives (TNA), RG 4/3724
Norwich Congregational Church Book (1642-1839), Norfolk Record Office (NfRO), FC 19/1
Wattisfield Congregational (later United Reformed) Church Book (1654-1907), Suffolk Record Office: Bury St Edmunds Branch (SfROB), FK3/519