Leonard Chamberlain and Changes in Beliefs

As written for Autumn 2016 Hull Unitarian Magazine

Leonard Chamberlain (1642-1716) was a Puritan & Calvinist in theology, and also Presbyterian, writes Adrian Worsfold

Whereas the Independent saw the essential unit of Church as the single congregation, the Presbyterian Church would have had councils of ministers across congregations if possible. In the event, persecution at the Restoration of the Church of England in 1660 forced Presbyterians to ‘lie low’ like the Independents. Thus was Bowl Alley Lane its own authority; councils were never established even when possible.

Many Calvinists stayed as Anglicans, despite a strong dislike of bishops as a separated order of ministry. The Articles of the Church of England are Calvinist in much content, but what annoyed many Puritans was the demand to accept all and every part of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Also they will have preferred the banned Geneva Bible to the Authorised Version from King James back in 1611, where Tyndale's and Wycliffe's 'congregation' was reinterpreted as 'ecclesia'.

Lutheranism began the Reformation in October 1517 and under State protections spread from northern Germany into Scandinavia and beyond. What the Bible did not prevent, Lutherans allowed in worship, and so had the congregational music that Andrew Palfreman told us about on October 2nd 2016: how J. S. Bach in Lutheran Churches "loved his congregations, loved his singers, wanted the best." In contrast, Calvinism based its worship more on what the Bible advocated: psalms were chanted, music was discouraged. We had 300 years memory to 2016 and they have 500 in 2017.

Calvinism was preserved longer in Independent or Congregationalist churches because of confessions of belief, whereas in Presbyterian churches you just rented your pew and the minister gave the religion from changing ideas running through the dissenting academies. Also it is difficult for well-off trustees to maintain a rather severe approach to faith.

Today, TULIP (when in English) continues for Calvinists. The sin of Adam means Total depravity so no one by their own effort can believe the Gospel. Before creation, God decided who would be saved and damned, and thus Unconditional election. Then Limited atonement means that Jesus died on the cross for the elect alone and God regenerates the saved sinner through Irresistible grace without choice for each individual. Finally Perseverance of the saints means that no one selected falls away. Lutherans agreed with much of that, except that necessary grace for salvation is resistible and whilst people can fall away God reassures.

During the Commonwealth period, Oliver Cromwell as an Independent fought off Presbyterian rule and physically fought the Scots that the Presbyterians used for support. He found the Presbyterian use of the State oppressive.

It was not long after Chamberlain's time that many became Arminian. This is where although God knows in advance who will be saved, the believer still in sin makes an effort in faith. Grace is vital but resistable. In John Wesley's more emotional view of Arminianism, the holiness experience of being saved by grace became evidence and there was always a danger of backsliding.

A Reformation view of Arianism (that God created Jesus Christ in the beginning before creation), so that Jesus Christ received God the Father's divinity, was a belief affecting both Anglicans and (less so) Presbyterians. Theophilus Lindsey, who opened the first named Unitarian Church in 1774, modified the Arian Prayer Book of Anglican Samuel Clarke.

Socinianism comes from the left wing of the Reformation, and makes the break with original sin. Once this goes, grace becomes more a relationship from God, and humans become capable of their own interpretation of Scripture taking the Protestant emphasis to individualist logic.

Unitarianism moved Socinianism to a rationalist, mechanical and materialist view of the world and Bible (including miracles and the bodily resurrection) read directly off the page. Unitarianism was received in declining Presbyterian chapels, thanks to European Socinian thought, dissenting academy ideas, printing presses, and the individualist ideology of capitalism. The language was still God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, but the Trinity was known as a precise belief and, for Unitarians, the divinity that Jesus Christ had acquired in perfection was also shared by others and theoretically without limit. Grace was still offered and negotiated. However, Whitaker, Hull Unitarian minister (1907-11), gave a sermon on the necessity of grace from God!

The Puritan ethos was carried into Unitarianism, without the Calvinist content; however, a new emphasis learnt biblical criticism from Germany, and the artistic and literary romantic movement impacted: this created a kind of parish Presbyterian outlook without the Puritanism. So Unitarianism became divided between earlier biblicist denominationalists and those wanting an undefined and variable, doctrinally plastic, liturgical, individualist, national Church. Francis William Newman (1805-97) preached a non-perfect Jesus.

When Joseph Robinson Pease and others in 1802 set about building an Octagonal Chapel in Hull's then centre, they chose a European ecclesiastical design deliberately unlike anything used by the Church of England. When later Unitarians moved to Park Street in 1881 the design was indeed to mirror a Church of England building!

In the days of Leonard Chamberlain, ministers such as Hull's Samuel Charles would have wanted severe penalties and even death for those advancing Socinianism. And whilst Puritans agitated for at least toleration of themselves, they did not provide liberty for others, as is evident in the colonies the Puritans established in America.

Hull Unitarians and others, however, agitated for much wider political and religious liberty to weaken the old feudal regime, using the Whigs and Liberals to promote the new middle class, with political reform in 1832. With Unitarians in parliament (12 before 1832, 9 in 1832, 11 in 1844, 121 across the century), funds like the Leonard Chamberlain Trust were secured in 1844 against claims from other denominations maintaining Calvinist conviction. The Unitarian argument in Parliament that Puritans set up Open Trusts to facilitate liberal change in belief was disingenuous and simply wrong.

The question of Chamberlain's social conscience is problematic. One of the clues for salvation was steadily acquired wealth: a Calvinist (if strictly anti-Calvin) "testimony of works" as a product of irresistable grace. Whilst Chamberlain accepted that others than Puritans might be saved, his relief recognised and assisted the godly poor who might be among the saved saints.


Adrian Worsfold

Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful