A Dictionary of All Religions and Religious Denominations/Independents

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INDEPENDENTS, a denomination of protestants in England and Holland, originally called Brownists. They derive their name from maintaining that every particular congregation of christians has an entire and complete power of jurisdiction over its members to be exercised by the elders of each church within itself; independent of the authority of bishops, synods, presbyteries, or any other ecclesiastical assemblies.

This denomination appeared in England in the year 1616. John Robinson, a Norfolk divine, was considered as their founder. He possessed sincere piety, and no inconsiderable share of learning. Perceiving defects in the denomination of the Brownists, to which he belonged, he employed his zeal and diligence in correcting them, and in new-modelling the society. Though the Independents considered their own form of ecclesiastical government as of divine institution, and as originally introduced by the authority of the apostles ;-nay, by the apostles themselves; yet, they did not think it necessary to condemn other denominations; but acknowledged that true religion might flourish in those communities which were under the jurisdiction of bishops, or the government of presbyteries. They approved also of a regular and educated ministry, nor is any person among them permitted to speak in public, before he has submitted to a proper examination of his capacity and talents, and has been approved of by the church to which he belonged.

Their grounds of separation from the established church are different from those of the other puritans. Many of the latter objected chiefly to certain rites, ceremonies, vestments, or forms, or to the government of the church, while yet they were disposed to arm the magistrate in support of the truth; and regretted and complained, that they could not on these accounts conform to it. But Robinson, and his companions, not only rejected the appointments, of the church on these heads, but denied its authority to enact them; contending that every single congregation of christians was a church, and independent of all legislation, save that of Christ; standing in need of no such provision or establishment as the state can bestow; and incapable of soliciting or receiving it. Hence they sought not to reform the church, but chose to dissent from it. They admitted there were many godly men in its communion, and that it was reformed from the grossest errours of popery, but thought it still wanted some things essential to a true church of Christ; in particular a power of choosing its own ministers, and a stricter discipline among its members.

In support of the scheme of congregational churches, this denomination observe that the word , which we translate church, is always used in the scriptures to signify a single congregation, or the place where a single congregation meets. Thus that unlawful assembly at Ephesus, brought together against Paul by the craftsmen, is called a church. (Acts xix. 29—41.) The word, however, is generally applied to a more sacred use; but still it signifies a single congregation. The whole body of the disciples at Corinth is indeed called the church, but spoken of as coming together into one place. (1 Cor. xiv. 23.) The whole nation of Israel is also named a church; but it was no more than a single congregation, for it had but one place of public worship, viz. first the tabernacle, and afterwards the temple. The catholic church of Christ, his holy nation and kingdom, is likewise a single congregation, having one place of worship, viz. heaven, wherein all the members hold communion; and will, at last, form one general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.

The independents allege, that the church of Corinth had an entire judicature within itself. For Paul thus addressed them: Do not ye judge them, which are within? (1 Cor. v. xii.) So they were not dependent upon the apostle, to come to him for a sentence, nor upon the elders of other associated churches.[1] See Brownists and Congregationalists.

This denomination is supposed to be of late considerably on the increase; partly by accessions from the Calvinistic Methodists, and partly by their extension into Scotland and Ireland. The creed of the Independents is generally Calvinistic, though with considerable shades of difference; and many in Scotland and Ireland have symbolized with the Glassites or Sandemanians.


Original footnotes[edit]

  1. Mosheim, vol. iv. p. 526. Neal's History of the Puritans, vol. iii. p. 142. Goodwin's Works, vol. iv. p. 71. Ency. vol. ix. p. 170.