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The Curious Conversion of Thomas Chalmers

John D. Clayton

Thomas Chalmers was arguably the most popular Scot and influential churchman of his age. However, when he was first educated, ordained, installed, and serving as a parish minister in the Church of Scotland, he was by his own admission not yet a converted Christian. How could a minister of the gospel not believe the gospel? How this happened is telling of his context, country, and church, but it is not a short story. From a confusion of church and state dating back to the Scottish Reformation to an increasing secularism in and through the Scottish Enlightenment, the Church of Scotland moved increasingly away from its Reformation roots and the necessity of the gospel in Christian conversion, as evidenced in the early life of Thomas Chalmers.

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Appendix One: The Westminster Assembly and the Confusion of Church and State

Extract

APPENDIX ONE

The Westminster Assembly and the Confusion of Church and State

Westminster Assembly scholar Chad VanDixhoorn observes, “[W]hen a tide of ignorance or immorality affected the church, it invariably affected the state.”1 In the context of a national church, the two are invariably connected. In the seventeenth century, as the Church of Scotland wrestled with its own version of the dilemma, its southern neighbor, the Church of England, was experiencing a Puritan revival and a civil war.

The persecuted English Puritans, who had consistently called for a purifying of the Church of England, amassed significant numbers and influence throughout the country, notably within the English Parliament. The Puritan-controlled Long Parliament wanted a complete reformation of the Church of England in doctrine, worship, and government.2 The intent was a national church similar to the Church of Scotland, as well as other continental Reformed churches. To achieve this end, 121 ministers, or “divines,” and 30 laymen were nominated to assemble at Westminster Abbey in London and advise parliament in its reformation objective. On July 1, 1643 the Westminster Assembly held its first meeting.

The first year of the assembly was filled with tension with parliament, who wanted not only a carefully crafted Confession of Faith but a purified church as well. Parliament proceeded aggressively purging many Anglo-Catholic-sympathizing priests from their churches. A vacant pastorate was considered better than an unorthodox one. Parliamentarian John White captured the sentiment of the moment when...

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