Latitudinarianism

 

I must apologise for the lack of activity on ADOSS during the past few weeks.  Many readers will know the reason for this.  I now have a backlog of articles and subjects, and a desire to catch up if the Lord allows me to.

Latitudinarianism is a word which has popped up recently among the Christians with whom I break bread. When I saw the word, I had to look it up in the dictionary.  Wikipedia[1] describes Latitudinarian as ‘a pejorative (contemptible) term applied to a group of 16th-century English theologians who believed in conforming to official Church of England practices but who felt that matters of doctrine, liturgical practice, and ecclesiastical organization were of relatively little importance’.  That is what they claimed.  However, Richard Hooker, one of the main 16th century latitudinarians taught[2]

  • Our conduct ought to be governed by scripture
  • Scripture shows how leadership should operate in the church
  • English Church is corrupted by Roman Catholic orders, rites etc.
  • A law which does not allow lay elders is corrupt
  • There should be no such position as a bishop

None of us should have any problems here.  There may be some things that this man held that we might not agree with now, but it seems as if the accusation was used by the church leadership to challenge anybody who did not accede implicitly to their authority.

 

I decided to look it up in J N Darby’s writings.  It is referred to extensively in one part of Darby’s long letter to James Kelley (1839), who criticised Darby’s schismatic action in leaving the Established Church.  Kelley accused Darby[3] of latitudinarianism because of his refusal to embrace an organised church into which one could be baptised, and the lack of outward unity in accepting persons from Anglican, Baptist and even Quaker backgrounds.

Mr Darby contested that from whatever background persons had come from, they should not be excluded if they accepted the gospel fully, and were desirous of leaving organised sectarian religion.  He quoted the scripture ‘Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Phil 3:15-16).

Darby then criticised the Established Church itself of latitudinarianism in its association with the world in relation to the then modern thinking.  He cited supporting atheism and infidelity in schools as well as the careless admission of many unconverted persons to communion.  We could add many other things to the list now.  At the same time, there were narrow sectarianism of rules and forms, persecuting persons who do not conform – accusing them of, yes, latitudinarianism.

What was needed was balance.  Elsewhere, I found a reading in Edinburgh, J N Darby on The Camp and the Body of Christ (Notes and Jottings p 37).

A person who was seeking fellowship should have the Spirit of Christ and be walking according to it.  There is liberty to meet outside of the recognised denominations (the worldly camp[4]).  For true Christian fellowship we need to lay hold of the fact that we have a heavenly calling, and cannot have part with clerical systems.

When we meet people we go as far as we can with them, but we cannot have part in their system.  If we meet a clergyman we converse with him as a Christian, not as a clergyman. In short, keep your feet in the narrow way, and your heart as large as you can.  It is of no use trying to make fellowship if it is not real; you can’t shake oil and water together: they will soon separate again.

I recommend your reading the whole note of the reading – it is not long.

Greetings in our Lord

Sosthenes

 

 

 

[1] See Wikipedia article on ‘Latitudinarian’

[2] Hooker – Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie 1594

[3] The claims of the Church of England considered; being the close of a correspondence between the Rev. James Kelly, of Stillogan, Ireland, and J. N. Darby.  Collected Writings Vol 14 (Ecclesiastical 3) pp 176-242

[4] Technically the camp refers to Israel.  We can apply it to professing earthly Christendom.

5 comments

  1. Brian from Nova Scotia writes:
    I’m very familiar with the passages you’ve quoted, especially the last – keeping the feet in the narrow way yet maintaining a large heart for all the saints. I’ve often noticed that some brethren’s heart get just as narrow (or narrower) than their path. … The strict definition of Latitudinarianism is just as you’ve remarked however I believe it came to mean (among brethren) a general looseness of practice.

  2. Peter in Essex writes:
    We do so love to be able to put a label on things and thereby “contemptuously dismiss” genuine Christian exercise.
    May we be more sensitive to what the “Sprit says to the assemblies” and less affected by human embellishments!

  3. ‘Aquila’ writes
    You have done a good job of showing that “latitudinarianism” always used to justify “sectarianism”. So at the present time. That so many persons that I thought knew the truth should fall for the wiles of the heretics is unbelievable to me. Thanks for getting the word out there.

  4. Sister Ashley writes:
    Thank you for your emails and your kind words on Preacher’s Corner. It is a great delight to serve the Lord Jesus and saviour whom we love. I trust the Lord will bless the work and ministry you make available for his glory and praise.
    Sosthenes

  5. Brother Kendall in PA writes

    James Kelly’s accusation that Darby was latitudinarian was not as incredible as it might at first seem. Neatby on page 1 of his history even asserts:
    ‘Developing side by side with the three great ecclesiastical movements of the lasttwo-thirds of the nineteenth century, brethrenism was linked with them all — with the Evangelical, with the High Church, and, strange as it may seem, even to some extent with the Broad Church — by important affinities; and yet it retained unimpaired the intense individuality impressed on it almost from the first by one powerful genius; and it challenges attention now as furnishing a fourth independent conception of the Church — a conception which, comparatively narrow as the extent of its acceptance may be, does nevertheless, by the immense force of its intensive influence, deserve consideration side by side with its more famous competitors.’
    Kelly probably is probably more concerned about the Anglo-Irish Evangelicals, as in County Wicklow, who were emboldened by the anti-slavery movement, who themselves in turn had descended from a more Broad Church background. Kelly was defending a system that believed it had the authority to [for instance] forgive sins, and they ‘had scripture’ for this. (John 20:23, vv 21-23)
    Today, we can easily see that the Anglican confession was bankrupt, and that the early brethren and even the early Evangelicals were much more in tune with the scriptures. Kelly came from a system that actually believed it had Divine authority on earth despite the overt corruption of its ‘Defender,’ King George IV.
    It’s sobering to realize that the Roman Catholics thought their Pope had the authority to get God to bind in heaven what he or his cardinals had bound on earth based on Matt 16:19. The English system was equally wrong – along with other sects – in thinking that a conclave of men who agreed could do the same based on Matt 18:18-19 and Matt 21:22 (John 14:13, 15:16, and 16:23). In effect, that what they decided had divine authority. Among us, we’ve often thought the same, that a local assembly could simply agree and somehow get God to rubber-stamp the thing in eternity.
    Of course, in the original, Matt 16:19 is where the Lord tells Peter that if there comes a case where he must bind on earth, that thing shall in that day be the equivalent of that which had already been bound in heaven at the moment that Christ spoke the verse. Same for the rest of us in Matt 18:18. And reading carefully in 18:19, it is the agreement which is of the Father. (Eph 4:3, 1 John 5:14-15).
    Most systems got off track the same way we did, by thinking we could make the unchanging LORD do our bidding. We change, He changes not (Mal 3:6, James 1:17). In this day of personal computers, tablets and cellphones, these errors give and new and sinister connotation to the idea of a ‘personal’ Saviour. We need to be on guard against all such errors.
    Kelly’s attitude is even somewhat along the lines of Prov 24:21, ‘My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change…’ He thinks he is holding on to tradition, where Darby had already dispensed with the failed traditions of men. We who have inherited these recovered truths need to be careful to understand how far they had been buried and opposed.
    We can see today that our LORD tells us that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God. For those of us who accept the plenary inspiration of the Bible, that means that the inspired traditions of the first half of 1 Cor 11 are just as important as the so-called ‘ordinances’ of the last half. And that even the inconvenient things are important.
    The LORD says there is a prerequisite to know the scriptures (John 7:17). When we determine ahead of time that we already know it all, we have to learn the hard way. The errors of the English system were entrenched all the way back to Henry, and had evolved worse over time.
    The basic problem with most systems today is that there is an idea that we progress, we change, we improve, our needs are different. Solomon tells us otherwise (Ecc 1:9-11). Churchmen are led astray by the enemy when they think they need to adapt to the ‘times’ rather than allow themselves and fellow believers to be conformed to the image of the Master.
    Is our omniscient LORD so shortsighted He can’t give us scripture that anticipates our time, our needs? (Ecc 3:11 and Isa 46:10)
    Imagine someone who believes in transubstantiation in the Anglican communion as a ‘means of grace’ hearing about a bunch of ‘Evangelicals’ who teach that the bread and wine are merely symbols, and then Darby goes farther and says they are not to be ‘administered’ but are to be passed one to another in remembrance according to the LORD’s request?
    The same way the systems see their system as authoritative, we can also go too far by capitalizing the W in ‘Word of God’ when we actually mean the scriptures. They are authoritative, just as the Church should continue to fulfill the Great Commission. But we are equally wrong if we replace our center, Christ in our midst, with either a system of our own or even with the scriptures themselves.
    Brothers,keep on keeping on.

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