Friday, March 29, 2013

An Independent People

Just the title is exciting, isn't it? "An Independent People" is a new BBC documentary that totally intrigued and engrossed me because its chock-full of Presbyterian history! While it is the story of the Ulster Presbyterians, Irish Presbyterianism, the history is traced from its roots in the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther and Calvin's Presbyterian form of government in Geneva. You can watch the full series from here (YouTube) [This link has been removed as it no longer works; please follow this link to BBC instead:] Below are my notes and comments on Part 1: Taking Root. I will write about Part 2: Seeds of Liberty and Part 3: Union and Division shortly.

Key phrases that captured my imagination and rekindled memories from my own faith and life are: Protestant Revolution, dissenting tradition, Milton's "blockish presbyters," Presbyterian marker: "They would speak out even against their own interests if conscience told them they must."

Part 1: Taking Root - Irish Presbyterianism began when educated Scottish ministers migrated to Ulster. Presbyterianism's own roots in the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther reminded me of how I was taught to identify myself, even as a very young child, as a "Protestant Christian." Presbyterianism as a form of government originated in Geneva under Calvin. Calvinism's 3 gifts to it are: 1) Biblical authority; 2) God's sovereignty; and 3) Simple public worship that everybody can understand.

The Irish General Assembly shown briefly conveyed very quickly the nature of the dissenting, debating, democratic traditions modern Presbyterians have. The two different interpretations of the ordination of Brice in Ireland, where the Anglicans are running the church and Presbyterian ministers from Scotland, because of a shortage of educated ministers in Ireland, are coming to operate the public worship painted a clear picture of the delicate balance being managed; church hierarchy is anathema to Presbyterians.

In 1625, the seminal moment in Irish Presbyterianism - the Six Mile Water Revival - challenged the Anglican authority and Blair was deposed by Ecklund, the bishop who had ordained him (among others). Blair, of course did not give up, and after other failed political moves such as appealing to the King, Blair sets sail for America on Eagle Wing but it was made evident that God did not want them to go to America. Fugitives in Ireland, banned from America by God, they turned toward Scotland where a Holy War was raging. Along with Livingston Blair led the revolt against the new "popish" Book of Prayer that had been introduced to replace Knox's Book of Common Order. And, the fight for Presbyterianism continued with a political time bomb - the Scottish National Covenant, a contract with God- which demanded the abolition of bishops, the establishment of a free general assembly, and the right to live, work, play, and worship as they saw fit! More than 60,000 people signed their names to it. The subsequent Ulster Massacre (4000 killed and 8000 turned out into the countryside who died) resulted in about 12,000 protestants dead but was also seen as an opportunity for a founding moment.

In Spring 1642 the first Presbytery was formed by 4 ministers (and one elder) in the regiments. Presbyterianism came into Ireland with a Bible in one hand, and a sword in the other. The presbytery is an official church court. Presbyterians had a vision for all three kingdoms and spoke out against the English Parliament and resulting in persecution (Presbyterian ministers removed from office in Ulster). Presbyterians began to construct their own churches and religious life in Ireland flowed in three distinct streams: Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Presbyterian but Scotland's killing time was coming as was persecution in Ireland. About 18,000 covenanters paid with their life. Late 17th century Irish Presbyterians suffered under repressive legislation pushing many of them into poverty; there's a beautiful illustration with the Congregation book of life, btw. In the early 18th century, William McGregor, an Ulster Presbyterian decided to take his family and congregation to America, to escape from oppression and bondage, to withdraw from the communion of idolaters and have the freedom to worship as their conscience directed.

There are some excellent reviews already on the web.

From Ireland, Gladys Ganiel, there is a three-part review posted on her blog after each episode aired on BBC 2 Northern Ireland. Titles and links to her review are below.
From the US, Steve Salyards. Review of BBC's Documentary An Independent People - March 25, 2013.

The full-text of the Rev. Matthew Kere's book on The Ulster Revival of the Seventeenth Century written in 1859 can be found in  The preface is quoted in full below:

IT may be necessary to state how I came to think of publishing this narrative. Having recently to deliver a lecture on "The Ulster Revival of the 17th Century," the necessary preparation brought the subject fully before me. The more I read of the Revival, the greater the interest that gathered around it. Then it struck me that a short account of this remarkable work of grace might stir up some to desire such another season of revival. It is to Reid's History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland I am mainly indebted for the materials out of which this, the most instructive chapter in the history of our Zion, has been compiled. That work is too large and expensive to be generally read to the many it is altogether inaccessible. In the hope of bringing the subject of the Revival before the minds of some who have not access to the History, and with the desire of stimulating the people of God throughout our Church, these pages have been written.

M. K.

April, 1859.


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