• Adiaphora, justification & baptism

Puritan theology also sat uncomfortably with its own poorly-resolved adiaphoron debate. Sola scriptura – the principle within Anabaptist and much Protestant thought – whereby only what is written in the Bible is considered truth – ought to reject as ‘superstitious’ anything which was not.

However, Puritans did not always. The compromise was that such things – ‘the means’ could be treated as adiaphora; various degrees of harmless irrelevancy. Pietist Puritanism picked on some whilst merely reformulating debate on others. Clerical vestments were a point of argument whilst other matters were shifted to the sidelines. Greenham had written to the Bishop of Ely on exactly that matter and, to some extent, his influence defined the parameters of confrontation.

greenhhGreenham set the agenda on the habit and the communion book in his ‘Apologie or aunswere of Maister Greenham … unto the Bishop of Ely’, published as part of a collation in 1593.

Baptism was an especially sensitive means. Only Anabaptists rejected infant baptism. Mainstream Protestantism still believed that a child who had not been baptised would go to Hell on death – and, of course, plenty died. There is little to suggest that the mainstream godly background from which Brierley hailed believed anything terribly different from the standard received position. It needs to be kept in mind that any other interpretation tended to have Papist overtones to the Calvinist mind.

The godly focus on this means was to be the ‘sign of the Cross’ rather than baptism itself. Christopher Shute, from St. Akelda, Giggleswick, a man who was to become the local patriarch of mainstream Puritanism in Craven, ran into problems for his [lack of] actions in 1594. This was also to be Brierley’s first brush with the authorities following his run-in with Gisburn’s churchwardens, more than a year before his High Commission charges. At least some part of the embedding of ‘the Cross’ issue amongst the English godly rested with pre-Reformation uses for the blessing of the sick, dealing with animal sterility, modifying the weather (particularly thunderstorms) and making marriage beds fruitful.

 

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