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  • Rev. Daniel Kirk

Should I stay or should I go?

A book review on Gospel Trials In 1662 by Peter Adam

Darling, you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

If you say that you are mine

I'll be here 'til the end of time

So you got to let me know

Should I stay or should I go?

The subtitle of Peter Adam’s booklet, Gospel Trials in 1662: To stay or to go? reminded me of the old Clash song: Should I stay or should I go? Now I don’t think the Clash were thinking of evangelicals in the Church of England in the third decade of the third millennium when they first wrote their song in the early 80s. But it seems to be a question that many are asking themselves. Within six months of arriving in the Chelmsford diocese last year there were a number who chose the ‘To go’ option. Peter Adam examines a traumatic time in Anglican history when many chose to leave the Church of England, explores the consequences of that event and then extrapolates some lessons that we might learn from it.

The Restoration was a terrible time for Puritans and those who had had hopes that the removal of bishops and the prayer book would lead to a more Christian country under Cromwell’s Commonwealth. Anglicans often know the date 1662 because of the Prayer Book (BCP) of that year which is still used in many churches. It was also the year however, of The Act of Uniformity (part of the Clarendon legislation), that restored episcopacy and the prayer book to the church and enforced adherence to them in order to hold office in the church or government.

It felt like revenge for 1645 when bishops and the BCP had been removed (& ABC Laud executed) and about 3,000 Anglican clergy left the church. During Charles II’s time about 1760 ministers left, but they were even deprived of their pensions. Further provisions made it harder to meet out side the official church and many were persecuted (John Bunyan, not an Anglican minister, was imprisoned for 12 years during this period). Some ministers refused to assent because they didn’t want to accept episcopal oversight, the BCP (or the fact they hadn’t even seen the new edition!) or objected to be being re-ordained if no bishop had been present first time round.

Adam examines, with many interesting insights, the reasons for the collapse of the Puritan project - well beyond the simple fact of Cromwell’s death. Many made me reflect on my practice, such as how Puritan preaching developed from early simple exposition, modelled on Calvin’s, to a more scholastic approach which went above the average parishioners’ head.

Even more interesting than the historical background are the lessons that can be learnt from that period and applied to us today. What happens when one minister decides to leave a denomination and another one stays? How do they treat each other? When is it right to stay, or to go? Adam doesn’t give simple answers but shows great pastoral sensitivity in the last part of the book giving practical wisdom on how those who are on similar theological pages regarding their biblical convictions might make different decisions because of their consciences. In these challenging times, this little book is well worth a read.

Should I stay or should I go now?

Should I stay or should I go now?

If I go, there will be trouble

And if I stay it will be double

So come on and let me know

Let’s hope that the other side of this Clash single is even less prophetic as far as the Church of England is concerned!


Revd. Daniel Kirk is the vicar of St Michael's Gidea Park

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