Judaizers Left and Right

Judaizers Left and Right April 9, 2015

Elizabethan Puritans were regularly denounced as “Judaizers” by others in the English church. After all, they were interested in Hebrew, kept the Sabbath, exhibited what others regarded as a legalistic strain in their piety.

During the Laudian ceremony controversy of the 1630s, however, Puritans turned the tables and accused the high church Laudians of being the Judaizers. Picking up a theme from Calvin, they charged that the Archbishop was introducing Judaic ceremonies. Laudians didn’t make it easier on themselves. According to E.R. Glaser (Uncircumcised Pens, Birkbeck PhD thesis, 171, 177), “Ceremonialists justified the promotion of physical, architectural and aesthetic forms of worship by appealing to the precedent of the Jewish Tabernacle, and were thus accused of Judaizing by the Puritan opposition. . . . Ceremonialist recourse to Jewish examples prompted accusations from the opposition that they were returning to a Papist Jewish legalism, or a Jewish Papist ceremonialism.”

One Alexander Read, for instance, wrote: “When [God] platform’d out his own Tabernacle & inspired Solomon to his own Temple, we see how glorious they were. Not only the buildings, but even the lowest utensils, the snuffers and snuffe-dishes . . . all of pure gold . . . though we are not bound to take this as a law from God, to make all our Te[m]ple by; yet we shal do weI to make him our pattern. At least to learn thence, what manner of Temples distast him not. And if we acquit our selves from the costlines & gloriousnes; yet may we not free our selves from the decency & comelines. Though God shun not a cottage, yet men must think him worthy of a palace” (187-8).

This produced strange twists in the period’s polemic. Laudians claimed that the ceremonies they introduced were both biblically grounded and adiaphora, morally indifferent things, and the Puritans countered that the Laudians were Judaizers on both counts: Judaizers because they drew from Old Testament ceremonial law, Judaizers because they invented ceremonies. Puritans said that the proper standard of Christian worship wasn’t Moses, nor were ceremonies indifferent; rather, “pre-Mosaic natural laws which were binding on Christians as well as Jews” provided the standard (172). Puritans had been in the habit of putting on the mantle of “true Jews,” but in the ceremony controversy the anti-Puritan ceremonialists took on that role.

Ultimately, typically biblicist “Puritans even accused ceremonialists of excessive use of scriptural evidence: the Puritan William Ames suggests that his opponent, Thomas Morton, ‘should not in stead of Testimonie of Scripture, haue put Warrant of Scripture.’” Puritan polemics, in short, conceded large chunks the Bible to Laudian high churchmen. In their polemics against ceremonies, Puritans become all but quasi-dispensational.

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