Colony Bay TV

The King’s Church

September 24, 2012 James Riley

If you’ve been following Courage, you’ve been watching the exploits of one Reverend “Silence Laud,” marvelously portrayed by Rutgers-educated actor Donal Thoms-Cappello.   Quite a few fans have demanded this particular villain receive some heavy measure of justice, and one fan has even detailed the precise methods of retribution, many of which I cannot share with a family audience, except to say they were inventive and prolonged.

From the very beginning of the Courage project, we wanted to mirror some of the spiritual conflict faced by our ancestors in both the 17th and 18th centuries.  Those of us who revere what was accomplished in New England have a tendency to believe there were never any internal conflicts, that their piety and unity was so profound they never had to contend with a false teacher, or what the New Testament calls a “hireling,” but the very strength of the community, in some measure, came from being able and willing to identify men who were wolves.

Consider Thomas Morton, who openly defied the leaders of the Bay Colony and actively worked, on both sides of the Atlantic to revoke its charter.  Say whatever you will about his dedication to the lord of the revels, (he was the host of a drunken songfest, complete with Maypole) the larger community of separatists led by William Bradford, clearly considered him a sworn enemy and took steps to marginalize and punish him.   When John Cotton arrived, bearing Anne Hutchinson and her family in tow, the Antinomian controversy revealed both the reality of spiritual divisions in the community and the willingness to establish a common orthodoxy.  Hutchinson was banished, and her weekly critique of local preaching with her.

The point here is that the great strength of the New England patriot pulpit was built, in part, on a tradition of calling bad teachers, and bad teaching what they were:  Dangerous.  Vulgar.  Heretical.  Unjust.  John Adams, in his journal, clucked about the “Sandamanians.”   Anna Greene Winslow, a Boston school girl, confessed that her uncle thought the high churchmen of Boston had “popes in their bellies,” a reference to the fears of her ancestors, the reformers.

Unlike our own evangelical mega-pulpits, the pastor was not a charismatic praise band leader with an Hawaiian shirt, stand-up comic delivery and a sanctuary that could hold 5,000 along with perhaps a Starbuck’s franchise near the bookstore.   He very likely spoke Greek and Latin, attended Harvard or Yale, and may very well have represented the super cultural elite of his time.   In 18th century New England, doctoring and lawyering were often trades you followed after you failed in your bid to become a minister.

For this very reason, the pulpit sometimes attracted men who were looking for a high seat in the temple, and not much else.  By the 1770s, some five generations after the founding of the Bay Colony, some sons of Congregationalism were actively seeking ordination in the church that had persecuted their ancestors — the English, or Anglican church. Sometimes called “The King’s Church,” it was an organization of vast wealth and perhaps even greater power in the 18th century, as it helped mold public opinion at a time when those who held English liberties dear were forced to make a decision.  Anglican ministers were well paid and some ministers in the old country actually held multiple livings from multiple parishes, passing off the pastoral duties to underlings.  At a time when everyone was taxed to pay for their minister, the notion of appointing an American bishop was a threat taken with deadly seriousness by the sons of New England.

We chose to make Reverend Silence Laud into a pronounced rake, and while that reality is not without precedent, there was, and is, a more pronounced threat from the pulpit that every age of the church has to face: the pastoral leader who demands obedience from the flock but none from political authority.  It is with great sadness, for example, that I read John Wesley on the American Revolution. Like so much cowardice from the pulpit, many Christian “leaders” don’t lead at all.  They tell their congregations to keep their heads down, keep their silence, and wait for the glories of the next world.   Where is that spirit of David, the fourteen year old who utterly destroyed the Philistine?   Where is that spirit which says “I am not waiting for heaven; I am taking it now?”   Romans 13 is a warning to leaders, just as much as it is a caution for followers.   We fight against spiritual strongholds, to be certain, but we fight to “take them down.”   The gates of hell cannot prevail against God’s church.

That was the spirit of the Revolutionary Church, but they had to weed out the craven, and cowardly spiritual leadership, before they could win the battle.

Take note, modern pulpit.



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