The Seeker Movement
Seekerism existed at the radical end of the Reformation spectrum. Scholars have generally emphasized “the primitive gospel movement” in ante-bellum America, but diverse versions of Christian primitivism already existed in post-Reformation Europe and in England after Henry VIII severed the English churches from the papacy. Justification for reform was usually couched in Primitivistic rhetoric, accusing the Roman church of corrupting the pure gospel, for example. Thus Seekerism–whether in Europe, England, or America–existed within a larger primitive gospel movement. Although the Primitivist movement began in Europe and England, it flourished in the freer environment of post-Revolutionary America.
At first widely scattered, by 1850 the American Primitivists had produced two sects with significant followings: the Disciples of Christ and the Mormons.4 However, these two groups shared competing approaches to the problem of the perceived apostasy from primitive Christianity.
Those in Europe and England who held more radical views–such as Anabaptists, Seekers, Familiests (those in “The Family of Love”), Ranters, and Quakers–were entirely overshadowed by the state churches. The leading Reformers–Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin–attacked the views of the Anabaptists (literally “rebaptizer”), who repudiated infant baptism and Calvinistic predestination, and believed in new revelations, the imminent appearance of Christ, and the establishment of the New Jerusalem.
The use of Primitivist theology by one Church of England divine demonstrates how those in the “right-wing” incorporated radical tenets. When Charles II married the Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza, for political purposes, English churchmen were outraged by the alliance with a Catholic nation. In 1662 Charles’s chaplain, Thomas Pierce, delivered a sermon before the king in which he defended the Protestant church and attacked Catholicism
In the latter half of the sixteenth century, the Puritan movement began to call for reform within the Church of England. Puritans believed the Antichrist had corrupted the church but not completely destroyed it, and they sought to “purify” the church by eliminating all Catholic doctrines and practices. They eventually came to see themselves as “a church within a church.” Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603), a leading Puritan, argued that the true church fell when it abandoned the divinely commanded presbyterian form of government
When their goal to transform the Church of England was frustrated, some Puritans formed their own “Separatist” congregations. These Separatist Puritans were eventually driven from England to Holland. However, those who carried the Puritan vision to the shores of New England in 1620 were nonseparating Puritans who had little tolerance for Separatist dissenters.