Beliefs and Practices
The anti-clericalism of Seekers' pioneers the Legatts was far from unique. However, historically, when 'heretics' were faced with being burnt at the stake they retracted, retaining their beliefs in a less public way. The Legatts were exceptional. Thomas died in Newgate Prison after being arrested for his preaching and Bartholomew was burnt for heresy in 1612.
Seekers after the Legatts were Puritan, although not Calvinist. Whilst accepting their zeal in desiring a ‘godly society’, some contemporary historians doubt whether the English Puritans during the English Revolution were as committed to religious liberty and pluralism as traditional histories have suggested. However, historian John Coffey’s recent work has emphasised the contribution of a minority of radical Protestants who steadfastly sought toleration for so called Heresy, Blasphemy, Catholicism, non-Christian religions, and even Atheism. This minority included the Seekers, as well as the General Baptists and the Levellers. Their collective witness demanded the church to be an entirely voluntary, non-coercive community able to evangelise in a pluralistic society governed by a purely civil state. Such a demand was in sharp contrast to the ambitions of the magisterial Protestantism of the Calvinist majority.
The Seekers were not an organised religious group in any way that would be recognised today (i.e. not like a religious Cult or Denomination). They were shambolic (by modern standards), informal and localised. 'Membership' of a local Seekers assembly did not preclude membership of another sect. Indeed, Seekers shunned creeds (see Free Christianity) and each assembly tended to embrace a broad spectrum of ideas. That said, there were a number of beliefs and practices that made the Seekers distinctive from the large number of nonconformist dissenting groups that emerged around the time of the Commonwealth of England. Most significant was their form of collective worship.
In common with other Dissenters, the Seekers believed that the Roman Church corrupted itself and, through its common heritage, the Church of England as well. Only Christ himself could establish the "true" Church. Distinctively, in eager anticipation of his second-coming, and mindful of his direct inspiration and guidance in the meantime, the Seekers held meetings (free of all Church ritual) in silence.
Clearly, Seekers anticipated aspects of Quakerism. Unsurprisingly, a significant number of Seekers became Quakers and many remaining Seekers attended the funeral of George Fox, the founder of Quakerism.
Richard Baxter, a contemporary and unsympathetic author, claimed that they had merged with the "Vanists" or followers of Henry Vane the Younger.
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