Whenever the Diggers are mentioned, it is normally in the phrase ‘Diggers and Levellers’, as the movements were so closely allied.
The Diggers in fact began as the True Levellers in 1649. Both are not strictly religious groups, in that their motivation was political, but their focus on the Bible gives them a place here.
We’ll save the Levellers for ‘L’ in this series, but the groups were united in their belief in ‘levelling’ the social order to a more egalitarian footing.
The Diggers were founded by the Rev William Everard, a radical preacher who encouraged local people to cultivate public land at St George’s Hill in Surrey in order to meet their needs, and his friend Gerrard Winstanley, a formerly wealthy merchant tailor from Lancashire now forced to herd livestock, having lost his trade in the English Civil War. Everard stole away from the movement when trouble later started.
Winstanley quickly became known for his writings on the harmony of men and nature and the birthright of the common people to dig their own land.
His philosophy was essentially a true communist one, asserting the role of small self-sustaining communities without the need for a ruling class.
This was underpinned by the Bible, in particular Acts 4.32: “32: And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.”
The Diggers were vigorously persecuted by Cromwell’s New Model Army, but continued to dig the land and air their cause, particularly in Surrey, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire.
Even at their peak they only comprised a few hundred people, and fizzled out by 1651 – but their legacy has influenced British political dissidence ever since. The Republic of Heaven, a key concept in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, is a phrase from one of Winstanley’s writings.
Elim Pentecostal Church
The Elim Pentecostal Church was founded by George Jeffreys (1889-1962), a Welsh evangelist with a Congregationalist background who had been converted during the Welsh revival of 1904. He founded the church at Monaghan, Northern Ireland, in 1915.
The name (officially, since 1934, the Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance) came from Exodus 15.27 – “Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water and seventy palm trees; so they camped there by the waters” – and was intended to convey a sense of spiritual refreshment. Jeffreys became famous for his inspirational mission tours around the UK, something like a Billy Graham of his day.
Jeffreys later spilt away from the main group and founded the Bible-Pattern Church Fellowship in 1939, another Pentecostal church with affinities to the British Israelites.
He was succeeded at Elim by George Kingston, who founded many congregations in Essex in particular. The Elim movement continues today with more than 500 UK congregation, united by beliefs in the divine inspiration of the Bible, the second coming, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and bodily resurrection.
Strictly speaking there has never been an ‘English Lutheran’ movement in Britain (though the name was used in America from the 19th century), but various British-born followers of Martin Luther had an important influence on the Reformation in this country.
Most notable was Robert Barnes (1495-1540), who openly sermonised in Cambridge on the gospel, and accused the Church of heresy. He was influential on other reformers such as Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer who like him were later executed.
Episcopalianism is broadly an alternative term for the Anglican Communion, theologically distinct from both Catholicism and Protestantism.
The Episcopal Church in the US was the first Anglican church outside Britain, founded just after American independence and obliged to be separate because of the Church of England’s requirement upon clergy to swear allegiance to the Crown.
The Scottish Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion and recognises the primacy of the Archbishop of Canterbury. There are many other Episcopal churches worldwide.