A 17th-century English religious group advocating for spiritual freedom and direct personal experience with God, often at odds with mainstream Puritanism.

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: Puritanism
Founder: Roger Brearley, Francis Howgill, and John Audland
Founded: 17th century
Ended: 17th century
Location: Grindleton, Lancashire, England

Originating in the early 17th century within the small Lancashire town of Grindleton, the Grindletonians were a notable Puritan sect under the leadership of Roger Brearley. Their doctrine, deeply rooted in Antinomianism, proposed that divine grace absolves Christians of the law, emphasizing the supremacy of the Holy Spirit in the process of salvation. The movement attracted followers predominantly in the northern regions of England, specifically Lancashire and Yorkshire, and remained active until the 1660s.

The foundation of Grindletonianism can be traced back to John Wilson, who, before the establishment of the sect, introduced several of its core beliefs to the congregation at Kildwick. Roger Brearley, serving as the curate of Grindleton from 1615 to 1622, then became the central figure of the movement. His teachings, which often conflicted with the established Church of England, led to his examination by the High Commission of the Archdiocese of York in 1616. Accused of radical nonconformism and reliance on the “motion of the spirit,” Brearley was compelled to recant his views under the threat of punishment. Despite Brearley’s departure from Grindleton in 1634, his successor, John Webster, along with other preachers like Robert Towne, continued to disseminate Grindletonian beliefs across Lancashire and Yorkshire.

The sect’s philosophy was fundamentally Antinomian, asserting that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit renders a true Christian incapable of sin. This belief in the spiritual over the biblical law, the legitimacy of unordained preaching, and the attainment of sinless existence and heaven on earth closely aligned the Grindletonians with other Antinomian movements of the time.

Grindletonians also held that the power of God’s Spirit alone was sufficient for salvation, challenging the doctrinal emphasis on scripture and ordained ministry prevalent in mainstream Christianity. Their views not only positioned them at odds with the Church of England but also connected them with the broader Antinomian underground that questioned traditional religious authorities and practices.

The influence of Grindletonianism extended beyond its immediate geographical and temporal confines, potentially impacting figures like George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. The proximity of Grindleton to Pendle Hill, a significant site in Quaker history, and the eventual conversion of some Grindletonians to the Quaker faith suggest a flow of spiritual and theological ideas between these religious movements. Additionally, the sect’s existence during a period of religious turmoil and experimentation in England underscores its role in the complex landscape of dissenting religious thought that characterized the 17th century.

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