SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Promoting Authentic Biblical Christianity.
Looking for free sermon messages?
Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video

SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IV THE CAMBRIDGE PLATFORM AND THE HALF-WAY COVENANT

The Development Of Religious Liberty In Connecticut by M. Louise Greene, Ph. D.

CHAPTER IV THE CAMBRIDGE PLATFORM AND THE HALF-WAY COVENANT

It is always right that a man should be able to render a reason for the faith that is within him. -- Sydney Smith.

In each of the New England colonies under consideration, the settlers organized their church system and established its relation to the State, expecting that the strong arm of the temporal power would insure stability and harmony in both religious and civil life. As we know, they were speedily doomed to disappointment. As we have seen, they failed to estimate the influences of the new land, where freedom from the restraint of an older civilization bred new ideas and estimates of the liberty that should be accorded men. Within the first decade Massachusetts had great difficulty in impressing religious uniformity upon her rapidly increasing and heterogeneous population. She found coercion difficult, costly, dangerous to her peace, and to her reputation when the oppressed found favorable ears in England to listen to their woes. Ecclesiastical differences of less magnitude, contemporary in time and foreshadowing discontent and opposition to the established order of Church and State, were settled in more quiet ways. John Davenport, after witnessing the Antinomian controversy, declined the pressing hospitality of Massachusetts, and led his New Haven company far enough afield to avoid theological entanglements or disputed points of church polity. Unimpeded, they would make their intended experiment in statecraft and build their strictly scriptural republic. Still earlier Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and John Warham led the Connecticut colonists into the wilderness because they foresaw contention, strife, and evil days before them if they were to be forced to conform to the strict policy of Massachusetts.[a] They preferred, unhindered, to plant and water the young vine of a more democratic commonwealth. And even as Massachusetts met with large troubles of her own, so smaller ones beset these other colonies in their endeavor to preserve uniformity of religious faith and practice. Until 1656, outside of Massachusetts, sectarianism barely lifted its head. Religious contumacy was due to varying opinions as to what should be the rule of the churches and the privileges of their members. As the churches held theoretically that each was a complete, independent, and self-governing unit, their practice and teaching concerning their powers and duties began to show considerable variation. Such variation was unsatisfactory, and so decidedly so that the leaders of opinion in the four colonies early began to feel the need of some common platform, some authoritative standard of church government, such as was agreed upon later in the Cambridge Platform of 1648 and in the Half-Way Covenant, a still later exposition or modification of certain points in the Platform.

The need for the Platform arose, also, from two other causes: one purely colonial, and the other Anglo-colonial. The first was, since everybody had to attend public worship, the presence in the congregations of outsiders as distinct from church members. These outsiders demanded broader terms of admission to holy privileges and comforts. The second cause, Anglo-colonial in nature, arose from the inter-communion of colonial and English Puritan churches and from the strength of the politico-ecclesiastical parties in England. Whatever the outcome there, the consequences to colonial life of the rapidly approaching climax in England, when, as we now know, King was to give way to Commonwealth and Presbyterianism find itself subordinate to Independency, would be tremendous.

In the first twenty years of colonial life, great changes had come over New England. Many men of honest and Christian character -- |sober persons who professed themselves desirous of renewing their baptismal covenant, and submit unto church discipline, but who were unable to come up to that experimental account of their own regeneration which would sufficiently embolden their access to the other sacrament| (communion) -- felt that the early church regulations, possible only in small communities where each man knew his fellow, had been outgrown, and that their retention favored the growth of hypocrisy. The exacting oversight of the churches in their |watch and ward| over their members was unwelcome, and would not be submitted to by many strangers who were flocking into the colonies. The |experimental account| of religion demanded, as of old, a public declaration or confession of the manner in which conviction of sinfulness had come to each one; of the desire to put evil aside and to live in accordance with God's commands as expressed in Scripture and through the church to which the repentant one promised obedience. This public confession was a fundamental of Congregationalism. Other religious bodies have copied it; but at the birth of Congregationalism, and for centuries afterwards, the bulk of European churches, like the Protestant Episcopal Church to-day, regarded |Christian piety more as a habit of life, formed under the training of childhood, and less as a marked spiritual change in experience.|

It followed that while many of the newcomers in the colonies were indifferent to religion, by far the larger number were not, and thought that, as they had been members of the English Established Church, they ought to be admitted into full membership in the churches of England's colonies. They felt, moreover, that the religious training of their children was being neglected because the New England churches ignored the child whose parents would not, or could not, submit to their terms of membership. Still more strongly did these people feel neglected and dissatisfied when, as the years went by, more and more of them were emigrants who had been acceptable members of the Puritan churches in England. They continued to be refused religious privileges because New England Congregationalism doubted the scriptural validity of letters of dismissal from churches where the discipline and church order varied from its own. Within the membership of the New England churches themselves, there was great uncertainty concerning several church privileges, as, for instance, how far infant baptism carried with it participation in church sacraments, and whether adults, baptized in infancy, who had failed to unite with the church by signing the Covenant, could have their children baptized into the church. Considerations of church-membership and baptism, for which the Cambridge Synod of 1648 was summoned, were destined, because of political events in England, to be thrust aside and to wait another eight years for their solution in that conference which framed the Half-Way Covenant as supplementary to the Cambridge Platform of faith and discipline.

What has been termed the Anglo-colonial cause for summoning the Cambridge Synod finds explanation in the frequent questions and demands which English Independency put to the New England churches concerning church usage and discipline, and in the intense interest with which New England waited the outcome of the constitutional struggle in England between King and Parliament.

When the great controversy broke out in England between Presbyterians and Independents, the fortunes of Massachusetts (who felt every wave of the struggle) and of New England were in the balance. Presbyterians in England proclaimed the doctrine of church unity, and of coercion if necessary, to procure it; the Independents, the doctrine of toleration. Puritans, inclining to Presbyterianism, were disturbed over reports from the colonies, and letters of inquiry were sent and answers returned explaining that, while the internal polity of the New England churches was not far removed from Presbyterianism, they differed widely from the Presbyterian standard as to a national church and as to the power of synods over churches, and that they also held to a much larger liberty in the right of each church to appoint its officers and control its own internal affairs. At the opening of the Long Parliament (1640-1644), many emigrants had returned to England from the colonies, and, under the leadership of the influential Hugh Peters, had given such an impetus to English thought that the Independent party rose to political importance and made popular the |New England Way.|[b] The success of the Independents brought relief to Massachusetts, yet it was tinctured with apprehension lest |toleration| should be imposed upon her. The signing of the |League and Covenant| with England in 1643 by Scotland, the oath of the Commons to support it, and the pledge |to bring the churches of God in the three Kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government and catechizing| (including punishment of malignants and opponents of reformation in Church and State), carried menace to the colonies and to Massachusetts in particular. The supremacy of Scotch or English Nonconformity meant a severity toward any variation from its Presbyterianism as great as Laud had exercised.[c]

In 1643 Parliament convened one hundred and fifty members[d] in the Westminster Assembly to plan the reform of the Church of England. Their business was to formulate a Confession which should dictate to all Englishmen what they should believe and how express it, and should also define a Church, which, preserving the inherent English idea of its relation to the State, should bear a close likeness to the Reformed churches of the Continent and yet approach as nearly as possible both to the then Church of Scotland and to the English Church of the time of Elizabeth. The work of this assembly, known as the Westminster Confession, demonstrated to the New England colonists the weakness of their church system and the need among them of religious unity.[e]

Many among the colonists doubted the advisability of a church platform, considering it permissible as a declaration of faith, but of doubtful value if its articles were to be authoritative as a binding rule of faith and practice without |adding, altering, or omitting.| Men of this mind waited for controversial writings,[f] to clear up misconception and misrepresentation in England, but they waited in vain. Moreover, the Puritan Board of Commissioners for Plantations of 1643 threatened as close an oversight and as rigid control of colonial affairs from a Presbyterian Parliament as had been feared from the King. Furthermore, a Presbyterian cabal in Plymouth and Massachusetts, 1644-1646, gathered to it the discontent of large numbers of unfranchised residents within the latter colony, and under threat of an appeal to Parliament boldly asked for the ballot and for church privileges. In view of these developments, nearly all the colonial churches, though with some hesitation, united in the Synod of Cambridge, which was originally called for the year 1646.

In the calling of the synod Massachusetts took the lead. Several years before, in 1643, the four colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven had united in the New England Confederacy, or |Confederacy of the United Colonies,| for mutual advantage in resisting the encroachments of the Dutch, French, and Indians, and for |preserving and propagating the truth and liberties of the gospel.| In the confederacy, Massachusetts and Connecticut soon became the leaders. Considering how much more strongly the former felt the pulsations of English political life, and how active were the Massachusetts divines as expositors of the |New England way of the churches,| the Bay Colony naturally took the initiative in calling the Cambridge Synod. But mindful of the opposition to her previous autocratic summons, her General Court framed its call as a |desire| that ministerial, together with lay delegates, from all the churches of New England should meet at Cambridge. There, representing the churches, and in accordance with the earliest teachings of Congregationalism, they were to meet in synod |for sisterly advice and counsel.| They were to formulate the practice of the churches in regard to baptism and adult privileges, and to do so |for the confirming of the weak among ourselves and the stopping of the mouths of our adversaries abroad.| During the two years of unavoidable delay before the synod met in final session, these topics, which were expected to be foremost in the conference, were constantly in the public mind. Through this wide discussion, the long delay brought much good. It brought also misfortune in the death of Thomas Hooker in 1647, and by it loss of one of the great lights and most liberal minds in the proposed conference. Nearly all the colonial churches[g] were represented in the synod. When, during its session, news was received that Cromwell was supreme in England, its members turned from the discussion of baptism and church-membership to a consideration of what should be the constitution of the churches. The supremacy of Cromwell and of the Independents who filled his armies cleared the political background. All danger of enforced Presbyterianism was over. The strength of the Presbyterian malcontents, who had sought to bring Massachusetts and New England into disrepute in England, was broken. Since the colonists were free to order their religious life as they pleased, the Cambridge Synod turned aside from its purposed task to formulate a larger platform of faith and polity.

When the Cambridge Synod adjourned, the orthodoxy of the New England churches could not be impugned. In all matters of faith |for the substance thereof| they accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith, but from its measures of government and discipline they differed.[h] This Cambridge Platform was more important as recognizing the independence of the churches and the authority of custom among them than as formulating a creed. It governed the New England churches for sixty years, or until Massachusetts and Connecticut Congregationalism came to the parting of the way, whence one was to develop its associated system of church government, and the other its consociated system as set forth in the Saybrook Platform, formulated at Saybrook, Connecticut, in 1708. Meanwhile, the Cambridge Platform[i] gave all the New England churches a standard by which to regulate their practice and to resist change.[j]

A study of the Platform yields the following brief summary of its cardinal points: --

(a) The Congregational church is not |National, Provincial or Classical,|[k] but is a church of a covenanted brotherhood, wherein each member makes public acknowledgment of spiritual regeneration and declares his purpose to submit himself to the ordinances of God and of his church.[l] A slight concession was made to the liberal church party and to the popular demand for broader terms of membership in the provision for those of |the weakest measure of faith,| and in the substitution of a written account of their Christian experience by those who were ill or timid. This written |experimental account| was to be read to the church by one of the elders. In the words of the Platform, |Such charity and tenderness is to be used, as the weakest Christian if sincere, may not be excluded or discouraged. Severity of examination is to be avoided.|[m]

(b) The officers of the church are elders and deacons, the former including, as of old, pastors, teachers, and ruling elders. That the authority within the church had passed from the unrestrained democracy of the early Plymouth Separatists to a silent democracy before the command of a speaking aristocracy[n] is witnessed to by the Platform's declaration that |power of office| is proper to the elders, while |power of privilege|[o] belongs to the brethren. In other words, the brethren or membership have a |second| and |indirect power,| according to which they are privileged to elect their elders. Thereafter those officers possess the |direct power,| or authority, to govern the church as they see fit.[p] In the matter of admission, dismission, censure, excommunication, or re-admission of members, the brotherhood of the church may express their opinion by vote.[q] In cases of censure and excommunication, the Platform specifies that the offender could be made to suffer only through deprivation of his church rights and not through any loss of his civil ones.[r] In the discussion of this point, the more liberal policy of Connecticut and Plymouth prevailed.

(c) In regard to pastors and teachers, the Platform affirms that they are such only by the right of election and remain such only so long as they preside over the church by which they were elected.[s]

Their ordination after election, as well as that of the ruling elders and deacons, is to be by the laying on of hands of the elders of the church electing them. In default of elders, this ordination is to be by the hands of brethren whom because of their exemplary lives the church shall choose to perform the rite.[t]

A new provision was also made, one leaning toward Presbyterianism, whereby elders of other churches could perform this ceremony, |when there were no elders and the church so desired.|

(d) Church maintenance, amounting to a church tax, was insisted upon not only from church-members but from all, since |all that are taught in the word, are to contribute unto him that teacheth.| If necessary, because corrupt men creep into the congregations and church contributions cannot be collected, the magistrate is to see to it that the church does not suffer.[u]

(e) The Platform defined the intercommunion of the churches[v] upon such broad lines as to admit of sympathetic fellowship even when slight differences existed in local customs. In so important a matter as when an offending elder was to be removed, consultation with other churches was commanded before action should be taken against him. The intercommunion of churches was defined as of various kinds: as for mutual welfare; for sisterly advice and consultation, in cases of public offense, where the offending church was unconscious of fault; for recommendation of members going from one church to another; for need, relief, or succor of unfortunate churches; and |by way of propagation,| when over-populous churches were to be divided.

(f) Concerning synods,[w] the Platform asserts that they are |necessary to the well-being of churches for the establishment of truth and peace therein;| that they are to consist of elders, or ministerial delegates, and also of lay delegates, or |messengers;| that their function is to determine controversies over questions of faith, to debate matters of general interest, to guide and to express judgment upon churches, |rent by discord or lying under open scandal.| Synods could be called by the churches, and also by the magistrates through an order to the churches to send their elders and messengers, but they were not to be permanent bodies. On the contrary, unlike the synods of the Presbyterian system, they were to be disbanded when the work of the special session for which they were summoned was finished. Moreover, they were not |to exercise church censure in the way of discipline nor any other act of authority or jurisdiction;| yet their judgments were to be received, |so far as consonant to the word of God,| since they were judged to be an ordinance of God appointed in his Word.

(g) The Platform's section |Of the Civil Magistrate in matters Ecclesiastical|[x] maintains that magistrates cannot compel subjects to become church-members; that they ought not to meddle with the proper work of officers of the churches, but that they ought to see to it that godliness is upheld, and the decrees of the church obeyed. To accomplish these ends, they should exert all the civil authority intrusted to them, and their foremost duty was to put down blasphemy, idolatry, and heresy. In any question as to what constituted the last, the magistrates assisted by the elders were to decide and to determine the measure of the crime. They were to punish the heretic, not as one who errs in an intellectual judgment, but as a moral leper and for whose evil influence the community was responsible to God. The civil magistrates were also to punish all profaners of the Sabbath, all contemners of the ministry, all disturbers of public worship, and to proceed |against schismatic or obstinately corrupt churches.|

These seven points summarize the important work of the Cambridge Synod and the Platform wherein it embodied the church usage and fixed the ecclesiastical customs of New England. Concerning its own work, the Synod remarked in conclusion that it |hopes that this will be a proof to the churches beyond the seas that the New England churches are free from heresies and from the character of schism,| and that |in the doctrinal part of religion they have agreed entirely with the Reformed churches of England.|

Let us in a few sentences review the whole story thus far of colonial Congregationalism. With the exception of the churches of Plymouth and Watertown, the colonists had come to America without any definite religious organization. True, they had in their minds the example of the Reformed churches on the Continent, and much of theory, and many convictions as to what ought to be the rule of churches. These theories and these convictions soon crystallized out. And the transatlantic crystallization was found to yield results, some of which were very similar to the modifications which time had wrought in England upon the rough and embryonic forms of Congregationalism as set forth by Robert Browne and Henry Barrowe. The characteristics of Congregationalism during its first quarter of a century upon New England soil were: the clearly defined independence or self-government of the local churches; the fellowship of the churches; the development of large and authoritative powers in the eldership; a more exact definition of the functions of synods, a definite limitation of their authority; and, finally, a recognition of the authority of the civil magistrates in religious affairs generally, and of their control in special cases arising within individual churches. In the growing power of the eldership, and in the provision of the Platform which permits ordination by the hands of elders of other churches, when a church had no elders and its members so desired, there is a trend toward the polity of the Presbyterian system. In the Platform's definition of the power of the magistrates over the religious life of the community, there is evident the colonists' conviction that, notwithstanding the vaunted independence of the churches, there ought to be some strong external authority to uphold them and their discipline; some power to fall back upon, greater than the censure of a single church or the combined strength and influence derived from advisory councils and unauthoritative synods. In Connecticut, this control by the civil power was to increase side by side with the tendency to rely upon advisory councils. From this twofold development during a period of sixty years, there arose the rigid autonomy of the later Saybrook system of church-government, wherein the civil authority surrendered to ecclesiastical courts its supreme control of the churches.

Turning from the text of the Cambridge Platform to its application, we find among the earliest churches |rent by discord,| schismatically corrupt, and to be disciplined according to its provisions, that of Hartford, Connecticut. From the earliest years of the Connecticut colony there had been within it a large party, constantly increasing, who, because they were unhappy and aggrieved at having themselves and their children shut out of the churches, had advocated admitting all of moral life to the communion table. The influence of Thomas Hooker kept the discontent within bounds until his death in 1647, the year before the Cambridge Synod met. Thereafter, the conservative and liberal factions in many of the churches came quickly into open conflict. The Hartford church in particular became rent by dissension so great that neither the counsel of neighboring churches nor the commands of the General Court, legislating in the manner prescribed by the Cambridge instrument, could heal the schism. The trouble in the Hartford church arose because of a difference between Mr. Stone, the minister, and Elder Goodwin, who led the minority in their preference for a candidate to assist their pastor. Before the discovery of documents relating to the controversy, it was the custom of earlier historians to refer the dispute to political motives. But this church feud, and the discussion which it created throughout Connecticut, was purely religious, and had to do with matters of church privileges and eventually with rights of baptism.[y] The conflict originated through Mr. Stone's conception of his ministerial authority, which belonged rather to the period of his English training and which was concisely set forth by his oft-quoted definition of the rule of the elders as |a speaking aristocracy in the face of a silent democracy.|[z] Mr. Stone and Elder Goodwin, the two chief officers in the Hartford church, each commanded an influential following. Personal and political affiliations added to the bitterness of party bias in the dispute which raged over the following three questions: (a) What were the rights of the minority in the election of a minister whom they were obliged to support? (b) What was the proper mode of ecclesiastical redress if these rights were ignored? (c) What were those baptismal rights and privileges which the Cambridge Platform had not definitely settled? The discussion of the first two questions precipitated into the foreground the still unanswered third. The turmoil in the Hartford church continued for years and was provocative of disturbances throughout the colony. Accordingly, in May, 1656, a petition was presented to the General Court by persons unknown, asking for broader baptismal privileges. Moved by the appeal, the Court appointed a committee, consisting of the governor, lieutenant-governor and two deputies, to consult with the elders of the churches and to draw up a series of questions embodying the grievances which were complained of throughout the colony as well as in the Hartford church. The Court further commanded that a copy of these questions be sent to the General Courts of the other three colonies, that they might consider them and advise Connecticut as to some method of putting an end to ecclesiastical disputes. As Connecticut was not the only colony having trouble of this sort, Massachusetts promptly ordered thirteen of her elders to meet at Boston during the following summer, and expressed a desire for the cooperation of the churches of the confederated colonies. Plymouth did not respond. New Haven rejected the proposed conference. She feared that it would result in too great changes in church discipline and, consequently, in her civil order, -- changes which she believed would endanger the peace and purity of her churches;[aa] yet she sent an exposition, written by John Davenport, of the questions to be discussed. The Connecticut General Court, glad of Massachusetts' appreciative sympathy, appointed delegates, advising them to first take counsel together concerning the questions to be considered at Boston, and ordered them upon their return to report to the Court.

The two questions which since the summoning of the Cambridge Synod had been under discussion throughout all New England were the right of non-covenanting parishioners in the choice of a minister, and the rights of children of baptized parents, that had not been admitted to full membership. These were the main topics of discussion in the Synod, or, more properly, Ministerial Convention, of 1657, which assembled in Boston, and which decreed the Half-Way Covenant. The Assembly decided in regard to baptism that persons, who had been baptized in their infancy, but who, upon arriving at maturity, had not publicly professed their conversion and united in full membership with the church, were not fit to receive the Lord's Supper: --

Yet in case they understood the Grounds of Religion and are not scandalous, and solemnly own the Covenant in their own persons,[ab] wherein they give themselves and their own children unto the Lord, and desire baptism for them, we (with due reverence to any Godly Learned that may dissent) see not sufficient cause to deny Baptism unto their children.

Church care and oversight were to be extended to such children. But in order to go to communion, or to vote in church affairs, the old personal, public profession that for so many years had been indispensable to |signing the covenant| was retained and must still be given.

This Half-Way Covenant, as it came to be called, enlarged the terms of baptism and of admission to church privileges as they had been set forth in the Cambridge Platform. The new measure held within itself a contradiction to the foundation principle of Congregationalism. A dual membership was introduced by this attempt to harmonize the Old Testament promise, that God's covenant was with Abraham and his seed forever, with the Congregational type of church which the New Testament was believed to set forth. The former theory must imply some measure of true faith in the children of baptized parents, whether or no they had fulfilled their duty by making public profession and by uniting with the church. This duty was so much a matter of course with the first colonists, and so deeply ingrained was their loyalty to the faith and practice which one generation inherited from another, that it never occurred to them that future descendants of theirs might view differently these obligations of church membership. But a difficulty arose later when the adult obligation implied by baptism in infancy ceased to be met, and when the question had to be settled of how far the parents' measure of faith carried grace with it. Did the inheritance of faith, of which baptism was the sign and seal, stop with the children, or with the grandchildren, or where? To push the theory of inherited rights would result eventually in destroying the covenant church, bringing in its stead a national church of mixed membership; to press the original requirements of the covenant upon an unwilling people would lessen the membership of the churches, expose them to hostile attack, and to possible overthrow. The colonists compromised upon this dual membership of the Half-Way Covenant. As its full significance did not become apparent for years, the work of the Synod of 1657 was generally acceptable to the ministry, but it met with opposition among the older laity. It was welcomed in Connecticut, where Henry Smith of Wethersfield as early as 1647, Samuel Stone of Hartford, after 1650, and John Warham of Windsor, had been earnest advocates of its enlarged terms. As early as in his draft of the Cambridge Platform, Ralph Partridge of Duxbury in Plymouth colony had incorporated similar changes, and even then they had been seconded by Richard Mather.[ac] They had been omitted from the final draft of that Platform because of the opposition of a small but influential group led by the Rev. Charles Chauncey. As early as 1650, it had become evident that public opinion was favorable to such a change, and that some church would soon begin to put in practice a theory which was held by so many leading divines. Though the Half-Way Covenant was strenuously opposed by the New Haven colony as a whole, Peter Prudden, its second ablest minister, had, as early as 1651, avowed his earnest support of such a measure.

The Half-Way Covenant was presented to the Connecticut General Court, August, 1657. Orders were at once given that copies of it should be distributed to all the churches with a request for a statement of any exceptions that any of them might have to it. None are known to have been returned. This was not due to any great unanimity of sentiment among the churches, for in Connecticut, as elsewhere, many of the older church-members were not so liberally inclined as their ministers, and were loth to follow their lead in this new departure. But when controversy broke out again in the Hartford church, in 1666, because of the baptism of some children, it was found that in the interval of eleven years those who favored the Half-Way covenant had increased in numbers in the church,[ad] and were rapidly gaining throughout the colony, especially in its northern half. By the absorption of the New Haven Colony, its southern boundary in 1664 had become the shore of Long Island Sound.

Though public opinion favored the Half-Way Covenant, the practice of the churches was controlled by their exclusive membership, and, unless a majority thereof approved the new way, there was nothing to compel the church to broaden its baptismal privileges.[ae] This difference between public opinion and church practice, between the congregations and the coterie of church members, was provocative of clashing interests and of factional strife. For several years these factional differences were held in check and made subordinate to the urgent political situation which the restoration of the Stuarts had precipitated, and which demanded harmonious action among the colonists. A royal charter had to be obtained, and when obtained, it gave Connecticut dominion over the New Haven colony. The lower colony had to be reconciled to its loss of independence, in so much as the governing party, with its influential following of conservatives, objected to the consolidation. The liberals, a much larger party numerically, preferred to come under the authority of Connecticut and to enjoy her less restrictive church policy and her broader political life. Matters were finally adjusted, and delegates from the old New Haven colony first took their seats as members of the General Court of Connecticut at the spring session of 1665. Thereafter, in Connecticut history, especially its religious history, the strain of liberalism most often follows the old lines of the Connecticut colony, while that of conservatism is more often met with as reflecting the opinions of those within the former boundaries of that of New Haven.

It was in the year following the union of the two colonies that the quarrel in the Hartford church broke out afresh. The fall preceding the consolidation of the colonies, an appeal was made to the Connecticut General Court which helped to swell the dissatisfaction in the Hartford church and to bring it to the bursting point. In October, 1664, William Pitkin, by birth a member of the English Established Church[af] and a man much esteemed in the colony, as shown, politically, by his office of attorney, and socially by his marriage with Elder Goodwin's daughter, petitioned the General Court in behalf of himself and six associates that it --

would take into serious consideration our present state in this respect that wee are thus as sheep scattered haveing no shepheard, and compare it with what wee conceive you can not but know both God and our King would have it different from what it now is. And take some speedy and effectual course of redress herein, And put us in full and free capacity of injoying those forementioned Advantages which to us as members of Christ's visible Church doe of right belong. By establishing some wholesome Law in this Corporation by vertue whereof wee may both clame and receive of such officers as are, or shall be by Law set over us in the Church or churches where wee have our abode or residence those forementioned privileges and advantages.

Further wee humbly request that for the future no Law in this corporation may be of any force to make us pay or contribute to the maintenance of any Minister or officer in the Church that will neglect or refuse to baptize our Children, and to take charge of us as of such members of the Church as are under his or their charge and care --

Signed --
Admitted freeman
Oct.9th, 1662, Hartford, Wm. Pitkin.

Admitted freeman
May 21, 1657, Windsor, Michael Humphrey.

Admitted freeman
May 18, 1654, Hartford, John Stedman.
Windsor, James Eno.

Admitted freeman
May 20, 1658, -- Robart Reeve.
Windsor, John Morse.

Admitted freeman
May 20, 1658, Windsor, Jonas Westover.

Eno and Humphrey had been complained of because their insistence upon what they considered their rights had caused disturbance in the Windsor church. Now, with the other petitioners, they based their appeal in part upon the King's Letter to the Bay Colony of June 26th, 1662, wherein Charles commanded that |all persons of good and honest lives and conversation be admitted to the sacrament of the Lord's supper, according to the said book of common prayer, and their children to baptism.|

This petition of Pitkin and his associates was the first notable expression of dissatisfaction with the Congregationalism of Connecticut. Several Episcopal writers have quoted it as the first appeal of Churchmen in Connecticut. In itself, it forbids such construction. The petitioners had come from England and from the church of the Commonwealth. They were asking either for toleration in the spirit of the Half-Way Covenant or for some special legislation in their behalf. Further, they were demanding religious care and baptism for their children from a clergy who, from the point of view of any strict Episcopalian, had no right to officiate; and, again, it was nearly ten years before the first Church-of-England men found their way to Stratford.

The Court made reply to Pitkin's petition by sending to all the churches a request that they consider --

whither it be not their duty to entertaine all such persons, who are of honest and godly conuersation, hauing a competency of knowledge in the principles of religion, and shall desire to joyne with them in church fellowship, by an explicitt couenant, and that they haue their children baptized, and that all the children of the church be accepted and acco'td reall members of the church and that the church exercise a due Christian care and watch ouer them; and that when they are grown up, being examined by the officer in the presence of the church, it appeares in the judgment of charity, they are duly qualified to participate in the great ordinance of the Lord's Supper, by their being able to examine and discerne the Lord's body, such persons be admitted to full comunion.

The Court desires y't the seuerall officers of y'e respectiue churches, would be pleased to consider whither it be the duty of the Court to order churches to practice according to the premises, if they doe not practice without such an order.

The issue was now fairly before the churches of the colony. The delegates of the people had expressed the opinion of the majority. The Court had invited the expression of any dissent that might exist, yet, despite the invitation, it had issued almost an order to the churches to practice the Half-Way Covenant, and with large interpretation, applying it, not only to the baptism of children who had been born of parents baptized in the colonial church, but also to those whose parents had been baptized in the English communion, at least during the Commonwealth.[ag] Pitkin at once proceeded in behalf of himself and several of his companions to apply for |communion with the church of Hartford in all the ordinances of Christ.| This the church refused, and wrought its factions up to white heat over the baptism of some child or children of non-communicants. The storm broke. Other churches felt its effects. Windsor church was rent by faction, Stratford was in turmoil over the Half-Way Covenant, and other churches were divided.

Some means had to be found to put an end to the increasing disorder. Accordingly the Court in October, 1666, commanded the presence of all the preaching elders and ministers within the colony at a synod to find |some way or means to bring those ecclesiastical matters that are in difference in the severall Plantations to an issue.| The Court felt obliged to change the name of the appointed meeting from |synod| to |assembly| to avoid the jealousy of the churches. They were afraid that the civil power would overstep its authority, and by calling a synod, composed of elders only, establish a precedent for the exclusion of lay delegates from such bodies. Before this |assembly| could meet, it was shorn of influence through the politics of the conservative Hartford faction, who succeeded in passing a bill at the session of the Commissioners of the United Colonies, which read: --

That in matters of common concern of faith or order necessitating a Synod, it should be a Synod composed of messengers from all the colonies.

Accordingly, Connecticut's next step was to invite Massachusetts to join in a synod to debate seventeen questions of which several had been submitted to the Synod of 1657, and had remained unanswered. Among them were the questions of the right to vote in the choice of minister; of minority rights; and where to appeal in cases of censure believed to be unmerited.[ah]

Massachusetts courteously replied that the questions would be considered if submitted in writing; but she was at heart so indifferent that negotiations for a colonial synod lapsed, and Connecticut was left to adjust the differences in her churches. Consequently, in May, 1668, the Court, --

for promoting and establishing peace in the churches and plantations because of various apprehensions in matters of discipline respecting membership and baptism, --

appointed a committee of influential men in the colony to search out the rules for discipline and see how far persons of |various apprehensions| could walk together in church fellowship. This committee reported at the October session, and the Court, after accepting their decision, formally declared the Congregational church established and its older customs approved, asserting that --

Whereas the Congregationall churches in these partes for the generall of their profession and practice have hitherto been approued, we can doe no less than still approue and countenance the same to be without disturbance until a better light in an orderly way doth appeare; but yet foreasmuch as sundry persons of worth for prudence and piety amongst us are otherwise perswaded (whose welfare and peaceable satisfaction we desire to accommodate) This Court doth declare that all such persons being also approued to lawe as orthodox and sound in the fundamentals of Christian religion may haue allowance of their perswasion and profession in church wayes or assemblies without disturbance.

The liberal church party had won the privileges for which they had contended, but the conservatives were not beaten, for it was upon their conception of church government that the Court set its seal of approval. The Court had been tolerant, and the churches must be also. Upon such terms, the old order was to continue |until a better light should appear.| The tolerance toward changing conditions, thus expressed, was further emphasized by the Court's command to the churches to accept into full membership certain worthy people who could not bring themselves to agree fully with all the old order had demanded. The second part of the enactment just quoted was, strictly speaking, Connecticut's first toleration act; yet it must be realized that now, as later, the degree of toleration admitted no release from the support of an unacceptable ministry or from fines for neglect of its ministrations. Tolerance was here extended not to dissenters, but only to varying shades of opinions within a common faith and fold.

In the spirit of such legislation, the Court advised the Hartford church to |walk apart.| The advice was accepted, the church divided, and the members who went out reorganized as the Second Church of Hartford. Other discordant churches quickly followed this example. The Second Church of Hartford immediately put forth a declaration, asserting that its Congregationalism was that of the old original New England type. The force of public opinion was so great, however, that despite its declaration, the Second Church began at once to accept the Half-Way Covenant. |The only result of their profession was to give a momentary name to the struggle as between Congregationalist and Presbyterian.| It was no effective opposition to the onward development in Connecticut of the new order. When the churches found that neither the old nor the new way was to be insisted upon, the violence of faction ceased. The dual membership was accepted. For a while, its line of cleavage away from the old system, with its local church |as a covenanted brotherhood of souls renewed by the experience of God's grace,| was not realized, any more than that the new system was merging the older type of church |into the parish where all persons of good moral character, living within the parochial bounds, were to have, as in England and Scotland, the privilege of baptism for their households and of access to the Lord's table.| Another move in this direction was taken when the splitting off of churches, and the forming of more than one within the original parish bounds, necessitated a further departure from the principles of Congregationalism, and when the sequestration of lands for the benefit of clergy became a feature of the new order. In this formation of new churches, the oldest parish was always the First Society.[ai] Those formed later did not destroy it or affect its antecedent agreements. Only sixty-six years had passed (1603-1669) since the publication of the |Points of Difference| between the Separatists, the London-Amsterdam exiles, and the Church of England, wherein insistence had been laid upon the principles of a covenanted church, of its voluntary support, and of the unrighteousness of churches possessing either lands or revenue. The pendulum had swung from the broad democracy and large liberty of Brownism through Barrowism, past the Cambridge Platform (almost the centre of its arc), and on through the Half-Way Covenant to the beginning of a parish system. It had still farther to swing before it reached the end of the arc, marked by the Saybrook Platform, and before it began its slower return movement, to rest at last in the Congregationalism of the past seventy years.

FOOTNOTES:

[a] Among the causes assigned for the removal of the Connecticut colonists were the discontent at Watertown over the high-handed silencing by the Boston authorities of Pastor Phillips and Teacher Brown for daring to assert that the |churches of Rome were true churches;| the early attempt of the authorities to impose a general tax; the continued opposition to Ludlow; their desire to oppose the Dutch seizure of the fertile valley of the Connecticut; their want of space in the Bay Colony; and the |strong bent of their spirits to remove thither,| i.e. to Connecticut.

[b] The New England Way discarded the liturgy; refused to accept the sacrament or join in prayer after such an |anti-Christian form;| limited communion to church members approved by New England standards, or coming with credentials from churches similarly approved; limited the ministerial office, outside the pastor's own church, to prayer and conference, denying all authority; and assumed as the right of each church the power of elections, admissions, dismissals, censures, and excommunications. The result, in that day of intense championship of religious polity and custom, was to create disturbance and discord among the English Independent churches. The correspondence between the divines of New England and old England was in part to avoid the |breaking up of churches.|

[c] J. R. Green, Short Hist. of the English People, 534-538. The great popular signing of the Covenant in Scotland was in 1638.

[d] The original intention, in 1642, in regard to the composition of the Westminster Assembly was to have noted divines from abroad. It was proposed to invite Rev. John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and John Davenport from New England. Rev. Thomas Hooker thought the subject was not one of sufficient ecclesiastical importance for so long and difficult a journey, while the Rev. John Davenport could not be spared because of the absence of other church officers from New Haven. -- H. M. Dexter, Congr. as seen, etc., p.653.

Congregationalists or Independents in the sittings of the Assembly pleaded for liberty of conscience to all sects, |provided that they did not trouble the public peace.| (Later, Congregationalists differentiated themselves from the Independents by adding to the principle of the independence of the local church the principle of the local sisterhood of the churches.) In the Assembly, averaging sixty or eighty members, Congregationalism was represented by but five influential divines and a few of lesser importance. There were also among the members some thirty laymen. The Assembly held eleven hundred and sixty-three sittings, continuing for a period of five years and six months. During these years the Civil War was fought; the King executed; the Commonwealth established with its modified state-church, Presbyterian in character. Intolerance was held in check by the power of Cromwell and of the army, for the Independents had made early and successful efforts to win the soldiery to their standard. -- Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 727-820.

[e] W. Walker, Creeds and Platforms, p.136, note 2.

[f] The New England Way defended its changes from English custom under three heads: (1) That things, inexpedient but not utterly unlawful in England, became under changed conditions sinful in New England. (2) Things tolerated in England, because unremovable, were shameful in the new land where they were removable. (3) Many things, upon mature deliberation and tried by Scripture, were found to be sinful. But: |We profess unfeignedly we separate from the corruptions, which we conceive to be left in your Churches, and from such Ordinances administered therein as we feare are not of God but of men; and for yourselves, we are so farre from separating as visible Christians as that you are under God in our hearts (if the Lord would suffer it) to live and die together; and we look at sundrie of you as men of that eminent growth in Christianitie, that if there be any visible Christians under heaven, amongst you are the men, which for these many years have been written in your forehead ('Holiness to the Lord'): and this is not to the disparagement of ourselves or our practice, for we believe that the Church moves on from age to age, its defects giving way to increasing purity from reformation to reformation.| -- J. Davenport, The Epistle Returned, or the Answer to the Letter of Many Ministers.

A number of treatises upon church government and usage were printed in the memorable year 1643, several of which had previously circulated in manuscript. In 1637 was received the Letter of Many Ministers in Old England, requesting the Judgment of their Reverend Brethren in New England and concerning Nine Positions. It was answered by John Davenport in 1639. A Reply and Answer was also a part of this correspondence, which was first published in 1643, as was also Richard Mather's Church Government and Church Covenant Discussed, the latter being a reply to Two and Thirty Questions sent from England. By these, together with J. Cotton's Keyes and other writings, and by Thomas Hooker's great work Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline (approved by the Synod of 1643), every aspect of church polity and usage was covered.

[g] Hingham church preferred the Presbyterian way. Concord was absent, lacking a fit representative. Boston and Salem at first refused to attend, questioning the General Court's right to summon a synod and fearing lest such a summons should involve the obedience of all the represented churches to the decisions of the conference. The modification of the summons to the |desire| of the court, and the entreaty of their leaders, finally overcame the opposition in these churches. In fact, delegates to the Court, representing at least thirty or forty churches, had hesitated to accept the original summons of the Court when reported as a bill for calling the synod. Although the Court |made no question of their lawful power by the word of God to assemble the churches, or their messengers upon occasion of counsell, or anything which may concern the practice of the churches,| it decided to modify the phrasing of the order. -- H. M. Dexter, Congr. as seen, p.436. Magnalia, ii,
209. Mass. Col. Rec. ii, 154-156, also iii, 70-73.

[h] |This Synod having perused with much gladness of heart the confession of faith published by the late reverend assembly in England, do judge it to be very holy, orthodox and judicious, in all matters of faith, and do hereby freely and fully consent thereto for the substance thereof. Only in those things which have respect to church-government and discipline, we refer ourselves to the Platform of Church-discipline, agreed upon by this present assembly.| -- Preface to the Cambridge Platform, quoted in W. Walker, Creeds and Platforms, p.195.

[i] In many parts the wording of the Platform is almost identical with passages from the foremost ecclesiastical treatises of the period, and, naturally, since John Cotton, Richard Mather, and Ralph Partridge were each requested to draft a |Scriptural Model of Church Government.| The Platform conformed most closely to that of Richard Mather. The draft by Ralph Partridge of Plymouth still exists. Obviously, the Separatist clergyman did not emphasize so strongly the rule of the eldership which New England church life in general had developed. Otherwise his plan did not differ essentially from that of Mather.

[j] |Even now, after a lapse of more than two hundred years the Platform (notwithstanding its errors here and there in the application of proof texts, and its one great error in regard to the power of the civil magistrate in matters of religion) is the most authentic exposition of the Congregational church as given in the scriptures.| -- Leonard Bacon, in Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of Connecticut, ed. of 1865, p.15.

[k] Cambridge Platform, chap. ii.

[l] Ibid. chap. ii.

[m] Cambridge Platform, chap. iii.

[n] The definition of the rule of the elders, given by the Rev. Samuel Stone of Hartford, was |A speaking aristocracy in the face of a silent democracy.|

[o] Cambridge Platform, chaps, iv-x.

[p] |We do believe that Christ hath ordained that there should be a Presbytery or Eldership and that in every Church, whose work is to teach and rule the Church by the Word and laws of Christ and unto whom so teaching and ruling, all the people ought to be obedient and submit themselves. And therefore a Government merely Popular or Democratieal... is far from the practice of these Churches and we believe far from the mind of Christ.| However, the brethren should not be wholly excluded from its government or its liberty to choose its officers, admit members and censure offenders. -- R. Mather, Church Government and Church Covenant Discussed, pp.47-50.

|The Gospel alloweth no Church authority or rule (properly so called) to the Brethren but reserveth that wholly to the Elders; and yet preventeth tyrannee, and oligarchy, and exorbitancy of the Elders by the large and firm establishment of the liberties of the Brethren.| -- J. Cotton, The Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, p.12.

|In regard to Christ, the head, the government of the Church, is sovereign and Monarchicall: In regard to the rule of the Presbytery, it is stewardly and Aristocraticall: In regard to the people's power in elections and censures, it is Democraticall.| -- The Keys, p.36; see also Church-Government and Church Covenant, pp.51-58.

[q] Cambridge Platform, chap, x.

[r] Ibid. chap. xiv.

[s] Cambridge Platform, chap. ix.

[t] Ibid. chap. ix.

[u] Ibid. chap. xi.

[v] Ibid. chap. xv.

[w] Cambridge Platform, chap. xvi.

[x] Cambridge Platform, chap. xvii.

According to Hooker's Survey the magistrates had the right to summon synods because they have the right to command the faculties of their subjects to deliberate concerning the good of the State. -- Survey, pt. iv, p.54 et seq.

[y] |However the controversy of the Connecticut River churches was embittered by political interests, it was essentially nothing else than the fermentation of that leaven of Presbyterianism which came over with the later Puritan emigration, and which the Cambridge Platform, with all its explicitness in asserting the rules given by the Scriptures, had not effectually purged.| -- L. Bacon, in Contrib. to Eccl. Hist. of Conn., p.17.

See also H. M. Dexter, Congr. as seen in Lit., pp.468-69.

Of the twenty-one contemporaneous documents, by various authors, none mention baptism as in any way an issue in debate. |Dr. Trumbull probably touches the real root of the affair when he speaks of the controversy as one concerning the 'rights of the brotherhood,' and the conviction, entertained by Mr. Goodwin, that these rights had been disregarded.| The question of baptism ran parallel with the question under debate, incidentally mixed itself with and outlived it to be the cause of a later quarrel that should split the church. -- G. L. Walker, First Church in Hartford, p.154.

[z] Mr. Stone admitted: |(1) I acknowledge yt it is a liberty of ye church to declare their apprehensions by vote about ye fitness of a p'son for office upon his tryall.

(2) |I look at it as a received truth yt an officer may in some cases lawfully hinder ye church from putting forth at this or yt time an act of her liberty.

(3) |I acknowledge ye I hindered ye church fro declaring their apprehensions by vote (upon ye day in question) concerning Mr. Wigglesworth's fitness for office in ye church of Hartford.| -- Conn. Historical Society Papers, ii.51-125.

[aa] In the New Haven letter, she wrote, |We hear the petitioners, or others closing with them, are very confident they shall obtain great alterations both in civil government and church discipline, and that some of them have procured and hired one as their agent, to maintain in writing (as it is conceived) that parishes in England, consenting to and continuing their meetings to worship God, are true churches, and such persons coming over thither, (without holding forth any work of faith) have all right to church privileges.| -- New Haven Col. Records, iii, 186.

[ab] That is, they assent to the main truths of the Gospel and promise obedience to the church they desire to join.

[ac] Among Massachusetts clergymen, Thomas Allen of Charlestown, 1642, Thomas Shepherd, Cambridge, 1649, John Norton, Ipswich, 1653, held that the baptismal privileges should be widened, and John Cotton himself was slowly drifting toward this opinion.

The Windsor church was the first in Connecticut to practice the Half-Way Covenant, January 31, 1657-58, to March 19, 1664-65, when the pastor, having doubts as to its validity, discontinued the practice until 1668, when it was again resumed. -- Stiles, Ancient Windsor, p.172.

[ad] Stone held his party on the ground that over a matter of internal discipline a synod had no control, and that he could exercise Congregational discipline upon any seceders. The immediate result was the removal of the discontented to Boston or to Hadley; where, however, they could not be admitted to another church until Stone had released them from his. This he refused to do. Thus, he showed the power of a minister, when backed by a majority, to inflict virtual excommunication. This could be done even though his authority was open to question. -- J. A. Doyle, Puritan Colonies, ii, p.77.

[ae] Meanwhile the Massachusetts Synod (purely local) of 1662 stood seven to one in favor of the Half-Way Covenant practice, and had reaffirmed the fellowship of the churches according to the synodical terms of the Cambridge Platform, as against a more authoritative system of consociation, proposed by Thomas Shepherd of Cambridge.

[af] It must be remembered that the |Church of England meant the aggregate of English Christians, whether in the upshot of the movements which were going on (1630-1660), their polity should turn out to be Episcopal or Presbyterian, or something different from either.| -- Palfrey, Comprehensive Hist. of New England, i, p.111. J. R. Green, Short Hist. of the Eng. People, p.544.

In England, Pitkin had been a member of the church of the Commonwealth, and in all probability was not an Episcopalian or Church-of-England man in the usual sense.

[ag] Such an order could only produce further disturbance. Stratford and Norwalk protested. As a rule the order was most unwelcome in the recently acquired New Haven colony. Mr. Pierson of Branford, with some of the conservative church people of Guilford and New Haven, went to New Jersey to escape its consequences.

[ah] Among the questions, still unanswered, which had been submitted in 1657 were: (9) |Whether it doth belong to the body of a town, collectively taken, jointly, to call him to be their minister whom the church shall choose to be their officer.| (13) |Whether the church, her invitation and election of an officer, or preaching elder, necessitates the whole congregation to sit down satisfied, as bound to accept him as their minister though invited and settled without the town's consent.| (ll) |Unto whom shall such persons repair who are grieved by any church process or censure, or whether they must acquiesce in the churches under which they belong.| -- Trumbull, Hist. of Conn. i, 302-3.

[ai] In New England Congregationalism, the church and the ecclesiastical society were separate and distinct bodies. The church kept the records of births, deaths, marriage, baptism, and membership, and, outside these, confined itself to spiritual matters; the society dealt with all temporal affairs such as the care and control of all church property, the payment of ministers' salaries, and also their calling, settlement, and dismissal.

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2019 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Privacy Policy