Half- Way Covenant Puritan's in New England.

Discussion in 'Church History' started by baron, Jan 6, 2010.

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  1. baron

    baron Puritan Board Graduate

    I was surfing through Wikipedia and found this article on Half-Way Covenant. I do not know how to post link to the article and was wondering if anyone knows more about this. I was told before not to trust the articles on Wikipedia since any one can edit them. Found article intersting though.
  2. Anton Bruckner

    Anton Bruckner Puritan Board Professor

    Get Gary North's Political Polytheism for more info.
  3. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    Keon! You live! Long time no read, bro. Glad to see you around. Hope things are good for you.
  4. kvanlaan

    kvanlaan Puritan Board Doctor

    It is indeed hard to find good stuff on line about this, as there's quite a line up to take shots at the Pilgrims, in some areas. I think the Wiki article is perhaps over-simplistic, but not a bad nutshell summary. Basically, it was the beginning of the end for Puritan America, that seems to be the general consensus.
  5. Susanna

    Susanna Puritan Board Freshman

    but what does that mean, "half way" covenant?
  6. Curt

    Curt Puritan Board Graduate

    It means that the Church gave up on salvation by grace and were willing to accept salvation by familial connection.
  7. Houston E.

    Houston E. Puritan Board Freshman

    Wasn't this what Edwards' father or father-in-law (I can't remember which, don't have the book here with me) subscribed to, and Edwards himself struggled with early on in his ministry?

    Sorry, should've read article first...
  8. Ivan

    Ivan Pastor

    I don't have time right now to check on the particulars of the article. Stoddard was Edwards' maternal grandfather and I believe that the half-way covenant was at least in part one of the reasons that Edwards was asked to leave the church. Edwards opposed it.

    Sorry, I can't check the details. I'm out the door right now to go to St. Louis to celebrate my father's-in-law 97th birthday.
  9. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Mr. Stoddard was Mr. Edward's grandfather, host, and "senior" pastor when the Edwards family first moved to Northampton.

    Am I truly a believer? Anyone sensitive to reformed doctrine will look squarely at that question. The halfway covenant tried to address those who did not see themselves fit to make that claim. The social overtones were huge: you couldn't do much at all, including vote, if you were not a member of the visible church. Did it become salvation by family association? For some, sure. Did it provide a place for those children whose parents were greatly burden to know Christ fully and did not see themselves worthy? In some cases yes.

    It was clearly a mixed bag, and a mess for Mr. Edwards to inherit. It took him years to act on his conviction that his grandfather was not correct and folks weren't happy about his interference with a social "right."
  10. Jesus is my friend

    Jesus is my friend Puritan Board Junior

  11. Don Kistler

    Don Kistler Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm hoping you all understand that it is much more complicated than just a few short quips. The Half-Way Covenant was something the Mathers were doing in Boston, but Stoddard resisted in Northampton. It was not a denial of salvation by grace. It was an attempt to deal with declining church membership, while holding to covenant theology. It didn't work, by the way.
  12. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Quips? It's something I've thought about a great deal; especially considering how far New England slid as it moved out of the colonial era. I agree, though, that it is worth considering how wide-spread the issue was discussed -- it certainly wasn't an issue in one church or locale.
  13. bemer

    bemer Puritan Board Freshman

    If you're interested in the half-way covenant, don't bother with an ahistorical ideologue like Gary North; but go to a real scholar: read through Perry Miller's magnificent (if in places controversial) series on the New England mind (particularly From Colony to Province (1953)).
  14. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Perry Miller might carry a huge reputation as a Puritan scholar, but he showed no real sympathy for reformed theology and arguably, for faith at all. I am far more comfortable with scholars like John Murray and George Marsden.
  15. coramdeo

    coramdeo Puritan Board Sophomore

    Read the article, sounds like the early beginnings of the "seeker friendly " movement to me.:rolleyes:
  16. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    The article sounds more like Nathanial Hawthorne's take on the early Puritans. It's off on a lot of factors.
  17. Christusregnat

    Christusregnat Puritan Board Professor

    The parish system of Christendom that is based off of the parochial system in the Old Covenant, was the standard Reformed thinking toward society.

    The Pilgrims were in a point of contradiction to the parish system by accepting the "gathered church" model of the Brownists and Independents. When we speak of the half-way covenant, it is important to remember that the New England version of puritanism was ideologically opposed to its inherited practice of parochial organization. It had the relic of parochialism without the spirit of the thing, and it was bound to fall.

  18. jwithnell

    jwithnell Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Church polity is an excellent addition to this thread! I've puzzled over the New England puritans' obvious sympathy for Westminster-type thinking, but choice of congregationalism in their organization. They often had elders and associations, but these seemed to ebb and flow in their use. Mr. Stoddard, if I'm not mistaken, had plural elders in the Northampton church at one point, but by the time Mr. Edwards came along, had allowed that office to all disappear leaving a kind of figurehead office for the pastor.
  19. cih1355

    cih1355 Puritan Board Junior

    The Half-Way Covenant was a church policy that said that if adults who had been baptized as children did not become communicant members, their children could be baptized. Hence, one's grandchildren could receive the sign of baptism, not just one's children.

    Solomon Stoddard believed in the Half-Way Covenant, but not Jonathan Edwards.
  20. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    This was the standard practice in the Highlands of Scotland until recently and may still be. Not everyone who was saved took the Lord's Supper. Why should baptism for children be refused for some who were more godly than some communicant members? Taking the Lord's Supper doesn't necessarily mean that someone's saved either.

    Some don't become communicant members because of lack of assurance of faith. Should those that otherwise are living like God's people be denied baptism for their children?

    See the chapter in this book on the subject:

    The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire: Amazon.co.uk: John Kennedy: Books

    It wasn't called the "half-way covenant " here; it was just the normal practice.
  21. kvanlaan

    kvanlaan Puritan Board Doctor

    From what I've read on it, it makes great fodder for those who like to shoot down covenant theology. They use as their example a compromise/corruption of the true theology and then beat that up instead of addressing the real issue.
  22. Peairtach

    Peairtach Puritan Board Doctor

    (a) Dr John Kennedy - a Victorian Free Church man - says that the standard for someone wanting their child to be baptised is a "credible profession" i.e. they themselves have been baptised as children and their life and conduct is in keeping with the Christian faith.

    (b) Whereas if someone is asking to take the Lord's Supper for the first time they should have an "accredited profession" i.e. they should speak to the Kirk Session about their faith, experience and knowledge.

    It probably worked better as Kennedy said in the Highlands where at one time there were many true Christian people who didn't come to the table because of lack of assurance of faith. The system in the Lowlands where people coming for baptism for their children were asked to become communicant members in order to get baptism, was less productive of, protective of, and nurturing of, spirituality and established Covenant lines of descent, according to the good Doctor. I can certainly see that it's unwise to insist that everyone who gets baptism for their child must be a communicant member. What if you believe that one or both parents are believers and they are living in accordance with God's Word?

    Those in category (a), i.e. people who have been baptised and don't take communion and want baptism for their child and have a credible profession of faith, have become fewer and fewer even in the Highlands, so fewer of those who aren't communicant members will get baptism. People who don't become communicant members are less and less likely to have a credible profession of Christian faith.

    Kennedy looks upon baptism as the "outer door" of the visible Kingdom of God, whereas the Lord's Supper is the "inner door" of the visible Kingdom of God.

    Here's the book online:-


    See chapter four for how things were ordered in the Highlands and still will be in many congregations, Although there will be many fewer in category (a).

    Some ministers abused it by not seeking a credible profession of faith on the part of those seeking baptism for their children. It also partly depends on how baptismal vows are couched.

    ---------- Post added at 01:57 AM ---------- Previous post was at 01:30 AM ----------

    The Wiki article is simplistic. How many had been saved in a covenantal way as children, maybe before they could remember, and maybe lacked assurance and therefore didn't come to the Lord's Supper ?

    The KJV translation of I Corinthians 11:29 is :-

    For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.

    I don't know what it was in the Geneva and other translations.

    How many weak and gentle minds were intimidated by the word "damnation", if this was in many of the Bibles of the time, even with the explanation and reassurance of their pastors?

    I believe that Rutherford and other Lowland ministers of the seventeenth century followed the policy outlined by Kennedy, although things had changed by the nineteenth century at least in the southern part of Scotland.

    We know of whole families being circumcised in the Old Covenant before anyone partook of the Passover. And possibly whole families in the NT being baptised before anyone tasted the Supper.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  23. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The problem is that denominationalism has raised "church membership" to the functional status of a third sacrament, and many people read the issue through those glasses. In Rutherford's and Kennedy's view, church membership was entailed in the participation of the sacraments, not made a privilege in and of itself.
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