“Preface to the Result of 1662″
in Williston Walker’s The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism
(Pilgrim, 1969 – original 1893) pp. 301-13 and pp. 337-39
Admission to the colonial church in New England required (among other things) a religious experience, which had to be related in public as a sign of regeneration. In time, fewer and fewer people were willing or able to make such a testament. So the question became how should the unregenerate but baptized children of church members be handled. Churches could not bring themselves to give them full status by inheritance, as would Episcopalians, nor did they find acceptable simply excluding these children from the church. The uneasy compromise was the Half-Way Covenant. The children were allowed into membership but kept (as unregenerate) from the communion table.
The issue was not easy for Puritans to solve and became yet more complex when arose the issue of grandchildren and their relatedness to the church. Then what about adopted children? And was doctrine dented by the increasing need of the clergy to replace those in the dwindling ranks of the church?
Finally, in 1661, the Massachusetts legislature got tired of the complexities and ordered the churches into a synod. The legislature also had another worry, so the Synod was given a dual charge: Who is eligible for baptism?
Should there be an associative organization of the churches, and, if so, what nature should it take?
After much twisting and turning the Half-Way Covenant was affirmed, but what was allowed and denied the unregenerate had no doctrinal or governance consistency. The whole approach had eventually to be abandoned, but while in force, suggested that church power was not blind to the potential plight of the church in a society where it had fewer and fewer members.
The second issue of the Synod related to what organization the churches should have above the parish level. The gathered churches spoke eloquently of the need for close association and the ways in which it might be carried out. But there was an insistence that it depended on “each church’s open consenting,” which affirmed each congregation’s autonomy before all else and provided no means by which the consociation of churches might have power over a single parish.
The result was to reinforce again the Cambridge Platform 15 years after its adoption. In effect, the Synod of 1662 paved the way for the increasing independence of the local parish in Massachusetts.
The text of “Preface to the Result of 1662″ is available online at Google Books and archive.org.