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“The Salem Symbols”

“The Salem Symbols”

in Williston Walker’s Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism

(Pilgrim, 1969 – original 1893), pp. 116-18

These brief documents indicate the tension between covenant and freedom, which from the earliest colonial days down to the present, proves an ongoing issue in churches with congregational polity.

Salem opted for simplicity (on 3 sentence!) in its 1629 covenant. Soon Roger Williams became the church’s minister and controversies began and followed hard upon one another. In 1635, Williams announced that he had “cast off ail connection with the churches of the Bay as false and unclean” and that unless the Salem church would follow him into separation from all other churches in the colony, he would have nothing more to do with it.

The church did not follow Williams, but divisions within it remained, which at length led to “The Enlarged Covenant of 1636.” This document is interestingly far less as a theological statement than a norm for church civility. The covenant by its content suggests the problems within the church.

The later addition of 1660-61 relating to Quakers perhaps illustrates that once a church travels the road of controversy, tranquility does not return easily.

The question, continual in the UU movement, is what strictures can a church legitimately draw around individuals? How are they enacted or made manifest? How are they enforced?


The text of “The Salem Symbols” is available online via Google Books, here.

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