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“A Sermon on the Principles and Methods of the Church of the Disciples,” by James Freeman Clarke

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“A Sermon on the Principles and Methods of the Church of the Disciples”

James Freeman Clarke

December 7, 1843

James Freeman Clarke

James Freeman Clarke

J.F. Clarke became one of the founders of the Free Religious Association right after the Civil War. He was thus a radical on social questions and church polity. He opposed all attempts to impose a theological conformity in the Unitarian movement. This sermon stating the principles of the new church he formed in Boston gives a fine summary of the polity issues (e.g. pew owning) of his day and how his “reformist” church tried to break new ground.

  1.  Was the common ground of the Church of the Disciples too broad even for Unitarians? Note that the church split, as discussed in the sermon, over Clarke’s pulpit exchange with Theodore Parker. Also the Church of the Disciples did not ultimately survive as an independent congregation.
  2. Clarke probably would have said that the survival of the institutional church in general and his own church in particular was not of first importance -ideas and principles were primary. What arguments could be advanced for and against this position?
  3. Clarke lists the social principle, the voluntary principle, and the principle of congregational worship as central to church life.  How adequate are these as operational principles? What potential problems, as Clarke develops them, could these principles lead toward?
  4. Note that Clarke in a footnote refers to the Cambridge Platform (then nearly 200 years old). Does his quotation from the Cambridge Platform do justice to that document’s sense of ministerial prerogatives and congregational polity?

The full text of James Freeman Clarke’s sermon is available via Google Books, here.

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