III. The Puritan Tradition in Connecticut; The Saybrook Platform; Persecutions and Inequities Drive Many to the New Light Position as Separatists; Many Became Baptists


A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.



Jerald Finney
Copyright © February 28, 2018


The church and state were interwoven in New England. Into the eighteenth century, the Puritan tradition continued in greater strength in Connecticut than elsewhere. The state taxed all citizens to support religion. In 1708, the Connecticut legislature ordained the Saybrook Platform. Under it, county associations of ministers met frequently to deal with matters of common interest, regional bodies called consociations were to handle all kinds of ecclesiastical difficulties, and a general state association exercised a general superintendency over churches and ministers. Under the Saybrook Platform, the county associations approved, licensed, and ordained the ministers of the parishes.[1] The state supported the actions of the county associations, and could deny the right of a minister to preach and collect his salary.[2]

[SAYBROOK PLATFORM]. A Confession of Faith Owned and Consented to by the Elders and Messengers of the Churches in the Colony of Connecticut in New-England, Assembled by Delegation at Say Brook September 9th, 1708. New-London: Thomas Short, 1710.

Various struggles arose. In 1742 and 1743, laws were passed forbidding itinerant preachers from preaching without permission of the parish minister with penalty of imprisonment, excluding settled ministers who preached in any other parish without consent of the parish minister from any benefit of the laws for their support, removing from Connecticut any minister from any other colony who preached in Connecticut, and giving the legislature authority to license dissenting churches which complied with the British Toleration Act of 1689.[3] The Legislature disciplined members of the Council and General Assembly known to sympathize with the New Lights. “Unauthorized schools and colleges were forbidden and only university graduates were eligible for ministerial standing before the law.”[4] The county associations began to act. The New Haven Consociation in 1742 expelled pastors of established churches for preaching to a group of Separates and Baptists against the wishes of the established minister. In Canterbury, Windham County the majority of the church, New Lights, voted for a certain man to be pastor, but the Old Lights who were the majority in the parish voted for another. By law, both the church and parish had to concur, but the Windham Consociation declared that the minority of Old Lights in the church were the true church and ordained their choice.[5] In Plainfield, the Windham Consociation “reversed the position it had taken in Canterbury and sided with a minority of Old Lights in the church to choose an Old Light minister over the objection of the majority of New Lights in the parish.”[6]

The inequities and the persecutions by the established church and civil government resulted in more and more defections to the New Light position. The civil government used repressive measures to compel the Separates to return to the fold. “Revivalistic ministers were shut out of meeting houses; members were moved from civic office and, when they refused to pay taxes for support of the regular ministry, imprisoned.”[7] At first most Separates that left the state-churches seemed destined to become Baptists. However, great disagreement arose between those who still adhered to infant baptism and those who insisted upon believer’s baptism—baptism after a confession of faith only. Because of this disagreement, the Baptist members left the Separate churches and formed their own churches.

This Separate movement had enduring consequences. One writer appropriately noted:

  • “[T]he Separatist movement is not appreciated as it deserves. We have too nearly forgotten our obligations to those men who dared to break away from the corrupt and worldly churches of the Standing Order, though they were armed with all the power of the State, of which they were a part, and to establish other churches in which vital godliness was the condition of membership. It was a transition movement, it is true, and of necessity only temporary, but its results were enduring. Many of the Baptist churches in New England spring from it directly, and through them, indirectly, almost all the rest; and other evangelical churches are largely indebted to it for their vitality and efficiency.—ED.”[8]

Endnotes

[1] William L. Lumpkin, Baptist Foundations in the South (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), p. 11; Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 472-474; Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 319.

[2] William G. McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1967), p. 24.

[3] Backus, Volume 2, pp. 319-320.

[4] Lumpkin, p. 15; see also Backus, Volume 2, p. 57, fn. 3.

[5] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, pp. 68-74; McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, p. 26.

[6] McLoughlin, Isaac Backus and the American Piestic Tradition, pp. 26-27.

[7] Lumpkin, p. 14, citing Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, p. 176.

[8] Backus, A History of New England…, Volume 2, fn. 1, p. 64.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s