- Halfway Covenant
- The Halfway Covenant was a compromise measure adopted by Massachusetts Congregationalists on questions of baptism and the Lord's Supper.In 17th-century New England Congregationalism, the church was supposed to consist only of individuals identified as the elect, the true Christians in each community. in order to verify that candidates for membership were among the elect, local churches asked for a testimony of their religious life.The testimony was part of the membership process that included accepting a church covenant. In general, the children of full church members were admitted to membership in the Congregational Church (which also entailed voting and officeholding rights in the secular community), in the assumption that as children of the elect they would undoubtedly experience conversion and become full members of the church on their own. However, that proved not always to be the case. Many such children did not profess a conversion experience.By the 1660s, the problem of the third generation arose. Should children of second-generation members who had not professed a personal experience of God be admitted to the church?patriarch Richard Mather proposed a solution: children of the third generation would be baptized as infants and admitted to a limited church membership. However, they were not to be admitted to the Lord's Supper and full membership until they were at least 14 years old and offered personal testimony of conversion. Supported by the likes of Edward Taylor and Richard's son Increase Mather, the Halfway Covenant was approved in 1662 and generally adopted throughout New England.Samuel Stoddard, the minister of the Northampton, Massachusetts, church, criticized this solution. Mather assumed that all who partook of the Lord's Supper should have certain knowledge and assurance of salvation. However, Puritan theology did not allow of such assurance of salvation. Stoddard offered a simple solution. He suggested that any otherwise fit churchgoer who wanted to partake of the Lord's Supper be allowed the elements irrespective of personal assurance of salvation. If some who were not yet among the saved communed at the Lord's table, such action might be a positive influence leading to their conversion. He put this policy into effect at Northamption in 1677. Other ministers, especially in western Massachusetts, began to follow suit. Over the next generation, the practice, which came very close to a policy of open communion, was largely accepted by Congregationalists.See also creeds/confessions of faith.Further reading:■ Edward H. Davidson, Jonathan Edwards: The Narrative of a Puritan Mind (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968)■ Horton Davies, The Worship of the American Puritans, 1629-1730 (New York: Peter Lang, 1990)■ Richard P. Gildrie, The Profane, the Civil, and the Godly (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)■ Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Boston: Beacon Press, 1953).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.