Infant Baptism & The Half-Way Covenant -- By: Christopher J. Black

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 06:1 (Spring 2009)
Article: Infant Baptism & The Half-Way Covenant
Author: Christopher J. Black


Infant Baptism & The Half-Way Covenant

Christopher J. Black1

Introduction

Believer’s baptism may be the most prominent of Baptist distinctives, however, during the founding of America, when the Puritans held sway, infant baptism was the norm. The sacramental attitude toward baptism by the Puritans produced a dangerous schism in the American colonies. In 1662 the Christian leaders in New England created a document that would come to be known pejoratively2 as the Half-way Covenant. This document would effectively change the course of the development of the burgeoning nation. Most leaders realized that some sort of compromise was necessary or the whole noble experiment might be lost. The desire to build an actual theocracy, free from “episcopal, legislative and monarchical approval” was failing.3 The situation was crying out for someone to do something. The solution eventually agreed upon was seen as a measure that would allow the theocracy to continue.

The new covenant was not decided upon easily or quickly. The road to compromise was a long and difficult path. Eventually, however, the vast majority came to realize that the New England Way was no longer viable. Effectively, the result was a new covenant that was a compromise half way between full- and non-membership in the Church. Kenneth Scott Latourette reports that even during the founding generations’ lifetime few people held church membership: “In spite of the part which Christianity had in initiating and shaping the Thirteen Colonies, in 1750 the large majority of the white population were without a formal church connexion. It has been estimated, although this may be excessively low, that in 1750 only about five out of a hundred were members of churches.”4 By the midway point of the

eighteenth century Colonial leaders were realizing that changes were needed if they were to save their society. The discussion in this article will offer a brief glimpse into the struggles early colonials had over the issue of baptism.

The New England Church

The Puritans, believing in the autonomy of individual churches, instituted a church polity that would provide the freedom they sought. John Cotton dubbed this form of polity ‘Congregational.’ This system was integral to the New England Way.5 However, this new polity did not mean that each church was completely freestanding. The faithful need...

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