In looking through various books of church records I have always wondered how anyone could be a half-way member of a church. In browsing through the First Presbyterian Church's book "The Record," page 90, I found the following definition, which made for interesting reading.
Editor of the Record:
Some of your readers, doubtless, desire information concerning the list of "Half-Way Members," found in The Record, from time to time. Dr. Johnes' caption is as follows: "The Names and Number of Persons that have renewed their cov. or taken their Baptismal Vows upon themselves." (Record p. 28.)
None but the children of church members were regarded, by the early churches of New England, as proper subjects of baptism. Baptized children were considered members of the church, and entitled, at a proper age, if irreproachable, to partake of the Lord's Supper. Certain civil privileges, also, were confined to church members.
The children of the second generation, however, it was found, were much addicted to unsanctified and worldly habits of life, such as unfitted them for full membership in the church. Others, by reason of the awe with which the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was regarded, refraining from the ordinance, until the later period of life. All such were denied the privilege of presenting their offspring to God in baptism. A large number of children were thus growing up unbaptized, and fears were seriously entertained that, in some places, the church would consequently become extinct.
To remedy this evil, it was proposed to recognize a qualified church membership in all baptized persons, even after coming to maturity, on their consenting to assume publicly the engagements made by their parents for them when baptized, and this without any profession of Christian experience, or conversion, binding themselves simply to live a Christian life, but not to partake of the Lord's Supper; in consequence of this qualified membership they were to have their children duly baptized. This proposition, after considerable discussion and much opposition, was sanctioned, by the Synod of elders and messengers from all the churches of Massachusetts that met in 1662, at Boston, in the words following:
"Church members who were admitted in minority, understanding the doctrine of faith, and publicly professing their assent thereto, not scandalous in life, and solemnly owning the covenant before the church, wherein they give up themselves and children to the Lord, and subject themselves to the government of Christ in the church-their children are to be baptized."
This obtained the name of "the half-way covenant," was introduced partially into the other New England Colonies, and found its way into other churches by emigrants from New England. It became a fruitful cause of contention and bitter alienation, and was the means of filling many of the churches with unconverted members, leading at length to great corruption of doctrine. It has long since been entirely abandoned.
E. F. Hatfield.
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