The jumping-off point for the Liberty Clause

Table of Content

Dan Harper made a very reasonable request in his comment in my post "The truth about the Liberty Clause":

By the way, Scott, can you give a reference for the rule “that a congregation… could create a profession that included more…”? I’d be curious to know when that was codified.

The answer: Day One. All you have to do is look within the document that ratified the Winchester Profession, though this is rarely published. I'd normally point you to one of my pages on Universalist history but they're in heavy redevelopment, so I've appended the appropriate document below, below the fold, as reprinted by Richard Eddy in 1876.

The pertinent section follows. The words more particular hold the key, and I'll see if I can scare up one of these more particular professions. Hold that up with the "no alteration" clause in section ten. I think you can claim the founders wanted to anchor but not chain down Universalists of their own time and later.

Yet while we, as an Association, adopt a general Profession of Belief and Plan of Church Government, we leave it to the several Churches and Societies, or to smaller associations of churches, if such should be formed, within the limits of our General Association, to continue or adopt within themselves, such more particular articles of faith, or modes of discipline, as may appear to them best under their particular circumstances, provided they do not disagree with our general Profession or Plan.

Profession of Belief, and Plan of the General Association of the Universal Churches and Societies of the New England States

The Churches and Societies of the New England States, assembled in General Convention, holden at Winchester, in New Hampshire, on the 21st and 22d of September, A. D. 1803.

To the individuals of the several Churches and Societies, and to all persons whom it may concern, Greeting.

Brethren and Friends, Whereas the diversities of capacity and of opportunity for obtaining information, together with many attendant circumstances, have occasioned among the sincere professors of the Abrahamic faith some diversities of opinion concerning some points of doctrine and modes of practice, we, therefore, think it expedient, in order to prevent confusion and misunderstanding, and to promote the edifying and building up of the Church together in love, to record and publish that Profession of Belief which we agree in as essential, and that plan of eccesiastical fellowship and general subordination which we as a Christian Association conceive we ought to maintain.

Profession of Faith

Article the First.

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament contain a revelation of the character of God, and of the duty, interest and final destination of mankind.

Article the Second.

We believe that there is one God, whose nature is Love, revealed in one Lord Jesus Christ, by one Holy Spirit of Grace, who will finally restore the whole family of mankind to holiness and happiness.

Article the Third.

We believe that holiness and true happiness are inseparably connected, and that believers ought to be careful to maintain order and practice good works; for these things are good and profitable unto men.

As we believe these to be truths which deeply concern the honor of the Divine character and the interests of man, we do hereby declare that we continue to consider ourselves, and our societies in fellowship, a Denomination of Christians, distinct and separate from those who do not approve the whole of this Profession of Belief, as expressed in the three above Articles.

And as a distinct denomination, we continue to claim the authority of exercising among ourselves that order for the glory of God in the good of the church, which Christianity requires.

And as we continue to claim the external privileges, which, according to the free Constitution of our country, every denomination is entitled to enjoy.

Yet while we, as an Association, adopt a general Profession of Belief and Plan of Church Government, we leave it to the several Churches and Societies, or to smaller associations of churches, if such should be formed, within the limits of our General Association, to continue or adopt within themselves, such more particular articles of faith, or modes of discipline, as may appear to them best under their particular circumstances, provided they do not disagree with our general Profession or Plan. And while we consider that every Church possesses within itself all the powers of self-government, we earnestly and affectionately recommend it to every Church, Society, or particular Association, to exercise the spirit of Christian meekness and charity towards those who have different modes of faith or practice, that where the brethren cannot see alike, they may agree to differ; and let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Plan of the General Association

Section 1st. The General Association of Universalists of the New England States shall hold a convention once a year, at such time and place as shall have been appointed by the preceding Convention.

Section 2d. Each Society approving our general Profession and Plan, and manifesting a desire for the increase and support of gospel light and order, shall have a right to send to the Convention a delegate or delegates, who shall hold our general Profession of Belief, and support a sober, moral character, and such delegates shall be received as members of the Convention.

Section 3d. Those ordained Ministers and licensed Preachers of the Gospel who have received the fellowship of the Association, shall be considered as members of each Convention at which they attend, while they remain in that fellowship, whether they produce credentials from any society, or not.

Section 4th. The consent of a majority of the members present shall be necessary to the reception of any new member who is neither a minister nor a preacher in fellowship, nor a delegate producing credentials from some Church, Society, or particular Association.

Section 5th. Each member of the Convention shall be entitled to one vote in every matter to be determined; except those in which the Societies represented ought to have equal privileges, such as determining the place for holding the next Convention, or any other matter which a majority of the Convention shall judge to be of a similar nature in this respect; in such cases each society shall be considered as representing no more than one Society.

Section 6th. The business of a General Convention, when met, shall be:

To choose Presiding Elder, Clerk, and other Officers if necessary.

To examine into the state of particular Societies, Churches, or Associations, on due representation; and to give or withhold, continue or withdraw their fellowship, as may be necessary.

To look over the conduct of the members of the Association, especially those who labor in word and doctrine, and approve or rebuke, or deny fellowship, as occasion may require.

To examine into the qualifications of ministers, preachers, or other individuals who appear [as] candidates for the fellowship of the Association, and give or withhold that fellowship, as may appear best.

And to adopt all such measures in their power as may tend to the promotion of general order, instruction, and edification.

Section 7th. Ordinations during the recess of the Convention shall be conducted as heretofore, at such times and in such places and manner as attendant circumstances and good order mat require, and due and seasonable report shall be made to the Association, in Convention.

Section 8th. The General Association, and particular Associations and Churches, in all cases are required to look for those qualifications in their Officers which the Scriptures of the New Testament have made requisite, particularly Matthew, chapter xxviii, verses 19th and 20th, and the 3d and 4th chapters of the first Epistle to Timothy; and they are referred to the same sacred books for directions how to deal with offenders, particularly Matthew xviii. 15th, 21st, and Luke xvii. 3d and 4th.

Section 9th. The General Association disclaims all authority for passing any further judgment against any offending particular Association, Society, Church, or individual, then the mere withdrawing of fellowship.

Section 10th. The Association reserves to itself, under the direction of that divine wisdom which was to accompany the followers of Christ to the end of the world, the right of making hereafter such alterations of this General Plan of the Association, as circumstances may require. But there is no alteration of any part of the three Articles that contain the Profession of our Belief ever to be made at any future period.

The above and the within, is respectfully submitted by Zebulon Streeter, George Richards, Hosea Ballou, Walter Ferriss, Zephaniah Lathe, The Committee of the General Convention, appointed at Strafford, Vermont, September, 1802.

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