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The Half-Way Covenant was a form of partial church membership created by New England in 1662. It was promoted in particular by the Reverend Solomon Stoddard, who felt that the people of the English colonies were drifting away from their original religious purpose. First-generation settlers were beginning to die out, while their children and grandchildren often expressed less religious piety, and more desire for material wealth.
Full membership in the tax-supported Puritan church required an account of a conversion experience, and only persons in full membership could have their own children baptized. Second and third generations, and later immigrants, did not have the same conversion experiences. These individuals were thus not accepted as members despite leading otherwise pious and upright Christian lives.
In response, the Half-Way Covenant provided a partial church membership for the children and grandchildren of church members. Those who accepted the Covenant and agreed to follow the creed within the church could participate in the Lord's supper. Crucially, the half-way covenant provided that the children of holders of the covenant could be baptized in the church. These partial members, however, couldn't accept communion or vote.
Puritan preachers hoped that this plan would maintain some of the church's influence in society, and that these 'half-way members' would see the benefits of full membership, be exposed to teachings and piety which would lead to the "born again" experience, and eventually take the full oath of allegiance. Many of the more religious members of Puritan society rejected this plan as they felt it did not fully adhere to the church's guidelines, and many of the target members opted to wait for a true conversion experience instead of taking what they viewed as a short cut.[who?]
Response to the Half-Way Covenant may have sown the seeds for the First Great Awakening in the 1730s, launched by Stoddard's grandson Jonathan Edwards. Along with Calvinist evangelist George Whitefield, Edwards preached that God is "in the now" and that there must be an "urgent call for languid will," in response to the half-hearted will that the Half-Way Covenant allows.
- Tindall & Shi, America: A Narrative History 7th ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006), 128.
- Ahlstrom, Sydney, A Religious History of the American People v. 1, Yale Press, 1965. Chapter 10: Tensions in the New England Way