In the sample church history paper title and introduction below, note how the author:
- Narrows his topic from the very broad “church polity in colonial New England” to the specific debate between two particular ministers.
- Focuses his historical question not on what was said and done, but on the historical factors that shaped the debate.
- Traces the implications of a specific debate for the broader topic of “church polity in colonial New England.”
“New England Conformity: The Polity Debate Between Samuel Johnson and John Graham in Connecticut From 1733-1737”
by Alex Graham (M.Div. 2008)
In 1733 Samuel Johnson, an Anglican minister in Connecticut, issued a thirty-one page work entitled A Letter From a Minister in The Church of England to His Dissenting Parishioners. Johnson stated in the title page that his work contained “A brief answer to the most material objections against the established church,” as well as “reasons for conformity.” In response, John Graham, a Presbyterian minister in Connecticut, published a pamphlet entitled Some Remarks upon A Letter from a Minister in the Church of England. Graham spelled out his thesis in the subtitle: “Showing how far the Book is from answering the title, and how remote the matters of fact therein mentioned, are from the truth: together with a brief vindication of the Presbyterians.” This pamphlet, according to Graham, was a “seasonable antidote” to Johnson’s open letter. Over the next four years, Johnson and Graham carried on their debate.
Why an Old World debate would take place in New England decades after the issue of conformity was ironed out in England is a point discussed in this paper. On the surface, Johnson’s agenda appears to be driven by pastoral concern, as does Graham’s. Yet the content of the debate suggests a deeper, more complex nexus of issues. It would, therefore, be naïve to isolate the pastoral concern from the overarching historical, social, and theological contexts which shaped the two churchmen’s theology and ecclesiology. The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature this controversy over polity by placing it within the social, historical, and theological contexts of New England in the 1730s. In addition, taking this debate as a test case, I will argue that the issue of polity and ecclesiology was still vital three generations after the first Puritans settled in New England, and the ecclesiastical unity which arose from the Great Awakening was not as widespread as some have claimed.
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