Straining the Bonds of Puritanism: English Presbyterians and Massachusetts Congregationalists Debate Ecclesiology, 1636–40

  • Michael P. Winship
Part of the Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1500–1800 book series (CTAW)


In 1636, 13 English Puritan ministers sent a letter to the ministers of Massachusetts with a request for information about various elements of Massachusetts church government. After a number of consultations, the Massachusetts ministers responded in early 1638 with their own letter and a detailed response written anonymously by John Davenport. The English ministers responded with another letter and a lengthy response written at their request by one of their members, John Ball. The English reply miscarried, and by the time this trans-Atlantic postal mishap got sorted out, Parliament was in the throes of reforming the English church. In 1643, word that the New Englanders’ response was going to be published prompted Presbyterians to make a preemptive strike and publish the entire exchange. That publication in turn prompted a second New England response, by two original participants, the ministers Thomas Shepard and John Allin. Their tract, written in 1645 had one eye in the issues of the 1630s and another on the alarmingly unstable state of church reform in England.1


Church Member Church Membership Letter Signer Parish Church Entire Exchange 
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  1. 1.
    John Davenport’s response appeared as Answer to Nine Positions about Church-Government which was published with two other responses to English queries in Richard Mather, Church-Covenant Discussed (1643).Google Scholar
  2. There are a few inconsequential textual variations between this version and the one printed in the compendium of the exchange ushered into print by Simeon Ashe and William Rathband, A Letter of Many Ministers in Old England (1643). The sheets were given a new title page and a livelier title focusing on John Ball’s contribution the next year: Tryall of the New-Church Way in New-England… by that Learned and Godly Minister of Christ, John Ball (1644).Google Scholar
  3. The sheets of John Allin and Thomas Shepard, A Defence of the Answer made unto the Nine Questions or Positions Sent from New-England (1648), were given a new title page and reissued as A Treatise of Liturgies, Power of the Keys, and Matter of the Visible Church (1653). Ball, Tryall, sig. A2v.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
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    Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestantism, c. 1530–1700 (Manchester, 2001), p. 57.Google Scholar
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  8. 4.
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  13. 6.
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  15. 9.
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  23. 48.
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    Thomas Edwards, Reasons Against the Independent Government of Particular Congregations (1651), p. 32. I thank Elliot Vernon for pointing out the possible Rathband connection in a conversation.Google Scholar
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© Michael P. Winship 2015

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  • Michael P. Winship

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