New England Way

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NEW ENGLAND WAY refers to the ecclesiastical polity, relation to the civil powers, and general practices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony churches and, sometimes, to those of Connecticut or Rhode Island. English reformers inquired into the system (1637), and after the Long Parliament began ecclesiastical "reform" (1641), interest in Massachusetts polity led John Cotton to expound its principles in The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England … (1645), later retitled The New England Way.

Originally a platform of opposition to English prelacy, based upon teachings of Henry Jacob, William Ames, and others, the "New England Way" evolved into New England Congregationalism. The church, originating neither in princes nor parliaments but in God's Word, was a body of professed regenerates (the "elect") who subscribed to a "covenant" (or creed), selected officers, chose and ordained its minister, and was subject to no interchurch organizations save "consociations" for counsel and advice. Being "visible saints," they admitted only persons who approved the covenant and whose piety and deportment recommended them to the congregation. They denied separation from the Anglican church; they separated only from its "corruptions," considered themselves true "primitive churches of Christ," and were supremely intolerant of others. Magistrates, "nursing fathers of the churches," were limited in civil authority by the Word (in practice, as interpreted by ministers) and compelled both to conform and to purge churches and state of heterodoxy (opposition to normal beliefs). Citizenship depended on church membership. Church and state were indestructibly united. The "New England Way" did not appeal to English separatists, whose multiple sects required embracing toleration, and New England Congregationalists parted company with their English brethren.


Foster, Stephen. The Long Argument: English Puritanism and the Shaping of New England Culture, 1570–1700. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Simpson, Alan. Puritanism in Old and New England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955.

Raymond P.Stearns/a. r.

See alsoChurch and State, Separation of ; Church of England in the Colonies ; Covenant, Church ; Meetinghouse ; Puritans and Puritanism ; Religious Thought and Writings .

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New England Way