In this episode we hear a voice from 1852 describing a lost species of American Christianity: unitarian Congregationalism. In this overview, Dr. Alvan Lamson, former instructor of theology at Harvard and longtime pastor of such a church in Massachusetts, outlines the beliefs, history, and (then) reasonably current statistics on the group.
As you’ll hear, in some ways this branch of Christianity is similar to current-day biblical unitarian groups. But there are some important differences as well. And while Lamson is sunny on this group’s prospects, looking back, I think we can see some of the factors in place, in and around the group, that led to its demise. I’ll comment on those next week, as I’ve never seen anyone give a really helpful post-mortem report on what lead to the death of this Christian movement.
Here’s the original “Analysis of the Ensuing Article” (emphases added):
- Doctrines of Unitarians.—Great distinguishing features of Unitarianism—Diversity of opinion among Unitarians—Views generally received among them—Character of God—Gospel of Jesus originated in his mercy—Unitarian views of his justice—Jesus Christ—Unitarians believe him to be a distinct being from the Father, and inferior to him—The sort of evidence on which they rely for proving this—Assert the incredibility of the Trinity—Their view of the teachings of the scripture relating to Son—The inference they make from the conduct of the disciples and others—Their views of Trinitarian proof texts—Of the concessions of Trinitarian Christians—Unitarians do not address Christ directly in prayer—Reasons for not doing it—Question of his nature—How regarded by Unitarians—His character and offices—True ground of reverence for Jest’s, according to Unitarians—Unitarian views of the divinity of Christ—Their views of the Atonement—They do not, they contend, destroy the hope of the sinner, nor rob the Cross of its power—Unitarian views of the Holy Spirit—Of the terms of salvation—Of the new birth—How Unitarians speak of reverence for human nature—Need of help—Retribution for sin and holiness—Of the Bible—their reply to the charge of unduly exalting human reason.
- History.—Unitarians do not profess to hold any new doctrine—What they affirm. that they are able to prove of the Unitarianism of ihe ancient Church—Reference to modern Unitarianism in Europe—American Unitarianism—Its date—Its progress, to the commencement of the present century—Its state during the first fifteen years of this century—1815 an epoch in its history—First controversy—Its origin and results—Second controversy—First separation between orthodox and Unitarian Congregationalists.
- Statistics.—Number of societies and churches—Other Unitarians besides Congregationalists—Unitarian Periodicals—American Unitarian Association—Present condition and prospects of Unitarianism.
Links for this episode:
- Alvan Lamson, “History of the Unitarian Congregationalists,” from History of the all the Religious Denominations of the United States, 3rd ed.
- present-day “What we Believe” and “Seven Principles” of the Unitarian Universalism Association (contrast with the views summarized in this episode by Lamson)
- John 17:1-3, 1 Timothy 2:5, John 14:28, John 7:16, John 14:10, John 5:30, John 14:10, Acts 2:36, Acts 5:31; John 16:23, Luke 11:13.
- Martin Cellarius, aka Martin Borrhaus
- the Servetus affair
- The Racovian Catechism
- Thomas Emlyn—Blasphemer or Advocate of Truth?
- King’s Chapel, Boston
- The Joseph Priestley House
- Thomas Belsham
- Theophilus Lindsey
- Andrews Norton, A Statement of Reasons for Not Believing the Doctrines of Trinitarians
- trinitarian Moses Stuart vs. unitarian William Ellery Channing on the Trinity
- This week’s thinking music is “Sacred Motion” by staRpauSe.