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Church Organization in 1600's
By Nathan Wood, 1899

      At this time the brethren who lived at Newberry desired to be set apart by themselves as a church. “Agreed upon at a church meeting that we the Church at Boston have assented unto the setleing of the church at Newberry.” (“Church Record”) No date is attached to this record but it must have been during 1682. This church had as members resident in Newberry, George Little and wife, baptized in Boston, in 1676, William Sayer and wife, Benjamin Moss and wife, Edward Woodman and wife, John Sayer, and Abel Merrill, all of whom were baptized in Boston, 1st, 4th mo., 1681. How many more there were is unknown. The church in Newberry was in existence in 1689, but there is no certain record of it beyond that time, although there is a hint that it was alive later.

      A similar attempt at church planting took place in Piscataqua (Kittery), Province of Maine. “William Screven & his wife & Humphrey Churchwood were baptized the 21st of 4 mo. 1681” (Church Record). In the following February a number more from Piscataqua came to Boston and were baptized. A few months later these brethren and sisters sent word through one of their number to the church in Boston,
      that here are a competent number of well established people whose hearts the Lord hath opened insomuch that they have gladly received the word and do seriously profess their hearty desire to the following of Christ and to partake of all his holy ordinances, according to his blessed institutions and divine appointment: therefore I present my ardent desire to your serious consideration, which is, if the Lord see it fit, to have a gospel church planted here in this place: and in order hereunto, we think it meet that our beloved brother William Screven, who is, through free grace, gifted and endued, with the spirit [ ] to preach the gospel shall be ordained (Backus, Vol. I, p. 401).

      To this request the church made immediate response and sent the following letter:
      A Copy of A writing given to Brother Screeven in answer to A Request by letter from A Brother and others. Agreed upon at A Church meeting the 11th of 11 mo. 1681. From the Church of Christ in Boston the 11th of 11 mo. 1681. To all whome itt may concern these are to Certify that our beloved Brother William Screeven is A member in Comunion with us and haveing had tryall of his gifts Amongst us and finding him to be A man whome God hath qualified & furnished with the gift of his holy spiritt and grace, enabling him to open and Apply the word of God which may be through the blessing of the Lord Jesus useful in his hand for the begitting and building up soules in the knowledg of God, doe therefore Appoint & Approve & also encourage him to Exercise his gift in ye place where he lives or else where as the providence of God may cast him & so the Lord help him to Ey his glory in all things and to walk humbly in ye fear of his name.
           signed by us in the behalf
           of ye rest ISAACK HULL
           JOHN FARNUM (Church Record)

      Elder Screven seems to have exercised his gifts with very gracious results, for in a few months the Baptists in Kittery so increased that they desired to be set apart as a separate church. They sent therefore a formal request to the church of which they were members:

      Upon serious & Solemn Consideration of the Church About A motion or Request made by severall members that lived att kittery, yt they might become A Church & that they might p-ceed therein provided they were such as should be Approved for such A Foundacon work, the Church gave there grant and att ye time Appointed did send severall messengers to make yt strict Inquiry & Examinason as they ought in such A case who att there Returne brought ye Coppys here Inserted 26th of 7 mo. 1682.

      The Church of Christ att Boston yt is baptized upon profession of faith having take into serious consideration ye Request of our Brethren att Kittery Relateing to there being A Church by themselves yt soe they might Injoy the precious ordinances of Christ which by reson of distance of Habitason they butt seldome could injoy have therefore thought meet to make Choice of us whose names are undewritten as Messengers to Assist them in ye same and coming up to them we have found them A Competent Number and in ye same faith with us for upon carefull examination of them in matters of Doctrine & practise & soe finding one with us by there (we hope) Conshiencous Acknowledgmntt of ye Confession of faith putt forth by ye Elders & Brethren of ye Churches in London and ye Contry in England dated in ye year 1682.

      And they having given themselves up to ye lord & too one Another in A Solemn Covenant to walk as said Covenant may Express & alsoe haveing Chosen theire officers whome they with us have Appointed & ordained, we doe therefore in ye name of ye lord Jesus & by the Appointmtt of his Church deliver them to be A Church of Christ in ye faith and order of ye Gospel. signed by us in ye name
of ye Church the 25 of 7 mo. 1682
                ISAACK HULL
                THOMAS SKINNER
                PHILLIPP SQUIRE



Wee whose names are here unde written doe solemnly & on good Consideration god Assisting us by his grace give up our selves to ye lord & to one another in Solem Covenant, wherein wee doe Covenant & promise to walk with god & one another In A dew and faithful observance of all his most holy & blessed Commandm.tts Ordinances Institutions or Appointments, Revealed to us in his sacred word of ye ould & new Testament and according to ye grace of god & light att present through his grace given us, or here after he shall please to discover & make knowne to us thro his holy Spiritt according to ye same blessed word all ye Dayes of our lives and this will wee doe, If ye lord graciously please to Assist us by his grace and Spiritt & to give us Divine wisdome, strength, knowledg, & understanding from Above to p-forme ye same without which we cann doe nothing John 15:4; II Corinthians 3:5.

      Signed by
      Wm SCREEVEN, Elder (Baptized in Boston 21st 4 mo. 1681)
      Deacon (Baptized in Boston 21st 4 mo. 168)
      ROBERT WILLIAMS (Baptized in Boston July 1682)
      JOHN MORGRADYE (Baptized in Boston 20th 12 mo. 1681)
      RICHARD CUTT (Baptized in Boston July 1682)
      TIMOTHY DAVIS (Baptized in Boston 20th 12 mo. 1681)
      LEONARD DROWN (Baptized in Boston 17th 10 mo. 1681)
      Wm ADDAMS (Baptized in Boston 20th 12 mo. 1681)
      HUMPHRY AXILL (Baptized in Boston 20th 12 mo. 1681)
      GEORG LITTEN (Baptized in Boston 20th 12 mo. 1681)

      This is A true Coppy compared with ye origenall & owned by all our Brethren and seven sisters as Attest
                Wm SCREEVEN in behalf of ye rest. (Church Record)

This was the first Baptist church planted in Maine, and this covenant is the oldest Baptist covenant of which I have been able to get any trace among English-speaking people. The so-called “Holy Covenant” of the Swansea Church is more of the nature of a “Confession of Faith,” and I judge was intended to be a declaration of doctrinal beliefs, rather than a covenant in the ordinary acceptation. Whether it was a copy of the covenant of the mother church or not is unknown. There is no record of any covenant which this church at its organization adopted. Its Confession of Faith, made in 1665, is not accompanied by a covenant, so far as the records show. The covenant which is now used by the church was adopted some time after 1836, and is, for substance, the one which usually accompanies the “New Hampshire Confession.”

(The History of the First Baptist Church of Boston, pp. 178-183, 1899 edition)

      Editor’s Note: It is interesting to note that Elder Nathan Wood was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Boston when this book was written. He is quoting directly from the church minutes in many cases.

      William Screven (1629-1713) became a Baptist in England, and helped establish that faith in the New World, both in Maine and South Carolina. He was ordained by the Boston church and received dismissal from that congregation to form a separate church in Kittery in 1682. Screven later removed this church to South Carolina, where it became the nucleus of the First Baptist Church of Charleston, the earliest Baptist church in the South.


[From Milburn Cockrell, editor, Berea Baptist Banner, September, 2000. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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