restricted access 4. For Christ and Country: Interdenominationalism in the North, 1784–1801
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4 For Christ and Country Interdenominationalism in the North, 1784–1801 The postwar years finished the transformation process for the church’s interdenominational vision.Following the official cessation of hostilities after the Treaty of Paris in 1783, the Presbyterians saw themselves standing on the threshold of a new world, facing a new opportunity to realize their interdenominational goals.Prompted as they had been during the French and Indian War, the Presbyterians were determined to address their shortcomings and embrace Christian unity. Many in the church believed that if they prioritized this responsibility, God would relieve their war-related sufferings . In this spirit, the Presbyterians began negotiating terms of union with like-minded denominations, such as the Dutch Reformed Church, the Associate Reformed Church, and the New England Congregationalists. The Presbyterians also believed that if they resumed their duties diligently , God would fulfill America’s potential as a vehicle for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. With this revised plan in mind, the Presbyterian ruling body encouraged its members to pursue an interdenominational spirit for the welfare of the country and (ultimately) Christendom. And with its tactics modified, the Presbyterian leadership believed its renewed cooperative attempts would meet with more success. These hopes were largely fulfilled in the northern states with the adoption of the Plan of Union of 1801.1 When the Synod of New York and Philadelphia met in 1784, it moved closer toward its interdenominational goals by opening lines of communication with the Low Dutch Reformed Synod of New York and New Jersey. Although the two denominations had some past disagreements, especially Interdenominationalism in the North / 81 regarding the charter of King’s College in New York City, the persistent cordial ecclesiastical relationship,fostered by men from both churches,such as Hugh Knox, William Livingston, and Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen, had laid the foundation for the cooperative venture proposed in 1784.2 The Presbyterian Correspondence Committee, which had been created in 1758 to interact with like-minded churches in America and across the Atlantic , was given the task of securing this union by the Presbyterian synod. This was the committee’s first assignment since the anti-bishop union with the Congregationalists that had ended in 1775. This new Correspondence Committee, led by John Rodgers and Alexander McWhorter, was to meet with the Dutch in order “to determine a line for their future conduct with regard to each other,and to enter into an amicable correspondence with the Dutch committee upon subjects of general utility and friendship between the churches.”3 The following year the committee reported that it had met with more success than anticipated. Not only did it have an amicable meeting with the Dutch synod, but it also met with the newly formed Associate Reformed Synod.4 Both ruling bodies, the committee stated, desired “some kind of union . . . whereby they might be enabled to unite their interests, and combine their efforts, for promoting the great cause of truth and vital religion.” Presbyterian synod members responded that they “were happy in finding such a disposition in the brethren of the above Synods, and cheerfully concur with them in thinking that such a measure is both desirable and practicable, and therefore appoint . . . a committee to meet with such committees as may be appointed by the Low Dutch Synod . . . and by the Associate Synod.”5 On October 5, 1785, the three churches met to craft a plan of cooperation . After the core beliefs of each denomination were presented, reviewed , and found satisfactory, the churches began discussing what form their cooperation would take.Although the Presbyterians suggested a biennial meeting, an annual convention was agreed upon that was intended to “strengthen each other’s hands in the great work of the gospel ministry; to give, and to receive, mutual information of the state of religion within their respective churches; to consider of, and adopt, the most prudent means to prevent or remedy any causes of dissension that may happen to arise between our respective congregations . . . and to concert measures for uniting our efforts to defend and promote the principles of the gospel, and oppose the progress of infidelity and error; and to adopt plans for effectually assisting the exercise of discipline in our churches,and encouraging each other in its execution.”6 Despite the promise of this initial meeting, the relationship cooled, as both the Dutch Reformed Church and the Associate Reformed 82 / Chapter 4 Synod experienced internal problems that stole their attention.7 As the new decade dawned the interdenominational...