Jonathan Edwards is considered one of the best preachers of his time. Despite this fact, he was still voted out of his church. “In 1750, Edwards’ church dismissed him from Northampton after he attempted to impose stricter qualifications for admission to the sacraments upon his congregation.” That was all that was said about his dismissal in the biography we read for literature. I wanted to know more about what led to his dismissal. Why did he want to impose stricter rules? What kind of rules did he want to impose? Was there anything else that led to his dismissal? All these questions led me to my final question. What caused Jonathan Edwards to be dismissed from his church? http://edwards.yale.edu/research/about-edwards/biography
His dismissal from the church was messy. He was voted out by the congregation. In fact, out of 253 people only 23 voted for him to stay. Even after he was voted out, he agreed to continue doing sermons until a replacement was found, which took about fifteen months.
This is his final farwell sermon.
One of the first reasons Edwards was dismissed was the one pointed out in the biography; he wanted to change who could receive sacraments, such as communion. His grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, had been the previous pastor of the church. Stoddard had very lenient rules on who was allowed to join the church and receive sacraments. He believed being more lenient would allow more people to convert.
Stoddard allowed anyone who outwardly appeared to be living a godly life to receive sacraments. Edwards wanted to return to a more puritanical way of admitting people into the church. He wished to only allow people who showed evidence of receiving God’s grace to receive the sacraments. He changed the admittance policy in 1748, when he told an applicant, he must first make a “public profession of godliness.” A counsel was formed, and eventually, the congregation voted him out of the church. http://www.reformation21.org/articles/jonathan-edwards-a-brief-storiedlife.php
Although changing church policy was what caused him to be dismissed, other problems had occurred during his leadership. A scandal that occurred in 1744 was dubbed the “bad book” incident. Boys in their late teens obtained a copy of a midwifery book, and distributed it to other boys in the congregation. They used its contents to taunt the girls of the congregation and town. When the issue was brought to the church, Edwards read the names of the boys aloud, as well as the witness’ names. He failed to discriminate between the innocent and guilty. This outraged some of the parents. http://gratefultothedead.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/preacher-in-the-hands-of-an-angry-church-the-fall-of-jonathan-edwards/
Edwards’ reign as the Northampton pastor was clouded with salary controversies and power struggles. It seems, after the great awakening, his appeal as a pastor faded. Perhaps, it was because he continued to expect the same enthusiasm he saw in people during the great awakening, or maybe his views became stricter over time. Perhaps his failure to carefully navigate the “bad book” incident caused more tension than we know. One thing is known though; his change in church policy is what ultimately got him dismissed from the church.