Mass Doctor Challenges Local Pastor Over Church Discipline

Mass Doctor Challenges Local Pastor Over Church Discipline


[RELIGION.] Justus Forward and Martin Phelps, Controversial Letters Respecting the Principles of Church-Communion and Discipline. Northampton, MA: Andrew Wright for Daniel Wright and Company, 1798. 132 pp., 4.5" x 7.5". Bound with string and paper cover; considerable aging and corner and edge wear; all text legible.


This volume reproduces correspondence between physician Martin Phelps and minister Justus Forward over the issues of church membership and church discipline. Phelps contended that the pastor had too much power and the congregation not enough in exercising church discipline in Forward’s church in Belchertown, Massachusetts, seventy miles west of Boston. The correspondence began in 1797 and continued into 1798.


Aaron Bascom (1746-1814), the pastor of the Congregational Church in Chester, Massachusetts, thirty miles west of Belchertown, read the letters, and visited Dr. Phelps to convince him to relocate to Chester. Phelps moved his family to Chester around 1798 and joined Bascom’s church, though he questioned some aspects of the church covenant. As national political differences reached Chester, Bascom sided with John Adams and the Federalists, while Phelps favored Thomas Jefferson and the Democratic Republicans. When Phelps published an article on why he could not support Federalist Caleb Strong for governor in 1805, Bascom warned him that his anti-Federalist views could harm his business and reputation. Political differences led to religious differences and the division of the town. In November 1807, Phelps asked to be removed from membership in the church and for the return of his certificates of good standing. Bascom refused, and in October 1808, had Phelps excommunicated from the church.



[Forward’s Preface:] “The Letters were written; on both sides, I presume, without a Thought of their being printed.... Mr. Forward, tho’ he does not wish to conceal his own sentiments, would however observe, that they cannot be fairly gathered, at least, they cannot be fully and justly gathered, from his writing, in this Manner, to oppose Mistakes and Expressions of another.”


[Phelps’s Preface:] “It is thought by those, whose good sense and attachment to the cause of truth and Religion, demand respect and reverence, that the publication of these Letters may subserve valuable purposes, by exciting the attention of those who have, or are about making a profession of Religion, to the principles of that Covenant, to which all Congregational churches require the submission of their members.”


Justus Forward (1730-1814) was born in Connecticut and graduated from Yale College in 1754. He taught school in Hatfield and studied theology. He was licensed to preach in 1755 and ordained in 1756. He was the pastor of the church in Belchertown, Massachusetts, from 1756 until 1812. He married Violet Dickinson, and they had at least eleven children.


Martin Phelps (1756-1838) was born in Massachusetts and graduated from Yale College in 1776. He moved to Haverhill, New Hampshire, where he was a member in good standing in the Congregational Church. He married Ruth Ladd (1771-1804) in 1786, and they had seven children. Phelps moved to Belchertown in 1796 to practice medicine. He then moved to Chester, Massachusetts, where he practiced medicine for many years. He also represented Chester in the General Court for several years. In 1806, he married Mary Fowler, and they had one child.


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Item: 67626

Price: $500.00
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