Jonathan Edwards and Plurality of Eldership, Part Two
So, some of the teenagers and twenties had got hold of a book. It was an illustrated manual of midwifery and was causing a stir amongst them. (For the first part of the story read here)
The numbers involved quickly increased, with an accusation that the keeper of the book was charging a fee for others to look at it. Some then made inappropriate comments to young women who reported the whole story to Edwards.
The Inadequacy of ‘One Man Ministry’
Edwards, so grateful to God of the work done amongst the young people during the revivals of nearly a decade ago, was horrified.
His hopes for a continued reformation amongst them and their younger siblings seemed dashed. His ambition for them to make religion the guiding influence in their lives seemed to be faltering. His expectation that the families of Northampton should live in holiness was shaken.
The details shocked him and, while doubtless calming himself internally, he began a process which would finally and irreversibly alienate him from the majority of his congregation.
Edwards began an inquiry. He preached a sermon which touched on the matter, called for an after meeting and a committee of investigation was formed.
It is difficult to imagine that what happened next would have taken place if Edwards had been in a Biblically functioning Eldership team, where key pastoral decisions and directions could be debated and discussed.
But Edwards held a solitary leadership position, in the Congregational Church in Northampton. Therefore, while he legitimately sought to lead the young people to godliness, his own sense of shock was not tempered by the wisdom of pastoral peers.
A Surprising Pastoral Blunder
And so he made the mistake from which he never recovered. During the public meeting, he read out the names of those alleged to be involved; both those suspected of lewdness and those who would be called upon to give further information. It was a long list of names, and with each name called another set of parents dropped their heads in disbelief and shame – and anger.
The sources reveal some confusion about whether a distinction was made between those accused and those merely mentioned as witnesses. That confusion may well be a reflection of the tumult that followed the meeting!
The list included members of many of the families of the town, most of whom were members of the church. They were understandably horrified that they had been exposed in this way, and doubtless regretting they had ever agreed to a formal inquiry. The strength of feeling against Edwards was intense.
It was a monumental pastoral blunder.
Next time we’ll consider some leadership lessons from the saddest period of Jonathan Edwards’ life as he strove to live a Godward and obedient life.
© 2010 Lex Loizides