Elhanan Winchester in 18th C London
Several days ago I wrote about a sermon by an 18th C American Baptist called Elhanan Winchester.
It interests me that Winchester was in London for nearly 7 years (from Sept 1787 to July 1794). He used to preach at a chapel in Glass House Yard in the mornings and in the General Baptist church in Worship Street in the evenings. At the end of 1792 at the age of 41 he set up a congregation of Universalist Baptists at Parliament Court in Artillery Lane (off Bishopsgate).
The Parliament Court building is still there and is now a Synagogue (the oldest Ashkenazi congregation in London established in 1854). So yesterday I went to see it (and the wonderful Wesley Chapel which is just around the corner). Very interesting to see the building that Elhanan preached in. Here is a picture.
After Elhanan left his co-pastor William Vidler took over (and engaged in a series of writted debates with the wonderful Particular Baptist Andrew Fuller on universalism). Sadly Vidler later converted to Unitarianism and this divided the Parliament Court congregation.
The same story was repeated in the Philadelphia congregation. After Elhanan the church went Unitarian very fast.
Personally I think that it is a real shame that the fledgling Universalist Baptist church got side-tracked so early into heterodoxy and thereby sank itself as an orthodox Christian church. In my view, by abandoning the Trinity (albeit sincerely) they abandoned the very heart of Christian faith and were left with a mutilated version. Were the seeds of its heterodoxy inherent in its embrace of universalism or could things have gone differently? I suspect I'd need to know a lot more about the lure of Unitarianism and Socinianism in the 18th C churches to answer that question. My suspicion is that the two come apart quite easily but that some of the drives towards the one also motivated the drive towards the other.