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What was Sandemanianism?


Sandemanianism was a sect within Christianity with a flawed doctrine about faith. Its teaching started in about 1730 with the Scottish Presbyterian minister John Glas, so the followers were originally called Glasites. Glas was one of the earliest men in Scotland to believe in voluntaryism, or the total separation of church and state, a concept completely contrary to the teaching of the time. Later, Robert Sandeman, Glas’s son-in-law, became the recognized leader of the sect, whose members in both England and America came to be called Sandemanians.

Glas and Sandeman were admirers of John Calvin, and Sandemanians claimed to be Calvinists, but Calvinists never accepted the aberrant beliefs of Sandemanianism. Glas was removed from the Church of Scotland in 1730. Followers of Glas and Sandeman wanted to return to a “pure” New Testament religion, as they understood it. That included foot washing, the love feast, weekly communion, the holy kiss, and control over how church members used their money. They also taught that Christ’s kingdom was entirely spiritual and absolutely not of this world, and thus a national church was unbiblical.

Sandemanianism’s true divergence from orthodoxy concerned the concept of faith. Sandemanians equated faith with mere intellectual assent to the facts of the Bible. Defined as a “simple faith” or “bare faith,” the faith promoted by Sandeman required no emotion or even an act of the will to produce salvation. It was an extreme version of easy believism. Sandemanians did not look for spiritual changes as the Holy Spirit interacted with them because that was a too subjective measure and unnecessary. Sandemanians thus opened themselves up to charges of antinomianism. In his epitaph, Sandeman said “that the bare death of Jesus Christ without a thought or deed on the part of man is sufficient to present the chief of sinners spotless before God” (, accessed 2/8/22).

As Sandemanianism spread around England and to America, so did the censure. Critics said that Sandemanianism produced a cold orthodoxy, an authoritarian church, and too much of a focus on the local church over the universal church. Sandemanians strayed from the Westminster definition of faith, and some said that they had the faith of devils because it was absurd to propose that God justified any person through a faith unaccompanied by love (see James 2:19). Sandemanians were missing the important trust aspect of faith—actual reliance on God’s Word instead of only rational acceptance.

Even with such harsh criticism, it took a long time for Sandemanianism to completely die out. The last of the Sandemanian churches in America closed in 1890. Their London meeting house did not close until 1984, and the last elder of the church started by Glas and Sandeman died in Edinburgh in 1999.

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This page last updated: February 10, 2022