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Template:Calvinism Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.

OriginsEdit

According to the congregationalist theory of the history of the Christian Church, the early disciples of Jesus had little or no organization. Congregationalists believe that in the centuries after the Lord's ascent, attempts to gain influence over all the churches were made by leaders in centers like Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Jerusalem. Typically, congregationalists view this supposed accumulation of power to be complete by the year 1000 AD, with the bishop of Rome claiming authority over all Christendom, and many churches throughout the western part of Europe submitted to his authority. The churches of eastern Europe, all of Asia, and Egypt likewise had been gathered under a hierarchy of bishops, but retained their independence from the pope, according to this view. Congregationalists identify various movements of dissident among the western churches, that were suppressed throughout the Middle Ages. By the sixteenth century, political and cultural changes had created a climate in which the Roman church could no longer suppress the protests of men such as Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin against alleged church abuses. These reformers advocated a return to the simplicity and sincerity they saw described in the New Testament Church, which congregationalists believe is fulfilled in the congregationalist model of church governance.

Many Congregational churches trace their descent from the original Congregational Church, a family of Protestant denominations formed on a theory of union published by the theologian Robert Browne in 1592 and arising from the Nonconformist religious movement in England during the Puritan reformation. In Great Britain, the early congregationalists were called separatists or independents to distinguish themselves from the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians, and some congregationalists there still call themselves "Independents".

There are difficulties in identifying a specific beginning because Congregationalism is more easily identified as a movement than a single denomination, given its distinguishing commitment to the complete autonomy of the local congregation. The idea that each distinct congregation fully constitutes the visible Church can, however, be traced to John Wyclif and the Lollard movement which followed after Wyclif was removed from teaching authority in the Roman Catholic Church. The early Congregationalists shared with Anabaptist theology the ideal of a pure church, which made adult conversion experience important for full membership in the church, unlike other Reformed churches. As such, the Congregationalists were a reciprocal influence on the Baptists, differing from them in that they counted the children of believers in some sense members of the church unlike the Baptists, because of baptism.

In England, the Roman system of church government was taken over by the king, who declared himself to be the head of the Church. Robert Browne, Henry Barrow, John Greenwood, John Penry, William Brewster, and John Robinson were notable people who, in defiance of royal command, established churches separate from the Church of England. With the demise of the monarchy, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) was officially declared the statement of faith for both the Church of England (Anglican) and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). The Congregationalists created their own version of the Westminster Confession called the Savoy Declaration in 1658. The underground churches in England and exiles from Holland provided about 35 out of the 102 passengers on the 'Mayflower', which sailed from London in July 1620. They became known in history as the Pilgrim Fathers. The early Congregationalists sought to separate themselves from the Anglican church in every possible way and even forwent having church buildings. They met in one another's homes for many years. Some Congregational churches evolved into Unitarianism.

United StatesEdit

The Pilgrims sought to establish at Plymouth Colony a Christian fellowship like that which gathered around Jesus Himself. Congregationalists include the Pilgrims of Plymouth, whose ecclesiastical tradition is in the Unitarian church, and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which were organized in union by The Cambridge Platform in 1648 and are now the contemporary Congregational church. These settlers had John Cotton as their most influential leader, beginning in 1633. Cotton's writings persuaded the Calvinist theologian John Owen to separate from the Presbyterian church, after which he became very influential in the development of Congregationalist theology and ideas of church government. Jonathan Edwards, considered by some to be the most important theologian ever produced in America, was also a Congregationalist.

The history of Congregational churches in the United States is closely intertwined with that of the Presbyterian church, especially in New England where Congregationalist influence spilled over into the Presbyterian church. The first colleges and universities in America, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Amherst, all were founded by the Congregationalists, as were later Carleton, Grinnell, Oberlin, and Pomona.

Without higher courts to ensure doctrinal uniformity among the congregations, Congregationalists have been more diverse than other Reformed churches. Despite the efforts of Calvinists to maintain the dominance of their system, the Congregationalist churches, especially in New England, gradually gave way to the influences of Arminianism, Unitarianism, and transcendentalism. Thus, the Congregationalist churches were at the same time the first example of the American theocratic ideal and also the seed-bed from which American liberal religion and society arose. Even still, many Congregationalist (and UCC) Christians consider themselves to be Reformed first.

Later mergers with other groupsEdit

AustraliaEdit

In 1977, most congregations of the Congregational Union of Australia merged with most of the Methodist Church of Australasia and the Presbyterian Church of Australia to form the Uniting Church in Australia. Those congregations that did not join the Uniting Church formed the Fellowship of Congregational Churches. Some more ecumenically minded congregations left the Federation of Congregational Churches in 1995 and formed the Congregational Federation of Australia.

CanadaEdit

In 1925, the United Church of Canada was founded by the merger of the Canadian Congregationalist and Methodist churches, and two-thirds of the congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Canada (or in French, Église Presbyterienne du Canada). In 1988, a number of UCC congregations separated from the national church, which had approved the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers who were not celibate. Many of the former UCC congregations banded together as the new Congregational Christian Churches in Canada.

IrelandEdit

The Congregational Union of Ireland was founded in the early 1800s and currently has 29 member churches.

United KingdomEdit

In 1972, many English Congregationalists merged with the Presbyterian Church of England to form the United Reformed Church (URC). However many hundreds of Congregational churches have continued in their historic tradition. Under the relevant Act of Parliament that authorised the merger between what had become by then the Congregational Church of England and Wales and the Presbyterian Church of England, certain assets were divided between the various parties.

In England there are three main groups of continuing Congregationalists. These are the Congregational Federation, which has offices in Nottingham, the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches, and about 100 Congregational churches that are loosely federated with other congregations in the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, or are unaffiliated.

In 1981, the URC merged with the Re-formed Association of Churches of Christ and, in 2000, just over half of the churches in the Congregational Union of Scotland also joined the URC. The remainder of Congregational churches in Scotland joined the Congregational Federation.

Wales traditionally is the part of Europe which has the largest share of Congregationalists among the population, most Congregationalists being members of Undeb yr Annibynwyr Cymraeg (the Union of Welsh Independents), which is particularly important in Carmarthenshire and Brecknockshire. Among its leaders up to the end of the 20th century was R Tudur Jones.

The Congregational Federation, Undeb yr Annibynwyr Cymraeg, and the URC enjoy good relations and share certain aspects of church life together including their joint involvement in the Council for World Mission.

United StatesEdit

In 1957, the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches in the U.S. merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ.

More than 90% of the congregations affiliated with the General Council joined the United Church of Christ. However, some local churches did not follow the 1957 merger. Most of these congregations became members of either the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference or the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, while some chose not to affiliate with any particular association of churches.

MissionEdit

The London Missionary Society was effectively the world mission arm of British Congregationalists - it sponsored missionaries including Eric Liddell and David Livingstone.

As thinking developed, particularly in the context of decolonisation, and churches wanted to recognise the gifts of people of the South, the London Missionary Society transformed into the Council for World Mission - an organisation in which the United Reformed Church is no more important than the Church of South India (for example).

Notable Independents and CongregationalistsEdit

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

Congregational/Independent:

United Churches:

Historic Congregational/Independent Burial Grounds and Cemeteries:

Notable Congregationalists:

pt:Congregacionalismo sv:Kongregationalister ja:会衆派教会 zh:公理会

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