1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Congregationalism
CONGREGATIONALISM, the name given to that type of church organization in which the autonomy of the local church, or body of persons wont to assemble in Christian fellowship, is fundamental. Varied as are the forms which this idea has assumed under varying conditions of time and place, it remains distinctive enough to constitute one of the three main types of ecclesiastical polity, the others being Episcopacy and Presbyterianism. Episcopacy in the proper sense, i.e. diocesan Episcopacy, represents the principle of official rule in a monarchical form: Presbyterianism stands for the rule of an official aristocracy, exercising collective control through an ascending series of ecclesiastical courts. In contrast to both of these, which in different ways express the principle of clerical or official authority, Congregationalism represents the principle of democracy in religion. It regards church authority as inhering, according to the very genius of the Gospel, in each local body of believers, as a miniature realization of the whole Church, which can itself have only an ideal corporate being on earth. But while in practice it is religious democracy, in theory it claims to be the most immediate form of theocracy, God Himself being regarded as ruling His people directly through Christ as Head of the Church, whether Catholic or local. So viewed, Congregationalism is essentially a “high church” theory, as distinct from a high clerical one. It springs from the religious principle that each body of believers in actual church-fellowship must be free of all external human control, in order the more fully to obey the will of God as conveyed to conscience by His Spirit. Here responsibility and privilege are correlatives. This, the negative aspect of the congregational idea, has emerged at certain stages of its history as Independency. Its positive side, with its sense of the wider fellowship of “the Brotherhood” (1 Pet. v. 9, cf. ii. 17), has expressed itself in varying degrees at different times, according as conditions were favourable or the reverse. But catholicity of feeling is inherent in the congregational idea of the church, inasmuch as it knows no valid use of the term intermediate between the local unit of habitual Christian fellowship and the church universal. On such a theory confusion between full Catholicity and loyalty to some partial expression of it is minimized, and the feeling for Christians as such, everywhere and under whatever name, is kept pure.
The Congregationalism of the Apostolic Church was, to begin with, part of its heritage from Judaism. In the record of Christ’s own teaching the term “church” occurs only twice, once in the universal sense, as the true or Messianic “Israel of God” (Matt. xvi. 18, cf. Gal. vi. Primitive Congrega-tionalism. 16), and once in the local sense corresponding to the Jewish synagogue (Matt. xviii. 17). As Christianity passed to Gentile soil, the sovereign assembly (ecclesia) of privileged citizens in each Greek city furnished an analogy to the latter usage. These, the two senses recognized by Congregationalism, remained the only ones known to primitive Christianity. Writing of the unity of the church as set forth by Paul in Ephesians, Dr Hort (The Christian Ecclesia, p. 168) says: “Not a word in the epistle exhibits the One Ecclesia as made up of many Ecclesiae. To each local Ecclesia St Paul has ascribed a corresponding unity of its own; each is a body of Christ and a sanctuary of God: but there is no grouping of them into partial wholes or into one great whole. The members which make up the One Ecclesia are not communities but individual men. The One Ecclesia includes all members of all partial Ecclesiae; but its relations to them all are direct, not mediate. It is true that . . . St Paul anxiously promoted friendly intercourse and sympathy between the scattered Ecclesiae; but the unity of the universal Ecclesia as he contemplated it does not belong to this region: it is a bulk of theology and religion, not a fact of what we call ecclesiastical politics.”
Organization corresponded to the life distinctive of the new Ecclesia. This was one of essential equality among “the saints” or “the brethren,” turning on common possession of and by the one Spirit of Christ. “The whole congregation of the faithful was responsible for the whole life of the church—for its faith, its worship, and its discipline” (Dale). All alike were “priests unto God” in Christ (Apoc. i. 6; 1 Pet. ii. 9) and entrusted with prerogatives of moral jurisdiction (1 Cor. vi. 1 ff.). “The Ecclesia itself, i.e. apparently the sum of all its male adult members, is the primary body, and, it would seem, even the primary authority.” So says Dr Hort (p. 229), adding that “the very origin and fundamental nature of the Ecclesia as a community of disciples renders it impossible that the principle should rightly become obsolete.” In the Apostolic age local office was determined, on the one hand, by the divine gifts (charisms) manifesting themselves in certain persons (1 Cor. xii.; Rom. xii. 3 ff.); and on the other by the recognition of such gifts by the inspired common consciousness of each Ecclesia (1 Cor. xvi. 15–18; 1 Thess. v. 12 ff.). In most cases this took formal effect in a setting-apart by prayer, sometimes with layingon of hands. Such consecration, however, whatever its form, was a function of the local Ecclesia as a whole, acting through those of its members most fitted by gift or standing to be its representatives on the occasion. As to the specific officers thus called into being, whether for supervision or relief (1 Cor. xii. 28), the New Testament knows none in the local church superior to elders, the ruling order in Judaism also. “Bishop” (overseer) was “mainly, if not always, not a title, but a description of the elder’s function” (Hort, p. 232). Each church at first had at its head not a single chief pastor, but a plurality of elders (= bishops) acting as a college.
In course of time there emerged from this presbyterial body a primus inter pares, i.e. a permanent leader, to whom henceforth the description “bishop” tended to be restricted. This is the “monarchical episcopate” which first meets us in the letters of Ignatius, early in the 2nd century (see Church History). But whatever its exact attributes, as he conceived it, it was still strictly a congregational office. Each normal church had its own bishop or pastor, as well as its presbytery and body of deacons. “One city, one church (‘parish’ in the ancient sense) with its bishop,” was the rule. Hence “if we are to give a name to these primitive communities with their bishops, ‘congregational’ will describe them better than ‘diocesan’ ” (Sanday, Expositor, III. viii. p. 333). Nor did this state of things change so soon as is often supposed. It persisted in the main during the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and only faded before the growing influence of metropolitan or diocesan bishops in the 4th century. These, the bishops in the first instance of provincial capitals, gradually acquired a control over their episcopal brethren in lesser cities, analogous to that of the civil governor over other provincial officials. Indeed the development of the whole hierarchy above the congregational bishop was largely influenced by the imperial system, especially after Church and State came into alliance under Constantine.
This sacrifice of local autonomy was in a measure prepared for by an earlier centralizing movement proper to the churches themselves, whereby those in certain areas met in conference or “synod” to formulate a common policy on local problems. Such inter-church meetings cannot be traced back beyond the latter half of the 2nd century, and were purely ad hoc and informal, called to consider specific questions like Montanism and Easter observance. Nor were they at first confined to church officers, much less to bishops, but included “the faithful” of all sorts (Euseb. Hist. Eccl. v. 16, p. 10), and were in fact “councils composed of whole churches” (ex universes ecclesiis), where there was a true “representation of the whole Christian name” (Tert. De Jejun. 13). In a word, they were “councils of churches” (id. De Pud. 10) and not merely of church officers. Naturally, however, as the areas represented increased, the more indirect and partial became the representation possible. Thus far, however, synods were still compatible with local autonomy and so with Congregationalism. But as the idea that bishops were successors of the apostles came to prevail, presbyters, though sharing in the deliberations, gradually ceased to share in the voting; while synods insensibly acquired more and more coercive control over the churches of the area represented. Yet the momentous change which finally crushed out Congregationalism, by substitution of legal coercion for moral suasion as the final means of securing unity, came relatively late in the history of the ancient Catholic Church.
The seat of authority in Discipline, the means by which the church strives to preserve the Christian standard of living from serious dishonour in its own members, is the touch-stone of church politics. The local Ecclesia in the Apostolic age was itself responsible for the conduct of its members (1 Cor. vi. 1 ff. and the Epistles passim). “If a man will not hear the church,” when the local church-meeting utters the mind of Christ on a moral issue, he has rejected the final court of appeal and is ipso facto self-excommunicate (Matt. xviii. 17). This remains the working rule of ante-Nicene Christianity. Indeed Cyprian plainly lays it down that the church members must withdraw from sinful officers, since “the people itself in the main has power either of choosing worthy priests (bishops) or of refusing unworthy ones” (Ep. 67. 3).
On the whole, then, Congregationalism, the self-government of each local church, prevailed for the most part during the first two and a half centuries of Christianity, and with it a church life which, with all its developments of ministry and ritual, remained fundamentally popular in basis (cf. T. M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries, p. 259 and passim). The central idea was the sanctity of the church-members as such, rather than of the ministry as a clerical order. This is implied in the oldest ordination rules and forms of prayer, such as those underlying the “Canons of Hippolytus” and related collections. It is also implied in the congregational form and spirit of the earliest liturgies; but most of all in the discipline of the church before Constantine. But from the time of Cyprian (A.D. 250) the idea of the ministry as clergy or priesthood gained ground, parallel with the more mixed quality of those admitted by baptism to the status of “the faithful,” and with the increasingly sacramental conception of the means of grace.
In both respects the reflex action of the Novatianist and Donatist controversies upon Catholicism was disastrous to the earlier idea of church-fellowship. Formal and technical tests of membership, such as the reception of sacraments from a duly authorized clergy, came to replace Christ’s own test of character. The church ceased even to be thought of as a society of “saints,” or to be organized on that basis. The gulf between the “laity” and “clergy” went on widening during the 5th and 6th centuries; and the people, stripped of their old prerogatives (save in form here and there), passed into a spiritual pupillage which was one distinctive note of the medieval Church. In such a Catholic atmosphere Congregationalism could have no being, save among little groups of men who protested against the existing order. These, in proportion as they revived a primitive type of piety, tended to recover also some of its forms of organization. “They bore witness to the loss of the true idea of the Christian church,” though they did not avail to restore it. Still, a good deal of semi-congregationalism probably did exist in obscure circles which preluded the wider Reformation and were merged in it. So was it among the Waldenses, who reasserted the priesthood of all believers: still more among the Lollards, who produced a “conventicle” type of Christian fellowship, supplementary to attendance at the parish church. This, while far short of theoretic Congregationalism, was a prophecy of it. Congregationalism proper, as a theory of the organized Christian life contemplated in the New Testament, re-emerges only at the Reformation, with its wide recovery of Modern Congrega-tionalism. such aspects of evangelic experience as acceptance with God and constant access to Him through the sole mediation of Christ. The practical corollary of this, “the Priesthood of Believers,” though grasped by Luther (cf. Lindsay, Hist. of the Reformation, i. 435 ff.) and continental reformers generally, was not fully carried out by them in church organization. This was due partly to a sense that only here and there was there a body of believers ripe for the congregational form of church-fellowship, which Luther himself regarded as the New Testament ideal (Dale, pp. 40-43), partly to fear of Anabaptism, the radical wing of the Reformation movement, which first strove to recover primitive Christianity apart altogether from traditional forms. In certain Anabaptist circles the primitive idea of a “covenant” between believers and God as conditioning all their life, especially one with another, was revived (Champlin Burrage, The Church-Covenant Idea, Philadelphia, 1904). Their local church life, as moulded by this idea (found even in the church constitution adopted by Hesse in 1526), was congregational in type. But Anabaptism was not to remain an abiding force on the continent; and though colonies of its exiles settled in England, they did not produce the Congregationalism which sprang up there under Elizabeth. This was continuous rather with the Lollard type of secret congregation existing in various places, especially in London and the adjacent counties, at the opening of the 16th century and later (e.g. the “Known Men” at Amersham and elsewhere, Dale, pp. 58 f. 61). Already in 1550 Strype refers to certain “sectaries” in Essex and Kent, as “the first that made separation from the Reformed Church of England, having gathered congregations of their own.” Then, during Mary’s reign, secret congregations met under the leadership of Protestant clergy, and, when these were lacking, even of laymen. But these “private assemblies of the professors in these hard times,” as Strype calls them, were congregational simply by accident. On Elizabeth’s accession they ceased to assemble, until it was plain that she did not intend a radical reformation. Then only did some of their members resume secret assembly, with a more definite view to conformity in all things to the New Testament type and that alone.
Still, the development of congregational churches proper was gradual, the result of constant study of “the Word of God” in the light of experience. The process can be traced most clearly in London. There, owing to measures taken in 1565–1566 to enforce clerical subscription to the authorized order of worship, especially touching vestments, certain persons of humble station began to assemble in houses “for preaching and ministering the sacraments” (Grindal’s Remains, lxi.). This led in June 1567 to the arrest of some fifteen out of a hundred men and women met in Plumbers’ Hall (ostensibly for a wedding), none of whom, to judge from the eight examined, was a minister. Probably they were not long kept in prison, for six of them were among a similar body of 77 persons “found together” in a private house on March 4, 1568, the leaders of whom were imprisoned, and liberated only after “one whole year,” early in May 1569 (ibid. pp. 316 ff.). Perhaps it was between 1567 and 1568 that they began to organize themselves more fully in conjunction with four or five of the suspended clergy, with elders and deacons of their own appointing (Grindal, Zurich Letters, lxxxii.; Remains, lxi.). This act of ordaining ministers, probably after the Genevan order—which they certainly used from May 1568—and their excommunication of certain deserters from their “church” (so Grindal), clearly mark the fact that this body of some 200 persons had now deliberately taken up a position outside the national church, as being themselves a “church” in a truer sense than any parish church, inasmuch as they conformed to the primitive pattern. Their ideal is embodied in a manifesto set forth about 1570 under the title The True Marks of Christ’s Church, &c., and signed by “Richard Fytz, Minister,” as being “the order of the Privy Church in London, which by the malice of Satan is falsely slandered.”
“The minds of them that by the strength and working of the Almighty, our Lord Jesus Christ, have set their hands and hearts to the pure, unmingled and sincere worshipping of God, according to his blessed and glorious Word in all things, only abolishing and abhorring all traditions and inventions of man whatsoever, in the same Religion and Service of our Lord God, knowing this always, that the true and afflicted Church of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ either hath, or else ever more continually under the cross striveth for to have,
“First and foremost, the Glorious word and Evangel preached, not in bondage and subjection [i.e. by episcopal licence], but freely and purely.
“Secondly, to have the Sacraments ministered purely, only and altogether according to the institution and good worde of the Lord Jesus, without any tradition or invention of man. “And last of all, to have not the filthy Canon law, but discipline only and altogether agreeable to the same heavenly and almighty worde of our good Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Here we have essential Congregationalism, formulated for the first time in England as the original and genuine Christian polity, and as such binding on those loyal to the Head of the Church. All turns, as we see from the petition addressed in 1571 to the queen by twenty-seven persons (the majority women, possibly wives in some cases of men in prison), upon the duty of separation with a view to purity of Christian fellowship (2 Cor. vi. 17 f.), and upon moral discipline “by the strength and sure warrant of the Lord’s good word, as in Matt. xviii. 15–18 (1 Cor. v.)” were it only in a church of “two or three” gathered in the Name. Whatever may be thought of their application of these principles, there is no mistaking the deeply religious aim of these separatists for conscience' sake, viz. the realizing of the Christian ideal in personal conduct, in a fellowship of souls alike devoted to the Highest; nor can it be doubted that the “mingled” communion of the parish churches made church “fellowship” in the apostolic sense a practical impossibility. This was confessed alike by the bishops (e.g. Whitgift) and by the Puritans, who maintained the paramount duty of remaining within the queen’s church and there working for the further reformation which they recognized as sadly needed by English religion. But the radical “Puritans” (the above documents in the State Paper Office are endorsed “Bishop of London: Puritans”) felt that this meant treason to the Headship of Christ in His Church; and that until the prince should set aside “the superstition and commandments of men,” and “send forth princes and ministers [like another Josiah], and give them the Book of the Lord, that they may bring home the people of God to the purity and truth of the apostolic Church,” they could do no other than themselves live after that divine ideal. They were not separated of their own choice, but by the word of God acting on their consciences.
“Reformation without tarrying for Anie” was the burden laid on the heart of the Congregational pioneers in 1567–1571; and it continued to press heavily on many, both “Separatists” and conforming “Puritans” (to use the nicknames used by foes), before it became written theory in Robert Browne’s work under that title, published at Middelburg in Holland in 1582 (see Browne, Robert). The story of the many attempts made in the interval by “forward” or advanced Puritans to secure vital religious fellowship within the queen’s Church, and of the few cases in which these shaded off into practical Separatism, is still wrapped in some obscurity. But tentative efforts within parochial limits, by accustoming the more godly sort to feel an inner bond peculiar to themselves, prepared many for the congregational idea of the church, and on the other hand made them feel more than ever dissatisfied with the “mixed” services of the parish church. It seemed to them impossible that vital religion could be inculcated, unless there were other guarantee for ministerial fitness than episcopal licensing, unless in fact the godly in each parish had a voice in deciding whether a man was called of God to minister the Word of God (see C. Burrage, The True Story of Robert Browne, pp. 7, 11 f.). But this implied the gathering of the earnest “professors” in each locality into a definite body, committed to the Gospel as their law of life. Such a “gathered church” emerges as the great desideratum with Robert Browne, between 1572, when he graduated at Cambridge, and 1580–1581, when he first defined his Separatist theory. It involved for him a definite “covenant” entered into by all members of the church, with God and with God’s people, to abide by Christ’s laws as ruling all their conduct, individually and collectively.
It has been debated how far Browne derived this idea from Dutch Anabaptists in Norwich and elsewhere. Doubtless the “covenant” idea was most characteristic of Anabaptists. But they connected it closely with adult baptism, whereas Browne enjoined baptism for the children of those already in covenant, and in no case taught re-baptism. Thus he evidently made “the willing covenant” of conscious faith the essence of the matter, and regarded the sign or seal as secondary. Considering, then, his other differences from Anabaptist theories, and the absence of any hint to the contrary in his own autobiographical references, “it is safe to affirm that he had no conscious indebtedness to the Anabaptists” (Williston Walker, Creeds and Platforms of Congreg., New York, 1893, p. 16). If he adopted ideas then in the air, whether of Anabaptist or other origin (see p. 706, footnote 1), he did so as seeing them in Scripture.
From Browne’s idea of a holy people, covenanted to walk after Christ’s mind and will, all else flowed, as is set forth in his Book which sheweth the life and manners of all true Christians. As it may be called the primary classic of congregational theory, its leading principles must here be summarized. Hearing the word of God unto obedience being due to “the gift of His Spirit to His children,” every church member is a spiritual person, with a measure of the spirit and office of King, Priest and Prophet, to be exercised directly under the supreme Headship of Christ. Thus mutual oversight and care are among the duties of the members of Christ’s body; while their collective inspiration, enabling them to “try the gifts of godliness” of specially endowed fellow-members, is the divine warrant in election to church office. Thus the “authority and office” of “church governors” is not derived from the people, but from God, “by due consent and agreement of the church.” Conference between sister churches for counsel is provided for; so that, while autonomous, they do not live as isolated units. Such were the leading features of Browne’s Congregationalism, as a polity distinct from both Episcopacy and Presbyterianism. Any varieties in the congregational genus which emerge later on, keep within his general outlines. To this fact the very nickname “Brownists,” usually given to early “Separatists” by accident, but Congregationalists in essence, is itself witness.
“The kingdom of God was not to be begun by whole parishes, but rather of the worthiest, were they never so few.” This sentence from Browne’s spiritual autobiography contains the root of the whole matter, and explains the title of his other chief work, also of 1582, A Treatise of Reformation without tarrying for any, and of the wickedness of those Preachers which will not reform till the Magistrate command or compel them. Here he, first of known English writers, sets forth a doctrine which, while falling short of the Anabaptist theory that the civil ruler has no standing in the affairs of the Church, in that religion is a matter of the individual conscience before God, yet marks a certain advance upon current views. Magistrates “have not that authority over the church as to be . . . spiritual Kings . . . but only to rule the commonwealth in all outward justice. . . . And therefore also because the Church is in a commonwealth, it is of their charge; that is, concerning the outward provision and outward justice, they are to look to it. But to compel religion, to plant churches by power, and to force a submission to ecclesiastical government by laws and penalties, belongeth not to them . . . neither yet to the Church” (Treatise, &c., p. 12). Here Browne distinguishes acceptance of the covenant relation with God (religion) and the forming or “planting” of churches on the basis of God’s covenant (with its laws of government), from the enforcing of the covenant voluntarily accepted, whether by church-excommunication or by civil penalties—the latter only in cases of flagrant impiety, such as idolatry, blasphemy or Sabbath-breaking. In virtue of this distinction which implied that the nation was not actually in covenant with God, he taught a relative toleration. In this he was in advance even of most Separatists, who held with Barrow “that the Prince ought to compel all their subjects to the hearing of God’s Word in the public exercises of the church.” As, however, the prince might approve a false type of Church, in spite of what they both assumed to be the clear teaching of Scripture, and should so far be resisted, Browne and Barrow found themselves practically in the same attitude towards the prince’s religious coercion. It was part of their higher allegiance to the King of kings.
Between 1580 and 1581, when Browne formed in Norwich the first known church of this order on definite scriptural theory, and October 1585, when, being convinced that the times were not yet ripe for the realization of the perfect polity, and taking a more charitable view of the established Church, he yielded to the pressure brought to bear on him by his kinsman Lord Burghley, so far as partially to conform to parochial public worship as defined by law (see Browne, Robert), the history of Congregationalism is mainly that of Browne and of his writings. Their effect was considerable, to judge from a royal proclamation against them and those of his friend Robert Harrison, issued in June 1583. But the repression of “sectaries” was now, and onwards until the end of the reign, so severe as to prevent much action on these lines. Still Sir Walter Raleigh’s rhetorical estimate of “near 20,000” Brownists existing in England in April 1593, at least means something. We hear of “Brownists” in London about 1585, while the London petitioners of 1592 refer to their fellows in “other gaols throughout the land”; and the True Confession of 1596 specifies Norwich, Gloucester, Bury St Edmunds, as well as “many other places of the land.” But of organized churches we can trace none in England, until we come in 1586 to Greenwood and Barrow, the men whose devotion to a cause in which they felt the imperative call of God seems to have rallied into church-fellowship the Separatists in London, whether those of Fytz’s day or those later convinced by the failure of the Puritan efforts at reform and by the writings of Browne. At what exact date this London church-which had a more or less continuous history down to and beyond 1624-was actually formed, is open to doubt. It was only in September 1592 that it elected officers, viz. a pastor (Francis Johnson), a teacher (Greenwood), two deacons and two elders. Yet as Barrow held that a church could exist prior to its ministry, this settles nothing.
In 1589 Greenwood and Barrow composed “A true Description out of the Word of God of the visible Church,” which represents the ideal entertained in their circle. It was practically identical with that set forth by Browne in 1582, though they were at pains to deny personal connexion with him whom they now regarded as an apostate. “The Brownist and the Barrowist go hand in hand together.” So was it said in 1602; and there is no good ground (see Powicke, pp. 105 ff., 126 f.) for distinguishing the theories of the two leaders as to the authority of elders. Both equally teach the supremacy of “the whole church” in all discipline, including that upon elders or officers generally, if need arise. Possibly Barrow laid more stress also on the orderly “rules of the Word” to be followed in all church actions, and so conveyed a rather different impression.
After the execution of Greenwood, Barrow and the ex-Puritan Penry (a recent recruit to Separatism), in the spring of 1593, it seemed to some that Separatism was “in effect extinguished.” This was largely true for the time as regards England, thanks to the rigour of Archbishop Whitgift, aided by the new act which left deniers of the queen’s power in ecclesiastical matters no option but to leave the realm. Even this hard fate the bulk of the London church was ready to endure. Gradually they resumed church-fellowship in Amsterdam, where they chose the learned Henry Ainsworth (q.v.) as teacher, in place of Greenwood, but elected no new pastor, as they expected Francis Johnson (1562–1618) soon to be released and to rejoin them. This he did at the end of 1597, after a vain attempt to find asylum under his country’s flag in Newfoundland. It was here and now that divergent ideals as to the powers of the eldership really emerged. Johnson, a man autocratic by nature, and leaning to his old Presbyterian ideals on the point, held that the church had no power to control its elders, once elected, in their exercise of discipline, much less to depose them; while Ainsworth, true to Barrow and the “old way” as he claimed, sided with those who made the church itself supreme throughout. The church divided on the issue; but neither section has further historical importance. Far otherwise was it with the church which was formed originally at Gainsborough (?1602), by “professors” trained under zealous Puritan clergy in the district where Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire meet, but which about 1606 reorganized itself for reasons of convenience into two distinct churches, meeting at Gainsborough and in Scrooby Manor House. Ere long these were forced to seek refuge, in 1607 and 1608 respectively, at Amsterdam, whence the Scrooby church moved to Leiden in 1609 (Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, chs. 1-3). The permanent issues of the Gainsborough-Amsterdam church are connected with the origins of the Baptist wing of Congregationalism, through John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. As for the Scrooby-Leiden church under John Robinson (q.v.), it was in a sense the direct parent of historical “Congregationalism” alike in England and America (see below, section American).
Separatism was now passing into Congregationalism, both in sentiment and in language. The emphasis changes from protest to calm exposition. In the freer atmosphere of Holland the exiles lose the antithetical attitude, with its narrowing and exaggerative tendency, and gain breadth and balance in the assertion of their distinctive testimony. This comes out in the writings both of Robinson and of Henry Jacob, both of whom passed gradually from Puritanism to Separatism at a time when the silencing of some 300 Puritan clergy by the Canons of 1604, and the exercise of the royal supremacy under Archbishop Bancroft, brought these “brethren of the Second Separation” into closer relations with the earlier Separatists. In a work of 1610, the sequel to his Divine Beginning and Institution of Christ’s true Visible and Ministerial Church, Jacob describes “an entire and independent body-politic,” “endued with power immediately under and from Christ, as every proper church is and ought to be.” But his claim for “independent” churches no longer denies that true Christianity exists within parish assemblies. Similarly Robinson wrote about 1620 a Treatise of the Lawfulness of hearing of the Ministers of the Church of England which shows a larger catholicity of feeling than his earlier Justification of Separation (1610). These semi-separatists still set great store by the church-covenant, in which they bound themselves “to walk together in all God’s ways and ordinances, according as He had already revealed, or should further make them known to them.” But they realized that “the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth of his Holy Word”; and this gave them an open-minded and tolerant spirit, which continued to mark the church in Plymouth Colony, as distinct from the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay. Such, then, was the type of church formed in 1616 by Henry Jacob in London. It was founded under the tolerant Archbishop George Abbot (1562–1633), and would have been content with toleration such as the French and Dutch churches in England enjoyed. But Charles I. and Archbishop Laud would make no terms with deniers of royal supremacy in religion, and in 1632 this church was persecuted.
Besides such regular churches in London and the provinces under the early Stuarts, there were also numerous “conventicles” composed of very humble folk, such as the eleven about London which Bishop Joseph Hall (1574–1656) reports in 1631, and which he states in 1640 had grown to some eighty. In these latter the earlier Brownist or even Anabaptist spirit probably prevailed. Further there was arising a new type of “Independent,” to use the term now coming into use. Conjoint repression of civil and religious liberty had made thoughtful men ponder matters of church polity. The majority, indeed, even of determined opponents of personal rule in state and church favoured Presbyterianism, particularly before 1641, when Henry Burton’s Protestation Protested brought before educated men generally the principles of Congregationalism, as distinct from Puritanism, by applying them to a matter of practical politics. But besides this telling pamphlet and the controversy which ensued, the experience of New England as to the practicability of Congregationalism, at least in that modified form known as the “New England Way,” produced a growing impression, especially on parliament. Hence even before the Westminster Assembly met in July 1643, Independency could reckon among its friends men of distinction in the state, like Cromwell, Sir Harry Vane, Lord Saye and Sele; while Milton powerfully pleaded the power of Truth to take care of herself on equal terms. In the Assembly, too, its champions were fit, if few. They included Thomas Goodwin and Philip Nye, who had practised this polity during exile abroad and now strove to avert the substitution of Presbyterian uniformity for the Episcopacy which, as the ally of absolutism, had alienated its own children (see Presbyterianism). Yet the “Five Dissenting Brethren” would have failed to secure toleration even for themselves as Congregationalists—such was the dread felt by the assembly for Anabaptists, Antinomians, and other “sectaries”—had it not been for the vaguer, but widespread Independency existing in parliament and in the army. Here, then, we meet with a distinction (cf. Dale, p. 374 ff.) of moment for the Commonwealth era, between “Independency” as a principle and “Congregationalism” as an ideal of church polity. Independency, like Nonconformity, is primarily a negative term. “It simply affirms the right of any society of private persons to meet together for worship . . . without being interfered with by any external authority.” Such a right may be asserted on other theories than the congregational or even the Christian. Congregationalism, however, “denotes a positive theory of the organization and powers of Christian churches,” having as corollary independency of external control, whether civil or ecclesiastical. “Historically the two terms have been used interchangeably” during the last two hundred years. But under the Commonwealth many professed the one without fully accepting the other.
During the Civil War Congregationalism broadened out into reciprocal relations with the national life and history. Thenceforth it involves not only the story of Nonconformity and the growth of religious liberty, but also the whole development of modern England. To sketch even in outline “The Evolution of Congregationalism” in correspondence with so complex an environment is here impossible. Only salient points can be indicated.
During the Protectorate, with its practical establishment of Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists, the position of Congregationalism was really anomalous, in so far as any of its pastors became parish ministers, and so received “public maintenance” and were expected to administer the sacraments to all and sundry. But the Restoration soon changed matters, and by forcing Presbyterians and Congregationalists alike into Nonconformity, placed the former, instead of the latter, in the anomalous position. In practice they became Independents, after trying in some cases to create voluntary presbyteries, like Baxter’s Associations, adopted partially in 1653–1660, in spite of repressive legislation. But though Presbyterians did not in many instances become Congregationalists also, until a later date, the two types of Puritanism were drawn closer together in the half-century after 1662. The approximation was mutual. Both had given up the strict jure divino theory of their polity as apostolic. The Congregationalism of the Savoy Declaration (Oct. 12, 1658), agreed on by representatives—the majority non-ministerial—from 120 churches, is one tempered by experience gained in Holland and New England, as well as in the Westminster Assembly. Hence when, after the Toleration Act of 1689, a serious attempt was made to draw the two types together on the basis of Heads of Agreement assented to by the United Ministers in and about London, formerly called Presbyterian and Congregational, the basis partook of both (much after the fashion of the New England Way), though on the whole it favoured Congregationalism (see Dale, pp. 474 ff.). In many trust-deeds of this date (which did not contain doctrinal clauses), and for long after, the phrase “Presbyterian or Independent” occurs. Yet the two gradually drifted apart again owing to doctrinal differences, emerging first on the Calvinistic doctrine of grace, such as broke up the joint “Merchants' Lecture” started in 1672 in Pinners' Hall, and next on Christology. In both cases the Congregationalists took the “high,” the Presbyterians the “moderate” view. These specific differences revealed different religious tendencies, the one type being more warmly Evangelical, the other more “rational” and congenial in temper with 18th-century Deism. The theological division was accentuated by the Salters' Hall Controversy (1717–1719), which, nominally touching religious liberty versus subscription, really involved differences as to Trinitarian doctrine. Ere long Arianism and Socinianism were general among English Presbyterians (see Unitarianism). Congregationalists, on the other hand, whether Independents or Baptists, remained on the whole Trinitarians, largely perhaps in virtue of their very polity, with its intimate relation between the piety of the people and that of the ministry. Yet the relation of Congregational polity to its religious ideal had already become less intimate and conscious than even half a century before: the system was held simply as one traditionally associated with a serious and unworldly piety. “Church privileges” meant to many only the sacred duty of electing their own ministry and a formal right of veto on the proposals of pastor and deacons. The fusion into one office of the functions of “elders” and “deacons” (still distinguished in the Savoy Declaration of 1658) was partly at least a symptom of the decay of the church-idea in its original fulness, a decay itself connected with the general decline in spiritual intensity which marked 18th-century religion, after the overstrain of the preceding age. Yet long before the Evangelical Revival proper, partial revivals of a warmer piety occurred in certain circles; and among the Independents in particular the new type of hymnody initiated by Isaac Watts (1707) helped not a little.
The Methodist movement touched all existing types of English religion, but none more than Congregationalism. While the “rational” Presbyterians were repelled by it as “enthusiasm,” the Independents had sufficient in common with its spirit to assimilate—after some distrust of its special ways and doctrines—its passion of Christlike pity for “those out of the way,” and so to take their share in the wider evangelization of the people and the Christian philanthropy which flowed from the new inspiration. For underneath obvious differences, like the Arminian theology of the Wesleys and the Presbyterian type of their organization, there was latent affinity between a “methodist society” and the original congregational idea of a church; and in practice Methodism, outside the actual control of the Wesleys, in various ways worked out into Congregationalism (see Mackennal, op. cit. pp. 156 ff., Dale, pp. 583 ff.). So was it in the long run with the Countess of Huntingdon’s Connexion, springing from Whitefield’s Calvinistic wing of the Revival, not to mention the congregational strain in some minor Methodist churches.
But whilst Congregationalism grew thereby in numbers and in a sense of mission to all sorts and conditions of men-lack of which was one of the disabilities due in part to its sectarian position before the law (see Mackennal, pp. 142 ff.)—it modified not only its Calvinism but also its old church ideal in the process. During most of the next century it inclined to an individualism untempered by a sense of mystic union with God and in Him with all men (see Dale, pp. 387 ff., for an estimate of these and other changes). It lost, however, its exclusive spirit. Its pulpit, which had always been the centre of power in the churches, has for a century or more taken a wider range of influence in a succession of notable preachers. Congregationalists generally have been to the fore in attempts to apply Christian principles to matters of social, municipal, national and international importance. They have been steady friends of foreign missions in the most catholic form (supporting the London Missionary Society, founded in 1795 on an inter-denominational basis), of temperance, popular education and international peace. Their weakness as a denomination has lain latterly in their very catholicity of sympathy. Thus it was left to the Oxford Revival, with its emphasis on certain aspects of the Church idea, to help to re-awaken in many Congregationalists a due feeling for specific church-fellowship, which was the main passion with their forefathers. Another influence making in the same direction, but in a different spirit, was the Broad Church ideal represented in various forms by Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, F. W. Robertson of Brighton and F. D. Maurice. In the last of these the conception of Christ’s Headship of the human race assumed a specially inspiring form. This conception, in a more definitely Biblical and Christian shape, attained forcible expression in the writings of R. W. Dale of Birmingham, the most influential Congregationalist in the closing decades of the 19th century, in whom lived afresh the high Congregationalism of the early Separatists.
Modern Congregationalism, as highly sensitive to the Zeitgeist and its solvent influence on dogma, shared for a time the critical and negative attitude produced by the first impact of a culture determined by the conception of development as applying to the whole realm of experience. But it has largely outgrown this, and is addressing itself to the progressive re-interpretation of Christianity, in an essentially constructive spirit. Similarly its ecclesiastical statesmen have been developing the full possibilities of its polity, to suit the demands of the time for coordinated effort. While its principle of congregational autonomy has been gaining ground in the more centralized systems, whether Episcopal or Presbyterian, its own latent capacity for co-operation has been evoked by actual needs to a degree never before realized in England. Association for mutual help and counsel, contemplated in some degree in the early days, from Browne to the Savoy Declaration of 1658, but thereafter forced into abeyance, began early in the 19th century to find expression in County Unions on a voluntary basis, especially for promoting home missionary work. These in turn led on to the Congregational Union of England and Wales, formed in 1832, and consisting at first of “County and District Associations, together with any ministers and churches of the Congregational Order recognized by an Association.” Later it was found that an assembly so constituted combined the incompatible functions of a council for the transaction of business and a congress for shaping or expressing common opinion: and its constitution was modified so as to secure the latter object only. But after half a century’s further experience, public opinion, stimulated by growing need for common action in relation to certain practical problems of home and foreign work, proved ripe for the realization of the earlier idea in its double form. In 1904 the Union was again modified so as to embrace (1) a council of 300, representative of the county associations, to direct the business for which the Union as such is responsible, and (2) a more popular assembly, made up of the council and a large number of direct representatives of the associated churches. Association, however, remains as before voluntary, and some churches are outside the Union; nor has a resolution of the assembly more than moral authority for any of the constituent churches. As regards the “Declaration of Faith, Church Order and Discipline” adopted in 1833, and still printed in the official Year Book “for general information” as to “what is commonly believed” by members of the Union, what is characteristic is the attitude taken in the preliminary notes to “creeds and articles of religion.” These are disallowed as a bond of union or test of communion, much as in the Savoy Declaration of 1658 it is said that constraint “causeth them to degenerate from the name and nature of Confessions,” “into Exactions and Impositions of Faith.”
Among topics which have exercised the collective mind of modern Congregationalism, and still exercise it, are church-aid and home missions, church extension in the colonies, the conditions of entry into the ministry and sustentation therein, Sunday school work, the social and economic condition of the people (issuing in social settlements and institutional churches), and, last but not least, foreign missions. Indeed the support of the London Missionary Society has come to devolve almost wholly on Congregationalists, a responsibility recognized by the Union in 1889 and again in 1904. To afford a home for the centralized activities of the Union, the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, was built on the site of the Fleet prison—soil consecrated by sacrifice for conscience under Elizabeth—and opened in 1875. There the Congregational Library, founded a generation before, is housed, as well as a publication department. A congregational hymn-book (including Watts' collection) was issued by the Union in 1836, and again in fresh forms in 1859, 1873 and 1887.
The theological colleges which train for the Congregational ministry have themselves an interesting history, going back to the private “academies” formed by ejected ministers. They underwent great extension owing to the Evangelical Revival, and became largely centres of evangelistic activity (Dale, p. 593 ff.). But they were burdened by the necessity of supplying literary as well as theological training, owing to the disabilities of Nonconformists at Oxford and Cambridge till 1871. Even before that, however, owing partly to the impulse given by the university of London after 1836, the standard of learning in some of the colleges had been rising; and the last generation has seen marked advance in this respect. In 1886 Spring Hill College, Birmingham, was transplanted to Oxford, where it was refounded under the title of Mansfield College, purely for the post-graduate study of theology (first principal, Dr.A M. Fairbairn); in 1905 Cheshunt College, founded by the countess of Huntingdon, was transferred to Cambridge, to enjoy university teaching; whilst the creation of the university of Wales, the reconstitution of London University, and the creation of Manchester University, led, between 1900 and 1905, to the affiliation to them of one or more of the other colleges. Indeed in all cases the students are now in some sort of touch with a university or university college. There are eight colleges in England, viz., besides Mansfield and Cheshunt, New and Hackney Colleges, London; Western College, Bristol; Yorkshire United College, Bradford; Lancashire Independent College, Manchester; the Congregational Institute, Nottingham. In Wales there are three (one partly Presbyterian), in Scotland one, and in the colonies three. The students number over 400.
Congregational statistics are very uncertain before 1832, when the Union began to make such matters its concern. About 1716 Daniel Neal knew of 1107 dissenting congregations, 860 Presbyterian or Independent (of which perhaps 350 were Independent), and 247 Baptist. During the 18th century, though the Independents increased at the expense of the Presbyterians, it is doubtful whether they kept pace with the increase of population, until the Evangelical Revival. In 1832 they reckoned some 800 churches, the Baptists 532. In 1907 the figures were, for Great Britain as a whole: Churches, branch churches and mission stations, 4928; sittings, 1,801,447; church members, 498,953; Sunday school scholars, 729,347, with 69,575 teachers; ministers (with or without pastoral charge), 3197, together with 299 evangelists and lay pastors; lay preachers, 5603. In other parts of the British empire there are some 1045 churches and mission stations (many native), South Africa, 385; Australia, 311, and Tasmania, 49; British North America, 151; British Guiana, 50, and Jamaica, 48; New Zealand, 35; India, 15; Hongkong, 1. There are also congregational churches in Austria, Bulgaria, Holland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and in Japan (93). Apart from these, however, and some 150,000 communicants in its foreign missions, British and American “Congregationalism” reckons more than a million and a quarter church members; while, including those known as Baptists (q.v.), the total amounts to several millions more.
The Union of 1832 led indirectly to two further developments. In the first place it fostered the growth of Congregationalism in British colonies. Beginnings had already been made—partly by help of the London Missionary Society—in British North America (from New England), South Africa, Australia and British Guiana. But in 1836 a Colonial Missionary Society was founded in connexion with the Union. Secondly, a medium now existed for drawing closer the bonds between English and American Congregationalists. This gradually led to the idea of “An Ecumenical Council of Congregational Churches,” broached in 1874, and first realized in 1891, in the London International Council under the presidency of Dr R. W. Dale (q.v.). The second council met in Boston in 1899, and the third in Edinburgh in 1908. Their proceedings were issued in full, and the institution promised to take a permanent place in Congregationalism.
Bibliography.—The literature bearing on the subject is given with some fulness in the appendix to R. W. Dale’s History of English Congregationalism (1907), the most authoritative work at present available. For the ancient church the data are collected in T. M. Lindsay’s The Church and the Ministry in the early Centuries (1902), and in papers by the present writer in the Contemp. Review for July 1897 and April 1902. For the modern period in particular see H. M. Dexter’s Congregationalism of the Last Three Hundred Years, as seen in its Literature (New York, 1880), supplemented by bibliographies in the first vols. of the Congregational Historical Society’s Transactions (1901– ), themselves a growing store of fresh materials. Of the older histories Waddington’s Congregational History in 5 vols. (1869–1880) contains abundant data; while for more detailed study reference may be made to various county histories, such as T. Coleman, Independent Churches of Northamptonshire (1853), T. W. Davids, Annals of Evangelical Nonconformity in Essex (1863), R. Halley, Lancashire, its Puritanism and Nonconformity (1869); G. H. Pike, Ancient Meeting-Houses in London (1870); J. Browne, History of Cong. in Norfolk and Suffolk (1877); W. Urwick, Nonconformity in Hertfordshire (1884); W. Densham and J. Ogle, Congr. Churches of Dorset (1899); W. H. Summers, History of the Berks, S. Bucks, and S. Oxon. Cong. Churches (1905); and F. J. Powicke, History of the Cheshire Cong. Union, 1806—1906. The Victorian County Histories (Constable) may also be consulted. Important documents for Congregational Faith and Order, with historical introductions, are printed in Williston Walker’s Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism (New York, 1893). A classic exposition of Congregational theory is contained in R. W. Dale’s Manual of Cong. Principles (1884). (J. V. B.)
In America.—The history of American Congregationalism during its early years is practically that of the origin of New England. It may be said to begin with the arrival in 1620 of a small company including William Brewster, elder of the refugee church in Leiden, which founded Plymouth in the modern Massachusetts in the winter of that year. Strictly speaking the members of this colony were Separatists, i.e. they belonged to that small body of British Independents who “separated” from the state church under the leadership of Richard Clifton or Clyfton (d. 1616), rector of Babworth, and Brewster, a layman of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire. By the end of ten years the Plymouth colony numbered about 300. About 1628 the religious troubles in England led to the emigration of a large number of Puritans; the colony of Massachusetts Bay was founded in 1628–1630 by settlers led by John Endecott and John Winthrop, and a church on congregational lines was founded at Salem in 1629, and another soon afterwards at Boston, which became the centre of the colony. The similarity between the two colonies led to a close relationship, and considerable reinforcements continued to arrive until 1640. Certain differences in opinion on franchise questions led to the founding of the colony of Connecticut in 1634–1636 by settlers led by Thomas Hooker (d. 1647), John Haynes (d. 1654), and others, and the colony of New Haven was founded in 1638 by a small company under John Davenport (1597–1670) and Theophilus Eaton (d. 1658). In 1643 these four congregational colonies formed a confederacy with a view to their common safety.
It has been calculated that in the period 1620–1640 upwards of 22,000 Puritan emigrants (the figures have been placed as high as 50,000) sailed from British and Dutch ports. The reasons that compelled their departure determined their quality; they were all men of rigorous consciences, who loved their fatherland much, but religion more, driven from home not by mercantile necessities or ambitions, but solely by their determination to be free to worship God. They were, as Milton said, “faithful and freeborn Englishmen and good Christians constrained to forsake their dearest home, their friends, and kindred, whom nothing but the wide ocean and the savage deserts of America could hide and shelter from the fury of the bishops.” Men so moved so to act could hardly be commonplace; and so among them we find characters strong and marked, with equal ability to rule and to obey, as William Bradford (1590–1657) and Brewster, Edward Winslow (1595–1655) and Miles Standish (1584–1656), John Winthrop (1588–1649) and Dr Samuel Fuller, and men so inflexible in their love of liberty and faith in man as Roger Williams and young Harry Vane. As were the people so were their ministers. Of these it is enough to name John Cotton, able both as a divine and as a statesman, potent in England by his expositions and apologies of the “New England way,” potent in America for his organizing and administrative power; Thomas Hooker, famed as an exponent and apologist of the “New England way”; John Eliot, famous as the “apostle of the Indians,” first of Protestant missionaries to the heathen; Richard Mather, whose influence and work were carried on by his distinguished son, and his still more distinguished grandson, Cotton Mather. The motives and circumstances of the emigrants determined their polity; they went out as churches and settled as church states. They were all Puritans, but not all Independents—indeed, at first only the men from Leiden were, and they were throughout more enlightened and tolerant than the men of the other settlements. Winthrop’s company were nonconformists but not separatists, esteemed it “an honour to call the Church of England, from whence we rise, our dear mother,” emigrated that they might be divided from her corruptions, not from herself. But the new conditions, backed by the special influence of the Plymouth settlement, were too much for them; they became Independent,—first, perhaps, of necessity, then of conviction and choice. Only so could they guard their ecclesiastical and their civil liberties. These, indeed, were at first formally as well as really identical. In 1631 the general court of the Massachusetts colony resolved, “that no man shall be admitted to the freedom of this body politic, but such as are members of some of the churches within the limits of the same.”
This lasted till 1664. In New Haven the same system prevailed from 1639 till 1665. Church and State, citizenship in the one and membership in the other, thus became identical, and the foundation was laid for those troubles and consequent severities that vexed and shamed the early history of Independency in New England, natural enough when all their circumstances are fairly considered, indefensible when we regard their idea of the relation of the civil power to the conscience and religion, but explicable when their church idea alone is regarded. And this latter was their own standpoint; their acts were more acts of church discipline than those of civil penalty.
The years following the settlement of the four colonies were occupied in the solution of problems in church and civil government and in the preparation for the proper training of ministers. The relation between membership of the church and membership of the civic community has been mentioned. The principal problem which divided the settlers was that known as the “Half Way Covenant,” which concerned the status of the children of original church members. The difficulty was that, according to the principles held by the founders of the churches, the admission to membership of a parent involved a similar status in the case of his children; on the other hand, no adult could be admitted unless the church as a whole was convinced that he was a man of proved Christian character. A compromise was arrived at by two assemblies, the first a convention of ministers held at Boston in 1657, the second a general synod of the churches of Massachusetts in 1662. As a result of these assemblies it was decided that those who had become members in childhood simply by virtue of their parents’ status could not subsequently join in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper nor record votes on ecclesiastical issues, unless they should approve themselves fit; they might, however, in their turn bring their children to baptism and hand on to them the degree of membership which they themselves had received from their own parents. This classification of the members into those who were in full communion and those who belonged only to the “Half Way Covenant” was vigorously attacked by Jonathan Edwards, but it was not abolished until the early years of the 19th century.
Of far greater importance not only to Congregationalism but also to the future of the American colonies was the care taken by the settlers to provide adequate training for their ministers. As early as 1636 they founded Harvard College, and in 1701 Yale College was established. The emphasis laid by the Congregationalists on this branch of their work has been characteristic of their successors both in America and in Great Britain. Ten years after the foundation of Harvard, missionary work among the Indians was undertaken by John Eliot and Thomas Mayhew. Eliot produced his Indian translation of the Scriptures in 1661–1663, and by about 1675 there were six Indian churches with some 4000 converts.
The enthusiasm which thus marked the early years of American Congregationalists rapidly cooled from one generation to another. It was not until 1734 that a new outburst of zeal was aroused by the “revivalist” work of Jonathan Edwards, followed in 1740–1742 by George Whitefield. This wave of enthusiasm spread from Northampton, Mass., till it swept New England. Unfortunately, however, the solid work achieved was accompanied by much superficial excitement among emotional persons for whom the so-called “Great Awakening” was merely a passing sensation. Moreover there was considerable controversy between the “Old Lights,” who regarded the “revival” as positively pernicious, and the “New Lights,” who approved it. Partly owing to its own faults and partly owing to the stress of political excitement which followed it, the Edwardean revival was followed by nearly half a century of lethargy, during which the chief interest centred in the gradual growth of doctrinal controversy. Two new theological schools began to emerge from the old Calvinistic theology of the early settlers. The first owed its origin to Jonathan Edwards (the elder) and was carried on by Samuel Hopkins (1721–1803), Joseph Bellamy (1719–1790), Nathaniel Emmons (1745–1840), Jonathan Edwards (the younger) and Timothy Dwight (1752–1817). This system of thought, known as the “New England Theology,” rapidly became predominant, and by the beginning of the 19th century was generally adopted. An equally important school, though numerically smaller, came into existence in eastern Massachusetts under the leadership of Charles Chauncy (1592–1672) and Jonathan Mayhew (1720–1766). During the events which led up to the Declaration of Independence this school, known as the “Liberal” school, was not prominent though the number of its adherents steadily grew. Subsequently, however, largely owing to the activity of men like William Ellery Channing, it acquired great importance. As early as 1805 it was recognized as predominant in Harvard College, and in 1815 it had become a distinct denomination under the new title “Unitarian” (see Unitarianism).
When the excitement caused by the Revolution had subsided, Congregationalism entered upon a new period of energy. From 1791 onwards revival work again became prominent with results which far surpassed those of the Edwardean period. The number of church members steadily increased, and activities of wider and more lasting importance were undertaken. The loss of Harvard College compelled the provision of new seminaries, and missionary work both home and foreign was vigorously carried on. The following are the seminaries founded since 1800: Andover (1808), Bangor (1816), Hartford (1834), the theological school of Oberlin College (1835), Chicago (1858), Pacific (1869; now at Berkeley, Cal.), and Atlanta (Georgia), 1901. In 1822 a special theological department was organized at Yale. Up to 1810 missionary work had been carried on at home by several local societies, but in that year the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was organized. Other societies undertook various departments of work at home: the Congregational Education Society, for assisting candidates for the ministry (1815); the American Missionary Association (1846), founded by the anti-slavery party for the conversion of the negroes, which subsequently devoted its energies to work among the Indians of the west, the negroes of the south, the Chinese of the west coast and the Eskimo in Alaska; to aid in the building of churches and mission rooms the American Congregational Union was formed in 1853 (now called the Congregational Church Building Society). To these last societies is largely due the growth of the Congregational body in the west. In the early days of this expansion Congregationalism and Presbyterianism worked hand in hand, but the so-called “Plan of Union” (1801) was successively abandoned by the Conservative Presbyterians in 1837 and by the Congregationalists through the “Albany Convention” in 1852. It was this decision which for the first time gave to Congregationalists a true feeling of denominational unity (see below).
The 19th century was a period of considerable progress for the Congregational body, and on the whole the same may be said for the first seven years of the 20th century. On the other hand, the numerical increase had not kept pace with the increase of population. The English Congregational Year Book for 1908 said, in reference to the United States: “In spite of phenomenal increase of population Congregationalism in the states, as here in London, is only marking time. If other sister churches were reporting progress, or were simply keeping abreast of the population, these facts would not be so ominous as they undoubtedly are. But we hear no good news of that kind, and gather small comfort from the mere fact that Congregational churches are holding their own as well as any of their neighbours.” It must, therefore, be admitted that the great expansion which marked the first half of the 19th century has not been proportionately maintained. None the less, Congregationalism has through its leading representatives taken an increasingly important part in theological controversy and scholarship generally. Among the followers of Jonathan Edwards the more prominent have been N. W. Taylor (Yale) and Edwards A. Park (Andover). A new statement of the doctrine of the Atonement, proposed by Horace Bushnell (1802–1876) about 1850, provoked great controversy, but during the later years of the 19th century was widely accepted under the title of the “New Theology.” It has not, however, caused a serious division within the denomination.
Congregationalism in America has thus spread from New England, its primitive home, over the West to the Pacific, but has never had more than a slight foothold in the Southern states. The remarkable junction or fusion of the Independents or “Separatists” who emigrated from Leiden to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Puritan Nonconformists of Massachusetts Bay, modified Independency by the introduction of positive fraternal relations among the churches. This gave rise to Congregationalism in the more proper sense of the term. Beyond the limits of New England the progress of the denomination as such was, as we have seen, a good deal hindered for a long period by the willingness of New Englanders going West either to join the Presbyterians, with whom they were substantially agreed in doctrine, or to combine with them in a mixed scheme of policy in which the Presbyterian element was uppermost. It was not until about 1850 that American Congregationalists began to draw more closely together, and to propagate in the Western states and territories their own distinctive policy. Meanwhile, without giving up the main principle of the autonomy of the local church, they have developed in various ways an active disposition to co-operate as a united religious body. This tendency to denominational union is manifest partly in the work of the various educational and missionary societies which have been enumerated, but more strikingly in the institution of the National Council, which is convened at intervals of three years, and is composed of ministers and lay delegates representing the churches. The council, like the minor advisory councils which have been from early times called together for the guidance of particular churches on occasions of special difficulty, is each time dissolved at its adjournment. It is possessed of no authority. Its function is to deliberate on subjects of common concern to the entire denomination, and to publish such opinions and counsels as a majority may see fit to send forth to the churches. The first of the National Councils (held at Boston in 1865) issued a brief statement of doctrine (the “Burial Hill Declaration”), descriptive of the religious tenets generally accepted by the denomination. Later (1883) a large committee, previously appointed, framed a more full confession of faith (the “Commission Creed”), with the same end in view. Of course neither of these creeds was in the least binding upon ministers or upon churches, except so far as in each instance they might be voluntarily adopted. The movement in the direction of union has been still further promoted by the International Councils referred to above (section on British Congregationalism ad fin.), in which the American Congregationalists have met the representatives of their brethren in Great Britain and its colonies having the same faith and polity. In the different states, conferences, composed likewise of representatives of the several churches and their pastors, have sprung up. These meet at stated intervals for the consideration of practical subjects of moment, and for the promotion of a religious spirit. There is a tendency, moreover, to accord to the conferences the function of determining the tests of ministerial standing in the Congregational denomination. In some of the states the licensing of preachers, which was formerly left to the voluntary associations of ministers in the different localities, has been made a function of the state conferences. At the very first, in New England, the theory was held that a minister, on ceasing to be the pastor of a particular church, falls into the rank of laymen. But the view was very soon adopted, and since has universally prevailed, that a minister in such cases still retains his clerical character. In later times the measure of authority conceded to a pastor as the shepherd of a flock has been much diminished in consequence of the gradual development of democratic feeling in both minister and congregation. This loss of clerical prestige has been due in no small degree to the increasing habit of dispensing with a form of installation, and of substituting for a permanent pastorate, instituted with the advice and consent of a council, an engagement to serve as a minister for a fixed term of one or more years. Under this custom of “stated supplies” ordination may be granted to those whose ministry in a particular church is made and dissolved by no other process than a mutual agreement. The Congregational churches, as distinct from the churches retaining the same polity, but separated by the adoption of Unitarian opinions, have in times past professed to be Calvinists of stricter or more moderate types. But as early as 1865, Arminians were welcomed to Congregational fellowship. In the last few decades, with the spread in the community of innovations in doctrinal and critical opinions, a wider diversity of belief has come to prevail, so that “Evangelical,” in the popular sense of the term, rather than “Calvinistic,” is the epithet more suitable to American Congregational preachers and churches.
The Year-Book for 1907 reported the total number of communicants in all the states at 708,913 (in 1857, 224,732); Sunday-school scholars, 679,044 (in 1857, 195,572); churches, 5989 (in 1857, 2350); ministers, 5972 (in 1857, 2315); the amount of benevolent contributions by the churches as $2,591,693, in addition to a total home expenditure of $8,986,727. In the theological seminaries there were 417 students in 1907–1908, as compared with a maximum of 596 in 1891–1892, and a minimum of 181 in 1864–1865. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions reported for the year ending August 31, 1907: 579 missionaries and 4135 native workers; 580 churches with 68,000 communicants and 65,000 scholars.
See Williston Walker, History of the Congregational Churches in the United States (1894); A. Dunning, The National Council Digest (Boston, 1906).
- An ancient city generally included a district around it, dwellers in which would go ecclesiastically, as well as politically, with those living within the city proper.
- So not only the Didachē (xv. 3, cf. xiv. 1, 2), but also Tertullian (Apol. ch. 39), and even Cyprian and the 4th-century Apostolic Constitutions (ii. 47), as well as the Didascalia, its 3rd-century basis.
- G. M. Trevelyan, England in the Age of Wycliffe (1899); W. H. Summers, Our Lollard Ancestors (1906), pp. 51, 92, 109 ff.
- Here in 1561 appeared A Confession of faith, made by common consent of divers reformed Churches beyond the seas; with an Exhortation to the Reformation of the Church. It advocated “the polity that our Saviour Jesus Christ hath established,” with “pastors, superintendes, deacons”; so that “all true pastors have equal power and authority . . . and for this cause, that no church ought to pretend any rule or lordship over other”; and none ought “to thrust himself into the government of the Church [as by ordination at large], but that it ought to be done by election.” See Burrage, The Church-Covenant Idea, p. 43.
- See, however, The Presbyterian Movement in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, as illustrated by the Minute Book of the Dedham Classis, 1582–1589 (Camden Society, 3rd series, vol. viii., 1905).
- See F. J. Powicke, Henry Barrow (1900), pp. 128 f., for his views on the topic.
- I.e. to all honest leaders in State, as well as in Church, as it was in Israel when a king like Hezekiah restored the Covenant and then set about enforcing obedience to it. The problem of interpretation of the Divine Will, especially in the case of the “papist” or traditionalist, lay beyond their vision at the time. Hence their doctrine was not really one of freedom of conscience or toleration.
- S. Bredwell, The Rasing of the Foundations of Brownisme (1588), p. 135. See also F. J. Powicke, “Lists of the Early Separatists,” in Cong. Hist. Soc. Transactions, i. 146 ff.
- So the Amsterdam church petitioned James, on his accession, to allow them to live in their native land on the same terms as French and Dutch churches on English soil (see Walker, op. cit. 75 foll.)
- The abstract term dates only from the 18th century. But “congregational” (due to the rendering of ecclesia by “congregation” in early English Bibles) appears about 1642, to judge from the New English Dictionary.
- “Independent” is not yet used technically, as it came to be about 1640.
- The opposite of this external Independency, admission of civil oversight even for churches enjoying internal ecclesiastical self-government, was also common, being the outcome of the traditional Puritan attitude to the state. See A. Mackennal, The Evolution of Congregationalism (1901), pp. 43 ff.
- For the distinction between “Gathered” and “Re-formed” churches in this connexion, see Dale, p. 376.
- A parallel is afforded by the history of Congregationalism in Scotland, which arose early in the 19th century through the evangelistic fervour of the Haldanes in an era of “moderatism”; also by the rise of the kindred Evangelical Union, shortly before the Disruption in 1843. These two movements coalesced in a single Congregational Union in 1897.
- Another disability, acutely felt by all Nonconformists, created by the act of 1662, viz. exclusion from the national centres of education, they strove earnestly to remedy by their academies, the story of which is sketched by Dale, pp. 499 ff., 559-561.
- The modern use of the term “chapel” seems to date only from Methodism (Mackennal, p. 165).
- In Ireland the oldest existing Congregational church (at Cork) dates from 1760; but most belong to the 19th century. There are now 41 churches, attended by about 10,000 persons. The Channel Islands have 12 churches, the oldest founded in 1803.