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Congregationalism, a belief that it was the right and duty of each congregation to make its own decisions about its affairs, independent of any higher authority, emerged in Britain in the late 16th century. In the 16th and 17th centuries Congregationalists were often called Independents. In the 19th century Congregationalists were one of the largest Nonconformist groups and tended to share the faith and general outlook of the evangelical movement.


The retention by the Anglican State Church of the prelatical form of government and of many Catholic rites and ceremonies offensive to genuine Protestants resulted in the formation of innumerable Puritan factions, with varying degrees of radicalism. The violent measures adopted by Elizabeth and the Stuarts to enforce conformity caused the more timid and moderate of the Puritans to remain in communion with the State Church, though keeping up to the present day an incessant protest against "popish tendencies" but the more advanced and daring of their leaders began to perceive that there was no place for them in a Church governed by a hierarchy and enslaved to the civil power. To many of them, Geneva was the realization of Christ's kingdom on earth, and, influenced by the example of neighbouring Scotland, they began to form churches on the model of Presbyterianism. Many, however, who had withdrawn from the "tyranny" of the episcopate, were loath to submit to the dominion of presbyteries and formed themselves into religious communities acknowledging "no head, priest, prophet or king save Christ". These dissenters were known as "Independents" and in spite of fines, imprisonments, and the execution of at least five of their leaders, they increased steadily in numbers and influence, until they played a conspicuous part in the revolution that cost Charles I his crown and life. The earliest literary exponent of Independence was Robert Brown, from whom the dissenters were nicknamed Brownists. Brown was born in 1550, of a good family, in Rutlandshire, and studied at Cambridge. About 1580 he began to circulate pamphlets in which the State Church was denounced in unmeasured terms and the duty was inculcated of separating from communion with it. The godly were not to look to the State for the reform of the Church they must set about it themselves on the Apostolic model. Brown defines the Church as a "company or number of Christians or believers, who, by a willing covenant made with their God, are under the government of God and Christ, and keep his laws in one holy communion". This new gospel attracted numerous adherents. A congregation was formed in Norwich which grew rapidly. Summoned before the bishop's court, Brown escaped the consequences of his zeal through the intervention of his powerful relation, Lord Burghley, and, with his followers, migrated to Holland, the common refuge of the persecuted reformers of all Europe. The Netherlands were soon flooded with refugees from England, and large congregations were established in the principal cities. The most flourishing Independent Church was that of Leyden under the direction of John Robinson. It was to this congregation that the "Pilgrim Fathers" belonged, who in 1620 set sail in the Mayflower for the New World.

The successful establishment of the New England colonies was an event of the utmost importance in the development of Congregationalism, a term preferred by the American Puritans to Independency and gradually adopted by their coreligionists in Great Britain. Not only was a safe haven now opened to the fugitives from persecution, but the example of orderly communities based entirely on congregational principles, "without pope, prelate, presbytery, prince or parliament", was a complete refutation of the charge advanced by Anglicans and Presbyterians that Independency meant anarchy and chaos, civil and religious. In the Massachusetts settlements, "the New England way", as it was termed, developed, not indeed without strifes and dissensions, but without external molestation. They formed, from the Puritan standpoint, the veritable kingdom of the saints and the slightest expression of dissent from the Gospel was punished by the ministers was punished with scourging, exile, and even death. The importance of stamping out Nonconformity in the American colonies did not escape the vigilance of Archbishop Laud he had concerted measures with Charles I for imposing the episcopacy upon them, when war broke out between the king and the Parliament. During the Civil War in England, though few in number compared with the Presbyterians, they grew in importance through the ability of their leaders, notably of Oliver Cromwell who gained for them the ascendency in the army and the Commonwealth. In the Westminster Assembly convened by the Long Parliament in 1643, Independency was ably represented by five ministers, Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge and Sidrach Simpson, known as "The Five Dissenting Brethren", and ten or eleven laymen. They all took a prominent part in the debates of the Assembly, pleading strongly for toleration at the hands of the Presbyterian majority. They adopted the doctrinal articles of the Westminster Confession with slight modifications but as there could be no basis of agreement between them and the Presbyterians regarding church government, a meeting of "elders and messengers" of "the Congregational churches" was held at the Savoy in 1658 and drew up the famous "Savoy Declaration", which was also accepted in New England and long remained as authoritative as such a document could be in a denomination which, theoretically, rejected all authority. From this Declaration we obtain a clear idea of the Congregationalist notion of the Church.

The elect are called individually by the Lord, but "those thus called (through the ministry of the word by His Spirit) he commandeth to walk together in particular Societies or Churches, for their mutual edification and the due performance of that Public Worship which He requireth of them in this world". Each of these particular churches is the Church in the full sense of the term and is not subject to any outside jurisdiction. The officers of the church, pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons, are "chosen by the common suffrage of the church itself, and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of that church, if there be any before constituted therein" the essence of the call consists in election by the Church. To preserve harmony, no person ought to be added to the Church without the consent of the Church itself. The Church has power to admonish and excommunicate disorderly members, but this power of censure "is to be exercised only towards particular members of each church as such". "In case of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification, or any member or members of any church are injured in or by any proceeding in censures not agreeable to truth and order, it is according to the mind of Christ that many churches holding one communion together do by their messengers meet in a Synod or Council to consider and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned: Howbeit, these Synods so assembled are not entrusted with any church power properly so called, or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures, either over any churches or persons, or to impose their determination on the churches or officers." If any person, for specified reasons, be dissatisfied with his church, "he, consulting with the church, or the officer or officers thereof, may peaceably depart from the communion of the church wherewith he hath so walked, to join himself to some other church". Finally it is stated that "churches gathered and walking according to the mind of Christ, judging other churches (though less pure) to be true churches, may receive unto occasional communion with them such members of these churches as are credibly testified to be godly and to live without offense".

Such are the main principles of Congregationalism regarding the constitution of the church in doctrine the Congregational teachers were, for the most part, strictly Calvinistic. Independent ascendency came to an abrupt close at the death of Cromwell and the restoration of Charles II. The Presbyterians, who had seated the Stuart on his throne, might hope for his favour there was slight prospect that he would tolerate the democratic tenets of Congregationalism. As a matter of fact Charles and his servile parliament persecuted both forms of dissent. A succession of severe edicts, the Corporation Act, 1661, the Act of Uniformity, 1662, the Conventicle Act, 1663, renewed, 1670, the Five-Mile Act, 1665, and the Test Act, 1673, made existence almost impossible to Nonconformists of all shades of belief. Yet in spite of persecution, they held out until the eighteenth century brought toleration and finally freedom. It is characteristic of the Puritans that, notwithstanding the sufferings they had undergone they spurned the indulgence offered by James II, because it tolerated popery in fact, they were more zealous than the rest of the nation in driving James from the throne. The exclusion of Dissenters from the British universities created a serious problem for the Congregationalists as well as for the Catholics to the sacrifices which these and other denominations out of communion with the State Church made for the maintenance of academies and colleges conducted according to their respective principles, England, like America, owes that great boon so essential to the well-being of civilized nations, freedom of education. During the eighteenth century, while the clergy of the Established Church, educated and maintained by the State, were notoriously incapable and apathetic, whatever there was of spiritual energy in the nation emanated from the denominational colleges.

Congregationalists - History

Congregationalism is a form of Protestant Christianity which asserts the principle that a local congregation is completely autonomous under God and therefore should not submit to any outside, human authorities such as a regional or national synod of elders (as in Presbyterianism) or a bishop (as in Episcopalianism). Baptists also practice this form of church government, but they are not referred to under the term Congregationalists (or its synonym Independents ). Congregationalists are those who practice this form of polity while also maintaining the practice of infant baptism.

Because Congregationalism occupies a much humbler place in the configuration of Christianity today, it is easy to forget its prominence and significance in Victorian England. Likewise Congregationalism was not as numerically significant in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Although Congregationalists were important in the heady, turbulent days of the mid-seventeenth century -- claiming no less an adherent than the Protector, Oliver Cromwell himself -- the largest body at that time of what would become known in the Victorian period as "Old Dissent" was the Presbyterians. ("Old Dissent" refers to English denominations outside the Church of England which can trace their history back to the seventeenth century "New Dissent" refers to the denominations which were founded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as a result of the Methodist movement.) By the Victorian period, however, the Congregationalists were the largest body of Old Dissent. The English Presbyterians had largely mutated into Unitarians and had atrophied. The Quakers were kept small by their exacting rules, notably their insistence that members who married non-Quakers be expelled. The Congregationalists and the Baptists, however, filled their sails with the new wind of the Spirit that came with the Evangelical Revival, and grew dramatically. The Congregationalists went from 229 local churches in England and Wales in 1718 to 3,244 in 1851. Moreover, Congregationalist and Baptist growth was clearly surpassing population growth. They went from 2.28% of the population in 1718 to 7.70% in 1851.

Therefore, in the Victorian era some of the most respected Evangelical ministers (such as J. A. James) and some of the most popular preachers (such as Thomas Binney) were Congregationalists. One of the finest English Victorian theologians outside the Church of England, R. W. Dale, was also a Congregationalist. As a quirk of fate or divine providence would have it, however, the best known Congregationalists happened to hail from Presbyterian-dominated Scotland: the great theologian, P. T. Forsyth (who made his real mark in the early decades of the twentieth century), and, most of all, the larger-than-life missionary and explorer, David Livingstone.

One example of the way that Congregationalists were at the forefront of the advance of Dissenters in Victorian society is that they were the first denomination outside the church establishment to found an Oxbridge college (Mansfield College, Oxford, founded in 1886). Nevertheless, there was an irony in the success of Congregationalists in the Victorian age. Their revitalization was due in no small part to their having learned from the Methodists, and one of the lessons they had learned was that greater results could be had by greater co-operation and central planning. Thus the story of Victorian Congregationalism is one in which more and more decisions were not being taken independently at the local, congregational level, but rather by various wider Congregational bodies, most notably, the Congregational Union of England and Wales which was founded in 1831.


Binfield, Clyde. So Down to Prayers: Studies in English Nonconformity, 1780-1920 . London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1977.

Dale, R. W. . History of English Congregationalism , London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906.

Jones, R. Tudur . Congregationalism in England, 1662-1962 . London: Independent Press, 1962.

Peel, Albert. These Hundred Years: A History of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, 1831-1931 . London: Congregational Union, 1931.

Watts, Michael R. The Dissenters Volume II: The Expansion of Evangelical Nonconformity 1791-1859 . Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.


Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972.

Andrews, John A., III. Rebuilding the Christian Commonwealth: New England Congregationalists and Foreign Missions, 1800–1830. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1976.

Buggeln, Gretchen Townsend. Temples of Grace: The Material Transformation of Connecticut Churches, 1790–1840. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 2003.

Sassi, Jonathan D. A Republic of Righteousness: The Public Christianity of the Post-Revolutionary New England Clergy. Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Scott, Donald M. From Office to Profession: The New England Ministry, 1750–1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.

Journey of Faith: History of NGCC

In 1827, North Greenwich Congregational Church was founded by farmers. Greenwich had become a thriving town by then, population about 3800. All of the town north of Glenville was woods, swamps, rocks and isolated farms. King Street, Quaker Ridge Road and Round Hill Road were dirt roads, impassable in heavy snow and flood.

Silas Mead, Deacon and one of the founding members wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the church, “It now seems evident that it was God’s purpose that a meeting house for His worship should be built on this hill, where it now stands.” So, on “one certain tract of land, lying and being in said Greenwich, containing 13 acres and three roads, be the same, more or less. Bounded north and east by the highway, south by the land of Darius Mead and west by the land of Silas Mead.” Mr. Mead sold his property to the North Greenwich Society for $500.00!

Really, this “Fourth” Congregational Church might have been called the Mead Church for of the original 18 members, 13 were Meads, either direct relatives, or by marriage.

In the first fifty years of the church, there was plenty of diversity in the pulpit. There were six permanent pastor during this period and 281 different ministers preaching – including 5 Episcopalians, 5 Baptists, 18 Methodists, 1 Quakeress (presumably a woman) and one Jew. The rest were Congregationalists, Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian.

And, speaking of change, the church has been illuminated by candles, whale oil, kerosene, electricity from a generator and, as late as 1933, by electricity from Connecticut Power and Light.

Transportation to the church had been by foot, horseback, farm wagon, ox cart, sleigh, carriage, Model T, Cadillac, and for our Pan Am pilots, coming home for the weekend, the 747.

But, some things remain the same. From the 150th anniversary history: “The basic theology and religious practice of the Congregational Church are essentially the same since 1827. We are much less formal and certainly require less preaching from the pulpit.”

The last excommunication was in 1840. Ah, cast your mind back! In December 1835, a "temperance" committee was formed to visit those members who had absented themselves from public worship. Mrs. Harriet Cummings had missed church services during the winter. Poor Harriet was also questioned in reference to visiting places of amusement and of being guilty of “unchristian” conduct. She admitted that she had been to such places, but did not attempt to dance. After requesting prayers, she was restored to “good and regular standing.”

A complaint was made against Benjamin Knapp for living in "habits of intemperance." He refused to refrain from “all that would intoxicate” and was excommunicated, but later given only a one-year probation. Even a Mead, Silas Mead, was censured for not attending services for three years.

Money, of course, was always an issue. Chauncey Wilcox, the first pastor, was dismissed after 18 years over a pay dispute. His annual salary was $400.00. The middle front pews of the old church were rented for income. Pew rent was discontinued in 1918.

So, here were are, many years later!! The "temperance" committee, needless to say, was disbanded long ago. Having refurbished and rededicated our historic sanctuary, the North Greenwich Society’s mission moves forward, for WE are now the living extension of a grand "backcountry" tradition.


CONGREGATIONALISTS. Congregationalist churches, part of the United Church of Christ (UCC) since 1957, were among Cleveland's first and most influential religious institutions. The UCC was the first major denomination to place its national headquarters in Cleveland (1990). Congregationalists were active in the first years of the town's growth and, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, conducted much of the city's mission work among immigrants. They have maintained their traditionally autonomous churches, liberal theology, ecumenical orientation, and vigorous social activity. In the town's early years Congregationalists vied with PRESBYTERIANS to establish churches. Under the Plan of Union, Presbyterians and Congregationalists united to evangelize the western U.S. Most of the churches under the plan, after brief attempts to combine the organizational forms, finally affiliated with either Congregationalism or Presbyterianism. Many of the oldest of the city's Congregational churches began as Presbyterians. ARCHWOOD UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST, the first of the city's existing Congregational churches, was organized in 1819 with a Presbyterian Confession of Faith, and maintained links to a nearby synod. It associated with the Cleveland Congregational Conference in 1867. First Congregational Church (Cleveland, closed in 1954) was organized as First Presbyterian Church of BROOKLYN in 1834. It left the Presbyterians in 1848 to become an independent Congregational church, and 10 years later joined the Cleveland Congregational Conference. EUCLID AVE. CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH started as First Presbyterian Church in 1843 but became Congregational in 1854.

Plymouth Congregational Church resulted from dissension and instability introduced by the conflicting Presbyterian and Congregational forces within FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (OLD STONE). Nurtured by Congregationalists, Plymouth adopted a mixed form of government. Finally, in 1835, under Rev. SAMUEL AIKEN, the church settled into Presbyterianism. A number of religions and new churches can be traced at least partly to dissatisfaction with the form of organization. The most significant defection, Free Presbyterian Church 1850, resulted from opposition to the church's moderate antislavery stance and its practice of charging for pews, in addition to misgivings about its structure. Two years later, to mark its new denominational leanings, Free Presbyterian took the name Plymouth Congregational Church at the suggestion of New York's Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Plymouth Congregational disbanded in 1913 but, with the aid of the Congregational Union, was reconstituted in 1916 as one of the 5 churches provided for by the VAN SWERINGEN brothers in SHAKER HTS. One Congregational church that began as such in 1855 had its own mixed denominational heritage. When it was organized in 1859, Heights (later Pilgrim) Congregational Church (see PILGRIM CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH) combined members, confessions, and organizational forms from Congregational, Methodist, Wesleyan Methodist, and Presbyterian churches.

In general, Congregationalism suffered in Cleveland under the Plan of Union. The Congregational form of government, with autonomous churches, was considered by many inappropriate for a pioneer region such as the WESTERN RESERVE, where denominational support and supervision were needed. In addition, other Presbyterian churches were located in nearby Pennsylvania, closer than the New England Congregationalists. As a result, Plan of Union churches in the city tended to be Presbyterian, while those outside of town were more likely to be Congregational. One historian aptly characterized the phenomenon: the milk from Congregational cows was being turned into Presbyterian butter. By 1865, out of a total of 50 churches, there were 4 Congregational churches in Cleveland, including 2 that had just left the Presbyterians, as compared to 6 Presbyterian churches. Although individual Congregational churches were self-governing, the need to establish some connections with other churches led in 1853 to the formation of the Cleveland Congregational Conference. The conference exercised no supervisory functions but provided a forum for discussion and a base for joint efforts. It supplied the organizational framework for much of the denomination's mission and benevolent work.

From 1880-1910, Congregationalists mounted the most extensive mission effort of all the area's denominations. They established missions throughout the city to reach nearly 2 dozen different ethnic and language groups and founded the Bible Readers' School in 1886 (later the SCHAUFFLER COLLEGE OF RELIGIOUS & SOCIAL WORK). Many individual churches conducted their own mission work. Plymouth Congregational's Olivet Chapel worked with the Czech community. Pilgrim Congregational reached out to new neighborhood residents: by 1895 it conducted classes in English, trained immigrants for jobs, and sponsored clubs for all ages and interests. The church building itself was constructed with outreach in mind, as an auditorium with sliding doors and walls, according to the Akron Plan. In addition to churches that grew from missions, Congregationalists established churches in the SUBURBS and surrounding towns. From 9 churches in 1880, Cleveland Congregationalism increased to 21 by 1896, more Congregationalist churches than in any U.S. city except Boston and Chicago.

Congregational churches promoted a variety of social and moral reforms. First Congregational Church (earlier known as First Presbyterian Church, Ohio City) was one of the most socially active. Its long-time minister, JAMES A. THOME, joined the antislavery effort. Congregational churches worked for TEMPERANCE and aided the poor and orphans, continuing their moral reform efforts after the Civil War, particularly in the Women's Crusade of 1873 against liquor traffic. In 1886 Pilgrim Congregational Church established the JONES HOME for Friendless Children. Benevolent work sponsored by church women's organizations has been another regular feature of Congregational church activity Christian Endeavor societies for younger members were popular around the turn of the century.

With their distaste for limiting creeds and strict organizational forms, the city's Congregationalists actively supported ecumenical efforts. At various times early in the 20th century, for example, Pilgrim Congregational Church held services that involved ST. THEODOSIUS RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL, Methodist and German Evangelical churches, and TIFERETH ISRAEL. Formal ecumenical agreements shaped 20th-century Congregationalism. Some diversity was introduced in 1931 with the merger of Congregational churches with Christian (or Christian Congregational) churches, which brought in more African American members, among other changes. The ecumenical process went a step further in 1957, when Congregational churches nationwide merged with the Evangelical & Reformed church to form the United Church of Christ. The UNITING SYNOD was held in Cleveland's Music Hall. The merger added the German and Methodist influences of the Evangelical & Reformed denomination. In 1986 the UCC numbered 48 churches, compared to 43 for the Presbyterians, of the metropolitan area's more than 1,300 churches. Predominantly a white denomination until the 1970s, the UCC had 1 black church, the influential MT. ZION CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH (est. 1864). Other black UCC churches, such as East View UCC and Shaker Community Church (a former Evangelical & Reformed church), resulted when AFRICAN AMERICANS moved into formerly all-white areas. In the 1980s local UCC churches have been among the most active in the INTERCHURCH COUNCIL OF GREATER CLEVELAND and the Inner-City Renewal Society. Efforts to promote civil rights, peace, and economic justice in the 1980s continued the social activism that has characterized Congregationalists in Cleveland.

On 2 Jan. 1990, the UCC opened its national headquarters in the former Ohio Bell Bldg. in downtown Cleveland (700 Prospect Ave.) under Pres. Rev. Paul H. Sherry. The previous July the denomination had voted to move from New York, to be closer to the geographic center of the national membership. In 1990 the Ohio Conference was the largest of the 39 UCC regional bodies, with about 170,000 members in nearly 500 churches.

Presbyterians and Congregationalists in North America

Presbyterians and Congregationalists arrived in colonial America as Dissenters however, they soon exercised a religious and cultural dominance that extended well into the first half of the nineteenth century. The multi-faceted Second Great Awakening led within the Reformed camp by the Presbyterian James McGready in Kentucky, a host of New Divinity ministers in New England, and Congregationalist Charles Finney in New York energized Christians to improve society (Congregational and Presbyterian women were crucial to the three most important reform movements of the nineteenth century—antislavery, temperance, and missions) and extend the evangelical message around the world. Although outnumbered by other Protestant denominations by mid-century, Presbyterians and Congregationalists nevertheless expanded geographically, increased in absolute numbers, spread the Gospel at home and abroad, created enduring institutions, and continued to dominate formal religious thought. The overall trajectory of nineteenth-century Presbyterianism and Congregationalism in the United States is one that tracks from convergence to divergence, from cooperative endeavours and mutual interests in the first half the nineteenth century to an increasingly self-conscious denominational awareness that became firmly established in both denominations by the 1850s. With regional distribution of Congregationalists in the North and Presbyterians in the mid-Atlantic region and South, the Civil War intensified their differences (and also divided Presbyterians into antislavery northern and pro-slavery southern parties). By the post-Civil War period these denominations had for the most part gone their separate ways. However, apart from the southern Presbyterians, who remained consciously committed to conservatism, they faced a similar host of social and intellectual challenges, including higher criticism of the Bible and Darwinian evolutionary theory, to which they responded in varying ways. In general, Presbyterians maintained a conservative theological posture whereas Congregationalists accommodated to the challenges of modernity. At the turn of the century Congregationalists and Presbyterians continued to influence sectors of American life but their days of cultural hegemony were long past. In contrast to the nineteenth-century history of Presbyterian and Congregational churches in the United States, the Canadian story witnessed divergence evolving towards convergence and self-conscious denominationalism to ecclesiastical cooperation. During the very years when American Presbyterians were fragmenting over first theology, then slavery, and finally sectional conflict, political leaders in all regions of Canada entered negotiations aimed at establishing the Dominion of Canada, which were finalized in 1867. The new Dominion enjoyed the strong support of leading Canadian Presbyterians who saw in political confederation a model for uniting the many Presbyterian churches that Scotland’s fractious history had bequeathed to British North America. In 1875, the four largest Presbyterian denominations joined together as the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The unifying and mediating instincts of nineteenth-century Canadian Presbyterianism contributed to forces that in 1925 led two-thirds of Canadian Presbyterians (and almost 90 per cent of their ministers) into the United Church, Canada’s grand experiment in institutional ecumenism. By the end of the nineteenth century, Congregationalism had only a slight presence, whereas Presbyterians, by contrast, became increasingly more important until they stood at the centre of Canada’s Protestant history.

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Congregationalists - History

I. English Congregationalism.

See the sources of the Westminster Assembly, and the historical works of Neal, Stoughton, and others mentioned in §§ 92, 93, and 94.

John Robinson (Pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers in Leyden, d.1626): Works, with Memoir by Robert Ashton. London, 1851, 3 vols.

The Grand Debate concerning Presbytery and Episcopacy in the Westminster Assembly (Lond.1652).

The works of Drs. Goodwin, Owen, Howe, and other patriarchs of Independency.

Benjamin Brook: The Lives of the Puritans from Queen Elizabeth to 1662. London, 1813, 3 vols.

Benjamin Hanbury: Historical Memorials relating to the Independents or Congregationalists, from their Rise to the Restoration of the Monarchy, A.D.1660. London (Congreg. Union of England and Wales), 1839-1844, 3 vols.

Jos. Fletcher: History of Independency in England since the Reformation. London, 1847-1849, 4 vols.

George Punchard (of Boston): History of Congregationalism from about A.D.250 to the Present Time.2d ed. rewritten and enlarged, New York and Boston (Hurd & Houghton), 1865-81, 5 vols. (The first two vols. are irrelevant.)

John Waddington: Congregational History, 1200-1567. London, 1869-78, 4 vols. Second volume from 1567 to 1700, Lond.1874. (See a searching and damaging review of this work by Dr. Dexter in the "Congreg. Quarterly" for July, 1874, Vol. XVI. pp.420 sqq.)

Herbert S. Skeats: A History of the Free Churches of England from l688 to l851. London, 1867 2d. ed.1860.

II. American Congregationalism.

The works of John Robinson, above quoted, especially his Justification of Separation from the Church of England (1610, printed in 1639).

John Cotton (of Boston, England, and then of Boston, Mass.): The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England. Or the Way of Churches Walking in Brotherly Equality or Co-ordination, without Subjection of one Church to another. Measured by the Golden Reed of the Sanctuary. London, 1645. By the same: The Way of Congregational Churches cleared (against Baillie and Rutherford). London, 1648.

Thomas Hooker (of Hartford, Conn.): A Survey of the Summe of Church Discipline. London, 1648.

Robinson, Cotton, and Hooker are the connecting links between English Independency and American Congregationalism. Their rare pamphlets (wretchedly printed, like most works during the period of the civil wars, from want of good type and paper) are mostly found in the Congregational Library at Boston, and ought to be republished in collected form.

Alexander Young: Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers of the Colony of Plymouth, from 1602 to 1628. Boston, 1841.

Alexander Young: Chronicles of the first Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. From 1623 to 1636. Boston, 1846.

George B. Cheever: The Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, in New England, in 1620 reprinted from the original volume, with illustrations. New York, 1848.

Nathanael Morton (Secretary to the Court for the Jurisdiction of New Plymouth): New England's Memorial. Boston, 1855 (6th ed. Congreg. Board of Publication). Reprints of Memorial of 1669, Bradford's History of Plymouth Colony, etc.

Benjamin Trumbull, D.D.: A Complete History of Connecticut, Civil and Ecclesiastical, from the Emigration of its first Planters, from England, in the year 1630, to the year 1764. New Haven, 1818, 2 vols.

Leonard Bacon: Thirteen Historical Discourses, on the Completion of Two Hundred Years from the Beginning of the First Church in Sew Haven. New Haven, 1839.

Joseph B. Felt: The Ecclesiastical History of New England comprising not only Religious, but also Moral and other Relations. Boston, Mass. (Congregational Library Association), 1855-1862, 2 vols.

Joseph S. Clark: A Historical Sketch of the Congregational Churches in Massachusetts from 1620 to 1858. Boston, 1858.

Memorial of the Semi-Centennial Celebration of the Founding of the Theological Seminary at Andover. Andover, Mass.1859.

Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of Connecticut prepared under the Direction of the General Association to Commemorate the Completion of One Hundred and Fifty Years since its First Annual Assembly. New Haven (publ. by Wm. L. Kingsley), 1861.

Daniel Appleton White: New England Congregationalism in its Origin and Purity Illustrated by the Foundation and Early Records of the First Church in Salem [Mass.]. Salem, 1861. Comp. Reply to the above, by Joseph B. Felt. Salem, 1861.

The first vols. of G. Bancroft's History of the United States (begun in 1834) last ed.1876, 6 vols.

John Gorham Palfrey: History of New England. Boston, 1859-1874, 4 vols.

Leonard Bacon: The Genesis of the New England Churches. New York, 1874.

Henry Martyn Dexter: As to Roger Williams and his 'Banishment' from the Massachusetts Plantation with a few further Words concerning the Baptists, the Quakers, and Religious Liberty. Boston, 1876 (Congregational Publishing Society). A vindication of the Massachusetts Colony against the charge of intolerance.

Numerous essays and reviews relating to the Congregational polity and doctrine and the history of Congregational Churches may be found in the volumes of the following periodicals:

American Quarterly Register. Boston, Mass.1827-1843, 15 vols.

The Christian Spectator.1st series monthly 2d series quarterly. New Haven, 1819-1838, 20 vols.

The New-Englander, quarterly (continued). New Haven, 1843-1876, 34 vols.

The Congregational Quarterly (continued). Boston, Mass.1st series, 1859-1868, 10 vols. 2d series, 1869-1876, 8 vols.

The Congregational Year-Book. New York, 1854-1859, 5 vols.

Other light is thrown on the Congregational history and polity by Results of Councils, many of which, in cases of peculiar interest, have been published in pamphlet form.

Congregational Order. The Ancient Platforms of the Congregational Churches of New England, with a Digest of Rules and Usages in Connecticut. Publ. by direction of the General Association of Connecticut. Middletown, Conn.1843. [Edited by Leonard Bacon, David D. Field, Timothy P. Gillet.]

Thomas C. Upham: Ratio Disciplinæ or, The Constitution of the Congregational Churches, Examined and Deduced from Early Congregational Writers, and other Ecclesiastical Authorities, and from Usage.2d edition. Portland, 1844.

Preston Cummings: A Dictionary of Congregational Usages and Principles according to Ancient and Modern Authors to which are added brief Notices of some of the Principal Writers, Assemblies, and Treatises referred to in the Compilation. Boston, 1852.

George Punchard: A View of Congregationalism, its Principles and Doctrines the Testimony of Ecclesiastical History in its Favor, its Practice, and its Advantages. [1st edition, 1840.] Third edition, revised and enlarged. Boston (Congreg. Board of Publication), 1856.

Henry Martyn Dexter: Congregationalism: What it is Whence it is How it Works Why it is Better than any other Form of Church Government. Boston, 1865 5th ed. revised, 1879.

Congregationalism has its name from the prominence it gives to the particular congregation as distinct from the general Church. [1586] It aims to establish a congregation of real believers or converts, and it declares such a congregation to be independent of outward jurisdiction, whether it be that of a king or a bishop or a presbytery. Under the first aspect it has several precedents under the latter aspect it forms a new chapter in Church history, or at least it carries the protest against foreign jurisdiction a great deal farther than the Reformers, who protested against the tyrannical authority of the papacy, but recognized some governmental jurisdiction over local congregations.


In the New Testament the word church or congregation [1587] denotes sometimes the Church universal, the whole body of Christian believers spread throughout the world [1588] sometimes a particular congregation at Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, or any other place. [1589] The congregations are related to the Church as members to the body. The denominational and sectarian use of the word is foreign to the Scriptures, which know of no sect but the sect called Christians. [1590] Denominations or Confessions are the growth of history and adaptations of Christianity to the differences of race, nationality, and psychological constitution and after fulfilling their mission they will, as to their human imperfections and antagonisms, disappear in the one kingdom of Christ, which, however, in the beauty of its living unity and harmony, will include an endless variety.

An organized local congregation in the apostolic age was a company of saints, [1591] or a self-supporting and self-governing society of Christian believers, with their offspring, voluntarily associated for purposes of worship, growth in holiness, and the promotion of Christ's kingdom. The Apostolic churches were not free from imperfection and corruption, but they were separated from the surrounding world of unbelievers, and constantly reminded of their high and holy calling.

In the ante-Nicene age a distinction was made between the church of believers or communicant members and the church of catechumens or hearers who were in course of preparation for membership, but not allowed to partake of the communion. [1592] Public worship was accordingly divided into the service of the faithful (missa fidelium) and the service of the catechumens (missa catechumenorum).


With the union of Church and State since Constantine the original idea of a church of real believers was gradually lost, and became identical with a parish which embraced all nominal Christians in a particular place or district. Baptism, confirmation, and attendance at communion were made obligatory upon all residents, whether converted or not, and every citizen was supposed to be a Christian. [1593] The distinction between the Church and the world was well-nigh obliterated, and the Church at large became a secular empire with an Italian sovereign at its head. Hence the complaint of Dante (in Milton's rendering):

'Ah! Constantine, of how much ill was cause,

Not thy conversion, but those rich domains

That the first wealthy Pope received of thee!'


Monasticism was an attempt in the Catholic Church itself to save the purity of the congregation by founding convents and nunneries secluded not only from the world, but also from all ties of domestic and social life. It drained the Church of many of its best elements, and left the mass more corrupt.

The Bohemian Brethren and the Waldenses introduced strict congregational discipline in opposition to the ruling Church.

The Reformers of the sixteenth century deplored the want of truly Christian congregations after the apostolic model, and wished to revive them, but Luther and Zwingli gave it up in despair from the want of material for congregational self-government (which can never be developed without an opportunity and actual experiment).

Calvin was more in earnest, and astonished the world by founding in Geneva a flourishing Christian commonwealth of the strictest discipline, such as had not been seen since the age of the Apostles. But it was based on a close union of the civil and ecclesiastical power, which destroyed the voluntary feature, and ended at last in the same confusion of the Church and the world.

The Anabaptists and Mennonites emphasized the voluntary principle and the necessity of discipline, but they injured their cause by fanatical excesses.

The German Pietists of the school of Spener and Francke realized their idea of ecclesiolæ in ecclesia, or select congenial circles within the outward organization of the promiscuous national Church, from which they never separated. Wesley did originally the same thing, but his movement resulted in a new denomination.

The Moravians went farther, and established separate Christian colonies, which in the period of rationalism and infidelity were like beacon-lights in the surrounding darkness.


English and American Congregationalism, or Congregationalism as a distinct denomination, arose among the Puritans during the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. It was at first identified with the name of the Rev. Robert Browne, and called Brownism but, being an unworthy representative and an apostate from his principles, he was disowned. [1594] It had other and more worthy pioneers, such as Barrowe, Greenwood, Johnson, Ainsworth, Penry, and especially John Robinson. [1595] The Independents were, like every new sect, persecuted under the reigns of James and Charles I., and obliged to seek shelter first in Holland and then in the wilderness of New England.

But with the opening of the Long Parliament, which promised to inaugurate a jubilee to all tender consciences, they began to breathe freely, and hastened to return from exile 'for,' says Fuller, 'only England is England indeed, though some parts of Holland may be like unto it.' [1596] They had a considerable share in the labors of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, especially through Dr. Goodwill and Rev. Philip Nye, who are styled the 'patriarchs' of orthodox Independency. They became the ruling political and religious power in England during the short protectorate of Cromwell, and furnished the majority to his ecclesiastical commission, called the Triers. After the Restoration they were again persecuted, being held chiefly responsible for the execution of King Charles and the overthrow of the monarchy. In 1689 they acquired toleration, and are now one of the most intelligent, active, and influential among the Dissenting bodies in England.

The classical soil of Congregationalism is New England, where it established 'a Church without a bishop and a State without a king.' From New England it spread into the far West, to the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and exerted a powerful influence upon other Churches. Puritan Congregationalism is the father of New England and one of the grandfathers of the American Republic, and it need not be ashamed of its children. [1597] It lacks a proper appreciation of historical Christianity and its claims upon our regard and obedience but by bringing to light the manhood and freedom of the Christian people, and the rights and privileges of individual congregations, it marks a real progress in the development of Protestantism, and has leavened other Protestant denominations in America for here congregations justly claim and exercise a much larger share, and have consequently a much deeper interest in the management of their own affairs than in the State Churches of Europe. The Congregational system implies, of course, the power of self-government and a living faith in Christ, without which it would be no government at all. It moreover requires the cementing power of fellowship.


Anglo-American Congregationalism has two tap roots, independency and fellowship, on the basis of the Puritan or Calvinistic faith. It succeeds in the measure of its ability to adjust and harmonize them. It is a compromise between pure Independency and Presbyterianism. It must die without freedom, and it can not live without authority, Independency without fellowship is ecclesiastical atomism fellowship without Independency leads to Presbyterianism or Episcopacy. [1598]

It starts from the idea of an apostolic congregation as an organized brotherhood of converted believers in Christ. This was the common ground of the Westminster divines. [1599] But they parted on the question of jurisdiction and the relation of the local congregation to the Church general. The Independents denied the authority of presbyteries and synods, and maintained that each congregation properly constituted is directly dependent on Christ, and subject to his law, and his law only. The whole power of the keys is vested in these individual churches.

At the same time, however, it is admitted and demanded that there should be a free fraternal intercommunion between them, with the rights and duties of advice, reproof, and co-operation in every Christian work.

This fellowship manifests itself in the forms of Councils, Associations (in Massachusetts), Consociations (in Connecticut), on a larger scale in 'the Congregational Union of England and Wales,' and 'the National Council of the Congregational Churches in the United States.' It is this fellowship which gives Congregationalism the character of a denomination among other denominations. But the principle of congregational sovereignty is guarded by denying to those general meetings any legislative authority, and reducing them simply to advisory bodies. [1600]

There were from the start two tendencies among Congregationalists -- the extreme Independents or Separatists, of whom the 'Pilgrim Fathers' are the noblest representatives, and the more churchly Independents, who remained in the English Church, and who established on a Calvinistic theocratic basis the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. John Robinson, the Moses of American Independency, who accompanied his flock to the deck of the Speedwell, but never saw the promised land himself, was a separatist from the Church of England, though he disowned Brownism with its extravagances. His colony at Plymouth were Separatists. The settlers of Boston, Salem, Hartford, and New Haven, on the other hand, were simply Nonconformists within the Church of England. Their ministers -- John Cotton, Richard Mather, Thomas Hooker, John Davenport, Samuel Stone, and others -- were trained in the English Universities, mostly in Cambridge, [1601] and had received Episcopal ordination. They rejected the term Independents, and inconsistently relapsed into the old notion of uniformity in religion, with an outburst of the dark spirit of persecution. But this was only temporary. American Congregationalism at present is a compromise between the two tendencies, and vacillates between them, leaning sometimes to the one, sometimes to the other side.


The effect of the Congregational polity upon creeds is to weaken the authority of general creeds and to strengthen the authority of particular creeds. The principle of fellowship requires a general creed, but it is reduced to a mere declaration of the common faith prevailing among Congregationalists at a given time, instead of a binding formula of subscription. The principle of independency calls for as many particular creeds as there are congregations. Each congregation, being a complete self-governing body, has the right to frame its own creed, to change it ad libitum, and to require assent to it not only from the minister, but from every applicant for membership. Hence there are a great many creeds among American Congregationalists which have purely local authority but they must be in essential harmony with the prevailing faith of the body, or the congregations professing them forfeit the privileges of fellowship. They must flow from the same system of doctrine, as many little streams flow from the same fountain.

In this multiplication of local creeds Congregationalism far outstrips the practice of the ante-Nicene age, where we find varying yet essentially concordant rules of faith in Jerusalem, Cæsarea, Antioch, Aquileja, Carthage, Rome.

With these local creeds are connected 'covenants' or pledges of members to live conformably to the law of God and the faith and discipline of the Church. A covenant is the ethical application of the dogmatic creed.

In the theory of creeds and covenants, as on the whole subject of Church polity, the Regular or Calvinistic Baptists entirely agree with the Congregationalists.

[1586] This term is preferable to Independency. In England both terms are used synonymously. The American Congregationalists rather disclaim the designation Independents, except for a small portion of their ancestors, namely, the 'Pilgrim Fathers' of Plymouth. See below.

[1587] ekklesia, from ekkaleo, to call out, means (like qhl) any public assembly, but especially a religious assembly.

[1589] Matthew 18:17 Acts 5:11 viii. 3 xv. 41 (in the plural, hai ekklesiai) Galatians 1:22 Romans 16:4, 5, etc.

[1590] Comp. Acts 11:26 xxvi. 28 1 Pet. iv. 16. There were parties or sects among the Christians at Corinth which assumed apostolic designations, but Paul rebuked them (1 Cor. 10-13 iii. 3, 4). The tribes of Israel may be quoted as a Jewish precedent of the divisions in Christendom, but they formed one nation.

[1591] ekklesiai ton hagion, 1 Corinthians 14:33.

[1592] Comp. the modern American distinction between church proper and congregation.

[1593] The Jews--like the 'untaxed Indians' in the United States--were excluded from the rights of citizenship, and as unmercifully persecuted during the Middle Ages as the Christians were persecuted by the Jews in the apostolic age.

[1594] Robert Browne, a clergyman of the Established Church and a restless agitator, urged a reformation 'without tarrying for any,' a complete separation from the national Church as an anti-Christian institution, and the formation of independent Christian societies. After suffering persecution and exile (he was imprisoned about thirty times), he returned to the Ministry of the national Church, where he led an idle and dissolute life till his death, in 1630, at the age of eighty years.

[1595] See on these early witnesses and martyrs of Independency, Hanbury (Vol. I. chaps. ii.-xxvi.), Brook (Vol. III.), and Punchard (Vol. III.).

[1597] I beg leave to quote from an essay which I wrote and published in the midst of our civil war (1863), when New England was most unpopular, the following tribute to its influence upon American history: 'It seems superfluous, even in these days of sectional prejudice, party animosity, and slander, to say one word in praise of New England. Facts and institutions always speak best for themselves. We might say with Daniel Webster, giving his famous eulogy on Massachusetts a more general application to her five sister States: "There they stand: look at them, and judge for yourselves. There is their history--the world knows it by heart: the past at least is secure." The rapid rise and progress of that rocky and barren country called New England is one of the marvels of modern history. In the short period of two centuries and a half it has attained the height of modern civilization which it required other countries more than a thousand years to reach. Naturally the poorest part of the United States, it has become the intellectual garden, the busy workshop, and the thinking brain of this vast republic. In general wealth and prosperity, in energy and enterprise, in love of freedom and respect for law, in the diffusion of intelligence and education, in letters and arts, in virtue and religion, in every essential feature of national power and greatness, the people of the six New England States, and more particularly of Massachusetts, need not fear a comparison with the most favored nation on the globe. But the power and influence of New England, owing to the enterprising and restless character of its population, extends far beyond its own limits, and is almost omnipresent in the United States. The twenty thousand Puritans who emigrated from England within the course of twenty years, from 1620 to 1640, and received but few accessions until the modern flood of mixed European immigration set in, have grown into a race of several millions, diffused themselves more or less into every State of the Union, and take a leading part in the organization and development of every new State of the great West to the shores of the Pacific. Their principles have acted like leaven upon American society their influence reaches into all the ramifications of our commerce, manufactures, politics, literature, and religion there is hardly a Protestant Church or Sabbath-school in the land, from Boston to San Francisco, which does not feel, directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, the intellectual and moral power that constantly emanates from the classical soil of Puritan Christianity.'

[1598] Dr. Emmons, one of the leaders of New England Congregationalism, is credited with this memorable dictum: 'Associationism leads to Consociationism Consociationism leads to Presbyterianism Presbyterianism leads to Episcopacy Episcopacy leads to Roman Catholicism and Roman Catholicism is an ultimate fact' (Prof. Park, in Memoir of Emmons, p. 163). But there would be equal force in the opposite reasoning from Independency to anarchy, and from anarchy to dissolution. Independents have a right to protest against tyranny, whether exercised by bishops or presbyters ('priests writ large') but there are Lord Brethren as well as Lord Bishops, and the tyranny of a congregation over a minister, or of a majority over a minority, is as bad as any other kind of tyranny.

[1599] 'The Form of Presbyterial Church Government agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster,' and adopted by the General Assembly of Scotland in 1645, thus defines a local Church: 'Particular churches in the primitive times were made up of visible saints, viz., such as, being of age, professed faith in Christ and obedience unto Christ, according to the rules of faith and life taught by Christ and his apostles, and of their children.' The Form of Government ratified by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States in May, 1821, gives this definition (Ch. II. 4): 'A particular church consists of a number of professing Christians, with their offspring, voluntarily associated together for divine worship and godly living, agreeably to the Holy Scriptures, and submitting to a certain form of government.'

[1600] The most serious conflict between the principles of Independency and Fellowship in recent times has grown out of the unhappy Beecher trial, which has shaken American Congregationalism to the very base. See Proceedings of the two Councils held in Brooklyn in 1874 and 1876, which represent both sides of the question (Dr. Storrs's and Mr. Beecher's), though presided over by the same Nestor of American Congregationalism (Dr. Leonard Bacon).

[1601] Masson (Life of Milton, Vol. II. p. 563) says that of seventeen noted ministers who emigrated to New England, fourteen were bred in Cambridge, and only three (Davenport, Mather, and Williams) at Oxford. R. Williams was probably likewise a Cambridge graduate. It was therefore natural that the first college in New England should be called after Cambridge.

History of Religion in America

Introduction The issue of religious freedom has played a significant role in the history of the United States and the remainder of North America. Europeans came to America to escape religious oppression and forced beliefs by such state-affiliated Christian churches as the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. That civil unrest fueled the desire of America’s forefathers to establish the organization of a country in which the separation of church and state, and the freedom to practice one’s faith without fear of persecution, was guaranteed. That guarantee was enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution (text) as, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ”

The splintering of Christianity resulted in more than 900 denominations of that faith currently existing in the United States, of which the vast majority of Americans are members. The U.S. was the first western nation to be founded predominately by Protestants — not Roman Catholics. That fact alone expresses America’s willingness to experiment with the novel and a defiance of tradition. Its history includes the emergence of Utopian Experiments, religious fanaticism, and opening the door to such exotic religions as Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Taoism. Such has been the winding road of religious evolution in America.

The role of religion among American Indians For untold generations before Europeans came to America, native peoples celebrated the bounty given to them by the Great Spirit. Across America, such Indian tribes as The Algonquians, The Iroquois, Sioux, and the Seminoles worshiped the Great Spirit, who could be found in animals as well as inanimate objects. Elaborate rituals and such dances as the Sundance, Round, Snake, Crow, Ghost and others were developed and led by such native leaders as Wodiziwob, Wovoka , Black Elk, Big Foot, Sitting Bull , and others. As white colonists drove Indians onto reservations, the fervency of their religious practices increased, even as Christian missionaries made inroads that influenced their spirituality.

Colonial religious splintering

Religious persecution and iron-fisted rule by state-affiliated Christianity in Europe began to loosen its hold in the 16th century when, for the sake of debate, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.

King Henry VIII founded the Church of England, owing to disagreements regarding papal authority. In later attempts to free themselves from the tie of the state governmental system imposed by the Church of England (Anglican Church), such denominations as the Reformed-Presbyterian churches and the European Free Church were formed.

Those religious parents gave birth to the next wave of Christian denominations. Reforms were brought by the Puritans to the American colonies. Such calls to “purify” the Anglican Church led to the birthing of the Baptists and Congregationalists in America. As later cries for reform and renewal took place, further splintering occurred among the Methodists, Pentecostals, Fundamentalists and Adventists, each bearing a diminished resemblance to their original parents.

Evangelical movement roots and branches

Evangelism has played an integral part in the history of religion in America, from colonial times to the present, while its methods of dissemination have changed dramatically. Spreading the “Good News” during colonial times was accomplished through books printed by the Puritans on the press brought to Boston in 1638, or carried across the Atlantic on ships loaded with colonists. During the Great Awakening of the 1740s, white Protestant evangelists proselytized to black Americans. The Methodists were most successful, owing to their belief in a “near” rather than “distant” god, self help, liberation of sin through conversion, and their lively preaching and singing methods of worship during evangelical revivals. During the 19th century, Methodists held camp meetings in the frontier states.

Evangelism turned to elaborate crusades in the 20th century when such preachers as Billy Sunday attempted to convince nonbelievers that they should "jump ship" from their ancestral Christian denominations. Tent revivals, broadcast by radio and television, were dynamic with charismatic preachers who captured the attention of millions of people.

"Televangelists" of the 1950s through the late 1980s brought a personality-based form of worship to the small screen, until scandals involving Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts, provoked widespread distrust of them. While they were relegated to cable TV networks, evangelistic websites slowly began to crop up on the Internet during the early 1990s. Because of the anonymous nature of that interactive communication tool, people felt more comfortable sharing their personal beliefs and faith over the Internet with a large audience, or with one unknown person. Media evangelists incorporated multimedia presentations with sound, the written word, movies and video technologies.

Major Protestant denominations in the colonies Although they crossed the Atlantic to be free of a state-sponsored religion, settlers' everyday lives were extensively shaped by their religious beliefs and practices. The First Amendment to the Constitution (narrative), which is called the “Establishment Clause,” states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Also, the relationship between religion and politics was established in Article VI of the First Amendment that states, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The definition of the separation of church and state found in the U.S. Constitution has caused more disagreement than any other in the nation’s history. To prevent a return to a centralized, overbearing government, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, without which ratification by Virginia and New York would not have occurred.

To fully understand the impact of the spread of Christian denominations in America, it is important to look at them and their origins individually. Listed below is a brief summary of those denominations, beginning with a proto-denomination, The Puritans.

Puritans The Puritans came to the New England colonies to escape religious persecution. The Puritans later gave birth to the Baptists and the Congregationalists. Led by John Winthrop, 900 Puritan colonists landed in Massachusetts Bay. Managing to endure the hardships of pioneer life and accustomed to caring for each other’s needs, they prospered, and their numbers grew from 17,800 in 1640 to 106,000 in 1700. Their attempt to “purify” the Church of England and their own lives was based on the teachings of John Calvin. Using the New Testament as their model, they believed that each congregation and each person individually was responsible to God. Their belief that their destiny was predetermined, their self-imposed isolation, and religious exclusivity, would later lead to witch hunts beginning in 1688. The expulsion of Roger Williams in 1636 and Anne Hutchinson in 1638 was caused by their neighbors' fear of "evil" in their midst. The Puritans also were responsible for the first free schooling in America and established the first American college, Harvard College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Congregationalists Based on the Calvinist (Reformed) tradition and strictly opposed to external authorities, Congregationalists came to New England and established the Plymouth Colony in 1620. As part of the Separatist movement, Congregationalists broke from the Anglican Church and established independent congregations in which God was the absolute authority. Prone to splintering, those congregations experienced a great number of local schisms during the first Great Awakening in the 1740s. During the 1800s, membership declined as their Methodist and Baptist cousins continued to gain strength. Unitarianism developed as an offshoot of COngregationalism, initially due to disagreement over the reality of the Trinity. Over the years, their resistance to dependence and external secular and clerical authority has lessened. Many Congregationalist churches have subsequently merged with other churches from the Reformed tradition. Today their membership in the U.S. is slightly more than 120,000 members.

Methodists The tap root of Methodism was a group of Oxford University students, amongst whom were its founders, John and Charles Wesley. Begun within the Anglican Church, Methodists were not fleeing religious persecution from the Church of England when they came to the Mid-Atlantic colonies in the 1730s and ‘40s. When Francis Asbury arrived in 1771, Methodism comprised 1,160 members served by 10 preachers in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Asbury promoted circuit riding and thus increased American Methodism to 214,000 by the time of his death in 1816. Together with Philip William Otterbein, Reformed Church pastor Methodist preacher Jacob Albright, and Martin Boehm, Asbury created the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784, and became one of its first bishops. One of the more liberal Christian denominations, the United Methodist Church has become the second-largest Protestant denomination in America with 8.6 million members.

Lutherans In no other American Christian denomination did national origin play such an important role in its history as the Lutheran Church. Members came from Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway. The Lutherans settled on the East Coast and American Midwest, and celebrated worship services in their native tongues. From their first foothold in 1619, Lutherans began to establish a sum total of 150 synods. In the late 19th century, they began to merge as the Americanization process eliminated the language barriers that had previously kept them separate. After many previous mergers, three of the larger Lutheran bodies came together in 1988 to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which currently counts more than half of the Lutheran membership in the U.S. A more conservative branch is the Missouri Synod.

Presbyterians Bearing little resemblance to the liturgy, structure, and tradition associated with the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian and Reformed churches share a common origin in the teachings of John Calvin and the 16th century Swiss Reformation. By definition, the Presbyterian denomination is anchored in an active, representational leadership style for both ministers and lay members. Presbyterians mostly came from England, Scotland, and Ireland. With an elected body of elders (or presbyters) that work with the congregation’s ordained minister, their belief structure and practices are centered around the Bible and “the sovereignty of God.” Presbyterians make up one of the largest branches of Protestant Christianity today.

Quakers Founded in 1647 by English preacher George Fox, the Society of Friends emphasized a direct relationship with God. One’s conscience, not the Bible, was the ultimate authority on morals and actions. William Penn, whose writings about freedom of conscience (while imprisoned in England) formed the basis of religious understanding for Quakers around the world. Penn established what would later be called Pennsylvania, an American religious sanctuary in the late 17th century. He believed in religious toleration, fair trade with Native Americans, and equal rights for women. Quakers did not have a clergy or dedicated church buildings, and therefore held their meetings in which participants deliberated silently on issues and spoke up when “the Spirit moved them.” Dressed in plain clothes, Quakers preferred a simple life over one enjoyed by the aristocracy of England and the burgeoning merchant class in the colonies. They also shared an abhorrence of violence.

Major liturgical denominations in the colonies

The oldest Christian churches: Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, have left their unique stamp on the history of religion in America. Called "liturgical" for their adherence to an elaborate, set form of ritualistic worship practices, most of those churches observe seven sacraments throughout their members’ lives, whereas later Christian denominations usually celebrated only two. They practice an allegiance to certain creeds or doctrines that originated in the early centuries of the Christian church, and profess a succession of leadership from the founding of the Christian church at Pentecost.

Roman Catholicism Even though it was not the first to arrive in the colonies, Roman Catholicism ranks as the largest Christian tradition in the U.S. with 25.6 million members, or 23 percent of the population. Arriving with the Spanish in what is now Florida in 1513, and in the southwest and on the Pacific coast when Junípero Serra began to build missions in California, they received additional members when a group of colonists settled in Maryland in 1634. Roman Catholics had at one time held tightly to their cultural roots, but later joined the rest of American society. The American church has continued its allegiance to the pope, even though many of its members disagree with him on such issues as birth control, abortion, and women in the priesthood.

Anglicanism The Church of England (later the Episcopal Church in the U.S.) was first planted on American soil at the ill-fated Roanoke colony in Virginia, when their first services were held on August 13, 1687. Since that landing, they grew and experienced numerous schisms, especially in the 1970s when changes in their attitudes towards sexuality, women’s admission to the priesthood, and their Book of Common Prayer, aroused controversy. Their worship services are similar in some ways to those of Roman Catholicism, and their clergy orders are the same: bishops, priests, and deacons. They espouse an inclusive policy toward membership.

Eastern Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy in America consists of more than a dozen church bodies whose national origin is reflected by their names, such as the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, Romanian Orthodox Episcopate of America, and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Eastern Orthodox beliefs are based on holy tradition, or doctrines from early Christianity, and the Bible. The decrees of church councils and the writings of early church fathers establish the authority of church beliefs. Their clergy consist of bishops, priests, and deacons. Their worship services are the most elaborate of all Christian traditions.

The rise and fall of utopian communities Utopian communities were established in America as places where adherents could achieve a perfect religious, political and social system. The first community was established by a group of Dutch Mennonites in 1663 near what is now Lewes, Delaware. Between 1663 and the American Revolution, approximately 20 communities were established. Some communal living arrangements were established for religious purposes, and often to withdraw from society. The great Harmonist Society, Christians who came from Germany during the late 1700s and 1800s, fled religious persecution, then flourished in Pennsylvania and Indiana. Other such utopian communities were established by the Amish and the Shakers.

Throughout its history, the U.S. has been fertile ground for such communal living arrangements, and provided an alternative to the mainstream culture, while still reflecting some of that culture’s fundamental values. By far, the most successful in U.S. history has been the Mormons, whose leader, Joseph Smith, established Mormon communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. He produced the Book of Mormon and other religious texts, established missionary work around the world, and participated in temple construction, among other things in his brief 39 years.

During the 1960s and 70s, those seeking self-fulfillment and personal growth joined utopian communities, many with Eastern religious masters. The majority of such communities provided an alternative lifestyle that exemplified some of the best attributes that America's original forefathers sought to provide. While most are benign, some utopian-styled communities, such as Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas Charles Manson’s creation of “Helter Skelter” and the Jim Jones ill-fated settlement in Jonestown, Guyana, inflicted a disastrous impact on its members.

Ever-changing tide of 20th-century religious followings

As the fragmentation of Christian denominations accelerated, persons living in the 20th century experienced the ebb and flow of religious conservatism and liberalism. While technology raced to the moon and beyond, the following major events occurred during that fast-paced era:

Fundamentalism. The rise of fundamentalism occurred in reaction to liberal and progressive views of Americans in the mid-19th century, biblical higher criticism, and the influx of non-Protestant immigrants at the beginning of the last century. Fundamentalists became known for their desire to emphasize a strictly literal interpretation of the Bible, and time-honored cultural patterns. Distinctive roles for men and women, parents and children, clergy and laity, were defined by readings from the Bible.

Most famously known for their stand against Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection taught in public schools, the Fundamentalist movement also takes credit for birthing the Christian Right in Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, the rise of Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movements' style of worship of speaking in tongues.

Israel gains statehood After centuries of persecution, the Jewish people carved out a piece of Palestine on May 14, 1948, that became home. According to historians, President Harry S. Truman offered his country’s recognition of Israel’s statehood for the sake of those who had suffered in the Nazi concentration camps, as well as the American Jewish population. Truman’s decision went against a tide of strong opposition as represented by highly respected Secretary of State George C. Marshall, who feared retaliation from Arab countries. America’s continued support of Israel has faced much criticism and support over the years, the latter notably among American evangelical churches.

Black leaders of the Civil Rights movement Forced to take positions of influence in their local churches during America’s Reconstruction era, the Bible Belt’s black ministers emerged before the public, beginning in the 1950s after Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of a public transit bus. During the next 20 years, such impassioned leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X created more change in the public and private sectors than had been seen before. Congregations from African-American Southern churches swelled and created a sustained presence on the American religious scene.

Spiritual hunger of the Sixties and Seventies Young people of the 1960s and 1970s lived during tumultuous times, witnessing the shooting of apresident, fighting the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of such civil rights leaders as Martin Luther King Jr. In their rebellion against the "establishment," those Baby Boomers and somewhat older confederates participated in the Free Speech Movement, experimentation with psychedelic drugs promulgated by former Harvard professor Timothy Leary, and explored such great world religions as Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Communes, run by eastern religious teachers, promised personal enlightenment and an escape from the complexity of modern society. Transcendental Meditation (TM) swept through America as young and old attempted to cope with society’s changing times. Beginning in 1965, the Jesus Movement swept the nation, offering inner transformation and a sense of togetherness not found in the drug culture where some 2,000 “hippies” had sought it.

New Age movement Buried in the psychic mysticism of the 1800s, the New Age movement emerged with clairvoyants and psychics giving advice on past and future lives, beginning in 1968. Having once identified with the wave of Eastern spiritual masters, New Agers began to look for answers in spirituality and the occult during the 1970s. Loosely organized in general, but also containing some highly structured groups and some authoritarian ones, the movement’s vision was one of universal transformation. The movement saw itself as part of a New Age with God as the universal bonding agent for all persons. Many different methods for a personal transformation weakened the efficacy of the movement as a whole, and by the 1980s, the movement had peaked. Hopes of imminent change in the social order faded by the 1990s. Those associated with New Age groups provided the basis for a full spiritual life with religious study and literature, learning experiences, and programs oriented towards spiritual practices and self-discipline. Scientology is the fastest-growing manifestation of the movement.

America continues to be a haven for those seeking religious freedom. Some 3,000 religious groups currently exist in the country. The residue from the New Age movement’s focus on a world view and lifestyle continue to benefit the relaxation of social divisions throughout the world in the new millennium. The fragmentation of Christian denominations has slowed, with a renewed interest in cooperation and ecumenism among many of those denominations. No longer considered a melting pot, the largely Protestant population is being exposed to the world’s “great religions” and multiple ethnic groups with Buddhist neighborhoods, Indian business owners, and Muslim colleagues. A growing antipathy toward the latter among some Americans stems from the infamous attack by terrorists on U.S. targets on September 11, 2001.

United Reformed Church History Society

The United Reformed Church History Society tells the story of English-speaking Congregationalists, English Presbyterians, and Churches of Christ all over the UK. We began uniting in 1972, but our traditions and our story go back to the sixteenth century.

Congregationalism in England and Wales
Congregationalists believe that the church is a community of Christian believers who commit themselves to nurture each other in the faith and who are able to make decisions on faith and order without reference to any external bodies, whether ecclesial or secular. “Congregationalism” is the polity developed by Congregationalists.

Congregationalists claim that their polity can be discerned in the New Testament and derives from the Reformation emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. Nevertheless, Congregationalism emerged gradually, finding its roots among English Puritans who believed that further reform was required in the national church. Robert Browne (1550-1633), who gathered a church of professing Christian believers at Norwich in 1581, is often considered to be the first to give voice to a Separatist or Independent ecclesiology. Those who shared his thinking were frequently referred to as Brownists. Nevertheless, his ideas were deemed seditious and he subsequently retracted them.

Around 1606, Independent churches were gathered on the border of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, by John Smyth (c.1570-1612) at Gainsborough, John Robinson (1576-1625) at Scrooby and Richard Bernard (1568-1641) at Worksop. Given their apparent opposition to the polity favoured by the ecclesial and political establishment, these early Independents lived in constant danger of persecution and sought refuge first in the Netherlands and then in the New World. In England, Independency and Congregationalism had the nature of Dissent: those who practised the polity did so in part because they held the form of the state church to be unbiblical. In New England, the Congregationalist majority assumed that the state should sponsor and support religious orthodoxy. Congregationalism there constituted the established religion, at least, in Massachusetts, until 1834. The first Independent church in Wales was inaugurated by William Wroth (1576-1641) at Llanfaches, Monmouthshire, in 1639, followed quickly by churches in Cardiff, Swansea and Wrexham.

During the following two decades, which witnessed the turmoil of the Civil Wars and the relative toleration of the Commonwealth period, Independents came to the fore. Around two hundred Congregationalists met at the Savoy Palace in London in 1658 and their meeting resulted in the publication of the classic statement of Congregationalism, namely the Savoy Declaration. While the Calvinist theology of the Westminster Confession (1647) was included virtually verbatim, the Savoy Declaration replaced the Presbyterian ecclesiology of the Westminster divines with a Congregational polity. The rule of the local church, when the covenanted members come together in church meeting, is paramount. Alongside this the separate responsibilities of the church and the state are upheld, though the latter was charged with supporting and encouraging the former and helping to maintain orthodox teaching.

However, by this time the Independents were no longer in the ascendent in the Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell, perhaps their greatest supporter, was dead. When the monarchy was restored in 1660 most Independents realised that an ecclesiastical settlement in which they were included was unlikely. From 1662 they were formally and legally excluded from the ecclesiastical and civil establishment as well as from the universities.

During the eighteenth century, Independent churches were reinvigorated as a result of the Evangelical Revival and the spiritual life nurtured by divines such as Philip Doddridge (1702-1751) and Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Their churches grew and their theology, always a brand of Calvinism, was modified. The nineteenth century witnessed significant growth as Congregationalism benefitted from the philanthropy of some of its prominent members such as the businessmen Titus Salt (1803-1876), Thomas Wilson (1764-1843) and his son Joshua (1795-1874). The latter two were particularly effective through the offices of the Congregational Union of England and Wales, which was formed in 1831. Welsh-speaking Congregationalists formed the Union of Welsh Independents in 1872. Neither Union held any specific authority over the local church or had decision-making power. They were inaugurated in order to offer mutual support and advice, though the centralising of resources, especially financial ones, inevitably gave them more significance and influence.

During the twentieth century, many Congregationalists were committed to the ecumenical quest for denominational union. Prominent among them was John Huxtable (1912-1990), the last General Secretary of the Union. He was at the helm when proposals were brought forward for the churches that were part of the Union to covenant together and become the Congregational Church in England and Wales. This happened in 1966, though the legal relationship of local congregations to the new “church” did not change. It was the Congregational Church in England and Wales which voted with the Presbyterian Church of England to form the United Reformed Church in 1972.

There were continuing Congregationalists after the 1972 union, some of whom formed the Congregational Federation, others inaugurated the Evangelical Fellowship of Congregational Churches while others remained independent.

Further Reading:
Alan Argent, The Transformation of Congregationalism: 1900-2000 (Nottingham: Congregational Federation, 2013).
W. Dale, A Manual of Congregational Principles (Oswestry: Quinta Press, 1996 [1884]).
Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in England, 1662-1962 (London: Independent Press, 1962).
R. Tudur Jones, Congregationalism in Wales, ed. Robert Pope (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2004).

Congregationalism in Scotland
The Congregational churches in Scotland often came out of a mixture of socio-political-church reform of the late 18 and early 19 centuries. They reacted against the moribund nature of the Church of Scotland of their time and soon became active in mission and adult education. They adopted a Congregational polity in relation to church governance. On the whole, they maintained a tendency towards Calvinism. The Evangelical Union came about initially through the work of James Morison (hence the term ‘Morisonianism’) primarily in relation to doctrines of salvation. They too adopted a Congregational polity, probably through a mixture of practical geographical realities and a response to their treatment by church courts and structures. The non/anti Calvinist stance of the Evangelical Union was a source of disagreement with many Congregationalists – Congregational Union students were expelled for Morisonian tendencies but also some Congregational Union churches moved to the Evangelical Union. After prolonged negotiations and with a general movement of Scottish Congregationalism away from Calvinism, the Unions (and their related colleges) united in 1896, and the new Congregational Union continued its movement away from Calvinism. Some Evangelical Union churches continued to use the abbreviation EU in their church names as Congregational Churches, and some (even those now in the United Reformed Church) are still be popularly known as the EU!

Further Reading:
Harry Escott, A History of Scottish Congregationalism (Glasgow:Congregational Union of Scotland, 1960).

Churches of Christ
The first conference of Churches of Christ in Great Britain and Ireland was held in Edinburgh in 1842, and from 1847 to 1981 such Conferences were held annually with the exception of 1940. The churches were distinguished by a commitment to the restoration of New Testament Christianity, and were influenced by the writings of Alexander Campbell, who took a leading part in the formation of the group known as Christian Churches or Disciples of Christ in the USA. Christian Unity was described as the “lode-star” of the movement. Believer’s baptism by immersion was the means of entry into membership, and Holy Communion – the Lord’s Supper – was celebrated weekly.

Each congregation was autonomous, ministry being exercised by elders and deacons, elected from within, but ministers, who had undergone a period of training were placed with churches or groups of churches as time went by. Overseas Missions were established in Thailand, India and Malawi.

In 1981 the majority of the Churches of Christ in Great Britain became part of the United Reformed Church.

Further Reading:
David M. Thompson, Let sects and parties fall (London: Berean Press, 1980).

English Presbyterianism
Presbyterianism in England had its beginnings in the reign of Elizabeth I, where many of the Puritans were Presbyterians. In 1572 a Presbytery was known to exist in Wandsworth, although the same should not lead readers to assume it was identical to a modern Presbytery. During the civil wars and the commonwealth Presbyterianism was as near the national organised church as anything else in England, reasonably well organised locally, and with a few Presbyteries beginning to meet in some areas such as Nottingham.

Come the restoration in 1660 Presbyterians, along with all other non-Episcopal clergy, were ejected, and persecuted until toleration in 1689. After toleration, Presbyterianism fell into decline in England, partly because of the lack of organised structure beyond the local church. Many congregations drifted into Unitarianism, and others into Congregationalism because there was no-one else to be Presbyterian with. Orthodox Presbyterianism clung on by the skin of its teeth in London, Northumberland, Cumberland, and only a handful of other places. By the nineteenth century, many Scots, Welsh, and Irish protestants were moving into England, and these “reinforcements” invigorated and renewed English Presbyterianism in the same way that Irish Roman Catholic immigration did for English Roman Catholicism.

The Presbyterian Church in England, totally separate from all Scottish links, was formed in 1844, and the different strands of Presbyterianism in England all united into the Presbyterian Church of England in 1876. In 1972, the Presbyterian Church of England united with the Congregational Church in England and Wales to form the United Reformed Church.

Further Reading:
David Cornick, Under God’s Good Hand (London: United Reformed Church, 1998).

Watch the video: Authority in the Local Church: Plural-Elder-Led Congregationalism