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Congregational Church Evolution: 7 Key Events in Congregation History

By    |   Tuesday, 10 February 2015 10:37 AM

The Congregational Church traces its roots to the 16th and 17th centuries in England, part of an effort to reform the Church of England and aspects of Christianity.

The church's structure was one of the significant differences between Congregational churches and others. "It emphasizes the right and responsibility of each properly organized congregation to determine its own affairs, without having to submit these decisions to the judgment of any higher human authority, and as such it eliminated bishops and presbyteries," according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. "Each individual church is regarded as independent and autonomous."

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Here are seven key events in the history of Congregational churches:

1. Congregationalists were called Independents in the early period in England and still are in some European countries. Some were also Separatists in the 17th century. It was a group of Separatists from Holland who joined the Mayflower Pilgrims to come to the United States.

2. Discord among Pilgrims settling in the New World pushed Congregationalism forward. According to the Congregational Library, the Independents became Congregationalists there. "This means that though individual churches were 'sufficient,' meaning that they ran their affairs without intrusion from outside, they were also part of a network of mutual obligation and 'watch care,'" says Britannica.

3. Ministers in Massachusetts Bay Colony created the Cambridge Platform in 1648. This document "laid out standards for ordaining ministers, accepting new church members, and cooperation between local churches. This would be the closest Congregationalists would come to a constitution, and the last time they would all meet together for the next two centuries." The Unitarian Universalist says the platform "defined congregational polity," and 21 of the 65 churches that signed the platform became Unitarian Universalist churches over time.

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4. Congregational churches benefited from the "Great Awakening," an evangelical movement during the 1730s and 40s, increasing the number of churches in their ranks to around 530, according to the Christian History Institute.

5. Congregationalists worked for social justice, speaking out on women's rights and becoming important participants in the anti-slavery movement. In fact, the Congregational Church took a strong stand against slavery, even as early as the 1600s. The church's influence in the the Anti-Slave Movement, as well as the Abolitionist Movement, encouraged many African Americans who had been born into slavery to join the denomination.

6. Congregationalists continue to be involved in social justice, joining the Social Gospel movement. "This was an effort to change all of society for the better — to establish the 'kingdom of God on earth' —  by campaigning for workers' rights, education and health care for the poor, and clean and accessible cities," says the Congregational Library.

7. In 1871, the Congregationalists formed the National Council of Congregational Churches and became a denomination.

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The Congregational Church traces its roots to the 16th and 17th centuries in England, part of an effort to reform the Church of England and aspects of Christianity.
Congregational Church, Christians, Faith, Religion, Evolution
Tuesday, 10 February 2015 10:37 AM
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