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§ 101. The Congregationalists.


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.

(1) Sources.

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.

(2) Histories.

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.

(3) Congregational Polity.

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.15861586   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. It aims 822to 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 congregation15871587    ἐκκλησία, from ἐκκαλέω, to call out, means (like קָהָל) any public assembly, but especially a religious assembly. denotes sometimes the Church universal, the whole body of Christian believers spread throughout the world;15881588    Matt. xvi. 18; Acts xx. 28; Gal. i. 13; Eph. i. 22, etc. sometimes a particular congregation at Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth, Rome, or any other place.15891589    Matt. xviii. 17; Acts v. 11; viii. 3; xv. 41 (in the plural, αἱ ἐκκλησίαι); Gal. i. 22; Rom. xvi. 4, 5, etc. 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.15901590   Comp. Acts xi. 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. i, 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. 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,15911591    ἐκκλησίαι τῶν ἁγίων, 1 Cor. xiv. 33. 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, 823but 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.15921592   Comp. the modern American distinction between church proper and congregation. 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.15931593   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. 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 824Christian 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.15941594   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. It had other and more worthy pioneers, such as Barrowe, Greenwood, Johnson, Ainsworth, Penry, and especially John Robinson.15951595   See on these early witnesses and martyrs of Independency, Hanbury (Vol. I. chaps. ii.-xxvi.), Brook (Vol. III.), and Punchard (Vol. III.). The Independents were, like every new sect, persecuted 825under 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.'15961596   Vol. VI. p. 280. 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.15971597   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.' It lacks a proper appreciation of historical 826Christianity 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.15981598   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.

It starts from the idea of an apostolic congregation as an organized 827brotherhood of converted believers in Christ. This was the common ground of the Westminster divines.15991599   '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.' 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.16001600   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).

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 828land 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,16011601   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. 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 829concordant 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.

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