What We Believe
The right of every individual to have immediate access to God is one of the fundamental precepts of Congregationalism. Our adherents believe that Jesus Christ alone is the head of His Church; that His Holy Spirit can speak directly to and can act through each member and each congregation without the benefit of bishop, hierarchies or presbyteries. A church exists based on the teachings of Jesus from Matthew 18:20, “for where two or three come together in my name, there am I also with them.”
A Congregational Christian believes in God as revealed in the life and teachings of Jesus. God is one whose unity is often expressed in the Trinitarian formula of the early church – God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit . The unity of Christendom is not established but rather recognized, and the unity to be sought is a oneness with Christ.
Congregationalism provides a free and simple way to salvation but it has never been known to be easy or cheap.
The freedom offered is not to be construed as freedom to do or to believe whatever one wishes, but rather as the opportunity to be the kind of person God intended one to be.
Congregational Christians believe that the human soul is eternal and that our human destiny lies in the choices we make and in our participation in the building of the kingdom of God.
St. Paul states that one who adheres to the Christian faith looks upon the Church universal as the mystical Body of Christ, of which Christ is the Head.
Sacraments and Rites
Most Congregational Churches observe two sacraments – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. You will also find that most member churches practice what is called “Open Communion” which means that all who love Jesus Christ and seek forgiveness for their sins, are welcome to the Lord’s Table.
Congregational Christian Churches, as do many Christian bodies, also practice at least three traditional rites – funerals and memorial services, marriages, and Confirmation.
Membership in a Congregational Church
A person seeking membership, traditionally meets first with the Board of Deacons/Deaconesses. Upon the Board’s recommendation, they are publically received at a regular church service in one of three ways: by confession of faith if they are uniting with a church for the first time; by reaffirmation of faith if they were a member of another congregation but without a letter of transfer; or by letter of transfer from another church.
In uniting with a Congregational Church, the individual makes a declaration of faith, acknowledging Jesus Christ as Saviour, and promising to follow Him as the Lord of their life. The seal of this promise is the covenant by which a local congregation binds itself together.
The new member accepts responsibility by faithfully attending and participating in worship services, by sharing in the ministries and missions of the local Church, and by contributing regularly to the financial support of the church. They are also expected to pray for the church and for others and to conduct a personal life in keeping with Christ’s teachings.
Our Way of Life
Members speak of their own local Congregation as the “gathered” church make up of individual Christians in a given geographical area assembled by Christ through their common love for Him. This is a covenantal relationship – that of Christians bound together, not by law but freely and in a mutually agreeable bond of love as in the following historical covenant: “We covenant with the Lord, and one another, and do bind ourselves in the presence of God, to walk together in all God’s ways, as the Almighty is pleased to reveal the word of truth to us (Salem Covenant of 1629).
Congregationalism derives its name from the promises it gives to its local body of Christian believers. Each church or congregation is a self-governing unit, with duties and responsibilities share equally by all members.
These self-governing Churches work together in local, state, and national associations, eeting for fellowship and for consideration of matters of general interest and common responsibility. Such associations, however, have no jurisdiction over the individual churches or their members. Their greatest blessing is the shared knowledge that they can do much more together in the Spirit of Christian love than they can alone.
Modern congregational Churches originated in England in the 16th Century, although hey were not called Congregational until the 18th Century. Spiritually minded members of the state-controlled Church sought to cleanse it by restoring simplicity, purity of doctrine, and ffreedom of worship. Some of those early reformers left the established Church and come to be known as Separatists. Those who chose to make the desired change within the framework of the Church were called Puritans.
To escape persecution, several congregations of Separatists went to Holland. In 1620 a group of these exiles set sail for America in the historic Mayflower. They became the Pilgrims of the Plymouth colony. In time, Puritans arrived from England to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There Puritans gave up trying to keep their Episcopal ties with the Church back in England and on congregational principles, joined forces with the Separatists. This laid the groundwork for the founding of many Congregational churches in the land. The effect of these Churches on American life is incalculable.
By Phil R. Jackson, M.Div.
About the author
The Rev. Phil Jackson was a pastor of several NA churches before serving as the NACCC’s Associate Executive Secretary(Dean of CFTS and Ministry Services). This piece was published as he left his national position and returned to parish ministry.