1632, only twelve years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth,
some families had settled permanently in the Marshfield area. At their
request, the church leaders allowed them to establish a congregation
closer to their homes.
The Marshfield church was “the second
church of God that issued out of the church of Plymouth,” the first
being in Duxbury. The churches in Duxbury and Plymouth eventually
switched to Unitarian Universalism, and are no longer Trinitarian
Congregational churches. Other Trinitarian Congregational churches that
were established by colonists who arrived in the New World after the
Pilgrims also switched to Unitarian Universalism. As a result, the
Marshfield congregation is now considered the oldest continuing
Trinitarian Congregational church in America.
At first, our
church met in homes, until our little congregation constructed its
first building on land donated by William Thomas, near the present
Winslow Cemetery. It was small and had a thatched roof. In 1706 the
congregation constructed a meeting house in a more convenient location,
a few yards to the east of the present site on Ocean Street. In 1759, a
larger building was erected on the present site and eventually it was
replaced with another. The current and fifth building was completed in
1838. Reverend Seneca White, whose portrait hangs in the narthex,
became the tenth pastor at that time. Reverend White was a Trinitarian,
and his calling as our pastor was in effect a vote to continue as a
Trinitarian Congregational church, and not to switch to Unitarianism.
Winslow, a Mayflower Pilgrim and governor of the Plymouth Colony, was a
founder of the church. His marriage to the widow Susannah White in 1621
was the first in the colony. She was the mother of Peregrine White, the
first child born to the Pilgrims in the New World on the Mayflower in
1620. Peregrine White became a member of the congregation in 1698. A
son of Edward and Susannah, Josiah Winslow, later became the governor
of Plymouth Colony.
The great statesman Daniel Webster attended
the church for over twenty years. He owned two pews for his family in
the front row and for his servant in the back. His funeral in 1852 was
held on his estate, but at his request the service was conducted by
Reverend Ebenezer Alden, then pastor of the church. The pew he occupied
is marked by a plaque.
For generation after generation, The
First Congregational Church of Marshfield has been a spiritual center
in the community. For 378 years our church has inspired, encouraged and
comforted families and individuals. We pray that with Divine Guidance
our church will continue to serve God’s people for countless
generations to come.
The below link is a file which was written and produced by Linda Ashley, a member of our church:
"In the Pilgrim Way" by Linda Ashley, a history of our Church"
AD 33 The church belonging to Jesus Christ established on the first Pentecost following His resurrection.
movement to which the name came to be applied began in the 16th and
17th century in England in a revolt against the Established Church.
Robert Browne published in 1582 the first theoretical exposition of
Congregational principles and expressed the position of some of those
separatists. Churches established on such lines were started very early
in the 17th cent. in Gainsborough and Scrooby, but government
opposition drove them into exile in Holland.
James, takes the throne upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I, and whose
name is now revered with the King James Bible , said of the dissidents,
“I will make them conform, or I will harry them out of the
1620 – We avoided Herod, Pontius
Pilate, the Dark Ages, Famine, Black Plague, Rome, Henry 8th sword, a
costly voyage across the ocean, and now lay our Faith onto you as our
living testament that you may grow and prosper in religious freedom…
should be noted that the Separatists, in total opposition to King
James, did not accept the King James Version of the Bible. They used
the Geneva Bible, published in Switzerland.
The original First
Church of Plymouth counts 1620 as its establishment in this country,
and its origins in Scrooby, England, in 1602, and subsequent removal to
Leyden, Netherlands, in 1607, as actually predating any Congregational
Church in this country.
1630 A Puritan group, led by John
Winthrop, sailed into Boston Harbor with a fleet of ships, and by sheer
numbers and better finances soon overshadowed Plymouth Colony. They
formed a colony called Massachusetts Bay Colony. These two colonies
existed side-by-side until 1692, when Massachusetts Bay absorbed
Plymouth Colony to form the Colony of Massachusetts.
1632 - In the records of the First Church in Plymouth, under the date 1632 and written in the margin, are found these words:
the beginning of the church of Marshfield was the second church of God
that issued out of the church of Plymouth. From marginal notes in
records of First Church in Plymouth; The Congregation was formed by a
"gathering in homes of church without a minister".
1632 - The Plymouth Court set apart a tract of land for the support of the ministry in Marshfield in 1640.
1632 - The Cambridge Platform, a summary of principles of church government and discipline was drawn up.
- Marshfield was recognized as a town and the minister was supported by
the town which was identical with the parish until formation of the
Second Church a century later.
1641 - The first church building,
probably a small plain thached structure, was erected on land given by
Edward Winslow near Winslow Cemetery.
1642 - Members of the
congregation attended services armed as there was a danger of an attack
from the Indians and hence at one time four guards were appointed as
1643 - Kenelem Winslow was put under bonds for saying
of the Marshfield Church that "they were all liars". Failing to find
surety, he was imprisoned.
1646 A group of Massachusetts
ministers asked the Massachusetts General Court (the colonial
legislature) to call a special synod of the Congregational churches
throughout New England for September 1646 to debate a number of
questions which were troubling the Congregational churches regarding
baptism and church membership"
1651 - William Thomas died and
left a legacy of one hundred acres of land for support of the gospel;
also a "draper cloth of 9 foot longe" for the communion table. A
parsonage was erected on the same farm.
1653 - The Town
Meeting of July 7th "agreed that the meeting house shall be covered
with good spruce or cedar boards, and that Josiah Winslow, Sr., and
John Dingley shall agree with a workman, or workmen, for the doing of
1657 - The second church of the congregation was erected at
a new location, near the present building. The old structure was sold
for 50 shillings.
1657 - Anthony Ames, Moderator, noted, that:
inhabitants then present have concluded and agreed that the meeting
house of the Town shall be builded and set up upon the land of Timothy
Williamson near the training place, and the said Timothy Williamson and
Joseph Rose, which is now tenant upon the said lands, are willing to
1658 The Savoy Synod meets in
London, over 100 churches were represented. With the Restoration came
repression for the Independents, partly relieved by the Toleration Act
1663 - Timothy Williamson conveyed by document to the
town of Marshfield the common in front of the Congregational Church,
1665 - The second building, then, was
completed. Its exact location can be determined by finding the graves
of Deacon William Ford and his wife, Sarah.
1696 - Reverend
Edward Thompson, a graduate of Harvard, 1684, accepted the pastorate
for 50 pounds a year. He noted church members as "13 males and
about 30 females" in the first church records kept. During his time,
items recorded were the admission to the church of an Indian, the
ordination of a deacon, and the occasion for discipline - which was the
violation by the unmarried of the Seventh Commandment.
The first white child born in New England, Captain Peregrine White, in
his 78th year became a member of the congregation. His two sons gave
pewter cups for the Communion Service now on display in the foyer of
The First Signs of Awakening
The sparks of
revival were struck in New England. Solomon Stoddard's sermons in
Northampton, Massachusetts had led to revivals breaking out as early as
1679. And after that, periodic revivals would occur and then die out.
One of the reasons they would be extinguished was the smothering
influence of the Enlightenment.
With the publication of Isaac
Newton's Principia Mathematica in the 17th century, traditional
religious formulations had been under pressure. That is because
implicit in the work of Newton and others was the assumption that human
beings had the ability to discover the secrets of the universe and
thereby exert some control over their own destiny.
1700's Begin American Expansion and Independence
A third meeting house was built, this one on the location of our
current building. It was forty-four feet by thirty-four feet, and had a
"Turrett or Bellfree."
1707 - The fourth pastor, Reverend James
Gardner, was ordained. Services were conducted by Cotton Mather,
Thomas Bridge, Benjamin Wadsworth and Ephraim Little, the latter a
native of the town.
1733–1746 The Great
Awakening was a period of crisis for the Congregational way. On the one
hand, the evangelical wing of the church wished to return to the
earlier ideal of a converted church of "visible saints." On the other
hand, the liberal wing of the church, which was moving in a more
latitudinarian direction, was offended by the emotionalism and lack of
clarity of the evangelicals. The more extreme evangelicals withdrew
from the state church system to establish their own separate churches,
and many Boston-area liberals accelerated their movement toward
Unitarianism. Some Congregational churches even disbanded after the
What historians call “the first Great
Awakening” can best be described as a revitalization of religious piety
that swept through the American colonies between the 1730s and the
1770s. That revival was part of a much broader movement, an evangelical
upsurge taking place simultaneously on the other side of the Atlantic,
most notably in England, Scotland, and Germany. In all these Protestant
cultures during the middle decades of the eighteenth century, a new Age
of Faith rose to counter the currents of the Age of Enlightenment, to
reaffirm the view that being truly religious meant trusting the heart
rather than the head, prizing feeling more than thinking, and relying
on biblical revelation rather than human reason.
Jonathan Edwards, a minister in Western Massachusetts, was truly a
"fire and brimstone" preacher. His most famous sermon, was Sinners in
the Hands of an Angry God, one of the classic sermons of all time.
- After only fifty-two years, the church building was too small to hold
all the people, so a fourth building was constructed. For a year or
two, consideration had been given to cutting the existing building in
two pieces and moving them apart, adding a section between them. But
that seemed impractical, so the building was razed and
The Revolution was a most trying time in all American towns, but in
Marshfield in particular because of the unusually large number of
It was here in the 1st Parish Meeting House that the
notorious “Marshfield Resolves” were passed in town meeting, February
20, 1775. This was two months before the battles of Lexington and
Concord. The leading Tory, Nathaniel Ray Thomas, had fled Marshfield
for Boston but there were plenty of them left in town and most of them
attended or were members of the Church.
June 19,1776 – “The King
of Great Britain has become a tyrant… he has wantonly destroyed the
property of Americans...he has passed acts of Parliament calculated to
subjugate the Colonies… Alliance with him is now treason to our
country, but we wait patiently till Congress, in whose council we
confide shall declare the colonies independent of Great Britain. The
inhabitants of this town, therefore, unanimously instruct and direct
you that, if the Continental Congress shall think it necessary for the
safety of the United Colonies to declare them independent of Great
Britain, the inhabitants of this town with their lives and fortunes
will support them in the measure”…
This document was delivered to
the General Court by Deacon Nehemiah Thomas, Representative; thus
making Marshfield one of the first towns to publicly declare for
independence, preceding by fifteen days the national Declaration.
should be remembered that in 1776 the church and the government were
one. The meeting house held both church services and town meetings. “
In spite of this “ our forefathers were able to build the free-est
nation in the history of the world).
The Church lost a number
of families after 1780, when a group of young Marshfield men decided to
migrate to Maine. One of those was Nathaniel Kent who died soon after
the move, and the town they founded was named “Kent’s Hill” in his
1790–1840s - The Second Great Awakening was a
great religious revival in United States history and consisted of
renewed personal salvation experienced in revival meetings.
1800's – Manifest Destiny, Benevolence, and Civil War
The Plan of Union, an agreement between Congregational and Presbyterian
churches to do joint missions in the Old Northwest Territory of the
Great Lakes, again brought Congregationalists and Presbyterians
together into what some called "Presbygational" church polity. While
these churches were generally more tolerant about the inner workings of
local church government, they reintroduced elder rule into
Congregationalism—which, in turn, set an anti-elder faction into motion.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions began its
work; in 1826 the American Home Missionary Society was formed.
Congregationalism is only one of the religious bodies derived from the
congregational churches of colonial New England. In these years, the
churches of the Standing Order divided into two groups. The liberal
wing became a separate body called Liberal Christians, or Unitarian
Congregationalists, and finally just Unitarians (see UNITARIANISM,).
The other was called orthodox or Trinitarian Congregationalists, and
then just Congregationalists.
The Standing Order, as it was
called, came under attack in the 18th century by minority groups,
particularly the Quakers, Baptists, and Anglicans. With the growth of
religious pluralism, tax support for public worship became increasingly
hard to justify, and the Standing Order was abolished in Connecticut in
1818; it was abolished in New Hampshire in 1819 and in Massachusetts in
Some call it the “Second American Revolution,” since it
convinced Britain once and for all that this country could not be
intimidated. But it was not universally supported then, and
particularly in Coastal New England. Newspapers glued to the wall in a
closet of the John Alden House in Duxbury, dated during that war,
clearly show the objections to the war and to the embargoes against
shipping that were enforced. Once again, there seemed to be no fallout
within the Church itself.
1819 There was a revival of the
Methodist Churches, under the preaching of Mr. Taylor, known as the
“Seaman’s Preacher.” Several members of the Congregational Church
went to the Methodist Church at this time. Several others
went to the Baptist Church. The letters from those who left the Church
at this time are still found in the records. However, there were
fourteen new members in the Congregational Church, perhaps partially in
response to the new interest in religion in general. From this year on,
however, the membership continued to diminish.
Thomas, in consideration of $1, sold our church an acre of land. This
appears to be part of the property where this Parish House now stands.
This deed was not recorded until 1956.
1838 – 1847 The Ministry of Seneca White.
- It was a real leap of faith to build this new church building. At the
time “over this church there hung a cloud of spiritual desolation. The
membership was down, probably to about twenty-five adults. Yet
apparently these people decided that to attract new people and
encourage the growth of the church, a new building was necessary.
It was during this time that Daniel Webster and his family began
attending the church when they were in Marshfield. At the auction of
pews to raise money to build the church, Webster bought two pews, the
front left for his family and the back left for his servants. His five
children, all by his first wife, Grace, were baptized at the Brattle
Street Church in Boston before he came to Marshfield. Two of the
children were originally buried there.
1839 - The Amistad
case was an important milestone in Congregational history. In that
case, a group of slaves overtook the vessel in which they were being
transported, and killed the Captain and others. The Churches took up
the cause, and led by John Quincy Adams, argued that since the slaves
were being transported illegally, they were within their rights to
resist. Eventually the slaves were released.
1846 The American
Missionary Association, primarily devoted to missionary work among
African Americans and Native Americans. The early part of the 19th
century brought the Unitarian secession, when over 100 churches left
the main Congregational body. The early part of the nineteenth century
also saw the splitting off of the Unitarian churches, which were
located primarily in the area around Boston. But Congregational
parishes continued to thrive among the older, more static communities
of New England. Along with the Federalist Party, many Congregational
clergy opposed the War of 1812. A number of prominent Congregationalist
women, such as Emma Willard, Catherine Beecher, and Harriet Beecher
Stowe, took leading roles in promoting public school reform and
1848 - A systematic benevolence
manifested itself in the establishment of the Ladies’ Benevolent
Society. This organization was not limited to the First Congregational
Church, then called the South Parish, but invited the community at
large. Rev. Luther Farnham, who preached when Seneca White was unable
to, encouraged the establishment of the Society and was a working
member, even though his wife was ill and could not participate.
Formed with the gift of 56 books from its owners' personal collections,
the Congregational Library now holds 225,000 items documenting the
history of one of the nation's oldest and most influential religious
1850s to the 1900s - The Third Great Awakening was a
period of religious activism in American history. It affected pietistic
Protestant denominations and had a strong sense of social activism. It
gathered strength from the postmillennial theology that the Second
Coming of Christ would come after mankind had reformed the entire
earth. The Social Gospel Movement gained its force from the Awakening,
as did the worldwide missionary movement. New groupings emerged, such
as the Holiness movement and Nazarene movements, and Christian Science.
In the years following the end of the Civil War, a series of mergers
with a number of denominations brought churches of widely differing
backgrounds into Congregationalism. The result being that "among modern
conservative Congregational churches, it can accurately be said that
'Congregationalism,' as a term, is not used to describe a form of local
church government; it is used to describe a method of inter church
1871 - Congregational churches began to meet in local
and then in statewide conferences, out of which developed the National
Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States. But each
local church remained free to make its own declaration of faith and
free to decide its own form of worship.
1900's- Technology, Global Wars, and Social Change
- There were ninety-two members of the church in. Again, the women were
heavily in the majority, as there were only twenty-two men, including
the minister and his son. The Ladies Benevolent
society had bought a clock for the church in 1855. In 1912, it was
moved to the “sewing room” of the Parish Hall. In 2008 it is in the
library and keeps almost perfect time.
Electricity was added to
the Church in 1916, there was a large chandelier handing from a rosette
in the center of the ceiling. Perhaps that rosette was there in the
1931 The trend toward broader fellowship
and larger cooperation was notably indicated in the merging of the
National Council of the Congregational Churches of the United States
and the General Convention of the Christian Church (see Christian
Church (Disciples of Christ)) to form the General Council of the
Congregational and Christian Churches of the United States. A move to
unite the Congregational Christian Churches with the Evangelical and
Reformed Church was approved by the councils of the two denominations
in 1957, forming the United Church of Christ. The National Association
of Congregational Christian Churches was formed in 1955 by churches
that chose not to join in the merger; it had about 70,000 members in
1997.The UCC is the largest church in the Congregational family.
However, not all Congregational churches were content with the new
body. In 2002 the somewhat liberal Congregational Christian Churches
(continuing Congregational) had 70,000 members, down from 110,000 in
1973. By contrast, the Conservative Congregational Christian
Conference, which opposed abortion rights and believed homosexuality to
be a sin, had grown from 19,000 members in 1973 to 40,000 members in
2002. The Unitarian Universalist Association should be considered a
member of the Congregational family. The Unitarians withdrew from
orthodox Congregationalism in the early nineteenth century under the
leadership of such eminent pastors as William Ellery Channing.
Initially, the group stressed the unity of God, the revelation by
Christ but not His divinity, a nonsubstitutionary doctrine of the
atonement, and each human's ethical duties to his or her neighbor. The
rise of transcendentalism in the 1830s further liberalized the
movement, and the Unitarians have been moving progressively away from
distinctively Christian affirmations since that time. Unitarians now
stress an intellectual humanism rooted in the values of all religions.
- The church pews remained in private ownership until 1935, though many
families continued to sit in “their pew.” Through the years of
ownership, visitors might be invited to sit with a family.
- Central to their opposition was the belief that the merger would
create unwieldy bureaucracies that might impinge upon the historic
freedom of the local congregation, one of the few ideas that have
united this otherwise theologically diverse fellowship. These concerns
drove activists, beginning after World War II when talks between the
national entities of the two merging denominations reached the point of
preliminary organization planning, to persuade local Congregational
Christian churches to refuse their support to this movement. These
clergy and laypeople first organized at a meeting in Evanston,
Illinois, in 1947 to express their concerns about not only the possible
loss of autonomy on behalf of individual churches, but also their
contentions that the General Council of the CC Churches possessed no
authority to enter its churches into any legal union with another
denomination. Other related issues were control over missionary funds
and a possible diversion of some of them into ministerial pension
annuities; fears of imposition of creeds, confessions, and neo-orthodox
theology onto their ministers (who generally favored a 19th-century
liberal, tolerant outlook); and ownership of church property in cases
of congregations withdrawing from the proposed UCC.
1948 - Some
Congregational (later Congregational Christian) churches took exception
to the beginnings of a growth of authority in bodies outside the local
church, such as mission societies, national committees, and state
Also, some congregations opposed liberalizing
influences that appeared to mitigate traditional views of sin and
subsequent corollary doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement of
1948 - Some adherents of these two streams of thought
(primarily the latter one) started a new fellowship, the Conservative
Congregational Christian Conference, the first major fellowship to
organize outside of the mainstream Congregational body since 1825, when
the Unitarians formally founded their own body.
Congregational Christian Historical Society assists local churches in
preserving and celebrating their past. In cooperation with the
Congregational Library, CCHS provides ideas for anniversary events and
resources for church archivists. The Fagley and Guptill awards,
conferred annually at the spring lecture series, honor the best
anniversary volumes written by local church historians.
churches seek fellowship with other churches, but shun the lordship of
one church or one body over another. Rather, Congregationalists believe
that all born again Christians can be equally guided by the presence
and power of the Holy Spirit. However, for the sake of church
government, more mature Christians are elected to rule, yet their
decisions are subject to ratification by the ruled. Successful
Congregational churches (unified in truth and Spirit) maintain a high
view of Scripture (God's Word is infallible and sufficient), a high
view of worship (not high liturgy, but worship in the power and
presence of the Holy Spirit), a high view of the church (active
participation in the life of the church), and a high view of calling to
Congregationalists seek democratic life and
organization, simplicity and vitality of faith, intellectual freedom to
follow the dictates of conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit,
educational quality, evangelistic purpose, missionary zeal, social
passion, nonsectarian fellowship, and unselfish devotion to the kingdom
The object of a Congregational Church shall be to bind
together the followers of Jesus Christ for the purpose of sharing in
the worship of God and in making his will dominant in the lives of men
and women, individually and collectively, especially as that will is
set forth in the life, teachings, death, and living presence of Jesus
1954 - The church suffered a fire on Sunday morning,
January 31, 1954. Most of the damage was confined to the front, near
the pulpit. Part of the ceiling and all the windows had to be replaced
(both frames, sills, and glass). By August 22, the work had been
completed, and a service of rededication was held. The topic of the
sermon, by Rev. George D. Hallowell, was “Except the Lord Build the
House,” based on Psalm 127:1. Lawrence H. Mounce was Chairman of the
Board of Trustees, which also included ErnestChandler, Benjamin Ellis,
John Nangle, Mrs. Ellis C. Rand, and C. Stafford Ryder. The building committee was
Mr. Mounce, Chairman, Wilfred Henderson, Louis B. Handy, Helmuth Weber, August Schatz, and Russell Chandler.
- The General Council of Congregational Christian Churches in the U.S.
merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United
Church of Christ. About 90% of the CC congregations affiliated with the
General Council joined the United Church of Christ. However, some local
churches abstained from the merger. Most of these congregations became
members of either the CCCC (mentioned above) or the National
Association of Congregational Christian Churches, which came into being
as a result of failed protest efforts against the UCC merger, the
arguments for which revolved around governance concerns rather than
theology; Congregational Christian-heritage churches of all theological
persuasions belong to this group, much like the UCC. Still other
congregations, not many in number, chose not to affiliate with any
particular association of churches, or only with regional or local ones.
- The United Church of Christ came into being with the union of two
Protestant churches or "denominations." They were the Evangelical and
Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches.
Congregational Churches were organized when the Pilgrims of Plymouth
Plantation (1620) and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony
(1629) acknowledged their essential unity in the Cambridge Platform of
1957 - The National Association of Congregational Christian
Churches (NACCC) is an association of about 400 churches providing
fellowship for and services to churches from the Congregational
tradition. The Association maintains its national office in Oak Creek,
Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee. The body was founded in 1955 by
former clergy and laypeople of the Congregational Christian Churches in
response to that denomination's pending merger with the Evangelical and
Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ in 1957.
1967 – FCC Marshfield joins UCC by a narrow majority.
and early 1970s - The Fourth Great Awakening was a Christian religious
awakening that some scholars say took place in the United States in the
late 1960s. The terminology is controversial, with many historians
believing the religious changes that took place in the USA during these
years were not equivalent to those of the first three great awakenings.
Thus, the idea of a Fourth Great Awakening itself has not been
generally accepted. Whether or not they constitute an awakening,
changes did take place. The "mainstream" Protestant churches weakened
sharply in both membership and influence while the most traditional
religious denominations (such as the Southern Baptists and Missouri
Synod Lutherans) grew rapidly in numbers, spread across the United
States, had grave internal theological battles and schisms, and became
politically powerful. Other evangelical and fundamentalist
denominations also expanded rapidly. At the same time, secularism grew
dramatically, and the more conservative churches saw themselves
battling secularism in terms of issues such as gay rights, abortion and
creationism. The NACCC has cordial relationships with a number of state
and regional Congregational associations. These, however, are
independent of the National Association, and the NA is likewise
independent of them. Many Congregational Christian Churches choose to
belong to both the NA and a state or regional association, but they are
not required to belong to either.
In sum, it might well be said that
the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches is a body
purposely designed to have no power. It is designed this way so that
local churches may enjoy the benefits of national fellowship without
the slightest compromise of their freedom. For more information on
Congregational history and polity, see The Congregational Way Series.
Recap of Origins in the United States
Congregational churches trace their descent from the original
Congregational Church, a family of Protestant denominations formed on a
theory of union published by the theologian Robert Browne in 1592 and
arising from the Nonconformist religious movement in England during the
Puritan reformation. In Great Britain, the early Congregationalists
were called separatists or independents to distinguish themselves from
the similarly Calvinistic Presbyterians, and some Congregationalists
there still call themselves "Independents".
difficulties in identifying a specific beginning because
Congregationalism is more easily identified as a movement than a single
denomination, given its distinguishing commitment to the complete
autonomy of the local congregation. The idea that each distinct
congregation fully constitutes the visible Church can, however, be
traced to John Wyclif and the Lollard movement which followed after
Wyclif was removed from teaching authority in the Roman Catholic
Church. The early Congregationalists shared with Anabaptist theology
the ideal of a pure church, which made adult conversion experience
important for full membership in the church, unlike other Reformed
churches. As such, the Congregationalists were a reciprocal influence
on the Baptists, differing from them in that they counted the children
of believers in some sense members of the church unlike the Baptists,
because of baptism.
Congregationalists include the Pilgrims of
Plymouth and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which were
organized in union by the Cambridge Platform in 1648. These settlers
had John Cotton as their most influential leader, beginning in 1633.
Cotton's writings persuaded the Calvinist theologian John Owen to
separate from the Presbyterian church, after which he became very
influential in the development of Congregationalist theology and ideas
of church government. Jonathan Edwards, considered by some to be the
most important theologian ever produced in America, was also a
The history of Congregational churches in the
United States is closely intertwined with that of the Presbyterian
church, especially in New England where Congregationalist influence
spilled over into the Presbyterian church. The first colleges and
universities in America, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Williams,
Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Amherst, all were founded by the
Congregationalists, as were later Carleton, Grinnell, Oberlin, and
Without higher courts to ensure doctrinal uniformity
among the congregations, Congregationalists have been more diverse than
other Reformed churches. Despite the efforts of Calvinists to maintain
the dominance of their system, the Congregationalist churches,
especially in New England, gradually gave way to the influences of
Arminianism, Unitarianism, and transcendentalism. Thus, the
Congregationalist churches were at the same time the first example of
the American theocratic ideal and also the seed-bed from which American
liberal religion and society arose. Even still, many Congregationalist
Christians consider themselves to be Reformed first.
Congregational Christian Church is a church of self-governing Christian
believers organized on a democratic basis. Congregationalists believe
in a free church, one unfettered by established creeds and outside
control, under the sole authority and leadership of Jesus Christ
represented by the Holy Spirit. The free church insures true freedom of
the individual before God, liberty of conscience, the autonomy of the
local church, and the free fellowship of churches.
Church acknowledges Jesus Christ as its head and finds in the Holy
Scriptures, interpreted by the Divine Spirit through faith, conscience,
and reason, its guidance in all matters of faith and practice. The
government of the Church shall be vested in its members, who exercise
the right of control in all its affairs.
Churches recognize no superior denominational law, they accept all the
obligations of mutual council, courtesy, and cooperation involved in
the free fellowship of the Congregational Christian Church, and pledge
themselves to share in the common aims and work of the Congregational
Christian Churches in state associations or fellowships and in the
Self-government under God is
the distinct witness of churches of the congregational order. The small
"c" is deliberate here in order to include denominations such as the
Baptist and Unitarian, which have a polity like ours. It is worth
remembering that the most popular polity in the United States is
congregational. In practical terms, Autonomy means that a local Church
is free from the bondage of ecclesiastical control. In our long, harsh
struggle to maintain the autonomy and freedom of the local Church, we
have unfortunately been forced to stress our principal doctrine to the
exclusion of the second great truth of Congregationalism.
truth is THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCHES. In the New Testament we find
the Churches associated with one another as equals, with neither one
Church claiming authority over the others, nor the several Churches
lording it over the one. The early Churches lived together in an
atmosphere of mutual love, not in a relationship of dominance and
submission. Congregationalists, following their example, have companied
together because they wanted to, not because a book of discipline
forced them to. Any ecclesiastical organization which attempts to
define, describe, or delineate the life, work, and relationships of our
Churches violates the Congregational principle of fellowship because it
presumes to put in black and white what ought to be written only on the
We covenant one with another to seek and
respond to the word and the will of God. We purpose to walk together in
the ways of the Lord, made known and to be made known to us. We hold it
to be the mission of the church to witness to the gospel of Jesus
Christ in all the world, while worshipping God, and striving for truth,
justice and peace. As did those who came before, we depend on the Holy
Spirit to lead and empower us. We pray for the coming of the kingdom of
God, and we look with faith toward the triumph of righteousness and