What It Means to Be a Member of a Congregational Church by Henry David Gray
A CHURCH MEMBER
be a Church member is to acknowledge our allegiance to God as He is
made known to us in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. This act
symbolizes the conviction that we want our character and conduct to be
Christ-like. It is our way of "being counted" with those who are
committed to build a more Christian community.
To be a Church
member is to enter a concerned fellowship. Growth in Christian
understanding, the sharing of each other's burdens and joys, and the
service of others in Christ's spirit - these are all part of a living
fellowship of those who follow Christ - and care.
To be a Church
member is to give strength and encouragement to others through common
worship, prayer, study, and service. Each adds his talent or time
or money or prayers to the total work of the Church. Each ministers to
the needs of all. There is inspiration in example, and joy in team work
for a sacred cause.
To be a Church member is to put the ideals
and love of Christ in practice in our lives, our homes, and our daily
work. Our relationships with other people should be deeper and finer;
we should be gladdened by goodness; we should be happy when others
succeed; and we should rejoice in the triumph of right because we are
members of Christ's fellowship.
To be a Church member is to find
forgiveness, strength for life's tasks, and assurance of a destiny
worth desiring. It is to know oneself a child of the living God!
If you are now a member, let these words reawaken in you the desire to serve the Master more sincerely.
If you are not a member - why not make this a call for re-consecration to the Christian way?
main purpose of this little booklet is to make known more widely some
of the chief facts about the origin, convictions, distinctive
principles and inclusive fellowship of a Congregational Christian
Church. It is hoped that many who read it will wish to join one of our
Congregationalism came to America on the Mayflower.
The Pilgrim voyage to a new land was made necessary in order to
re-establish a Church on the New Testament pattern - a fellowship of
those who had chosen to be followers of Christ, spiritually competent
to direct their own life and work. Because they had pledged themselves
to live and worship in freedom according to the dictates of conscience,
the Pilgrims were compelled to flee from their homeland. One of the
abiding effects of their costly plea for liberty is that modern
Congregationalists will not submit to a conformity which their
forefathers resisted unto death.
CHURCH OF THE PILGRIMS
the Pilgrims sought to establish in Plymouth was a Christian fellowship
like that which gathered around Jesus Himself. The early disciples had
little or no organization, but in the centuries after the Master's
death, attempts to gain influence over all the Churches were made by
leaders in centers like Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and
Jerusalem. By the year 1000 A.D., the bishop of Rome claimed authority
over all Christendom, and many Churches throughout the western part of
Europe submitted to his authority. The Churches of eastern Europe, all
of Asia, and Egypt retained their independence. The Western or Latin
Church became rich and powerful, until about one third of the land was
owned by it, under the rulership of Rome. Corruption increased, and
soon men like Peter Waldo, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and
John Wyclif were protesting against the abuses. Reading of the Bible,
the rebirth of interest in thought and in the fine arts, the emergence
of science, and the era of global discoveries, all combined to lead men
to think for themselves and, therefore, soon resulted in a desire to
return to the simplicity and sincerity of the New Testament Church.
England, the Roman system of church government was taken over by the
king who declared himself to be the head of the Church. Robert Browne,
Henry Barrow, John Greenwood, John Penry, William Brewster, and John
Robinson were among those who dared to establish free Churches like
those of New Testament days in defiance of royal command. The
underground Churches in England and exiles from Holland provided the
passengers of the `Mayflower' which sailed from London, July 1620. They
became known in history as the Pilgrim Fathers.
CONVICTIONS RATHER THAN CREEDS
Congregational Christian Church of today is a Church of the Pilgrims,
with convictions that emphasize faith, freedom, and fellowship.
Christians believe very deeply in God, in Jesus Christ, in the guiding
Spirit of God, in prayer, in the worth of worship, in the value of the
sacraments and holy rites, and in the power of God to triumph over all
that is unholy and evil.
We do not accept any formal statement
of faith as binding upon all members of our Churches. This is not
because we think creeds do not matter, but because we think sincerity
of conviction requires full opportunity for intellectual freedom and
personal experience. Thus every Congregationalist possesses full
liberty of conscience in interpreting the gospel. The bond of our
Christian unity and the fundamental requirement for membership in a
Congregational Christian Church are sincere Christian conviction and
honest desire to live in fellowship with others as a follower of Jesus
In our Churches no statement of the Christian faith can
be made binding upon the conscience of a Christian man. This means that
there are differences of emphasis within and among our Churches. Every
sincere conviction that exalts our Lord is honored among us. This
inclusive basis of membership naturally attracts to the Congregational
Christian fellowship men and women of genuine conviction, of
adventurous faith, and of gracious and brotherly regard for each
The attitude of the
Congregational Christian Churches toward daily life is determined by
the fundamental principle of freedom of conscience. There is no book of
discipline, no canon law (church law), and no set rules and
regulations, such as are found in the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal
Church, Methodist Church, or Presbyterian Church. The educated
conscience of members of the Church is our sole guide to conduct. If a
person honestly believes, as in the presence of God, that his conduct
is proper, then the Church accepts that conduct.
Because of this
attitude toward freedom of conscience under Christ, many, who for years
have felt that they could not join a Church which told them what to do
and what not to do, welcome the opportunity to join a Congregational
Christian Church. They recognize the fact that the only ultimate creed
we have is that which is shown in our conduct and that this conduct
must be determined freely by us or else it is not acceptable to God. We
believe that the development of individual conviction and conscience is
the essential way to produce real Christian manhood.
preaching from the pulpits of Congregational Christian Churches, the
centrality of conscience is fully recognized. This means that our
ministers feel free to preach the truth as God leads them to see the
truth, without any dogmatic insistence as to the conduct of the Church
members. The appeal is to conscience under Christ and to the
reasonableness of the viewpoint proposed. This attitude lifts the whole
matter of Christian conduct out of the realm of controversy and
personalities and draws together into one body of truth seekers all who
sincerely seek to live according to the pattern of Jesus Christ.
AN OPEN BIBLE
Christians stand for an open Bible in the fullest sense; a Bible that
is open in our Churches, in our homes, in our schools; open to be read
in our own language with all the insight that reverent study, prayerful
mediation, and Christian living can bring to bear upon it.
believe that the Bible contains rich spiritual guidance for every
person and for every family and that devotional reading and study of
the scriptures in the home will foster inner unity and outer strength.
is our conviction that the Word of God which is to be found in the
Bible will inspire and direct the Church and will yield fresh light and
truth for each new age.
We cherish the aim that each
person shall be able to read and interpret the Bible for himself with
trust, confidence and affection, and that he shall be able to
experience its power to build him up into a strong, courageous, and
intelligent follower of Jesus Christ.
CHRIST - CENTERED
Christian Churches throughout the would are organized in five ways:
Monarchial, with one final authority and ruler. Such is the Roman
Pontiff. 2. Episcopal. The word comes from the Greek meaning "bishop."
Episcopal and Methodist Churches in the United States have bishops who
are elected for life, to whom are given certain powers over the
Churches. Bishops usually claim to be ordained in direct line from the
apostle Peter. Canon law or a book of discipline rules in these bodies.
Presbyterial. A nationally organized church body, with power to govern
committed to area presbyteries, state synods, and finally to the
national General Assembly, which is supreme over all and which makes
the law of the Churches.
4. Congregational. A fellowship of
self-governing churches voluntarily working together in area
associations, state conferences, and various national council and
mission bodies, with control and authority reserved to the local Church.
5. Independent. Bodies of Christian people with no denominational connection, each functioning independently.
Congregational Way was the seed bed of American constitutional
government and has been in the forefront of democratic endeavors
through the years.
Each of our Churches is autonomous and
self-governing and entirely free from external control. A
Congregational Christian Church is a body of people who have pledged
themselves to follow Christ, and who, because they seek to order all of
their life and work according to His leading, cannot accept as
authoritative the decisions of any other body, since to do so would be
to avoid the responsibility of finding God's way in their own right.
The authority within a Congregational Christian Church is the authority
of Christ, exercised under the scriptural principles of persuasion,
example, contagion, and inspiration. All decisions of bodies outside
the local Church are simply by way of recommendation and advice; they
have as much worth as there is in the wisdom of them, and no more.
Congregationalism there are no superintendents, or bishops, or popes,
or presbyteries, or national councils with any authority to dictate the
policies, programs, finances, forms of worship, pastor-people
relationships, or other affairs of the individual Church.
Congregational Christians feel that this form of Church organization is
closest to the New Testament example, and offers by far the greatest
flexibility in dealing with the changing demands which each age or
locality makes upon the Church of Christ. Congregational insistence
upon the absolute rule of Christ within His Church is the basis of all
our cooperation with other denominations. When you join a
Congregational Christian Church you accept the comprehensive view that
all believers are one in Christ, regardless of their denomination.
is clear that the Congregational Church conception of the Church places
on every Church member great responsibility for reverent and thoughtful
decision and action in accord with the will of Christ.
equally plain that the individual Church must carry grave
responsibilities for the care of sister Churches. When we speak of
"Congregational Christian Churches," we do not mean primarily an
organization, but a voluntary fellowship of equals in which each Church
has a concern for the wellbeing of every other Church and in which all
the Churches have a concern for the well-being of each Church. The
fellowship of the Churches leads us to create organizations through
which our Churches can effectively carry on their work in missions,
national affairs, education, publication, and in such other ways as the
Churches may from time to time determine to be desirable.
THE CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER
Congregational minister is a man or woman who has felt an inward call
from God to be a minister of Christ, who has prepared himself for his
calling (usually by four years of college and three years of
theological training), who has been invited to become the pastor of a
Church or to perform other ministerial duties (such as chaplain), and
who has been ordained by the Church of which he is a member, with the
cooperation of sister Churches.
The minister is the chief
spiritual leader of the Church and normally preaches, teaches,
counsels, presides at the Lord's Supper, Baptism, Covenant/
Confirmation or reception of members, Marriage, Burial, and other
special services of the Church. Often he is the Chairman of the
Prudential Committee or "Church Board," presides at Church meetings,
and administers the affairs of the Church. His most important task is
to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ both in relation to those
who are not active Christians and in regard to those in the Church who
need guidance and help.
Mature Christians with wide experience
and education often times seek special training in the Bible, the
ministry, and church history and polity in order to present themselves
to their Church for Ministerial License or Ordination.
Congregational Christian Church, all members take unusually large
responsibilities because we look upon everyone as having the privilege
and duty of sharing the good news of Christ and of exercising within
the Church those spiritual functions for which God has endowed them
with special talents.
SACRAMENTS - NOT MAGIC
It may be
useful at this point to say something about Baptism, the Lord's Supper,
and the Holy Rites. Inevitably, in a free fellowship, there are
differences of interpretation, but there is one spiritual
understanding; namely, that through these means God helps us to
experience His Presence, and seeks to lead us into ways of dedicated
living. We do not regard the sacraments as magical; with grape juice
being transformed into "the blood of Christ" or water becoming "holy
water." All sacraments and holy rites are essentially spiritual
We observe the common practice of Infant Baptism in
which the Christian family dedicates itself to the nurture of its
child, in which the Church accepts responsibility for the provision of
Christian nurture for the child, and in which God's Presence is made
known. With us baptism for those who are mature is an outer and visible
sign of their desire to seek cleansing of life from sin, and, as such,
is the usual accompaniment of joining the Church. The method of baptism
may be sprinkling (our most common custom), pouring or immersion;
whichever will mean most to the person who is to be baptized.
observe the Lord's Supper in most of our churches every month or every
other month. Deacons receive plates of bread from the minister and pass
them to the congregation. In like manner also the trays of tiny glasses
of grape juice are distributed. By the reverent repetition of the acts
and words of the Supper, we are reminded of our Lord's life and death
and resurrection, assured of His spiritual presence, and united in
fellowship with Him and with our fellow Church members. We invite all
followers of Jesus to join with us in our services, regardless of their
RESPONSIBILITIES OF MEMBERSHIP
of our Churches would phrase, in its own way, the responsibilities,
duties and privileges of membership. But in every instance the list
would be likely to contain the following responsibilities of a Church
To have a sincere Christian faith.
To attend the services of worship and Church meetings.
To pray regularly, particularly in the family.
To participate in the life and work of the Church, according to talents God has given.
To give systematic financial support to the Church's work at home, and
to its program of missionary, social, educational, and medical service.
To seek and follow the guidance of God in the affairs of daily life, particularly business.
To show a friendly care for the poor, struggling, lonely, weak or sick.
To promote the spirit of harmony within the Church, seeking always to
follow the way of the Master with restraint, understanding, and love.
To maintain a strict watch over one's personal character.
To seek to bring the love of Christ and the joy of fellowship to others.