« PreviousContinue »
THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCHES.
The first church of the Congregational faith and order in the United States came over the sea to Plymouth, Mass., in the “ Mayflower,” in 1620. Before the close of the first half of that century there were in New England 51 Congregational churches, besides two or three on Long Island and one in Virginia.
Congregationalism developed great strength in New England, spreading but slowly over other sections of the country. In 1801 a plan of union was entered into with the Presbyterian Church concerning the formation of churches in new settlements, and under it Congregationalists going west from New England generally entered Presbyterian churches. This plan continued in force until 1852, when it was formally abrogated by a convention of Congregationalists at Albany, on the ground that it practically excluded Congregationalism from the country west of New England. It is noticeable that in the older States where there are many Congregationalists there are comparatively few Presbyterians, and vice versa. Since the abrogation of the plan of union the growth of Congregational churches in the West, particularly in Illinois and the yet newer States of the Northwest, has been quite rapid. Their antislavery record entirely shut them out of the States of the South until after the Civil War. Their numbers in that section are still limited and include a good proportion of colored members, to whose education they have been much devoted.
The Pilgrims and Puritans, who constituted the early Congregational churches, were not averse to Presbyterianism on doctrinal grounds. Congregationalists and Presbyterians were in substantial agreement, the Westminster Confession serving acceptably as the doctrinal symbol of both for many years. It was adopted by the Congregationalists at a general synod at Cambridge, Mass., in 1646–48. The Savoy Confession of Faith, which is similar to that of Westminster, was adopted by local synods in 1680 and in 1708, and a national council held in 1865, in Boston, Mass., expressed its adherence to the faith "substantially embodied” in these two confessions, and adopted a declaration, known as the “Burial Hill Declaration,” affirming the general unity of the church of Christ in all the world, and setting forth the "fundamental truths in which all Christians should agree," as a basis of general coöperation and fellowship. In 1871 a National Triennial Council was held in Oberlin, O. The following was adopted as a part of the constitution of the council:
“They (the Congregational churches] agree in belief that the Holy Scriptures are the sufficient and only infallible rule of faith and practice; their interpretation thereof being in substantial accordance with the great doctrines of the Christian faith, commonly called Evangelical, held in our churches from the early times, and sufficiently set forth by former general councils."
Dr. William Ives Budington, the moderator of the council, afterward gave the following interpretation of this paragraph:
“Any churches recognizing the independency of the local church, and professing the historic faith of Christ's church, are actually and intentionally embraced within the fellowship of the national council. The distinctions of Old School and New School were ignored, and just as much Arminianism and Calvinism."
According to this, Congregationalism welcomes Arminians as well as Calvinists to its churches. In 1883 a commission appointed by the national council formulated a confession, consisting of twelve articles. It is of a general evangelical character.
The polity of the Congregational churches is based on the principle of the complete autonomy of each local church. Connected with this principle is that of the fellowship of the churches. The Cambridge platform, adopted in the middle of the seventeenth century, declares that " although churches be distinct and therefore may not be confounded with one another, and equal and therefore have not dominion one over another, yet all churches ought to preserve church communion one with another, because they are all united unto Christ, not only as a mystical, but as a political, head, whence is derived a communion suitable thereunto." The fountain of ecclesiastical power is in the local church, and not in any association or council of churches. Each church manages its own affairs. When differences arise between churches, or between members of the same church, or between a church and its pastor, they may be referred to a council specially summoned, composed of pastors and representatives of neighboring churches of the same faith and order. The decisions of councils are, however, not mandatory, but simply advisory Councils have to do chiefly with questions of denominational fellowship. They examine, ordain, and install pastors, and recognize churches. There are local associations purely ministerial, meeting for fellowship, and which in some sections assume the duty of examining candidates for license to preach, the license being in the nature of a certification to the churches of the fitness of the licentiate. There are also local and State associations or conferences of churches and ministers which hold regular meetings for consultation concerning the benevolent and missionary work of the churches within their bounds. The Triennial National Council embraces representatives of all the local associations and conferences; but equally with the local bodies it has no other province than that of giving counsel to the churches and benevolent societies.
The Congregational idea of the minister is that he is a teacher who is primus inter pares. He is a member of the church which he serves, and is subject to its discipline like any other member. The officers of a church consist of one or more pastors, also called bishops or elders; and of deacons, who are laymen charged with the administration of the sacraments and of the charitable interests. Connected with most churches is a religious society embracing all members and supporters of the church. The church calls a pastor, and the society approves the call and fixes the salary.
In New England for many years Congregationalism was the established religion. In the colonies of New Haven and Massachusetts membership in a Congregational church was a condition of the exercise of the political franchise, and the churches in most of New England were supported by monies raised in the tax levies. In course of time this system was modified so as to allow persons to contribute to whatever church they preferred. It was formally abolished in Connecticut in 1816, and in Massachusetts in 1833.
There are Congregational churches in all the States except Delaware, and in all the Territories except Alaska. The total of members in this country, not including several thousand converts in connection with missions of the American Board in foreign lands, is more than half a million. Massachusetts, where Congregationalists were the first colonists, has a larger proportion of the total than any. other State, 101,890; Connecticut comes second, with 59,154; New York third, with 45,686; Illinois fourth, with 35,830; and Ohio fifth, with 32,281. Of the total valuation of church property, $43,335,437, Massachusetts has more than a fourth, or $11,030,890; Connecticut, $5,366,201; New York, $5,175,262; and Illinois, $2,975,812. There are only 15 places in Massachusetts used by Congregationalists as places of worship which they do not
There are 62 such places in South Dakota, 50 in Iowa, and 47 in Michigan. In all, 456 halls, with a seating capacity of 42,646, are used by congregations. The 4868 organizations own 4736 edifices, with an aggregate seating capacity of 1,553,080, indicating an average of 328 to each house. The average value of each edifice is $9150.
SUMMARY BY STATES.
Seating Value of Com-
Church muni. pacity. Property. cants. 5,505 $91,755
550 9,500 162 1,600
26,000 669 37,773 1,014,975 11,907 11,010 377,090 3,217 147,688 5,366,201 59,154 3,370 339,000 1,399