CONGREGATIONALIST POLITY, or CONGREGATIONAL POLITY, often known as
CONGREGATIONALISM, is a system of church governance ("ecclesiastical
polity") in which every local church congregation is independent,
ecclesiastically sovereign , or "autonomous ". Its first articulation
in writing is the
Cambridge Platform of 1648 in
Congregationalism is not limited only to organization of Christian
Church congregations. The principles of congregationalism have been
inherited by the
Unitarian Universalist Association
* 1 Basic form
The term "congregationalist polity" describes a form of church
governance that is based on the local congregation. Each local
congregation is independent and self-supporting, governed by its own
members. :49 Some band into loose voluntary associations with other
congregations that share similar beliefs (e.g., the Willow Creek
Association and the
American Unitarian Association ). :49 Others join
"conventions", such as the
Southern Baptist Convention
This section NEEDS ADDITIONAL CITATIONS FOR VERIFICATION . Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources . Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message )
The earmarks of Congregationalism can be traced back to the Pilgrim societies of the United States in the early 17th century. Congregationalism expressed the viewpoint that (1) every local church is a full realization in miniature of the entire Church of Jesus Christ ; and (2) the Church, while on earth, besides the local church, can ONLY be invisible and ideal. While other theories may insist on the truth of the former, the latter precept of congregationalism gives the entire theory a unique character among plans of church government. There is no other reference than the local congregation for the "visible church" in Congregationalism. And yet, the connection of all Christians is also asserted, albeit in a way that defenders of this view usually decline, often intentionally, to elaborate more clearly or consistently. This first, foundational principle by which congregationalism is guided results in confining it to operate with the consent of each gathering of believers.
Although "congregational rule" may seem to suggest that pure
democracy reigns in congregational churches, this is seldom the case.
It is granted, with few exceptions (namely in some Anabaptist
Most importantly, the boundaries of the powers of the ministers and
church officers are set by clear and constant reminders of the
freedoms guaranteed by the
The authority of all of the people, including the officers, is limited in the local congregation by a definition of union, or a covenant, by which the terms of their cooperation together are spelled out and agreed to. This might be something as minimal as a charter specifying a handful of doctrines and behavioral expectations, or even a statement only guaranteeing specific freedoms. Or, it may be a constitution describing a comprehensive doctrinal system and specifying terms under which the local church is connected to other local churches, to which participating congregations give their assent. In congregationalism, rather uniquely, the church is understood to be a truly voluntary association.
Finally, the congregational theory strictly forbids ministers from ruling their local churches by themselves. Not only does the minister serve by the approval of the congregation, but committees further constrain the pastor from exercising power without consent by either the particular committee, or the entire congregation. It is a contradiction of the congregational principle if a minister makes decisions concerning the congregation without the vote of these other officers.
The other officers may be called "deacons", "elders" or "session" (borrowing Presbyterian terminology), or even "vestry " (borrowing the Anglican term) — it is not their label that is important to the theory, but rather their lay status and their equal vote, together with the pastor, in deciding the issues of the church. While other forms of church government are more likely to define "tyranny" as "the imposition of unjust rule", a congregationally governed church would more likely define tyranny as "transgression of liberty" or equivalently, "rule by one man". To a congregationalist, no abuse of authority is worse than the concentration of all decisive power in the hands of one ruling body, or one person.
Following this sentiment, congregationalism has evolved over time to include even more participation of the congregation, more kinds of lay committees to whom various tasks are apportioned, and more decisions subject to the vote of the entire membership.
One of the most notable characteristics of
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Independent Baptist churches have no formal organizational structure
above the level of the local congregation. More generally among
Most Southern Baptist and National Baptist congregations, by contrast, generally relate more closely to external groups such as mission agencies and educational institutions than do those of independent persuasion. However, they adhere to a very similar ecclesiology, refusing to permit outside control or oversight of local affairs.
CHURCHES OF CHRIST
Main article: Churches of Christ
Church government is congregational rather than denominational. Churches of Christ purposefully have no central headquarters, councils, or other organizational structure above the local church level. :214 :103 :124 Rather, the independent congregations are a network with each congregation participating at its own discretion in various means of service and fellowship with other congregations (see Sponsoring church (Churches of Christ) ). :124 Churches of Christ are linked by their shared commitment to restoration principles. :106
Congregations are generally overseen by a plurality of elders (also known in some congregations as shepherds, bishops, or pastors) who are sometimes assisted in the administration of various works by deacons . :124 :47,54–55 Elders are generally seen as responsible for the spiritual welfare of the congregation, while deacons are seen as responsible for the non-spiritual needs of the church. :531 Deacons serve under the supervision of the elders, and are often assigned to direct specific ministries. :531 Successful service as a deacon is often seen as preparation for the eldership. :531 Elders and deacons are chosen by the congregation based on the qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. :53,48–52 :323,335 Congregations look for elders who have a mature enough understanding of scripture to enable them to supervise the minister and to teach, as well as to perform governance functions. :298 In lieu of willing men who meet these qualifications, congregations are sometimes overseen by an unelected committee of the congregation's men.
While the early Restoration Movement had a tradition of itinerant preachers rather than "located Preachers", during the 20th century a long-term, formally trained congregational minister became the norm among Churches of Christ. :532 Ministers are understood to serve under the oversight of the elders. :298 While the presence of a long-term professional minister has sometimes created "significant de facto ministerial authority" and led to conflict between the minister and the elders, the eldership has remained the "ultimate locus of authority in the congregation". :531
Churches of Christ hold to the priesthood of all believers . No special titles are used for preachers or ministers that would identify them as "clergy ". :106 :112–113 Churches of Christ emphasize that there is no distinction between "clergy" and "laity " and that every member has a gift and a role to play in accomplishing the work of the church. :38–40
CONGREGATIONAL METHODIST CHURCH
Methodists who disagreed with the episcopal polity of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (MECS) left their mother Church to form the Congregational Methodist Church , which retains Wesleyan-Arminian theology but adopts congregationalist polity as a distinctive.
* ^ A B C D E F G Carmen Renee Berry, The Unauthorized Guide to
Choosing a Church, Brazos Press, 2003, ISBN 1-58743-036-3
* ^ Pinson, William M., Jr. "Trends in Baptist Polity". Baptist
History and Heritage Society. Archived from the original on
2007-10-13. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link )
* ^ Samuel S. Hill, Charles H. Lippy, Charles Reagan Wilson,
Encyclopedia of Religion in the South,Mercer University Press, 2005,
(ISBN 0-86554-758-0 , ISBN 978-0-86554-758-2 ) 854 pages
* ^ A B C Stuart M. Matlins, Arthur J. Magida, J. Magida, How to Be
a Perfect Stranger: A Guide to Etiquette in Other People's Religious
Ceremonies, Wood Lake Publishing Inc., 1999, ISBN 1-896836-28-3 , ISBN
978-1-896836-28-7 , 426 pages, Chapter 6 - Churches of Christ
* ^ A B C Ron Rhodes, The Complete Guide to Christian
Denominations, Harvest House Publishers, 2005, ISBN 0-7369-1289-4
* ^ "
Churches of Christ from the beginning have maintained no
formal organization structures larger than the local congregations and
no official journals or vehicles declaring sanctioned positions.
Consensus views do, however, often emerge through the influence of
opinion leaders who express themselves in journals, at lectureships,
or at area preacher meetings and other gatherings" page 213, Douglas
Allen Foster and Anthony L. Dunnavant, The Encyclopedia of the
* Wayne Grudem, Electronic Systematic Theology: An Introduction to
* "Congregationalism". Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). 1911. pp. 928–937. * Loughlin, James Francis (1908). "Congregationalism". Catholic Encyclopedia . 4.
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