CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH (k3n-gre-gai% shOn-al chilrch).
What are known as the Congregational Churches of America and of Great Britain are not the only churches which are congregational by organization. The Baptists, the Christians, the Unitarians, and several other religious bodies have substantially the same polity, so that nearly thirty-eight per cent of all assemblies for public worship in the United States are of this type of government. But the group of churches known by the title of "Congregational" are so one in his tory, faith, character, worship, missionary activi ties and responsible mutual relationship, that they constitute as distinct a denomination as any in America (1) Origin. American Congregationalism had its origin in England in the reign of Elizabeth. Many English Protestants felt that the Reforma tion, as introduced under that great queen. had not gone far enough toward the realization of what they believed that the Bible taught that a Christian church should be. These seekers for a more per fect Reformation were of two classes.—the Puri tans, a large party who believed in the possibility of a reformed national church, and the Separat ists, a comparatively small and radical party, who agreed in general with the Puritans as to the direction in which churchly reforms should be sought, but held that Christians should separate from the national church and organize local con gregations composed exclusively of persons of professed Christian experience.
The first to proclaim these Separatist views suc cessfully was Rev. Robert Browne, a graduate of Cambridge University. In 1580 he formed a Con gregational Church in Norwich. A similar church completed its organization at London in 1592, and another came into being at Scrooby, one hundred and fifty miles north of London, in 1605 or i6o6. The latter had Richard Clyfton, John Robinson, William Brewster and William Brad ford among its members. Persecution compelled all these churches to flee from England to Holland. That formed at Scrooby settled at Leyden in 16o9, and a considerable portion of its membership, un der the lead of Brewster and Bradford, crossed the Atlantic in the "Mayflower," and founded the first permanent settlement in New England at Plymouth in 1620.
(2) Early Growth. Not long after Congrega tionalism was thus brought by Separatists to America, political and ecclesiastical tyranny in England induced many prominent Puritans to emigrate to New England. Massachusetts, Con necticut and New Hampshire were settled by Puritans, and beginning with the formation of a Congregational Church substantially like that of Plymouth at Salem in 1629, Congregational Churches were spread by Puritan settlers over the New England colonies. By 1637, when they held their first synod, or general council, they numbered 22 ; by 1646, when the Cambridge Synod formulated their polity, they had grown to 53. In 1760, there were 53o Congregational Churches in New England. By 1816, they had multiplied to 1,000; and at the present time the churches of the denomination in the United States number 5,625; their ministers about 5,500, and their communi cants 630,000. As late as 1820, four-fifths of the Congregational Churches were in New England. Now nearly three-fourths are in other parts of the United States.
Some few of the way-marks of this long history have been, Eliot's efforts for the conversion of the Indians, from 1646 onward; the "Great Awaken ing" under George Whitefield and other evangel ists, 1740-41 ; Jonathan Edwards and the New England theology; home missions organized, 1798; the first theological seminary opened (Andover), 1808; the American Board of Foreign Missions formed, 181o; the Triennial National Council in stituted, 1871 ; the Christian Endeavor Society in augurated, 1881 ; the International Congregational CounCil, 1891.
Congregationalism has always believed in popu lar education. Its first school (Boston) was opened in 1635. The first of a long series of col leges (Harvard) was founded in 1636; and the list of such institutions of higher learning essentially related to Congregationalism now embraces forty one, besides seven theological seminaries.