The congregational church is a Protestant Christian church where each separate congregation runs it’s own affairs.
Robert Browne in 1592 was the originator of many Congregational churches during the noncomformist religious movement in England during the Puritan reformation of the Church of England.
They were known as separatists or independents therefore distinguishing them from the Calvinistic Presbyterians.
With their insistence on the independence of local bodies, they became important in many reform movements, including those for abolition of slavery, and women's suffrage.
As of the early 21st century, Congregationalism in the U.S. had split into three major bodies:
The United Church of Christ, which most local Congregational churches affiliated with the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
The fellowship of churches and individuals formed to continue and foster classic Congregationalism as the merger that created the UCC was being debated.
The Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, an evangelical group.
According to the congregationalist understanding of the history of the Christian Church, the early disciples of Jesus had little or no organization. Congregationalists believe that in the centuries after the spread of Christianity, leaders in centers like Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Byzantium, and Jerusalem attempted to gain influence over all the churches in certain regions by creating hierarchy and structure.
Typically, congregationalists viewed this accumulation of power to be complete by the year AD 1000, with the bishop of Rome claiming authority over all Christendom. Many churches throughout the western part of Europe submitted to his authority.
The churches of eastern Europe, all of Asia, and Egypt likewise had been gathered under hierarchies of bishops, but retained independence from the Pope, according to this view.
Congregationalists believe their model of church governance fulfills the description of the early church and allows people the most direct relationship with God.
Robert Browne, Henry Barrow, John Greenwood, John Penry, William Brewster, and John Robinson were notable people who established dissenting churches separate from the Church of England.
With the demise of the monarchy, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) was officially declared the statement of faith for both the Church of England (Anglican) and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian).
In 1658 the Congregationalists created their own version of the Westminster Confession, called the Savoy Declaration.
The early Congregationalists sought to separate themselves from the Anglican church in every possible way and even forgoing having church buildings. They met in homes for many years.
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