A body of Christian believers who worship free from creeds and hierarchy. Each church functions autonomously under the headship of Jesus Christ and is lead by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the Scriptures. Members are united in their common faith, bound together in the Love of God and live in relationship with other like minded christian believers and churches - not necessarily 'Congregational' in title.
Congregationalism began with the Puritans who separated from the Church of England in the 16th Century, after the reformation. Initially these 'separatists' met illegally under threat of persecution until religious laws had relaxed. It was not too long before independent chapels were built all over the country to house these emerging and diverse congregations - Baptists, Presbyterians and Quakers all trace there roots back to the same movement. In an attempt to spread the gospel, thousands of congregational churches were born across the globe and many still thrive today.
Originally Congregationalists were known as 'Independents' until associations were later formed in the early 19th Century and given the term 'congregational'. Sadly, theologians were already adopting a theological liberalism which was trickling down into churches causing them to abandon their evangelical heritage. Nevertheless, many congregational churches remained true to their congregational ethos; one that upholds the Scriptures, cherishes revival, and vigorously engages in world missions.
More recently in the UK, there has been a shift in Congregational churches uniting themselves with other denominations. However, there are still around 600 active Congregational churches, many of which are associated with the Congregational Federation.
The definition of a 'typical' congregational church is difficult to establish as one might perceive. Given the nature of church governance, each church will vary considerably according its membership. There are congregational churches more conservative and traditional in practice, while others are more contemporary and charismatic. Some adopt a liberal theology, while others remain orthodox in their beliefs. There is probably no such thing as 'a typical Congregational church', but the following characteristics are likely to be found in varying degrees:
Churches that relate and function in a non-hierarchical manor within wider associations of fellowship.
Each (local) church being autonomous and complete, with Christ alone as their head.
Leadership is non-priestly and fully accountable to the (local) church who has called them.
Membership is above all based upon a sincere confession of faith in Christ.
Spiritual equality exists among all believers, each of whom are called to the work and service of ministry.
Whilst typically trinitarian, churches can range from liberal to orthodox in matters of faith, and every christian has full liberty in interpreting the Gospel in accordance with Scripture.
So how might one define the Congregational Church in Cranbrook? Whist there is a commonality among Congregational churches, there is also a huge diversity in practice - one size clearly doesn't fit all. Generally, this would be the case for most 'free' churches despite their associations or denominations; a church is a living organism, a diverse company of believers who make up a local and unique expression of the body Christ.
Whilst the church in Cranbrook is 'Congregational' in principle and practice, we understand the importance of having a clear basis of faith - this can be found on our 'basis of faith' website page. We would also describe ourselves as a church who are passionate about Jesus Christ, believe in the scriptures, trust in the grace of God and rely on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Wes Sargent Pastor
Congregational Church Cranbrook High Street Cranbrook Kent TN17 3DN