by Simon Page
It has been said that congregationalism began in the time of Jesus.
This has been shown because the two things the church really needs is a leader (Christ) and a group of people who believe in Him and worship Him. At the time of Jesus there were these two things: Christ and a group of people. These little groups of people would meet together and talk about what He had said and about Jesus Himself. So it can be said that these groups of people were the first congregational churches.
Soon after His death these groups spread to Asia Minor, Greece and to other lands surrounding
Palestine. The groups gathered together as Paul spread the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. These
people said they felt the presence of God in Jesus. Therefore, Jesus’ words were true, “Where two
or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Soon the groups became larger and the members agreed to each do a certain job when it was
asked of them. Some became deacons, and others bishops, for example.
Eventually the early church and its simplicity disappeared. The people began not to put their trust
entirely in the Spirit of God but partly in the machinery and organisation of the church. Firstly,
because of their organised way, they were looked on as Presbyterian. Secondly, where they
elected a bishop, they were marked as being Episcopal.
Many rules were laid down from the end of the first century. The Church became more and more
organised. From being just a group of people who believed, they had rules and jobs and orders.
These included, to become a member of the church, you had to be baptised, and the baptism had
to be performed by someone in authority. A person had authority only if he had been ordained with
the “laying on of hands” by a bishop.
This process went on until the Reformation, the church taking its course through wealth, unreality
and decay, until the beginning of the sixteenth century. It was at this time that congregationalism
came back to the fore.
When the Bible was translated into English the people realised the unimportance of all the
organisation within the Church. This resulted in people beginning to worship God as they believed
the Bible showed them.
There have been, almost all the time in the Church’s history, churches which could be called
congregational; but the word was never used. That came when Robert Browne clearly stated the
ideas and principles of congregationalism. He spent some time teaching with Robert Harrison.
Soon these two formed a church of Christian believers. Their service of worship gave all members
a right to speak. Browne was put in prison for this preaching. When he was released he wrote
books about congregationalism. The main one was “A treatise of reformation without tarrying for
In 1662 the Act of Uniformity was passed which required all services to be conducted in line with
the Book of Common Prayer. This resulted in some two thousand clergymen of the Church of
England surrendering their livings in the established church to establish free independent worship
with small groups of believers. After many years and many struggles the Act of Toleration was
passed in 1689 which allowed congregational churches, “Independent Churches” as they were
commonly known at that time, to worship in their customs without breaking the law.
In 1831 Congregational churches realised that their independence did not mean isolationism. A
th meeting was held at the Congregational Library in London on 13 May 1831 which brought the
churches together to form the Congregational Union of England and Wales.
In 1972 many Congregational churches in England and Wales elected to join with the Presbyterian
Churches to form the United Reformed Church. Victoria’s members considered the proposal at a
church meeting in 1971 and unanimously rejected any loss of independence, the creation of a
more rigid hierarchy and the preclusion of ordinary church members from participation in the
sacraments of the church. Not one member voted in favour of the proposal! Several hundred
the churches did not join the URC and they now form several groupings. A meeting was held on 14
October 1972 in the Congregational Memorial Hall in London, followed by an Assembly at
Westminster Chapel, where a declaration of commitment to continuing independence was signed,
forming the Congregational Federation, of which our church is a member. By remaining
Congregational these churches were asserting the belief that all people should be free under God
to worship Him, as they believed right. God, through the Holy Spirit, could speak to the church
through any person, and there was no restriction through human appointment of authority.
The first President of Congregational Federation was Viscountess Stansgate, mother of Tony Benn
MP, and the newly formed body brought together a diverse group of around 200 churches. Today,
the Federation unites over 300 affiliated churches throughout England, Wales & Scotland; over 40
of these are in the North West Area, whose inaugural meeting of representatives was held at
Victoria in April 1972. Each local church continues to be fully independent and is self-governed by
its members, with God’s guidance, through the church meeting.
Extract taken from “A History of Victoria Congregational Church“.
October 24, 2017
October 10, 2017
July 25, 2017