The Conservative Congregational Christian Churches is a theologically conservative association of Ohio churches believing in the autonomy of each local church under the Headship of Christ. We are affiliated with the Conservative Congregational Christian Confernce (CCCC). We are comprised of churches that flow from various streams of history including Congregational, Christian, and Evangelical and Reformed and independent Community churches. We are solidly committed to the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, but allow for diversity in those areas where Christians have tended to disagree. Our members hold strong convictions, but do not believe that Christians should divide over secondary issues. As an evangelical denomination, we are fervently committed to evangelism and missions for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Origins of Congregationalism
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 sympathetically interpreted various dissident movements among the western churches, which were suppressed throughout the Middle Ages. By the sixteenth century, political and cultural changes had created a climate in which men such as John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin sought change, with new ideas about the relationship of individual men to God. This influenced what they saw as the power of people without priests to intercede between them and God, the need for the people to read and interpret the Bible, and correction of distortions from original Christian thinking, as well as their protests against church abuses. These reformers advocated a return to the simplicity and authenticity they believed was described in the New Testament Church. Congregationalists believe their model of church governance fulfills the description of the early church and allows people the most direct relationship with God.
Congregationalism is more easily identified as a movement than a single denomination, given its distinguishing commitment to the complete autonomy of the local congregation. The idea that each distinct congregation fully constitutes the visible Body of the church can, however, be traced to John Wycliffe and the Lollard movement, which followed Wycliffe’s removal from teaching authority in the Roman Catholic Church.
The early Congregationalists shared with Anabaptist theology the ideal of a pure church. They believed the adult conversion experience was necessary for an individual to become a full member in the church, unlike other Reformed churches. As such, the Congregationalists were a reciprocal influence on the Baptists. They differed in counting the children of believers in some sense members of the church. On the other hand, the Baptists required each member to experience conversion, followed by baptism.
In England, the Anglican system of church government was taken over by the king, Henry VIII. Influenced by movements for reform and by his desire to legitimize his marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533 (without the blessing of the Pope in Rome) after divorcing his first wife Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s government influenced Parliament to enact the 1st Act of Supremacy in 1534. It declared the reigning sovereign of England to be ‘the only supreme head on earth of the Church in England.’ In the reign of Elizabeth I, this title was changed to Supreme Governor of the Church of England, an act still in effect. The Church of England thus replaced Catholicism as the established state religion.
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. In 1639 William Wroth, then Rector of the parish church at Llanvaches in Monmouthshire, established the first Independent Church in Wales “according to the New England pattern”, i.e. Congregational. The Taberacle United Reformed Church at Llanvaches survives to this day.
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 underground churches in England and exiles from Holland provided about 35 out of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, which sailed from London in July 1620. They became known in history as the Pilgrim Fathers. The early Congregationalists sought to separate themselves from the Anglican church in every possible way and even forwent having church buildings. They met in homes for many years.