Our church is a part of a rich and dynamic Congregational tradition that stretches back to the Pilgrims and Puritans. Our founders considered their work and faith a Holy Experiment. Although each Congregational church was its own unique entity with separate governance, the churches worked together in mutual support to advance the Christian faith in the American Colonies. Congregational churches provided a seedbed for the advancement of democracy in America. Many Congregationalists were also at the heart of dynamic discussions on the role of reason and emotion in the experience of faith. Congregationalists worked very closely with Presbyterians to support the western expansion of the Christian faith, and a Congregational minister in the mid 1800’s was the “The Most Famous Man in American.”
I share more about our Congregational history on the links I highlight throughout this article. Expanded information can also be found on my pastor’s corner our church website at www.redlands.church.
Congregationalists have a wonderful legacy of caring compassion that has shaped American society. For the last century, various Congregational churches have cooperated with one another in shared faith and mission. In our church constitution we affirm a faith statement developed by a forerunner to our present national association. Weekly in worship we declare the first part of this faith statement in modern language. The beginning of the statement proclaims what we believe. The second half of the statement in our constitution declares what we then do, based on our faith. You may like to take some time and read this statement in our constitution.
People in our Redlands community may like to grow in active faith by joining an adult class this fall on Wednesday nights. Dr. Lowell Linden will be offering the second-half of the Bethel Series, beginning an eight-month survey of the New Testament. If you are not taking Dr. Linden’s class, I encourage you to come to Alpha on Wednesday Nights—and invite a friend. This is a ten-week series on what the Bible says about our Purpose for life. Inviting others to come learn with you can be a wonderful way to advance the ministry of our Church into the next generation.
First Congregational Church of Redlands declares in it’s constitution that “the purpose of this Church to develop in individuals a consciousness of their relations and duties to God and all people, to maintain the worship of God, to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, to enlist others as His disciples, to instruct them in His way of life, to inspire them with a love of truth, a passion for righteousness, an enthusiasm for Christian Service and the development of a sense of stewardship with respect to time, talent and treasure.”
The constitution of the congregation further states that “This Church accepts the following statement of faith based on the proclamation adopted by the National Council of Congregational Churches on October 25, 1913, except that which is in brackets, as a working basis of its faiths”
We believe in God the Father, infinite in wisdom, goodness and love, and in Jesus Christ, His Son, our God and Savior, Who for us and our salvation lived and died and rose again, and livith evermore, and in the Holy Spirit, Who taketh the things of Christ and revealeth them to us, renewing comforting, and inspiring the souls of men. We are united in striving to know the will of God, as taught in the Holy Scriptures, and in our purpose to walk in the ways of the Lord, made known or to be made known to us.
We hold it to be the mission of the Church of Christ to proclaim the gospel to all mankind exalting the worship of the one true God and laboring for the progress of knowledge, the promotion of justice, the reign of peace, and the realization of human brotherhood. Depending as did our fathers, upon the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, we work and pray (for the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God), and we look with faith for the triumph of righteousness and the life everlasting”
Though Congregationalist have over the years resisted organization structures that would limit the independence of the individual congregation, they have formed associations and a denomination.
When the Plan of Union with the Presbyterians fell apart, Congregationalists began to plan more aggressively for their own future. They met together in Albany, the first national gathering since the Cambridge Synod of 1648, and promised to raise financial support for western churches. Delayed by the Civil War, Congregational leaders met again in Boston in 1865, where they began to hammer out standards of church procedures (polity) and adopted a statement of faith, known as the Burial Hill Declaration.
Denominational organization came in 1871 with the formation of the National Council of Congregational Churches. With a constitution barely a page long, the National Council had power only to convene a national meeting every two (later three) year — and no authority over local churches.
In the early-twentieth century Congregationalists were leaders in the ecumenical movement, a world-wide effort to build unity and reverse the denominational fragmentation of the Protestant churches. These finally found fruit in the 1931 merger of Congregational churches with the Christian Connection, a group formed in the early nineteenth century by believers who shared their dislike of organizational "machinery," rejecting the use of creeds and denominational labels. At this point the National Association became the General Association of Congregational Christian Churches. In 1957 the General Council of Congregational and Christian Churches merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a denomination created by another ecumenical venture, to form the United Church of Christ.
Not all Congregationalists followed this route, however. The Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC), formed in 1948, brought together churches sharing a common commitment to evangelical theology. The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC) provided a home for congregations and individuals who opposed the 1957 merger for polity reasons. Thus the NACCC created a "referendum council," through which individual churches reserved the right to modify any act by a national body.