Why Christian–Congregational

November 8, 2015


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
Nov. 8, 2015

“Why Christian… Congregational?”
Faith, Freedom, Fellowship & Feng Shui
II Cor. 3:17-18

Did you know that Xbox has a game called “Halo”? This is the possibly prophetic description: “It’s the 26th century and humans now face the ultimate threat, the Covenant, a religious order composed of several blood thirsty alien races”. Anyone here play Xbox? Have you played Halo? Or, are you a part of this alien religious order, the Covenant, a religious order of blood thirsty aliens?

Well, today, we’re discussing Congregationalism…

What is a Congregationalist? What makes us unique and what is similar? From whence did we come? What do we believe?

The Congregationalists have used 3 words to describe our way: Faith; Freedom; and Fellowship. We’ll talk about each of these today. And, I’ve added a 4th “F” word: Feng Shui. But I’m ahead of myself.

Our history in America goes back to the fall of 1620 when a small group of Puritans, known as separatists, came to North America. 102 people crowded into a space made for 73 and began a long cold journey across the Atlantic waves. For 2 months they traveled in exposure, and all because of a dream of becoming the kind of people that believed God wanted them to be.

In fact, they wrote the Mayflower Compact before ever setting foot on soil, an agreement to live together in a civil manner.
From this group came the principles to form the US Constitution, the first public school system, many great universities, human rights advocacy, and ideals of freedom and democracy.

Our 1st “F” word is faith. Simply stated, Congregationalists believe in God and follow Jesus. While we use the Bible as our guide, each local congregation and member (in the words of Francis Gibbons) “possesses full liberty of conscience in interpreting the Gospel”. This creates diversity of Christian expression and thought between us!

Congregationalists have long embraced the idea that in God’s eyes, all of the faithful are spiritual equals. While some may be more mature in faith than others, everyone is equal before Christ who is the head of the church. An ordained person is not spiritually superior to anyone else in the gathered church.

This means that every member of a congregational church has equal voting rights and privileges. Each member has a responsibility to participate in the decision-making process of the church. Furthermore, each member is actually considered a minister and may step into leadership roles that clergy traditionally fill.

In the 1500’s, it was the practice of the Church of England to repeat creeds and prayers without thought. Our Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors objected to this. They strongly believed that person conviction and thoughtfulness was a critical component of faithfulness.

While they whole heartedly believed in prayer, they rejected the common practice of using set prayers in worship believing “they suffocate the very Spirit that should be present to enable significant voicing of the congregation’s petitions and praise.”

Likewise, this was the case with creeds. The Puritans and Pilgrims didn’t disagree with beliefs expressed in the creeds, but felt that creeds could not be used to force belief. Throughout the history of Congregationalism, many statements of belief have been drafted but none have ever been binding on the local congregation by any outside authority.

The 2nd “F” word is Freedom. Our traditional word from II Corinthians 3: 17-18. It speaks to the freedom we have as believers because of the Spirit of God within each of us.
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Since Paul recently went to a National Association of Congregational Churches seminar in Boston to learn more about our beginnings, I’ve asked him to speak to the freedom principles of congregationalism.

The 3rd “F” word is Fellowship. From the very inception of Congregationalism, fellowship with one another was a key marker of being a Congregational church. That’s a euphemism for “we like to party!” According to the Yearbook of Congregational churches in 2014 a church “is not a Church, if its members do not live in an intimate fellowship with one another”.

Why is this so important? Paul actually suggested that one of the “f”s to describe Congregationalism should be Fun. The truth is that it is fun when you are part of an organization where there is mutual encouragement, education, friendship and a sense of purpose. That happens when we get together.

Now, I’ve take the liberty to add the 4th “F” to our list of Faith, Freedom & Fellowship. I would like our 4th F to be Feng Shui. When we say that Congregationalism came from the Puritans of the 1600 and 1700’s, the church sounds like an institution. And since the 1960’s, institutions have been suspect. Today, we hear these often repeated words: “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” What that really means is that the person doesn’t see the institutional church as relevant to society. We can, after all, get our spiritual needs met by taking a walk in nature.

But the Feng Shui of Congregationalism is that the church is a spiritual reality rather than an institution. Richard Baxter said that the church is “a holy Christian society for ordinary Holy Communion and mutual help in God’s public worship and holy living”.

What the Puritans did was delocalize the church. They defined it not in terms of a building or institution but as a group of believers in a daily spiritual journey. For them, everything in life became a pointer to God and a carrier of grace. And that is good Feng Shui!

Why am I am Christian and a Congregationalist? Because of the Faith, the Freedom, and the Fellowship of our tradition. And especially because of the infusion of spiritual life into the everyday… or the Feng Shui.

“What Is A Congregationalist”? First Congregational Church of Rochester. Updated September 7, 2015.
Edited by Peay, Ph.D., Rev. Steven A. “A Past With A Future: continuing Congregationalism Into the Next Millennium”. The Congregational Press. 1998.
Mauro, Rev. Dr. D.Elizabeth “The Art And Practice Of The Congregational Way”. NACCC. 2014.
Edited by Peay, Ph.D., Rev. Steven A. “Yet more light and truth…Congregationalism, Covenant and Community” a compendium of the lectures given at the Third Congregational Symposium in Los Angeles. The Congregational Press. 2003 NACCC.
Edited by Gipson, Lawrence Henry. “The Albany Plan of Union 1754”. Old South Leaflet No. 9. The Old South Association. Old South Meeting-house, Boston, MA