The Congregational Union Of Ireland

[founded in 1829]

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Congregationalism

by Rev. Tom Boyle

We would all like to think that Congregationalism started with the preaching of the Lord Himself. Following the practice of the early Church, people are made members of the church by faith in Christ and all members are 'called to be saints'. Thus the church was to be a communion of saints. Christ is the Head and each saint has direct access to Him, with Him. They need no control from without. They are independent and are competent with His guidance to settle all the details of their own worship, administration and government. This is Congregationalism.

The first emergence of Congregationalism was in Frankfurt. It was during the reign of Queen Elizabeth after 1558, that the seeds of nonconformity were sown. The Separatists were in a difficult position. Their conscience would no longer allow them to use the Book of Common Prayer. Many were put in prison and some even martyred. As a result of this 80 congregations were established in England by 1641. By 1685 the establishment of the Doctrines of Independence came into being under John Owen and John Howe. A meeting was held at the Savoy Palace where 200 representatives from 120 Independent Churches met. Their purpose was to draw up a Statement of the Doctrine and Policy of their Churches. Their Doctrine, in the main, was that of the Calvinism of the Westminster Confession.

By 1927 Congregationalists in Ireland numbered about 10,000. Their Churches as reported by W.B. Selbie were "Evangelical in Spirit and very conscious that they still have a distinctive witness to give". Of the 28 Churches, 21 were in the Republic of Ireland.

The history of independency in Ireland began with the Cromwellian settlements, but it was not until the Revival in Scotland under the Haldanes, that the Churches attained any power. Many of the Churches born in the Revival remain to this day. In 1829 the Irish Congregational Union was formed, and in 1899 it absorbed the Irish Evangelical Society.

In the 18th century Robert Haldane provided means for itinerant preacher in Ireland. The Congregational Churches of Richhill, Ballycraigy and Donegall Street were all founded about this time and owe a debt to these Scottish Brethren. Although Donegall Street is known as the Mother Church today, there was a work founded in Richhill Co Armagh, as far back as 1721; Cork 1750; Sligo 1787 and Moy 1796.

The Congregationalist Statement of Faith comes from the Savoy Declaration. The Declaration deals with some 32 areas of Doctrine from the Holy Scriptures to the Last Judgement. The preaching of the Word and Sacraments go together. Both are Divine declarations of the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ. Through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion we see God's mercy and grace expressed in a tangible and visible way.

The Church Meeting is also of great importance. Not only is the Fellowship to meet for Church business but also to pray, read the Scriptures and preach. The Meeting also deals with faults and failings of fellow members as well as discipline. Let me quote Dr. Dale; "To be at a Church Meeting is for me on of the chief means of Grace. To know that I am surrounded by men and women who dwell in God, who have received the Holy Ghost, with whom I am to share the eternal righteousness and eternal rapture of the great lift to come, this is Blessedness. I breathe a Divine air."

This is Congregationalism.