Congregationalism: In Great Britain

In Great Britain

The movement to which the name came to be applied began in the 16th and 17th cent. in England in a revolt against the Established Church. Robert Browne published in 1582 the first theoretical exposition of Congregational principles and expressed the position of some of those separatists. Churches established on such lines were started very early in the 17th cent. in Gainsborough and Scrooby, but government opposition drove them into exile in Holland.

Not until the Protectorate did the Congregationalists make much progress. About that time the name Independents was first introduced, a term long common in Great Britain (it is still used in Wales) but seldom used in America. In 1658, when the Savoy Synod met in London, over 100 churches were represented. With the Restoration came repression for the Independents, partly relieved by the Toleration Act of 1689.

A marked tendency among English Congregationalists in the 19th cent. was toward combination in larger fellowship. Churches of this denomination formed a union in Scotland in 1812 and in Ireland in 1829; in 1831 the Congregational Union of England and Wales was established. The Congregational Union and the Evangelical Union were united in 1896. Membership in Congregational churches in Great Britain declined in the 20th cent. Congregationalists have been active in ecumenical activities, and in 1972 most British Congregationalists and Presbyterians merged to form the United Reform Church.

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