Congregational Churches are crafted in Covenant. What is a Congregational Church? What is it that makes a Church Congregational?
In the strictest sense, congregational Church governance is a fairly common thing among Baptists, non denominational churches, and a host of other movements of Christians. But a church that has congregational on the sign is identifying itself not merely by its polity but by a collection of important principles and precepts they go back to the English Reformation. The most central of these is the notion of Covenant in the local church.
In his foundational work published in 1868, “Congregationalism, What it is, When’s it is, and How it Works,” Henry Martin Dexter wrote, “God bound his people to himself and to each other, in the olden Time, by covenants, references to which are scattered along the pages of both old Testament and New… good people affiliated for good purposes are not at church, unless those purposes are distinctly Church purposes; that is, unless they aim directly at the promotion of the worship and service of God on Earth.” (Nichols and Noyes, Boston, 1868)
The collection of followers of Jesus Christ gather together around a covenant, a Central purpose which aims at the glorification of God and the world through acts of Christ compassion and direct evangelism; that constitutes a living breathing Church. It is only through deeply relational covenant communities of faith, that our congregational churches will be as God intended them to be.
We are to be the witnesses of the power of God’s love in Christ in the world. We are to be the hands and feet. But to do that we must do it together bound together in deep Covenant that is lasting, virtuous, biblical, and which binds our hearts together in genuine Christian love and affection.
Washington Gladden, that old Congregational light from a century ago, in his book, “Church and Parish Problems,” published in 1911, regarding this very topic he wrote, “what we most need to establish the truth about religion, and bring men to believe it, is not argument but testimony. “Ye are my witnesses,” saith the Lord.” (The Thwing Company, New York, 1911)
What is the Congregational Church? It is a Covenant Community of followers of Jesus. It is a people who recognized that Christ alone is the head of his church and every local church is a complete expression of the body of Christ. And upon the foundation of that covenant commitment we serve the Lord together and shine the Light of the love of God and the power of the Gospel into the world as one people, one body; the Covenant Community of Christ.
We may change our methods and the ways we communicate Christ but we must never relinquish our covenantal identity. When we gather, we gather as the covenanted people of God in Christ! “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 KJV)