Who are the Congregationalists?
The Congregational tradition dates back to sixteenth-century England, where Protestant reformers formed the ideal of independent local churches free from liturgical ceremony and hierarchical control by the Church of England. These reformers, also known as Puritans, emigrated to New England in the mid-1600s, to establish a "godly commonwealth" of locally governed church with simple forms of worship, governed by the people of the congregation. As a Protestant denomination built on strong community bonds, the Congregational churches went on to exercise a broad influence on American culture, both in the world of ideas and in efforts for social reform.
These churches exist today within the United Church of Christ, and in two continuing bodies, the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches and the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference.
Who Were the Christians?
The Christians were a small but vigorous group, with a similar ideal of simplicity and liberty of conscience. A product of the religious revivals of the early nineteenth century, they rejected all denominational labels, preferring to call themselves simply "Christians." They emphasized a simple standard of belief and behavior, following the way of Christ, rather than a set creed or catechism.
In 1931, the General Convention of the Christian Churches, representing about 100,000 members, and the National Council of the Congregational Churches, with about one million members, joined to form the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches. In 1957, this body united with the Evangelical and Reformed Churches to form the United Church of Christ.