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§ 103. American Congregational Creeds.
Special essays relating to the creeds and Church order of American Congregationalists.
The Formation of Creeds. Article by the Rev. Joseph P. Thompson in the 'New-Englander,' Vol. IV. pp. 265–274. 1846.
Congregationalism and Symbolism. Article by the Rev. Wm. G. T. Shedd in the 'Bibliotheca Sacra,' Vol. XV. pp. 661–690. 1858. (An argument showing the need of a more positive creed for Congregationalism.)
Confessions of Faith. Article by the Rev. Edward W. Gilman in the 'Congregational Quarterly,' Vol. IV. pp. 179–191. 1862.
Declaration of Faith and the Confession. Article by the Rev. Edward A. Lawrence. Ib. Vol. VIII. pp. 173–190. 1866.
Ancient Confessions of Faith and Family Covenants. By E. W. G. Ib. Vol. XI. pp. 516–527. 1869.
The National Council (of 1871). Article by Dr. A. H. Quint in the 'Cong. Quarterly,' Vol. XIV. pp. 61, 80. 1872.
The American Congregationalists have from time to time adopted the Westminster standards of doctrine, with the exception of the sections relating to synodical Church government. Formerly the Assembly's Shorter Catechism was taught in all the schools of New England; 836but of late years those standards have gone much out of use, though they have never been disowned.
THE SYNOD OF CAMBRIDGE, 1648.16061606 'The Congregational Order' above quoted contains the Cambridge Platform and the Saybrook Platform, together with the 'Saybrook Confession of Faith,' i.e., the Savoy Confession as previously adopted by the Synod of Boston.
The 'Elders and Messengers of the churches assembled in the Synod at Cambridge, in New England,' in June, 1648, adopted the Westminster Confession one year after its publication, in these words: 'This Synod having perused and considered with much gladness of heart, and thankfulness to God, the Confession of Faith published of late by the reverend Assembly in England, do judge it to be very holy, orthodox, and judicious in all matters of faith; and do therefore freely and fully consent thereunto, for the substance thereof. Only in those things which have respect to Church government and discipline [in some sections of Chaps. XXV., XXX., and XXXI.] we refer ourselves to the Platform of Church Discipline agreed upon by this present assembly; and do therefore think it meet that this Confession of Faith should be commended to the churches of Christ among us, and to the honored court, as worthy of their consideration and acceptance. Howbeit, we may not conceal, that the doctrine of vocation, expressed in Chap. X., § 1, and summarily repeated in Chap. XIII., § 1, passed not without some debate. Yet considering that the term of vocation and others by which it is described are capable of a large or more strict sense or use, and that it is not intended to bind apprehensions precisely in point of order or method, there hath been a general condescendency thereunto. Now by this our professed consent and free concurrence with them in all the doctrinals of religion, we hope it may appear to the world that as we are a remnant of the people of the same nation with them, so we are professors of the same common faith, and fellow-heirs of the same common salvation.'
The Cambridge Synod thus anticipated by ten years the work of the Savoy Conference (1658).
The Cambridge Platform, which is said to be the work of the Rev. Richard Mather, sets forth in substance the same principles of independent Church government and discipline as the Savoy Declaration.837
THE SYNOD OF BOSTON, 1680.
The Synod of Elders and Messengers of the New England Congregational churches, held in Boston, Mass., May 12, 1680, adopted and published the Savoy recension of the Westminster Confession, together with the Cambridge Platform. It says, in the preface to its Declaration:
'That which was consented unto by the Elders and Messengers of the Congregational churches in England, who met at the Savoy (being for the most part, some small variations excepted, the same with that which was agreed upon first by the Assembly at Westminster, and was approved of by the Synod at Cambridge, in New England, anno 1648, as also by a General Assembly in Scotland), was twice publicly read, examined, and approved of: that little variation which we have made from the one, in compliance with the other, may be seen by those who please to compare them. But we have (for the main) chosen to express ourselves in the words of those reverend Assemblies, that so we might not only with one heart, but with one mouth, glorify God and our Lord Jesus Christ.'16071607 The changes are very slight, and in part restorations of the Westminster text. They are noted by Dr. Quint in the 'Congregational Quarterly' for July, 1866, p. 266.
THE SYNOD OF SAYBROOK, 1708.
The Elders and Messengers of the churches in the Colony of Connecticut assembled at Saybrook, Sept. 9, 1708, agreed that the Boston Confession should 'be recommended to the honorable general assembly of this Colony, at the next session, for their public testimony thereunto, as the faith of the churches of the Colony.' They also accepted 'the Heads of Agreement assented to [in 1692] by the united ministers [of England], formerly called Presbyterian and Congregational,' and so virtually gave indorsement to three creeds as essentially teaching the same system—the doctrinal part of the Articles of the Church of England, the Westminster Confession or Catechisms, and the Confession agreed on at the Savoy.
THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF BOSTON, 1865.16081608 Debates and Proceedings of the National Council of the Congregational Churches, held at Boston, Mass., June 14–24, 1865. From the Phonographic Report by J. M. W. Yerrinton and Henry M. Parkhurst. Boston, Amer. Cong. Association, 1866 (ed. under the care of the Rev. A. H. Quint and the Rev. Isaac P. Langworthy), pp. 95–98, 344–347, 361–363, 401–403.
The National Council of Congregational churches of the United States, held in the Old South Meeting-house of the city of Boston after the close of the Civil War (which suggested this Council), in 838the year 1865 (June 14–24), adopted a 'Declaration of Faith.' This Declaration passed through three transformations:
The first draft was prepared by a committee consisting of three divines (two progressive, one conservative), viz., Dr. Joseph P. Thompson (then Pastor of the Church of the Tabernacle, New York), Dr. Edward A. Lawrence (Prof. in the Theol. Seminary of East Windsor [now at Hartford], Conn.), and Dr. George P. Fisher (Prof. of Ecclesiastical History in Yale College). The Committee declined to give a formulated statement of doctrines, but characterized, in a comprehensive way, the doctrines held in common by the Congregational churches, and referred to the ancient Confessions of Westminster and Savoy, as sufficiently answering the end of a substantial unity in doctrine. This draft was read, discussed, and referred to a larger committee.
The second draft was presented by the Rev. J. O. Fiske, of Bath, Maine, and in conformity with the usage of the councils at Cambridge, 1648, at Boston, 1680, and at Saybrook, 1708, expresses adherence to the Westminster and Savoy Confessions for 'substance of doctrine' and the system of truths commonly known as 'Calvinism,' and emphasizes in opposition to modern infidelity the doctrine of the Trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, and other fundamental articles of the common Christian faith.
The third draft was read by the Rev. Alonzo H. Quint, by direction of the business committee, at a meeting of the Council held June 22d, on Burial Hill, Plymouth, on the spot where the first meeting-house of the Pilgrims stood, and which Dr. Bacon declared to be to Congregationalists 'the holiest spot of all the earth.' This paper was substantially approved and referred to a committee of revision to improve the form. This committee reported, Friday, June 23, through the Rev. Dr. Stearns, President of Amherst College, a number of slight verbal alterations. In this improved form the Declaration was twice read 'in a distinct and impressive manner,' and after prayer by the Rev. Dr. Ray Palmer, of New York, unanimously adopted by rising. The singing of Dr. Palmer's well-known hymn, 'My faith looks up to thee,' and the old doxology, 'To God the Father, God the Son,' concluded the solemnity.16091609 The Boston Declaration is printed in Vol. III. p. 734.839
The same Council adopted a new Platform of Discipline, called the Boston Platform of 1865, and published by the Congregational Board. This virtually supersedes the Cambridge and Saybrook Platforms.
THE OBERLIN NATIONAL COUNCIL, 1871.
The Oberlin Council of 1871 is the first of a regular triennial series of National Councils of the Congregational churches in the United States.16101610 Formerly General Councils or Synods were held only occasionally (1637, 1646, 1648, 1662, 1680, 1708, 1852, 1865), when some controversy or matter of special concern to all the churches seemed to justify them. It adopted a constitution, one paragraph of which briefly refers to the rule of faith in a very general way.16111611 Printed in Vol. III. p. 737.
Note.—Besides the creeds of General Councils, there are in use among American Congregationalists a great number and variety of creeds, concerning which the Rev. Edward W. Gilman, D.D. (Secretary of the American Bible Society) kindly furnishes the following information:
'1. State Associations and Conferences..
'The usage is various. The General Association of Massachusetts, founded in 1803, accepts as a basis of union "the doctrines of Christianity as they are generally expressed in the Assembly's Shorter Catechism." So do the General Convention of Vermont, founded 1796, and the General Association of New Hampshire, founded 1747. The General Association of New York, founded 1834, has separate Articles of Faith. So has the General Association of Illinois. The General Conferences of Maine and Connecticut have no express doctrinal basis.
'2. County Consociations (of twenty or thirty churches).
' The Lincoln and Kennebec Consociation (Maine), 1808, recommended to its constituent churches Articles of "Union, Faith, and Practice." The Northwestern Consociation (Vermont), 1818, recommended to its churches a uniform Confession and Covenant. The Litchfield South Consociation (Conn.), 1828, prepared a Confession and Covenant for the general use of its churches. The New Haven West Consociation (Conn.) admits only churches which accept the doctrinal part of the Saybrook Platform.
'3. Institutions of Learning.
'The Hollis Professor of Divinity in Harvard College must "declare it as his belief that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the only perfect rule of faith and practice," and the first incumbent (1722), being examined by the Corporation, declared his assent to the Confession of Faith in the Assembly's Catechism and to the doctrinal Articles of the Church of England. Assent to the Westminster Confession or the Saybrook Platform was required of Professors in Yale College from 1753 to 1823. In the Theological Institution at Andover both Visitors and Professors are required to subscribe a Declaration of Faith drawn up by the founders in 1808, and to renew this declaration at intervals of five years.
'4. Local Churches.
'The types are various, and while each church is at liberty to construct and alter its own formulas, certain tendencies towards uniformity of usage, at different periods, are noticeable.
'(a) Individual Professions. Such were those made by John Cotton, at Charlestown, in 1630, and by John Davenport, at New Haven, in 1639. (See the latter in Ancient Waymarks, published at New Haven in 1853. See also Cong. Quarterly, 1869, Vol. XI. p. 517.)840
'(b) Brief general references, either to the holy Scriptures as the only rule of belief and duty, or to the Westminster Catechism or the Boston (i.e., Savoy) Confession, as agreeable to the Scriptures. This usage came in at an early day, and was current at the beginning of this century.
'(c) Articles of Faith, embracing in theological phraseology the outlines of a system of divinity. After the year 1800 these came into general use as formulas for the reception of members, and great reliance was placed upon them as helps in maintaining the purity of the churches against the inroads of false doctrine. Candidates for admission to Church privileges were required to give their assent to the several propositions, which thus in many cases were made tests of worthiness. Dr. Samuel Worcester (Fitchburg, 1798) and Dr. E. D. Griffin, the first pastor of the Park Street Church, Boston (1811), had much to do in shaping the practice of the churches from their day to the present time. Formulas of this class have, however, been subjected to various modifications, by way of accommodation to individual opinions, or for the sake of denying current error, or of emphasizing truths peculiar to the Calvinistic system, but especially in order to secure brevity in the Church service. In this way it has unfortunately sometimes happened that doctrines fundamental to Christianity have failed to find a place in the formal Confession of Faith.
'(d) Creeds divested of theological terms, and clothed in language so clear and simple and general as to prevent no Christian from giving them his prompt and hearty assent. The revisions of the last twenty years have been looking in this direction, and churches are beginning to be formed with no other symbol of faith than the Apostles' Creed.'
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