UU Minute #54

The Cambridge Platform: 1648

In UU Minute number 41, we learned that religious conflict in 17th-century England was more about polity than theology. The Church of England had Episcopal polity – rule by the bishops. Dissenting congregations had Presbyterian polity – rule by groups of elders called presbyters.

In America, Puritans, criticized by Presbyterians for having no governance, eventually decided they did need to formalize their polity. It would be neither Episcopal, nor Presbyterian. It would be a polity based on covenant: Congregational polity. The Cambridge Platform of 1648 spelled out what that meant.

A church consists of those who profess faith, live pious lives, and enter into covenant together.
The covenant is both among members and with God -- and must be lived out within Christian community.
Members are not admitted to a church without due consideration, and should not leave without due consideration.
Leadership roles include pastors, who communicate Biblical wisdom, teachers, who run the schools and communicate knowledge, and ruling elders, who oversee church administration.
Each church is free to choose its own officers, and call and ordain its own minister.
Although churches are autonomous – each distinct and equal – churches are also bound to each other in a covenant – a communion of churches shown in six ways:
  • taking thought for each other's welfare;
  • consulting and advising each other;
  • admonishing concerning church offenses;
  • allowing members of one church to fully participate and receive the Lord's Supper in another church;
  • sending letters of recommendation when a member goes to a new church; and
  • financially supporting poor churches.
The Cambridge Platform of 1648 is the foundational document of Congregational Polity – the polity we still follow today.

NEXT: The Great Awakening

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