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English Speaking Protestantism

United Reformed Church

Doctrines See Congregationalism and Presbyterianism. Follows a modern, more moderate version of Calvinism. The church government is a form of Presbyterianism with limited congregational autonomy.

History (See Congregationalism and Anglicanism). It is ironic that the formation of the United Reformed Church should see the bringing together of the English Congregational and Presbyterian churches as the early foundations of both Churches were marked by mutual enmity. The English Revolution of the 1640s saw the Puritans given the chance to reform the Church of England which they had always wanted. Doctrinally everyone agreed and created the Westminster Confession of 1647. But while the majority of Puritan ministers wanted a Presbyterian style government, like Scotland and the continent, the Congregationalists or Independents refused to accept a settlement which exchanged the tyranny of bishops for that of a synod. Since the Independents favoured toleration they won the support of the sect ridden New Model Army and Oliver Cromwell. Thus in the Commonwealth Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians existed side by side, much to the disgust of the latter. Thus they at first favoured the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 hoping they would get a unified state church. Instead they and the Congregationalist ministers were expelled from the Church of England and forced to form non-conformist churches and suffer persecution till 1689.
In the 1690s there was a brief period of union between the two churches, but it broke down over the usual problem of church autonomy. Both churches became complacent in the 18th century, until the rise of Methodist evangelism triggered a general revival. But while the Congregationalists expanded, especially in Wales, the English Presbyterian Church declined, particularly as their ministers were prone to becoming Unitarians (see for information on their views the United Church of Christ). Banned from attending the Universities both denominations founded independent colleges and schools which in science and practical education outdid the established centres. In 1791 the famous London Missionary Society was formed by Congregationalist churches in London, its most famous missionary being David Livingstone.
In the nineteenth century the Congregationalists formed the Congregational Union of England and Wales to co-ordinate increasing inter-church activities in 1832. Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church was given a new lease of life by Scottish immigrants, and in 1847 was refounded on a national level. With the limitations on holding political office on non-conformists removed, the churches began to exercise a political influence again through their prosperous middle-class members and the general acceptance of evangelical values. This Victorian high-water mark contrasts with the decreasing numbers and influence of both churches since the turn of this century. Increasing co-operation between the churches in the 1960s lead to a merger in 1972. However, groups of conservative Congregationalists refused to participate, particularly in Wales (see Congregationalist adherents). But the new church has continued to decline in numbers and faces an uncertain future.

Symbols See Congregationalism.
Adherents There are 106,537 adherents in the U.K (Whitaker, 1995, 428).

Main Centre
 86 Tavistock Place, London, WCIH 9RT, UK