29 December 2006

Resources on History of Congregational Polity Within Unitarian Universalism

In a recent post, Paul Wilczynski mentioned the Cambridge Platform. The Cambridge Platform is an important historical document for the Unitarian part of our heritage. It is the foundation of our congregational polity.

Congregational polity is a subset of a larger topic -- ecclesiastical polity. Wikipedia defines "ecclesiastical polity" as:
" ... the operational and governance structure of a church or Christian denomination. It also denotes the ministerial structure of the church and the authority relationships between churches. Polity is closely related to Ecclesiology, the study of doctrine and theology relating to church organization."
And Wikipedia defines "congregational polity" as:
"Congregationalist polity dispenses with elders or bishops as a requirement of church structure. The local congregation rules itself, though local leaders and councils may be appointed.

Members may be sent from the congregation to associations that are sometimes identified with the church bodies formed by Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and other non-congregational Protestants. The similarity is deceptive, however, because the congregationalist associations do not exercise control over their members (other than ending their membership in the association). Many congregationalist churches are complete independent on principle.

It is a principle of congregationalism that ministers do not govern congregations by themselves. They may preside over the congregation, but it is the congregation which exerts its authority in the end.

Congregational polity is sometimes called "baptist polity", as it is the characteristic polity of baptist churches."
Two resources on congregational polity can be found on the UUA web site:
Both of these resources talk about the Cambridge Platform within the context of Unitarian Universalist history. And both are free downloads from the Unitarian Universalist Association's web site.

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