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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [1]

A sect of Protestants, so called from their maintaining that each congregation of Christians which meet in one house for public worship is a complete church; has sufficient power to act and perform every thing relating to religious government within itself; and is in no respect subject or accountable to other churches. Though the Episcopalians contend that there is not a shadow of the independent discipline to be found either in the Bible or the primitive church, the Independents, on the contrary, believe that it is most clearly to be deduced from the practice of the apostles in planting the first churches.

See Church Congregational and Episcopacy The Independents, however, were not distinguished as a body till the time of queen Elizabeth. The hierarchy established by that princess in the churches of her dominions, the vestments worn by the clergy in the celebration of divine worship, the book of Common Prayer, and, above all, the sign of the cross used in the administration of baptism, were very offensive to many of her subjects, who, during the persecutions of the former reign, had taken refuge among the Protestants of Germany and Geneva.

These men thought that the church of England resembled in too many particulars the anti-christian church of Rome: they therefore called perpetually for a more thorough reformation, and a purer worship. From this circumstance they were stigmatized with the general name of Puritans, as the followers of Novatian had been in the ancient church.

See Novatians Elizabeth was not disposed to comply with their demands; and it is difficult to say what might have been the issue of the contest, had the Puritans been united among themselves, in sentiments, views, and measures. But the case was quite otherwise; that large body, composed of persons of different ranks, characters, opinions, and intentions, and unanimous in nothing but their anitpathy to the established church, was all of a sudden divided into a variety of sects. Of these, the most famous was that which was formed about the year 1581, by Robert Brown, a man insinuating in his manners, but unsteady and inconsistent in his views and notions of men and things. Brown was for dividing the whole body of the faithful into separate societies or congregations; and maintained that such a number of persons as could be contained in an ordinary place of worship ought to be considered as a church, and enjoy all the rights and privileges that are competent to an ecclesiastical community.

These small societies he pronounced independent, jure divino, and entirely exempt from the jurisdiction of the bishop, in whose hand the court had placed the reins of a spiritual government; and also from that of presbyters and synods, which the Puritans regarded as the supreme visible sources of ecclesiastical authority. But as we have given an account of the general opinions and discipline of the Brownists, we need not enumerate them here, but must beg the reader to refer to that article. The zeal with which Brown and his associates maintained and propagated his notions, was, in a high degree, intemperate and extravagant. He affirmed that all communion was to be broken off with those religious societies that were founded upon a different plan from his; and treated more especially the church of England as a spurious church, whose ministers were unlawfully ordained; whose discipline was popish and anti- christian; and whose sacraments and institutions were destitute of all efficacy and virtue. His followers not being able to endure the severe treatment which they met with from an administration that was not distinguished for its mildness and indulgence, retired into the Netherlands, and founded churches at Middlebourg, Amsterdam, and Leyden.

Their founder, however, returned into England, renounced his principles of separation, and took orders in the established church. The Puritan exiles, whom he thus abandoned, disagreed among themselves, were split into parties, and their affairs declined from day to day. This engaged the wiser part of them to mitigate the severity of their founder's plan, and to soften the rigour of his uncharitable decisions. The person who had the chief merit of bringing about this reformation was one of their pastors, of the name of Robinson; a man who had much of the solemn piety of the times, and no inconsiderable portion of learning. this well-meaning reformer, perceiving the defects that reigned in the discipline of Brown, and in the spirit and temper of his followers, employed his zeal and diligence in correcting them, and in new-modelling the society in such a manner, as to render it less odious to his adversaries, and less liable to the just censure of those true Christians who look upon charity as the end of the commandments. Hitherto the sect had been called Brownists; but Robinson having in his apology affirmed that all Christian congregations were so many independent religious societies, that had a right to be governed by their own laws, independent of any farther or foreign jurisdiction, the sect was henceforth called Independents, of which the apologist was considered as the founder.

The first Independent or Congregational church in England was established by a Mr. Jacob, in the year 1616. Mr. Jacob, who had fled from the persecution of bishop Bancroft, going to Holland, and having imparted his design of getting up a separate congregation, like those in Holland, to the most learned Puritans of those times, it was not condemned as unlawful, considering there was no prospect of a national reformation. Mr. Jacob, therefore, having summoned several of his friends together, and having obtained their consent to unite in church fellowship for enjoying the ordinances of Christ in the purest manner, they laid the foundation of the first independent church in England in the following way. Having observed a day of solemn fasting and prayer for a blessing upon their undertaking, towards the close of the solemnity, each of them made an open confession of their faith in Christ; and then, standing together, they joined hands, and solemnly covenanted with each other, in the presence of Almighty God to walk together in all God's ways and ordinances, according as he had already revealed, or should farther make known to them. Mr. Jacob was then chosen pastor by the suffrage of the brotherhood; and others were appointed to the office of deacons, with fasting and prayer, and imposition of hands.

The Independents were much more commendable than the Brownists; they surpassed them, both in the moderation of their sentiments, and in the order of their discipline. They did not, like Brown, pour forth bitter and uncharitable invectives against the churches which were governed by rules entirely different from theirs, nor pronounce them, on that account, unworthy of the Christian name. On the contrary, though they considered their own form of ecclesiastical government as of divine institution, and as originally introduced by the authority of the apostles, nay, by the apostles themselves, they had yet candour and charity enough to acknowledge, that true religion and solid piety might flourish in those communities which were under the jurisdiction of bishops, or the government of synods and presbyteries. They were also much more attentive than the Brownists in keeping on foot a regular ministry in their communities; for, while the latter allowed promisquously all ranks and orders of men to teach in public, the Independents had, and still have, a certain number of ministers, chosen respectively by the congregations where they are fixed; nor is it common for any person among them to speak in public before he has submitted to a proper examination of his capacity and talents, and been approved of by the heads of the congregation. From 1642, the Independents are very frequently mentioned in the English annals. The charge alleged against them by Rapin (in his history of England, vol. 2: p. 514. folio ed.) that they could not so much as endure ordinary ministers in the church, &c. is groundless. He was led into this mistake by confounding the Independents with the Brownists.

Other charges, no less unjustifiable, have been urged against the Independents by this celebrated historian, and others. Rapin says, that they abhorred monarchy, and approved of a republican government: this might have been true with regard to many persons among them, in common with other sects; but it does not appear, from any of their public writings, that republican principles formed their distinguishing characteristic; on the contrary, in a public memorial drawn up by them in 1647, they declare, that they do not disapprove of any form of civil government, but do freely acknowledge that a kingly government, bounded by just and wholesome laws, is allowed by God, and also a good accommodation unto men. The Independents, however, have been generally ranked among the regicides, and charged with the death of Charles I. Whether this fact be admitted or denied, no conclusion can be fairly drawn from the greater prevalence of republican principles, or from violent proceedings at that period, that can affect the distinguishing tenets and conduct of the Independents in our times. It is certain that the present Independents are steady friends to a limited monarchy. Rapin is farther mistaken when he represents the religious principles of the English Independents as contrary to those of all the rest of the world.

It appears from two confessions of faith, one composed by Robinson in behalf of the English Independents in Holland, and published at Leyden in 1619, entitled, Apologia pro Exulibus Anglis, qui Brownistae vulgo appellantur; and another drawn up in London in 1658, by the principal members of this community in England, entitled, "A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practised by the Congregational Churches in England, agreed upon and consented unto by their Elders and Messengers, in their meeting at the Savoy, Oct. 12th, 1658, " as well as from other writings of the Independents, that they differed from the rest of the reformed in no single point of any consequence, except that of ecclesiastical government; and their religious doctrines were almost entirely the same with those adopted by the church of Geneva. During the administration of Cromwell, the Independents acquired very considerable reputation and influence; and he made use of them as a check to the ambition of the Presbyterians, who aimed at a very high degree of ecclesiastical power, and who had succeeded, soon after the elevation of Cromwell, in obtaining a parliamentary establishment of their own church government. But after the restoration, their cause declined; and in 1691 they entered into an association with the Presbyterians residing in and about London, comprised in nine articles, that tended to the maintenance of their respective institutions.

These may be found in the second volume of Whiston's Memoirs, and the substance of them in Mosheim. At this time the Independents and Presbyterians, called from this association the United Brethren, were agreed with regard to doctrines, being generally Calvinists, and differed only with respect to ecclesiastical discipline. But at present, though the English Independents and Presbyterians form two distinct parties of Protestant Dissenters, they are distinguished by very triffling differences with regard to church government, and the denominations are more arbitrarily used to comprehend those who differ in theological opinions. The Independents are generally more attached to Calvinism than the Presbyterians. Independentism is peculiar to Great Britain, the United States, and the Batabian Republic. It was carried first to the American colonies in 1620, and by successive Puritan emigrants, in 1629, and 1633, from England. One Morel, in the sixteenth century, endeavoured to introduce it into France; but it was condemned at the synod of Rochelle, where Beza presided; and again at the synod of Rochelle, in 1644. Many of the Independents reject the use of all creeds and confessions draws up by fallible men, though they require of their teachers a declaration of their belief in the Gospel and its various doctrines, and their adherence to the Scriptures as the sole standard of faith and practice. They attribute no virtue whatever to the rite of ordination, upon which some other churches lay so much stress.

According to them, the qualifications which constitute a regular minister of the New Testament are, a firm belief in the Gospel, a principle of sincere and unaffected piety, a competent stock of knowledge, a capacity for leading devotion and communicating, instruction, a serious inclination to engage in the important employment of promoting the everlasting salvation of mankind, and ordinarily an invitation to the pastoral office from some particular society of Christians. Where these things concur, they consider a person as fitted and authorised for the discharge of every duty which belongs to the ministerial function; and they believe that the imposition of hands of bishops or presbyters would convey to him no powers or prerogatives of which he was not before possessed. But though they attribute no virtue to ordination, as conveying any new powers, yet they hold with and practise it. Many of them, indeed, suppose that the essence of ordination does not lie in the act of the ministers who assist, but in the choice and call of the people, and the candidate's acceptance of that call; so that their ordination may be considered only as a public declaration of that agreement.

See Ordination They consider it as their right to choose their own ministers and deacons.

They own no man as head of the church. They disallow of parochial and provincial subordination; but though they do not think it necessary to assemble synods, yet, if any be held, they look upon their resolutions as prudential counsels, but not as decisions to which they are obliged to conform. They consider the Scriptures as the only criterion of truth. Their worship is conducted in a decent, plain, and simple manner, without the ostentation of form and the vain pomp of ceremony. The congregations of the Independents are very numerous, both in England and America, and some of them very respectable. This denomination has produced many characters as eminent for learning and piety as any church in Christendom; whose works, no doubt, will reflect lasting honour on their characters and abilities.

See Church Congregational; Nonconformists and books under those articles.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

a denomination of Protestants in England and Holland, originally called Brownists. They derive their name from their maintaining that every particular congregation of Christians has, according to the New Testament, a full power of ecclesiastical jurisdiction over its members, independent of the authority of bishops, synods, presbyteries, or any other ecclesiastical assemblies. This denomination appeared in England in the year 1616. John Robinson, a Norfolk divine, who, being banished from his native country for nonconformity, afterward settled at Leyden, was considered as their founder and father. He possessed sincere piety, and no inconsiderable share of learning. Perceiving defects in the denomination of the Brownists, to which he belonged, he employed his zeal and diligence in correcting them and in new modelling the society. Though the Independents considered their own form of ecclesiastical government as of divine institution, and as originally introduced by the authority of the Apostles, nay, by the Apostles themselves; yet they did not always think it necessary to condemn other denominations, but often acknowledged that true religion might flourish in those communities which were under the jurisdiction of bishops, or the government of presbyteries. They approved, also, of a regular and educated ministry; nor is any person among them now permitted to speak in public before he has submitted to a proper examination of his capacity and talents, and has been approved of by the church to which he belonged. Their grounds of separation from the established church are different from those of other puritans. Many of the latter objected chiefly to certain rites, ceremonies, vestments, or forms, or to the government of the church; while yet they were disposed to arm the magistrate in support of the truth, and regretted and complained that they could not on these accounts conform to it. But Robinson and his companions not only rejected the appointments of the church on these heads, but denied its authority to enact them; contending, that every single congregation of Christians was a church, and independent of all legislation, save that of Christ; standing in need of no such provision or establishment as the state can bestow, and incapable of soliciting or receiving it. Hence they sought not to reform the church, but chose to dissent from it. They admitted there were many godly men in its communion, and that it was reformed from the grossest errors of the man of sin; but thought it still wanted some things essential to a true church of Christ; in particular, a power of choosing its own ministers, and a stricter discipline among its members. The creed of the Independents is uniformly Calvinistic, though with considerable shades of difference; and many in Scotland and Ireland have symbolized with the Sandemanians, or the Scottish Baptist denominations. The Congregationalist and Independent have been generally considered as convertible and synonymous: many, however, in the present day, prefer the former appellation, considering it desirable, in many cases, to unite, for mutual advice and support, more closely than the term independent seems to warrant.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [3]

a name given to certain bodies of Christians who assert that each Christian congregation is independent of all others, and from all ecclesiastical authority except its own. Some writers inaccurately use this name as synonymous with "Congregationalists," forgetting that the latter do not claim the absolute independence of individual character. "The churches of New England are congregational. They do not approve the name of Independent,' and are abhorrent of such principles of independency as would keep them from giving an account of their matters to neighboring churches regularly demanding it of them" (Mather). (See Congregationalists).

I.' History. After the reformation of religion in England, the greater body of Protestants adopted the Episcopal form of Church polity, aid this was finally, established as the religion of the nation. But the smaller body of Protestants opposed episcopacy on the ground that it too nearly resembled the Roman Catholic form of Church polity, and these so-called Nonconformists (q.v.) came to be stigmatized by the derisive name of Puritans, which the followers of Novatian had borne in the third century. To this class (i. c. Nonconformists) belong the Independents, who claim that their system is substantially the same as that of the apostolic churches, which had been corrupted by the tendencies that culminated in papacy, and that traces of dissent from the episcopal power may be found in every age back to the 4th century (see Punchard, History of Congregationalism). They are supposed to have originated in England about the year 1581, under the leadership of Robert Brown, bearing thence the name of Brownists (q.v.); but Richard Fitz is generally named as the first pastor of the first Independent church in England (compare Skeats, History of the Free Churches, p. 23). The persecution which they were obliged to endure from the Established Church soon necessitated the emigration of these first Independents, and they removed to the Netherlands. Deserted by Brown, who conformed, and became an adherent of the Church of England, they chose as their leader John Robinson, to whom belong the chief merit of a better organization of them. Brown, who, by the persecutions which, as a Nonconformist, he had to endure, had become greatly embittered, had, with hardly less bigotry than his persecutors, declared all other forms of Church government not only as inconsistent. but denounced them in the severest terms, even branding them as antichristian. Robinson, however, while holding his own to be the most apostolical form, counseled recognition of all other forms and Christian fellowship, looking upon charity as the end of the commandments. The names also which they had hitherto borne were now exchanged for that of Independents. Robinson, in his Apology, having affirmed "Coetum quemlibet particularem, esse totam, integram, et perfectam ecclesiam ex suis partibus constantem immediate et independentem [quoad alias eccl.] sub ipso Christo." In 1616, a friend and co-laborer of Robinson, Henry Jacob, returned to the mother country, and organized an Independent Church at London, which has oftentimes, though incorrectly, been termed "the first Independent Church in England" (compare vol. 2, p. 476). "From this, as a nucleus, Independency gradually spread through England, and, in spite of the harsh measures of Laud and the court, came, in the middle of the 17th century, to occupy a dominant place among the powers by which the destinies of England were swayed."

A prominent place was occupied by the Independents at the Westminster Assembly, they taking an active part in the debates, especially on points of Church order; "debating all things," says Baillie, "which came within twenty miles of their quarters," and evidently astonishing the "churchmen" by their "great learning, quickness, and eloquence, together with their great courtesy and discretion in speaking." Skeats (History of the Free Churches, p. 52) asserts that at this "Assembly" the representatives of the Independents, some five or six in number, "prayed to be inducted into the proposed National Church, the conditions being that the power of ordination should be reserved to their own congregations, and that they might be subject, in Church censures, to Parliament, but not to any Presbytery." As they were unsuccessful in this attempt, however, it is believed that, though few in number, they yet prevented the Presbyterians from accomplishing at least their object, standing "in the breach against the advance of a new State Church, which, if better in many respects than the old (Episcopal); would have been worse in other respects." But it was only after the accession of Oliver Cromwell (himself an Independent) to the protectorate that the Independents gained the ascendency, and became "the most powerful and important religious body in England" (compare Murray, Life of Samuel Rutherford, chap. 8). The greatest statesmen of England were Independents; the army was Independent in the main; and Independent ministers held appointments as chaplains, or filled leading positions in the universities; among them, most prominently, John Owen, Thomas Goodwin, Nye, etc. To strengthen the union among themselves, an Assembly was decided to be held at the Savoy.

Ministers and delegates of more than a hundred congregations thereupon convened, Sept. 29, 1658, and on Oct. 12 (a few weeks before Oliver Cromwell's death) they adopted and issued a confession of faith and discipline, which was named a "Declaration." Of this declaration the following were fundamental propositions: "A particular Church consists of officers and members: the Lord Christ having given to his called ones-united in Church order liberty and power to choose persons fitted by the Holy Ghost to be over them in the Lord. The officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the Church are pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons. The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person unto the office of pastor, teacher, or elder in a church is that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the Church itself, and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with the imposition of hands of the eldership of that Church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon, that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition; and those who are so chosen, though not set apart after that manner, are rightly constituted ministers of Jesus. The work of preaching is not so peculiarly confined to pastors and teachers but that others also, gifted and fitted by the Holy Ghost, and approved by the people, may publicly, ordinarily, and constantly perform it.

Ordination alone, without election or consent of the Church, doth not constitute any person a church officer. A church furnished with officers, according to the mind of Christ, hath full power to administer all his ordinances; and where there is want of any one or more officers, those that are in the Church may administer all the ordinances proper to those officers whom they do not possess; but where there are no teaching officers at all, none may administer the seals, nor can the Church authorize any so to do. Whereas the Lord Jesus Christ hath appointed and instituted, as a means of edification, that those who walk not according to the rules and laws appointed by him be censured in his name and authority, every Church hath power in itself to exercise and execute all those censures appointed by him. The censures appointed by Christ are admonition and excommunication; and whereas some offences may be known only to some, those to whom they are so known must first admonish the offender in private; in public offences, and in case of non-amendment upon private admonition, the offence being related to the Church, the offender is to be duly admonished, in the name of Christ, by the whole Church through the elders; and if this censure prevail not for his repentance, then he is to be cast out by excommunication, with the consent of the members." These particulars respecting a declaration of faith but little known indicate the opinions entertained by the Independents, not only at the time of the Restoration, but, with some modification, afterwards; and here it may be added that if, in the theory of Presbyterianism, the ministry, as to the order of existence, precedes the Church, in the theory of Congregationalism, the Church, in that same order, precedes the minister; and in this significant fact may be found a key to some important differences between the two systems. Besides those rules which had reference to the internal order of the churches, there were these three relative to their dimensions, their co- operation, and the catholicity of their fellowship. "For the avoiding of differences, for the greater solemnity in the celebration of ordinances, and for the larger usefulness of the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, saints, living within such distances that they can conveniently assemble for divine worship, ought rather to join in one Church for their mutual strengthening and edification than to set up many distinct societies. In cases of difficulties or differences, it is according to the mind of Christ that many churches holding communion together do, by their managers, meet in a synod or council to consider and give advice; howbeit, these synods are not entrusted with any Church power, properly so called, or with any jurisdiction over the churches. Such reforming churches as consist of persons sound in the faith, and of conversation becoming the Gospel, ought not to refuse the communion of each other, so far as may consist with their own principles respectively, though they walk not in all things according to the same rules of Church order."

The conclusions at the Savoy meeting were not ecclesiastical canons, but simply united opinions. They had no binding force. They aspired to no higher character than that of counsel and advice. Lest this declaration should endanger their principles. the assembly took the precaution not to invest it with binding symbolical authority; and, to guard against the possibility of hierarchical schemes, they further enacted that no one should be ordained without having a call to some particular congregation. Similar precautions were also taken by them against all possible civil interference in ecclesiastical affairs, except cases in which Christian societies had laid themselves open to investigation by the civil authorities for the encouragement of civil disturbances (comp. art. (See Congregationalists), vol. 2, p. 480, II, 2). After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the re-establishment of episcopacy, the Independents, like all other nonconforming "sects," suffered from illiberal enactments, especially from the "Act of Uniformity," which was passed in 1662. "Independents retired into obscurity for a while after the Restoration. The doors of buildings where they had been wont to assemble were nailed up, the pastors were driven out, flocks were scattered, the administration of ordinances could not take place, and meetings could not be held, and communities which had been prosperous under the Commonwealth diminished in number" (Stoughton, Eccles. History of England [Church of the Restoration], 2, 164). The Act of Uniformity, however, was the most severe of all enactments against dissenters. Some 2000 of the ablest and best of England's clergy were forced to leave the Church. "They included Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists, and not a few whom it would be difficult to reduce entirely under any of those denominations; both Calvinists and Arminians, with other divines scarcely belonging to either of those schools. In point of learning, eloquence, reasoning, and imagination the men varied; but under all their peculiarities lay a common faith of no ordinary character, a faith of that rare kind which makes the confessor. They believed in God, in Christ, in truth, in heaven; and in the controversy which they carried on they regarded themselves as fighting for a divine cause They believed that they were acting in the defense of the Gospel. A strong evangelical faith upheld their ecclesiastical opinions like the everlasting rocks which form the ribs and backbone of this grand old world. The Church of England suffered no small loss when she lost such men" (Stoughton). Yet, in spite of these persecutions, the Independents still continued to subsist until, in 1688, the Revolution, mad in 1689 the "Act of Toleration," finally restored to them the enjoyment of liberty of worship.

Shortly after the publication of the Act of Toleration, efforts were made to bring about a union between the Presbyterians and the Independents (who by this time generally styled themselves Congregationalists), and in 1691 heads of agreement were drawn up (compare Mosheim, Eccl. list. 5, 361- 363). But "within a year from the formation of the union two discussions on points of doctrine and order arose. The first of these was excited by a Congregational minister holding high Calvinistic or rather Antinomian opinions, believing and preaching that repentance is not necessary to salvation, that the elect are always without sin and always without "spot before God." The controversy which this course provoked "threw eleven counties into disorder, and before a year had passed away the Congregationalists had begun to be weaned from the union" (Skeats; comp. also our article on (See John Howe) ). From the position which the Independents assumed, it is curious to notice "that the Presbyterians, at this time, were more moderate Calvinists than the Congregationalists, and that the epithet of Baxterians' was not inappropriately applied to them; but as Baxterianism included the articles of the Church of England, and the confessions of Dort and Savoy, their moderation was certainly limited. What they did not believe was the doctrine of absolute reprobation, held in the sense that persons were condemned irrespective of their character and faith. They did not believe that sinners were pardoned without repentance. They did not believe that the Savior so stood in the sinner's place that God ever looked upon him as a sinner. The last point was the point most vehemently debated in this controversy. The question was, Is there a change of persons, or only of person, in the redemption; and according as this was answered, and the sense in which the answer was understood, the controversialist was classed as an Arminian, or even Unitarian, on the one side, or as an Antinomian on the other. Mather went so far as to state that believers were as righteous as Christ himself, and the Congregational body supported Mather."

After the Revolution the Independents greatly increased in numbers and influence, especially during the middle of the last century, under "the extraordinary revival of religious zeal" which the earnest labors of Wesley and Whitefield occasioned. Many converts of these eminent preachers joined the Independents, favoring their views on Church government. Since the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828, by which all civil abilities were removed from the Independents, and their right to social equality with their fellow-subjects was legally acknowledged, they have especially prospered, and their accessions have been so great that they have become the largest dissenting body in England except the Wesleyan Methodists. In 1831 a "Congregational Union of England and Wales" was formed, and their "Declaration of Faith, Order, and Discipline" was adopted in 1833. According to the report of 1889 the number of their churches in England, Ireland, and Wales, is given at 4726, of which 294 were vacant. The sittings provide for 1,563,919 persons. The Independents, who have always evinced great interest in education, at

present have under their control in England eleven training colleges, with a staff of twenty-six professors. These are,

Western College

Date of Formation

No. of Students



Rotherhalm College



Brecon College



Cheshunt College



Airedale College,






Hackney College



Lancashire College



Spring Hill, Birmingham



New College, London



Cavendish Theological


College, Manchester


Cong. Institute, Nottingham


II. Doctrines. '" In support of their scheme of Congregational churches, the Independents observe that the word Ἐκκλησία , which we translate Church, is always used in Scripture to signify either a Single Congregation, or the Place where a single congregation meets. Thus that unlawful assembly at Ephesus, brought together against Paul by the craftsmen, is called Ἐκκλησία , a church ( Acts 19:32;  Acts 19:39;  Acts 19:41). The word, however, is generally applied to a more sacred use, but still it signifies either the Body assembling, or the place in which it assembles. The whole body of the disciples at Corinth is called The Church, and spoken of as coming together into One Place ( 1 Corinthians 14:23). The place into which they came together we find likewise called A Church: When ye come together in the church-when ye come together into one place' ( 1 Corinthians 11:18;  1 Corinthians 11:20). Wherever there were more congregations than one, there were likewise more churches than one. Thus, Let your women keep silence in the churches, Ἐν Ταῖς Ἐκκλησίαις ( 1 Corinthians 14:34).. The whole nation of Israel is indeed called a Church, but it was no more than a single congregation, for it had but one place of public worship, namely, first the tabernacle, and afterwards the temple.

The catholic Church of Christ, his holy nation and kingdom, is likewise a single congregation, having one place of worship, that is, heaven, where all the members assemble by faith and hold communion; and in which, when they shall all be fully gathered together, they will in fact be one glorious assembly.. Accordingly we find it called the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven.' Besides these, the Independent can find no other description of a church in the New Testament; not a trace of a diocese or presbytery consisting of several congregations, all subject to one jurisdiction. The number of disciples in Jerusalem was certainly great before they were dispersed by the persecution in which Paul bore so active a part. Yet they are never mentioned as forming distinct assemblies, but as one assembly, meeting with its elders in one place sometimes in the Temple, sometimes in Solomon's porch, and sometimes in an upper room. After the dispension, the disciples who fled from Jerusalem, as they could no longer assemble in one place, are never called a Church by themselves,-or one church, but the churches of Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee ( Acts 9:31;  Galatians 1:22).

Hence the Independent concludes that in Jerusalem the words church and congregation were of the same import; and if such was the case there, where the Gospel was first preached, he thinks we may reasonably expect to find it so in other places. Thus, when Paul, on his journey, calls the elders of the Church of Ephesus to Miletus, he speaks to them as the joint overseers of a single congregation: Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers' ( Acts 20:28). Had the Church at Ephesus consisted of different congregations, united under such a jurisdiction as that of a modern presbytery, it would have been natural to say, Take heed to yourselves, and to the Flocks over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers;' but this is a way of speaking of which the Independent finds no in-stance in the whole of the New Testament. The sacred writers, when speaking of all the Christians in a nation or province, never call them the Church of such a nation or province, but the churches of Galatia' ( Galatians 1:2), The Churches of Macedonia' ( 2 Corinthians 8:1), the churches of Asia' ( 1 Corinthians 16:19). On the other hand, when speaking of the disciples in a city or town who might ordinarily assemble in one place, they uniformly call them A Church; as, the Church of Antioch,' the Church at Corinth,' the Church of Ephesus,' and the like. "In each of these churches or congregations there were bishops, sometimes called elders,' and deacons; and in every church there seems to have been more than one elder, and in some a great many, who all labored in word and doctrine.'

Thus we read ( Acts 14:23) of Paul and Barnabas ordaining elders (to be bishops and deacons) in every church; and ( Acts 20:17) of a company of elders in the Church of Ephesus, who were exhorted to feed the flock, and to take heed to themselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them overseers.' But of such elders as are found in modern Presbyterian churches, who neither teach nor are fit to teach, the Independent finds no vestige in the Scriptures, nor in the earliest uninspired writers of the Christian Church. The rule or government of this presbytery or eldership in a church is not their own, but Christ's. They are not lords over God's heritage, nor can they pretend to more power over the disciples than the apostles possessed. But when the administration of the apostles in the Church of Jerusalem and other churches where they acted as elders, is inquired into by an Independent, it does not appear to him that they did anything of common concern to the Church without the consent of the multitude; nay, it seems they thought it necessary to judge and determine in discipline, in presence of the whole Church ( Acts 6:1-6;  Acts 15:22;  1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

Excommunication and absolution were in the power of the Church at Corinth and not of the elders as distinguished from the congregation (1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 11). The apostle, indeed, speaks of his delivering some unto Satan ( 1 Timothy 1:20); but it is by no means clear that he did it by himself, and not after the manner pointed out in  1 Corinthians 5:4-5; even as it does not appear, from his saying, in one epistle, that the gift was given unto Timothy by-putting on of His hands,' that this was not done in the Presbytery of a Church, as in the other epistle we find it actually was the trying and judging of false apostles was a matter of the first importance but it was done by the elders with the flock at Ephesus ( Revelation 2:2;  Acts 20:28); and that whole flock did, in the days of Ignatius, all partake of the Lord's Supper, and pray together in one place. Even the power of binding and loosing, or the power of the keys, as it has been called, was by our Savior conferred, not upon a particular order of disciples, but upon the Church. If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother; but if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,' etc. ( Matthew 18:15-35). It is not said, if he shall neglect to hear the one or two, tell it to the elders of the Church; far less can it be meant that the offended person shall tell the cause of his offence to all the disciples of a presbytery or diocese consisting of many congregations. But he is required to tell it to that particular Church or congregation to which they both belong; and the sentence of that assembly, pronounced by its elders, is in a very solemn manner declared to be final, from which there lies no appeal to any jurisdiction on earth.

"With respect to the constituting of elders in any Church or congregation, the Independent reasons in the following manner: The officers of Christ's appointment were either ordinary and permanent in the Church, or they were extraordinary, and peculiar to the planting of Christianity. The extraordinary were those who were employed in laying the plan of the Gospel churches, and in publishing the New-Testament revelation. Such were the apostles, the chosen witnesses of our Savior's resurrection; such were the prophets, inspired by the Holy Ghost for explaining infallibly the Old Testament by the things written in the New; and such were the evangelists, the apostles' ministers. These can be succeeded by none in what was peculiar to them, because their work was completed by themselves. But they are succeeded in all that was not peculiar to them by bishops and deacons, the only two ordinary and permanent orders of ministers in the Church. We have already seen that it belongs to the office of a bishop to feed the flock of Christ. The only question to be settled, then, is, How men are ordinarily called to that office? for about the office of the deacon there is little or no dispute.

No man can now pretend to be so called of God to the ministry of the Word as were the apostles and other inspired elders, whom he chose to be the publishers of his revealed truth, and to whose mission he bore witness in an extraordinary manner. But what the apostles were to those who had the divine oracles from their mouths, that their writings are to us; and therefore, as no man can lawfully pretend to a call from God to make any addition to those writings, so neither can any man pretend to be lawfully called to the ministry of the Word already written, but in the manner which that word directs. Now there is nothing of which the New Testament speaks more clearly than of the characters of those who should exercise the office of bishop in the Church, and of the actual exercise of that office. The former are graphically drawn in the epistles to Timothy and Titus, and the latter is minutely described in Paul's discourse to the Ephesian elders, in Peter's exhortation to elders, and our Lord's commission to those ministers with whom he promised to be always present, even unto the end of the world. It is not competent for any man or body of men to add to or take from the description of a Gospel minister given in these places, so as to insist upon the necessity of any qualification which is not there mentioned, or to dispense with any qualification as needless which is there required.

Neither has Jesus Christ, the only legislator to the Church, given to any ministers or people any power or right whatever to call, send, elect, or ordain to that office any person who is not qualified according to the description given in his law; nor has he given any power or right to reject the least of them who are so qualified, and who desire the office of a bishop or elder. Let a man have hands laid upon him by such as could prove an uninterrupted descent by imposition of hands from the apostles, let him be set apart to that office by a company of ministers themselves the most conformable to the Scripture character, and let him be chosen by the most holy people on earth, yet, if he answer not the New Testament description of a minister, he is not called of God to that office, and is no minister of Christ, but is indeed running unsent. No form of ordination can pretend to such clear foundation in the New Testament as the description of the persons who should be elders of the Church; and the laying on of hands is of small importance in the mission of a minister of Christ; for now, when the power of miracles has ceased, it is obvious that such a rite, by whomsoever performed, can convey no powers, whether ordinary or extraordinary.

Indeed, it appears to have been sometimes used, even in the apostolic age, without any such intention. When Paul and Barnabas were separated to the particular employment of going out to the Gentiles, the prophets and teachers at Antioch prayed, and laid their hands on them.' But did this ceremony confer upon the apostles any new power or authority to act as ministers of Christ? Did the imposition of hands make those shining lights of the Gospel one whit better qualified than they were before to convert and baptize the nations, to feed the flock of God, to teach, rebuke, or exhort, with all longsuffering and patience? It cannot be pretended that there was any special virtue in this ceremony. Paul and Barnabas had undoubtedly received the Holy Ghost before they came to Antioch; and, as they were apostles, they were of course authorized to discharge all the functions of the inferiors and ordinary ministers of the Gospel. As in this instance, however, the imposition of hands appears to have been a mark of recognition of the parties as qualified for the work to which they were appointed, so Independents usually impose the hands of the bishops with the same intent. In a word, whoever in his life and conversation is conformable to the character which the inspired writers give of a bishop, and is likewise qualified by his mightiness in the Scripture' to discharge the duties of that office, is fully authorized to administer the sacraments of baptism and the. Lord's Supper, to teach, and exhort, and rebuke, with all long-suffering, and doctrine, and has all the call and mission which the Lord now gives to any man; while he who wants the qualifications mentioned has not God's call, whatever he may have, nor any authority to preach the Gospel of Christ, or to dispense the ordinances of his religion. From this view of the Independent principles, which is faithfully taken from their own writers, it appears that, according to them, even the election of a congregation confers upon the individual whom they may choose for their pastor no new powers, but only creates a new relation between him and a particular flock, giving him an exclusive right, either by himself or in conjunction with other pastors constituted in the same manner, to exercise among them that authority which he derives immediately from Christ, and which, in a greater or less degree, is possessed by every sincere Christian according to his gifts and abilities" (Encyclop. Britannica, 12, 370-372).

III. Scottish, Or New Independents. In Scotland Independency originated with John Glas (q.v.). The Baptists there, as elsewhere, are Independents. The regular Congregationalists are also numerous. (See Congregationalists).

Apart from these, there is a body called "New Independents." "In December, 1797, Robert Haldane (q.v.) formed a Society for Propagating the Gospel at Rome.' The object of this society was to send forth men to preach the Gospel in those parts of Scotland where they conceived that this blessing was not enjoyed in its purity, or where it was not regularly dispensed. Adopting the opinion that it is the duty of every Christian who knows the Gospel, and is duly qualified, to preach it to his fellow-sinners, James Haldane, brother of Robert, Mr. Aikman, and others, traveled through the greater part of Scotland, and preached. In a short time the Messrs. Haldane separated from the Church of Scotland, and soon after two other ministers of the National Church, Innes and Ewing, resigned their charges, and united with the Haldanes and their associates. A distinct society was soon formed, at the head of which were the Haldanes; and hence its members have been also called Haldanites, or Haldanite Independents. Large places of public worship, denominated Tabernacles, were erected, at Robert Haldane's expense, in the principal towns, where the Word of God was declared to numerous assemblies, both by these ministers and others from various denominations in England. At the expense chiefly, if not solely, of Robert Haldane, academies were also formed at Edinburgh, Dundee, and Glasgow, for the education of young men for the work of the ministry, who, when deemed qualified for preaching the Gospel, were to be employed as itinerants, under the inspection and countenance of the Society for Propagating the Gospel at Home.' Thus a succession of teachers was secured.

"The doctrines of the Scottish Independents are Calvinistic, and they reject all articles of faith or creeds of human composition. They say that the Scriptures are a divine and infallible standard, and that consistent Independents dare not adopt any other. They insist that the Scriptures contain a full and complete model and system of doctrine, government, discipline, and worship, and that in them we may find a universal rule for the direction of Christians in their associated state, as well as all necessary instructions for the faith and practice of individuals. They require Scripture for everything, even for such things as could not be contained in Scripture. Hence they reject the authority of the civil magistrate in matters of religion, and receive the Scriptures, and nothing else, as binding in the worship of God. They conceive the Church of Christ, as exhibited in Scripture, to be an association which has no head on earth, and which, as a body, can receive no laws from any one, except from Christ alone. They consider a National Church as the very essence of Antichrist.' They lay it down as a fundamental principle that a Christian Church ought to consist of believers, or of those who give evidence of their knowing and believing the Gospel, united together on the profession of its truths, and walking agreeably to them. They differ from the more early Independents in admitting Christians of all religious denominations to communicate with them in the Lord's Supper, provided they have reason to think them real Christians, and in considering all association of ministers, for giving council and advice to the churches in matters of doubt, as unnecessary and unscriptural.

"As to Church government, they believe that the apostolical churches, according to the model of which it is their great and professed object to conform, were entirely independent, none of them being subject to any foreign jurisdiction, but each one governed by its own rulers, and by no other laws than those written in the Word of God. They say that a true Church of Christ is a society formed for the same purpose as the churches planted by the apostles, and whose constitution is the same as theirs. A deviation in these particulars renders it unworthy of the name. According to them, when the word Church in Scripture, in its religious sense, does not denote a single congregation of saints, it always refers to the whole body or kingdom of Christ, part of which is in heaven and part on earth; which body does not constitute two churches, a visible and an invisible, but one church or family, consisting of different parts. They admit that all churches, that is, congregations, are connected together as being Christ's subjects, but they insist that they are dependent only on their King, in whose hands the supreme authority rests. While they teach that independent churches have no authority over each other, they allow that they may receive the advantage of each other's opinion on any matter of importance. They conceive that bishop and elder were, in apostolic times, synonymous terms; that the stated officers in all the churches then were elders and deacons, and, of course, that they are the only offices essential to a Church of Christ, and that there is no difference, in any respect, between elder and deacon, except in the offices to which they are appointed. They insist that ordination is not represented in Scripture as conveying an office, or giving any person a right to discharge that office; it is only the manner of setting him apart to discharge the duties of his office. It gives him no jurisdiction in any church except in that which appointed him; and as soon as he lays down, or is removed from his office in that church, his ordination is at an end. They contend that there is a distinction of departments in the pastoral office, and that teaching and ruling arc different branches of that office. Both elders and deacons are ordained by imposition of hands; and though ordination is part of the elder's province, yet, when churches are newly formed or in other cases of necessity, they allow that the members, who have always the right of election, may ordain church officers for themselves, or, at least, set them apart to their respective offices.

"In worship, the New Independents do not differ much from other non- liturgical churches. They read a large but indefinite portion of the Scriptures at each meeting; in many of their chapels they use Dr. Watts's version of the Psalms; and in most of them they stand while singing. They adopt weekly communions; and, as they make no real distinction between clergy and laity, the want or absence of elders and deacons, on any occasion, in any of their chapels, is not thought a sufficient reason for preventing the administration of the Holy Communion on the first day of the week. They contend that, by the approved practice of apostolic churches, it is demonstrated to be the appointment of Christ that his churches must observe the Lord's Supper every first day of the week. A division has taken place among these Independents, chiefly in consequence of the adoption of Baptist principles, and the introduction of Church discipline, and of mutual exhortation and prayer by the brethren, into the public service on Sunday mornings." The New Independents increased rapidly, and possessed, as early as the opening of our century, some 86 churches. There are at present some 114 churches in connection with the New Independents. See Haldane, View of Social Worship; Adams, Religious World, 3:260 sq.; Robinson, Theological Dictionary, s. V.; Kinniburgh, Historical Survey of Congregationalism in Scotland; and the articles (See Haldane); (See Congregationalists). Some of the Scotch Independents have embraced the Morisonian doctrine. (See Morisonians). See, besides the authorities already referred to, Fletcher, History Of Independency (Lond. 1847, 4 vols. 12mo); Vaughan, Hist. Of English Nonconformity (Lond. 1862); Neal, Hist. Of The Puritans (see Index); Milner, Ch. Hist. 1, 444; Burnet, Hist. Of His Own Times (see Index); Punchard, History Of Congregationalism, vol. 1, 2; Bogue and Bennett, History Of Dissenters, 1, 171 sq.; 2, 251, 546; Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 6, 653 sq.; Brande and Cox, Dict. Of Science, Lit., And Art, S.V. ; Chambers, Cyclop. s.v.; Cyclopaedia Britannica, s.v.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [4]

re a Protestant sect deriving both names from their principle of government; repudiating both Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, they hold that every congregation should manage its own affairs, and elect its own officers independent of all authority save that of Christ; they profess to derive all rules of faith and practice from the Scriptures, and are closely akin to Presbyterians in doctrine. Numerous as early as Queen Elizabeth's time, they suffered persecution then; many fled or were banished to Holland, whence the Mayflower conveyed the Pilgrim Fathers to New England in 1620. Regaining ascendency under Cromwell, they again suffered at the Restoration; but political disabilities then imposed have gradually been removed, and now they are the most vigorous Dissenting body in England. The congregations in the English Union (a union for common purposes and mutual help) number 4700, those in the Scottish Union 100.