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Catholic Dictionary




Those Protestants who believe that each local church (congregation) is to be independent and autonomous. They profess to represent the principle of democracy in church government, a policy, they hold, claiming that Christ alone is head of the Church he founded.

Since the members of the Church are baptized Christians, they are all priests of God. No one, therefore, may claim to have priestly powers that others do not profess, or the right to teach or rule in Christ's name, except insofar as he or she is delegated by the congregation. Where two or three are gathered together in his name, he is in their midst, and the local church comes into existence as an expression and representation of the Church Universal. Congregationalists say that this system of church structure is the most primitive in Christianity and all other forms are later human additions and changes.

Although the Congregationalist principle began with Luther (1483-1546), it was not put into consistent practice until the English Reformation. With the rise of Anglicanism various separatists broke with the parent English Church to form what eventually became the Congregational Churches of Anglos-Saxon Protestantism. In the United States, most local Protestant groups of churches follow the Congregational pattern, even when they have other denominational names.