by Pastor Dan Pryor
Our churches official name is “Plymouth Congregational Church.” Virtually no one knows to what the word “congregational” refers. We don’t use the word that much anymore simply because it confuses people more than clarifies. The simple answer is that it refers to our polity or our form of church government, but it goes much deeper than that.
Congregationalism flows from a set of principles which originate in the New Testament and which reemerged in the Protestant Reformation.
The great characteristic of congregationalism is a commitment to the principle of the Lordship of Jesus Christ manifested in the life of each local, autonomous congregation.
Early in the Church’s history, a group of believers was established as a local church in Antioch. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit that church sent out Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-3). The believers at Antioch did not need the approval of the Apostles in Jerusalem to go ahead and obey the Spirit’s leading. This is the essence of congregationalism: each church obeying the Lord’s leading. Of course, this does not mean that the church in Antioch had an independent or rebellious spirit in any way. In fact, later when the Apostles had some concerns, representatives from the church in Antioch went to the first church council in Jerusalem (Acts 15). At that time, the Lord of the Church brought agreement and unity to His Church.
It is Jesus Christ who is the head of His Body, the Church – both universal and local. It is Jesus Christ who exercises His authority in each local church by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures. We believe our local church, Plymouth Church, is in itself a complete church and, therefore, autonomous, ultimately answerable only to Jesus Christ. And, we will answer to Jesus Christ!
This is why it is critical that the membership of the church – and absolutely critical that the leadership of the church – be truly born-again believers yielded to the Lordship of Christ, living in the power of the Holy Spirit, and under the authority of Holy Scripture. This is also why each member must exercise with faithfulness their unique gifts, vision and God-given abilities according to the grace that He has supplied to each one of us. We belong to one another and we depend on one another. This is our sacred calling. When one person among us is not exercising their gifts faithfully our congregation is not all that God desires it to be.
Congregationalism does not recognize a distinction between clergy and laymen. We are all called and all part of what God wants to do through us. Because I invest between 50 and 60 hours/week in ministry, the church has been gracious to fund my position so that I’m free to work full-time without the responsibility of holding down another job. Others have full-time careers and still exercise their ministries here at Plymouth. They are faithful men and women! They are co-laborers with me, and all of us, in the ministry God has given us. We do recognize that certain ones among us have a pastoral calling and a shepherding, equipping role in the Body (Eph. 4:11-12)
Do you realize the responsibilities of congregationalism? It is not just the privilege of voting. We will be held accountable for having walked with God and having obeyed His leading. We must walk with God. We must hear from God, and we must follow His voice.
We are the church and we will be held accountable to the Lord! We believe in congregationalism so we must live with its implications and responsibilities – gratefully, joyfully, faithfully and earnestly.