Congregationalists formed as a group of separatist Puritans who resisted the established Church of England run by the English monarchy. They are among a number of Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, which practice infant baptism. While infant baptism is controversial among those that only practice believer's baptism, such as the Baptists, many Congregationalist ministers will typically perform either type.
After the Church of England became the established English Church, many sought reform and to separate the church from a ruling authority. Many separatists left England, and numerous separatists immigrated to America, such as the Pilgrims in 1620. They wanted to create churches not under the rule of a monarch or other governing organization. Those churches that wanted to govern themselves independently became known as Congregationalists. In the mid-1900s, most Congregationalist churches joined with the Evangelical and Reformed churches to become the United Church of Christ. However, several churches chose to remain independent Congregationalists and become part of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
Types of Baptism
Baptism as a holy sacrament dates back to the earliest days of Christianity, and infant baptism dates from the third century. There are essentially two forms of water baptism among Christians. The first is infant baptism, which consists of sprinkling or placing a small amount of water on an infant's forehead. The second is believer's baptism, which consists of complete immersion in water by a person old enough to understand the sacrament and willfully choose baptism. A group called the Anabaptists resisted infant baptism and believed in re-baptism of believers when they reach an age of accountability.
Infant Baptism Controversy
Baptism is one of two sacraments, the other is the Lord's Supper, practiced by most Protestants, including Congregationalists. Like Baptists, Congregationalists historically practiced church autonomy without a governing authority. However, unlike most Baptists, Congregationalists practice infant baptism, and they view baptism as a joining of God's family and a symbol of Christ's resurrection. They believe this is a family that can be joined at any age. Baptists, however, stress that infants cannot understand faith nor profess it, and Baptists likewise believe that baptism is a profession of one's faith. For this reason, they feel that infant baptisms are not true baptisms.
Congregationalists and Baptism
Most Protestant denominations, especially those that trace descent from Lutherans, Reformed or the Church of England, practice infant baptism as a substitute for the ceremony of circumcision as practiced in the Jewish faith. This type of baptism contrasts with the believer’s baptism as practiced among most Baptists. While Congregationalists typically perform infant baptisms, many Congregationalist churches will also perform believer's baptism. All baptisms are viewed as appropriate, so Congregationalists do not typically practice re-baptism, which is a believer’s baptism of those previously baptized as infants. Owing to the independent polity of churches, the practice of believer's baptism in Congregationalist churches is up to the individual church.
- National Association of Congregational Christian Churches: Congregational Way
- The Victorian Web: The Congregationalists
- First Congregational Church of Essex, Massachusetts: Statement of Baptism
- Tapton Hill Congregational Church: What Is Congregationalism?
- First Congregational Church - United Church of Christ: Sacraments and Rites
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