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"You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  Matthew 5: 14-16 (ESV)

Church History

Summary

In a manual by Robert William Dale, entitled Congregational Church Polity published in 1885, Dale states, ..."to the apostles the ideal church was the Christian assembly; and from the attempt to give reality to the ideal church nothing could divert them. They had learnt from their Master that wherever two or three are gathered together in His name, He is in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20); and they desired that each church should find the bond of its unity and its defense against all dangers in Him.

"Those great words of Christ's are the real ground and justification of the independent form of church polity. Congregationalists do not contend that any number of Christian men have a natural right to form a church of their own, to celebrate worship as they please, and to observe the Christian Sacraments according to what seems to them the mind of Christ, without the interference of any external ecclesiastical authority. Their contention is of a much more serious kind.

"They say that when even two or three are gathered together in the name of Christ, Christ is in the assembly. He is there, not merely to receive worship and to confer blessing, but to make the prayers of the assembly His own, to control and direct its deliberations, and to invest its action with His own authority. He does not stand apart; He is one of the company. If a Christian man has a complaint to urge against a brother, Christ is there to hear it; and if the assembly is really gathered together in His name, if its members are- completely one with Him, their decision is His decision j what they bind on earth is bound in heaven, what they loose on earth is loosed in heaven. From an assembly in which Christ himself is present, and whose decisions He confirms, there can be no appeal."

Accordingly, Congregationalists believe both that Scripture is the basis for the organization of the church, and that church polity in particular resides in the Body of Christ, who is present whenever "two or three gather" in His Name.

In it's own relatively short history, (only a century), Darlington Congregational Church has consistently maintained that view.

Congregational Roots

From its beginning in 1909, Darlington has been a Congregational Church. Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs.

The roots of Congregational Christianity can be traced back to the Protestant Reformation in England. Congregational Churches were established in the New World by non-Conformist Christians, some of these arriving (in what would become Canada) out of roots in New England. The revivals of the Great Awakening also contributed to the spread of congregational style and ministry.

According to the Congregationalists, the early disciples of Jesus had little or no organization. Congregationalists believe that in the centuries after the spread of Christianity, church leaders attempted to gain influence over all the churches in certain regions by creating hierarchy and structure. Typically, congregationalists viewed this accumulation of power to be complete by the year AD 1000, with the bishop of Rome claiming authority over all Christendom.

Congregationalists sympathetically interpreted various dissident movements among the western churches, which were suppressed throughout the Middle Ages
. By the sixteenth century, political and cultural changes had created a climate in which men such as John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin sought change, with new ideas about the relationship of individual men to God.

In this throwback to the early church, Congregationalists saw the power of people without priests to intercede between them and God, the need for the people to read and interpret the Bible, and correction of distortions from original Christian thinking, as well as their protests against church abuses. These reformers advocated a return to the simplicity and authenticity they believed was described in the New Testament Church. Congregationalists believe their model of church governance fulfills the description of the early church and allows people the most direct relationship with God.

Congregationalism is more easily identified as a movement than a single denomination, given its distinguishing commitment to the complete autonomy of the local congregation. The idea that each distinct congregation fully constitutes the visible Body of the church can, however, be traced to John Wycliffe and the Lollard movement, which followed Wyclif's removal from teaching authority in the Roman Catholic Church.

The early Congregationalists shared with Anabaptist theology the ideal of a pure church. They believed the adult conversion experience was necessary for an individual to become a full member in the church, unlike other Reformed churches. They differed from the Baptists in counting the children of believers in some sense members of the church, while the latter required each member to experience conversion, followed by baptism.

Many Congregational churches claim their descent from the original Congregational churches, a family of Protestant denominations formed on a theory of union published by the theologian Robert Browne in 1592. They arose from the Nonconformist religious movement in England during the Puritan reformation of the Church of England.

After the control of the English church was seized by Henry VIII, persecution of religious dissenters increased.
With the demise of the monarchy, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) was officially declared the statement of faith for both the Church of England (Anglican) and Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). In 1658 the Congregationalists created their own version of the Westminster Confession, called the Savoy Declaration.

The underground churches in England and exiles from Holland provided about 35 out of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, which sailed from London in July 1620. They became known in history as the Pilgrim Fathers. The early Congregationalists sought to separate themselves from the Anglican church in every possible way and even forwent having church buildings. They met in homes for many years.

Later, Congregational churches became widely established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, later New England. The model of Congregational churches was carried by migrating settlers from New England into New York and the Northwest: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois. With their insistence on the independence of local bodies, they became important in many reform movements, including those for abolition of slavery, and women's suffrage.

In the British colonies of North America, the Pilgrims sought to establish at Plymouth Colony a Christian fellowship like that which gathered around Jesus himself. Congregationalists include the Pilgrims of Plymouth, and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which were organized in union by the Cambridge Platform in 1648. These settlers had John Cotton as their most influential leader, beginning in 1633. Cotton's writings persuaded the Calvinist theologian John Owen to separate from the Presbyterian church. He became very influential in the development of Congregationalist theology and ideas of church government. Jonathan Edwards, considered by some to be the most important theologian produced in the United States, was also a Congregationalist.

The history of Congregational churches in the United States is closely intertwined with that of American Presbyterianism, especially in New England where Congregationalist influence spilled over into Presbyterian churches farther west. Some of the first colleges and universities in America, including Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Williams, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Amherst, all were founded by the Congregationalists, as were later Carleton, Grinnell, Oberlin, and Pomona.

Without higher courts to ensure doctrinal uniformity, Congregational churches have been more diverse than other Reformed churches. Despite the efforts of Calvinists to maintain the dominance of their system, some churches, especially in the older settlements of New England, gradually developed leanings toward Arminianism, Unitarianism, Deism, and transcendentalism.

By the 1750s, several Congregational preachers were teaching the possibility of universal salvation, an issue that caused considerable conflict among its adherents on the one side and hard-line Calvinists and sympathizers of the First Great Awakening on the other. In another strain of change, the first church in the United States with an openly Unitarian theology, the belief in the single personality of God, was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1785. By 1800, all but one Congregational church in Boston had Unitarian preachers teaching the strict unity of God, the subordinate nature of Christ, and salvation by character.

Harvard University, founded by Congregationalists, became a center of Unitarian training. Prompted by a controversy over an appointment in the theology school at Harvard, in 1825 the Unitarian churches separated from Congregationalism.

Congregational churches were at the same time the first example of the American theocratic ideal and also the seedbed from which American liberal religion and society arose. Many Congregationalists in the several successor denominations to the original tradition consider themselves to be Reformed first, whether of traditional or neo-orthodox persuasion.

In the early 20th century some Congregational (later Congregational Christian) churches took exception to the beginnings of a growth of regional or national authority in bodies outside the local church, such as mission societies, national committees, and state conferences. Some congregations opposed liberalizing influences that appeared to mitigate traditional views of sin and corollary doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. In 1948, some adherents of these two streams of thought started the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC). It was the first major fellowship to organize outside of the mainstream Congregational body since 1825, when the Unitarians formally founded their own body.

In 1957, the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches in the U.S. merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church to form the United Church of Christ. About 90% of the CC congregations affiliated with the General Council joined the United Church of Christ. Some churches abstained from the merger while others voted it down. Most of the latter congregations became members of either the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches or the CCCC, of which Darlington Congregational Church is a member.  

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 Darlington Congregational Church History 

Darlington Congregational Church grew out of a small chapel ministry established in the Darlington section of what is now Pawtucket in the late 1880’s. It was called the Union Mission Sunday School because of the diverse sectarian backgrounds of people in the surrounding neighborhoods: Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Universalist. A small chapel was built to accommodate the ministry and a rapidly growing Sunday school in 1881.

In 1901, Pawtucket Congregational Church was interested in build a second Sunday school in the area, and for a time there were enough children to support both the Mission Sunday School and the new branch of the Pawtucket church. Two years later, the two ministries merged under Congregational auspices. The Congregational Church bought the chapel and began serving as its mother church.

The chapel ministry grew rapidly and in 1907, a new church, Darlington Congregational Church was built on the site of the existing structure, which formed what are now the offices and Sunday school rooms of the existing building.

In the laying of the cornerstone for the new church, Rev. Gideon A. Burgess said that the new church "stands positively four-square for the salvation of Jesus Christ through grace as first, foremost and fundamental...In advancing the Kingdom of Heaven there must be added...a resolute faith in God, a deeply human love for men and a profound consciousness of constraining love of Christ which makes the Christian ever anxious to be instant in seas and our of season to do His Master’s will. May the work in Darlington go conquering and to conquer".

From its birth in 1908, Darlington Congregational Church grew steadily. By 1912, the membership had grown to 143 people and with 250 enrolled in the Sunday School. Many souls would also be won for God’s Kingdom: Evangelistic meetings were held in the community, and by 1919 membership increased greatly with 220 members and 163 baptisms. Unable to hold the overflowing offerings, deeper baskets replace shallow plates, and the communion offering became the Deacon’s Fund, for assistance to people in need.

By the 1950’s, the original church was a busy place and filled to overflowing. In 1954, for example, 919 people attended Easter services. It was then that a building committee was formed, and the present sanctuary was added in 1956.

Darlington, through the years, has placed great emphasis on the faithful preaching and teaching of God's Word, evangelism and missions, and in living personal lives that reflect the love of Christ.