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The UNITED REFORMED CHURCH is a Reformed Christian church formed in 1972 by the majority of Congregational Church of England & Wales and Presbyterian Church of England congregations. Eltham URC was previously a Congregational church.

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Isaac Watts, the famous Congregationalist hymnwriter.

CONGREGATIONALISM, also known as Independency or Separatism, is a form of Christianity which asserts the principle that a local congregation is completely autonomous under God alone and therefore should not submit to any authorities outside of the church, either Christian or secular. This means that, unlike the Church of England for example, there are no bishops, dioceses or archbishops. Originating in the English Reformation over 450 years ago, the movement is an ideological descendant of Puritanism and has a tradition of radical theology, education and social enterprise. Many churches that did not join the URC formed the Congregational Federation.

PRESBYTERIANISM too arose during the Reformation, but unlike Congregationalism it accepted some external authority for the sake of church discipline and organisation. Presbyterian churches tend to be subordinate to the local presbytery (or group of churches) and above that the synod and the general assembly. Most Presbyterians who joined the URC were descendants of churches planted from the Church of Scotland (the mother church of Presbyterianism) in the 19th century; the "original" English Presbyterians eventually became Unitarians around the same time or joined liberal Congregationalist churches.

About forty CHURCHES of CHRIST congregations merged with the URC in 1981. Churches of Christ, like Congregational churches, are governed on a congregational basis. Derived from the Restoration Movement, the Churches of Christ typically sought to restore the church to the model found in the New Testament. Other practices included weekly communion and believer's baptism. Avery Hill URC, prior to joining the URC and eventually merging with Eltham URC, was a Church of Christ congregation.


The UNITED REFORMED CHURCH, as a merger of Congregationalism & Presbyterianism, has a hybrid form of government. This means that while the church meeting is still sovereign in most matters, churches are now also subordinate to their regional synod and ultimately the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church.

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The ordination of elders in a Scottish Kirk

by John Henry Lorimer


You can find out more about dissenting Christianity at Dr Williams's Library, the official archive for the URC & Congregational Federation.

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