The Transformation of Congregationalism
Congregational Federation* £35
*phone 0115 9111460 to obtain
THIS handsomely bound volume of more than 500 pages is a
scholarly survey of changes affecting English Congregationalism
throughout the 20th century. Well researched, thoroughly
documented, and attractively written, it traces the main
developments from the heyday of late Victorian liberalism, through
the enormous moral and social challenges of both World Wars, to the
virtual disappearance of Congregationalism as a notable entity in
the ecumenical scene by the end of the century.
The author's standpoint is that of the Congregational
Federation, a small minority who declined to join the United
Reformed Church. His own conviction is that the basic principles of
Independency were fatally eroded and diluted during this period.
Nevertheless, he endeavours to paint a fair picture, and pays
tribute to a wide variety of gifted individuals in the
denomination's life. The sketches of leading personalities are
Three chapters set the context in the opening years of the
century, especially regarding the pressure for more centralisation
within the Congregational Union and the crisis of "New Theology" in
response to biblical criticism. Chapter 4 shows what a dramatic
effect the Great War had on church life, and what searching moral
issues it raised - a topic of current interest during this
centenary of the outbreak of the First World War.
Ensuing chapters draw out key strands within Congregationalism,
e.g. the ideal of the pastor/preacher, the part played by regional
Moderators and national Secretaries, the collapse of reunion talks
in the 1920s, the impact of liturgical renewal on church
architecture and forms of worship, the involvement in world
movements and missionary societies, and the influence oftheological
colleges and their principals.
After describing responses to the Second World War and measures
to rebuild church life afterwards, the author considers the part
played by periodicals and official publications in shaping opinion.
A key chapter then indicates shifts in theology and ecclesiological
self-understanding among Congregationalists.
Controversially, the author writes of the "tidal wave for
ecumenism" and its growing threat to the autonomy of local
congregations. His true sympathies emerge in chapter 16, "Vision
and Destruction", depicting the formation ofthe United Reformed
Church in 1972 as a necessary parting of the ways.
Readers must decide for themselves whether four-fifths of the
Congregational Church rose heroically to its ecumenical vocation,
or betrayed its origins. Though I hold firmly to the former view, I
still enjoyed reading this book, which is a mine of fascinating
The Rt Revd Dr David Tustin is a former Bishop of